Patron Unsaint PT 2
Qo’noS. First City. Six months before the attack
The outskirts of the Klingon capital city, walled off from the more prestigious neighborhoods of the Empire’s patricians, a ramshackle labyrinth of crumbling public housing, on the shabby tenement buildings makeshift additions were growing like fungus. The gothic spires of the Great Hall could barely be seen in the distance through the smoggy haze. Low hanging clouds in burgundy, teal, and indigo blocked the sky. The air was moist and noxious. The rain was pouring, washing away some of the grime from building surfaces, turning it into thick oily sludge. A few of the crooked and narrow alleys were teeming with people, mostly off-worlders, members of species subjected by Klingon war prowess.
In a shady dive, populated by an all-male mixture of Orions, Nausicaans, Gorn, and a few Klingons were yelling, laughing, drinking adulterated blood wine, using their throwing knives for darts. The atmosphere was wicked and brutal.
At the bar, sticking out of the crowd, a person was sitting, wearing a hooded cloak, the face not visible, but one could tell that it was a woman. She emptied her glass and handed the obese bartender a small coin as payment, then she walked towards the exit. A muscular Orion eyed her movement and then secretly signaled his companion who got up from his seat and followed her. The woman turned around a corner, the Orion man following her closely, the second Orion had also left the bar and took a parallel alleyway to intercept his target. The woman, now becoming aware of her pursuers increased her pace and peered over her shoulder a few times, the Orions made sure to duck away in time into a dark spot, avoiding detection. The woman reached into the pocket of her cloak, getting hold of a small phaser. She made another turn, only to find herself in a cul-de-sac, only a dilapidated door of a building at the end. She spun around to see the Orions approaching from two different directions - no way to escape. Behind her the door opened, a geriatric hag emerged, slowly careening towards her with a hunched posture. The woman backed away from the Orions towards the door. The two heavy-set men closed in on her, walking side-by-side now. They were only a few steps away. The woman prepared to fire her weapon, when the old hag suddenly leaped at her with her own phaser and stunned her, point-blank. The woman’s eyes shot wide open, she yelped quickly and then slumped down, both Orion males caught her by her arms and dragged her into the building, directed by the old hag.
The Orion men dropped the woman on the ground. The old hag approached her from behind, now walking elegantly, stepped out of the long overcoat she had been wearing, and pulled off a whig from her head, revealing a gorgeous Orion female under the disguise. She grabbed the woman and slapped her on the cheek.
“Come on, wake up!”, she shouted.
The woman slowly came to, got on her knees, and looked around. She found herself in a cramped basement warehouse, filled with crates, barrels, loading equipment, from the labels you could tell most of the stuff were military supplies. In front of her on a raised chair sat a massive figure staring at her with his fierce red eyes, his leather garments worn away at many places, the dark-spotted skin on his hairless head tightly stretched over the many elongated or pointed bony ridges that grew on his face, pointing forward, many with teeth-like extensions protruding from their tips, like rudimentary immovable mandibles, a Lethean. The Orion woman was by his side, lasciviously leaning on his shoulder, behind them a ragtag group of militants, mostly males, few women, other Letheans, Orions, Nausicaans, Gorn, and members of many more races, like those we have seen earlier in the streets. They were holding disruptor rifles, displaying banners, frowning.
Though illuminated by a large ceiling light above her, her hood still covered the woman’s face from onlookers.
The Lethean impatiently shouted:
“Take that off!”
“No! My identity is not to be revealed. That was the deal, Gumo!”, the woman countered.
“You will address me as Patron, woman”!, Gumo bristled with anger.
“I am not one of your acolytes, so cut it, you fool.”
“We also had a deal about you not being armed!”, Gumo grunted accusingly and threw the tiny phaser which his henchman had retrieved from the woman at her feet.
“Then you should have picked a better place to meet than this slum. One gets stunned even by the elderly”,
she said while shooting a look at the Orion lady, to which the latter grinned coyly.
“...which was not part of the deal either”, the woman continued while rubbing the sore spot on her back where she had been hit.
“We had to take precautions. How do we know that you are not a Federation spy?”, Gumo responded.
The woman chuckled condescendingly.
“Don’t flatter yourself. The Federation doesn’t consider your little faction worthy of their assets.”
“Enough”, Gumo yelled and moved his clawed hand in her direction, sending a painful psionic attack through her body. She exhaled in agony. Gumo jumped to his feet, walked over and grabbed her by the collar.
“Enough of these games. You said you had a proposition for us, so speak or I will kill you right now.”
Starbase 234, a few hours after the attack on Khefka IV
Closely followed by a patched-up USS Rabin, the USS Valentine was approaching Starbase 234, a huge dock-capable Starfleet installation orbiting a planet near Klingon space, one of her docking arms was still being reconstructed.
Captain White and Commodore Shelk were both on their way to a briefing with the regional command. The hallways of the station were filled with personnel, hectically handling assignments, security officers were posted at all intersections, MACO troops marching in small squad columns.
“Busy morning”, Shelk commented.
“Have you gotten preliminary orders yet?”, the Captain asked him.
“Right before we left. My ship is to head for the Mutara Sector to lead a task force with the Saratoga and the Bennington.”
“So, it will be up to me to follow up with those other coordinates”, White said with resignation.
Shelk grabbed his arm and pulled White to a stop.
“Hold on Jeff, you can’t be serious about going after your little crime story when all this is happening.”
He gestured at the many people crowding the space around them. White looked at his old friend, he was hurt.
“Is this how you see it? Just a little boyish pastime for two bored starship captains?”
Shelk waved conciliatorily and lead him to a more secluded spot next to a pillar.
“Look, it’s not that I don’t believe you about this Phoenix guy. And what role Director Jefferson and other Section people might have played or not, I don’t know. But whatever is going on, it concerns the death of one admiral only. The attack on Khefka IV killed thousands.”
Captain White’s resolve began to crumble and his face gave it away.
“You want to tell me that, as Starfleet officers, faced with a threat, it is our duty to protect those that we care about, those that are alive, instead of trying to avenge the dead, ...the needs of the many...”
Shelk nodded. He gently put a hand on White’s shoulder.
“I am no Vulcan, but yeah. Let’s make our official orders the priority for now. Those coordinates will still be there, when this is over.”
He began to walk away backward.
“And as soon as it is, I will be there to get you out of trouble”, the Commodore exclaimed, giving White a wink.
The Captain looked at him walking away for a few seconds before he followed in the direction of the command center.
A forest of legs was walking through a narrow corridor. A pair of security officers stood to attention when the group passed them before coming through a heavy automatic door into a large cavernous room. The place was filled with about two dozen people. Half of them sat around a large conference table, futuristic, ornate - but functional, with small desktop monitors and interface panels for every seat. The room’s ceiling lights illuminated not much more than the table itself and its immediate surroundings. On the wall opposite to one end of the table, a huge viewscreen was displaying numerous video feeds, statistical charts, space maps and ship deployments.
The room’s occupants were amidst an intense discussion. Upon noticing the group which had just entered, all conversation ceased and turned to respectful silence. Everyone faced the group’s leader, people rose from their seats as one, all greeting him.
“Good evening, Mr. President.”
President Okeg gave a quick nod. He sat down at the head of the table, the group around the table followed suit. The President’s staff members moved to the background, the security detail remained by the door.
Gathered around the table were the key figures of the United Federation of Planet’s Security Council.
They were the Best of the Best: Head of Starfleet Operations, Fleet Admiral Jorel Quinn, a silver-haired Trill, revered; Director of Starfleet Intelligence, Vice Admiral William Jefferson, who had risen to become one of the most influential officials in the Federation in a matter of weeks; Director of Starfleet Security, MACO Lieutenant General H’Roren, a battle-hardened Caitian with not only the heart, but also the looks of a tiger; Federal Investigation Agency head, Director Thalen, Xindi, crewcut and serious; Attorney General Chetra Haff, turquoise-skinned Bolian, young and brilliant - the heads of the principal organizations. Furthermore, the group was complemented by the Chairmen of the Federation Council’s Committees for Defense, Internal Affairs, Justice, and External Affairs, respectively. The latter, who was also here as Speaker of the Council, Imelda Hayes, former Vega IX representative, a harsh and stern matron on the ungenerous side of fifty, emigrated Filipina mestiza, massive cheekbones under a towering dome of well-groomed hair, wearing a much too extravagant dress for the occasion and with a gilded lapel pin the size of a wheel cap, gravel-voiced, severe eyes, well-spoken and courteous only if she chooses to, she ruled over the Council like the empress dowager.
The President began to address the others:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for coming on such short notice, but I have been informed that we received new and disturbing intelligence on the Khefka IV attack. Admiral, if you please?”, he looked at Director Jefferson.
“Thank you, Sir.”
Jefferson got up and marched towards the large viewscreen.
“Starfleet Intelligence received this footage a few hours ago. We have not yet been able to absolutely verify its authenticity, but the pictures speak a strong language. See for yourself.”
The footage began playing.
On the black screen red letters began to appear, they were in an alien language, English subtitles were being superimposed:
“This is a communique from the Patronage of Freedom.”
The picture changed to the orbital view of an unknown planet, apparently recorded from a spaceship. A voice began to speak:
“You have conquered our worlds, you have subdued our brothers, you have killed our women and children, you have bombed our cities from afar like cowards, you have imprisoned our freedom fighters and you have executed our martyrs, yet you dare to call us terrorists!
But oppression has many faces. The ugly face of the barbarian who strikes your home with deadly force or the sleazy smile of the self-proclaimed pacifist who wields his influence through economic coercion and political exclusion.
Both are the same to us: imperialism. For too long, you have ignored our pleas, for too long you have declined our demands, but now the Oppressed have been given a mighty sword, to strike back at their enemies.”
On the viewscreen a small flickering bolt of light suddenly shot towards the planet, after a few seconds it disappeared in the thickness of the atmosphere. A couple more seconds later an intensely bright glow engulfed an area on the surface.
The picture cut to Gumo, surrounded by his militia men, banners, rifles, and all, displaying their entire arsenal, which by now has become much more impressive. The centerpiece was an assembly of plasma torpedoes on flat dolly cars. Some of Gumo’s men were sitting on them, straddling them like kiddie rides.
“A pillar of holy fire has risen from this place that you had occupied in your hubris. The blood of those who died here is on your hands.
Unless the Klingon Empire and the Federation release all of our occupied worlds, as well as pull all military forces out of those areas, immediately and forever, we will rain fire on one of your worlds each week until these demands are met.
You have seen a demonstration of the Patronage's power. Do not try to test our resolve or our patience.
No one can stop us. Righteousness is our guide. We are set on our course and we are many.”
Nobody said a word in the conference room. Finally, Admiral Quinn broke the silence:
“Has any of this gone public yet?”
“No, Sir. We received the transmission through a secured channel. Unknown origin, I have to add”, Jefferson responded.
“We better keep it that way, Mr. President. If word of this gets out before we know what to do about it, it could cause a panic”, General H’Roren warned.
The Chairman of Interior Affairs nodded in agreement.
“What about the Klingons? Do they know? Have there been any attacks on their installations?”, the President asked.
“I reached out to my contacts in the Empire, they confirmed that a similar transmission had been received earlier. However there were no attacks on them”, Director Jefferson explained.
“What do we know about this group, Jefferson?”, Quinn wanted to know. Jefferson began to recite from his intelligence report:
“Not much, I am afraid. They popped up on our radar a few years ago. Back then they were just one of the many resistance groups that have been active ever since the Klingons had taken over the Gorn homeworld and they have remained pretty much in obscurity ever since. Their leader, a Lethean who goes by the name of Gumo, used to be a weapons smuggler, he probably provided the group with his caches in exchange for their obedience. Our analysts concur in terms of identification, facial recognition, dialect and speech patterns, behavior, leadership profile: all very definitive in what is known about him. There is not much about the lower ranks though, by the way, we suspect that many of his men are hired mercenaries.”
“Would they be capable of carrying out more attacks like this? What resources do they possess?”, the President inquired.
“Mr. President, militant groups like this are notorious for their bravado and exaggeration. They might not even be responsible at all and just claim other people’s work for themselves. There is a good chance that we can ignore this threat entirely”, the Chairman of the Defense Committee stated.
“We won’t take chances with the lives of our people, Mr. Chairman”, Speaker Hayes intervened. Everyone’s blood ran cold.
“Of course not, Ma’am. That was not what I meant...”, the Chairman began to defend his statement, but Hayes waved him off. End of discussion.
“Well, what and when will be our response to this attack? You do have a response in mind, Gentlemen?”, she asked
around the room, slicing them with her expectant gaze.
“There are military options, Ma’am, however, as the Chairman stated, there are doubts about the complete truth of their claims. For example, according to our latest report, they do not have access to fast, long-range vessels equipped for delivery of such torpedoes we have seen in the footage”, Jefferson answered.
“Those were plasma weapons of Reman origin, I recognize the type”, General H’Roren added.
“Correct. Some of our older sources claim the group is basically dependent on logistical support from factions within the Romulan Empire or its spin-off successors.”
“Well Admiral, those factions, should they indeed exist, would probably not send advanced torpedoes to the terrorists without a means of delivery.”
“I guess not, Ma’am.”
“So it seems that you have underestimated Mr. Gumo and his friends”, Hayes excoriated the others.
“As Speaker of the Council, I must relay to you all our deepest concerns regarding the latest attack. The well-being of the people of the Federation must not be jeopardized.”
“I think we all agree on that, Madam Speaker”, the President assured, trying to defuse the tension.
“Chairman, would you please take us through the range of options that your committee has worked out?”
“Of course, Sir. Our main response is vigilance, put in place almost immediately after the attack, we have increased security measures throughout Federation space. We have raised the number of security personnel on active duty, especially at Starfleet installations as well as our embassies on foreign soil. All Starfleet vessels will remain on constant yellow alert and have been recalled to the nearest bases for reassignment and taking on MACO troops. This procedure is currently being completed. Immediate deployments will involve patrolling flights, which will be stepped up at all border areas, as well as the core worlds. Orbital defenses are also being brought up to date.”
FIA Director Thalen interjected:
“I would like to personally lead a team of investigators at the attack site itself. I think a detailed analysis can answer many of the questions we currently have.”
“You don’t have jurisdiction there, Director Thalen. Khefka is not a Federation member”, Attorney General Haff reminded him.
“I like to think I have, criminal investigation regarding a civilian institution concerns my department”, Thalen answered.
“This is no simple criminal act, Director, it was a terrorist attack on a military scale. Legally, we would have to regard this as an act of war by a foreign power, requiring a military investigation, as well as response”, Haff told him.
“Which would mean Starfleet has to take over”, Admiral Quinn summarized.
“And who would be conducting the investigation?”, Thalen asked.
“I believe my department is more than qualified to handle it”, Director Jefferson stated.
“Ha!” Speaker Hayes exhaled in bitter amusement.
“I do not consider your personal handling of the investigation in the death of your predecessor very qualified, Admiral since you lost the supposed culprit to an attack you could never throw light on”, Speaker Hayes noted while not hiding her disfavor.
“In addition, I would like to concur with Ms. Haff that Khefka is no Federation member. It is an independent world and they lost many people during the attack as well. Speaking from the perspective of my Committee it could be considered as treading on their shoes if we try to impose our own investigation on them. This could unnecessarily complicate our relations with the Khefkans, especially with our ongoing efforts to pitch membership to them. Notwithstanding their poor ability to safeguard planetary defense. Any people we send there would be vulnerable to follow-up attacks.”
“Your objections are valid, Madam Speaker, however, I think we owe it to the victims and their families to conduct a thorough investigation. As for jurisdiction, in the spirit of cooperation, I would like to send a joint team, Starfleet, FIA, Intel, delegates of other key departments, if applicable, and invite the Khefkans to pool their resources with us”, President Okeg suggested.
Speaker Hayes fixed him with her stare while explaining:
“With all due respect, Sir, I am a little unclear about your focus on investigating an orbital bombardment on our settlement, an attack carried out by a group of terrorists that just proudly claimed their responsibility. Our response must not be limited to increased security and an investigation. The only way we can truly protect the Federation from them is by taking up arms. Those people understand only one language: action.”
Her words resonated in the room. They tackled the emotional side effects of the attack, the wish for vengeance. Something they all knew should be beyond their consideration, yet it was what everyone also felt.
“You are talking about a retaliatory strike, Ma’am?! I don’t think that is something the Federation stands for, nor should Starfleet be used in such a capacity”,
Quinn declared with a hint of horror in his voice.
“Attack is the best form of defense. And it will be exactly what they won’t expect us to do, so we have the element of surprise on our side. Do I really have to explain strategy and tactics to you, Admiral?”, Hayes arrogantly chewed him out.
Quinn, very upset, had trouble containing a burst of rage.
“We can not neglect the patrolling duties we have already implemented either and given the numerous commitments for the Alliance, we are spread thin already on available starships. I honestly don’t see how we could assemble a strike force, even if we wanted to”, the Chairman of Defense noted.
“An obvious result of our outdated policy of peaceful restraint. I have advocated for scaling up our fleet size on many occasions. Times have changed and we won’t stand a chance if we refuse to change with them.”
Speaker Hayes got up from her seat and began to move for the exit, followed by her aides. Everyone looked at her with astonishment, defying the President by attempting to leave without proper dismissal. Halfway out she turned and said:
“I will brief the Council on the actions you all have taken so far. I am not sure if the other members share your reluctance to use the necessary force to defend ourselves. Good day, everyone.”
With that she left, another day of having successfully tormented high-ranking officials.
In the conference room adjacent to their office Station Chief Gracie Jones and her Deputy Mettus were briefing their team on their assignments. The audience consisted of several intelligence analysts in uniform as well as field agents, dressed as civilians, some of them were members of non-Federation races - clearly hired external operatives.
“...our main focus will be the four nearest sectors along the Klingon border. The analysis team will receive data feeds from the USS Vanguard which is already conducting intel gathering in that area. The field agents will need to work a little magic with their contacts”, Mettus explained.
“The unofficial ones. Mettus is going for a different lead. And I will take care of the official Klingon liaison, a delegation from Klingon intel will be traveling here and arrive in a few days, along with some local diplomatic corps, including the Counsel.”
At that moment the intercom whistled. Jones answered the incoming call:
“Yes, go ahead.”
“Hey, Chief, you should switch on the news channel. Have you guys seen this?”
“We are kind of busy right now”, Jones scoffed.
“Trust me, Jones, you will want to see this.”
Gracie Jones gave a look to one of her subordinates who then pressed a few keys on her console, bringing up the news channel on the main viewscreen of the conference room.
The channel played Gumo’s video footage. His rhetoric once again accompanied the pictures of the abominable crime.
Jones and Mettus moved to stand directly in front of the screen, pale-faced. As professional intelligence officers, they were familiar with it, obviously. But they realized the impact of the publication now taking place.
Meanwhile, at the President’s underground situation room, most of the attendees from earlier have been assembled again.
Gumo’s footage was playing as well, a female reporter voice was giving explanations off-screen:
“Our office received this video less than an hour ago. We advise our viewers that the following content may be disturbing.”
Director Jefferson explained the developments:
“Gumo must have released the video to the public to force our hand. Now we have no chance of investigating with discretion and the public might not be happy with the security measures, either because they are considered too strict or too weak.”
The President had his face averted from the screen, his face gave away his immense agitation.
The reporter continued:
“Crowds have gathered at public places and in front of Earth’s Starfleet and other Federation facilities, holding rallies, protesting the apparent inactivity of our security agencies. There are reports of similar events happening on Andoria, Tellar Prime, and Bajor. The Federation Council and the President’s Office have not yet commented on the footage.”
The President signaled to mute the news transmission. He got up and paced around for a while, thinking. He finally began to address the other officials sitting at the conference table.
“We can not let these events derail our course. The investigation must not be sidelined. The Council and my office can handle the public reaction for now.”
He turned towards the admirals.
“Gentlemen, please send a team to the site of the attack at your earliest convenience. I would like the FIA and Attorney General’s office to send people as well in a joint effort.”
One of the President’s aides approached him from behind and whispered something in his ear. President Okeg nodded his agreement and then continued giving his orders:
“In regard to the unclear jurisdiction and diplomatic intricacies, I think it would be best if the on-site investigation at Khefka is under the command of someone with less political ties. Do you have someone in mind for that?”
Admiral Quinn called up the current fleet deployments on his desktop display. Jefferson leaned over and both men scanned the list of names with their eyes.
“Mr. President, I believe Captain Jeffrey White, CO of the USS Valentine would be well suited for the task at hand”,
Quinn announced. Jefferson’s eyes shot up with mild shock.
“The Valentine is currently at Starbase 234 awaiting orders, they could be at the Khefkan system within four days.”
Captain White’s file was displayed on the large viewscreen.
“I remember him from the investigation in the Pita murder. He appeared to be a level-headed man.”
The President looked at Quinn for further approval.
“Absolutely, Sir. I have known White for many years. He is an old hand and an accomplished diplomat.”
“I agree, Sir. He was instrumental in our pursuit of Jesse Phoenix”, Jefferson added.
“Very well then”, President Okeg announced.
“Excuse me, Sir. But I think we should still have some kind of back-up for his ship. One starship alone would be a liability”, General H’Roren commented.
“You may be right. White and his ship will be our tracker dog. General, I authorize you to take a small task force and have them stand-by on our side of the border, so you can intervene, should the Captain encounter any difficulties.”
Everyone murmured their approval and the President dismissed them.
In open space, just off the outer border of Federation territory, en route to Khefka IV, the USS Valentine was holding position to rendezvous with General H’Roren’s taskforce.
In his ready room, Captain White awaited the arrival.
“Bridge to Captain”, Commander Low called over the intercom.
“Yes, Commander?”, White responded.
“Sir, the Crazy Horse is hailing us, they will rendezvous with us in a few minutes.”
“Acknowledged. I will meet our guests in transporter room two.”
“Understood. Low out.”
Captain White entered the transporter room. A young officer worked at the main transporter console and gave a nod to the Captain.
“Whenever you are ready, Ensign.”
A few seconds later, a large group of people materialized on the transporter pad.
“I am Captain Jeffrey White, welcome aboard the USS Valentine”, the Captain announced.
FIA Director Thalen stepped off the platform to greet him along with his aides. Attorney General Chetra Haff followed him closely. The group then slowly dispersed out of the transporter room, escorted by duty officers who accompanied them to their quarters.
Captain White was about to leave as well when another transport cycle completed and a single Starfleet officer appeared on the transporter pad. He was a young Suliban male, squat-statured, the thick, dappled skin on his hairless head dazzled with a golden luster. He intently eyed Captain White while approaching him. The man stood at attention and handed White a data padd.
“Lieutenant Commander Brom Soman, reporting as ordered, Sir.”
White was puzzled and began to study the information on the device in his hands.
“Starfleet Command... authorization Epsilon-Four-One- Two-Gamma... Stardate... well, it’s all in there. Commander, you must excuse my confusion, but I was not informed about any additional transfer of personnel to my ship.”
White kept reading.
“Posting as Second Officer?!”
“Yes, Sir”, Soman responded.
“I realize these are extraordinary times, but I never thought Starfleet Command would exercise authority on postings inside a ship’s command structure over the discretion of its captain.”
“I am afraid we all have our orders, Sir”, Soman coldly replied. White had hoped for a better answer.
“Very well, follow me”, White told him and they left for the next turbolift.
Back on the Valentine’s bridge Captain White found the image of General H’Roren displayed on the viewscreen.
“General, good to see you - thanks for the delivery, everyone is accounted for”, the Captain said.
“Acknowledged, Valentine. I will be holding position right here along with the Crazy Horse. The USS Sutherland and the Archangel are close by. We can reach the Khefka system in a matter of hours, should any situation arise”, the General stated.
“Let’s hope for the best. We will be on our way then.”
“Good luck, Captain. H’Roren out.”
The viewscreen went blank and the Captain walked over to his chair while giving orders:
“Helm, set a course for Khefka IV, warp 8, and engage.”
Commander Low curiously looked over to Soman, who was still standing by the turbolift door. White noticed her gaze.
“Heather, this is Lieutenant Commander Soman, he has just been transferred and will be our new Second Officer.”
Commander Low lowered her voice and leaned over to White.
“I wasn’t aware that we take on any more people.”
The Captain, in an even lower voice, answered her:
“Neither was I. The situation is difficult enough, as it is. I can’t think of a reason why Command would send us this guy now. Give him a tour of the ship later and brief him in our procedures. For now, I want him out of my way.”
“Understood”, the Commander answered.
In his Starfleet Headquarters, office Director Jefferson sat with his aide conferring about the latest intelligence reports about the embassy attack.
“All right, I will brief the Security Council later today on the updates. What is the status of the onsite investigation?”, he inquired.
“USS Valentine should reach Khefka IV in a few hours, Sir”, his aide replied.
“Thank you, that will be all for now.”
The officer nodded, gathered his files, and left the office.
Jefferson turned with his chair towards the large windows overlooking San Francisco Bay. He stared out for a while, then he ordered:
“Computer, establish secure channel Beta-Tau-Four-Seven.”
His desktop monitor extended from a notch in the desk surface.
“Channel open. Callee not responding”, the computer voice explained.
“Start recording a video message”, Jefferson responded and the computer chimed affirmatively.
“I expect regular reports from you on the progress.”
Jefferson’s image was being displayed on another small desktop monitor, similar to the one in his office. Someone was watching the message, a person wearing a Starfleet uniform.
“At first, I wanted to protest White’s assignment to Khefka IV, but I realized this is a good opportunity to sideline him without much effort. It would be agreeable if Captain White would focus on the embassy bombing in the long run. If there are any hints that he intends to pursue the Phoenix issue any longer, I fear we must deal with it. We can not afford another mistake. You know what you have to do. Jefferson out.”
The screen went blank and the person switched off the monitor, got up, and walked out of the room into a corridor, fairly busy, Starfleet officers walking by. The person passed a wall with a brass dedication plaque which read: USS Valentine.
Lieutenant Commander Soman stepped through the turbolift doors into the bridge of the Valentine and took his seat next to Commander Low, who was intently watching the viewscreen. The helm officer announced:
“Reaching standard orbit around Khefka IV, Commander.”
Heather Low pressed a button on her armrest and began to call for the Captain:
“Captain White, please come to the bridge.”
“Acknowledged, Commander. Be right there with you.”
In his ready room, Captain White turned his attention back to the small screen in front of him.
“Excuse the interruption. Where were we?”
“Never mind, Captain”, Gracie Jones responded,
“I was about to say that I sent Mettus to Antares. He thinks he can find out more about this.”
“I don’t know how to thank you. I really appreciate your continued help in this matter.”
“Don’t mention it, your curiosity was piqued, as was mine. But I have to work on our main assignment now first. How about your Academy friend?”
“I am afraid the Commodore is a little more devoted to his orders than to his curiosity.”
“Understandable. Don’t hold too much of a grudge against him. Speak to you soon. Jones out.”
When the Captain arrived on the Valentine bridge Commander Low reported him:
“We are in standard orbit, Sir.”
“Very well. I am going down there myself. You have the bridge, Commander. Please inform our guests of our arrival and have them meet me in sickbay for the inoculations right away. We will transport as soon as the Khefkan authorities signal the coordinates.”
“Aye, Captain”, Low replied.
The large group materialized in the main hall of the administration building for the Prefecture, the embassy and the Federation colony belonged to. Captain White was accompanied by FIA Director Thalen, Attorney General Chetra Haff, their aides, and a small crew complement from the USS Valentine.
A small delegation of the native Khefkans had gathered to meet them. They were a people of short stature, with ice-blue skin and bushy, tufted pointy ears, wearing long robes. After a short mutual introduction Thalen turned to the Prefect and requested:
“We would like to examine the attack site now.”
“This might be a little difficult”, the Perfect stated with a worried face.
Sitting in the command chair on the bridge, Commander Low conversed with Captain White.
“I have everything beamed down within minutes, Sir. Our own readings confirm the Khefkan’s claim. I will keep a constant transporter lock on each of you as well.”
“Thank you, Heather”, White replied over comms.
“Oh and there’s one more thing, Captain. Command just increased the alert status. There has been a second attack.”
“Oh no, what happened? Where?”
“Apparently the Klingons didn’t want to wait a few days until it was their turn, according to Gumo’s threat. They ambushed a small vessel which they believed belonged to the Patronage. Gumo immediately returned the favor and attacked a Klingon outpost near our border. Lethal, but not of the scale as down where you are headed. The Klingons claim that Gumo’s ships are equipped with cloaking technology.”
“That doesn’t make things easier. Rearrange the sensors to increase our chances for detecting cloaked ships. I don’t want any more surprises.”
“Understood, Valentine out.”
Meanwhile, the USS Rabin was plowing through the Mutara Sector at full impulse. Remnants of blue dust were pushed away by its hull. The other two vessels in Commodore Ghee Shelk’s taskforce, the Saratoga and the Bennington were flying parallel courses, each ten light-years away. All three ships on patrol duty.
In his quarters Commodore Shelk was standing next to a bookshelf and reached for a small device. He switched it on and it began to display miniature holographic figures of him and Jeff White, both much younger, laughing, striking poses. He gave it a weak smile. He looked down at his hand, which revealed a tiny metallic rod, an isolinear chip sticking out from one end. He held it in front of his face for a moment, then put it away in a drawer in the wall and whispered:
“Another time, my friend.”
“Bridge to Commodore Shelk”, a female voice called over the intercom.
“Sir, we are getting the first scanning results from the other ships. I have a summary of our own long-range scans ready for your review as well.”
“Thank you, transfer it down here to my work station, I’ll have a look.”
On Khefka IV
A large group of figures in EV suits was making its way through a meadow, small clusters of temperate trees dotted the landscape. Captain White and his delegation were led to the attack site by the Khefkan Prefect and his men.
Attorney General Chetra Haff was walking next to Captain White.
“I don’t quite understand why wearing these clumsy suits is so imperative, Captain. They told us beforehand that there was a danger of radiation poisoning. But I thought that was why we got the inoculations.”
“It appears that the situation is more severe than we initially thought, Ma’am”, White responded.
The Prefect now went ahead and climbed a small slope directly in front of them. When he reached the crest he turned around and signaled the others to follow. As they reached the top he told them:
“We have arrived. This is as far as we can go.”
“My god!”, Captain White exclaimed, his face in horror.
As everyone looked around they started to grasp the unspeakable amount of devastation the attack had caused.
In front of them lay a deep basin, its outer rim, where they were standing on right now had obviously contained any further expansion of the immense blast wave. But inside the basin, the destruction was almost total. A huge dust cloud was hanging over the entire area, blocking out the sun, forming a local nuclear winter. The moonscape-like soil was covered in black ash, the charred remains of trees, most of them blasted away by the shockwave from their original place, small plasma fires with greenish flames blazing here and there, the remnants of the colony, once a thriving and busy settlement, it has become a hellish tundra, its buildings shattered and collapsed, turned into smoldering piles, metal beams, melted and pervertedly warped and: people, the leftovers of their disintegrated corpses were carbonized in grotesque shapes. Gusts of wind were soughing, swirling up drifts of dust and ash, keening, carrying the accusing death cries of fifteen hundred souls.
The group watched on in silence. Captain White began to press a few buttons on the left gauntlet of his suit, a built-in tricorder.
“The radiation levels are off the scale. The fallout is immense. Have you been able to send people any closer?”, he asked while turning to the Prefect.
“Yes, the first responders even went in unprotected, when we didn’t yet know the cause for the explosion. They began to show signs of radiation poisoning almost immediately. Most of them died soon after. Even a second wave equipped with protective suits like these developed symptoms. We had to seal off the entire area. We have employed automated units instead, flying overhead, performing scans, looking for possible survivors, but in vain so far.”
He indicated a number of tiny shuttle-like vessels circling in the distance.
“We would like to examine your scans and talk to your people, if possible”, Thalen tentatively asked.
“Yes, of course. I make the necessary arrangements. Anything that will help you find those responsible.”
The Prefect averted his eyes from the desolate sight in disgust and walked away a few steps before turning around again.
“My government decided not to recover the bodies of our own victims for burial elsewhere. With the permission of the Federation we would like to turn this place into a cemetery and a memorial for the deceased, as soon as it is reasonable in regard to the investigation. My government will also condone and support any kind of punitive action on the perpetrators the Federation feels necessary to perform.”
His face had turned grim with these last words. Then he started to walk off, followed by his men. Another gust of wind raised a cloud of dust which quickly obscured them.
A fast-moving vehicle trailing a huge cloud of dust and sand raced through a desert landscape, passing by endless seas of small bushes and succulents on both sides. On the horizon, next to a slowly setting afternoon sun, there was a shimmer of the city of Las Vegas, its remaining museum-turned casino complexes, once the epitome of greed, nowadays the main attraction for visiting Ferengi tourists.
The two occupants of the convertible hovercar, their hair blowing in the wind, were heading for a small cluster of houses overlooking Lake Mead.
They slowed down when they approached their destination, a spacious cottage surrounded by a vibrant little garden with a neatly trimmed lawn and cypress trees. The house was adobe and natural stone, a mix of Spanish missionary and Pueblo architecture fitting nicely in the landscape.
While the hovercar set down on the driveway with a waning roar a beautiful brunette looking through one of the windows waved to the couple exiting it and then turned the other way shouting:
“Honey, come down, please. They’re here.”
Jessica Pita and Mark, her tall and goodly husband were just about to ring the doorbell when the woman opened up with a wide grin.
“Jess, Mark, it’s so good to see you.”
“It has been far too long, Molly”, Jessica responded. Molly hugged Jessica tightly before turning to Mark. Gesturing at the plate full of apple pie he was carrying:
“I can see you took care of the dessert already.”
Mark responded with a friendly smile.
“Now what am I supposed to do with those cupcakes I spend all morning on? - Just kidding! You know I steer clear of baking. Love cooking though. Come on in!”
“So, I guess it will just be the three of us…”, Jessica commented slyly. Molly turned around in confusion, only now noticing that her partner still was not there to greet the guests. She put her hands on her hips and looked up to the first floor before shouting:
“Mr. Jefferson, will you please come down here right now, or do I have to come up there and get you?”
Mark leaned to Jessica and whispered in amusement:
“Those poor kids in that school, I pity them.”
“Actually, my students are very well behaved and I don’t need to tell them anything twice. But this giant baby right here”, referring to William Jefferson who was just coming down the stairs, “with him I have to raise my voice once in a while.”
“I am sorry, dear.”
Jefferson gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek.
“I was caught up in work. Hey, guys, glad you made it.”
He quickly hugged Jessica and then greeted Mark with a handshake.
“What? No kiss for me?”, Mark joked.
Jefferson looked at him for a moment then grabbed Mark’s head on both sides, trying to pull him closer for a kiss.
“Alright, alright, knock it off, Bill, let’s just go inside and eat”, Mark countered, trying to get out of Jefferson’s firm grip.
The interior of the house was as elegant as its exterior, opulent but not pretentious. Jessica and Mark marveled at the sight of the exquisite dishes which Molly had prepared for dinner.
After they had finished their meal, the two couples took a seat on a large cushioned corner in the living room. They all had glasses of wine and took a sip every now and then.
“The place has turned out really nice, Billy. When you showed me how it looked like before, I was really skeptical.”
“Thank you, Jess, but it’s all this girl here”, Jefferson indicated his fiancée, affectionately taking her hand.
“She has been doing all the work, well, telling the construction workers where to put everything, that is”, he laughed.
“With you being away so much, I need someone here to boss around, don’t I?”, Molly countered with a grin.
“By the way, thanks again, Jess, for bringing my future husband back into the neighborhood. It would have been years until we could have gotten our own place on Earth otherwise.”
“But it wasn't necessary at all. I would have gotten a different assignment sooner or later,” William Jefferson said with a bit of disappointment in his voice.
“Yeah, sure, and the moment there’s some new crisis, you’ll be back at the outer edge of the galaxy again, doing double-shifts”, Jessica stated with a bitter irony.
“Besides, I missed working with you. And so far, you have mirrored my career so closely, a little settling down won’t hurt you at all. Works out for me and Mark so far.”
Mark nodded in agreement.
“And I remind you also, that I am now your superior again, so don’t make me order you”, Pita mentioned with a wink.
“Speaking of that, there is something I need you to do first thing tomorrow.”
“I don’t want that kind of talk while we are sitting here, Jessica. His next assignment can wait”, Molly declared firmly.
“You are right, of course. I am sorry.”
A while later Jefferson and Pita went on the terrace together. In the meantime, Mark and Molly cleaned the dinner table.
“So, what do you have for me, Jess?”, Jefferson eagerly asked her.
“So much for settling down, huh?”
“Come on, you know how it is. I like being with Molly and she has never been the type of woman who is content with staying on starships all her life. It’s great being able to live down here. But I am bored to death already. Out there, I could make more of a difference.”
“You’ll get used to it and before you know it, you are of rank high enough that you can choose your posting.”
“We’ll see. So what is this thing tomorrow?”
“I can’t tell you much right here. You need to go to Jupiter Station tomorrow and I’ll fill you in on the rest then. Never mind your boredom, after all it’s not every day that you catch a Romulan spy!”, she disclosed with a triumphant sparkle in her eyes.
The next morning William Jefferson was on his way to Jupiter Station. The facility, in high orbit above Jupiter, consisted of two sets of three immense flat-domed circular structures, similar to starship saucer section hulls, on top of each other, with a series of antennae and docking ports extending from the bottom and the sides. It served as a major maintenance facility, research station, and MACO training center for Starfleet.
Jefferson’s shuttlecraft approached one of the docking ports which had an enclosed area for handling smaller craft. The young NCO piloting him sat down the shuttle on top of a designated landing marker and Jefferson got out quickly. Halfway out of the shuttle bay he was met by a man who introduced himself as Lieutenant Ariyya, the station’s security officer.
While both men were walking through the corridors Jefferson quickly skimmed the case file on a padd. After turning a corner they entered a turbolift.
“Deck twenty, section E, security station”, Ariyya instructed the turbolift’s voice interface. The cabin then began to ferry them to their destination.
“Unsuspicious résumé on this guy. How did you even pick up on him?”, Jefferson asked.
“It was difficult to pull off. We were tipped off by one of your colleagues saying that a crew member on this station might be in contact with the Romulans. We had to employ an old-fashioned dragnet investigation and eventually caught him making unauthorized communications”, the security officer replied.
They arrived at the security station and Arriya led Jefferson into a set of rooms next to the holding area. A few duty officers were present manning their posts. Both men then entered an observation room which was directly adjacent to an interrogation cell in which the prisoner could be seen through a large monitor, along with a single guard. The observation area also contained a number of consoles and monitors, displaying the prisoner’s lifesigns and other physiological data as well listening devices which would record everything the prisoner might say.
Jefferson stared at the screen for a moment, sizing up his counterpart.
“Has he said anything to you?”, Jefferson wanted to know.
“Negative, Sir. No word. But we conducted only a limited questioning anyway. We were told Intel would send someone to take over”, Arriya answered.
“Very well. Our people will continue from here. The proceedings are classified. I have to ask you and your team to clear the immediate area.”
“Yes, Sir. I understand. We will be just outside in the next section if there’s anything you need.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. That’ll be all for now.”
Arriya nodded and left the room quickly. The guard in the interrogation room also vacated his post.
Jefferson now entered the room and sat across the table. The prisoner, a dark-haired man with pointed ears, did not even look at him. His hands were tied to the table’s surface with forcefield cuffs.
“Good morning, Mr. Tevek.”
The Romulan still not even glanced at him.
“You see, we did our homework on you.”
Jefferson began to read from his data padd:
“Tevek, born in the 1990th year, by your calendar, on the Romulan colony of Tan Vukov. You entered Starfleet twelve years ago under the alias of Sudak, from Vulcan. Trained as an engineer, specialties include plasma networking and advanced holoprogramming. Assigned to Jupiter Station seventeen months ago, and all this time, as we concluded, you have been sending encoded messages, to the Tal Shiar no doubt.”
Jefferson got up from his chair and walked around the room a bit.
“I realize someone in your position is sufficiently trained to withstand interrogation and our efforts to coerce you to cooperate. And of course, you know you are not facing an execution squad here either. But that’s not to say the Federation takes espionage against key targets lightly. You will face many years in a prison facility, maybe even a life sentence.”
He now sat down again and while intently looking at him, Jefferson enjoined the man to reconsider:
“You see, it’s my hope that we can help each other out. Maybe, in all the years you have spend in the Federation you have glimpsed at how we do things as opposed to your people, maybe you discovered that we aren’t that dangerous enemy your superiors had made you believe and maybe you say to yourself that it’s not worth it, spending endless time in a remote detention facility for the sake of your employers who already denied any knowledge of your presence here. But if you cooperate, I can arrange for a great deal of leniency. Think about it, Mr. Tevek and if you’re willing to talk, just ask for me. Good day.”
Jefferson left the interrogation room and walked back to the observation booth next to it, hoping to witness his prisoner finally showing some reaction to his speech. He entered the poorly lit room, turning for the screen immediately.
Then suddenly a voice broke the silence in the room:
“Good morning, Mr. Jefferson.”
Jefferson froze dead in his tracks. He knew that voice well. He stiffened and grimaced before he turned to the familiar man standing in the corner.
“Bowman. What are you doing here?”
The man stepped into the light of an overhead lamp which then illuminated his appearance, accentuating his bony features.
“Work, the same as you.”
“You are here for him?!”, Jefferson asked incredulously.
Bowman now stood right next to him, facing the monitor and watching the prisoner.
“That is correct.”
“How do you even know about it, they only caught him yesterday?”
“Mr. Jefferson, you should know by now that we have our sources.”
“Well, then I am sure you are aware of the accusations against him, but also that he hasn’t said a word so far. I don’t see what you expect to get out of him, that I could not.”
“He is one of ours”, Bowman revealed coldly.
“What? What do you mean, he is one of ours?”
“A double agent with the Romulans.”
Jefferson fell silent for a minute at this news. Then he began to speak again:
“Hmm, I guess I am not yet that high in the hierarchy to know about Intel’s double agents with the Romulans.”
“No, Mr Jefferson. He is one of OURS”, Bowman expressed with slight annoyance.
Jefferson’s face turned grim, he understood what Bowman meant.
“He is a double agent for the Section, but the rest of Starfleet has no idea.”
“Of course not.”
“What exactly is his mission then?”, Jefferson asked.
“We turned Mr. Tevek fairly early in his career. After a short respite, he agreed to help us. He has been feeding the Romulans selected information ever since”, Bowman told.
“Disinformation”, Jefferson exclaimed.
“Not exactly. The Tal Shiar is too smart to fall for information they can’t verify through a second source. They received only that information we want them to know about.”
“So, you’re giving them facts, willingly? That sounds like treason to me, Bowman”, Jefferson scoffed.
“The information he is providing in exchange is much more valuable. And I would advise you not to question our decisions. It is not your place to do so.”
“So, what happens now?”, Jefferson wondered.
“You let him go.”
Jefferson could not maintain a straight face answering him:
“You must be out of your mind. He’s been arrested for espionage and treason, falsification of identity, dozens of people know about it already, including the higher charges.
What am I supposed to do? Deleting all the files with evidence against him and smuggle him out, hidden in the cargo hold of my shuttle?”
“You are not lacking fantasy, Mr. Jefferson, I have always liked that about you. But none of that will be necessary. Just go back in there and hand him this”, Bowman said while holding out a tiny octagonal chip.
“And don’t lock the door when you go in. He'll know what to do with it. The rest is taken care of.”
Bowman now pulled another device from his pocket and held it against the surveillance consoles which immediately shut off.
Jefferson wrestled with himself, not sure what to do. He knew he had no choice.
“What should I tell Starfleet what happened here?”
“You don’t need to say much. You will get a reprimand for being careless with the door. They are going to assume he had that chip still hidden on his body. The Station’s security will get the brunt of the blame.”
“Why him? - And why me?”
“He has been deemed important to our interests. The Romulans already know about his capture and expect him to flee. For his services he will receive a significant promotion, maybe it’s even a springboard to a political career in the Romulan Senate. Now that is a source we can’t afford to pass. Not for your superiors’ petty sense of justice.”
Jefferson looked at him with a deep sense of resignation. Bowman continued:
“You know it’s the right thing to do, you let one man go and you save many more from peril elsewhere. We brought you into our organization for a reason, you are one of the few who understand which things really matter. We have much confidence in you. Now go. I contact you when this is over.”
Jefferson bit his lip and then finally turned and went back to the interrogation room. He opened the door and entered, making sure not to engage the lock, as he was told. He stared at Tevek for a short while, who still ignored him. Then Jefferson sat down and hesitantly pulled the chip from his pocket before finally sliding it over to the prisoner.
Tevek embraced the small device with both hands and looked up to Jefferson, showing a cheesy smile. The device activated and shut off Tevek’s restraints which had been holding him fixed to the table. In a swift move, he now jumped up, connected the tip of his foot with Jefferson’s chin, knocking him out of his chair. Before he knew what had happened the Romulan was on top of him, shoving Jefferson’s head with tremendous force against the wall, knocking him unconscious.
When Jefferson came back to his senses, he could hear the Station’s alarm blaring, his head hurt like hell, a deep laceration on his forehead was bleeding profusely.
“Sir, Sir, are you alright?”, Lieutenant Arriya asked him, after just having entered the room with a second security officer, both holding phaser pistols.
“The prisoner, he got away. Have you seen him?”, Jefferson wanted to know. Lieutenant Arriya answered:
“He shot his way right through my security post before making a run for the promenade deck. We gave chaise, but he had too much of a lead over us already. He successfully beamed off the station.”
“Enter”, Captain White said in response to the doorbell chime. Commander Low came in.
“Heather, is there anything to report?”, White asked her.
“No, Captain. I just wanted to check on you.”
“Check on me? I’m fine. You sound like a doctor, Commander. You care for a transfer?” Low smiled and shook her head.
“I mean, how are you holding up? I heard some of the FIA people didn’t take it very well, down there.”
White reflected this thought a little before he answered solicitously:
“It was not a pretty sight. There was almost nothing left of the settlement.”
He paused for a while then he said:
“I can’t help but think if they had to suffer, I mean if it was painful, or maybe very quick of a death…-
Let’s talk about something else. How’s Commander Soman doing?”
“He’s coming along, Sir. I send him to all the major departments, so he can get to know key personnel and procedures. Doing fine so far.”
“Good. What is that you are carrying?”, White inquired, referring to an object Low was holding behind her back. Low produced a thick old book and held it out:
“Oh, right, I wanted to return this. Thanks for the loan, it was a good read.”
“You’re welcome. Please put it in the shelf over there”, the Captain told her while pointing with his finger towards an overladen little board on the wall,
“If you liked it, I got plenty more, as you can see, Heather.”
“Thanks, Captain, maybe another time, when it’s quiet again.”
White got on his feet and began to walk around his desk.
“Sure. Well, I am going to pay a visit to our guests. You have the bridge.”
Captain White arrived in the spacious conference room which the FIA investigation team had occupied. It had been turned into a mobile command post and laboratory. Dozens of computer work stations had been set up, along with large viewscreens and communications equipment. Numerous analysts and technicians were manning them, working with trained efficiency. Director Thalen was supervising his team with the mannerisms of an old school sports coach. Attorney General Chetra Haff was standing next to him, watching.
White approached Thalen and asked:
“Director Thalen, how are we doing?”
Thalen, not facing him, reviewed a report on a data padd, while he responded:
“Slowly, Captain, but steadily. The Attorney General was very persuasive and convinced the Khefkan authorities to hand over all of their research and scans of the attack site. We also received data from their planetary defence grid. Your ship’s sensors are doing the rest. We are just finishing up compiling a three-dimensional reconstruction of the colony and its surroundings, before and after the attack.”
“Anything from the defense grid?”
“Their system is not of the latest technology. Not like ours. The orbital satellites responded only after the firing was detected, but then it was already too late.”
“So this confirms Starfleet Command’s suspicion that the Patronage has access to cloaked ships?”
“Yes. It’s the only possibility, Captain. Any other approach by an unauthorized vessel would have been detected. They were on higher alert than usual due to the conference at the embassy.”
“Starfleet Command also wishes us to positively identify the victims to the best of our abilities. Council and President would like to confirm the death toll of foreign citizens to their respective homeworlds”, White added.
“Yes, of course. I should point out though that, with the intensity of destruction, something we saw first hand, this is not going to yield definitive evidence anymore. We might have to rely on the Khefkan’s transporter archives from before the attack.”
Thalen walked over to one of the analysts and grabbed him by the shoulder, getting his attention.
“Are we ready to display the simulation?”, Thalen asked.
“Good. Let’s have it.”
The young man pressed a series of keys. A huge holographic projection now appeared in front of them, showing the colony, the embassy complex within, every building and tree as well as the topography of the nearby landscape, the basin, and hills, like a digitized miniature.
The simulation began to play and a slow-motion reproduction of the massive explosion flattened the whole area, preceded by a quick bolt of light, symbolizing the single-precision strike from orbit, coming in at a high ankle. Even though only a hypothetical computer reproduction based on sensor data, it still looked scary. The simulation began to run in a loop, over and over again. Captain White gulped at the sight.
Thalen walked over to White again and began to address him:
“Captain, I hope you don’t mind, but I promised the Khefkans some help in return for their cooperation. The Prefect requested us to assist them in predictions on the fallout. They provided us with the weather data for the region, wind patterns, precipitation, and such. I have one of my men working on it already. This way we can give them recommendations regarding further evacuations.”
“Of course, Director. Whatever we can do to help. The ship is at your disposal.”
A few hours later
“Mr. Soman, please have a seat”, White said, greeting his Second Officer in one of the conference rooms for a one-to-one conversation.
The Suliban officer shook his hand and both men sat down.
“Regrettably I haven’t found the time to talk to you earlier.”
“I understand, Captain White. I’m not sure if I would have had the time either. Commanders Low and Aq’Numi are keeping me very busy. The ladies are dragging me all over the ship, they have me crawl through Jefferies tubes and assist with maintenance whenever they can”, Soman stated with pretended annoyance.
“They just want you to get acquainted with the ship.”
“I know, Captain. Of course, I appreciate the opportunity to learn. This is really quite a ship, you have here.”
“Yes, she’s a beauty”, the Captain enthused.
White reached over to a tea set which had been standing next to them on the conference table and poured himself a cup. Soman observed him very closely.
“Please forgive me, you care for a cup as well, Mr. Soman?”
“Thanks, but no. I’m not much of an enthusiast in regards to hot drinks.”
“Too bad. At my age, I wouldn’t make it until lunchtime without my Earl Grey.”
The Captain continued:
“You know, when this mission is completed I really want to find out who arranged your posting here. As I told you when you first came aboard, making such a posting over the head of the ship’s commanding officer is unusual. It has never happened to me before in all my years as starship captain. Now I don’t want you to misunderstand me. From what I have read and what my senior officers have been telling me, you seem like an exemplary officer.”
“Captain, I did not request this posting either, I guess someone must have recommended me. But, well, we all have our orders, don’t we.”
“Hmm, sounds like someone well above both our paygrades thought it was a good idea to send you here”, Captain White said with a smirk.
Brom Soman nodded in agreement and added:
“However, I promise you, I will do my best to fulfill my duty here.”
“I’m sure you will.”
White now took his data padd from the table and looked at the display.
“I’d like to get over some of your previous postings. There are some remarks in your file, I have questions about…”
“Of course, Captain, go ahead”, Soman responded.
At the end of the day, Captain White groggily entered his quarters and sank into a lounge chair, burying his face into his hands. He sat there for a few minutes, the urge to sleep began to show. Then suddenly his communicator sprang to life, he struck it with his hand, switching it on, and got up from his position.
“Low here, Sir.”
“Yes, Commander, go ahead.”
“Sorry to bother you this late, but we got word from the surface. The Khefkans found a survivor from the attack. A Vulcan woman who lived in the colony. She is in intensive care now. But they notified us, in case we would want to question her.”
White contemplated the thought of how anyone could possibly have survived that attack for a moment, not answering.
“Captain?”, Low asked over the intercom.
“Yes, I am here. Please inform Director Thalen and his staff about this new development. I suggest we are going down there tomorrow and have a word with the victim and also thank the Khefkan authorities for notifying us.”
“Understood Sir. Good night. Commander Low out”, she responded.
During the conversation White had been wandering around, having come to a halt at his personal working desk. He now stared down at a number of data padds scattered across the table and finally picked one of them up. He switched on the device and his eyes went over the details being displayed on the tiny screen. He visibly wrestled with himself in his mind, then he came to a conclusion. He took a seat at the desk and activated the computer terminal.
“Computer, establish a secure channel to Commodore Shelk onboard the USS Rabin, current location: Mutara Sector.”
The computer interface rumbled for a few seconds, then the computer voice replied:
“Unable to comply. Secure communications require code-word clearance.”
White frowned in incredulous frustration.
“What? Try again, authorization White-Alpha-Nine-Seven- Two-Three.”
After compiling again the computer stated:
“Long-term communications are offline.”
“What the…?”, White exclaimed.
“Captain to Engineering.”
“Yes, Captain?”, Chief Engineer Aq’Numi answered his call.
“Commander, are we having trouble with our communications array? I can’t open a channel from my quarters.”
“Argh, sorry about that, Sir. We have been getting similar reports in the past two hours.”
“How serious is it?”
“Minor malfunction, Captain. We already checked the antennas. Long-range communication itself is not impaired, we can reach Command and other vessels from the bridge. It seems as if only personal terminals are affected. Probably just a malfunction in the connectors. I was going to look into this and brief you tomorrow since I am just coming off a double-shift. But I can check now, if you prefer, Sir.”
“No, that’s alright, Commander. First thing in the morning then. Good night.”
“Understood, Sir, thank you, and Good night.”
The next morning Captain White and Commander Low were attending a morning conference with the investigation team. Director Thalen and a few selected members of his staff were present, along with Attorney General Haff. A small delegation of Starfleet brass, among them Admiral Jefferson watched the proceedings via subspace video feed. Thalen was presenting the latest findings while the holographic recreation of the attack was playing over their heads:
“As you can all see, we finalized our computer simulation. Due to the limited amount of data in terms of close-range scans, we had to rely on the scans performed by the ship’s sensors, as well as the Khefkan’s overflights. This gave us more raw data on the damage than we expected. Thus, unfortunately, we haven’t been able to determine the precise point of impact of the projectile. However, the blast, as well as the fire damage, are consistent with the effects of a medium-yield plasma weapon, antimatter explosion in a small reflective casing creates x-rays, they thermalize a carrier into ultra-hot plasma which then travels along in front of the blast wave, burning everything that the blast will not destroy. The analysis of the trace elements suggests with very high likelihood a starship-mounted torpedo of Reman design, most certainly fired from orbit. This data corresponds with some of the preliminary intelligence reports, as well as the clues from the video message by Gumo’s group.”
“Excuse me, Director Thalen”, White interrupted him.
“You just said your findings correspond with ‘some’ of our intelligence. So, what doesn’t add up then?”
“Right. I was getting there. There are a few things that we haven’t found a satisfying conclusion for yet. The main problem is the issue of the weapon’s delivery. Admiral Jefferson, I believe you are more qualified to answer, do you mind?”
“Of course. The latest reports from both Starfleet as well as Klingon Intelligence doesn’t support the possibility that the group has access to vessels capable of firing large Reman plasma torpedoes, even though their video message displayed the weapons prominently. They are relying mostly on smaller raider-type ships of Gorn and Nausicaan design. They are fast and agile, have descent disruptor weapons, but shouldn’t be equipped to fire large Reman torpedos.”
“But it has been determined that they are in possession of cloaking technology, which I believe had been unknown until now as well?!”, White inquired.
“Yes, correct, Captain. But we are talking about major retrofitting here. If they can get their hands on a cloak in the first place, it becomes fairly easy installing it on a ship. A heavy-duty torpedo launcher, on the other hand, it seems too complicated and beyond their skills”, Jefferson declared.
“I concur, Sir. I used to be a weapon system engineer earlier in my career and can confirm that converting a small raider for something like this would be a tall order”, Commander Low interrupted.
“And the ships they do possess are perfectly capable of performing a devastating attack already, especially if they can sneak up so close to the planet under cloak. The only good reason for usage of a heavy plasma torpedo would be that the resulting fallout makes the entire area uninhabitable so that the Federation can not set up another colony on that same spot any time soon. This seems to fit well into their agenda. But regarding the plasma torpedoes, I must point out that we can’t rule out the Patronage might have gotten their hands on larger more suitable ships for the task, without our intelligence knowing about it”, Jefferson closed.
“Thank you, Admiral. We are also struggling with an explanation for the distribution of the blast wave and the resulting destruction. There is a substantial crater in the area where the colony used to be. That, at first, would suggest a detonation very close to the surface, when a greater effect can normally be reached with an airburst-like explosion. In fact, the most recent attack on the Klingon outpost was carried out like that. Also, the epicenter of the crater does not line up with the position of the embassy building, which we believe was the primary target. This is a bit unusual, but probably unimportant. In the end, the weapon annihilates everything within several kilometers, no matter at which altitude and where exactly it detonates.”
“Very well. Thank you all so far. I am going to notify the President and the rest of FSC soon. Is there anything else as of this moment?”, Jefferson asked.
White addressed him:
“Yesterday the Khefkans found a survivor of the colony, we are going to transport down to the surface and pay her a visit right after this meeting. If she is well enough to answer some questions, maybe we can fill in the missing gaps.”
“Good luck. Tomorrow, same time then. Jefferson out.”
On Khefka IV
The double doors slid open and the small group of investigators walked into the intensive care ward of the Khefkan hospital. The authorities had requested a small group, thus only Captain White, Director Thalen, and one if his aides had transported down. The female ward physician was leading them through the ward, which was almost deserted, sterile and clean, polished tile, white walls, and glass.
“She is in critical condition. We aren’t sure if she is going to make it”, the doctor told them, walking ahead of the group.
“How come she was only found now?”, Thalen wanted to know.
“A survey team outside of the area of immediate destruction came across her on a routine patrol. She was hanging in a tree, jammed between the branches. The blast must have thrown her far away, probably several hundred meters. Most species would have died on impact, not to mention the explosion itself. But she is Vulcan, they are extremely resilient.”
They rounded a corner and arrived at the intensive care ward. A glass wall separated them from the room where the victim was being treated. Captain White and the others looked through the window, ashen, the nightmarish sight in front of them took away their breaths. They kept looking on, with a look of agony and immeasurable pity. Thalen’s aide began to consult a data padd.
“We found her file in the colony’s log. Her name is Tikal, born on Vulcan in 2275, used to be a microbiologist for the Vulcan Science Academy, retired to Khefka IV eight years ago. She lived on the outer edge of the settlement.”
“Maybe she was just far enough from the explosion to survive it by a hair”, Thalen suggested.
White did not respond and began to make his way into the room, the rest of the group followed.
Tikal was lying on a raised bench, surrounded by a medical forcefield that kept her body in a sterile environment and insulated the rest of the room from the radiation her contaminated body was emitting. Several monitors were displaying her weak vital functions, life support equipment had been plugged in on various parts of her body. Tissue regenerators were working in an almost futile attempt to restore her body surface. Her torso and lower body were covered with a blanket. A missing feature under the latter indicated that her left leg had been amputated below the knee. The lower half of her left arm had been removed as well, leaving a bloody stump. Only her head, arms, and shoulders were visible, some parts of them burned beyond recognition, others had many small charred flakes of skin peeling off, exposing the flesh below, on other places the tissue had been burned away down to the bone. All her hair was missing, the notoriously pointed ears were gone, leaving only the small holes of the ear canals remaining. Her eyelids had been burned away, her eyeballs were a whitish pulp, half molten and scarred.
“We would like to question her if that is alright?”, Thalen asked the physician hesitantly. The doctor sighed and answered:
“She’s awake but very weak. So please be brief. Excuse me.” She left the room.
“Ma’am, can you hear me?”
The Vulcan reacted with a slight flinching and stertorous breathing. She began to turn her head towards them.
“I am Director Thalen, Federal Investigation Agency, this is Captain White of the Starfleet vessel Valentine. Can we ask you a few questions?”
The woman responded with a weak nod.
“What can you tell us about the attack?”
She stiffened. There was no answer. She turned her face away as if looking at a very distant point. Thalen, though sympathetic, grew slightly impatient.
“The bombardment, did you see it happen?”, Thalen asked. No answer. Growing frustration. White stepped forward now.
“What were you doing when it happened?”, the Captain asked.
“The crops. I was tending my crops”, Tikal replied slurrily and barely audible.
“The tubers, they require much attention before the harvest.”
The others looked at each other, not quite understanding, it wasn’t much, but at least she was talking.
“So you were in your kitchen garden. Then what happened?” the Captain continued.
“I was kneeling in the dirt, I looked up in the sky and there was lightning.”
Thalen’s aide began minuting her statement now. Tikal’s language became more difficult to understand. She was fighting the urge to cry, her breaths became more displeic.
“There was light everywhere. The others were ablaze. They looked like they were screaming, but everything was silent. They writhed and crooked and then…”.
The Vulcan suddenly became silent, she began hyperventilating, her body was convulsing, finally, she collapsed. At the same moment, Captain White became dizzy, an intense pain shooting through his head. Seconds later the physician and two nurses stormed in, assessing the situation quickly.
“She is going into shock!”, the doctor noted.
She now shouted her instructions.
“Set the neural stimulator to four-hundred!”, she told the first nurse.
“Get me 10 CCs of demptopam!”, she said to the other.
While they were hurriedly working to prevent the woman from dying, the doctor finally addressed the team:
“You have to leave, now. The interview is over!”
The three-men team left the room. Outside Thalen grabbed Captain White by the arm.
“Hey, are you alright?”
White, still holding his forehead, replied:
“Yeah, it’s not that bad. I don’t know what happened.”
“Let’s get back to the ship, Captain. I don’t think there is much we can still do here. You should get yourself checked by your doctor anyway”, Thalen said.
Back aboard his ship, the Captain arrived in his ready room. While walking around the desk to his chair he stopped at the replicator for a cup of tea, but then he noticed a blinking light on the surface of his desk, notifying him of a message received. He immediately sat down in his chair and pushed a button which made the built-in monitor fold up.
He started the message. It was from Station Chief Gracie Jones:
“Greetings Captain. I have a meeting with Klingon Intel later today about the Patronage. Maybe they have something of interest. Also, Mettus is on his way back to Starbase 56. He is going to brief us when he arrives. I hope you are free for a video conference then. Jones out.”
Captain White contemplated the suggestion for a few seconds before he got up and approached the replicator unit at the wall.
“One cup of Earl Grey tea”, he ordered casually.
The computer voice interface gave a quick affirmative chime, but then the maschine suddenly began to whine and roar, a sick noise was building up. White, sensing something was wrong, was just about to back off, when the wall erupted and exploded in his face. Everything went black.
The late morning sun was smiling upon the lush countryside in a beautiful valley. The sky was deep blue. A number of wooden cottages in small clusters surrounded a large cubist structure, futuristic, much glass and steel, similar-looking annexes stood nearby. The space inbetween was a wide-open pedestrian area with broad paved walkways, water basins and fountains, a vast park with meadows, large willow-like trees, exotic alien flowers blossoming, everything vibrant green and alive. People were strolling the paths, enjoying the weather, some in more formal attire were converging at the central building, chatting, bargaining, a group of children was playing hide-and-seek between the trees. An idyllic Eden, apparently far from the troubles of galactic politics.
An older Vulcan woman, wearing a slightly weathered jumpsuit and the straw hat was kneeling in the dirt, tending the crops of her garden patch with a spud. Her hair was steel grey, slightly soaked from her sweat, her features were graceful. Next to her another man was standing, watching her.
Captain White looked down on her and she looked up to him.
“The tubers, they require much attention before the harvest”, Tikal said to him with a knowing smile.
She now looked beyond him towards the sky, her face showing mild concern. White turned around and followed her gaze. Up in the sky a narrow white path, like the bolt of lightning, a long cloud of thin smoke trailing it, made its way down towards the settlement in slow motion speed. The children were still playing in the park nearby, running, climbing, laughing. Captain White looked closely at the bright blazing rod, closing in. Tikal was standing next to him now. She took his hand and both watched the hell unfold in front of them.
The bolt of lightning struck one of the annex buildings, a split second later it exploded, an intense white light flooded the whole area with blinding intensity, the glare, as if by a thousand suns, was searing everything, people were cowering, covering their faces, trying desperately to escape the immediate heat. They ignited like match heads, an unquenchable halo of green plasma began to engulf every object, devouring, dissolving matter with an unearthly hiss. With a thunderous roar, the wall of air pushed outwards from the epicenter, the blast wave now smashed everything in its path to smithereens, buildings were disintegrated, their bricks carried away as easily as grains of sand, massive trees shattered into kindling, people, crooked figures of ash, frozen in their dying positions were blown away like piles of leaves.
Captain White bolted up, screaming, bathed in sweat, gasping. A startled orderly called for the Doctor to come. White immediately began to hold his forehead in pain. The ship’s doctor raced over.
“Captain, it’s alright, it’s alright. Calm down. Everything is going to be fine”, the medical officer said appeasingly, trying to push White back down on the bed again.
The Captain’s breathing began to slow down. He was looking around, trying to get his bearings.
“You are in sickbay, Sir. You had an accident.”
White now leaned back in his hospital bed, relaxing somewhat, the pain in his head slowly went away.
“Argh, what happened?”, he inquired.
“The plasma conduit adjacent to the replicator in your ready room overloaded, there was an explosion and a piece of the wall hit your head. You were knocked unconscious.”
“How long have I been out?”
“A few hours”, the doctor explained.
“Listen, you have a mild concussion. It’s not that bad, but you have to take it easy for a couple of days.”
“The replicator?! Yeah, I think I was ordering something and then there was this noise”, White babbled.
“Don’t worry about that right now. Commander Low is running the ship and as far as I know, the Chief Engineer is already working on the malfunctions.”
“Malfunctions? Is there more than an exploding replicator?”
“Yes, Captain, I heard something about engine problems, but please try to focus on your recovery, for now, the ship is in good hands.”
The doctor was about to turn away when White said:
“My forehead, it hurt at the same spot as before.”
“Well, Sir, you were hit on the head during the accident.”
“No, you don’t understand”, White interrupted,
“When I was down at the hospital to see the Vulcan survivor, I suddenly felt dizzy and there was this pain.”
The doctor frowned.
“A Vulcan, you said?”
“Yes, she was Vulcan. We went down to ask her what she saw during the attack.”
“And did she tell you anything?”
White tried to think, slowly he realized.
“Yes, but, I don’t know. I just woke up from a nightmare. It was as if I was there, with her, during the attack. I could see it, feel it.”
The doctor pulled out a medical tricorder, adjusted it quickly, and then began checking White.
“Captain, you have highly elevated levels of activity in your neurotransmitters. This is odd. After an accident like that, the brain should not react this way. Unless...”
“I read about this a while ago in a medical journal. They made experiments on the physiological effects of mind melts on non-Vulcans. They found exactly the same. Elevated levels of neurotransmitter activity. Sir, maybe that Vulcan performed some kind of mind melt with you”, the doctor said.
“But she didn’t touch me, how is that possible?”
“Maybe some different form, less invasive, then what we are used to know about the procedure, but these values, I can’t really explain them any other way, Captain.”
The Captain pondered this for a moment, then he exclaimed:
“She wanted me to understand. We asked her what she had seen, but she couldn’t just tell us, she wanted me to see it through her eyes.”
White slowly rolled over to the edge of the bed, groaning, he swung his legs down and got on his feet, struggling with his first step.
“Where do you think you are going?”
“I have to talk to Director Thalen.”
“You are in no condition to resume your duties, Captain. As your physician, I strongly advise you to stay in bed.”
“I have to do something first, I’ll be back soon.”
Station Chief Gracie Jones listened carefully while the Klingon Intelligence officer, Commander Krag, was explaining the latest findings of his office to her.
“Our analysts are puzzled by these developments. There is so much which doesn’t make any sense. Your superiors are correct with their assessment about Gumo, he’s a small fry, a bloodsucker. He’s not a man of ideology. We can’t explain why his group would suddenly go to such lengths, especially attacking your people and not ours.”
“That is true, Krag, but his responsibility for the execution of the attack on Khefka IV is without a doubt, according to everything we have found so far”, Jones told him.
“You know what else is weird? All these other insurgent groups which have declared their allegiance to him now, there was nothing that indicated he involved them in the planning. As an outward impression, they want to make us believe they have become a united front against the Klingons and the Federation under Gumo’s leadership. Although everyone knows they hate each other or are at least rivals. And none of them participated in any sort of coordinated attack on other places. In preparation of these attacks, even the less relevant ones our people had to endure over the years from them, there has always been some form of buildup, more communications chatter, relocation of their families, increased alert levels in anticipation of our counterattacks. Now there was nothing. It’s as if none of them knew what was coming either.”
“Isn’t it possible, Commander, that Gumo simply wanted to keep his plans secret, so nobody could possibly spill the beans about it and maybe even warn us?”, Jones asked.
Krag snarled affirmatively.
“Whatever it is, now Gumo is the top dog, as you would say. It is probably only a matter of time until more attacks of this magnitude will follow.”
“We have to find him first”, Jones exclaimed.
“Yes, my team is working on a number of leads which may help us find his whereabouts, his hiding places even.”
“Anything of particular importance?”
“A while ago, we received a tip about an old supply station in the Badlands. We used it as a forward base during the Dominion War. It was abandoned decades ago. There are rumors that a group of weapon smugglers towed it away from its original position and set it up as an arms storage. Gumo allegedly was one of them. He could be using it as a base of operations, way outside the reach of our normal patrols”, Krag explained.
“I see. But you don’t know exactly where this station is now”, Jones assumed.
The Klingon smiled mischievously and answered:
“No, but I know someone who might. You see, we brought you a gift…”
White, only covered in the hospital gown from sickbay, stepped into the FIA’s investigation room. The technicians shot puzzled looks at him, as did Director Thalen, who was also present.
“Captain White, I didn’t expect you to join us today”, he said, trying to disguise his embarrassment about White walking towards him in the revealing gown.
“How are you feeling?”
“I’m better, thanks. Listen, about the inconsistencies we spoke about yesterday during the briefing, have you found out anything more?”, White wanted to know.
Thalen after a short hesitation shook his head no.
“Can you please show me that simulation again?”
The Director shrugged and nodded to one of the technicians who then pushed a few buttons and the holographic video began to appear.
“What are you looking for, Captain, if you don’t mind me asking?”, Thalen quizzed.
“You said yesterday you could not determine exactly why there was a crater at all and the distribution of the blast wave was unusual, right?”
“Yes, but I also stated that it might not be that important.”
White began to study the simulation intensely. He walked around the table, looked from different vantage points and angles, gently pushing the technicians out of his way to see better. His antics were starting to confuse the other people in the room.
Director Thalen, a little annoyed, asked him again:
“Captain, if you could tell us what you are looking for exactly?”
“That woman’s house, which one is it?”
Thalen’s aide, who had been with them at the hospital the other day consulted his notes, then he pointed to one of the small cubes symbolizing the cottages in the colony’s outer perimeter.
White repositioned himself in order to watch the replay as if standing at that very house.
“Okay, now if the shot from orbit had struck a very specific building, this one to be precise”, he explained while pointing at one of the annex buildings belonging to the embassy complex.
“How would you know that, Sir?”, Thalen’s aide asked.
“Well, uhm, Tikal showed me.”
The FIA team shared looks of confusion. Thalen stepped up closely to White:
“Captain, a word please?”
They retreated into a corner of the room.
“What is going on here? What do you mean Tikal showed you?”
“She must have mind melted with me somehow yesterday, I saw it with her eyes when I was out, in a dream. The torpedo coming down, the very building which was hit. She saw it.”
Thalen, incredulous, and mildly angry responded:
“Captain White, what you are doing right now is not very proper for someone of your stance. This is a major investigation into the deaths of way more than a thousand people. We need to stick to the facts here. You had an accident, a goddamn wall exploded and hit you in the face and now you are showing up here, out of bed, where I am sure the doctor wants you to remain, staggering around, claiming you have seen the attack through the eyes of the only survivor. Who knows what kind of stuff people would dream about after a heavy blow to the head. Respectfully, but you aren’t helping us with this.”
Captain White, a little rueful, now selected his words carefully:
“You are right. My appearance here, like this, is somewhat unusual. But surely you remember when I got dizzy yesterday right after Tikal went into shock?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I felt the same after I woke up from that dream only minutes ago. The doctor detected elevated activity in my neurotransmitters, which he said were consistent with having undergone a mind melt recently. And I could see it clearly, the projectile coming down. It was not a large torpedo. I know because I had the unpleasant opportunity to watch a microtorpedo hit a building on Hitora just a few weeks ago. What I saw in my dream was very similar. It must have been a smaller type. Something the Patronage would have been able to use. And the building I saw was a good distance away from the embassy building, maybe this could explain the position of the crater.”
Thalen processed this. Though still uncomfortable with the situation, he took a deep breath and made a decision.
“Very well, Captain, we give it a shot, but only this one. And I want you to get changed!”,
he told the Captain who gratefully smiled. Then Thalen marched back to his team.
“Plot a new simulation with the building the Captain indicated as the possible origin of the explosion.”
White, now in his uniform, was walking towards the conference room to rejoin the FIA team when Commander Low and Chief Engineer Aq’Numi intercepted him in the adjoining corridor.
“Captain, we need to talk, it’s urgent”, Low announced. White faced both women and answered:
“Sure, have you found out something about the malfunctions?”
Aq’Numi nodded nervously, at times looking at passing crew members with a sense of paranoia in her eyes.
“Not out here, Sir, please.”
White understood and they made their way along the corridor into a small unoccupied lab.
“Ok, so what’s going on?”, the Captain demanded to know.
“We were able to find out why those systems malfunctioned”, Aq’Numi said apprehensively.
“Someone intentionally planted a number of commands into the computer, designed to affect specific systems under certain conditions, shutting them off or causing overloads. And whoever did this, knew exactly how to do this without attracting attention and how to conceal the traces.”
“What?”, the Captain wondered with anger.
“Captain, there is a saboteur onboard”, Low explained.
Without a word, but visibly furious White paced around the room.
“Sir, right now we only know of those malfunctions that have actually been set off: long-range subspace communications, minor engine failures, and your replicator. But every major and minor system could be affected and we won’t know until we put in for overhaul, however the manner of programming involved suggests that the commands are not made to last and will be overridden by daily procedures very soon, but until then, I can’t guarantee anything, Sir”, the Chief Engineer explained. White turned to face her:
“What else do you know? How exactly does the sabotage work?”
“From the looks of it, the saboteur must have accessed minor system junctions throughout the ship multiple times, planted a harmless command which would then trigger a different system elsewhere. With your replicator, the command was apparently some sort of codeword, as soon as the voice interface registered it, an increase in plasma intake was triggered while simultaneously it shut off the adjacent valves, causing an overload.”
“Earl Grey!”, the Captain said.
“‘Earl Grey’, that must have been the codeword. I ordered a cup of tea just before the explosion. It was the only thing I said out loud after I got into the ready room.”
“Sonofa…”, Commander Low commented enraged.
“What you are telling me, this requires years of experience with starship technology, but also regular access, am I right?”, White asked.
“Correct, Sir. The saboteur must have extensive experience. I can actually count on one hand the crewmembers who could do it, I myself included. As for the access, all malfunctions we know about seem to have been planted in the past few days. Probably not before we left for the Khefkan system”, Aq’Numi responded.
“Is there anything we can do to catch the saboteur? Lay some kind of trap maybe?”, Commander Low inquired.
Aq’Numi thought for a second, then she told them:
“I suppose I could program a shipwide surveillance command which would register all system accesses with their password authorizations and timecodes. It won’t tell us anything until the new malfunction is planted though.”
“Alright, for the moment I want this to stay between the three of us. What about your team, Ms. Aq’Numi, do they know what’s going on?”, the Captain asked.
“Only bits and pieces, I had to do much of the work myself, the engineers who gave me a hand only knew about the individual malfunctions they had to repair.”
White nodded and said:
“Let’s keep it that way, get started with the trap right away!”
“Aye, Sir”, the Chief Engineer acknowledged.
“Captain, I must point out that Lt.Commander Soman might fit the requirements for the saboteur”, Aq’Numi added.
“How do you figure?”, the Captain asked her.
“Well, he wasn’t assigned here until a few days ago, he has worked in a number of departments during this time, giving him easy access to ship systems and he has substantial engineering experience according to his résumé”, she explained with slight discomfort.
White and Commander Low looked at each other uneasily before he announced:
“Thank you, both. I take this under consideration, but we won’t assign blame prematurely, so investigate in all directions, is that understood?”
Both women nodded and White left the room.
Meanwhile, Thalen’s team had finalized the adjustments to the simulation. Captain White rejoined them, as had Attorney General Haff.
The slightly changed simulation was playing again in a loop.
“It is a match, Sir, the pattern of the destruction and the supposed path of the blast wave fit exactly to a detonation within this building”, the chief analyst stated in cold amazement.
“Can you freeze the simulation and zoom in on the exact building that was hit?”, the Director requested.
“Zooming in now, Sir.”
“What is that? It doesn’t look like it even belongs to the embassy. Must be almost a kilometer away”, Chetra Haff commented with growing interest.
“According to the blueprints, it’s a multi-purpose storage facility. The colony seems to have used it as a warehouse, for cargo deliveries and such”, one of the analysts explained.
“You are right, Ma’am. It’s almost a kilometer from the main colony buildings and the embassy”, the young man added.
“Now why would they not target the embassy itself? They claimed they wanted to punish the Federation for its imperialist ways of expansion. Why not fire on the embassy itself, seat of the Federation envoy, the place hosting the trade conference. Why the warehouse?”, Haff wondered.
“Well, does it really matter? The explosion destroyed everything within eight kilometers throughout and would have destroyed an even larger area if the topography of that valley would not have prevented it by deflecting the remaining blast upwards. They don’t need to do precision targeting”, Thalen countered.
“Maybe their ships weren’t able to do better”, Thalen’s aide suggested.
“No, they should be, all fairly modern raider ships are”, the Captain confirmed,
“Besides, the Klingon outpost they hit two days ago was a much smaller target and they scored a lethal blow with their first shot.
But if I am right about the torpedo, then its yield would not have been sufficient to cause the amount of destruction. Only a heavy torpedo could do that. One like those we saw in their video message.”
“So, if they fired a smaller projectile but the explosion was from a larger piece, how did it get down there?” the Attorney General inquired.
White had got up and was pacing around.
“Maybe they smuggled it down somehow. I don’t know”, he answered.
“And we also know they have enough weapons capacity to destroy the colony with what they had onboard their ships, it would only take more ordnance. Why smuggle down a heavy plasma torpedo which does the same, except for the additional radioactive fallout?”, Director Thalen queried.
“Director, you said the other day the Khefkans wanted us to help them predict the fallout. What about the dispersal pattern of the radiation. Can we see what areas are being affected?”
The chief analyst pulled up the data, overlaying the simulation with an opaque cloud, symbolizing the fallout and its movement.
“Latest updates are showing the radiation cloud to move beyond the area of destruction in a south-eastern direction.
The Khefkan Prefect told us they already had to evacuate their settlements in this area. Along with the mining area.”
Captain White stopped short:
“What mining area?”
The technician showed them a wider view of the area close to the colony with a number of heavily industrialized spots.
“The region has substantial deposits of tritanium ore. It was discovered only a few years ago. Prospector’s scans show the Khefkans are sitting on roughly 17% of the galaxy’s entire known deposits.”
“But when the radiation cloud hits the mines it will contaminate the ore for years, maybe decades”, White commented.
The others nodded in agreement.
“What if they didn’t want to hit the colony at all, what if the mines were the target instead and the attack on the colony just a distraction?”, the Captain suggested.
A little while later, the investigation team was sitting in the conference room, talking to the Khefkan Prefect via video communication.
“Sir, we believe the exact point where the explosion originated was a building on the outer perimeter of the colony, a sort of warehouse. Do you know what they would use it for during the conference?”, Thalen inquired.
“I know they had one of the annex buildings in use as storage every time Starfleet dropped off supplies. But those supplies would always be distributed quickly. Normally it should stand empty. And during the conference? My guess would be to offer customers a way of inspecting the merchandise, take a sample, whatever. It’s rare though.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean we have had conferences here before. I myself used to be a trader before I got into civil service. At conferences like these most people attending would not be making negligible deals. It’s about long term trade agreements, licences, franchising, tariff quotas, options. Hands-on dealing with merchandise is for petty dealers. This isn’t a bazaar.”
“Thank you very much, Sir.”
The Prefect nodded and switched off the communication.
Thalen got up and read aloud the information from his padd:
“The Khefkans provided us with the last transporter data before the attack. There was a small Karemma freighter asking permission to transport a piece of merchandise to the coordinates of the warehouse, the dimensions specified in the request match the size of a crated up Reman plasma torpedo.”
A bag of thick fabric was pulled off the head of a young Gorn male, tied to a pillar and unconscious.
Next to a number of Klingon warriors Gracie Jones stood in front of him, cross-armed and ordered:
One of the Klingons stepped forward and put a hypospray injector to the Gorn’s neck. The small device wheezed a bit during the injection. The Gorn began to groan and slowly woke up. He began to look around, he recognized the dungeon-like bowels of a Klingon ship with its rust-colored grilled walls and the damp atmosphere, the sight of the Klingons and the Starfleet officer made his face turn into an image of total disdain and he croaked and hissed in anger.
Gracie Jones began to address him:
“So, judging from your reaction, you know who we are. We definitely know who you are. You are a gofer for Gumo, one of his followers. With you having fallen into Klingon hands, it’s really unfortunate that your boss attacked that Klingon outpost yesterday. They declared martial law afterward. As an accomplice and accessory, you will be tried and executed very soon.”
“You can’t scare me, woman. We are prepared to die and the Patron will prevail in the end. My death means nothing”, the Gorn sternly proclaimed.
“Oh, I’m sure you believe that.
The Gorn now smiled.
“You are a fool, as if anyone would kill me with a Starfleet officer around. You wouldn’t let them.”
“Look around you, pal. You are onboard a Klingon ship. I have no jurisdiction here. I am just an observer. One with the faint hope, you might tell us something useful first”, Jones countered.
“Pah. Why should I tell you anything? I told the Klingon authorities everything about my father back then. After the Klingon occupation of my homeworld, he beefed about it for months in public and I told them that he was a senile and grumpy old man, who’s complaining about everything and all the time, but they declared him a seditionist and deported him to Rura Penthe. Do you know what happens to reptiles on a frozen planet? He was dead within a month. On the day of his death, I swore I would devote my life to the fight against monsters like these.”
“Oh yes, and what a glorious fight it is. Your group killed fifteen hundred innocent civilians, most of them people from Federation worlds which had settled on Khefka IV, outside of Federation space, on a foreign planet, people who had nothing to do with your struggle, not even one Klingon was amongst them. Is this the liberation from oppression Gumo told you about?”
“Victory demands sacrifice! They are martyrs, like all of us, like me!”, the Gorn exclaimed.
“Sacrifice? Martyrs?”, Jones asked him,
“What about your family on Ryna-Bravo? Will they be martyrs too?”
The Gorn now gulped and looked at her with sorrowful agitation, not saying a word.
“Yes, we know about them. You haven’t devoted your entire life to this fight, haven’t you? There are still people you want to protect, protect them from harm? From the danger of coming under fire from this Klingon task force which is on its way right now to smoke out the presumed insurgency hideout which is in the neighborhood of your family’s home?”
“You can’t do this!”
“We can’t? Your boss declared war on us and the Klingons!”
“You are no different than them. That’s why we fight you too, Starfleet.”
Jones turned away and prepared to leave. The prisoner now became really agitated.
“No, please, you can’t!”
“Yes, we can. And good luck to your family, they’re going to need it. Maybe the Klingons will send troops down instead of bombarding the place from space. That’s more than the people on Khefka IV got.”
“No, please, you have to stop this!”, the Gorn pleaded.
“We are done here. He’s all yours”, Jones coldly said while moving for the exit and looking at a giant fierce-looking warrior coming out of a corner, dragging his huge bat’leth sword behind him. The Klingon positioned himself directly in front of the Gorn, he briefly looked down on his tied up victim, baring his teeth with delight, then he took aim for a decapitating blow. He tightly grabbed the handles of the mighty curved weapon, then raised it high up in the air, its razorsharp blade flashing lethally. The moment it was about to come down upon him, the Gorn yelled:
“Stop! I’ll talk, please stop!”
Jones stepped forward again and gently pushed the giant Klingon aside who then let go of the Gorn who, now hectically gasping for air, was ready to wet himself.
“Alright, now talk”, Gracie Jones demanded.
“It wasn’t Gumo’s plan. I was there, on Qo'noS, with him when they came.”
“They were foreigners. It was a woman, nobody ever saw her face, but she said she worked for another group. They said we had common interests. They were also very interested in using the plasma torpedoes we possess.”
In a secluded corner of the extensive engineering deck of the USS Valentine Chief Engineer Lt.Commander Aq’Numi met with Commander Low.
“What is it? Have there been more malfunctions?”, the First Officer asked.
“Negative, but it’s about the same issue. Look, I think Soman is the saboteur, has to be. And I have a plan to catch him with a smoking gun in his hand. But I need your help.”
“The Captain gave order to investigate in all directions, you heard him, why you want to focus on Soman?”
“Heather, come on, are you telling me, you aren’t suspecting him? Open your eyes and see reality. There’s virtually only one other person except myself who could pull off this kind of sabotage and that is you. I didn't do it and neither did you. Soman is the unknown variable.”
“Ok, you’re correct. I do suspect him as well. But can we really exclude anyone from the crew, I mean, you have some brilliant engineers down here, tactical, science departments, they are all first-line”, Low tried to calm her colleague.
“Yes, but they are mostly trained in their respective areas, but what’s going on here, is an entirely different level. And I just don’t know what Soman might actually be capable of. The Captain is a good man and tries to be impartial and just, but not taking action might be risking lives.”
“Fine. What is your plan?”
“So, I have set up the trap I told the Captain about, but maybe we should offer our rat some cheese as well. I need you to take Soman into an area of the ship which is almost unfrequented, deflector control or up in the nacelle pylons. Tell him to work on something while you are doing the same, but visibly out of sight from him. With nobody around, he’ll feel safe enough to make another attempt. I stay in Engineering and monitor the situation from there, as soon as he makes some offbeat input, I can shut him off and we got him”, Aq’Numi disclosed.
Commander Low hesitated shortly before she answered:
“I think about it.”
Station Chief Gracie Jones continued her interrogation.
“Go on, what else?”, she asked the Gorn prisoner.
“I was not present the entire time. But I know the woman remained in regular contact with us. The Patron once said he believed them to be from within the Federation. We don’t know who they are, but they seemed to be well connected, knew more of us than Klingon Intel, even where to find us!”
“Why did they want you to attack this place in particular?”
“They told us the conference was about future Federation memberships. Hitting the place would be a lesson for your people. And they said, if we could pull it off, the leadership in the fight against the Klingons would be ours. That’s all I know.”
“Where is Gumo now? Still on Qo’noS?”
“No, I think he went to a hideout near the Badlands.”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know exactly. It’s on the other edge of the Archanis Sector.
“Thank you, dear”, Jones said with a friendly smile and turned around for the door.
The Gorn yelled after her:
“Wait! What about the task force and Ryna-Bravo, you have to cancel the mission! What about my family?”, the Gorn implored.
Jones ignored him.
“Don’t leave me here with the Klingons! I request asylum!”
With her back turned to the Gorn Jones answered slackly:
“Not necessary. Computer, end program.”
Within one second the Klingon warriors, the ship interior and everything else dissolved into thin air, revealing the familiar yellow lined checkerboard grid walls of a Starfleet holodeck.
Commander Low was slightly upset when she entered Captain White’s ready room.
“Captain, I was just told we’re changing course and will rendezvous with the Sutherland?!”, she inquired.
“Yes, that is correct, Heather”, White calmly answered.
“Is there a particular reason? I thought we would be staying here until Director Thalen and his team are finished?”
“They are almost done and Captain Elson and the Sutherland can give them a ride home.”
“And Command authorized this?”
“Yes, I told them we have to call at the next shipyard for maintenance, due to the sabotage, but I want to go to Starbase 56 first”, the Captain announced.
“Respectfully, Sir, but as your First Officer, I need to be informed about your intentions. How am I supposed to help you carry out orders when I have no idea what’s going on?”
White looked at her, then he smiled warmly.
“You are right, Heather, of course. We are going to Starbase 56. Mr. Mettus earlier made a call to me. He said he investigated the Phoenix case more thoroughly and has found incontrovertible evidence, tying Director Jefferson to the murder of Admiral Pita.”
“Captain, I thought we were in agreement about this and now you still want to pursue the issue?”
“Heather, I know you aren’t nearly as convinced as me, and you don’t like me going after this case, but I just need to do it. It is my decision”, White firmly declared.
“Very well, Captain”, Commander Low sighed.
After Gracie Jones had exited the holodeck on Starbase 56 she went back to meet with her Klingon liaison Krag.
“So how did it go?”, Krag asked her eagerly.
“Splendid. A little bumpy at first, but eventually he became very cooperative.”
“What did he tell you?”
“He knew more than I expected. By the way, the place you are looking for is in the Archanis Sector.”
Commander Krag gave her a smile and added:
“I tell my superiors immediately!”
He activated his communicator.
“IKS Qapchu'mup, come in.”
There was no answer.
“Come in, do you read?”, Krag repeated.
Suddenly the nearby bulkheads were shaken by tremors.
“What is going on?”, Krag demanded angrily.
The station’s red alert now came on. Without saying a word Gracie Jones ran towards the next section, Krag followed her. They arrived at a small lounge with windows that allowed a better view of what was happening outside of the station. There they witnessed the Klingon cruiser, docked to the starbase and thus not able to maneuver being swarmed by a dozen small raider vessels, like ugly metallic insects, they relentless fired their weapons into the flanks of the mighty battleship, explosions ripped gaping holes in its hull, more raiders decloaked and attacked the station’s defensive weapons, disabling them after a short fight. The Klingon ship finally began to break apart, its nose section which was still attached to the station’s docking port, was snapped off the rest of the vessel, its burning hulk beginning to drift away.
“We have to get to the tactical station, now!”, Jones shouted.
Both raced through the corridors, passing by numerous Starfleet officers on their way to their battle stations.
“This is the Station Commander, we are being boarded. All personnel execute Defense Plan Epsilon-Five. Security teams to decks 14, 22 and 31”, a male voice ordered over the speakers.
“Epsilon-Five, what does that mean?”, Krag wanted to know while running next to Jones.
“No time to explain, just stay with me.”
When Jones rounded the corner at the next intersection, she received a hard blow to the stomach with the butt of a disruptor rifle, stumbling back into Krag’s arms who was able to catch her. That minor distraction prevented him from drawing his pistol quick enough before a disruptor stream burned a massive tunnel into his torso, killing him instantly.
Jones was holding her stomach in pain, looking up in the faces of a group of Nausicaans, their leader raised his rifle and knocked her out.
The USS Valentine was flying at high warp en route back to Earth.
In his ready room, Captain White was sitting at his desk, his eyes fixed on a small device in his hands, rotating it between his fingers, examining. The door chime went off. White moved the tiny piece of technology out of sight.
The door slid open and Commander Low came into the room.
“You asked for me, Sir?”
“Yes, Heather, please sit down”, he answered while indicating the seat across the desk.
“I am afraid I haven’t been very cooperative lately”, he told her with a slight hint of shame on his face.
Low looked at him curiously.
“During the course of our investigation at Khefka IV, I let you pretty much-run ship operations in my place, especially after the accident so I could recover and focus on the other tasks at hand. There was a reason for not informing you earlier about my continued investigations into the Phoenix case, as well as our progress and latest findings on the Khefka IV attack.”
“I think I understand, Captain. It’s your ship, you are free to delegate any authority you like, especially during such a difficult mission. Of course, I would have appreciated it more, if you would have admitted me into your confidence, but considering our diverging points of view regarding Phoenix, I might have done the same in your place. Think nothing more of it, Sir.”
“Thank you, Heather, you are very kind. But that is not exactly what I meant.
You see, I was dishonest about our reason for leaving Khefka earlier than expected. In fact, the on-site investigation has been completed and we are returning to Earth.”
Commander Low frowned in disbelief.
“So, you are not meeting up with the Intelligence team on Starbase 56?”, Low asked him.
“No, I’m not.”
“Then what was all this about, this incontrovertible evidence against Director Jefferson?”
“It was a ruse to draw out the spy aboard this ship. The person who also sabotaged us. We have been able to identify the one responsible.”
The door opened again and Lieutenant Commander Soman entered, accompanied by two security officers, as well as Chief Engineer Aq’Numi. Low gave Soman a cold look which he returned.
“So it is true. I had my doubts about him from the beginning”, Commander Low remarked.
Captain White got up and said:
“So had I. It just fit in too well. He is assigned here, out of nowhere, and very soon odd things start happening. Tiny glitches at first. Things that should make me turn the ship for the nearest shipyard for inspection, while at the same time I had been conversing with Jones and Mettus about our ongoing efforts to dig more into the Phoenix case. It was all designed to prevent me from interfering anymore and from finding the truth.
Remember those coordinates Phoenix gave us. One of them was an abandoned underground intelligence installation on the planet in the Argus Sector. The last Station Chief in that sector was William Jefferson. Shelk and I went there. The only evidence of value we could find was a list of names belonging to the final duty roster. We downloaded the data. It had a number of familiar names on it. Names of people who were popping up here and there during the hunt for Phoenix and the attack on the President’s ship. People like Major Winslow who got arrested for assisting in the attack on USS Leeds, or Petty Officer Tass, who gave crucial witness testimony against Phoenix. And as if my miracle, all of them had found themselves at the same assignment many years ago. As if that place used to be some sort of transit camp and meeting place for Starfleet officers working for a secretive organization. Some of the data was damaged though, obscuring one last name on the list. So I asked that kid down in sensory control to restore it, which he did a while ago, he is very gifted. It was your name, Heather.”
Whites face darkened, his eyes now fixing Commander Low like sharp daggers.
“That’s absurd. What are you talking about?”
“Yes, I thought that too. But then it crossed my mind how much you criticized the first clues Phoenix gave me and how much you insisted on not believing even one word he was saying. Back then, for a while, I genuinely thought you were right and that I was acting foolish. But with this new revelation, I began to doubt you. It was not easy to allow myself the thought that you of all people could have betrayed me. And after I got out of sickbay, hearing about more sabotage, I realized there was a connection between the latter and my communications with Starbase 56, someone on this ship knew I was in contact with Jones and Mettus and wanted to prevent it, even put the ship out of action, so my hands would be tied. I remembered that most of the communication with the others originated in this room, so I searched it for any hints of foul-play. And with the suspicions I had about you, I really hoped I would NOT find anything. Yet I did.”
He pulled the small device out of his pocket and tossed it to Commander Low who caught it, her face in shock. White continued:
“A bug, rather old-fashioned I must say, but very sophisticated: high performance recording equipment, built-in visual camouflage. Just put it in a corner somewhere and it becomes invisible. I found it in the spine of the book you returned to me. I had Aq’Numi replicate one just like it. We placed it in your quarters the other day. And soon enough you were telling Jefferson where I intended to go.”
White now switched on his desk monitor and turned it for Low to see a recording of herself, in her quarters, sitting at her desk and giving said information to Jefferson who readily acknowledged it.
“We also retraced the sabotage back to you. You were careful enough not to use your own access protocols and replace it with those that might implicate someone else. And when Aq’Numi suggested Soman as the perpetrator, you just had to take the opportunity. She had told me right away about you and her being the only ones capable of such a level of sabotage. We laid the trap for you.”
Low looked at Aq’Numi in dismay, who, before leaving, commented in disappointment:
The Captain continued:
“After you left Soman alone in that section of the starboard nacelle to work, we beamed him off the deck, removing him as a suspect for the moment, leaving you as the only person in the entire compatrment and sure enough, another attempt of sabotage was made, in that section, with Soman’s authorization, which you, as First Officer, have access to.
Commander Low gasped in bitter resignation.
He now got right into her face.
“Needless to say, I was speechless. You have been my First Officer for seven years. I consider you my friend. How could you stab me in the back like this? Goddammit, Heather, what devilish nonsense have these bastards been feeding you that you would compromise your most basic duties? That you would violate your virtues? Your loyalty to me, your duty to this ship, your duty to the truth?!”
Commander Low could give him no reply.
White looked at Soman and the security officers and resolutely ordered:
“Take her to the brig.”
At that moment an intense tremor rocked through the entire ship which dropped out of warp seconds later. The attendees including Captain White were almost knocked off their feet. White stormed through the door onto the bridge.
“Warp engines went offline, Sir. We are dead in the water!”, the helm officer responded.
“Engineering, what’s happening?”, the Captain demanded to know.
“I don’t know yet, must be some kind of feedback surge in the warp plasma conduits”, the Chief Engineer answered over intercom.
“What is the condition of the core?”, the Captain inquired.
“Stable, for now, but antimatter containment might fail if there is another surge.”
White glared at Low who was quick to explain:
“This should not have happened. The tempering I did was only meant to cause minor malfunctions.”
“Well, it looks like your sabotage came back to bite you and the rest of us.” He turned to the Second Officer:
“Commander Soman, you take over up here. Initiate emergency evacuation procedures, if necessary.”
“Yes, Sir. Where are you going?”, Soman replied.
“I’m going down to Engineering, Heather, you’re coming with me. Let’s see if you can rectify some of damage you’ve done.”
He grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her to the turbolift, a security officer followed them.
Arriving in Main Engineering they found the entire crew there working feverishly to prevent a catastrophe. Chief Engineer Lieutenant Commander Aq’Numi shot orders to her staff in maschine gun mode while quickly tapping on the main console. The bulkheads were shaking. The blood-curdling howl of the alarm sound was blaring without end, warning of the impending overload in the overheated plasma conduits.
“Coolant discharge is 23% below specified minimum!”, a technician yelled to Aq’Numi.
“Vent the ducts, purge the plasma manifolds, now!”, she bellowed.
The ship groaned. White pushed Commander Low over to a console.
“Make yourself useful!”, he told her.
Low went to work alongside the other engineers. The whole compartment shuttered, then everything began to calm down.
“System slowly returning to normal levels, Sir”, one technician stated with relief.
“Plasma venting did the trick.”
“This is the Captain, I want damage reports from all departments!”, White demanded over shipwide comms.
Suddenly, there was another mechanical whine, everywhere around them, getting louder, approaching. The Captain was just about to ask what it was, when the corner wall connecting the engineering ops with the warp core assembly room exploded, blowing wall panels to pieces, spouting a huge flash of bluish plasma fire and sending several engineers flying across the room. Pandemonium. White raced to the wounded, giving first aid, helping them on their feet. Only seconds later, a group of medics entered and began taking the wounded to sickbay.
“What went wrong? I thought you had it contained?”, the Captain asked agitatedly. Aq’Numi was already consulting her readings.
“The main starboard plasma assembly must have melted before all the plasma could be vented. It must have disabled the internal sensors nearby, giving us no prior warning.”
She now looked at him in great distress.
“Captain, there might more plasma surges traveling through the conduits, bouncing back and forth. If one hits the reaction chamber or the injector assembly, it will rupture the core!”
“Can you protect those systems from any more surges?”, White asked her.
“Negative. That last explosion took out the starboard forcefield projectors around the core as well. Which means we can neither erect a force field protecting the core nor seal off the compartment for standard core ejection.”
“Captain to all hands. We are looking at a warp core failure. Evacuate immediately. I repeat, evacuate the ship!”
He looked around in the room, the remaining technicians had frozen at the order.
“This means all of you too! Abandon ship!”, the Captain screamed. Crew members began to scramble for the exits.
“We may not have enough time, Sir. I’m going to eject the core”, Aq’Numi said while beginning to hit buttons on the console, trying to initiate the core ejection procedure.
The computer responded to her actions with acoustic sound of disobedience.
“Automatic ejection system offline.”
The Chief Engineer looked at the others with painful resolve and declared:
“I stay behind and eject the core manually.”
Captain White shoved her away from the console.
“No, you won’t. Captain goes down with the ship. I’ll stay.”
“No, I will”, Commander Low calmly said from across the room.
She walked over and got right in front of White, staring in his eyes.
“I did all of this. It’s my fault and only mine. I’ll do it.”
“Without the force fields the entire compartment will be exposed to open space, you’ll be blown out along with the core assembly!”, Aq’Numi yelled.
White acknowledged it while fixing Commander Low with his eyes he decided:
“We are running out of time. We’ll do it together.”
He addressed Aq’numi:
“You get your people out, right now, that’s an order!”
The Chief Engineer obliged and while looking at the two senior officers heavy heartedly she hurried the last of her staff out of Engineering. The only other person left in the room was the security officer who had accompanied Commander Low the whole time, apparently refusing to leave the arrested woman. His continuing presence went unnoticed by the Captain.
Captain White and Commander Low were now working side by side, tapping on the main console in quick succession.
“Engaging auxiliary power, I’m shutting off the injector nozzles. You take care of the release clamps.”
“Already on it. Ejector port hatch control standing by.”
“If we had more time, we could reroute the controls to a console outside the room and seal the blast door behind us.”
“Yeah, but we don’t have the time. Another surge could hit the core any second.”
In that moment they could hear the whine again, closing in on the fragile systems around them. The sound increased in intensity.
“Get down!”, the Captain shouted before the second stream of hyper-heated plasma hit the towering pole of the warp core. The explosion blew away the remaining plasma conduits coming out of the reaction chamber and caused cracks in its semi-transparent casing. The cracks soon began expanding, with a spider web pattern, the fissures were slowly writhing in all directions like on a damaged piece of glass under pressure. On the coolant ducts, small ruptures began to form, spilling thick white clouds of vaporized coolant. Large gulps of plasma were pouring out of the shattered conduits, setting ablaze the mid-section of the core assembly and its surroundings, the entire compartment began to fill with black smoke. Alarm sounds were deafening. The computer voice was stoically announcing the upcoming warp core breach.
“Status of the release clamps?”
“Clamps released at 75%, it should not take more than another 15 seconds.”
Another plasma conduit exploded in the rear end of the chamber, spilling shrapnel in their direction. White ducked for cover quickly.
Commander Low used the distraction and flattened the security officer next to her with a lighting strike of her elbow. She pulled the phaser pistol from the man’s holster and pointed it at Captain White. He looked at her with fuming rage.
“What the hell are you doing? Get back at the controls, we don’t have time for this!”
“Get out of here, Captain!”, Low ordered him with cold determination.
White tried to approach the console, tried to resume his work again. Low fired a shot at his feet, he jumped back.
“Goddammit, Heather. I’m not gonna let you do this alone. You hear me? Now drop that thing and get back here. That’s an order!”
“No more orders, Captain”, she looked at him with a range of emotions: dead-serious and determined, pleading, tears beginning to well up in her eyes. She knew this was the great good-bye.
“Get him out of here”, she said while pointing at the guard lying next to her, the Captain finally surrendered and began to drag the unconscious security officer towards the adjacent corridor. Heather Low watched them leave.
“I’m sorry, Jeffrey. For all of this.”
She turned around, sobbing quietly, she pushed a button and the massive blast door began to close slowly.
Captain White deposited the man next to a wall and then quickly turned around again and yelled after Commander Low through the ever closing gap of the blast door:
“Heather, don’t do this, please. Get out of there!”
Even though all hell was breaking loose around her, she could hear him but did not listen. The computer voice again warned of the warp core breach, now only seconds away. As soon as the door to the corridor was shut and sealed, Commander Low closed her eyes and took a deep, final breath. She hit the button for the ejector port hatch.
On the belly of the Valentine’s secondary hull the large rectangular hatch blew away and the warp core assembly soon followed, dropping out like ordnance of a bomb bay, tumbling away from the ship and finally rupturing in an intense antimatter explosion which lit up the surrounding space like a new sun, the tremendous force of the shock wave hit the ship, the impact flaring up the shields, Valentine pitched and rolled, but then began to stabilize. Outside engineering, Captain White was banging at the blast door, almost denting its massive duranium walls.
“Warp core ejection successful”, the computer voice calmly announced.
White began tapping the control panel of the blast door.
“Come on, open up!”
“Main Engineering has been depressurized. Initiating emergency force fields. Initiating repressurization”,
the computer explained before unlocking the door a few seconds later. White stormed it and looked around.
“Heather? Heather? - Computer, locate Commander Low!”
“Commander Low is not on board the ship.”
“Locate her, scan for lifesigns outside the ship!”
“Unable to comply. There are no lifesigns in the ship’s vicinity.”
Realizing that his friend and comrade for many years had been blown out by the explosive decompression along with the warp core and incinerated by the explosion, Captain White sank to his knees and began wailing in devastation.
TO BE CONTINUED
Written by: Logitech007 and Apexpredator2012
Based on an original story and characters created by: Logitech007