Mission Archives: Season 2

Episode 6: With Justice For None

Chapter 1: Explosive Developments
Chapter 18: Objects at Rest
Chapter 2: Going Home
Chapter 19: Two Pair
Chapter 3: The Long and Windng Road
Chapter 20: Special Delivery
Chapter 4: Reunions and Revelations
Chapter 21: Legal Maneuvers
Chapter 5: Action and Reaction
Chapter 22: Rumors
Chapter 6: A Father's Dilemma
Chapter 23: Calm Before The Storm
Chapter 7: Holding Station
Chapter 24: Jack, Queen and a Pair of Deuces
Chapter 8: An Unlikely Reunion
Chapter 25: Requiem
Chapter 9: Keeping an Eye Out
Chapter 26: Worried Doctors
Chapter 10: Moral Omissions
Chapter 27: Opening Arguments
Chapter 11: A Knock at the Door
Chapter 28: The Shadow Knows
Chapter 12: Resting in Peace
Chapter 29: From Tour Guide to Guided Tour
Chapter 13: An Uncomfortable Situation
Chapter 30: Delta Flyer to the Rescue
Chapter 14: A Not So Great Start
Chapter 31: A Father's Guilt
Chapter 15: The Jagged Edge
Chapter 32: Trials and Tribulations
Chapter 16: Only The Strong Remain
Chapter 33: Case Closed
Chapter 17: Objects In Motion
Chapter 34: Hail and Farewells

 

Location: Starfleet Headquarters, San Francisco, North America, Sol III -- Local time: 23:06 hours

"Coffee, black." commanded Vice Admiral Kathryn Janeway as she stood next to the replicator alcove in her (all things considered) modest office on the grounds of Starfleet Headquarters. As the stainless-Steele mug materialized, Kathryn grasped it within her slender fingers, grateful for the warmth of it's touch. The past few months had made her feel out in the proverbial cold, but tonight's chilled rain made the proverbial feel literal to her.

Walking behind her desk, she looked through the etched glass Federation emblem on the window and out upon the lights of the Golden Gate bridge. Straining her neck, she looked off to the extreme far right and caught a glimpse of one of the guard towers on Alcatraz island. This brought a creeping smile across her lips as she recalled the words of her elder future counterpart . . .

"On a clear morning, you can see Alcatraz from here . . . " the white-haired woman had said, as she'd indicated Janeway's ready room windows. Though Voyager didn't currently reside on the grounds of the Presidio as she had in the other Admiral Janeway's future, the thought of it someday doing so still touched her.

Her gaze shifting to the night sky above, she struggled to find a familiar glimmer of a star amidst the clouds drenching the city, and felt a pang of emptiness when she could not. Not for her failure to find the stars, but for her desire to be out amongst them, aboard Voyager once more. That was no longer her journey though. Voyager was Chakotay's ship now, and he had become a fine Captain - just as she'd always known he would be.

The chirp of an incoming communiqué from her desktop monitor brought Kathryn back to reality and back down to earth. Immediately, her body language shifted as she cast off her human persona for her stronger, commanding one. Easing back into her chair, she pressed a control upon the desks surface, activating the monitor.

"Security Authorization Required." stated the computer.

"Authorization, Janeway-Pi-One-One-Alpha." replied the Admiral.

As the computer cleared her to view the communiqué, the screen shifted as it brought up a Cardassian cargo manifest. A wry smile tugged at the corners of her mouth as she entered an alien decryption sequence she'd learned a few months ago. She had expected either a live transmission or a recorded message to be waiting beneath the encoding, but instead found only a simple text message awaiting her.

 


To: Vice Admiral Kathryn Janeway, Starfleet Command, San Francisco - Terran Sector.

From: Captain Kira Nerys, Commanding Officer, Deep Space 9 - Bajor Sector.


Message: I heard about the Cestus three situation and thought I'd let you know that we're looking into a few leads on our end. A friend of mine has a brother there, so it's touched home here. Everything seems quiet on the proverbial 'western front' though - too quiet, if you ask me. Which is why I thought it a good idea to touch base, incase we need to coordinate on a more regular basis. Goliath agrees as well. Let us know if you need anything.


End Transmission


As soon as Janeway finished with the message, she promptly deleted it and then purged the contents of the inbound transmission records. Though the message contained nothing of true risk or circumstance, Kathryn played it safe when it came to this entire 'Hawk' fiasco. She was glad to have heard from Kira, and likewise, to hear that Captain Riker of the Titan - Goliath - was still with them as well.

They where but two of her more potent allies amidst the stars, allies which included even a Klingon Captain named Klag, a friend of Riker's, who kept his own eyes open for anything suspicious in regards to the Empire. Though with Riker and Kira's combined friendship with former Ambassador Worf of the Enterprise - who just happened to be a blood brother to Chancellor Martok himself - it seemed a bit redundant.

Leaning back in her chair, Kathryn pondered contact Chakotay for his point of view on the situation, but decided against it. Likely all of her outbound transmissions where under some sort of review, and so the less she spoke on subspace about things, the better.

Noticing the time, Kathryn stood from the desk, taking a last mouthful of the near room temperature coffee before depositing the mug within the replicator. There was nothing more she could do from here at the moment, and as The Doctor was fond of reminding her, she needed her rest. Moving to the door to her office, Kathryn was nearly to it when she suddenly felt the ground tremble beneath her feet.

As a Cadet, she'd been witness to one of the rare Earthquakes that still hit this area of the planet, even with the seismic stabilizers. She knew from years of experience though that the tremor she'd felt had not been a natural occurrence. A second after the tremor had ended, Janeway felt herself thrown to the ground as the glass from her windows shattered, shards flying everywhere, wind forcing the rain inside

Pushing herself to her feet, ignoring the fragments of glass cutting into her palms, Kathryn darted for the windows as an orange hue lit the room from outside and another tremor - this one stronger - shook the floor beneath her feet once more. Brushing a fallen strand of hair from her eyes, Kathryn looked for the source of the explosion as the rain pelted her face. She soon found it - an orbital shuttle in the courtyard a few stories below.

Frozen in place by the realization of what was going on, she watched as personnel from the surrounding buildings rushed towards the wreckage in a vain attempt to aid whomever was inside. Kathryn knew though that no one inside the impulse-powered craft had survived either the crash - the first tremor - or the explosion seconds later. She also felt a cold chill run down her spine - not from the chill of the rain that now soaked her upper half, but from the realization of just who had been the unfortunate soul aboard the shuttle . . .

Location: San Francisco, 02:31 hours

"Reports are still unclear as to the cause of the crash and resulting explosion," said the hollow voice of the reporter on the view screen, "but what is clear at this point is that this was no accident. Starfleet Command has confirmed in a press release just moments ago, that Fleet Admiral Johan Morozov - the C-in-C of Starfleet - was assassinated late last night, along with two of his aides, and a yet unidentified pilot. Seventeen other Starfleet Officers where injured, four of them seriously, in the attack. three of those injured suffering only minor wounds where members of the Admiral's senior staff, including two Admiral's, one of them Vice Admiral Kathryn Janeway, previously commander of the famed Starship Voyager. Starfleet and the Federation Council have already convened an emergency joint-session at this hour to select Admiral Morozov's replacement, meanwhile Security here has been tightened as . . . "

Kathryn's attention faltered as a sharp pain stung her left palm.

"Hold still," chastised her holographic friend as he treated her 'minor wounds' which consisted of numerous small cuts, a few bumps and bruises, and the beginnings of a cold courtesy of the chilled rain she'd found herself soaked by. Seated on her couch in her apartment, Janeway tried to stop herself from replaying the events of late last night, but found she couldn't force her mind to focus on anything else.

Earth was a paradise 99% of the time. In recent years though, the world of Humanities origins had come under more and more frequent attack. The declaration of a state-of-emergency had once been an isolated incident, and with the exception of the Borg invasion following the massacre of Wolf 359, hadn't been done in a century prior, since the probe incident of the 2280's. Since then though, it had become a more and more frequent occurrence. The second Borg invasion of 2372, the terrorist bombing at Antwerp and ensuing crisis courtesy of the Leighton Conspiracy in 2373, the Breen attack on Earth of 2375 as the Dominion War drew to an end, not to mention the Borg Contagion outbreak shortly after Voyager's return in 2377, had all marred Earth's 'paradise' persona. This was just another link in the chain.

"Any word from Captain Chakotay?" queried The Doctor, as he ran a dermal regenerator over her left hand.

"Not yet. It's not surprising though, Voyager's current mission has her fairly far out. The news likely hasn't even reached them yet." Kathryn replied.

"Are you alright?" The Doctor asked.

"Your the Doctor, you tell me." She replied defensively.

"You know that's not how I mean." he replied, an undercurrent of caring friendship evident in his voice.

"I've been better," she replied with a sigh.

"I may not be programmed to be a Counselor, but if a friend will do, I'd be more than happy to listen - if you want to talk about it." The Doctor offered as he finished tending to her wounds.

"I appreciate that Doctor, but, honestly, I'd rather just get some sleep at the moment. I have a feeling it's going to be a long day tomorrow." Kathryn replied.

"Of course." The Doctor replied, standing. "How 'bout breakfast?" he asked.

"That would be lovely." She replied with an appreciative smile, placing a hand on his shoulder to re-enforce her gratitude to her friend.

"I'll see you at 09:00 then." The Doctor replied.

"09:00 it is." she replied, as she escorted him to the door.

A few moments after he had gone, Janeway found herself back on the couch, watching the news report once more. Sleep was calling to her, but her mind couldn't seem to stop running at warp speed.

"Of course, we'll stay with the story . . . just a moment. Alright. We've just learned that a successor to Admiral Morozov has been selected, details are still coming in," said the reporter on the view screen. Janeway found herself on the edge of her seat for this announcement. Morozov had been a force to contend with, but had fallen short of being an all-out enemy. Whomever replaced him though could be far worse, and force her from the inner circle that allowed her to so closely monitor the Hawks. "Starfleet and the Federation Council have named . . . Admiral Owen Paris, successor to Admiral Morozov." said the reporter.

Kathryn nearly cheered, but reserved herself to a pleased smile. This would change things, drastically, for the better. She'd known Owen Paris since she was a Junior Lieutenant serving as his Science Officer on the Al-Batani. He'd spearheaded the Pathfinder project which had located Voyager deep in the Delta Quadrant and look for methods of bringing them home. Furthermore, he was the father of one of Janeway's most trusted friends and colleagues, Lieutenant Commander Tom Paris. All of which combined made his appointment and promotion to C-in-C the best possible outcome of a terrible situation.

Morozov may have been misguided, and perhaps even criminal in his conduct, but he certainly hadn't deserved his fate. Out of that terrible act of violence though, hope had found itself shining through for the first time in months. With Owen Paris in command of Starfleet, and herself at his side, they where finally in a position to put an end to this Hawk business once and for all.

"What’s his status?"

A baritone voice entered Arthur’s head as lucidity slowly returned to his mind. There wasn’t the luxury of immediate remembrance regarding his disposition. In fact, it was more of a calm awakening, as if the voice that pierced his vale of sleep was an intrusion into a peaceful morning.

‘Whose status?’ Arthur thought, while simultaneously searching his memory for a voice that triggered recognition. Finding none, he dismissed the sound as Janice at the communications console talking to one of her friends. He was about to drift back off to sleep before another more feminine voice answered the previous.

"We’ve healed his wounds, but the coma-inducer hasn’t worn off yet. If you want, we can wake him with a stimulant."

A soft, blurry light faded into Arthur’s mind as he inhaled deeply, filling his lungs with air. Sensitivity in his extremities returned with a tingling sensation, and he let out a slow sigh as his barely lucid mind processed the strange conversation. It wasn’t coming from the living room -- it was too close. Perhaps in the bedroom?

"No, that’s okay," the male voice replied. "I’ve no idea how I’m going to write this report. You can’t cover up phasor wounds in a medical record. Commander Carter won’t be pleased at all."

‘Carter?’ The name stirred a faint memory in the old man’s head. Something about an angry Andorian, a team of marines, and nearly being buried alive in the Cornucopia waste tunnels.

"Damn petticoat . . . " a hoarse whisper discharged from Arthur’s wrinkled lips. Nearby, a shadow stirred next to him as his vision slowly returned. Turning towards the movement, Arthur Cromwell’s eyes came into focus, revealing the aged face of Chester "Skip" Mannfield, his long time comrade in arms. Skip watched Arthur as he roused from his slumber, smiling at his confused expression.

"Hello, old friend," Skip said.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Arthur said before catching sight of a black-bearded man dressed in a blue Starfleet uniform. He was holding a PADD in one hand, and tending to a man in the next bed who wore operations gold.

"Keep me apprised of Lieutenant McClintock’s condition, nurse."

Arthur finally put a face to the voice he was hearing in his sleep. The medical officer turned around to look at him, and gave the old man a fatherly grin.

"Well now," the bearded man beckoned. "How’s our recovering cardiac patient?"

"Who the hell are you?" Arthur answered with bewilderment.

"Doctor Saal Yezbeck. Senior surgeon of the Starship Republic."

"Starship?" the sixty-something refugee quizzically responded, as memories slowly returned. "Where am I? What happened?"

"Easy there, Artie." The senior Cromwell turned to find Lindsey Davenport on the other side of the biobed.

"Lins?" Arthur turned to her.

"You’re in Republic’s sickbay," she continued. "You had a heart attack."

It was all coming back now. The conversation in the gutted building . . . the Gorn attack . . . the destruction of the mountain range . . . where his wife and daughter escaped. The readouts on the bio-monitors began to fluctuate as Arthur’s stress level increased. Blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration were all accelerated as the realization of his circumstances returned to his mind. With eyes wide in horror, he began gasping again.

"Those bastards!"

"Artie!" Lins pleaded. "Please! Calm down!"

"Nurse!" shouted Doctor Yezbeck. "Tranquilizer! Stat!"

As the nursing staff complied, the doctor pressed a hypospray to Arthur’s neck. In seconds, he laid back down on the biobed, and the bio-monitors returned to normal. Tapping his combadge, Yezbeck called out to a colleague.

"Counselor Harris, you’re needed in sickbay."

"On my way."

***

 

Location: Sub-orbital transit terminal, Starfleet Headquarters, San Francisco, Sol III

The news of Captain Marshall’s death and subsequent loss of the Cestus three colony to the Gorns hit the mainstream media like a thermonuclear explosion, as did the assassination of Fleet Admiral Morozov. Immediately, every interstellar news network jumped on the stories, and the shock and outrage resonated through every citizen of the Federation. The images coming back from the mysterious source in the Cestus system had a ripple effect as those who saw the news firsthand told their friends and family, and those people in turn told their own compatriots. Soon, it was the only item of conversation on the street, and by the time the news reached Doctor Cromwell’s ears, there was not another soul on Earth that didn’t know about how Starfleet violated the Metron Treaty and caused the hand-over of a member planet to a foreign government. The subsequent assassination of a high-level Starfleet official didn’t help the situation.

Shock was an understatement of how Leon felt. Cestus wasn’t only his homeworld and place of birth, it hosted the residence of his immediate family, childhood friends, and virtually everyone he knew before enlisting in Starfleet at age eighteen. When the news came of the catastrophe on the media networks, he was at his guest domicile checking his overnight messages. His immediate reaction caused him to drop his mug of coffee and re-read the headline a dozen times before the reality sank in. It was about then that a communiqué came in from Admiral Krockover. There was no real surprise when she called with news for the doctor’s immediate redeployment to the Republic.

Leon had very little to pack for his trip, as he had been planetside for no more than a week, and the Republic, still gridlocked in controversy at the Cestus system, didn’t have time to send his personal freight to Earth. So, as he strode through Starfleet’s transit terminal, he only carried with him a cylindrical boarding bag slung over his right shoulder, and the usual standard-issue communicator affixed to his ivory turtleneck sweater. The hastily issued orders from Krockover were verbal, and she informed him that the Runabout Tigris was standing by at launch pad 46-A with departure scheduled in less than an hour. Fortunately for Leon, he had little time to dwell on the discouraging news from his homeworld.

As he arrived at the platform, the doctor took note of the anti-grav carts with associated freight baggage being loading into the runabout’s cargo hold. He lifted an eyebrow at the parcels, and shot a quizzical glance towards the attending deck officer who was reviewing the cargo manifest.

“Excuse me,” Leon interrupted the man. “This is supposed to be my flight, but I didn’t have any cargo to be loaded. What is all this stuff?”

For his part, the officer looked away from his PADD with slight vexation at being disturbed from his concentration. He considered Leon momentarily before responding.

“No disrespect intended, sir,” the officer started. “But my list shows three passengers and a pilot for this flight. What was your name?”

“Doctor Cromwell,” Leon grouchily replied, not in the mood for bureaucracy.

“Oh, yes,” the man in operations-gold replied, reviewing his manifest. “You’re the civilian contractor. Yes, you’re correct. I have no cargo listed for you. This freight belongs to a Commander Chen and Lieutenant Roth.”

The deck officer blinked with confusion at his PADD.

“Wait . . . ” Pressing a few more buttons on his handheld contraption, he continued. “My mistake . . . that’s Commander Roth and Lieutenant Chen.”

“Who in blazes are they?” Leon asked rather perplexed. “I thought I was supposed to be alone on this flight.”

“Nope,” the man replied. “I’ve got those two officers plus a classified passenger with flag rank in addition to you.” Looking around at the technicians loading the parcels, he absconded from the conversation. “If you’ll excuse me, sir, I’ve got work to do.”

“Wait a minute!” Leon shot back. “Have these people showed up yet? Where’s the pilot?”

Looking back at him with obvious conceit, the officer replied, “Lieutenant Chen is probably in the cockpit.” The man, to Leon’s dismay, disappeared to the other side of the vessel. With an air of impatience, the doctor walked up the ramp and into the main cabin of the runabout.

The interior of the vessel was of standard design, with a spacious passenger lounge lined with acceleration chairs at the perimeter, and a large dining table in the center. To the rear of the chamber, a door led to the sleeping compartments and restrooms while access to the control cabin was located to the front. The main cabin appeared empty, and Leon concluded that the other passengers had not arrived yet.

As the doors slid open, the doctor noted an officer in operations gold at the controls. Her long jet-black hair floated down her back as she went over the pre-flight checklist, and since her back was turned to Leon, he politely cleared his throat to announce his arrival.

“Um, hello?

"Just a moment sweetie I'll be right with you," the officer replied, her voice a throaty purr as her fingers danced over the controls "Did you get all my shoes loaded up yet?"

Leon ground his teeth at this. Shoes?? He was being held up for shoes? "Excuse me?" He responded, his `Command tone' entering into his voice.

The officer straightened in the pilot's seat, then turned to face the good doctor. Eyes of deep sapphire looked him up and down slowly, framed within a face of olive green. Leon's eyes grew wide in surprise as her heritage became evident. An Orion! A green animal woman! Surprised, he almost dropped his carry case still hanging from it's strap from his shoulder.

The Orion's eyes centered at his throat, taking note his lack of rank insignia. She realized that this must be the Republic’s medical officer as noted on the passenger manifest. Lowering her head in apology, she turned her chair to more fully face him.

"My apologies doctor," She purred again, one hand falling down to land lightly on top of a grey furry ball resting in her lap, gently scritching it with short black nails. "I thought that you were Ensign Morgan, He's supposed to be loading the cargo into the Tigris's holding bays." Then she broke out into a wide smile, her eyes full of mischief. "He didn't seem too happy when I showed up with my luggage."

"You are . . . Lieutenant Chen--?" Leon finally managed to get out. This could almost be a historic event. He then saw the rank pips on her collar. Full lieutenant. Amazing.

At the Doctor's question the young Orion's eyes flashed with anger, although her expression didn't change. "No. I am Lieutenant CHAN. Lieutenant CO-Leen CHAN."

Then Coleen broke out into a wide smile, the whiteness of her teeth bright against her olive green hue to show she wasn't really mad. "Most people get it confused however. Please, feel free to call me Coleen, sweetie."

“Um . . . ” The doctor looked behind himself, back towards the main door, as if half expecting someone to explain to him that he was on the wrong runabout. As he looked back at the lieutenant, he had a confused expression. “Is there . . . supposed to be . . . others onboard? I thought I was supposed to be alone on this flight.”

“You might have been Sugar,” the young woman blinked with an innocent gesture. “But sometimes orders change in Starfleet and we have to adjust. I have orders from Admiral Kostya’s office to deliver you and two officer's one of Flag rank, to the Republic.”

“Admiral Kostya?” Leon asked, his face hardening. There was something in the doctor’s expression that indicated recognition, but also concern and suspicion.

“Yes,” Coleen returned. “He’ll be joining us on this flight as well as another officer named Commander Roth.”

A furrow developed in Leon’s forehead as he mulled over the information. “Who's is this Roth person?”

“I’m not sure,” Coleen remarked. “I've yet to meet either of them personally myself. But I'm sure we'll both meet them within the next ten minutes.”

"Why the next ten minutes?"

“Because that's when we leave sugar . . . " Coleen started to say something else, but turned back to her board as it chirped. Her fingers caressed the dark panel lightly as she smiled again. "It seems as if the rest of our gathering has arrived." Moving the furball in her lap into her arms, Coleen then rose smoothly from her seat, stepping towards the good Doctor, moving more like a dancer than one would think in regulation boots. Kneeling, she deposited the furball, which turned out to be a gray raccoon, into another chair and pointed a stern finger at him. "Now you stay here Mister Locksley, and don't play with anything that flashes!" she warned.

"Come doctor, let's go meet the admiral." Smiling, Coleen then bounced out of the cockpit.

Leon turned to the side, watching Coleen quizzically as she slid past him into the main compartment. Instead of following, he couldn’t help but to look back at the odd creature she had placed in the copilot’s seat. It stood up on its hind legs, with it’s furry, black-masked face boasting a pair a beady eyes that met the doctors gaze. It chittered at Leon as if saying “Well? Go on!” He took one last uncertain look at the raccoon before leaving the cockpit.

"You have a Raccoon in the cockpit with you?" Leon called after Coleen as he exited.

"He knows the way better than I do," Coleen called back, "Now hurry up!"

As he re-entered the main cabin, he caught sight of Chan, as well as Admiral Kostya. Next to the Admiral stood a middle-aged woman in command red, and sporting a commander’s rank. Leon assumed that this must be the mysterious Roth. She carried a small parcel in her left hand that appeared to be a translucent animal cage. It contained a tiny mammal resembling a kangaroo with long ears and a tuft tail. Wearing an anxious expression, Roth was stern but quiet as if waiting for the admiral to introduce her.

"Admiral, Commander, it's very nice to meet you." Chan greeted the three assembled officers, bowing to them with her hands folded before her. "I am Lieutenant Coleen Chan, and I will be your pilot for this journey. Please follow me and I will show you to where you may secure your baggage." As she turned and led the officers into the passenger lounge, she continued to speak with her eyes holding a look of mischief.

"We will be departing for the Cestus system momentarily, starbase control reports that local travel conditions are free and clear. If you would care to make yourselves comfortable, we have a very fine green tea and biscuits set out, or if any of you prefer a different selection please let me know and I'll see what the replicator has." With that, Coleen opened the secured compartment for them in the back of the lounge, then stepped to the side, hands folded before her as she tossed her hair back with a flip of her head.

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” the admiral replied, gesturing to Commander Roth for her to relinquish her animal cage.

"If I may Admiral Sir . . . " Chan said as she stepped back up, gesturing towards the animal carrier, "A wall safe may not be the most comfortable for the little one. If you like, I can put him back with my own pets." Coleen smiled prettily as the Admiral thought it over, then took the offered cage from his hands, peeking in as the small animal peeked back.

"Charlie is just going to love to meet you lil one," Chan murmured as she headed towards the back. "You are just so cute!"

“You have more than just the raccoon?” Leon asked Coleen. Although the veterinary and medical fields merged long ago, the thought of a menagerie in sickbay during an interspecies viral infection flashed through the doctor’s head.

Coleen's head peeked back around the corner as she beamed at the good Doctor.

"You'll see that I'm just full of surprises."

Ten minutes later, Lieutenant Chan sat in the pilot's seat, Mister Locksley sitting atop the board and watching her.

“Starfleet control this is Runabout Tigris requesting permission for departure, over.” Coleen called over the comm panel, readying the maneuvering thrusters.

“Runabout Tigris this is Starfleet control . . . Chan, is that you?”

“Yes Troy, it's me. Got a deep space assignment finally, guess you're gonna have to find another partner for bridge now.”

”What are we ever gonna do without you Lieutenant?"

“I don't know Sugar . . . ” Chan broke out into a wide grin. “Fall asleep on somebody else's couch? I need to go Troy, have I got permission?”

“Aye Tigris, you have permission to depart. And as it's you behind the controls I've cleared a wide path to the spacelanes. Safe journey.”

Chan simply rolled her eyes. “Luv you too, sugar. Tigris departing.”

With a flare of the thrusters the Runabout rose, heading towards the main hanger doors. Soon the Tigris was at high warp outside the Sol system enroute to Cestus three. Coleen, in her smooth, graceful demeanor, stepped out of the cockpit and joined the three other officers in the main cabin after setting the autopilot. After gathering a cup of tea and taking a seat, Admiral Kostya nodded a silent greeting at her as he cleared his throat to begin speaking.

“Now that we’re underway,” he started. “I’m sure you’ve all got some questions about the situation we’re going into. However, there’s a piece of business we need to take care of first.” Kostya then pushed away from the table saying, “if you will all stand, please.”

Coleen and Leon looked at one another with confusion, but silently acquiesced to the admiral’s request. For her part, Roth appeared nervous as she looked to the floor while standing up. She had the expression of apprehension mixed with anticipation, and silently folded her hands behind her back as the admiral picked up a PADD from the table and began reading.

“Attention to orders,” he announced with a formal, commanding tone. “By order of Starfleet Command: For her continued demonstration of leadership abilities and steadfast experience in commanding a starship, Commander Kimberly Lynn Roth is hereby promoted to the rank of Captain, and effective immediately, ordered to take command of the U.S.S. Republic, NCC-76241. Signed by my hand on this day, stardate 57505.6, in the city of San Francisco, Sol three. Fleet Admiral Johan Morozov.”

Kostya then reached over and pinned a fourth rank pip to Commander Roth’s crimson collar. With a shake of her hand, the admiral added his own words. “Congratulations, captain.”

Doctor Cromwell was surprised to say the least. He did not expect Marshall to be replaced so soon, let alone by Kostya himself. Bad feelings swirled around in his stomach as he came to terms with all the current dealings as well as his own anxiety about the Cestus situation. As everyone sat back down, Leon still could not shake the feeling that Marshall might have lived had he remained on the Republic.

“I hope,” the admiral started again. “That with recent events revealed in the media, you understand the seriousness of our journey to the Republic and the reason of its clandestine nature. Therefore, if you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them at this time.”

"Actually Admiral, I was wondering if I could be briefed as to the current security situation at Cestus three." Chan asked, folding her hands on the table.

With a slight expression of foreboding, the admiral considered Lieutenant Chan.

“Not good, I’m afraid,” he responded. “I received word from the Federation Council just before we departed that they’ll be making it public today that Cestus three now belongs to the Gorn Hegemony. Apparently, there was a Starfleet Intelligence outpost operating in the system in violation of the Treaty of Metron.”

Both Lieutenant Chan and Doctor Cromwell were visible disturbed by the news.

“The Republic,” the admiral continued, “was responsible for uncovering the operation despite some systemic problems with the ship’s computer.”

Leon raised an eyebrow with this news, as it was Rear Admiral Krockover who concluded that the reason for the computer problem was likely Kostya’s doing. However, the doctor did not want to reveal his contact with Krockover, as it might spoil any advantage he had in the current situation. Still, he could see no reason why Kostya was returning to the Republic on this trip other than to deliver the new commanding officer.

“What about the colonists?” Leon asked straightforwardly. It was clear he was worried about his family.

“They’re being evacuated with permission from the Gorn government,” Kostya revealed. “There doesn’t seem to be much more the Federation can do other than that. I’m sorry doctor, but our hands are tied. As soon as a roster of evacuees is put together, we can confirm the status of your relatives.”

"Well, it seems the best thing we can do now is to simply get to the ship. There isn't much we can do from a tactical standpoint for the Republic from out here . . . ” With that Coleen rose from her seat. "If you will excuse me . . . " with a nod to the senior officers, Coleen then stepped back towards the cockpit, a dank musty scent following her.

“I’ve had a long day, myself.” Captain Roth spoke for the first time since boarding. She then looked at Leon. “It was a pleasure to meet both you and Lieutenant Chan. I look forward to working with you both. Since it’s a ten hour flight to the Republic, I think I’ll retire.”

As the young Orion officer returned to her station, and the captain went to the aft sleeping compartment, Doctor Cromwell remained at the table, as did the Admiral Kostya. After a moment of silence, the admiral spoke to Leon.

“I suppose you’re wondering why you were evacuated from the Republic a week ago?”

“The thought had crossed my mind, sir.” Although Leon knew perfectly well that he was extracted from the ship due to complications with his father, if he said so, it could reveal his contact with Krockover. So instead, he looked at the table as if it were another poker night with John and Vic, and pretended he knew nothing. “With Captain Marshall dead, I can’t help but wonder if he would have lived had I been there.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Kostya responded. “If I had any say in the matter, you would have stayed on the Republic, Doctor. Unfortunately, there are some admirals in Starfleet who like to play politics when it come to defending the Federation’s interests.”

“So who gave the order to bring me back to Earth?”

“I can’t reveal that,” said the admiral. “But I will promise that if you stick with me, I’ll make sure they won’t pull a stunt like that on you again.”

Leon looked Kostya over with stoic eyes. Although he tried to remain as if he was thinking about what the admiral said, the truth was that the doctor was working to repress his anger. For he knew all too well that it was Kostya who was playing politics, and lives were hanging in the balance. Leon used every ounce of subterfuge in his social arsenal to put on a façade of complacency.

“Thank you, sir. I’ll consider it.”

“Good,” the admiral replied while standing up from the table. “Captain Roth and I have been up since 0300 due to the Morozov assassination, and we both could use some sleep. I think I’ll turn in myself. Good night.”

“Have a good sleep, admiral,” Leon called after him.

Working to sort out his feelings of anxiety and resentment, Leon remained staring at the carafe of tea and biscuits. He sat at the table for a very long time.

John Carter stared at the empty chair in the ready room of the U.S.S. Republic. He knew that the body of James Marshall was lying in stasis in sickbay, some 10 decks below, but at this moment, Jim Marshall's spirit hung heavily in the room. Carter looked out the plasteel viewport and watched the stars streak by. Republic was headed to Starbase 39 Sierra where debriefing awaited, and John was almost sure that there would Hell to pay . . . but not before he dealt out a little Hell of his own.

Carter looked back down at the PADD he'd been studying for the last fifteen minutes. It was a detailed report from Doctor Saul Yezbeck regarding the "death" and subsequent resurrection of Jason McClintock. It was a series of events in which Carter counted at least seven breaches of Starfleet regulations as well as any number of Federation statutes by Republic's Chief Helm Officer, Nat Hawk. Since he came aboard Republic, Hawk and Carter hadn't exactly seen eye to eye, but through their struggles on Cestus three, Carter had begun to think of Nat Hawk as someone he could trust. Now however, in the wake of losing one of the Federation's most prestigious colonies, John found himself rethinking a lot of things.

Carter rubbed the back of his neck and tossed the PADD onto the desktop. Despite the fact that John Carter was now the commanding officer, he hadn't had the nerve to sit behind the ready room desk. Carter tried to shake his own doubts away when he was interrupted by the door chime. John turned to face the door. "Come." he said coolly.

The door hissed slightly as Nat Hawk sauntered in, flanked by two security officers in the gold of the Tactical Branch. Hawk gave Carter a quirky grin. "Ya know," he said, "I know in tha ole days, us pilots didn't navigate - they got somebody else ta do it - but my sense a direction ain't so bad that I wouldn't a'found ma way here by myself." Nat looked sideways at each of the officers who'd escorted him into the meeting.

Carter looked at each of the tactical officers and gave a quick wave of his hand. "You men can go," he said easily. "Mister Hawk and I have some things to work out."

As the security men left, Hawk grinned broadly, knowing from experience where this was headed. "I tell ya, you cookie-cutter Starfleet types never cease to amaze me. Can't go five minutes without quotin' rules and regs and all that-" Hawk said in pre-emptive defense.

Carter cut the helmsman off in mid-sentence. "Talk to him I said!" Carter howled. "What happened inside your spocking brain to make you hear 'shoot him if he doesn't talk!'? What were you thinking?"

"What was I thinkin'?" Nat repeated, "Well, s'pose I was thinkin' we where in one helluva pickle and we needed them command codes back yesterday. S'pose I was also thinkin' that I know McClintok better'n his own Ma and he wheren't gonna give 'um up without some teeth pullin'. S'pose I was thinkin' 'bout gettin' this bucket'a'bolts and the 1,200 plus souls 'board her outta the fryin' pan and the fire." Hawk replied, the lack of respect in his tone of voice over-flowing, the self-righteous arrogance boiling over.

"All right," Carter admitted, "you got the computer to unlock. I'll give you that." Carter felt his hands tense as he tried to keep his temper in check. "But you shot a fellow officer! Crap like that got us in this mess in the first place!"

"Aw bullshit," Hawk replied, falling back onto the couch. "You know s'well s'me this is just one more link in a long ass chain a'Intelligence screw ups. Those god damn fools are all arrogant bastards, thinkin' they know what's best for everybody else. Trust me, I know, I've been dealin' with them ma whole damn life. 'Specially these last few years. It's their inner-departmental prime directive - screw with the universe before some alien asshole can, just so we can claim we're in control." Nat replied, going off on a bit of a tangent.

"Ok look, the bottom line is that I can't cover this up, and what's more, I won't." Carter leveled his gaze at the brash helmsman. "I'll go to bat for you, because you came through on Cestus three, but only to a point."

"It dun matter, John boy," Nat said, dropping even his usual partial-respect usage of last names and/or ranks. "Short of a capitol offense, it dun matter what the frinx I do. I'm the Federation's golden boy against the Orion Syndicate. That's why I'm here in tha first place. Without me, they can't do jack. So just calm yerself."

"No, damnit!" Carter thundered. "It DOESN'T MATTER how you got here! You're on this ship and you're wearing a Starfleet uniform which means that I expect you to hold yourself to a higher standard." John tried to calm down. He ran a hand through his hair and took a deep breath. "Nat, we've already been through Hell, but I will not let this be a ship where the ends justify the means. That's part of why Jim Marshall's dead."

"Phh," Hawk snorted, "Marshall's dead cause he was an idiot. Couldn't see past his own uniform and his precious rules and regs. Not ta mention his ego. Nothin' ta do with the ends justifyin' the means. Shootin' McClintok wasn't the only option I had, just the best. The sure thing - not ta mention the fastest. 'Speed is essential' - that's what Professor Tice used ta say back in the Academy, and they're words ta live by."

John Carter hated what he'd just heard. It was no secret on Republic that Carter had three rules to live by; the first of which was that "Speed was life." Now, Nat Hawk was using a version of his own words against him. "Mister Hawk", Carter said firmly. "No one appreciates that more than me, and God knows I've fractured a reg or two in my day." Carter couldn't help a faint smile. "What bothers me, and what's going to make life on this ship hard for you, is that you're ACTING like a man with nothing to lose wether you are or not, and that makes you dangerous to everyone. Even the people who are supposed to trust you." John leaned back to rest against the edge of the Ready Room desk. It was as close as he would allow himself to get to the Captain's desk. "Believe me when I tell you Nat, one of these days, you're actually going to need someone else, and expedient or not, if you keep shooting them, they're going to wise up."

"Ya know, we could argue 'bout this 'til the cows come home and neither of us'll change his mind. So why bother? Like those green-blooded son's-a-bitches are always saying, 'infinite diversity in infinite combinations' ya know? Same with opinions." Hawk said. "So how is he, anyway? McClintok? He comin' back ta duty 'er what?" Nat asked.

"Actually, McClintock's scheduled to be shipped back home, and he's decided not to press charges."

"You lil tube grub!" Hawk shouted with a grin. "You go off on me 'bout 'goin to bat' for me and you knew he wasn't even gonna press charges? Devious lil Romulan ya are. Remind me not ta call any 'er yer bluffs at poker." he said, smiling.

Carter shook his head. "No, you're not off the hook, Nat." Carter explained. "I have to report this to the JAG corps, and until they give me a ruling, you're off duty."

"Kickass. The way those JAG boys move I'll have a good couple weeks ta chase the skirts and get wasted." Hawk replied with a devil-may-care grin as he stood up.

"Nat," Carter offered. "Think about what I said, ok? Sooner or later, this joyride your on's gonna stop. You might want to think about putting on the brakes."

"Yeah, yeah. Like I said though, I'm their golden boy. JAG, SI, Command, even the Federation Council. They all got too much ridin' on me to give a rats ass 'bout some phaser burns, 'specially when the 'victim' per say don't even give a hoot." Hawk said. "So we done? Nearly happy hour, and considerin' I ain't gotta get up in the mornin' might as well get up tonight. If ya get what I mean." Hawk said with a wink.

"Do what you want Nat, but remember that the rest of the folks on this ship have jobs to do, and I need them on their toes. I'd appreciate it if you kept your reveling in your quarters."

"Heh," Hawk laughed, turning to leave.

"One more thing, Mister Hawk." Carter said. The helmsman looked over his shoulder at John.

"Yeah?"

"Thanks."

"Aw hell, don't go gettin' all sentimental on me John boy. Anytime ya need someone phaser'd, I'm happy to oblige." he said with a chuckle. Then he left the Ready Room.

Carter looked back at the empty captain's chair. "Damn it. Why couldn't you wait for us? Were you that tired? That fed up?"

"I'm more concerned about you." came a smooth alto voice. Carter spun toward the voice and saw the bright face of Shannon Harris.

"Shannon?" John sputtered. "I didn't hear you come in."

The red-haired counselor stepped closer to Republic's acting captain. "Well, you were pretty lost in thought." Harris held up a PADD. "We just got word from the Gorn `Refugee Assistance Council'." The quirk of Shannon's eyebrow told John how seriously she took the title the new custodians of Cestus three were using.

"How bad is it?" He asked, not sure he wanted to know.

"Actually, it could be worse." Shannon explained. "They've let the survivors return to their settlements, except for those who were in `Shadow Force', who they'd like returned to answer for terrorism charges by the way . . . "

"No way in hell is that going to happen." Carter shot back. "Even if I wanted to, I couldn't give them back. They've got Federation charges to answer for first . . . "

"Which can wait," Harris offered, setting the PADD on the desk next to the one Carter had been reading earlier. "Have you slept yet?" Shannon put a hand on Carter's shoulder.

"I will, but I want to hear from the leader of the Evac Task Force first, and I can't get an answer from Command to confirm that they've gotten my report. I'll take a break soon." he said.

Harris took a step toward the Ready Room Door. As it hissed open, she turned her head back toward him. "Well, don't keep me waiting long." she offered with a wink.

John felt a smirk across his face as he watched Shannon leave, but the moment was broken by the chirp of the Comm. system.

"Bridge to Commander Carter."

"Go ahead Ops." Carter said to the disembodied voice.

"The Task Force is in communications range sir, and I've got Doctor Cromwell on the line for you."

"What?!"

***

It was another one of those evenings where Leon stared at the stars zipping past the viewport. Admiral Kostya and Captain Roth had long since retired, sleeping off their fatigue from the early morning wakeup that was the assassination of Fleet Admiral Morozov. Fortunately, Leon had the prior benefit of a full night’s sleep when they went to bed, and spent the next several hours reading through medical journals on the runabout’s library annex. Now, as the doctor chose to attempt sleep in the main cabin, he lowered the lights and settled into an acceleration lounge hoping that slumber would soon follow. It didn’t.

The maelstrom of worry soon washed over him as he closed his eyes; his mind repeatedly clashing with the death of Captain Marshall, the attack on Cestus three, the danger the Republic was in, and the concern for his family on the surface. This, mixed with the wider situation of the hawk versus dove power struggle in Starfleet, robbed Leon of sleep. Only the calm, regular star streaks of warp space seemed to help him focus his thoughts.

With his eyes wide open, the doctor chose to abandon the evening ritual.

“Computer, lights” he beckoned, and the response chirp was followed by the rise of ambient illumination. Walking to the wall mounted food replicator, he ordered a refreshment. “Hot coffee. Five cc’s of sucrose.” Again, the computer obliged, and Leon found himself with a steaming mug of java. With nothing else to do, he cringed at the thought of reading more medical journals, and decided to see what Lieutenant Chan was up to in the cockpit.

As Leon wandered into the front of the runabout, he was greeted by the soft, earthy tones of a flute. Entering the cockpit area, he saw the young Lieutenant Chan relaxing in the pilot's seat, softly playing a carved wooden flute. The melody she played was a slow, haunting lullaby by the sound of it. Sitting in the middle of the deckplates was Mister Locksley, a round silver bell held in his paws. He shook the bell, almost as if he was keeping time with the melody, it's clear chime accompanying.

Coleen glanced up as Leon entered, her deep blue eyes meeting his, but continued to play. Leon quietly slipped into the co-pilots seat, not wanting to disturb, and listened as Coleen drew her song to a close.

"Merry Met and good Eve Sugar," Coleen finally said, turning her seat about to face him, her feet stretched out before her as she absently toyed with the flute in her hands. "We should be reaching the Republic in roughly ninety minutes if you're interested . . . Having trouble sleeping?" Coleen tilted her head to the side and watched Leon, her deep blue eyes studying him . . .

“Always,” the doctor replied. “I assume your unique species has a different sleep cycle than humans? I’ll bet our diurnal cycles are odd for you to adjust to.”

Coleen's response was her ever present smile. "Actually Hon, like most Starfleet types I don't keep a regular diurnal cycle. I sleep when it's convenient when on missions, and I've been taught several meditative techniques that help out." Coleen glanced down as Mister Locksley took that moment to climb into her lap. "And my species isn't really that unique . . . just not seen all that often. I'm sure you've heard the rumors and the locker room remarks about Orion Slave girls . . . "

The young officer made a disgusted face at this . . . long had she had to deal with these rumors, the snide remarks, all her life it seemed.

“I’ve heard tales, yes,” Leon replied. “But they usually came from over-zealous marines whose testosterone levels were way off my medical scanners. Other than the corps, the only time I’ve heard anything regarding Orions has been about the Syndicate.”

Coleen nodded. "The Orion Syndicate is a outgrowth of the old Orion tendency towards piracy. At one time Orion pirates were as highly looked upon by the Orions as Fighter pilots back on Old Earth. However these are also the same people that made a practice of raising the greenie females . . . " Coleen pointed to her chest, " . . . Like me, because of their hedonistic culture, and selling them as animal slave women . . . " Coleen then dropped a hand atop of Locksley's head in her lap, her short black nails scritching his fur. " . . . Suffice it to say I'm not your typical Animal Slave girl. I was rescued by a Starfleet officer and raised by him and his family on Earth."

“No kidding?” he responded after talking a sip from his coffee mug. “How long have you lived on Earth?”

"Since I was six actually . . . " Coleen purred as she casually turned her chair about, looking over the runabout's controls and making minute adjustments.

"Grew up in Southern China in a Shaolin temple with my Grandpa . . . then I went and joined Starfleet after taking the trials of Shao-lin." With that she turned back to face the Doctor. "What's your story Hon? You seem rather perturbed about where we're going."

“Well actually, I lived on Cestus until I enlisted in Starfleet when I was eighteen,” Leon replied. “Most of my friends still live on the planet along with my mom, dad, and sister. So, I guess you can see why I’m having trouble sleeping.”

"Yes . . . I can see where that would do it . . . well, one of the things my Grandpa used to say is that God always hears what you tell him, but that he's often very busy. So if needed, I can take his place. It might help to talk Hon . . . " Coleen gave an impish smile. "One never knows what another would be willing to offer . . . "

“A new perspective would be nice,” Leon said sourly while looking out the viewport. After realizing what he said might be insulting, he offered an apology. “I’m sorry, I guess I’m not used to talking about my personal problems with people I meet in transit. Before long, you’ll be gone, and I’ll be stuck on the Republic talking to our real counselor. Although,” he looked back at Coleen with a fatherly yet tired smile. “I appreciate the sentiment.”

At that Coleen crossed her arms over her chest, resting under her breasts as she raised an eyebrow at Leon. "And just what makes you think your getting rid of me that easily? Hasn't it occurred to you that just maybe I've been assigned to the Republic as well? Hmmm??? I'll remember this during my first crew evaluation Sugar . . . "

"You're assigned to the ship?" Leon repeated in surprise. "Why didn't you say so earlier?"

"You didn't ask, now did you?" She replied, grinning at him.

"Then what is your assignment?" Leon was curious now. Since Chan had the rank of lieutenant, she was in a position to fill a department head position. Although he was hoping for a permanent replacement for the ship’s counselor position, allowing him to have Doctor Harris back in his staff, the operations gold uniform did not suggest so.

"I'm the new Chief Tactical/Security Chief . . . seems odd I know but why should the boys have all the fun?" The humor of her voice however didn't quite reach the Orion's blue eyes. She knew the contradictions that implied, a Shao-Lin priestess who was also responsible for firing on enemy vessels . . . perhaps even taking their lives . . . but it was those very lessons in Shao-Lin that let her find the balance needed for this position.

The doctor looked as though a bomb had exploded. ‘Another tac chief?’ he thought to himself. ‘Why can’t anyone stay in that position for more than two weeks?’ He put his empty hand to his forehead with a look of bafflement. Resting his mug on his knee, a moment of silence passed before he responded.

“Tactical? We just GOT a new tactical chief ten days ago. What’s wrong with McClintock?”

Coleen’s expression changed to a serious, almost mournful appearance.

“Didn’t Admiral Kostya tell you?”

Leon shook his head.

Coleen's voice became a soft purr, “The Republic’s logs indicated that Lieutenant McClintock died yesterday evening. I was called in this morning to replace him.”

The doctor sat back in his seat, mulling over everything that she had told him.

“Any report of any other deaths?”

“Not that I was told, hon,” she replied. “Besides, if there was, there would probably be more people on this runabout.”

That seemed reasonable, but didn’t make him feel any better. “Did he give you any details?”

“No, but I’m sure we’ll get them in due time.” She raised an eyebrow after ascertaining his reaction. “I hope I haven’t added to your worries, sugar.”

Laying back in the seat, Leon maintained his long stare out the front viewport. “It’s not your fault,” he consoled. “The bright side is that it can’t get much worse.”

At that Coleen looked to Leon sharply. "Do NOT say that, ever. I happen to know for a fact that the Universe is smartass enough to take that as a challenge."

Coleen then smiled as she stood, dropping Locksley into the Doctor's lap as she stepped towards the replicator. "And I have no Luck charms with me I'm afraid. Green tea, hot, lightly sweet."

The doctor looked at the bushy-tailed animal that contented itself with curling up in his lap. “So what’s this little guy’s story?” he asked, scratching it behind the ears. “I thought raccoons were a northern occidental species on Earth. Did you pick him up while at Starfleet or was he an immigrant to China?”

"THAT little thief . . . " Coleen started as she slid back into the pilot's seat, the hot cup of tea held traditionally by her fingertips, "is a North American Grey Raccoon, and we found each other back at the Academy. He was a gift from Boyfriend . . . Five I believe . . . There's a bit of a story about that, but it's for another time . . . " Coleen paused in her answer long enough to check over the controls and flight path of the Tigris, then turned to face the Doctor again. "be careful around him, or you'll find your combadge stolen. I even use him in my security drills, makes things interesting for the ensigns," she smiled as she sipped her tea.

“By the way,” Leon changed the subject. “Boys don’t always have all the fun. I was a researcher aboard a science vessel, the Bremerton, and our tactical chief was also a woman. She took her job quite seriously, always making sure that us scientists always had an escort on an away mission.”

"Sounds like she knew her job," Coleen agreed. "I've seen you scientist types before, always sticking your noses somewhere it can get bitten off, poking at things better left alone . . . " her bright smile added humor to her words though. "I swear all of you need keepers at times. Makes my department's job interesting."

“I think you’ll find the tactical department on the Republic an interesting group of people,” the doctor commented. “Our current executive officer, Commander Carter, was originally assigned as tactical chief when we were first launched several months ago. When he was promoted, we had a very difficult time filling the position. We’ve gone through about five tactical chiefs since then . . . ” He paused in thought for a moment before continuing. “Okay, with McClintock, that makes six.” Shooting a glance to Chan, he added, “I hope you’ll be the exception and stay with us for awhile.”

"So do I sugar, I don't intend to get killed any time soon . . . by any chance do you happen to know who my second in command would be?"

“Well, if McClintock is dead, then the next in the chain of command is Lieutenant Sean McTaggart. He’s a no-nonsense officer who was initially trained into the position by Commander Carter. We lost McTaggart briefly to a Kreltan attack when he was taken prisoner. Our XO led a mission to rescue him as well as other prisoners, and he’s been our assistant security chief ever since. With his combat experience, I think you’ll find him a great asset to your department.”

The two continued to chat for the next hour, talking about previous postings, people they knew, and the Republic in general. Before long however they were interrupted as long range sensors showed a vessel moving towards them at warp speed. The Republic.

"Doctor, if you care to contact the Republic, I'll go and alert our passengers that we have arrived." Lieutenant Chan said as she rose from her seat.

Moments after Chan left the cockpit to wake the passengers, Doctor Cromwell contacted the Republic’s current commander, John Carter. He guessed that the executive officer would be surprised to hear from him, especially since at their last parting, neither knew when they would see one another again. As the federation logo on the communications console gave way to the clean-shaven face of the Martian Lacrosse champion, the look of shock confirmed Leon’s suspicion, and a wide smile developed below his sandy blonde moustache.

“How are you, John?” he asked.

“Doc? What the sprock are you doing in this neck of the woods?”

“You didn’t think I was going to let you get away with not paying me those two bars of latinum from poker night, did you?”

“I thought Chase said you were being reassigned?”

Leon scratched his chin.

“Oh . . . HER,” he said with remembrance. “I ditched her less than a day after leaving the Republic. Got tired of hearing about your exploits on the Devonshire. You remember the Devonshire, don’t you John?”

“You still didn’t answer my question.”

The doctor’s disposition turned less light-hearted, and acquired a more serious overtone.

“The truth is,” he said, changing the subject. “My reassignment was temporary until the Cestus three situation was resolved.” He leaned closer to the screen with a furrow developing in his forehead. “About that . . . ”

“I’m guessing you have a lot of questions, doc. But I don’t want to give you the answers over subspace. Let’s wait until you’re aboard.”

There was something in Carter’s voice that Leon did not like. He played poker with the executive officer several times, and cultivated a friendship with him over the past several months. The doctor knew when John was disturbed and didn’t want to tell anyone.

“John . . . please,” he pleaded.

“I can’t Leon. Not now. You’ve waited a week to hear about your family, and I’m asking you to wait fifteen more minutes.”

The doctor was borderline disgusted, and his face showed it. However, he reasoned that if John had a reason to wait until he was onboard, then it probably was a good one. The commander picked up on Leon’s frustration, and changed the subject.

“I’m sure you’ve heard bout Marshall.”

“Yes,” Leon replied, still worried over what had just transpired. “I’m fact, I’m traveling with his replacement.”

“A new captain? Already? That was quick.”

“Not only a new captain, but a new tactical officer as well. We also heard word of McClintock’s death.”

“I’m afraid that was a bit premature. Turns out McClintock was incapacitated to the point where the computer thought he was dead, and it went out in the subspace logs before the truth was revealed. It’s probably for the best, though. He’s scheduled to be shipped home anyway along with Taylor and several others of the crew who were brought aboard during our recent stopover at Starbase 23.”

“What happened?

“It’s a long story, and one we can save for later. Tell me about our new captain. What do you make of him?”

“Her,” the doctor replied. “And not much. She hasn’t said more than two sentences since we left Earth. She’s a bit of a closed book.”

“What’s her name?”

“Roth,” Leon said directly. “Kimberly Roth.”

“Roth . . . Roth . . . I know that name from somewhere, but I can’t quite remember . . . What about our new tac? What do you make of him?”

“Her,” the doctor corrected him again. “And she’s . . . “ He paused to look at the raccoon sitting in the pilot’s seat who looked at him with a pointy muzzle and glassy black eyes. Leon could not shake the feeling that the little critter understood everything he was saying, and was only waiting to get a chance to report back to it’s owner. “She’s . . . ” he tried again, but locked stares with the mammal. “Never mind,” Leon finally said after an uncomfortable moment. This caused the raccoon to purr with disappointment and resume a nap in the chair. “You’ll have to see her yourself. Just keep Lieutenant Hawk away from her.”

“Don’t worry. He’s been a bad boy lately. I don’t suppose you can do anything medically for discipline problems?”

“Don’t look at me,” he returned. “As long as they pass their quarterly physical, there’s nothing I can do. Discipline is your department.”

“Not after you take that bridge officer’s test. As soon as you put on that uniform and take your first shift on the bridge, you’ll have to deal with discipline too.”

Leon frowned in comprehension. “That reminds me. We have more than just officer replacements. We also have an admiral coming aboard.”

“An admiral? Which one?”

“Kostya,” the doctor replied, and as soon as he said that, Carter’s face took a slightly more reddish hue, and looked as if his life just more complicated. At about that time, the door to the cockpit opened, and Lieutenant Chan quietly resumed her seat in the pilot’s chair, displacing Mister Locksley. On the screen, all John saw was Leon look off frame before returning his attention to the executive officer. “We’ll be docking soon. Tell the main shuttlebay to prepare for our arrival. Tigris out.”

John Carter closed the link with the Tigris, then turned to Tom Sullivan. "Ops," John said smoothly, "you've got the Conn." Republic's acting CO turned and strode up the ramp toward the bridge turbolift as Sullivan eased into the center seat. "And prep some quarters for Admiral Kostya."

"Kost . . . Yes Sir," Sullivan said, regaining his composure. The last time Admiral Kostya was aboard, Republic, the ship had lost her captain and gained a new one. Sullivan wondered if the Admiral was planning on making that a habit. "I think it's pretty much the way he left it last time he was here."

"Yeah, exactly," Carter said, rolling his eyes as he entered the turbolift.

Inside the small car, John took a much needed moment to relax and think to himself. `Of all the damn people to have back!' he cursed silently. John knew that it was Admiral Vladimir Kostya who'd seen to it that Jim Marshall was put back in command of Republic, and Vic had mentioned that a buried order from somewhere in the Admiralty had been responsible for the lock-out that had nearly gotten Carter, Hawk, and the Hazard Team killed because the chain of command had broken down horribly.

Because of Kostya's 'Trojan Horse' order, the 'Rightful' command crew of Republic had nearly committed mutiny in order to facilitate their flight from Cestus. Now, that same admiral was back, with a new Captain in tow, and John couldn't help the feeling that it was another disaster waiting to happen. To make matters worse, John somehow had to find a way to break the news to Leon that, not only was the Doctor's home now lost to the Gorn Hegemony, but Cromwell's immediate family had been vaporized, and his father had admitted, however inadvertently, to war crimes against the Gorn.

John swayed slightly with the motion of the lift car as it continued toward the Republic's main shuttle bay. Starfleet had been in the wrong. John knew that for a fact, and what's worse, the Gorn had known it too. Somehow, someone in the halls of Fleet Command had decided that it was better to risk giving Cestus three away than play by rules that had held fast for nearly 100 years. Now, half of the Federation council was screaming for retribution while the other half was scurrying away from the worst interplanetary news event since the explosion of Praxis. And thanks to his release of the sensor logs showing Jim Marshall's murder to the news nets (John was at least content to call Marshall's death what it was), Republic was caught square in the middle of a great big swirling mess.

Carter shook his head and tapped his comm badge. "Carter to Virtus," he called.

"Virtus here John. I'll be on the flight deck in one minute, 36 seconds . . . mark."

"But I haven't even . . . "

"You forgot about the Virtus Scuttlebutt Principle already?

Vic had a point. Scuttlebutt did seem to travel faster than light. Even if Virtus hadn't been one of the two-dozen smartest men in the galaxy, it wouldn't take a genius to guess that big trouble of one form or another was waiting to board. Carter conceded the argument to his invisible friend and spoke. "Well as Second Officer, that makes you MY XO," Carter quipped, "so . . . "

"So, I'll keep the admiral and our new babysitter busy while you take care of Leon and his father."

"You know I can't ORDER you to do that, right Vic?"

"Understood Commander. You're not ordering me to do this. See you on the deck. Virtus out."

* * *

The atmosphere in Republic's main shuttle bay was cool, but tense, and as the hum of Tigris' anti-grav system powered down, the room was eerily still. "Have you talked with Shannon at all about Cromwell the Elder?" Virtus asked.

Carter shook his head. "Haven't had time, but she did say that he was conscious now. Not talking much though, which I take as a very bad sign. The rest of the civilians are holding up well enough though."

Carter's sentence was punctuated by the soft `whoosh' and then quiet thud of the runabout's doors and ramp engaging. Starfleet protocol dictated that the Admiral had the right to be the first off the runabout, but John was betting that Kostya would make him sweat. Sure enough, the first passenger off the runabout was Doctor Leon Cromwell.

The doctor gave his shipmates a quick nod, but waited by the exit of the runabout as someone else made their exit.

John Carter was rarely at a loss for words. He'd expected the pilot of the runabout to be a conn officer, so the fact that the pilot of the Tigris wore an operations gold collar. That surprise however, was nothing compared to the realization that the pilot was a green-skinned Orion female.

"It appears our new Tac Chief is a bit . . . unusual," Vic commented.

"Come on Vic," Carter quipped easily, "there are lots of women in `Fleet."

Virtus stroked his beard with his thumb and middle finger as the two friends watched the entourage continue to arrive. With the easy grace of a seasoned spacer, the runabout's third occupant stepped onto the flight deck. She was tall and fit with a head of short black hair, and her red collar was marked with four gold dots. Victor regarded the woman as she in turn looked at both the engineer and Carter. Then, Virtus turned to the XO. "Why look at that John, you're right. There's another one."

Carter showed no reaction, but sarcasm was dripping from his voice. "Quiet," he cautioned.

John and Victor looked on as a sleek brown creature the size of a small house cat slipped out of the runabout's darkened interior and snaked up the Captain's arm to rest easily on her left shoulder. "That's something you don't see everyday," Victor observed.

Carter caught himself looking at the new Tac Chief a split-second too long. As far as he knew, he was one of the few members of Starfleet to actually see a legendary Green Orion slave girl. It had been nearly eight years ago, but even now, he could smell the acrid vapors of Ferengi choo'la smoke, and the bad scotch he'd had to choke down, but watching an emerald skinned woman who was quite possibly the universe's perfect specimen was worth the surroundings.

Then a sharp chitter brought Carter back to reality. "What in the galaxy?" he blurted out. Both Carter and Virtus stared in disbelief as another small mammal, larger than the captain's pet managed a clumsy jump into the Tac Chief's arms. "Grozit," Carter hissed, thankful that only Victor could here him. "Is that a . . . "

"Yep."

"And we're not on the holodeck?"

"Nope."

"Aww Hell."

"Yep."

At long last, the runabout's final passenger, Vladimir Kostya stepped onto the flight deck. With the Admiral's emergence, the shuttle passengers stepped forward. The Admiral was the first to speak. "Commander Carter, Lieutenant Commander Virtus, may I present Captain Kimberly Roth, Lieutenant Coleen Chan, and of course you know Doctor Cromwell."

"Welcome back, Doc."

Leon simply nodded as if unsure what to say.

I wish this meeting were under better circumstances." Kostya continued. Carter couldn't help the feeling that Kostya was lying through his teeth, but he called on years of discipline and training to give a regulation response. "Welcome aboard Admiral." Carter turned his head to regard his new captain. "Ma'am."

The red collared woman nodded in return, as John continued. "Lieutenant, welcome to Republic. Come by my office when you get a chance and I'll get you squared on the Tactical department." The Orion lieutenant looked confused, but nodded politely.

"Thank you, sir."

Kostya cleared his throat to command attention. "These pleasantries can wait Commander," he commented. "The loss of Cestus three to the Gorns is very serious. Your briefing will . . . "

"Will wait until my Doctor has examined his latest patient, Admiral."

"John, wait just one . . . "

"EXCUSE me . . . Commander?" Kostya's face visibly reddened. Clearly, the flag officer was unaccustomed to being interrupted.

"I'm sorry to cut this short Admiral," Carter explained, "Given the short notice of your arrival, I'm going to leave you in Mister Virtus' capable hands."

"Now see here mister," Kostya thundered, "This woman is your Captain and I . . . "

"Captain Roth is a guest onboard what is, for the time being, my ship, sir." he responded coolly, "and until I receive formal orders from Starfleet concerning the chain of command," Carter turned his head slightly to regard the new arrivals as a whole, "you're welcome to our hospitality."

Republic's acting CO spun on a heel, clearly considering the matter closed. He took two steps toward the bulkhead door and looked over his right shoulder. "Your patient is waiting doctor."

Dumbfounded, Leon felt that the best course of action was to get out of the area as soon as possible, and he sprang quickly to catch up to Carter. As the two men entered the corridor, Leon could hear Virtus' bright tenor voice fading as they walked.

"Well now, let's see. Republic is the sixteenth Galaxy Class starship in the fleet. She began life in the Utopia Planetia shipyards on stardate . . . "

* * *

"Was that REALLY necessary?" Leon asked as the turbolift shot toward sickbay.

"No," John answered honestly, "but it felt damn good. Besides, we need to talk."

"Well, you're right there." Leon braced himself against the side of the lift car. "What HAPPENED?"

"Leon," John said calmly, "I need you to listen to me. This is bad."

"I KNOW that, but . . . "

"No you don't. Most of the colonists are fine. The Gorn have agreed to repatriate them into the Federation. Anyone wishing to stay on Cestus three is welcome, but if they stay, they'll be expatriates, subjects of the Gorn Hegemony."

"Just like that?"

"Actually, yes," Carter hissed. "The Blackshirts broke the treaty, and to make matters worse, Marshall lost in trial by combat. Plus, the Gorn are out for blood."

"That's outrageous! Why?"

Carter took a moment to observe just how like his father Leon really was. Then he answered the doctor's question. "Because Shadow Force is responsible for nearly three-hundred Gorn casualties." The lift car stopped, giving added weight to Carter's word.

As the doors opened with a soft hiss, Leon and Carter continued toward sickbay, the two continued. "Good for them, maybe the Gorn will realize that Cestus is too hard to hold. I doubt that the resistance will be easy to . . .

"They're dead, Leon."

"What?

"With the exception of four civilians, all of whom happen to be in sickbay, there is no resistance. The Gorn atomized the Gordonian mountain shelters shortly after Marshall's death. "

Leon felt his face go ashen, and had to steady himself on a wall panel. "Dad," he whispered.

John stopped and placed his hand on the doctor's shoulder. "He's alive." John assured his friend. "We ran into him and his friends inside Cornucopia."

Leon looked up, still visibly shaken. He straightened, and the pair walked again, stopping just outside sickbay. "Then Mom and . . . " His voice trailed off, as if he couldn't bring himself to say his sister's name.

"I don't know Leon, but unless they stayed in a Gorn camp, it . . . Well, we can't be sure."
Carter took one step closer to the door to sickbay. The door sensor registered his approach, and opened.

Through the archway, Leon Cromwell could see faces he thought he'd left far behind. His eyes lingered for long moments on the form of his father. Looking at him now, Leon couldn't recall a time that Arthur Cromwell ever looked so . . . small. The doctor stepped inside while Carter remained in the hall. "Take your time Doc," he said simply, then made his way to his quarters.

* * *

Kostya and Roth had been onboard for nearly forty-five minutes. During that time Victor Virtus had offered them every piece of minutia regarding starships in general, and Republic in particular. During that time, John Carter had stayed in his office, content to let the Beta shift continue with their duties. He was trying in vain to contact Starfleet Command when his combadge beeped.

"Virtus to XO."

"Carter here Vic," the Martian answered. "Go."

"I think I've used my last but of charm John. I'd say you've got 15.27 minutes before Kostya orders me to beam you directly to him."

"Understood Vic. You did better than I thought."

"Of course I did, Commander."

"How's our new Captain handling it?"

"Actually, she's keeping the Admiral calm. I'm not sure, but I think she's enjoying watching the old man get rung through hoops."

"Really?" Carter's surprise was welcome and genuine. "What about the Tac Chief?"

"Well, after tucking in Mister Locksley, she mentioned looking for you."

"Well that's not so bad. Thanks Vic."

"Ka-Plowie, Commander. Virtus out."

Carter smiled at the inside joke as the channel closed, and was about to return to his quest, when the door chime sounded. "Come."

Coleen paused as the door slid open, taking a moment to study the Executive Officer as he worked at his desk. Then she entered with gliding steps, moving gracefully across the room to stand before his desk, her hands held lightly behind her back. "Lieutenant Coleen Chan reporting for duty Sir," She purred throatily.

Carter pulled his eyes, thankfully from his paperwork, as his new Tactical Officer glided into the room. "Hello Lieutenant," he offered. "Sorry that I had to keep things in the shuttle bay so short. Did you find your quarters all right?" Mentally, John kept reminding himself not to stare. As diverse as Starfleet was, a green Orion female was the LAST thing he expected in his office.

Coleen nodded slowly, blue eyes watching the Commander as she slowly started to smile. "Yes Sir, they were right where they were supposed to be . . . I'm sure that Locksley is finding all sorts of things to get into there. And please Sir, call me Coleen. I prefer it. as for the shuttlebay I understand. Having a Flag Officer onboard can be quite unsettling to one's routine."

Carter took a moment to lean back in his chair. "I'll be honest with you Cha . . . Coleen," he said, careful to get the lieutenant's name right, "the last few days have been difficult for us, and for the Tactical Department in particular. We still have to head to 39 Sierra for debriefing." Carter squinted and pinched the bridge of his nose, "We run a standard three shift schedule, but since we're under escort, I won't need the duty rotation for a couple days. Plenty of time for you to meet the ones who are staying." John waited to see Chan's reactions to his words.

Coleen continued to stand in front of the desk with her hands behind her, a half smile lighting up her face. "Actually Sir," she purred, tilting her head a bit to the side as she spoke, her long hair falling about her shoulder, "I was thinking of at least looking the duty rotation over to fill any holes if needed. The current rotation however should work at least until we reach Sierra. I had also already planned on holding a tactical staff meeting to meet those under me, then looking over the tactical systems to see how they came out of all of this." Coleen then straightened her head, looking the Commander full on again.

"Pretty well, all things considered." Carter regarded the officer carefully. "Forgive me if this is out of line, Coleen," the name still sounded strange to John, but he did his best to push that thought aside, "but given your . . . unique status, have you had any problems elsewhere in the fleet?" The XO steepled his fingers in front of him. "It's just that scuttlebutt and reality are very different. Not everyone gets that."

"Actually Lieutenants in Security / Tactical are pretty common in `Fleet Sir." Coleen quipped, her smile spreading at that.

Carter felt a smile creep across his face. "That's not exactly what I meant, but thanks." Carter looked at his desk's view screen and continued. "I figured you could handle yourself ok. Nice to know some things around here are breaking our way."

"I've had no choice but to learn how to handle myself Sir," Coleen murmured, tilting her head to the side again. "As you say, some don't understand that scuttlebutt and reality are different. but if one chooses to listen they often can find the truth."

Carter nodded, pleased at the sign of reason and philosophy from the attractive officer. "That's very true. Is that a Vulcan saying?"

The young Orion shook her head, her dark hair flowing about her shoulders. "No Sir, it's Chinese. But then again, so am I . . . "

Carter blinked, momentarily letting his poker face slip. "Oh, I hadn't realized. I have to say Coleen, you're the last thing I expected to find on the deck when I got up today, but If there's one thing that serving on Republic will teach you, it's how to cope with the unexpected. The more inventive you can be, either on the bridge or on an away team, the better." Carter pushed his chair away from the desk and straightened up, letting the Carter family 'Old Man Noise' slip. "I haven't spent any time with Captain Roth yet, but you'll be in on the next staff meeting." Carter moved toward the door and stood beside the young officer. "Two things you should know."

Coleen shifted her stance, turning on the balls of her feet in order to face Commander Carter, her eyes meeting his. "Yes Sir?"

The XO propped himself against the hatch, cocking his a bit. "First, Department Heads all have a standing invitation for poker. In my quarters, Friday nights, 1900."

Coleen simply raised a eyebrow at this." Alright Sir . . . I Suppose I could learn how to play by then . . . "

John laughed out loud, for the first time in what seemed like months. "Oh, is Vic going to love you!" Carter shook his head though the smile remained. "Second, I owe you one for looking after the Doc. Thanks for that." Carter extended his hand.

At that Coleen smiled. "That was my pleasure Sir, he seemed to need it and he seems a nice person. The next several months will be hard on him however I'm afraid." As she spoke she took Carter's hand, turning it over instead of shaking it, her alien hands hot to the touch. "How Pretty!" she exclaimed, looking at a ring Carter wore.

John felt himself flush as the young lieutenant took his hand. He looked down to see what had gained her attention. "The ring's been in the family a while." he explained. "I'm told that an ancestor of mine graduated from the pre-unification Naval Academy. The stone's a Martian opal." He gently slipped his hand free of Coleen's grasp. "By the way, when you meet Lieutenant Hawk, feel free to slap him, as hard as you like." Though Carter said the words with a smirk, something told Chan the XO wasn't exactly kidding.

Slowly she nodded "I'll be sure to do that Sir. May I be excused now?" As the Commander nodded, Coleen turned and exited with surprising energy and grace.

"Now THAT's a hell of a thing." Carter said, to no one in particular.

In every man’s life, there are awkward moments. Moments that seem to bring time to a standstill, thus forcing the soul to agonize over the situation and fight back the instinct to abscond to a dark corner. The heat of the spotlight can stifling, and as Leon stood in the center of the main ward staring at his father, the world around him seemed to grind to a halt.

"Well, well," the surly voice of the senior Cromwell cut the tension in the room like a knife. The sixty-something man slipped off the biobed and stood up, as he wrung his hands before cracking his knuckles. Skip, Lins, and Wey were on either side of the medical bunk with Doctor Shannon Harris looking towards Leon with a look of shock and surprise. However, it was the elderly father of the chief medical officer that held control of the conversation, as he looked Leon in the eye while walking up to him.

"Looks like the cavalry showed up after all." Everyone in the room was puzzled by the apparently cold dialog emanating from Arthur Cromwell. Everyone that is, except for Leon, whose long-standing chasm between him and his father had not lost its edge over the years.

"Too bad the battle’s all over," Arthur chided while Leon stood stoically silent. "I guess even Starfleet doctors can’t heal everything."

The older man continued to walk past Leon and exited through the main doors of sickbay, but not before giving his son a look of discord. The gloom that descended upon the room after his exit was felt most by Doctor Cromwell, whose parental reprimand reached deep into his engrained submissive instinct towards his childhood patriarch. Even as an adult, Leon’s father could still shatter his self-confidence to this day.

As the silence continued for a few seconds more, Skip, without a word, followed after Arthur with an expression of disapproval towards his Shadowforce comrade. The doors to sickbay opened and closed again as he left, and conversation between those left in the main ward broke the tense moment.

"Doctor Cromwell!" Shannon spoke up finally. "I thought you were reassigned off the ship!"

Lins stepped forward with a smile on her face, and gave Leon a warm embrace. The doctor likewise reciprocated the attention.

"It’s great to see you again, Leon" the middle-aged woman greeted him. "You’ve definitely grown up over the years."

"I’m glad to see someone noticed," he replied with melancholy as they finished hugging. "It’s good to see you again too."

"Hey Leon," Wey stepped forward with an outstretched hand. "How’ve you been?"

Doctor Cromwell grasped the pudgy hand of the obese construction worker, and gave a firm handshake.

"Busy," Leon replied. "Too busy. I don’t suppose you know of a place where I could get away for a little while?"

"Nope," Wey said in a rather apathetic manner. "Not anymore." Although he did not refer to it directly, Leon knew he was hinting at his anger towards the Federation Council for handing over Cestus three to the Gorns. Leon pursed his lips with regret, and was about to respond when two individuals walked briskly into the main ward from the surgical ward. The leading individual was a balding and black-bearded lieutenant commander in medical blue, and the other was a shorter gray-haired woman of the same rank and departmental color. It was none other that Doctors Saal Yezbeck and Eliza Fernmoore.

"God bless it!" Yezbeck shouted with delight while walking up to Leon. "Here I thought I’d gotten rid of you."

"How are you, Saal?" Leon greeted him with a tired smile.

"Damn tired to be doing your job," he replied crassly. "It sure is good to see you back."

"Good to be back," the doctor said sheepishly. "I just wish the circumstances were better. We’ve got a lot to discuss."

"We do," Yezbeck replied, understanding what Leon was hinting at.

"Where’s Captain Marshall’s body?"

"In the morgue." Yezbeck stuck his thumb out and pointed towards the aft side of the ward towards the stasis room. "I’ll send a full report of what happened to your terminal."

"Good," Leon replied. "Arrange a staff meeting for when we arrive at Starbase 39 Sierra. Until then, you’re still in charge. I’ve got some personal business to take care of before we arrive."

"Understood."

Leon began walking towards his office, but when he turned around, he saw that several nurses and enlisted medical technicians had gathered silently behind him. They all wore jubilant expressions on their face, and the doctor recognized the closest one.

"Teague!" the doctor said with a smile to the young medical technician who was stranded with him on Planet Styx over a month ago. Although he never acknowledged it, Leon credited the youngster for saving his life after he was mortally wounded from a phasor shot to his kidney by a Kreltan spy. "How the heck are you?"

"Good to see you back, sir," he remarked before Leon took notice of the rank insignia on his collar. Memory told the doctor that the last time he saw Teague, that no insignia was on his collar as on the Republic, crewman first class and below presented their rank with thin cuff stripes instead. As Leon focused on the collar, he realized that the medic had been promoted while he was gone.

"Petty officer third-class?" Leon remarked. "You’re moving up, aren’t you?"

"Yes sir," Teague replied. "Thank you for your recommendation. We had the promotion party at the Hill earlier this week. I’m sorry you weren’t able to be there."

"So am I," came Leon’s response with a hint of regret. "Still, I’m glad to see you got what you deserved. Next time I see you in Ten-Forward, I’ll buy you a drink. How’s that sound?"

"I look forward to it."

Leon patted the young man on the shoulder as he made his way past the gathered sickbay staff and into his office. As the door slid shut, the heavy weight of his personal life wore on him like a yoke of lead. With an audible sigh, he scanned the small office, noticing it had been left relatively undisturbed. A mug he had been using the day he had called his sister still remained on his desk, albeit stained with evaporated coffee. The blue physicians jacket he wore for duty shifts was right where he normally kept it on the back of the chair. Apparently, Saal had not the gumption to take up residence when Captain Marshall put him in charge.

Rubbing his forehead, Leon searched his desk for his favorite non-medicinal remedy for stress and hypertension. He opened the lower right drawer to find an empty bottle of Rigellian Cordial.

"Damn!" he exclaimed, and collapsed into his chair. He laid his head down on the desk and emitted another heavy sigh. "I should have picked up another bottle while I was at Sol."

Although he was not seeking real alcohol for the sake of becoming inebriated, he did want something to sooth his frayed nerves, and synthehol would simply not do. With the status of his sister and mother unknown, a bitter father who refused to give him the time of day, and a long lost great aunt who was systems away working incognito, Leon felt lonelier than ever. He needed people around him, and not in the work setting. Immediately getting up from the desk, he left the office, left the sickbay, and proceeded to deck ten with his destination being The Hill.

***

Tom Sullivan stood at ease as Vladimir Kostya looked over Republic's main conference room. As Chief Operations officer (usually shortened to "Ops.") Tom was more or less a jack-of-all-trades. His position required that he know a little about everything on board a starship. This unfortunately meant that he usually got stuck with menial, almost clerical tasks, and not all were pleasant. This was one of those times.

Tom shifted his weight and looked to his right, to regard the woman who would be his new captain. As soon as the arrival of Kostya and his party hit the scuttlebutt circuit, Tom had looked up Kimberly Roth's Starfleet record. By all accounts, the dark-haired woman had the makings of not only a first-rate officer, but also an outstanding captain. Roth was one a rarity in `Fleet, because her career track had not been the traditional Conn. or Tactical departments that made up the bulk of `Fleet Captains. Instead, Roth had been a scientist, and a good one too. Her specialty had been theoretical astro-physics, which, according to the officers she'd served with, gave her an interesting perspective. As a true scientist, Roth was equal parts investigator and puzzle-solver; not as grounded in results as an Engineer, or competitive as a Tactical specialist. Sullivan supposed that particular combination of discipline and curiosity would make for an unusual officer, but onboard Republic, the unusual was almost commonplace.

"This will do, Mister Sullivan, thank you." Admiral Kostya offered.

Tom nodded. "Very good Sir, Ma'am." Then, the model of quiet efficiency, Tom Sullivan left the room.

"At least one officer on this damned ship knows his place." Kostya spat. The flag officer sat at the head of the conference table and scowled, as though he were picturing officers around the room that he'd decided he didn't care for. "I swear to you Kim, Carter's going to be the ruin of this ship."

Next to the Admiral, Roth looked thoughtful. "I don't know that to be true, sir" she said. "I read the records on the flight over, and apart from mister Sullivan, Carter's the only bridge officer who hasn't been re-assigned at least once, and from what I heard Doctor Cromwell tell Chan about him, most of the crew thinks that Carter got them this far."

Kostya grumbled, then addressed his hand-picked companion. "Well Chan's a separate problem. I can't have someone like that giving Carter more room to wander off the reservation. He needs to be controlled, and I'm counting on you to haul him, and his band of pirates in line."

Roth listened intently. She was grateful that Kostya had gotten her away from her dead-end posting, and she also knew full-well that Kostya expected his faith in her to be repaid with loyalty to whatever Kostya had in mind, but Roth also felt a certain mania in the Admiral's behavior, one that she couldn't quite justify.

"I'm sure that Carter will appreciate you giving him the benefit of the doubt," Kostya continued, "but he's already lost me one good officer, and a whole system! I'm telling you right now . . . "

The door chime sounded, interrupting the Admiral.

"Speak of the Devil," he whispered. "Come," he offered to the door.

Fresh from his meeting with Lieutenant Chan, feeling that, for once the Tactical Department might be squared away, John Carter's spirits were high. Even when face to face with an admiral he couldn't stand, and a Captain he had no reason to trust. Carter stood at the foot of the table and waited to be addressed.

Admiral Kostya remained seated, while Captain Roth nodded at Carter's arrival. After a long minute, Kostya broke the silence in the room. "At ease, Mister Carter."

Republic's XO stood easy, with his hands clasped behind his back. "Thank you, Admiral." He said in a short, clipped, tone. "The Admiral will be pleased to know that I received conformation of Captain Roth's assignment from PERSCOM twenty minutes ago." Carter turned his head slightly to address his new CO. "Welcome aboard Republic ma'am.

"Thank you, Mister Carter," she offered. "And please, address me as Captain from now on."

"Aye, Captain."

Kostya couldn't help but roll his eyes as he heard Carter follow the letter of Starfleet procedure. His contempt for the Martian officer was growing by the minute. "Enough of the dog and pony show, commander," Kostya barked. "You've landed us in quite the predicament here. I hope you're proud of yourself, mister."

"I'm afraid I don't know what you mean, Admiral." Carter said, honestly not seeing what part of the Cestus three disaster might have been his fault.

Kostya shot to his feet. "You killed your Captain and lost one of the Federation's oldest colonies! You want to explain how that happened son ?"

John leveled his gaze at the white-haired officer across from him. `Hmm,' Carter thought, `that's one angry, short man.' he said inwardly. "All of the duty personnel have filed reports sir," Carter explained. "I take it you have some questions about them?"

"Yes, dammit! Explain yourself!"

"Permission to speak freely sir?"

Kostya settled back into his chair. "Oh . . . PLEASE" he said with an icy tone.

Carter came out of his easy stance and placed his hands down on the table top, leaning forward slightly. "Captain Marshall is dead because he was put in an impossible situation. He was obsessed with proving himself, and made stupid decisions."

Carter's words were cold, and detached, but Roth was surprised how honest the XO seemed to be. "Why weren't you onboard Republic, commander?" Roth asked. "As XO, your first job is to keep your Captain from making just that kind of mistake."

"Agreed, Captain. But Captain Marshall ordered me and a tactical team to investigate the presence of Starfleet Intelligence assets on Cestus three. Before I left, Captain Marshall told me he was going to negotiate with the Gorn Pack-leader. I had no idea he was going to let things get so out of hand."

"So instead you give his death to the news feeds! That's disgraceful!"

Carter shot a look back at the Admiral. "No sir," he answered, "what's disgraceful is Starfleet conducting an illegal Intel operation, which is what invalidated the treaty in the first place."

"You have a responsibility to protect Starfleet's interests."

"The same way that SOMEONE'S secret lock-out code was supposed to protect my ship?" Carter could feel his face redden as his temperature began to rise.

"What are you getting at, Mister?"

"Even if I HAD been here, it wouldn't have made any difference. The only officers the computer recognized were too junior for the job. My Engineer had to pull a minor miracle out of his six to get us back in control so we could even break orbit!"

"So, it wasn't your fault. Is that what you're saying Carter?" Kostya quipped. "Typical."

"My Captain didn't follow procedure, and some damned Black Box disrupted the rightful chain of command. I did what any Starfleet officer would have done," he explained, careful to watch Roth's expression as he finished. "I made the best out of a lousy sprocking situation."

Kostya leaned back and regarded the fiery officer. "Let's say you're correct, commander. That some unknown third party interfered with the ship's computer. Who can verify this?"

"Chief Engineer Virtus and Commander Forrest have filed reports , sir."

"Then I'll take them back to Earth with me. Along with Captain Marshall's body, Lieutenant Chan, and that young Lieutenant Sullivan -- As an orderly subordinate, he could shed some light on what happened here. Arthur Cromwell and the rest of your departing crew will leave when Republic arrives at 39 Sierra."

"You'll WHAT?" Carter blurted.

"You heard me Carter," Kostya.

John stepped forward. "Now wait just one damn minute! My people know their jobs, but we can't be expected to be effective when no one stays put! It takes time to develop a good command team! Sullivan especially! There's no other qualified officers in operations!"

"Well then Commander," Kostya remained calm, almost triumphant. "You'll have plenty of time to watch and learn." Kostya stood calmly and put every ounce of seriousness into his words. "You may be able to justify your actions, and for what it's worth, Starfleet agrees with you."

The Admiral stepped toward the door, then turned back to Carter. "Fortunately, your release of the footage of Marshall's death will allow us to save face, and you wisely kept the existence of the duckblind from the public, bit I won't let you off that easy. I intend to make sure that the rest of Starfleet knows what a danger you are, so, you will stay here. On Republic, until your as dead as your career."

The door hissed open as Kostya continued.

"Jim Marshall was a friend of mine. You didn't deserve him, and he sure as HELL didn't deserve what you pushed him to." Kostya nodded at Roth. "Do what this woman says, and you may get to off this ship one day. But step over the line again, and respect won't be the only thing you lose. I'll be leaving in 48 hours."

With that, Kostya left the room. Carter felt his jaw clench and only remembered that Roth was still in the room when the Captain cleared her throat. Cater spun on a heel and looked, wide-eyed at Kim Roth. "I swear to you Captain, I . . . I didn't know . . . "

"Ease down, Mister Carter," she said, trying to calm the XO's obviously frayed nerves. "For what it's worth, I've been in your shoes." she explained.

"I know." Carter offered as his tactician's mind was quickly and methodically reviewing his situation. "When Leon mentioned your name, I looked up your service jacket."

"Then you know about the Thundercrest?"

"Yes, Captain," he said calmly. "Tough call."

"Won't be the last." she commented. "There's no hurry to 39 Sierra. Take some time and decide what you want to do."

"Captain?"

Roth stood easy with her arms folded across her chest. "The way I see it you have two choices. You can stay here, and try to soldier through, or . . . " her gaze shifted out the way Kostya had gone. "Or, you can give Kostya what he wants, and leave Fleet."

"Oh, like hell." Carter hissed.

"Good answer." Roth said with an easy chuckle. "Welcome to my world, Carter."

Roth then exited the conference room, leaving Carter alone. "Griffe . . . can it get any worse?"

Location: corridor, deck 12, USS Republic

With a stubborn air surrounding him, and a stoic expression with a bare hint of a scowl, Arthur marched down the corridor ignoring the occasional looks of curiosity by passing Starfleet crewmen. His course led him steadily away from sickbay, and was by himself for no more than half a minute before Skip jogged up to him from behind.

"What the hell was that all about?" Skip scolded the elder Cromwell while pointing back the way he came.

"I can't stand hospitals. You know that," he responded without turning to his friend.

"That's not what I mean!" Skip shot back while grabbing Arthur's shoulder to bring him to a stop. "That was you son back there! A son you haven't seen in God knows how long, and has a missing mother and sister!"

"He left that family long ago to join this band of ignorant turncoats," Arthur continues. "And instead of coming back to help this family in it's time of greatest need, he stays with these bastards and watches from the safety of a doctors office while his birthplace is conquered by an alien race. As far as I'm concerned, he's no son of mine."

"Do I need to remind you that if we hadn't fought back against the Rexes that the resistance might have lived?"

The thought of his closest friend turning on him at this moment in time caused Arthur to stare with burning rage into Skip's eyes.

"You joined Shadowforce to protect the colony while Fleet broke the Metron treaty. We fought to get the Rexes off our planet. It was the only control we had while these bastards," Arthur motioned to the ship around him. "Gave our homes away. I'll never forgive Fleet for this, and if my son is any way associated with these no-good petticoats, then he's no better than the bastards who killed the resistance."

Walking up to the side of the corridor, Arthur looked over the smooth, black surface of the personnel interface.

"How the hell does this thing work?" he muttered with confusion in his voice. With ambiguity in his motions, he carefully touched the surface with his hand. Immediately, an amber schematic appeared on the shiny, ebony surface.

"Please state destination."

"I want to get to a subspace communications console," Arthur said grouchily.

"The nearest subspace communications facility for non-Starfleet personnel is located on deck ten, section twelve. Follow the lighted arrows to the nearest turbolift."

A yellow tracer light appeared on the bottom edge of the corridor panel, and continued on down the deck, pointing the way for Arthur. He took one last look at Skip and said, "if that man in sickbay is really my son, he'd be doing what I'm doing, and figuring out whether the rest of his family is still alive." With that, Arthur turned away and followed the lighted arrows. Skip looked after him with disapproval before following him.

***

Location: Subspace com-center 6, deck 10, USS Republic

" . . . I'm sorry Mister Cromwell, but all ships have reported in, and there's no listing of your wife or daughter among the refugees."

"What about the ex-patriots?" Arthur asked in desperation. He was seated at a desk in a small room with Skip standing behind him. The communications screen was the main source of illumination in the chamber as it highlighted the two mens' faces.

"Those who remained on the surface are now under the jurisdiction of the Gorn Hegemony. Although our census of the ex-patriots was hastily put together when we left the Cestus system, we couldn't find any trace of your family in the records. I'm sorry sir, but chances are that they're both dead."

Arthur put his face in his hands and began to breathe irregularly, indicating he was starting to weep. Skip reached over from behind him and touched the communications console.

"Thank you, lieutenant," Skip replied to the officer on the other end. "We appreciate your assistance."

Closing the channel, the screen went blank, and the room went quiet with the exception of Arthur's quiet sobbing. Skip remained silent for the next few minutes, allowing his friend to grieve. As his painful mourning began to subside, Arthur wiped the tears out of his bloodshot eyes with the sleeve of his leather jacket. Skip put a tender hand on Arthur's shoulder.

"You still have one family member left," Skip said soothingly. "I think he'd rather hear the news from you instead of from a some inhumane Starfleet manifest. Don't you?"

Kimberly Roth sat at her desk staring blankly into the coffee cup that had been empty since she began duty at 0800 hours. She shook her head and cleared her throat. "Computer," she called to the ship's ubiquitous disembodied voice, "resume personal log entry."

"Acknowledged."

The voice that called back was not the cool neutral alto that Roth had always assumed to be uniform on Starfleet vessels. The captain of the U.S.S. Republic was taken aback when her command was met with a stern baritone. Roth sat and pondered a moment. Had she heard the barest hint of an accent from that voice? "Note to self" she muttered, not loud enough for the computer to hear, "Tell the Chief Engineer to fix that new voice." The captain paused and shook her head again, "As soon as I GET a Chief Engineer."

Roth lowered the fastening on her over tunic slightly, continued her log entry while looking over notes and orders on several PADDs scattered about her desk. "Captain's log, continued. While Smoke seems to love this post, I remain a bit pensive. I took this position because I saw it as a way to get back into `Fleet's good graces…not to mention get back to civilization, but as I survey the state of Republic, I'm not so sure."

"We've been docked at Starbase 39 Sierra for three days now. The ship itself is undergoing major repair and refit operations. We've had the AI protocols upgraded, and our primary warp coils are in the process of being replaced, to say nothing of a number of ODN relays, isolinear modules, and according to my Ops Chief before he left, one kitchen sink."

In the far corner of Roth's room, a sound somewhere between a purr and a hiss came from a coiled brown mass, marked by two bright red eyes.

"Oh, is that right stinker?" Roth chided her pet. "You keep that up and I'll ship you back to Earth with Mister Locksley!"

The dark creature tilted its head and blinked in a rather unimpressed fashion, then went back to preening it's shiny coat.

The Captain initialed one of the PADDs she'd been holding, then continued to speak. "With the departure of Chief Engineer Virtus, the repairs are being overseen by former science chief, Ensign Pakita. After formally reassigning her to engineering, I've sent a request to PERSCOM that she be stepped up to lieutenant junior grade. I would have liked to meet mister Virtus. He's got a pretty colorful rep with the rest of the brain trust back home, but `Fleet doesn't seem to know what to do with him."

As Roth continued the log entry, she tuned on her desk's computer interface, looking over the files of her senior staff as she commented on them.

"Lieutenant Hawk hasn't crossed me yet, but I'm sure that's just a matter of time. His record's so black it makes the stars look dim. That might be part of the reason that Carter has him on limited duty. Well that, and the small matter of what happened on Cestus three."

"On the subject of Cestus three, I still haven't submitted my self to Doctor Cromwell's Chamber of Horrors."

Roth smiled as she heard Smoke bleek a response. She wagged her finger at the brown-furred creature. "Quiet!" Roth scolded, "there's a vet onboard too you know."

Smoke continued to preen his coat as if Roth's words were less than annoying. The Captain meanwhile, turned her attention back to her log.

"The Doctor is still keeping mum about the relationship between him and his father, and I must admit that the Elder Cromwell is a piece of work. I can see where the Doctor gets his stubbornness from though. The funny thing is, almost everything I know about Doctor Cromwell I had to get from the Counselor."

Smoke bleeked again to correct the Captain. Roth rolled her eyes. "Yes, yes, I'm sorry. ACTING Counselor."

Roth tapped a few keys, then stared at the blank screen on her computer terminal. "Damnedist thing though, Doctor Harris' file doesn't seem to come up in the computer at all. Not even a missing file report. Must be a problem with the AI records node. Yet another thing for the Chief Engineer to look at."

"Still no word from Admiral Kostya as to what our orders might be, but after years on a backwater station I have to say it just doesn't matter. I'll take anywhere, so long as it's interesting."

Roth gathered her thoughts as she paged through Republic's crew roster, finally settling on the service jacket of John Carter, the ship's XO, and as far as she could determine, Admiral Vladimir Kostya's LEAST favorite person.

"Despite the Admiral's vow to ruin Commander Carter's career, I think that my XO is up to proving him wrong. Carter's got the stuff, I just need to rein him in a bit. Either that . . . " Roth paused and looked out to the busy dockyard of Starbase 39 Sierra, "Either that, or I risk ending up like Republic's last Captain."

Roth stood bent over her desk, content to watch Smoke complete his daily ritual. "End Log."

"Acknowledged."

Roth chuckled. "Now I KNOW that's not `Fleet issue!"

"She's what?!" John Carter rubbed the back of his neck; both a sign of stress and concentration. His question was directed at Yeoman David Lucas, a member of the logistics staff on 39 Sierra who had just delivered some very surprising news to Republic's executive officer, caught in a corridor on his way to a turbolift .

Dave Lucas was a rarity in Starfleet, in that he actually was as young as he looked. A round face, crowned by an Academy-issue haircut was marked by bright green eyes that still held a spark of enthusiasm, if not awe at being onboard a Galaxy Class starship. As one of the lowest ranking officers in the Operations Department on 39 Sierra, Lucas often got saddled with what most fleet personnel liked to call `Tribble Work'. Something that was neither necessary nor useful. However, the unexpected arrival of a very irate Starfleet Commander had made his day much more interesting than he had thought it would be. Lucas had been asked personally by 39 Sierra's CO, the much respected, though misunderstood Commodore Friedrich "Fritz" Heizler, to try and solve a very vocal problem.

That meant finding Republic's XO.

The young crewman shrugged his shoulders. "Commander Taylor is in Officer's Conference Room three on the station sir," he explained. "She's asking for you specifically."

`I'll just bet she is' Carter thought silently.

"Have you spoken to anyone else about this?"

The Yeoman tilted his head. "No sir," he answered. "Should I have?"

Carter waved his hand, dismissing the ensigns concerns. "Not at all. Commander Taylor's a former member of Republic's crew. I'd just as soon keep this in house."

"Very well, Sir." The fresh-faced ensign turned and walked down the corridor, back the way he'd came.

Standing near the turbolift door, John tapped his comm. badge. "XO to Captain Roth."

"Roth here, what is it Number One?"

"There's a little wrinkle I need to look into on the base Captain. Commodore Heizler seems to think I'm . . . uniquely qualified."

"Very well, Mister Carter. Best not to keep our hosts waiting."

"Thanks Skipper," Carter answered informally. "Shouldn't take too long." The channel closed and John Carter rolled his eyes. `I hope . . . '

***

Lana Taylor was the very picture of excitement. After months of tests, resting, and more tests, she was finally back in space, and the flutter in her chest told her that with each passing second, she was closer to putting her family back together.

Lana took a moment to gaze out the armour-plast window that afforded her a view of the Starbase's docking berths. Ships of all sizes and classes, both military and commercial were being tended to by a veritable army of worker bees and hard-suited engineers, but Lana Taylor couldn't take her eyes off of the blue-grey hull of the U.S.S. Republic. Her ship, and more importantly, his ship. Lana smiled broadly. "See you soon Jim."

***

Flux-chillers hummed and the rapid pulse of a model 47 warp core reverberated through hull of the U.S.S. Emerson. The sound was higher pitched than normal, and made Chief Engineer Anthony Rizzo wince. He glanced down at his status display and shook his head, then looked over his left shoulder toward his captain, who was seated, rather tensely he thought, in Emerson's command chair. Rizzo cleared his throat. "Captain, I think . . . "

The Captain waved a hand up to dismiss the engineer's comment as a silky soprano answered back. "I have every confidence you'll hold her together Mister Rizzo." She paused a bit, then murmured to herself. "We've got a crewman to look after. And I never leave a man behind."

The young Commanding Officer of the Emerson fixed her gaze on the navigational plot on the forward viewer. "ETA to 39 Sierra, Mister Honeycutt?"

The red-headed lieutenant in the Con position answered back without missing a beat. "One hour, 27 minutes, present speed, Sir."

***

Outside the conference room on 39 Sierra, John Carter tapped nervously at his comm badge. "Come on damn it," he cursed. "Carter to Doctor Cromwell . . . "

In the cool dispassionate tones that Carter barely acknowledged anymore, the base computer answered back. "Doctor Cromwell is not onboard the starbase."

"Great," Carter huffed. "Of all the times to be off the clock." Running a hand through his hair, John squared his shoulders, and stepped into the room. On the other side, he saw Commander Lana Taylor, the former XO of Republic, and an old friend of Captain Marshall's.

Commander Taylor had left the ship under less than ideal circumstances following a problem pregnancy that was only resolved with the use of Borg technology from the Delta Quadrant. Republic's Medical and Science teams had worked a near miracle to deliver the child, but that wasn't the reason for her leaving the ship. Before the rescue of the Zurich, most of the ship's senior staff had seen Commander Taylor and Captain Marshall share a less than regulation moment, and the conflict of interest was resolved when Lana's pregnancy provided an excuse. Carter had always wondered if that particular chicken might come home to roost. Apparently, it had.

Looking at her now, Carter could see that time away from the Republic had suited Commander Taylor. Her face was bright and cheery, with no sign of the stress or fatigue that Carter had last seen. Indeed, the officer seemed almost . . . giddy.

"You wanted to see me Commander Taylor?" John said, stepping into the room.

"Oh please John," the other officer's tone was positively joyful, "there's no need to be so formal. After all, you're Jim's right hand man." Taylor spun suddenly, as if overcome by a sudden need to dance. "I always knew you two would work out your problems eventually."

There were few times in his life that John Carter had been rendered speechless. Now, as he heard the way Taylor seemed to be referring to her friend in the present tense, John felt his jaw clench. `Sprock ME!' he thought. `How can she NOT know? Everybody knows!'

Swallowing hard, John made a motion for the commander to sit down, which he quickly followed. "Lana," he said calmly, "you look well. How's the baby?"

Lana's face retained its ever-more disturbing cheerfulness. "Little Jay is fine." She answered calmly. "It's sweet of you to ask really, but I'm sure that Jim's talked your ear off already."

"No," John answered cautiously. "Not as much as you'd think." John shook his head slightly and felt his jaw tense as he asked a question to which he didn't really want the answer. "When was the last time you spoke with the . . . with Captain Marshall, Lana."

"He placed a subspace call last week, but I've been on assignment with the Belleraphon for nearly six months." Taylor let out a heavy sigh, "You know how it is in `Fleet."

Carter felt another rush of concern as he listened to his former comrade. He'd already been concerned about what sort of mood Lana might be in when she arrived, but now he feared for her sanity.

According to the last deployment update from Starfleet Command, Belleraphon had been lost with all hands during a mission to observe the collapse of a binary star in the Draconus sector. Lana Taylor was never on Belleraphon, and the more John thought about it, the more he began to suspect that she hadn't spoken to Captain Marshall since the last time she'd been aboard Republic. "Lana, I'm sorry," he explained, "but Captain Marshall's unavailable right now."

"Unavailable?" The look of crushing disappointment crossed the female commander's face. "But, Republic is here. I had to pull . . . a lot of strings to find that out, you know." Then there was an unsettling tilt to Lana's head as she continued. "Republic is Jim's ship, so he has to be here, right?" She seemed to furrow her brow, as if willing the universe to conform to her wishes. "Right?"

***

Starbase offices are a flurry of activity. Sometimes at a low buzz, sometimes at a fever-pitch, but there was always something going on. On this particular day, the docking berths of Starbase 39 Sierra were nearly full. And the number was about to increase by one. The low hum of voices and activity was broken by an incoming sub-space message. The call was answered by Ensign Olivia Peters, a small, dark-haired woman who excelled at organizational skills, and made a mean Jovian sunspot if you asked nicely. "39 Sierra Approach Control to . . . " Peters glanced at her transponder records, "NCC-47812. Come in Emerson."

"USS Emerson to 39 Sierra control. This is Captain Rachel Blake. Apologies for the unexpected visit, but we're traveling under code Alpha-Niner."

"Alpha Nine?" Peters echoed softly. `But why would an Akira class starship be flying under a ceremonial bereavement flag?' she wondered. `And why here?' Peters cleared her throat. "Stand by Emerson, we'll see if we can squeeze you in. Come to course Zero-three-six mark one-four, and hold station please."

"Understood Control. Emerson, standing by."

***

"LIAR!" Lana Taylor screamed. "You filthy LIAR!" The distraught officer struggled as John Carter fought to keep her hands restrained.

"Commander, please! You need to listen to me!"

In a fit of rage-enhanced strength, Lana twisted a hand free and tensed her fingers in a vicious claw. Before Carter could react to her movement, the enraged officer raked her nails across Carter's face, creating four distinct rivulets of blood. "You don't know what I need! The Doctor's didn't know . . . NO BODY KNOWS!"

John pushed hard against his former colleague's chest, driving her back against the large room's conference table. He dabbed a hand against his now inflamed face and blinked. Across the room, he could see Lana Taylor crouched like a predatory animal

"You did it, didn't you Carter! You hated Jim! Hated him because he was twice the man you'd ever be!" She tensed again, preparing for another lunge. "You killed him, and I'll kill you!"

Carter backed away toward the door and tapped his combadge. "Carter to Republic, Hell . . . ANYBODY! Emergency! Station Conference Room three!"

Location: Recreation Room 2, Republic docking berth level, Starbase 39 Sierra

Sweat poured down Ensign Depach Narudi's forehead as his eyes were transfixed in deep concentration. With the Republic in port, there was very little for the security department to do on the ship, so most were provided a light duty schedule to either relax or catch up on some tactical training. Depach, however, was given another very important task by the acting department head. With a 3-D chess board sitting in front of him, the young South American-born ensign looked across the table at his opponent: Lieutenant Sean McTaggart, acting security chief.

Around them, the room was packed with onlookers as the two Republic officers were engaged in an intense, 7-hour session of 3D Chess. With the five bars of latinum lying next to the chess board, the stakes were high and the competition fierce. The crowd of spectators only added to the tense atmosphere in the room as Ensign Narundi carefully, but nervously picked up a white pawn and moved it to another level.

"P-pawn to rook level two," he nervously said.

A few whispers of interest were shared among the watchers and McTaggart displayed a half-grin causing Narundi to close his eyes in the sudden realization he had made a bad move.

"Bishop to king's level one," Sean said smartly.

"Checkm . . . "

"Harris to McTaggart! Emergency!

Immediately, the two security officers had dismissed the match and focused their attention to the ominous message.

"McTaggart here. Go ahead," Sean replied.

"The Republic just got a message for Commander Carter in the berthing platform conference room three! He's says he's being attacked!"

The two officers were on their feet and making their way through the crowd to the door as McTaggart responded.

"On our way. McTaggart out."

***

Location: Corridor 12, section A, deck 16, Starbase 39 Sierra

Sean McTaggart struggled to keep up as Depach Narundi and one other member of Republic's Tactical Department raced down 39 Sierra's busy corridors. "I don't get it Depach," McTaggart shouted, "Who in the world would want to hurt the XO? Especially in the middle of a Starbase? And why didn't he just call base security?"

Sean watched as Narundi turned his head slightly. "You've never read the Commander's file, have you?" he asked.

"Well no, but . . . "

"Commander Carter has a singular talent for making impressions." Narundi commented. "Seems like you either love him or hate him in the first five minutes."

"Huh," McTaggart considered. "I'll buy that I guess." Sean centered his purpose as the impromptu rescue party rounded the curve of the central corridor in the docking berth.

"Where the hell is station security?"

At Depach's query, McTaggart tapped his combadge. "Lieutenant McTaggart to Station Ops."

"Sierra Ops. Go ahead."

"Is the tactical team en route to Conference Room three?"

"Confirmed Lieutenant. ETA two minutes."

"Belay that!" McTaggart said sternly as Depach shifted his weight and the lift doors obediently closed. "We're closer, but have a medical team ready in the infirmary."

"Understood Lieutenant."

Inwardly, Depach Narundi smiled `Hmmm, there might be an officer in there after all', he mused. Then he looked at Sean McTaggart directly. "What's the plan, Chief?"

***

John Carter rocked his shoulders, trying to present as small a target as possible to the enraged Lana Taylor. "Commander!" he shouted, "I can help you, but you have to . . . "

Before Republic's XO could finish, the frantic woman lunged again, this time aiming for Carter's mid-section. Carter tried to spin out of the woman's grip, but only managed to turn his body back toward the conference table as Lana attacked.

"MURDERER!" she shouted as her shoulders made contact with Carter's torso, her arms wrapped around his waist. She smiled as she heard a satisfying huff from her target and the air escaped his lungs.

The world seemed to spin as all of John Carter's breath left him. Through a reddened haze, he could barely make out Lana's tangled curls as she moved to pin him to the floor. "Puh . . . please . . . "

Lana smiled sweetly as she straddled Carter's chest, using her knees to pin his arms to the floor. "Fah! And to think I used to be afraid of you! For what?" she asked, as she pulled her combadge from her chest. The light glinted off one the points of the insignia's familiar `flying delta'. "You're just a frail little man who wouldn't know REAL greatness if it bit you!" Then, with a sudden change of countenance, Taylor tilted her head. "You know," she said playfully, "I never used to like these new badges . . . too angular for me, but now, I have to admit . . . they might be just the thing!"

Taylor held her comm. badge inches from Carter's throat, then raised her hand. "Good bye, traitor." Taylor whispered.

Then Carter's own communicator chirped.

"John, it's Shannon. Where are you? What's going on?"

A guttural rumble came from Lana Taylor as she clutched Carter's badge and tore it from his uniform. "Shut up, just SHUT UP!" Taylor screamed.

***

Tense seconds ticked by as the ersatz rescue party made their way to the doors of Conference Room three. "Ok," McTaggart said, "Here's how we play it. Station sensors haven't picked up any weapons or transporter traces, so our first objective is to secure the commander." The rest of the party nodded as McTaggart's comm chirped to life.

"Republic Ops to Tac Chief. We just lost the XO's bio- sign!"

"Oh, HELL no!" McTaggart yelled back. "Confirm that Ops.?" he questioned, even as his fingers flew across the controls to open the door to the conference room. There was a sharp clang followed by the whine of servos as the door opened.

***

Lana Taylor turned her head swiftly as she heard the doors to the room open. Meanwhile, his lungs still aching for air, John Carter writhed beneath his former comrade in a desperate struggle to break free. "NO!" Taylor cursed. "You're too late!" With all the power her madness could summon, Lana Taylor drove her improvised weapon down into her target.

Depach Narundi felt his blood turn cold as he heard a painful cry from the conference room. "No." He whispered softly.

Depach took three quick steps, cocking his fist back as he charged into the room. He threw all of his strength and momentum behind his clenched fist, meeting squarely with the attacker's jaw.

Lana Taylor's head flew sideways as she turned at the approaching noises. "No!" She shouted, "You're too la . . . "

Depach's punch cut the commander off in mid-sentence. The only sounds after that were the heavy thud of Taylor's head hitting the edge of the conference table, and John Carter's labored breathing.

"Oh my God . . . " Depach whispered.

***

Rachel Blake stood impatiently at the Emerson's main gangway, as a few of her officers assembled around her. She nodded in approval as she say Lieutenant Commander Jeff Burns and Chief Petty Officer Lisa Houlihan round out her very important detail. "All right people," she said firmly. "Let's bring him home."

Seven officers in all exited from the docking assembly holding the U.S.S. Emerson, and onto the outer hall of the station's main level. There were several questioning looks as the new arrivals saw that the station's alert tracers were active in the hallway. "What the Hell?" she questioned.

***

"Is she out?" Sean McTaggart asked.

Depach Narundi nodded as he pulled his fingers from Lana Taylor's still pulsing corroded artery. "She'll live." he commented.

Sean McTaggart was bent over the body of John Carter trying to check his First Officer for any other injuries.

"There's a lot of blood, but I think he'll be ok." Sean worked through the gruesome sight in front of him and grasped Carter's shoulder. "You just hang in there, XO. Doc'll have you up to spec in no time." Then he tapped his combadge. "McTaggart to Sierra Ops. Emergency! Two to beam directly to the infirmary!"

In a wash of light and sound, McTaggart and Carter vanished, leaving only the stains of Carter's blood as a reminder of their presence. Depach Narundi Stood, and took hold of the limp form of Commander Lana Taylor as the 39 Sierra's Tactical Detail finally arrived. He ignored the commotion and spoke to his unconscious charge. "You're lucky he'll live," he whispered. "I always knew you'd be trouble."

***

Location: Infirmary, Exam 1, Starbase 39 Sierra

Doctor Sarah Chambers was blessed with keen insight, a graceful air, and natural charisma. But at this moment . . .

"I told you I'm FINE blast it! Now get me out of this torture chamber!"

She was grateful for a near boundless supply of patience. She looked down softly at the gruff, older man on the bio-bed and smiled. "I'd never torture you Mister Cromwell," she offered with a wink. "For all I know, you might enjoy it."

The old man flushed and stammered. "Now see here young lady! I'll . . . "

"Enough, Dad," came the firm baritone voice of Doctor Leon Cromwell. He turned to look at Doctor Chambers, noting how well her dark brown skin brought out the green in her eyes. "What's the prognosis?"

"Well, aside from your father's charming disposition, I'd say his heart will make a full recovery."

"Can you please stop talking about me like I'm not even here!" The Elder Cromwell protested.

"But you must know that, Doctor. After all, you could have run these tests yourself on board the Republic."

Leon smiled sheepishly. "Honestly, Doctor, I did. I just wanted to make it a point to get a second opinion."

Chambers smiled and patted Leon's shoulder. "Any time Doctor." Then she looked down at her long-suffering patient. "You can go now, Mister Cromwell," she added with a slight smile in her voice as she headed for the ward's main hall.

"Yeah," the old man complained. "Thanks for nothing."

Leon extended a hand to his father. "Come on Dad, Lins and the rest are waiting for us on the prom . . . "

Leon's thoughts were broken by the unmistakable whine of a transporter followed by several raised voices.

" . . . ocular trauma . . . "

" . . . 30 ccs of primagen, Stat! . . . "

" . . . Cancel! Patient is non-responsive to re-gen. Damned Martians . . . "

Leon walked around the corner to see what all the fuss might be. He felt his jaw slacken as he saw the battered form of Commander John Carter. The officer's face was streaked with blood, and there was a Starfleet issue communicator protruding from his left eye socket.

Nearby, Sean McTaggart spied his ship's surgeon. "Doc?"

Leon bolted over to Carter's bedside, pushing through the mass of assembled caretakers. "Sweet Mercy!" he hissed.

Barely aware of his surroundings, John Carter heard the whispered words of his friend. "Leon?" he managed weakly.

Cromwell regained his professional composure and spoke. "Right here John, don't talk. You'll be ok."

"Should have . . . known . . . " Carter coughed. "It was only a matter of time."

“Doctor Chambers, if I may?”

The starbase medical head opened her hands with a nod. “By all means, doctor. My facilities are at your disposal.” She stood back, pointing to two nearby nurses. “Help Doctor Cromwell and get him whatever he needs.”

Immediately, the two blue-uniformed officers huddled around the diagnostic table with Leon.

“I need 100 cc’s of neochlorine and an autosuture,” he rattled off quickly. “Activate intravenous infusion system and plasma generator. Oxygenation factor 0.21.” He looked down at Commander Carter who was looking up at him in a haze. “I’m going to put you under now, John. But, I’ll be right here the whole time, okay?”

The XO weakly nodded his head as Leon dialed a few buttons on the surgical module.

“Can I get some gloves and a smock, please?” Leon turned around, and pulled off his ivory turtleneck to reveal a black undershirt with sweat-stained armpits. Immediately, a medtech arrived with the Starfleet issue red surgical overgarment and helped Doctor Cromwell into it.

“Is there anything I can do?” Doctor Chambers asked. Arthur Cromwell slid off the biobed next to her a watched the drama unfolding before him with a concerned scowl.

“Can you get me a class-one micro-occular prism?” he asked as a nurse tied a mask over his mouth.

Doctor Chambers looked confused. “Well, sure. But . . . wouldn’t you rather use a bionic implant? There’s several very good models available . . . ”

Leon smiled under his mask.

“John made me promise to never ‘cyber-jack’ him,” he replied. “I’ll put a prism in his other eye so his depth perception will be restored and can function normally. But as for an optical implant . . . that will have to be his choice after he recovers.” With that, Leon turned to back to Commander Carter.

“Hemostats,” he ordered as a nurse promptly handed him a surgical tool. “Can we increase the level of the capillary restrictors? I’m still getting a little bleeding here.”

“Yes doctor.”

“Suction, on my mark.”

“Ready sir.”

“Mark . . . ”

Leon reached into John’s bloody eye socket and plucked the communicator from its invasive incision. He held it up in front of him with curiosity as the light twinkled off its gold surface streaked with crimson.

“This is a new one . . . ” he remarked before depositing the device into a nearby tray with a metallic chime.

“Let’s get that auto-suture going on the trachea,” Leon ordered. “Be sure to apply muscle-relaxant on those vocal chords.”

Arthur Cromwell continued to watch the surgery from afar as Doctor Chambers strode past him with a small tray. He had never seen his son at work like this before. Although the elder Cromwell and Commander Carter had engaged in several arguments on Cestus three, he had secretly harbored a certain respect for the Republic’s XO. There’s nothing Arthur liked more than good exchange of diatribes, and Carter had given him the best he’d had in years.

‘Too bad Leon never figured that out,’ he thought with regret. During Doctor Cromwell’s upbringing, he was more passive and quiet than argumentative with his father. Instead, the younger Cromwell saved his discord for others he encountered in life. But never with his father. That, on top of being associated with Starfleet, vexed Arthur to no ends. The chasm between the two only grew over the years, and as the elder watched his son at work, he realized just how far apart they were.

***

Location: Recovery suite 18, main medical center, Starbase 39 Sierra

With lucidity slowly dawning upon him like an early morning fog lifting to reveal the sun, John found himself staring into the soft, ambient light fixture on the ceiling. He groggily and slowly sat up in bed and looked around him. He was in a small room with a two chairs and a table underneath a viewport overlooking a starscape outside. His bed was the only one in the room, and to the other side of chamber, two doors existed with one leading to a small bathroom, and another that offered egress from the suite.

Suddenly, the Republic’s XO remembered what had happened. His hands, after searching his in-patient smock for his communicator, went to his throat to check the gaping wound that Lana had dealt him. It was gone, and the skin was smooth, and unscathed. Moving from his throat to his left eye, John felt the presence of a soft, velvet-like material covering the socket, and as he traced the edges of the wrap, realized he was wearing an eyepatch. Just as that happened, the door to the suite slid open.

Leon strolled through the door carrying a small transparent case in his hand. He wore his usual turtleneck sweater and looked at John with a relieved smile.

“Well, look who’s awake!” he remarked. The doctor placed the small case down on the end table next to the bed, and John saw that it contained a Starfleet-issue communicator.

“Thought you might like a souvenir,” Leon said.

***

Location: Captain's ready room, main bridge, USS Republic

"Why do I get the feeling that you know something about this?"

In the back of the room, Smoke bleeked expectantly.

As he tried to avoid eye contact with Captain Roth, a very worried Ensign Depach Narundi lowed his head in shame. "I a . . . I just hit a superior officer ma'am" he answered as he glanced at the Captain.

Kimberly Roth raised an eyebrow. "Excuse me?" The Captain looked back at Commodore Heizler on the desk-mounted viewscreen. "Was it someone on the station?"

"In a manner of speaking, Commander Taylor was on the station, but she's not one of my people."

"Then who's `person' was she?" Roth questioned, as she looked back at Narundi. "And why did you hit her? That's serious Ensign, and damned irresponsible."

"But it was in self-defense." Narundi protested. "She was about to kill Commander Carter, and if I hadn't struck, Commander Carter would have died." Depach's reply was short, clipped, and he hadn't realized that he was standing at attention.

Captain Roth held up her hands in confusion. "Hold on just one second! Who was that woman, and what does she have to do with Carter?"

"Commander Lana Taylor was the first XO of Republic, when Jim Marshall was first appointed."

"But, I assumed she was re-assigned. What's she doing here?"

"That's where it gets complicated. Commander Taylor's in the station brig right now, and she's . . . well frankly she's raving. Seems she's not in the service at all. Following her transfer off Republic, she and her child were transferred to Serenity One."

"Serenity? But that's . . . "

"A psychological re-hab colony, yes."

In the midst of the explanation, Smoke tilted his head up from the stalk of celery he had been busily munching. The small, dark creature moved with a silent, fluid grace off of his perch, wriggling under Roth's desk, only to appear expectantly with is forward paws poised on the polished black desktop.

Almost silently, Roth moved her right hand near Smoke's nose and made a faint `snap.' Eagerly, the small mammal bounded up to the desktop and padded up the Captain's arm, finally finding a new home on Roth's shoulder, his tail wrapped loosely around the CO's neck for balance. The small creature bleeked again.

"I'm with you, Stinker," Roth commented. "This doesn't make any sense."

On the other end of the channel, Heizler couldn't help the barest hint of a smile.

"When she arrived at the base this morning, she insisted on seeing Commander Carter. I feel I should apologize Captain, I set up the meeting between Taylor and Carter in the first place."

"And that's where Narundi comes in?"

"In a manner of speaking. Commander Taylor had a difficult pregnancy, and despite the efforts of Republic's crew, the child didn't survive."

"I had no idea." Roth commented as she reached up to stroke Smoke's nose.

"No reason why you should really. At any rate, according to Serenity's case files, the loss of her child took quite a toll on Commander Taylor."

"Just how long ago was this?" Roth asked.

"The child died six months after arrival at Starfleet Medical. Commander Taylor was transferred to Serenity soon after that. She made excellent progress, but then . . . "

"She found out about Captain Marshall?" Roth offered, putting two and two together.

"Precisely. She managed to escape from Serenity One, and made her way to Republic. I had no idea she was so dangerous. The alert for her didn't arrive until the security alert was sounded."

"So, she attacked my XO. Where's Taylor now? Where's Carter?"

"Taylor's in the brig, Carter's in the Infirmary. Seems your people were all in the right place at the right time. I'm sorry we couldn't get the information to you in time Captain. Truly."

Roth nodded, silently approving of how her crew seemed to rally around one of their own. She knew that comradary of that sort was crucial to the effective running of a Starship. "Thank you Commodore," Roth offered to the senior officer. "I'll be in the infirmary shortly. Can we take a short meeting when I'm on board?"

"Of course Captain. At your convenience."

"Thank you, Sir. Republic out."

In front of her desk, Roth realized that Ensign Narundi was still at attention. The young Security Officer hadn't moved throughout his Captain's conversation. "I will accept any punishment you give me Captain" looking a little surprised at the Captain who appeared to be giving off a kind motherly smile though trying to look stern toward Depach.

Smoke bleeked again, as if sensing his companion's approval. "I will have to mark the incident on your record Narundi," the Captain explained, "but near as I ca tell, Taylor's commission shouldn't have been active. You didn't hit a superior officer," Roth said simply, "But you did save the XO's life. Let me know what it's like to have Carter owe you one." Roth smiled as she saw her words sink in. "You did good today Ensign. On your way."

A smile spread across Debauch's face while he answered his Captain. "Yes Captain Roth ma'am, right away ma'am!" With that Narundi turned to the door and exited quickly so he could get back to the chess match he abandoned with McTaggart.

Roth tilted her gaze at the warm, dark lump purring on her shoulder. "Come on Stinker, Let's go check in on the XO."

The bleek that followed gave Kimberly Roth a much needed laugh out loud.

Location: Starbase 39 Sierra, Promenade Level
In his fifteen years of life - Nat never counted the first 12 years, before he'd discovered the joys of life like sex, women, and rock n'roll - he had heard or been too every type of bar the greater Alpha Quadrant had to offer. For that matter, most of the Beta Quadrant as well. Yet somehow this place - the Old American Tavern - had eluded him. It was perhaps the most authentic old-earth style bar he had ever come across. The floors where covered with actual saw dust, the air stank of stale beer and a type of once-legal drug known as tobacco, and the music played from an antique juke-box in the corner. The clientele was almost entirely human in origin as far as he could tell, and for some reason - maybe the fact he recognized half of them - it felt as if everyone in here had run afoul of the law before.

All in all, it was exactly the type of place Nat could envision spending the next . . . however many days or weeks the Republic would be in these parts.

"Nat Hawk! You sorry son-of-a-bitch!" shouted a half-drunk patron sporting a beer-soaked goatee. It took Hawk a few seconds to put a name to the tall, balding man's face.

"Russ Callahan, ya stupid drunk!" Hawk replied, grinning as the half-drunk lumberjack of a man embraced him, picking him up off the bar stool.

"What the frinx are you doing here?" Callahan asked as he released Hawk, stumbling back a step. "Ain't you still wanted by the Romulans or some pointy-ears?"

"Nice of ya ta broadcast that, dumbass," Hawk replied with a chuckle, even though that particular matter had been cleared up courtesy of his black-shirt guardians.

"Aww, you know me, I can't keep a secret when I'm drunk!" Callahan exclaimed, slobbering another mouthful of beer that smelled almost as foul as he did.

"Yer always drunk!" Hawk exclaimed laughing, as his own beer arrived and he inhaled a mouthful.

"I know!" Callahan replied, laughing, then slapping Nat on the back, causing him to spill a fine amount of his drink on his silk shirt.

"Aww, damnit! You oaf!" Hawk shouted.

Callahan only laughed, "Aww, sorry there Mister fancy-britches," Callahan mockingly-apologized, "Forgot how much of a tight-ass you where about how you look."

"Ya could learn a thing 'er two from me on that front, considering ya look more n'more like a Klingon with each passin' year." Hawk replied. "Not ta mention smell like one."

Callahan's only response was to belt out a belly-laugh that sounded more like a Ferengi death-rattle than anything else. It was perhaps the most irritating trait the man had, though he had quite a few as Nat recalled. Which was half the reason he hadn't kept in touch, as it where. The other half of the reason of course being the bounty the size of a small moon on his head. Even a 'friend' like Callahan couldn't resist that kind of latinum. Hell, Hawk had been half-tempted to turn himself in to the syndicate for it. At least until he realized he not only wouldn't be alive long enough to use it, but anyone he'd want to leave it to would likely be killed simply for knowing him. Though he had given limited thought to leaving that bounty to everyone he'd ever had a run-in with just for that reason . . .

"Hot damn, this is your lucky day Hawk, I swear," Callahan said as he chugged down the remaining contents of his drink. "I just came into possession of a gnarled old hunk-of-junk I know you'll be itching to get your hands on," he said, fumbling around in the pockets of his jacket for something.

"Thanks Rusty, but I seen yer wife and she ain't ma type." Hawk replied, taking a swig of his own drink. Callahan's only response was another belly-laugh.

"Here, take a look at this," he said, dropping an isolinear chip down on the bar in front of Hawk.

"Yeah, cause I just happen ta have a chip reader handy . . . " Nat replied.

"Hell man, when you see what I've got for you, you'll be asking to kiss my boots!" Callahan said, moving behind the bar as if he owned the place.

"Day I kiss yer boots is tha day I'm elected President of the Federation."

"Well then lemme change the juke-box to 'hail to the chief' Mister President," Callahan replied with a chuckle as he handed a chip reader, already containing the chip, over to Hawk.

Setting down his almost-finished drink, Nat took the bulky device that looked about as old as Hawk himself and turned it's plexi-aluminum face to his own. The image on the screen looked like it had been taken with a first-generation holo-imager, but there was no mistaking the object of the photos attention.

"Sweet Jesus' Ass . . . " Hawk uttered, looking at his personal holy grail - battered and broken as it was.

"Now then, about them boots?" Callahan replied with a grin, putting one foot up on the bar.

"Get yer dirty-ass boots off the bar," Hawk replied, shoving the foot away, to which Callahan busted out in laughter again. "My god, where'n hell did ya find 'er?"

"You ever heard of the Battle of Rashanar?" Callahan queried, bringing out a bottle of Whiskey from the bar and pouring two glasses.

"Most folks have," Hawk replied. The infamous battle was the only one of the Dominion War of which neither side had won - or survived. Both sides had simply continued fighting until everyone was dead for reasons that until a few years ago had been unknown. The entire Rashanar system had been a scavenger's dream - and nightmare - for a good two years after the war's end, until the Enterprise-E had shed some light on everything. Though it had cost the legendary starship and her crew a pinch of her prestige in the process. "What 'n tha hell was she doin' there, though?" Hawk asked.

"Well, near as I can tell, fighting like everybody else, right up until the end."

"Rusty, if this things an honest-ta-god Mark-1 Peregrine-Class Prototype . . . the friggin' Model-T fer tha whole class . . . then she'd've been a good half-century out-a-date for Rashanar." Hawk replied, confused.

Callahan shrugged, taking a sip of his whiskey, "All I can tell you is she came from Rashanar. How and why, damned if I know. Damned if the scrappers who pulled 'er out know either. They sold 'er to me for just that purpose, scrap. I knew from hanging around you too long that she wasn't a total hunk-of-junk though." Callahan explained.

"Damn straight," Hawk replied, eyeing the blurry-image. "Where's she?" he asked.


Location: Cargo bay 29-Beta, Starbase 39 Sierra

Ten minutes and half a bottle of whiskey later, Hawk and Callahan stood in one of the starbase's cargo bays, looking up at what most would regard as a giant piece of scrap metal. The forward landing struts had been sheered clean off so her front end rested on cargo-containers, and the ship itself was full of pot-marks, dents, scorch-marks and such, but she was still beautiful to Nathan Hawk. Whether she was the real-deal or not depended on checking one thing though.

Climbing on to the hull, Hawk moved to the cock-pit. The transparent-aluminum was shattered and broken, and the hatch sounded worse than Callahan's belly-laugh, but it didn't really matter to Nat. As soon as he saw the out-of-date joy-stick control in the center of the cock-pit, he knew without a doubt he was dealing with the real deal. It was like finding a Model-T Ford, or 2036 Toyota Sparrow - the first commercial hover-car.

"Ya know Rusty, I've actually had dreams 'bout this moment." Hawk said, awe apparent in his voice.

"Long as they weren't sexually-oriented . . . " Callahan teased.

"Pervert," Hawk replied with a laugh. "So how much?" he asked, wanting to get to business quickly.

"Hrmm . . . well, that's a good question. When you factor in my finders fee, what I paid for it, storage costs . . . " Rusty prattled off.

"Just gimme a price you dipshit before the nostalgia and awe factor wares off and I try to negotiate." Hawk snapped.

Callahan laughed - again. Hawk cringed at the sound - again. Then Callahan said something about as unusual and unexpected as could be said - ever.

"Take her." he said.

"Wha?" Hawk asked.

"She's yours. No charge." Callahan re-iterated.

"What tha hell're ya pullin' Rusty?" Hawk asked.

"I ain't pulling nothing, swear on my 2031 bottle of Jack Daniels," Callahan replied.

"Then what's the deal? What's the catch? She rigged with explosives?" Hawk asked, jumping down from the hull.

"Naw, she's payment of the debt I owe you." Rusty replied.

"What debt? I always collect my debts, Rusty. If you owed my half-a-slip of latinum I'd have been on you like stink on a Klingon." Hawk said.

"Heh, not a debt of latinum. Debt of life, my friend. Or did you forget about how you sabotaged my engines before I could make that smuggling run to Altair IV?" Callahan asked.

"What?" Hawk asked, confused as all hell.

"About two years back, I had a smuggling run to Altair IV to run, and ended up stranded in orbit with no warp drive. Turns out my warp drive had been rigged to blow me to hell and back as soon as I engaged warp two. You, as I recall, where the only person in the engine room between my last diagnostic and the morning I left. It took me a while to put two-and-two together, but . . . seems I owe you more than latinum for that."

Hawk didn't know what to say. He had been in the engine room that evening as he recalled. But he sure as hell hadn't sabotaged the warp drive, or for that matter known about it being rigged to explode. His first instinct was to tell Callahan this truth, but his better instincts quickly suppressed his built-in morality. How often did you find yourself in this type of situation, after all? One of your life's obsessions at your finger tips, free to take, and all you had to do was omit the truth?

"Well hey," Hawk said, "what're friends for?"

Callahan laughed in response, and any doubt Nat had about his choice in this matter vanished.

Starbase 39 Sierra was well-equipped facility, with 52 transitory starship docking ports, 24 minor repair drydocks, and 12 major refit berthing complexes. The latter contained facilities to house a ship’s entire crew for extended periods while their ship is in port, and in addition to the thousands of other amenities available in the main station, contains several recreation suites, conference facilities, and specialized engineering offices to oversee refit operations. In effect, a starship’s crew need never leave their ship’s berthing complex during their stopover at the starbase.

However, for the Republic, the ship was in relatively good shape, and did not require a complete evacuation while undergoing refit. Since her launch less than a year prior, this was Republic’s second major refit, the first being the replacement of the stardrive section during the Kreltan conflict. After that, the crew complained of several major problems with the new interconnect, as matching a new stardrive with an old saucer was like putting the warp drive of a class two shuttlecraft onto a much older class one; there were bound to be ongoing problems. That, and with technological developments outpacing the rate of starship construction, required an overhaul of many of Republic’s main system. She would be there for a while, especially since her chief engineer was no longer present to expedite the operation.

It was a short walk for Captain Roth across the gangway plank into the multi-story berthing complex for the Republic. She smiled and nodded to the passing crewmen as she strolled through the main corridor with Smoke draped over her shoulder in a relaxed catnap. As she passed though the egress threshold and into the main station, the personnel traffic increased in the widened hallway. Stores and shops lined the walls, and islands of plant stands and fountains were situated down the center of the hall. Although her destination was the medical complex, Roth could not help but to stop and window-shop along the way. Soon, she crossed over into the restaurant promenade, where hundreds of different eateries from many worlds in the Federation were open for business. One of such, was a Betazoid culinary alcove, complete with trellises overflowing with flowering vines. It was here were the Captain stopped for a beverage to go, as she was very fond of Betazoid refreshments.

As Roth ordered a Gremelian Fruit Spritzer, she handed a credit to Smoke, who dutifully accepted the currency, and climbed off the Captains shoulder before offering it to the cashier. Amused, the vendor smiled and rang the order up as the small creature returned to the Captain’s shoulder. Taking a sip from the colorful straw, she strolled back out into the corridor where she saw about half a dozen Starfleet officers standing outside and staring directly at her. Feeling uncomfortable, she stared back for a moment before walking up to the ranking individual of the group. Raising an eyebrow at the Lieutenant Commander in operations gold, she asked, “is there something I can do for you?”

“You’re Kim Roth, aren’t you?” he replied back with cold edge to his voice.

“And you are?” Roth continued.

“Commander Kilman,” he paused before saying his next words with a distinct tone of disgust. “ . . . of the U.S.S. Shren.”

“I’m sorry,” the captain said with confusion. “I don’t believe I know anyone from that ship.”

A few of the group chuckled as the commander looked back towards his comrades with a poisonous half-smile.

“You hear that?” he said with spite. “She’s not familiar with us!” Turning back to face her, but still talking to his friends. “She doesn’t remember the ship that hauled 341 dead crewmembers back to Deep Space Nine after first contact with the Breen!”

Kim closed her eyes and took a breath. ‘Not again,’ she thought.

“I guess thinking of others isn’t in her best interest, is it . . . captain.” The rank sprung from his mouth dripping with contempt.

“If there’s something you have to say, commander,” Roth replied coolly. “You’d better just say it.”

“Okay,” the commander said with a smile and taking a step towards her. His swagger and bloodshot eyes betrayed his inebriated state. “I will.” One more step and he was face to face with the Republic’s captain, his height hovering over six inches above her. “Not only did nine-tenths of our crew die that day, but my brother on the Potempkin also got blasted to hell.” He leaned close to her, the smell of his breath wafting over Roth’s nostrils forcing her to wince in disgust. “How do you sleep at night . . . captain?”

Smoke started to growl as Roth replied. “I’m sure you know what happened at the court martial. I don’t have to prove anything to you.”

“Tell that to my brother,” the drunk officer shot back. “Oh, wait!” he remarked with sarcasm. ‘”You can’t! You know why? Because he’s DEAD!” The shout began to draw the attention of the passing crowd. “And it’s YOUR fault!” He stuck his finger out and emphasized his point by pushing forcefully into her chest. Before Roth could respond, her aggressor yelped angrily with pain as Smoke took a bloody chunk out of the man’s finger.

The captain dropped her drink, and it crashed to the floor as the officer shot daggers at the small animal.

“Why you little piece of . . . ”

“Is there a problem here?” a gruff voice interrupted. Both the captain and the drunk officer looked towards the voice to find a short Master Chief Petty Officer in command red staring at the commander with a stiff jaw and squinted eyes. Although the man’s height was not intimidating, his large, muscular frame and short, pepper gray hair sported a middle-aged bearded face of a person who has seen his share of personal combat. “Or should I call station security and see if we can sort this out before this gets REALLY ugly?”

The drunk looked at the newcomer while nursing his bleeding appendage. He looked around, noticing the watching crowd that had gathered, and the stone-cold face of Captain Roth staring back at him.

“Come on, Jack,” one of the man’s friends said from behind. “Let’s go. I guess Starfleet Command forgot was justice was by promoting this piece of crap.” The group of officers walked away, shooting a scathing glance towards Roth over their shoulder’s as they left.

“Thanks,” Roth offered the chief. “I appreciate that. But I could have taken them.”

“No problem, ma’am,” he responded. “Just doing my job.”

“I wish I could repay you somehow.”

The chief just smiled and said, “you’ll have lot’s of chances, don’t worry.”

“What do you mean?” the captain replied in confusion.

“I suppose I should introduce myself.” The man extended his hand to shake hers. “Bradford Rainier,” he introduced himself. “I’m your new chief-of-the-boat.”

Startled, Roth raised her eyebrows. “Well . . . ” she paused. “Your timing was excellent. Good to meet you chief.” She accepted his handshake as they two stood in the hallway. “I was just on my way to see our XO in the infirmary. You may accompany me if you wish.”

He nodded his head as the two began walking. “What happened?” the chief asked.

“He was attacked by former crewmate who escaped from a psych-colony. Fortunately, our security people were in the right place at the right time.”

“Hmm,” the chief replied. “Sounds like a normal day for the Republic crew.”

Roth turned to him and said, “Been reading out logs, have we?”

“Why else would I have requested the transfer?” he replied with a smile.

***

Location: Recovery suite 18, main medical complex, Starbase 39 Sierra

Sporting his new eye-patch, John Carter was sitting on the edge of his bed pulling his duty tunic down over his head. While Doctor Cromwell stood against the wall shaking his head.

“I still can’t believe it,” Leon said to himself. “Lana Taylor. I had no idea she was committed. It wasn’t all that long ago I delivered her baby.”

“Well, I guess there was more to her than either of us knew,” Carter replied. “Although I can’t say that I’m surprised. As a Starfleet Commander, she should have known about the rules regarding relationships with senior officers. I guess she was more than infatuated with Marshall. It was more like . . . obsessed.”

With a frown, Leon looked at John. “You know, I’d rather have you stay here overnight for observation . . . ”

“Easy for you to say,” John said sarcastically while standing up to button up his red and black duty jacket. “You’ve got two eyes.”

“Well, I’ve given you your choices,” the doctor replied. “It’s either the eye-patch or a bionic implant. I can’t do regen on something as complicated as a mammalian optical organ. It’s not as simple as a frontal lobe or spinal cord. Besides, with your Martian mutant genome, your body would probably reject it.”

“Watch it Leon,” Carter said warningly.

At that moment, the door to the suite slid open, and Captain Roth walked in with a older man behind her. Leon and Carter immediately stood up to a more formal standing position.

“Captain,” Carter replied.

“At ease, gentlemen,” Roth replied. “I’ve just come to check up on my Number One. How’s his condition, doctor?”

“He’s at a hundred percent, ma’am. But, as usual, he won’t stay overnight for observation.”

John gave a sheepish grin as the captain chuckled. “I’m not sure I’d want to stay overnight in a hospital either, doctor.”

‘Oh great,’ Leon thought. ‘She’s one of THOSE.’

“Republic to Doctor Cromwell.”

Leon tapped his combadge. “Cromwell here.”

“Sir, the Starfleet Coroner has arrived and is waiting for you to sign over Captain Marshall’s body.”

“On my way,” the doctor replied. “Captain, Commander, if you’ll excuse me?”

“Of course,” Roth replied as he walked out of the room.

John Carter gave his captain a quick glance, still amazed at how Leon's ocular prism seemed to make up for Carter's new lack of binocular vision. In many ways, John had always thought that he'd rather lose an arm or leg than an eye. As a small craft pilot, depth perception was all important. John chuckled to himself and mused that he probably wouldn't be scoring many goals on the lacrosse pitch either, if he couldn't judge distance to the goal. Thanks to Cromwell's quick thinking, John would still be able to fly, shoot a phaser accurately, and maybe even win a game or two. "Captain Roth," Carter offered almost sheepishly, "Thanks for coming down to see me, but . . . "

"Easy Number One," she countered. Raising her hand, indicating that Carter was in no kind of trouble. "This isn't an official visit, but I would like to introduce you to our newest addition." Carter tilted his body to look past Roth to the rugged looking master chief petty officer standing at ease behind his captain as Roth continued. "I'd like to introduce . . . "

"Brad Rainier! I don't believe it!"

"Okay," Roth commented in a curious mix of amused and annoyed, "Never mind then."

Carter hopped off the diagnostic bed, then stopped short as sore muscles reminded him of his confrontation with Lana Taylor.

"Easy there, sonny." Rainier said. "You sure you're up to spec?"

Rubbing his side, Carter waved off Rainier's concern. "Just the past coming back to bite me in the ass is all. Besides, the Doc says I'm fine."

"Yeah, and you always listen to your doctor."

Carter rolled his eyes and smiled. "Only when they're right. Besides, Leon kept his word, so . . . " Carter straightened up and rubbed his sore ribs again, "I'll do as I'm told for now." John tilted his head at Brad Rainier who looked, for all the world, like a walking fireplug. "Speaking of Doctors, how's that quack brother of yours?"

Rainier made a sour face. "Listen here Lieutenant," Brad commented, getting the XO's rank wrong on purpose. "That wasn't funny when you were a newbie, and it ain't much funnier now. Tommy Raynor ain't no brother of mine. Not nearly French enough."

Carter laughed out loud. "Now THAT's funny."

Location: Deuterium tank 6, deck 29, USS Republic

Lieutenant Pakita ran her tricorder over the newly repaired secondary relays, grunted lightly to herself, and hung the box on her belt. Turning to replace the panel's cooling shield, she blinked, smirked, and swept her gaze across the pristine tank. In her mind she could still see the chairs, dangling wires and jury-rigged induction routers. A chuckle escaped as she imagined the look on the mutinous crewmen's faces when the Saratoga's computer refused to follow orders.

A cough over her shoulder brought her back to reality.

"Yes Ensign Kohal?"

"Begging your pardon Lieutenant, but . . . what happened in here?"

The dark haired engineer considered her options carefully before responding. The senior officers would not be thrilled if the story got out of how a handful of officers took over a Galaxy-class in under three hours, with personal effects and shuttle pod spares, from a hydrogen storage tank, under the noses of the "legitimate" chain-of-command.

"A small group of very intelligent and determined beings saved a number of lives from here. The details are classified of course, but I assure you that someday, the actions of the last few weeks will be written of in Academy essays as hypothetical textbook examples of Do's and Don'ts, and fourth-year cadets will say, 'That could never happen.'"

" . . . oh."

"Something very important is about to happen Wythe, and nothing's going to be the same afterward . . . "

"Keeta! Did you here what happened to the Warlord?"

"Mister Rehido! Need I remind you that Starfleet communicators are for official business only! . . . And if the XO hears you calling him 'The Warlord' you'll be lucky to get leave before the heat death of the universe."

"But! . . . The Cap's ex- an' ex-ex-oh just . . . "

"That will be enough Mister Rehido!"

" . . . half an'Oedipus . . . "

"Pakita Out!"

A long, uncomfortable silence engulfed the tank.

"As I was saying, something big is in the works. I can feel it. Carry on Ensign."

The petite New Zealander brushed past the confused Ensign into the Jefferies Tube and began climbing.

Ensign Darren Kohal looked around the empty tank for a few minutes and tried to decrypt the bits of message he'd overheard.

"The Captain is X.N.X.X.O? Half N'Eddapiss? I wish someone would just issue a memo, explaining the last seven months."

Location: Main egress to Sickbay, deck 12, USS Republic

Rachel Blake tapped her foot impatiently as she waited for someone to tell her what was going on. It had been whole minutes since she'd left word with Republic's Ops Department that she needed to speak with Captain Roth. Normally, something as complex as a starship ran amazingly well. After all, that's what the academy was for. It engendered good order and discipline and all that.
Unfortunately, it also meant that if discipline, or the chain of command broke down at all, then . . . well, Ensign Burns put it best.

"What in God's name is wrong with these people?"

Captain Blake "huffed" a lock of hair out of her face. "Easy Jeff," she cautioned. "You saw the state this boat was in. I'm surprised there's anyone on board at all, really." Emerson's commanding officer cast a sharp eye across Republic's sickbay. "Let's just take this easy, all right?"

Before the words were out of her mouth, Burns and CPO Lisa Houlihan were striding across the sickbay, making a b-line for the disturbingly serene corpse of Captain James Marshall, the former CO of Republic. Both Burns and Houlihan stopped short as they reached the bio-bed, which stood out from the rest of sickbay thanks to the glowing stasis field.

Lisa Houlihan was career Starfleet, but unlike the rest of her crew mates, she'd come up through the ranks. She was decades older than most people who would give her orders, but, like any other self-respecting non-commissioned officer, she rested secure in the knowledge that nothing on her ship would run right without her. She'd been from one side of the Alpha Quadrant to the other; from Alpha Centauri to Zeguma Beach. She'd buried friends, enemies, lovers, even children, and she carried every memory in the lines on her face, because no matter how many times it happened, burying someone before their time never seemed to hurt any less.

CPO Houlihan wiped a tear from her eye as she looked down at the pale form of Jim Marshall. "Oh God, Jimmy", she whispered. "Just look at ye." She stretched her fingers out to feel the buzz of the stasis field against her skin. "We'll take ye home so you can rest son." Another tear fell from her face and made a soft sizzle against the isolation field. The noise covered Captain Rachel Blake's approach.

"How does he . . . oh . . . "

The question trailed off as blonde, female trill in medical blues made her way to the back of the crowd. She cleared her throat politely. "Excuse me?" she interjected. "Which one of you is Doctor Cromwell?" Then her gaze fell onto Rachel Blake. "Oh, I'm sorry," the trill commented, "You must be Captain Roth?"

"Blake actually. We're here to take our man home."

"I'm afraid I don't understand," the trill visitor commented.

Just inside the doors to sickbay, Leon Cromwell's baritone voice rang out. "Neither do I. Who the devil are you people?"

The question had rough edge to it, indicating the group surrounding the bio-bed were unwelcome. As the doctor walked into sickbay, he was followed by another man in medical blues; none other than Doctor Yezbeck, Republic’s senior surgeon. Both came to a stop next to a centralized diagnostic bed.

“I’m Captain Blake of the U.S.S. Emerson,” Rachael answered. “This is Ensign Burns and Chief Petty Officer Houlihan,” she motioned to her two shipmates.

“I had Marshall’s body moved from the morgue in preparation for the Starfleet Coroner,” Leon boomed gruffly. “Not some damned public viewing. So, unless your immediate family, I’m going to have to ask you to wait outside.”

“We’ve BEEN waiting outside!” Burns shot back. “For twenty minutes! Just who the hell do you people think you are?”

“At ease, ensign!” Captain Blake cut in.

“A starship in the middle of a crew rotation and major refurbishing.” The doctor said, responding to Burns.

“Umm . . . ” the blonde haired Trill chimed in. “Which one of you is Doctor Cromwell?” Her confused yet innocent facial expression looked at both Leon and the bald and black bearded lieutenant commander next to him.

“I am,” Leon spoke up. “Since you’re not one of my medical staff can I assume that you’re the Starfleet Coroner?”

“Lieutenant Jahyra,” she replied. “I’m here to take possession of Captain Marshall’s body.”

Rachael’s eyes grew wide with astonishment. “Hold on!” she shouted. “We’re here to claim his body! We’re taking him back home for a decent burial!”

“Captain,” the Trill said defensively. “I’m under orders from Starfleet Operations to bring this cadaver to Starbase 327 for cold storage. It is at the heart a major interstellar incident and Starfleet must put it under lock and key for evidence.”

“Cadaver? Is that what you see him as?” The anger was now rising in the captain’s voice.

“I’m just doing my duty ma’am. At 2130 hours, I’m to depart this station with this body.”

“You are NOT!” Blake responded.

“HOLD IT!” Leon screamed. “This body is going NOWHERE until I’ve had a chance to do an autopsy with the coroner! The last I saw of this man he was alive, and I want to find out why he’s now lying dead in my sickbay!”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Ensign Burns remarked. “He was in a fight with a Gorn! Half the Federation saw it on their vid-screens!”

“Maybe that’s good enough for you, ensign,” Leon replied coldly. “But for those of us in the medical profession, we need a little more than that.” He then turned to Doctor Yezbeck and said, “prep exam two for postmortem analysis.” Looking back at the trio of Emerson personnel, he made a compromise.

“Captain Blake, this autopsy will take approximately one hour. You have until then to straighten this out.”

***

Location: First Officer's Quarters, USS Republic

John Carter felt the remnants of a headache trying to re-assert themselves in his skull. Thankfully however, John had discovered that Kentucky Bourbon did wonders for his sense of well-being. Republic's XO lay on his bunk, arms behind his head, with the lights low. Mellow jazz from the late 20th century wafted in on concealed speakers as Carter reflected on his current state.

Images that he'd thought best forgotten came out of the darkness in Carter's mind. The destruction of the Valiant. A ship that hadn't been designed or built yet. A wedding; HIS wedding, Carter had to remind himself, presided over by Jim Marshall, who was dead now (Carter didn't have to remind himself of that). And punctuating it all, the strangely familiar voice of Victor Virtus.

"She's your ex-wife John."

John thought for a moment on those words. `Something's messed up' John thought to himself. `The future's not the future any more . . . if it ever was.'

Carter's trance was broken by the door chime. Rather than call for the computer to open the door to his quarters, Carter swung his feet over the side of the bed, then straightened up and took a few slow steps toward the door as the chime rang out again.

"All right, all right!" Carter blustered. "Keep your sprocking shirt on". John keyed in the command to open the door, and held a hand to shield his good eye as the door slid open. A wince crossed his face and it took him a second to recognize Doctor Shannon Harris on the other side of the door.

Without saying a word, she rushed into the darkened room and wrapped her arms around the Martian XO. After a long moment, punctuated by a few sobs, Harris spoke, with her cheek still tight against Carter's chest. "I'm sorry John," she whispered. "I didn't know. I came as soon as I heard."

For months, Carter and Harris had danced around each other, afraid to be too close or too far away from one another. It was clear to most of the crew that something was going on between them, but until the moment when he felt the doctor's warmth against him, John himself wasn't sure. He gently stroked a few wayward strands of red hair from Shannon's face and spoke softly. "Shh," he offered. "Don't worry. I'm fine."

"No, your not John. Good God, your eye . . . and she could have . . . " Harris stopped talking and hugged him tighter.

"But she didn't. And Leon was right there." He pushed Shannon a few inches away, then put a knuckle under her chin to bring her eyes up, meeting his own. "What are you sorry for?"

Freely falling tears made glowing tracks on Shannon's face in the room's half light. "I couldn't go to you John." she said. "I wanted to as soon as we lost your life sign, but . . . I just couldn't. One minute I was finishing up Lieutenant Muller's check-up, then we got the word, but you were on the starbase, and I just couldn't . . . I'm so sorry,
John."

"Shannon, please, don't do this. It's ok." Carter said, pulling the doctor close to him again. He suddenly found that he missed it when she wasn't there. "If anything, I should be sorry. I was too slow. Didn't see it coming."

"But you couldn't have known. How did she even get on the base?"

Reluctantly, Carter let Shannon go and stepped back toward his bedroom. "I have no idea, and right now, I don't care." Carter turned again, pleased to see that Shannon had followed him farther into the comforting darkness of his room. He even noticed her trying to conceal a smile as John made the `Old Man Noise' as he sat back on the edge of his bed. Silently, Harris took up a space next to him. "It makes sense in a way. Taylor coming back here. She was right about one thing . . . Marshall's body is still onboard."

"What do you mean?"

Carter shook his head. "I don't know Shannon, but ever since we got back from Cestus three, it's like Marshall's been laughing at me from beyond the grave."

"John, don't be morbid," she said, placing a hand on Carter's knee.

"I'm not." he commented firmly. "You remember the first thing you ever said to me?"

Shannon shook her head. "I told you the ship was haunted, I know," she smiled. "But it was a joke John."

"You still had a point whether you meant it or not. I mean, I can't seem to hold the command staff together, and look at what's happened in the last few weeks. First we get the heat for losing Cestus three, then Admiral Kostya promises to ruin my career because I "killed" his friend. He puts a new CO in place that NO ONE but me seems to like, and now, Lana Taylor comes out of nowhere and tries to kill me." John let his head fall low as he let his shoulders drop. "Grozit, Shannon. I'm tired. I'm just so tired."

Harris pressed lightly on John's shoulder, easing the XO down onto his bed. "I know John," she said softly, stroking his black hair as she watched him relax, his remaining eye finally closing. "I could get used to the patch you know. It gives you a certain roguish quality. Not that you needed it."

Carter lay back, holding his hand out. He whispered, "Shannon, don't go. Please."

Harris looked down at the proud, weary man she'd gotten to know, thinking now how different this John Carter was compared to the cocky fighter jock who she'd met rescuing the Zurich. She decided that she liked who he was, and also who he was becoming, and she damned sure wasn't going to miss anything if she could help it.

In the dark calm of John's quarters, Shannon smiled as she felt Carter shift himself over to make room for her in his bed. As she slipped in beside him, she whispered. "I'm right here John, and I'm not going anywhere."

***

Location: Exam room two, main sickbay, deck 12, USS Republic

The huddled faces of Doctors Cromwell and Yezbeck looked down into the face of the deceased Captain Marshall as they scrolled handheld diagnostic wands above the body.

“Your report said something about a toxin with asynchronous isomerism,” Leon remarked.

“Yes,” Yezbeck replied. “And a real nasty one too. It moved through his system very fast, and killed every living cell it came in contact with.”

“How many permutations?”

“I stopped counting at fifty two.”

“Fifty two?” gasped Leon. “The most I’ve ever run into is twelve! How the heck did the Gorns make this stuff?”

“The toxicology database found no pattern to the configurations either. It just kept changing every few seconds. I’ve never seen so many isomers come from one molecule.”

Leon’s handheld wand began a high-pitched beeping.

“There. I’ve isolated zero point zero two three nano-moles of a foreign substance. I think we found the end product.”

“Okay,” replied Doctor Yezbeck with sarcasm. He glanced briefly away to a viewscreen on the wall. “Make that fifty three permutations.”

Pressing a few buttons on his PADD, Leon shook his head.

“Without baseline NMR resonance frequencies, there’s no way you could have synthesized an antitoxin in time.”

“Insidious, isn’t it?” Yezbeck remarked. “It kills before you have a chance to fully identify it.”

“Well, this one should blow some circuits at Starfleet Medical, shouldn’t it? Let’s get a fluid sample and put it in stasis.”

Retrieving a syringe-like mechanism with an attached pistol grip and sample jar, Leon extended a needle and injected it near the wound site on Marshall’s shoulder. It hummed as it slowly extracted a sample.

“So what do you think? Klingon?” Yezbeck asked while the device did its work.

“Not this time,” Leon replied.

“Andorian?”

“Nah, too spicy.”

“How about Centaurian?”

“Soup and sandwich?”

“Salad.”

The blonde haired Trill, who was watching a nearby medical monitor, walked over and joined the two doctors in a huddle around Marshall’s body.

“How can you think of food during an autopsy?” she asked unobtrusively.

“Well,” answered Leon. “I don’t know what your plans were for tonight, but Doctor Yezbeck and I were headed to the restaurant district for dinner. I haven’t eaten since lunch.”

“Sorry about my timing,” the lieutenant apologized sheepishly. “No rest for the dead, I guess. If I didn’t have to head back to Starbase 327 tonight, I would have joined you all.”

The sampling device signaled its completion as Leon pulled out the syringe.

“All postmortem scans are complete,” Doctor Yezbeck said with assurance. “He’s all yours, Lieutenant.”

“That is,” Doctor Cromwell added. “If Captain Blake will let you.”

Location: CMO’s office, main sickbay, deck 12, USS Republic

Shortly after the autopsy, Captain Blake and her entourage returned to sickbay to reiterate their claim to Marshall’s body. As they all gathered in Doctor Cromwell’s office, they were joined by Doctor Yezbeck and Lieutenant Jayrah, the latter of whom contacted her superiors on Starbase 327 and whose immediate commander was linked to the conversation via subspace visual transmissions. Everyone listened as Leon read the PADD that Captain Blake handed him.

“To Chief Medical Officer, USS Republic. From Admiral Vladimir Christopher Kostya, Starfleet Command Headquarters. You are hereby ordered to relinquish the body of Captain James Marshall to the commander of the USS Emerson effective immediately. This order supersedes any and all previous orders or arrangements.”

“Preposterous!”

The gruff Tellarite commander on the far end of the transmission was the first to protest the order.

“This cadaver is evidence in an ongoing investigation! You can’t do this!”

“On the contrary, commander,” Blake replied poignantly. “We have authorization from the highest level in Starfleet. We can, and we will, take Captain Marshall home.”

“Doctor Cromwell! There’s got to be something you can do to stop this!”

“I’m sorry,” Leon replied mournfully. “My hands are tied. Admiral Kostya’s orders are confirmed. Rest assured, I will make sure that the proper authorities are contacted as well as my captain and exec.”

“If there’s no further business,” Blake concluded. “We’ll be on our way.”

With a concerned nod of Leon’s head, the Emerson trio exited the office. Doctor Yezbeck and Lieutenant Jahyra looked on helplessly as the Tellarite beheld a deep scowl. He looked at his Trill subordinate with irritation and animosity.

“Lieutenant Jahyra, I’m holding you personally responsible for this. Starbase 327 out.”

“He can’t hold you responsible!” Doctor Yezbeck said with shock. “You had nothing to do with Kostya’s orders!”

“Yes, he can,” the lieutenant said somberly. “Ever since I was assigned to Starbase 327 after the war, the commander has held me in contempt.”

“But why?”

“Well, it’s only a guess, but his wife died in the war.”

“So?”

“His wife was Trill.”

“Hmmmm . . . .”

Leon was detached from the conversation, looking up to the ceiling in thought.

“I wonder why Kostya keeps sticking his nose into Republic’s business?” he said with curiosity.

“It doesn’t matter now,” Jayrah replied with a shake of her head. “They’ve got the body now, and I have to go back to base empty handed.” She sighed gloomily. “I guess it’s time to put in for that transfer.”

“Where would you go?” Yezbeck asked. “There can’t be too many places in Starfleet that need a coroner.”

“True,” she responded. “But I became a coroner during the war. Starfleet pulled me out of the medical academy due to the rising need for casualty registration.”

“Oh, I see. You were supposed to be an MD.”

Jayrah shook her head. “No. I was studying psychology. I wanted to be a ship’s counselor.”

Doctor Yezbeck and Leon stopped their immediate thoughts with sudden comprehension. Slowly, they looked at one another, with confident smiles creeping across their faces.

Location: Café Kalnomi, restaurant district, Starbase 39 Sierra

In the dim light of night time tropical décor, the occasional clanking of dishware mixed with the casual voices of patrons filled the air as a humanoid waiter in a flowery dress shirt walked by a table. He held aloft a pineapple-like cup with colored straws protruding from the surface, and placed it in front of Captain Kimberly Roth who was dining on a small plate of dates. She wore a confused yet concerned expression on her face as she talked with Doctors Cromwell and Yezbeck sitting across the table from her.

“Now let me get this straight, gentlemen.” Her tone was that of a mother trying to sate her giddy children in a department store. “You want me to approve the transfer of a mortician to the position of ship’s counselor on the Republic?”

“Coroner,” Leon corrected her. “Not mortician.”

“Yes,” Yezbeck jumped in agreeing with his CMO. “There’s a very big difference.”

“Isn’t that a little . . . ” She cut short her sentence to swallow, as if suppressing her urge to grimace. “ . . . morbid?”

“It’s perfect!” Leon said, trying to hide his jubilation. “Starfleet hasn’t been able to send us a fully qualified counselor since the B’Rell incident, and I was forced to move my senior pediatrician into the position.”

Saal Yezbeck continued with the issue, feeding off of Leon’s thought process. “Right now, we’ve got an ensign-level RN filling that medical slot, and this is an opportunity to get Harris back into sickbay.”

“I don’t know,” Roth said with skepticism. “I’ll have to go over it with Mister Carter as well as Doctor Harris. For all I know, she likes the counselor position and may want the transfer to become permanent.”

Leon nodded in agreement, secretly hiding his assuredness that he could talk John into the prospect.

“I understand,” he replied thoughtfully. “All we ask is that you seriously consider it. Now, about Admiral Kostya confiscating Captain Marshall’s body . . . ”

The captain held up her hand and closed her eyes in annoyance.

“Doctor, we’ve already been over this. The admiral is part of the C-in-C’s staff, and any orders coming from that high up is priority one and not subject to dispute. They give the orders, we do the work. Is that clear?”

Slightly irritated, Leon sighed with vexation, promising himself to talk to Carter about this alone and without the company of their new captain.

“If that’s all gentlemen, I bid you good evening.”

As Kim stood up and casually walked out of the café, she wondered silently about exactly what Kostya was up to. If it were not for him, she’d still be a commander at the waste transfer station. With that fact, she felt justified in protecting the orders he gave Doctor Cromwell. However, as she thought about the upcoming classified mission with the Tholians, and the fact Kostya gave no start date opting instead to put the Republic in stand-by mode, it gave her an uneasy feeling in her stomach.

‘My trust in him better be damned worth it,’ she thought, as she headed back to the Republic’s berthing complex.

Location: CMO's office, main sickbay, deck 12, USS Republic

With the Republic in berth at Starbase 39 Sierra, the elaborate medical facilities of the station put Doctor Cromwell's sickbay out of business for the time being. All personnel were on light duty and no one was required to be at their duty station for longer than four hours a day. It almost gave the feeling of shore leave if it were not for the fact that Republic's stand-by orders disallowed anyone to leave the starbase.

As Leon sat back in his chair, going over the training manuals for his bridge-officers training, he took in a deep breath and looked to the ceiling. After a moment of stillness, he reached for the computer console and tapped a button.

"Chief Medical Officer's log, stardate 57656.2. Extended cross-training with the life-sciences department for the medical staff is proceeding as planned. three enlisted science technicians have passed their dual-specialization tests and are now fully qualified corpsmen should their skills ever be needed by sickbay. Six others are in preparation for the same test, and the ship's botanist is even applying for the Starfleet Registered Nurse Corps. In contrast, I have four corpsmen and our senior non-commissioned officer, Chief Oberstad, pursuing various science curriculums to include biochemistry and genetics. Should the Republic ever be deployed for an extended science mission, sickbay will be able to contribute some of it's staff.

"As for myself, the holodeck schedule that the academy outreach center has provided is proceeding well. I have completed the basic astrogation and navigation portion of the curriculum, as well as basic astrometrics and sensor operations. The chapter exams for those portions were completed with passing marks, and I am currently working through the Federation history and law portion.

"However, the most difficult parts of this study plan are yet to come. Basic starship operations is going to be lengthy, but I am fortunate that I am assigned to a starship for hands-on study. I expect that basic warp theory will give me some trouble as my knowledge of engineering is limited. If Lieutenant Commander Virtus was still aboard, I might have approached him for tutor sessions. Unfortunately, the most difficult course is yet to come: basic starship strategy and tactics. I never have had to employ critical analysis of starship combat before, and it is so unlike the simple infantry maneuvers taught in the basic ground forces course I took during the Dominion war. Commanding a starship is a daunting task to say the least. Commander Carter says it's not a skill you learn from a book, and that only through years of practical experience can one expect to feel comfortable in the position. I'd like to believe him, but when that final, comprehensive bridge officers test is before me I won't have the benefit of such experience.

"On a personal note, my father and his friends from Cestus three have been confined to this station as Starfleet dispatches a civilian judge advocate to compose a hearing on their role in the loss of my homeworld to the Gorns. I've succeeded in persuading him to commit to a full physical by Doctor Chambers on the station. He has grudgingly accepted that his cardiovascular system is in need of arterial protein-polysaccharide regeneration. Unfortunately, I'm the most qualified regen specialist on this base, which leaves me in the uncomfortable position of getting him on my operating table before the legal hearing. I'm afraid that if we wait until afterwards, an irreversible thrombosis will occur due to the stresses of possible criminal charges."

Leon pausing in thought, placing a finger on his chin.

"End log" came the command as the computer chirped obediently. Without another word, the doctor reached into his desk drawer, pulled out a glass bottle of an amber liquid, pouring himself a drink. He stood up, looked straight ahead, and downed it in one gulp. As the tingling sensation faded from his esophagus, he closed his eyes before mumbling to himself.

"No time like the present."

With that, he briskly walked out the door.

***

Striding down the corridor with a padd in hand, Nathan Hawk couldn't help but think just how much he looked like a banana. With spots of grime and streaks of grease marking his garment, he looked rather ripe as well. Considering the tone of Starfleet decor concerning uniforms over two decades - a heavy emphasis on black - he found it laughable that they hadn't designed a more 'regulation' Engineering Jumpsuit.

"Fer frinx sake," Hawk said, stopping in his tracks and talking to himself, "did I just wish fer somethin' ta be more regulation?"

Shuddering at the thought, he resumed walking at a rather brisk pace for him, until he arrived at his destination. He wasn't really keen on speaking with Carter at all at the moment, let alone while he was recuperating from some sort of assault, but he also wasn't keen on waiting either. So he pressed the button to announce his presence. After a moment, the doors parted and he found not Carter on the other side, but Counselor Harris.

"Counselor?" he said questioningly, "did I make a wrong turn 'er somethin'? I was lookin' fer C'mander Carter's cabin."

For a moment, Shannon felt her cheeks flush. Around anyone else in the crew she might have tried to play this incident off as an honest mistake on the other's part, but this was Nat Hawk, a man who was known for landing in his share of dives, gutters, or strange places for the night. While Shannon certainly wasn't equating the XO's cabin with any of those places, she also knew she shouldn't bother lying to Republic's resident scoundrel.

"You've got the right door Mister Hawk, " Shannon said calmly as she adjusted the collar of her uniform. "John . . . that is, the Commander had a bit of a rough night."

"Oh?" Hawk replied, grinning as he put two-and-two together. He reminded himself that if the chance ever came up, he should really play Poker with Harris, if for nothing else than the easy money.

Shannon smiled as she stepped past the lieutenant. "Nothing to worry about though," she cautioned. "Hardly worth mentioning really."

As the counselor stepped down the corridor, Hawk turned to watch her go - and enjoyed the sight of watching her leave. "Glad he's alright," he said as he eyes wandered.

"You and me both, Lieutenant. Carry on." Harris said, and with that rounded the corridor out of sight.

"Mmm, now that's what call a 'house call'," Hawk said from the open doorway before entering Carter's cabin and allowing the doors to close.

"Forget something?" John called out from his bathroom. He was looking over his face in the mirror, trying to decided if he actually liked the look of the eye patch Leon had provided him with. He'd pretty much decided that it suited him when he caught Nat's crooked smile in the corner of the mirror. "What the hell are you doing here?" Carter questioned as he spun to face Hawk.

"Just makin' sure yer still alive'n kickin'," Hawk answered.

"Thanks for the concern Hawk." Carter quipped. "Much as I appreciate the visit, something tells me you didn't come down here just to check up on me." Carter stepped past the grease stained lieutenant and took a fresh uniform tunic out of his closet. He winced a bit as he no-longer-present left eye tried to adjust to the changing light level. "What's on your mind, Hawk?" Carter asked as he pulled on a fresh under tunic.

"Well, seems an ole friend a'mine found me a diamond n'the rough, so-ta-speak," Hawk said as he flopped back into a rather comfortable chair. "An old - an I do mean old - Peregrine-Class fighter. Not just any one of 'em at that, neither. She's a glorified mark-1 prototype, circa 2365, b'fore they went inta production."

"No kidding? God, I haven't see one of those since my last visit to the academy. There's one on static display near the flight line. It's in pretty good shape too." Carter looked over Hawk's unusual costume as he fastened into his dark uniform coat. "Looks like you've been putting your off time to good use. That's good to know."

"Well, like I said, she's a diamond n'the rough. Battered n'broken like nothin' I ever seen. Gonna take me months ta put'er back t'gether 'gain." he replied. "'Siderin' I still ain't been put back on duty, though, ain't like I got myself much else ta do. Only so much sex n'booze even I can handle." Hawk said with a sly grin. "Speakin' of, what's the damn hold up anywho? Either 'rest me fer all the good it'll do considerin' I'm Intell's golden boy an Jace ain't pressin' charges, or lemme get back ta flyin' already, b'fore I get all old n'stale at it like you." he said.

"It's not that simple." Carter explained, ignoring the playful insult. "I'm sure the Captain will give you a chance, God knows she's been on the other side of a JAG inquiry once or twice, but until they send someone aboard you're stuck here." Carter put his hands on his hips, obviously frustrated. "Hell," Carter spit harshly, "We don't even have any sort of orders yet. To tell you the truth, I'm a little surprised that 'Fleet decided to refit us . . . again . . . anyway."

Carter shook his head again as he stepped into the forward area of his cabin that doubled as his office for official ship's business. Though they often had as much to do as their captain's, (Indeed, between personnel assignments, crew evaluations, and the reading of reports from every department on board ship; then having to prepare briefings not only for PERSCOM, but for said captains, they probably had more) First Officers were not afforded the luxury of a ready room or separate office. John paused to look at the large picture of Mars that adorned his cabin's north wall and brushed aside a brief wave of homesickness. "I'm surprised you're still here actually," Carter admitted. "I figured by now you would have called in a favor to one of your Black Shirt friends and found some other billet to fill."

"I ain't got no black shirt friends," Hawk said, a bit defensively, "just gottem over a barrel s'all." Hawk said, grinning. "'Sides, I kinda like it 'round here. Dunno why, really. Maybe cause there ain't much spit n'polish 'round here. Things seem ta go wrong a lot, just like n'real life. This ship don't feel so stiff an' stupid as most. Not ta mention if I did leave I'd have trouble gettin' the stench of all that happened on Cestus three off me anywho, so might s'well ride that storm out where the only baggage I's gots is ma own." Hawk explained.

"See, that's the thing about Captain Roth." Carter explained. "I think she might be just what this ship needed. She's got a bad rep with some, solid with others. Same as us really," Carter shook his head slightly. "Hell, we're starting to attract people because they figure wherever Republic goes is going to get 'interesting' sooner than later. The only thing I'm not crazy about is that Kostya got her this post." John ran a hand through his hair and finished his thought. "He hates me and she owes him, which I admit doesn't sound good at all . . . "

"Well then I guess me stickin' round is good fer ya," Hawk said, "nothin' like havin' a crazy rebel no-good star witness 'round incase ya step n'the shit agin." Hawk grinned. "Plus from tha sound a'things, ya could use somebody ta watch yer back so no more broads whup up on ya." he added with a chuckle.

"I did not get 'whupped' by a girl!" Carter spat back. "The dead captain's crazy ex-girlfriend tried to kill me with a comm-badge!" Carter felt the beginnings of a headache come on as his pulse began to rise.

"Ya say that like it ain't never happened b'fore." Hawk commented with a cocky smile as he reached inside his jumpsuit and pulled out his flask, opening it up and taking a swig.

"Shut up." John said quickly. He wasn't actually annoyed with Hawk's remark. At the moment it struck him more like the comfortable banter he shared with his old squadron-mates, or other friends. It wasn't the same sort of fatherly 'I told you so' that he frequently got from Leon. Hawk's words were closer to the friendly jab that Victor Virtus might offer to keep John from taking himself to seriously. Something, the XO had to admit, that he was dangerously close to doing since Lana Taylor's attack. That realization surprised him a bit. Carter cracked a small grin as he looked back at Hawk. "Think of it as a mistake coming back to bite me in the ass." Carter explained. "You've gotta know what that's like, huh?"

"Yeah, ya could say that . . . " Hawk said, trailing off a moment. " . . . Been happenin' ta me since I was a kid. More times n'I can count, really. Usually with somebody else gettin' killed in the process." Hawk said, somberly, as he took another swig from his flask.

"Listen, are you sure you wouldn't rather talk to Sha . . . " Carter coughed to cover his slip of professionalism, "Counselor Harris about this?"

"Talk 'bout what?" Hawk asked, not understanding for a moment. "Aww, hell no," Hawk replied, realizing he'd nearly gone into some story of his past. "'Sides, I wouldn't wanna horn in on yer action. Personally, I think it's the patch finally clenched it fer ya." he added with a sly smile and a wink.

"Shut up, Hawk." Carter said with a smile. John stepped over to the hatch to his quarters and keyed the door open. " And get out of my office, you smell worse than a den of targs during the rainy season."

"Oh, sure, bend ma ear fer a while then kick me out when yer done." Hawk said, standing, and moving to the door. "Ya do that to Harris she's liable ta get a
comm-badge a her own an take yer other eye out. Then again she might just wanna take somethin' lil more important outta action, if ya get what I mean. Hell hath no fury like a broad scorned." he said with a laugh. "Aww, frinx," he said, turning around and retrieving his padd from the chair. "Here, sign this, will ya?" he asked, tossing Carter the padd as he took another swig from his flask before putting it away.

"What is it?" Carter asked, looking the device over.

"Request fer work space 'board ship, Cargo Bay somethin'er other, dun remember which. Just one a them 'Fleet formalities. She's already 'board ship, anywho, so dun bother checkin' ta make sure we got the space, cause we do. Least we do now." Hawk said.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Carter queried.

"Aww hell," Hawk said, grabbing Carter's hand and placing his thumb on the padd before the XO had any clue what was going on. "Thanks, Cyclops." he said with a chuckle as he exited the cabin and set off down the corridor.

Back in his cabin, John shook his head slightly as Hawk left. “I cannot wait for that man to meet our new C-O-B.”

Location: Docking port F, Starbase 39 Sierra

Naruko stepped out of the docking catwalk and onto the port area of the Starbase, the port was buzzing with actively as crews from several vessels which had just arrived, and were unloading their passengers. She approached the nearest terminal only to be shoved out of the way by a man dressed as a civilian.

“Excuse me, sir, but I believe I was here first.” commented Naruko who felt a bit mad, that she was nearly knocked over by him.

“Buzz off; there is another terminal a few meters that way.” Nodded the man to the down the hall.

Naruko watched as the terminal the man pointed out a few seconds ago, was raided by others within nanoseconds. Naruko sighed knowing it would be hopeless, so she decided to wait for the man do finish his business at the terminal.

The civilian noticed that Naruko was standing behind him; he turned and looked at Naruko, “Didn’t I tell you to buzz off… Miss Starfleet.” Looking disgusted at Naruko’s presents

“I’m sorry sir, but I’m waiting for you to finish your business at the terminal.” said Naruko trying to stay calm since the man was obviously outraged about something.

A Starfleet Security Officer noticed the argument brewing between Naruko, and the enraged man. “Excuse Sir, is there a problem here?” asked the security officer

“Yes, yes there is, this Starfleet Ensign has been harassing me ever since I got to this terminal, and threatening me that if I don’t move from this terminal, that she would break my arms. I’m only trying to find a place to stay for my family and myself.“ said the man trying to sound like he is the victim of Federation brutally.

Naruko looking disgusted and shocked at the man’s comments.

“Sir, then you don’t mind if I have a look at the terminal, to confirm you actuations?” inquired the security officer.

“Not at all.” stated the man with confidence.

Naruko sighed, thinking what a waste of time, just to find out where the Republic is docked at.

The security officer analyzed the terminal for a minute, and then motioned for a second security officer to come over. “Sir, if you could please allow this gentleman to follow you to your family, so that you may notify them where you at, and make arrangements to meet them somewhere on the station, he will then escort you to the security office”

“I don’t see why I have to be escorted around the station, I did no wrong doing.” Stated the man

“Sir, if you please cooperate, the sooner this will be over with…” the security officer looked at Naruko, “Ensign if could please follow me to the security office, so that we may file your statement.”

Naruko not sure if she should believe what is going on, or thinking she is having some sort of nightmare.

Location: Station security office 6, Starbase 39 Sierra -- several hours later

“So that is your story then?” asked Lieutenant Moore

“Yes sir, as I said before, the man shoved me out of the way from the terminal, and began to take his anger out on me, when I was simply waiting for him to leave.” said Naruko, beginning to get irritated over the situation.

The lieutenant started to skim through Naruko’s Starfleet record. “So Ensign Kuga it says here you have been thrown in the brig for breaking a few Academy rules, and a comment that you have a behavior problem from a Commander Isaac Belhan.”

Naruko sat in silence, knowing this was going no where fast.

“I’m sorry Ensign, but from your record at the Academy, I’m going have to put you into the brig and charge you with disorderly conduct, until an official from the Republic notifies me what to do with you.” Commented Lieutenant Moore as he looked at one of his security officers. “…Ensign please put Miss Kuga in cell twelve-c, and have her baggage placed in locker two-a, until we get an acknowledgment from the Republic”

The security officer picked up Naruko’s bags, and stood ready to escort her to her cell.

Naruko sat up, and followed the security officer to the brig, feeling outraged and worried that her new captain and shipmates would see her as a trouble maker.

***

Location: Captain's ready room, main bridge, USS Republic

It was not often than Captain Roth carried a scowl on her face. In fact, in light of her recent transfer from the waste transfer station, things had been looking up. However, as she sat at her desk with hands folded, she looked very sternly at the individual standing before her.

A tall human male in operations gold wore a similar scowl, except that his was laced more with a more indignant overtone rather than the captain's austere gaze. His black hair was less than groomed, as an occasional tuft protruded from the scalp on top and in back. Standing at attention, the lieutenant junior-grade seemed highly irritated.

"Ma'am," he addressed her respectfully. "I have been in my position since the launch of this vessel eight months ago. With Lieutenant Sullivan's reassignment, and the shortage of officers in ops, I am the ranking officer in the department."

"Mister Klaus," Roth addressed him with annoyance. "I have a right to place whomever I wish in the position of operations department head. Your behavior during the B'Rell incident has left a black mark on your record, and I'm not ready to place you in a position of authority. Captain Marshall was ready to send you and several other junior officers to the stockade, but he chose to keep you aboard."

Roth was referring to the Kreltan incursion incident six months ago when a shapechanger infiltrated the chain of command, and placed junior officers in department head positions. Although it assisted the spy by empowering young officers who wouldn't question his orders, it left the Republic's departmental leadership in chaos. Lieutenant Klaus was put in charge of the operations department and unwittingly assisted the shapechanger who took the form of the saucer-section's commanding officer. Klaus was demoted to Lieutenant Junior-Grade and removed from the promotion list for an indeterminate amount of time.

"With all due respect, ma'am," he stated. "I'm the sole senior officer in the department. And might I add, placing a lower ranking officer in a position above me is not only a breach of protocol, it was insulting."

Roth stood to her feet, coming eye-to-eye with the subordinate. "YOU have no place questioning my decisions, mister! I can place a Petty Officer Second Class into the ops department head if I so choose! And YOU would have nothing to say about it!"

The scowl on Klaus' face became more pronounced at the captain's outburst.

"Further more," Roth added. "Your recent service aboard this vessel is less than appealing to me. When you start showing respect to your crewmates and begin placing the mission before your own personal endeavors, then I may consider you for a leadership position. Until then, you can either remain where you are, or request a transfer. However, I don't expect you to be able to find a decent posting with your record. So what will it be? Stay and attempt to redeem yourself, or try your luck with the black marks you have against you?"

Klaus was clearly not happy with his commanding officer. He stood uncomfortably before her, shifting his weight for a moment before replying.

"I'll stay, ma'am . . . " he said somberly.

"Then you better get with it, mister," Roth sat back down in her seat. "Dismissed."

Without a another word, the lieutenant spun around and left the room, passing Master Chief Petty Officer Rainier on the couch, who was quietly observing the whole incident. A momentary silence filled the room before he spoke.

"Got a real attitude problem, doesn't he?"

The captain let out a sigh of exasperation. "That officer is going to bring me to my limit, but I'll be damned if he leads anytime within the next year."

"So why don't you just give him the boot?"

"It's not that easy, Brad," she replied. "I've got major officer shortages in all departments, and although I refuse to put him in charge, he DOES have the experience of being in the department. As much as I distrust him, I actually need him."

"Well, I can vouch for the enlisted in the ops department. I reviewed them myself yesterday morning with Chief Drumlin. They're all set for anything you throw at them."

"I know, but ops NEEDS more officers." The captain picked up the PADD on her desk and reviewed the roster one more time. She looked at it quizzically before her scowl disappeared, replaced by a small grin.

"What is it?" Rainier asked.

"Starfleet just assigned us another ops officer," she said with relief. An Ensign Naruko Kuga."

"She's just another junior officer," the chief interjected. "Doesn't sound like department head material."

"Doesn't matter." The captain began dialing the new ensign's duty position into the computer. "Anyone is better than Klaus, and there's a certain loyalty with fresh academy graduates that I like, especially for a department like ops."

Finishing with the transfer, she stood up as Rainier followed suit.

"You're likely to enrage Klaus again," he stated.

"I don't give a damn," Captain Roth replied as the two exited the ready room.

Not a second passed before a blinking icon appeared next to Ensign Kugo's name on the duty roster PADD on the desk. Pulsating on and off in a deep crimson, it read "INCARCERATED."

Location: Weapons range 43, Starbase 39 Sierra

The darkness of the hologrid echoed with the steady, high-pitched chug-chug-chug of the colored phaser target flowing across the wall in a very random fashion. An explosive burst of weapons fire zeroed in on the small icon, causing it to disappear with a flash and the computer acknowledging the hit with a positive warble.

"Ha!" Ensign Narundi's voice shouted. "That's five for five! You can't beat that!"

"We'll see," McTaggart replied sourly. As he did so, another colored target began to glow and twitter along the black walls. The lieutenant charged his phaser rifle and carefully aimed before pulling the trigger. A split second later, the negative chirp signaled that Sean had missed.

"Hmph," he grunted as Narundi chuckled with glee. "Damn kids . . . "

"Station Security to McTaggart."

Sean was happy for the interruption of a losing phaser match.

"McTaggart here," he responded as he touched his combadge. "Go ahead."

"One of your people has been arrested and sent to the brig."

The lieutenant and ensign looked at one another with surprise. "Who is it?" asked Sean.

"Ensign Kuga"

Confused, the acting security chief frowned. "There's no one with that name on the duty roster."

"They've just been assigned. A civilian passenger claimed they were accosted. Should I inform your XO?"

"Heck of a way to start a new assignment," Narundi commented. McTaggart thought for a moment about how many times he had seen Commander Carter's bad side, and felt a twinge of sympathy for the newcomer.

"Negative," said Sean responding to the call. "I'll take care of it. McTaggart out."

"Hey!" Narundi said. "What about our match?"

"We'll have to do it another time," the lieutenant smiled before walking out the door.

"Figures," he replied with disappointment. "Just when I almost beat him . . . "

Location: Detention block 1-13 alpha, operations level, Starbase 39 Sierra

With a yawn, the officer at the watch desk sat back in his chair while reviewing the security monitors in the trading district 50 levels up. It was the most likely place for a crime to occur on the station, as merchants and shoppers alike formed a crowd that easily obscured any shady activity. He really didn't need to survey the scene, as other security officers maintained that duty, but if something really interesting happened, then this would be the place where it would occur. 'Anything to relieve the boredom,' thought the officer.

As the regular sound of footsteps in the entrance hallway echoed off the walls, the watch officer became a little more attentive as the newcomer approached. Lieutenant McTaggart turned the corner to arrive at the desk and addressed the guard.

"I'm Lieutenant McTaggart from the Republic. You've got one of my officers?"

"Oh," the watch officer exclaimed while shuffling through the stack of detainment records. "Yes. Ensign Kuga, cell 327."

"I'm here to take custody of him."

"Right," the attendant replied. "Please place your hand on the palm scanner for security authorization." Sean complied, and as a glowing red genetic reader sorted through his nuclides, the computer sounded a positive signal:

"McTaggart. Sean P. Lieutenant. Acting Security Chief. Starship Republic."

"You're good," the watch officer confirmed. "Right down the cell block on your right."

Sean proceeded down the hallway, and past several empty cells on either side of him. The off-white surfaces were not unlike the Republic's brig, and the usual energy barrier veiled over the entrance to each holding room. Finally he came to one where a small, oriental woman in operations gold sat on the bunk looking rather dejected. McTaggart paused to see if he reached the correct cell. With the assault charge, Sean had assumed the officer to be a large burly sumo-wrestler, especially with the east-oriental name. However, as he looked at young ensign sitting in the cell, he realized he couldn't have been more wrong.

'How could a person like that assault anyone?' Sean thought to himself before addressing the occupant of the cell.

"Ensign Kuga?" he addressed her. As the young lady looked up, he introduced himself. "I'm Lieutenant McTaggart. Republic's security chief. I've come to spring you."

***

Location: Deck 25, USS Republic

Naruko and Chief McTaggart walked down the corridor of the Republic towards the tubrolift, Naruko hadn’t really said anything since they left the Detention area on Starbase, she wasn’t to sure what kind of trouble she was in after the supposed assault, Lieutenant.

“Do you mind if I ask you how you got those charges at the Starbase?” asked Sean a little curious on how a young women, could beat up a guy twice her size.

Naruko sighed; she knew she couldn’t avoid it any longer. “Well sir, I didn’t really know it was a crime to wait at a terminal.” she commented.

Sean looked puzzled as the two headed for the tubrolift, “Wait, you’re saying you didn’t touch the guy?”

“Yes sir, I was charged with verb assault; however all I did was really keep my mouth shut, and waited for the guy to leave.” she said, recalling the events that happened a few hours ago. “He really seemed to be upset over something. I guess, I was just the unlucky one he took his anger out on.”

“And the station’s security officers didn’t believe you.” said Sean still a little confused over all the details.

“Well sir, I have a record back at the Academy.” commented Naruko hating the fact that her Academy record might keep from ever getting into a good position on a ship someday.

“Ah I see, Well I wouldn’t worry too much about it, Why don’t we find where your quarters are at, and who you need to report to for duty.” said Sean

Naruko gave a nod as the two entered the turbolift.

“Computer, what deck is Ensign Naruko Kuga’s quarters located on?” asked Sean

“Ensign Naruko Kuga’s quarters are located on Deck eight.” stated the computer

“Deck eight…” a small shift in weight could be felt as the turbolift began its upward motion towards the saucer section of the Republic “…Do you know what your posting is?” he asked

“Operations.” said Naruko

“Ah, yeah I’m not sure who is the current chief of operations, we’ve been bouncing officers on and off that position lately. Computer who is currently the chief of operations on board?” asked Sean

“Ensign Naruko Kuga.” stated the computer

Naruko’s eyes widen in shock as the computer said her name for a senior officer position.

Sean, whom was a little surprised himself at the computer’s statement “Well, Congratulations I think is order.” he said with a smile.

Naruko wasn’t sure at all what to say, she went from one minute thinking she was going to scrub the jeffery tubes with a tooth bush until she would retire from Starfleet, to being Chief of Operations almost right out of the Academy.

The doors slide open, and a blinking arrow could be seen on the wall panels.

“Just follow the arrows to your quarters, I wish I could help you out further, but I have things to attend to.” Said Sean

“Thank you, for getting me out of that mess. sir” she said.

“No problem Ensign” said Sean as the doors slide shut in front of him.

Naruko looked down the corridor and began to follow the yellow brick road towards her cabin.

Location: New Orleans, North America, Sol III

Lieutenant Chase Meridian sipped at her latte, skimming over the details from her latest `diplomatic assignment.' The sun was high in a clear spring sky, casting golden glints off of the storefront window of the Lafayette café. Here, in what humans still called `The Big Easy', Meridian was surrounded by some of the most renowned cooking in the galaxy, and Chase wished she could actually smell. Unfortunately, like a few other things she was born with, she'd sacrificed her olfactory senses for what she honestly believed, or at least had been trained to believe, was the greater good.

As she read, a shadow fell over her shoulder. Meridian continued to look at the PADD, but spoke to the person to whom she believed the shadow belonged. "You're in my light."

"I'd care, if you actually needed it Lieutenant." The disembodied voice let out a sigh and the shadow moved again to the other side of the table. Chase barely cared that she'd guessed the identity of her visitor correctly.

He had a square face marked by lines around his mouth and on his forehead. A large amount of grey had crept into his temples, but he still sported a `Fleet regulation haircut.

"Honestly, Chase," he commented, "I don't know why you bother to read. Wouldn't it just be faster to . . . "

Meridian looked up at the middle-aged man who was taking a seat across from her. "I read, because I can. Besides I find it relaxing."

"Well," the visitor said with a lewd smile on his face, "I'm glad there's still some need for that." The man looked over his shoulder at the storefront. "Any sign of the target?"

"Not a thing." Chase answered. "The old man comes to work everyday, sets out the tables, starts on the morning jambalaya, and then sets out a cup of raktagino that he knows won't get tasted. I'm telling you . . . he's not going to show up."

The man nodded in contemplation. "You might be right," he admitted. "What about the boy?"

Chase shook her head. "Nope. I got a piece of some subspace traffic yesterday though. I think he's on Betazed." After a long moment, Chase cocked an eyebrow at her guest. "You could have asked me this any time you wanted to. What are you doing here?"

The man produced an isolinear chip from a pocket. "A friend of mine needs a favor," the visitor tossed the chip to Chase, and smiled as she caught it. "And it concerns a friend of yours. Indirectly at least."

Location: Starfleet JAG office, San Francisco, North America, Sol III

In the fourth office on the left, on the twelfth floor of the Aaron Satee building was an office that seemed like any other in Starfleet. It was modestly appointed, marked by very few decorations, save the symbol of the Grand Alliance, flanked by the flags of both the united Federation of Planets and Starfleet Command.

The central feature of the office was a large, dark wood desk, and Vice Admiral Triss, the Starfleet Judge Advocate General, wanted nothing more than to drive his forehead against the desk, again and again, until his problems went away. At present however, he was on subspace with Owen Paris , the Starfleet CnC, who would likely not take kindly to watching an Andorian commit suicide.

"Are you listening to me Triss?" Came the call from Paris' jowled face. "I asked for your assessment the Republic case."

Triss' antennae pitched forward, indicating that he was less than pleased. "Which one, Admiral? Do you mean the treason case for the losing of Cestus three, or the sedition case for the release of sensitive information by SOMEONE on the command staff?"

Triss slammed his clenched blue fist on the desktop. "Not to mention the attempted murder of the ship's security chief, or the seizure of Republic herself! Granted, it was by the command staff, which I STILL don't understand, but still."

Paris squinted, no longer content to let Triss rail against his unfair lot in life. "The office of Judge Advocate General exists to uphold the laws of Starfleet wherever our ships may be." Paris commented. "How you get it done is of no concern to me, Triss."

"Admiral Paris, perhaps you don't understand." Triss cleared his throat and straightened his uniform collar while his antennae rocked back to their neutral position. "First off, the Treason case isn't a Starfleet matter. It concerns a civilian named Arthur Cromwell, so we technically have no jurisdiction. The presence of Starfleet intelligence personnel on Cestus three is a matter for the JAG office, but I don't know that you want those circumstances revealed in open court."

Paris nodded. In this matter at least, he recognized the need for discretion. Meanwhile, Triss continued to outline his position. "The seizure, or re-seizure of Republic, depending on how you look at it, stems from an illegal order that Kostya should never have given, and according to at least one PERSCOM report, `Nathaniel Hawk' doesn't exist! His personnel jacket's so black I doubt light could escape!" After a few seconds, Triss again regained his composure. "I don't think I have the personnel to assign to ANY of these cases. They all seem to involve Admirals, Rear Admirals, Fleet Admirals. They are quite literally beyond the scope of my office, sir."

"I agree that the legal issues around Republic and her crew are somewhat . . . problematic, Triss, but . . . "

"PROBLEMATIC!?! it's insane! Honestly, how much trouble can one ship be?"

"You've never read the Kirk file, have you?"

"I'm sorry?" Triss answered.

"Never mind." Paris dismissed the Andorian's query with wave. "I was anticipating you might have these problems. I've just come from meeting with the Federation Council's legal affairs office. They agree with you that these . . . many issues should be taken care of as quietly as possible. With that in mind, they would like to invoke Article 527 of the Federation charter and appoint a special prosecutor who's authority comes directly from the office of the President."

For a moment, Triss' antennae arched forward, the slumped till they almost touched his forehead. "What about the UCMJ? Who will represent the officers of Republic? Should I make counsel available to them?"

Paris shook his head. "That won't be necessary Admiral. I've already made arrangements for Republic's officers to receive representation. Involving your office in the prosecution of a civilian would make for too many questions. For the purposes of these proceedings, the officers of Republic will be treated as private citizens of the UFP."

"Well, that's a relief." Triss said with a sigh.

"I should think so. Don't worry Admiral. This isn't your problem anymore."

Triss nodded back at Paris' image and smiled. "I can't tell you how pleased I am to hear that, Admiral."

Paris returned the grin, pleased that his conversation had achieved the desired result.

"Say," he offered casually, "I'll be over your way on Tuesday, shall we have lunch?"

"I'll have my Yeoman set something up. Thank you, Admiral."

"That should be fine. `Til then, Admiral. Paris out."

The screen went dark and was swiftly replaced with the seal of the Starfleet JAG Corps. Triss squinted and looked sourly at his distorted reflection on the terminal's surface. "Another victory for expediency over justice." he commented bitterly. Triss grimaced again, pushed himself away from his desk, and walked over to the simple metal stand that took up the back corner of his office.

The stand was a lattice work of bare, unpolished, metal. The interlacing struts made for diamond shaped cradles, which just happened to be the perfect size for holding the ornate bottles that Andorian distilleries were accustomed to producing. Triss held out a finger and drew it down, as if keeping track of his private stores. His fingers came to rest on a bottle halfway down the middle column. It was typical Andorian design. Ornate frosted glass, holding luminescent blue liquid. Triss pulled the bottle from it's holder, hefted its weight, and then held the bottle up to the light. Illuminated from behind by the recessed lamps of his office, the liquid seemed to glow, and Triss smiled approvingly. "Oh yes," he said sweetly to the bottle. "I'd say that performance definitely earned me a glass or two. But first . . . "

Triss set the bottle on his desk, circled back to where he'd been sitting, and took a seat behind his desk once more. From small drawer on the face of the desk he produced one round drinking glass. The Andorian place the glass next to the bottle on his desk, careful that both were out of view of the communications system. Then Triss tapped the control to open a channel. "Computer," he ordered. "Record message for delivery in twenty minutes."

"Command acknowledged. Standing by."

"From, Admiral Jardin Triss, Starfleet Judge Advocate General, to Admiral Pamela Krockover, SFC. Pam, sorry this is late, but I finally got that bottle of wine you wanted so badly. The one you said was from the family's favorite vintage? Anyway. Expect it to arrive on 31, September. You're welcome." Triss waited a few anxious seconds, then spoke to the computer again. "End recording and execute orders." The computer beeped in reply. Satisfied that he had done all he could, Triss pored himself a glass of his nearby blue drink and waited for things to get interesting for the U.S.S. Republic.

Location: Main gangway, Starbase 39 Sierra

Then thin man dressed in dark, civilian attire checked his chronometer again and ran a pinky over his left eyebrow as he waited to be welcomed aboard The U.S.S. Republic. In one hand he carried an old-fashioned Terran briefcase, made of genuine steer leather, marked with still-functional mechanical locks. In the other hand, he clasped a PADD tightly. The small electronic device contained detailed orders for Republic's newly-appointed CO, who, the visitor was all but convinced, was not going to be thrilled with his arrival. Still, he was confident that if Kimberly Roth was certain of anything, it was her duty. After all. Wasn't that why they were all here in the first place?

A few more seconds went by. Then the visitor noticed a tall man, a Starfleet Commander, judging by his collar. Oddly, the commander was wearing an older, red duty jacket, which was, to the visitor's recollection a privilege reserved for Commanding Officers. The puzzlement lasted a few seconds more, until the man caught notice of the round, fabric patch covering the place where the commander's left eye should have been. "Ah," the visitor let out. "You must me the infamous John Carter." The visitor shuffled the PADD from his left had to his right so that he could greet Republic's First Officer. "I've heard a lot about you," the man continued, extending his free hand.

Carter cast a weary eye on the man who stood across from him. He was in many ways, unremarkable; not too tall, shorter than Carter himself anyway, and not too thin either. His cheekbones were a bit pronounced, and there seemed to be an air of comfort around
the man. In fact, the only thing Carter seemed to take any notice of at all was the fact that not a single hair on the man's head was out of place. Every part of his outward appearance, from his neatly coifed, brown hair, to his dark, business suit seemed to reinforce that he was not important at all. Yet, if that were the case . . .

John pushed the thought aside and extended his hand to meet the visitor. "I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage, mister . . . "

"Cole," the visitor offered easily. "Call me Cole. Now, if you please Commander Carter, I'd like to see the Captain right away."

Carter stepped aside to let Sloan past him as they both stepped down the gangway into the main concourse of the U.S.S. Republic. "The Captain's expecting you sir, but she was wondering if you could explain . . . "

"All in good time, Commander," Cole answered as he continued to walk deftly down the hall. "All you need to know right now is that I'm here to solve a problem or two. I should think you'd be glad for some help."

Carter looked on at the unassuming Cole as the two navigated Republic's halls. It was clear to John that this man had been on a starship before, but he wasn't satisfied with the visitor's vague answers. In a few quick steps he was side to side with Cole again. "Mister Cole," Carter offered. "I'm afraid I don't understand. Why did JAG send a civilian here? I was expecting . . . "

Without breaking stride or turning to face Carter directly, Cole cut the commander off. "I'm not from JAG, Commander. I'm here on the authority of the President of the United Federation of Planets."

That admission stopped Carter in his tracks, mere feet from the entrance to the deck ten conference room.

Somewhat amused, Cole looked back at Republic's XO. "As I said, Commander Carter, I've heard a lot about you." Cole took a few steps forward, entering into the conference room. He swiftly set the PADD on one end of the conference table, then took a seat, and rested his briefcase beside him. "In fact," Cole offered, somewhat ominously, "I'd very much like to hear more."

Location: Residential level 1138, south complex 72B, Starbase 39 Sierra

It was quite a distance from Republic’s berthing complex to the other side of the base towards the permanent residential district. However, Leon was in no hurry. After stopping for lunch at a Zakdorn eatery, it took three different transit tubes just to reach the correct hemisphere. He casually wandered through the huge ecodome, where four square kilometers were devoted to recreating several different Terran biomes, to include desert, temperate forest, coastal, and tropical jungle. The base was a mastery of engineering from the doctor’s point of view, and as he traveled through this bustling citadel, there were so many wondrous distractions that he found it difficult to stay focused on his current mission.

But there was no delaying the inevitable. Walking down a wide corridor lined with potted plants and lit by bright, diffuse solar lamps, he searched for the abode assigned to the four survivors of the Cestus Three disaster that accompanied the Republic back to port. The brilliant white walls contained occasional rectangular recesses that marked the entry to living quarters. As he searched for the correct apartment, he finally reflected on the long trip he made to come here, and realized why he had been putting off this visit.

"A man can lose himself here," Doctor Cromwell mumbled as he approached an entryway. Pressing the announcement buzzer, it took nearly a minute before the door unlatched and slid open with a mechanical grid. Greeting him at the door was the long, black haired forty-something resistance fighter who had once been a close friend of his family many years ago.

"Leon!" she exclaimed, embracing the Republic’s doctor with a tight hug.

"Hey Lins," he replied, returning the affection. "Sorry I waited so long to check up on you all."

"Well you should be!" she jokingly scolded him. "Your ship’s been here for two and a half weeks, and none of us have seen you since we got here." Lins led the doctor into the living quarters, closing the door behind her with a touch of the wall control.

In the corridor the voices of the two echoed off the wall as they spoke.

"How have they been treating you?" Leon asked.

"No bad," Lins stated. "Considering that we’re under house arrest so to speak. The place is rather comfortable."

As the two entered the great room, two other individuals stood up from their seats to welcome the newcomer. One was a gray-haired, nearly bald man in his sixties, and the other was heavy set, and had a crop of red hair with a face that sported a poorly groomed scarlet beard.

"Well I’ll be damned!" the balding man said. "It’s about time you showed up! Fleet keeping you busy?"

"No more than usual," Leon fibbed, knowing all too well that his schedule had been so light the past few weeks that he was bored out of his skull. "How’s it going, Skip?"

"I’m full of piss and vinegar!" he squawked. "The damned station security follows us anytime we leave this place, and I’m aching to get out of here and help with the relocation efforts."

"Would you like a drink, Leon?" The bulky man asked walking over to the wet bar.

"Maybe later, Wey. I don’t think I want to put it off any longer. Where is he?"

A moment of silence passed where Skip and Lins looked somber while Wey poured himself a glass of synthehol.

"He’s in the back den," Lins finally answered. "He’s been spending a lot of time there by himself lately. Only comes out to get food or to go to his bedroom. We can’t even get him to come out to a restaurant with us."

"Have any of you tried to talk with him?

"Everyday," Lins spoke up. "But he barely acknowledges us. He just keeps staring out the viewport when I go in there, so I’ve pretty much given up."

Letting out a sigh, Leon looked towards the hallway leading to the den.

"Have that drink waiting for me when I come out, Wey."

"You got it, kid."

***

Just as Lins explained, Arthur Cromwell was standing in the dark room, with only the light of the viewport lighting the area. It was a quiet sight; with the distant sun giving off a blue-white hue, and the speckled backdrop of space beyond. Occasionally, a freighter or some other small vessel could be seen departing in the distance, and Arthur would follow it until it went into warp. His face was stoic, and the uncompromising hazel eyes yielded no hint of the private thoughts within his mind. As he took a sip from a nearby whisky glass, the door to the room quietly opened with Leon stepping inside.

Moments passed after the door closed where neither of them spoke. Leon slipped into a chair as his father continued to stare out the window.

"How’s your friend?" Arthur spoke finally, the deep gravelly words coming forth casually from his lips.

"Who?" Leon asked in confusion.

"That petticoat you call Carter."

"Oh," the doctor replied with realization. "John’s fine. He was out of the infirmary less than a day after he went in." It suddenly dawned on Leon how long ago that had been.

Another moment of uneasiness passed without any spoken words.

"I hear you’ve been spending a lot of time here lately," Leon finally said.

"And what about it?" There was a rough edge to Arthur’s voice, as if warning Leon that he was already treading on thin ice.

"It might help if you talk about it."

"Talk about what?" the elder Cromwell snapped. "It’s done. My home is lost, and my family is dead. There’s not much left to say." The clatter of ice cubes sounded as the man took another sip of his drink.

"You make it sound like I’m dead too," Leon replied calmly.

"I lost you long ago," Arthur mumbled with regret.

"*MY* home. *MY* family. You act like you’re the only one who’s suffering here."

"And what the hell have you been doing?" Arthur shot at his son. "I haven’t heard a damn thing from you since the news came. You’re probably so damn used to this kind of stuff by now that it’s just another piece of business to you!"

"My mother and sister are dead!" Leon erupted. "You think that hasn’t affected me?"

"You’ve been gone so long that you probably forgot what they looked like. If you cared about them that much, you wouldn’t have taken off and joined Fleet. The least you could have done was visit every now and then. They talked about you a lot."

"I only stayed away because of you!" Leon spat with clenched fists and a lump forming in his throat. "And for your information, I’ve spent a lot of the past few nights awake crying over them. You have no right to say that they didn’t mean anything to me!"

"Oh, you poor boy," Arthur taunted. "Would you like me to get you a handkerchief?"

Leon took a deep breath. "Dad, we can’t keep fighting like this!"

"Then why the hell did you come here?"

"We’ve got business to talk about," Leon’s tone became a little more professional. "Starfleet has sent for a civilian judge advocate to arrange for a hearing on the station."

"A hearing?" Arthur said grouchily. "A hearing for what?"

"To see if Shadowforce should be prosecuted for the lives lost on Cestus."

Arthur’s eyes grew wide with incredulity. "Son of a . . . they’ve GOT to be kidding! We were fighting for our homes!"

"I know," Leon interjected. "And I don’t blame you for that. But there’s some in Fleet who feel that you angered the Gorns by fighting back, and that’s why they began bombarding the planet."

"If Fleet hadn’t let our defenses go to hell, they never would have invaded!" Arthur turned around and slammed his fists down on the table. "What did they expect us to do? Throw up our hands and surrender?"

"I don’t agree either, dad, but whether or not we do, there’s going to be a hearing, and we’ve got a lot to do before that happens."

"What’s this ‘we’ crap?" the elder Cromwell asked harshly.

"Your heart, dad," Leon explained. "You can’t go through the stress of a trial in your current condition. I have to operate on you to prevent an irreversible thrombosis. You could die if I don’t"

"I’ll be damned if I let you cut me up," he grumbled. "If I’m going to die, then let me die. At least I’ll be with your mom and sister." Arthur took another sip of whiskey.

"Dad," Leon pleaded, turning his head to hide the tears that were welling within his eyes. "Don’t do this." He knew that once his father took a position on something, it was next to impossible to get him to change his mind.

"Since when do you give a damn about me?" Arthur asked.

"Because you’re all that I’ve got left."

***

When Leon emerged from the observation den, he was alone. His reddened eyes indicated that he was quite upset, but he was determined to regain his composure. As he walked back into the great room, Skip, Wey, and Lins were concerned by his condition.

"What happened?" Skip asked.

"I’ll take that drink now, Wey," Leon said, ignoring Skip’s question and walking to the wet bar.

Location: Starfleet Headquarters, San Francisco, Sol III

Starfleet is dedicated to many things. Some might say peace, the pure pursuit of knowledge, or perhaps the thrill of vaulting into the unknown. In truth, the purpose of Starfleet rested in each of its officers, all of whom had their own reasons for contributing to the whole. For Kathryn Janeway, Starfleet was all about certainty. In many ways, certainty was what held the universe together. One had to have certainty that a device as scientifically outrageous as the transporter would work in order to get anywhere in the Federation. Onboard a starship, a crew had to be certain that their captain had the crew's best interests at heart. Even the exploration of space was about measuring, quantifying, and cataloguing the unknown, thereby asserting the universally understood certainty of science to an otherwise chaotic universe.

Kathryn thrived on certainty, craved it, and as a flag officer in the largest formal organization humanity had ever known, depended on it to make her existence possible. For seven years, she'd kept her crew together through the stubborn application of her will, born of the certainty - Not hope- certainty, that one day she would get home. She had been assisted, to a largely unknown degree, by Admiral Owen Paris; estranged father to her one-time helmsman Tom, who had doggedly spearheaded Project: Pathfinder.

Through Owen Paris' efforts, a journey that should have taken decades had taken a handful of years, and upon her return to the Alpha Quadrant, Kathryn had come to look on Owen Paris as a man of integrity and drive whom she felt, with comfortable certainty, would always do the right thing.

That was before she'd gotten word from Pam Krockover barely an hour ago.

Now Kathryn again felt the fire of absolute dedication in her being, but this time, she was determined to find out how she could have judged a man so incorrectly. As she stormed her way down Starfleet Command's art deco halls, Janeway took scant notice of all the junior officers who gave her the polite nods that served as a `Fleet salute. She rounded a final corner, barely missing a direct collision with a Bolian ensign who couldn't save his own data PADDS from Kathryn's focused wake.

Janeway stopped briefly as she entered the foyer to Admiral Paris' office. "Where is he?" she asked a shocked ensign who wasn't at all prepared for the force of the Admiral's clipped alto voice.

Striving to regain some composure, the ensign looked down briefly to verify Paris' daily schedule. "I'm sorry ma'am, but . . . "

The break in eye-contact was all that Janeway needed. Moving in powerful strides, she crossed to the large, antique wooden doors that marked the Starfleet CnC's office. "He's in there?" she asked again, her voice losing none of it's fury.

The ensign did her best to remain calm and perform her duty above all else. "I'm sorry ma'am," she answered coolly, but you can't . . . "

"Hold his calls!" Janeway said angrily as she stormed through the doors to Owen Paris' office.

Sitting behind a richly polished black steel and glass desk, Owen Paris was the picture of calm, his fingers steeped in front of him. "I would have saved you an appointment, Kathryn." he said calmly. The CnC pressed a control on his desktop. "Janet, hold my appointments please, this may take a while."

"Very good, Admiral."

Janeway slammed her palms on the desktop. "Owen! Is it true? You okayed the appointment of a Presidential Special Investigator?"

Owen nodded. "It's true, but the writing was on the wall. The President's advisor's had their minds made up. What I might or might not have wanted didn't really enter into it."

"So you just sold out the crew of the Republic?"

Matter-of-factly, Paris responded. "Yes."

Kathryn threw up her hands. "I don't believe you, Owen. That's all you have to say? Yes? You won't even explain it to me?"

"With all due respect Kathryn, I don't think you want me to."

"You'll understand if I respectfully disagree . . . Admiral." Janeway commented. She paced back toward the doors, putting more distance between herself and the admiral. "I thought I knew you better."

Paris' face was a bit more flushed following that. "You better be careful how harshly you judge me, Kathryn. You haven't been an admiral that long."

Janeway spun on her heel, looking straight into the older man's eyes. "I'd like to think I can keep my principles."

Owen nodded thoughtfully. "Mmm hmm. See how that answer changes when you have a family. Not a crew or an officer's responsibilities, but a family."

Kathryn crossed her arms in front of her. "Just what are you getting at, Owen?"

Owen Paris squinted, pinching the bridge of his nose. "It's the price I had to pay Kathryn. I'm sorry that the officers on Republic are getting the worst end of it, but given the same choices, there's not a thing I'd do differently." Paris sat back and waited as Janeway's scientific mind went to work.

Across from the older officer, Janeway tilted her head. "Price? Owen, what are you talking about? What choices? You said you were with us."

"Always." he said, waiting patiently.

As she thought of the possible things Owen Paris might mean, the former Voyager captain did what any other scientist would do; she reviewed the facts. Owen Paris was a well-decorated officer, starship commander during the Cardassian Wars, and foremost in Kathryn's mind, the father of a man with whom she had trusted her life more times than she could remember. As she compared all that she knew of Owen Paris with the current power struggle between the Hawks and Doves, as the two Starfleet factions had come to be known, she kept coming back to that most personal of connections.

Tom Paris had been brought aboard U.S.S. Voyager because of his knowledge of `The Badlands'. Father and son had been estranged for some years before Voyager's stranding in the Delta Quadrant, but during the long journey back, Janeway had been more than pleased to see the man and officer that Tom had become, and was even more astonished when she, and the rest of Voyager's crew learned of the existence of Project: Pathfinder.

Pathfinder was an amazing, cutting-edge effort to regain contact with Voyager and above all, let them know that they were not alone. An impressive number of scientists, engineers, and god-only-knew how many man hours were assembled and administered by Admiral Owen Paris in an attempt to not only live up to the finest of Starfleet traditions, but to bring his son home.

The realization took less than a second.

"Oh no, Owen, no." Janeway gasped.

With a look of practiced resignation, Paris nodded. "Pathfinder." he said simply.

"But how could anyone . . . blackmail you like this?" Janeway asked. "It's criminal."

"It's politics, Kathryn. Starfleet loses a handful of ships every year. Sometimes it's negligence, or some cosmic collision. Sometimes ships just disappear. `Fleet doesn't even look for most of them." Paris placed his hands on both sides of his head and gently rubbed his temples. "Command wanted the plug pulled on Pathfinder after eighteen months. It took everything I had. Every favor, every promise, everything I could think of to keep it alive."

"And this is what? Payback?"

"In a way." Paris explained. "Before we finally perfected the trans-subspace network we used to contact you, we'd been faced with one failure after another, but I knew how close we were to a breakthrough. I had to buy time. So, I made a deal with an admiral in research and development."

"Kostya." Janeway hissed.

"All he wanted was a favor to be named later. And this was it."

Now that understanding had cooled Janeway's temper she stepped closer to Paris, relieved that she had not misjudged him too badly. Kathryn Janeway knew all about difficult choices. In her own quest to get her ship and crew home, she found herself agreeing to things she thought she never would. She'd learned to tell herself that she wouldn't do anything differently, and now, she was hearing Owen Paris say the same thing. In his place, she likely would have made the deal as well.

Turning her thoughts to the present, she put a hand on the admiral's shoulder. "There has to be something we can do. We can't just leave those officers alone."

Paris shook his head. "No, `we' can't. But I'm off the board. But there might be something a stubborn, willful . . .

"All right, you've made your point, Admiral." Janeway said with the hint of a smile. "You'll excuse me, sir, but I need to place a call," she said, headed toward the doors.

"Not at all Kathryn," Owen smiled back. "Drop in any time."

***

Location: Starbase 39 Sierra

There was a bright flash against the deep black of the local space around 39 Sierra. A squat, craft, resembling an elongated pyramid with forward-swept, downward sloping wings along the fuselage made the transition to normal space, and inside Sierra Approach Control, the comm. system came to life.

"Delta Flyer to 39 Sierra Approach control, requesting clearance."

"Delta what?" came the curious reply from the control officer. He tapped the reply control. "Sierra control to Delta Flyer. You aren't on our arrival sheet. Please identify yourselves at once."

After a moment of silence, an easy tenor voice came over the comms. "This is Commander Tom Paris. Sorry for the short notice Sierra Control. We're transmitting orders now."

In the Sierra control room, the assembled crew looked on as encrypted data spilled across the network. "I'll be damned," said one verbose ensign. "They've either got powerful friends, or powerful enemies, that's for sure." A moment later, the starbase computer confirmed the legitimacy of the Delta Flyer's orders. "Confirmed Delta Flyer," the control officer replied. You're cleared for docking in bay six."

***

Tom Paris sat back in is custom-fitted acceleration couch as his flight controls were supplanted by the starbase computers. He turned his head, addressing the flyer's other occupant. "I don't know about you, Commander," he said wryly, "but I wouldn't want to be the guys who needed your help."

"Your concern is justified, Commander," came the passenger's solid baritone. "Though I sense your comment is not entirely serious."

Tom smiled, waiting for the Flyer to complete it's docking procedure. "Can't put anything past you Tuvok." Paris quipped.

***

Location: Captain's ready room, USS Republic

Captain Roth continued to stare at the data displayed before her. The Republic was nearly ready for departure, personnel were being assigned to stations and many of her concerns were being dealt with. The Starfleet had to throw another hydro-spanner into the warp coil.

The file on her newest officer was impressive, yet even she could see that most of it lacked any real information. Roth wondered why Starfleet even bothered to try and deny the facts when anyone with a brain could figure out all the double talk. But it did give her an experienced officer with both command and bridge experience.

"Carter is going to be upset," she thought out loud.

Location: Docking port B, Starbase 39 Sierra

Douglas Forrest stepped out of the docking ring, a small travel pack thrown over his shoulder. He looked around the docking area and watched the throng of people go about their business. Forrest ran his fingers through his disheveled hair, pleased that Doc Hy'Vall had been able to re-grow it after the plasma accident. Not that he was vain; it's really difficult to remain inconspicuous when half your head is bald.

Forrest was glad to be assigned back to a ship, even if it was the Republic. According to his briefing, the new Captain was ready for the job and a lot better suited than the last skipper.

"Hell," thought Forrest, "Even Carter was a better choice."

Forrest understood the basic distrust most `Fleet officers had for Intel, a good deal of it was justified. No commander wanted to be reminded that `Fleet didn't trust them with all the secrets. `Fleet trained it's officers to be independent, self-confidant, trustworthy and honorable. The Intel told them to stuff all that. Yeah, Forrest fully understood.

At least his orders this time did include bringing the Captain and XO up to speed on the situation. So maybe this time they could get of to a better start.

Forrest found himself at the appropriate Transporter Pad and waited patiently for his queue. Time to get it all underway.

Lieutenant Commander Douglas Forrest to USS Republic. Requesting permission to beam aboard.

Location: Aft torpedo bay, deck 35, USS Republic

The gentle hum of the powered down engines gave the darkened room a sense of peace. It was one of the few places that a person could go for alone time, for a sense of privacy. It was a secret place Crewman First Class Jerrick Moore went when he needed to get away from the hectic pace of the crew quarters or the general buzz of his engineering duty station. He secretly wished he could spend more time here but his shift schedule and training classes only allowed him his secret sanctuary for only a few hours a week. It was here that he felt he could change his life.

Crewman Moore was startled from his silent revelry by the hushed sound of voices talking. Carefully staying hidden under the Photon Launch rack, Moore tried to make out what the voices were saying.

"So the personnel are in position," asked the first voice.

"Yes sir," responded the second voice, a strange lyrical quality the only real distinguishing factor. "Appropriate personnel have been reassigned to the key areas. It took some doing and some questions were raised, but nothing to be alarmed about."

"Good. For this to work we are going to need to be ready to go at a moments notice when the signal is given. They don't pay this kind of money for mistakes or almost."

Crewman Moore peered from his hiding place, trying to spot the two intruders, but with little success. He hoped he could make out a department or service color, but the dimmed lighting left no clear view.

"Return to standby," the first speaker stated, dismissal in his tone.

The two figures exited the area leaving a startled, confused and slightly scared crewman behind. Moore had no clue what was going on or who he could trust.

***

Location: Starfleet Academy, San Francisco, North America, Sol III

Earth was just as Miles O'Brien remembered it—he couldn't ask for a more idyllic place to work—for instance, today the middle coast was the way he liked it: fine, mild and mostly sunny. And it would have been worth savoring had Chief O'Brien not been pressed to get to the Jefferies Building before the end of the school day.

Situated near the old gun batteries of the coastal bluffs, the Jefferies Building was a sprawling structure on old Fort Winfield Scott, adjoining the old parade fields.

O'Brien was nearly out of breath after making his way up from the foreshore. As he came into the clearing he saw flocks of cadets already leaving class and he worried he was too late. He tacked himself every way to advance through the crowd, and bounding up the stairs, entered the Jefferies Building.

He was relieved to see the subject of his errand was still on the rostrum, Doctor Bruce Burke. The chief descended from the back of the auditorium, brushing his face with his sleeve.

Bruce Burke switched off the board and was gathering isolinear memory cards into one hand when he became aware of O'Brien standing at the foot of the rostrum.

"I hope I'm not disturbing you, sir."

"I'm right, O'Brien. What ya up to?"

"I heard from Captain Voss that you plan on making a jailbreak this afternoon."

"Yeah, that sounds like Vossie."

"Look, Bruce, if you're planning on leaving the Academy, I came to talk you out of it."

"Ah, Brinho, that's sweet of you. But you know how Vossie keeps getting pressure to field more engineers? Yeah well, the little voice of reason in my head was starting to sound like ol' Vossie. What-do- yer reckon?"

"Sir, with all due respect, maybe you should listen to your heart, not the voices in your head."

"Bless you mate, you're a good pom and not at all stuck-up."

O'Brien feigned a raised voice, "I am not a pom."

Bruce crossed his arms and feigned moroseness. "I am not a criminal."

The two friends laughed, but then fell into an awkward silence.

"Well, I'll write you."

"You'd better."

"Maybe when the Republic swings by the system we can go to that restaurant you were always trying to get me to."

"It's a pub, . . . you still can't say it, can you?"

Burke suddenly leaned forward with his arms around O'Brien. "I gotta go bro."

O'Brien hugged him back. "You'd better write."

"I will."

"You'd better."

***

"Personal Log, Lieutenant Commander Bruce Burke"

"I've boarded the high-warp courier U.S.S. Perpetua (NCC-73204) en route for Starbase 39 Sierra and to my new post aboard the U.S.S. Republic (NCC-75421). I'm going to have a squeeze around engineering, and see what I can scrounge up to do, because as much as I hate to do this to them, someone has to do something about these torque buffers, they're out of alignment, and the noise is driving me mad. Sort of a high-pitched rattle. Crikey, these ships are small! Fair Dinkum! Crook equipment. Dodgy maintenance. Shared quarters. You wander how the poor captain keeps going!

"And one more thing, . . . someone on board must breath methane because this place smells ripe. Either that or they have a backed-up lavo. Only a day of this and I'm home free."

Within the United Federation of Planets, the celebrity of any individual or group of individuals was rare and required considerable and continued accomplishment to maintain. It was also not sought after as it had once been in the history of nearly every member world, indeed now being seen by most as more a side-effect or even a hindrance. Despite all of this however, if you where one of the few accomplished enough to obtain such revered status amongst the massive 982 billion population of the Federation, it was almost guaranteed that you would be unable to find a single person amongst them that did not recognize you.

This was the case for Commander Tuvok, instructor at Starfleet Academy and personal adjunct to Rear Admiral Kathryn Janeway, and Lieutenant Commander Tom Paris, Executive Officer and former Helmsman of the now-legendary Starship Voyager - not to mention son of the newly selected Commander-in-Chief of the whole of Starfleet. As the pair moved through the unfamiliar corridors of the tarnished Starship Republic, the fact of their celebrity was re-enforced by the side-long glances, whispered comments of wonder and admiration, and awe-struck smiles.

For Tom Paris, even after two years back home, it was still amusing and refreshing. He was, after all, not exactly the model of what a Starfleet Officer should be. He had made his fair share of mistakes, mistakes which had lead to death and prison, not to mention a fair dose of disgrace for not only himself, but his family. After seven years in the great unknown depths of the Delta Quadrant though, he had been redeemed, forged in fire and proven to be, though unorthodox, one of the best and brightest. Still, it was something Tom couldn't quite accept or get passed. To be looked upon not with scorn or shame, but with pride and respect.

So it was that the First Officer of Voyager made the additional effort towards those who admired him. A smile here, a wave there, any simple gesture that let people know he was approachable and appreciative. Tuvok, on the other hand, always seemed irritated - at least, as irritated as he could get - at such things. And even more so at Paris when he made his 'additional efforts'.

"Mister Paris," Tuvok remarked, drawing a deep breath in what Tom knew from experience to be a gesture of annoyance. "If you are finished 'shmoozing', we do have an assignment to attend to."

"Oh, come on Tuvok, lighten up," Paris replied, as he smiled at a pair of Ensigns huddled together in hushed conversation as they looked on at the duo from Voyager. "It wouldn't kill you to just smile and nod. Think of it as 'public relations' or something." Paris quipped.

"Mister Paris-" Tuvok began, his tone indicative that a chastising speech was forthcoming.

"Save the speech, Tuvok," Paris cut him off. "I get your point. Lets find the bridge and report to the Captain."

"A turbolift would be helpful." Tuvok replied, as the duo began once again to move down the corridor, this time with purpose as they searched the unfamiliar corridors.

"We could always ask somebody," Paris suggested, trying to hide a smile at the suggestion he knew the Vulcan would shoot down. Tuvok once more drew in a deep in the equivalent of a sigh - for a Vulcan, that is.

"Computer," he stated, his voice raised to signal the internal audio sensors, "direct us to the nearest turbolift." he commanded. To their left, the LCARS panels along the wall lit up as a small light activated and began to run along the length of the screen.

"Turbolift D-7 is exactly two-point-six meters forward and to your left." the Computer stated. Sure enough less than a few steps away was a set of doors clearly labeled 'Turbolift'.

"Well, that was easy enough." Paris remarked.

"Indeed." remarked Tuvok as he turned the bend in the corridor and pressed the call button for the lift. After a few moments, the lift arrived and the doors parted. The lift however was not vacant, but had a sole occupant. A blond-haired Starfleet Lieutenant in command red, dressed from the waist-down in an engineering jumpsuit, the top portion pulled down and tied around his waist.

"Tell me ya brought the Delta Flyer," he said without introduction of hesitation. The statement caught both Paris and Tuvok off-guard.

"Uh, do I know you?" Paris asked, a bit confused.

"Nope, never met ya a day in ma life. But ya did design one helluva little ship, an I've been itchin' ta get ma hands on the controls fer a couple years now, so tell me: did ya bring the Delta Flyer?" he asked again.

"Lieutenant?" Tuvok queried, prompting him for his name.

"Hawk, Nathan Hawk, but ma friends call me Nat. Pilots though, they call me either Wild Card 'er Death Wish." Hawk replied, shaking Paris' hand and fairly ignoring Tuvok. "So, how 'bout it, did ya bring 'er?"

"Uh, actually, yeah, we did." Paris managed to reply.

"Lieutenant Nathan Hawk, you are the ship's Helmsman, correct?" Tuvok asked.

"Kinda, sorta. Not really sure ta tell ya the truth. Relieved a duty at the moment," he replied. "So it true you found a way to supe-up thrusters and cross-circuit them with impulse systems?" he asked of Paris.

"Actually, they're more of toned-down impulse engines than actual thrusters, but . . . " Paris, suddenly something clicked in Paris' head. "Wait a minute, Wild Card, was that a call sign?" he queried.

"Yep," Hawk replied, "I was the Wild Card outta the Flying Aces 85th Attack Squadron, 2373 ta 2376. Best damn batch a pilots I ever flew with."

"Yeah, the 85th, I heard about you all. When we got home, I mean. Heard of you to, of Wild Card anyway. Is it true you ran four kamikaze missions?" Paris questioned.

"Well, ain't exactly kamikaze if ya don't get blown ta hell, but yeah, that'd be me. One time my XO damn near threw me out an airlock fer doin' it, too." Hawk said with a grin, which Paris mirrored.

"Mister Paris, Mister Hawk," Tuvok interrupted, "we have pressing matters to attend to. The fate of not only the Starfleet careers of yourself, but a number of your shipmates, as well as you personal freedoms are at stake."

"Aw, I ain't worried 'bout that legal bullshit," Hawk replied, "it'll all get worked out fine. Trust me."

"I find it curious that you show so little concern in light of the grave charges made against you and your shipmates. Conviction on the attempted murder or treason charges would result in not only a dishonorable discharge, but likely considerable time in the stockade." Tuvok replied.

"Vulcans," Hawk remarked, "Can't live with um, I sure as hell can live without um."

"Lieutenant-" Tuvok began.

"How 'bout this, you hop on in the lift here and go on up and talk with the Cap'n an good ole Cyclops about all this legal mumbo-jumbo, and I'll have Tommy-boy show me that pretty lil ship a his while ya do." Hawk suggested.

"The legal 'mumbo-jumbo' does directly involve you, Lieutenant. You should be present at any discussions involving the case against you." Tuvok replied.

"Aww, horse pucky. I don't give a hoot 'bout that sort a shit and I bet Tommy-boy doesn't either. We're pilots, men a action, not sittin' round talkin' 'bout legalisms." Hawk stated. "'Sides, if yer ma lawyer, don't make much difference if I'm there 'er not. Right? Right. So you go chat up the brass an we'll go take that pretty lil ship fer a spin and ya can fill me in later, alright?" Hawk said.

"Great." Hawk concluded, without waiting for Tuvok to reply. Putting his arm around Paris' shoulder and leading him away down the corridor, he didn't give the Vulcan a second thought. "Ya know, I always thought diametric tail-fins woulda looked great on the Flyer," he said.

"So did I," Paris remarked, glancing back at Tuvok as the two pilots walked away.

***

Location: Deck 10, USS Republic

The soft "thunk" of the conference room door came as a welcome relief to John Carter who'd had all he could stand of the man known only as Cole. This visitor had come, allegedly at the behest of the President of the United Federation of Planets, to function as an Independent Prosecutor, and sort out whatever might pass for "justice" in the wake of the Cestus three incident. For the last few minutes, John had endured many questions, most of which he'd answered with the phrase `It's all in the report'.

When he'd been ordered to receive the visitor by Captain Roth, Carter had assumed that he would play things close to the vest. In truth that was usually the safest course of action anyway, but over the course of his months on Republic, John had learned that it was sometimes hard to know who to trust. Cole was a stranger, more than likely a spy (though for whom John couldn't say), but he also came onboard with the authority of the President, which meant that John was required to answer his questions. This, or course, Carter had done; following the letter, if not the spirit of his orders with regard to Cole.

Cole's questions were followed by John's strict, by the book reply for the better part of fifteen minutes. Carter had begun to suspect that Cole was getting tired of hearing the same answer over and over again. In truth Carter was tiring of it as well, but he was expecting the arrival of a number of officers, including (at least provisionally) someone to serve as Republic's Tactical Chief, and as First Officer, It was Carter's responsibility to make sure that all the Department Heads were accounted for. In short, he had much better things he could be doing. Thankfully, a well timed comm signal from Ops had pulled Carter away from Cole's impromptu interrogation before his frustration got the better of him, and Carter took the opportunity to excuse himself to take the call from Ops.

As he strode through the corridors of Republic's main deck, Carter tapped his combadge. "Carter to Ops. What have you got?"

"Sullivan here sir. Quite a few things actually."

Carter rubbed his temples as he waited for a turbolift to arrive. "It's never simple is it Ops?"

"Wouldn't know sir. We Ops folks don't really do `simple'."

"Not on this ship anyway," Carter quipped.

"Didn't copy that XO?"

"Nothing," Carter answered with a shake of the head. "Give me the official stuff first."

"Ok. The good news is the new Ops chief is out of the brig."

"Excuse me?!"

"Some problem with a civie on the station, but McTaggart sprung her . . . Legitimately"

A wry smile crossed Carter's face as he weighed being both pleased and chagrined by the need to add the word `legitimately' to the sentence. "Fine then, I'll consider that taken care of. Next?" Carter stepped forward into the car as it finally arrived. "Deck four", he called out to the computer.

"We just got some VIP's aboard."

"What, more? Who?"

"Not sure. They came to the station under flag. I think they checked in with the captain directly."

"Sprocking admirals." Carter cursed. "How much worse does it get?"

"I've got Lieutenant Commander Virtus on the line for you."

"I don't know whether that's good or bad." The XO commented.

"Understood sir, where do you want it?"

"Tell him to hang on. I'll take it in my quarters in two minutes. And Ops? Where's the Doc?"

"He's still on the station sir. Said it was family business. Should I . . . "

Out of habit, Carter waved his hand, despite being nowhere near the Ops officer. "No need Ops. I'll catch up to him later. Thanks for the heads up. Carter out."

Location: Counselor's quarters, deck 8, USS Republic

Shannon Harris looked briefly into the mirror in her quarters, checking the side of her face. She trailed a finger down the side of her cheek. `Not a single wrinkle', she thought. `Good.' She'd never been particularly vain, but after the close call that John had received, and after the two of them had finally acted on feelings that had been percolating for months, she found herself feeling more conscious of her appearance. John hadn't said anything of course; Shannon doubted that he would, but it seemed to matter to her.

Although they hadn't spent another night together since the first, she and John had enjoyed a few dinners on The Hill, and Shannon thought that it might be nice to do something different for their next `date'. Shannon smiled, happy to think of their relationship in those terms. As Shannon pondered a change in her appearance, she twisted a finger playfully into a falling lock of her red hair. `I've kept it up for the last bit,' she thought. `Might be nice to let it down, or maybe I should cut it short'.

As Shannon completed the thought, she gave her head a shake to let the rest of her hair fall. She opened her eyes and felt her jaw slack at the sight that looked back at her in the mirror. It was her face. Same eyes, same nose (she could thank her mother for that), and her hair was the right color, but as she stared, she saw that her head was topped by a close-cropped style, barely a quarter of an inch in length. Slowly, curiously, she reached up to feel her new cut, watching her actions in the mirror, as if making sure it was real. She lightly patted her head, feeling her hair underneath her fingers, then the brought the tips back, feeling along her skull. She felt every bit; knew that it was her hand, her hair, her head. What she didn't know was how such a thing was possible.

Shannon closed her eyes and let her head drop, cradling her face in her hands. After a long moment, she opened her eyes, and looked back up into the mirror. Everything was as it should be. Same face, same nose, and her hair was the length she had expected it to be. Shannon looked on for a long moment and a disturbing thought entered her mind.

`What if the Counselor needs a counselor?'

Location: First officer's quarters, deck 8, USS Republic

John Carter leaned over his desk not bothering to sit down as he keyed in the commands to accept the message from Victor Virtus. Thanks to Republic's relative proximity to earth, and the improvements to the trans-subspace network, John and Vic could enjoy an all too rare conversation in real-time. Carter smiled as Vic's face came into view.

"Hey Vic. How are the Black Shirts treating you?"

Ever the realist, and a firm believer that one should never reveal too much emotion (certainly over sub-space; after all, who knew where else the signal would end up), Victor Virtus was careful to hide his shock upon seeing his friend's newly monocular appearance. However, even Victor Virtus wasn't perfect, and he couldn't help but reach up and stroke the sides of his mustache, a nervous habit he'd never been able to kick. "Better than you it seems," he said affably. "Which one was it?"

"Left, obviously."

Victor stifled a sigh at Carter's repartee. "Well that's a relief. At least it wasn't Doctor Harris."

"How the hell do you know that?"

"Our favorite Counselor is left-handed," Victor quipped. "Really John, I should think you'd noticed that by now."

"Yes . . . Doctor, I DO know that. And for the record, whatever else I do, or do not know about Shannon is officially none of your business."

"Certainly not, John. But as SHANNON," Victor said with the barest of emphasis, "is left-handed, her natural instinct would have been to attack across her body, meaning that whomever you . . . ran afoul of . . . was right-handed. Let me guess, Casey Tanaka tracked you down?"

"Casey?" John shook his head. I haven't seen her since . . . "

"Since the Devonshire, yes, yes John I know. She was on the Yorktown for a while, in case you're curious."

"I'm really not."

"Well I KNOW it wasn't Chase. She would have taken something a bit more . . . "

"Thank you, Vic. What can I do for you?"

I wanted to tell you about your new Chief Engineer. Quite talented, really. I ran into him before he left the Academy and thought I'd put in a good word for him. I'd be obliged if you could show him around."

"I suppose Vic, but I've got a pretty full plate right now."

"No doubt," Victor commented wryly. "Have you talked to Forrest yet?"

Carter felt his temperature rise. "No . . . " he said cautiously. "Why would I?"

"He and I had a chat with a mutual friend last week. I assumed they'd be headed your way next."

"Yeah, the gang's all here, so to speak." John shook his head, then felt his face turn in a sour expression. "Wait, did you just say `assume'? Since when do you assume anything?"

Victor let a smile through his facade. "Well, technically, I didn't assume, but I thought that the math would bore you. Think of it as an attempt to lighten up."

Carter smiled. "Well, I do appreciate the thought Vic. Wish you were here, we could use a fair hand at poker. Not that we've played since you left."

"Well, perhaps you can talk Doctor Burke into it."

"Who?"

"Bruce Burke. The new Chief Engineer. His shuttle should be arriving momentarily."

"Well, thanks for the notice. Don't worry, I'll give him a warm welcome."

"Thanks John. Take care of yourself. My best to the Doctor . . . um . . . s, I suppose. Both of them. See you soon."

"Time will tell Vic. Carter out."

***

Location: Junior officer's quarters, deck 3, USS Republic

There's always an equal amount of joy and dread floating around as someone waits to meet a new superior officer. Maria had met . . . she counted on her fingers, . . . five if you count Victor twice, since being assigned to the Republic. Hopefully this new COE preferred three eight hour shifts to four sixes. Far be it from her to criticize what worked best for a certain humorless, workaholic, time-obsessed officer, but she believed there was a subtle design in the way the universe functioned, and that time should be divided into easily manageable thirds of work-time, play-time and sleep-time. Plus it had been her job to synchronize the engineering department's first, second, third and four shift, with the rest of the ship's Alpha, Beta and Gamma shifts. Nothing like getting off shift at 0600, only to make an interdepartmental meeting at 0830. Plus the excitement of trying to cram eight hours worth of diagnostics, maintenance, and PADDwork into every six hour shift.

"Computer. What is current station time?"

Eighteen fifty-seven hours.

"Assistant Chief Engineer's Personal Log. Without Victor around I check the time about three time's per hour, as opposed to the ten I did when he was in charge. A few more standard months, and I might be able to enjoy an entire day without caring if I was going to be late for something. End Recording."

Lieutenant Pakita tucked a lock of hair behind her left ear and scrolled down the public files on Lieutenant Commander Bruce Burke. She stared for a long moment at his picture before deciding his hair was nice, but his eyes were nicer. Skimming his accreditations and the title of his thesis, she paused at a paper he had published in his senior year at Monash,
'Geomagnetic wave fluctuations as a function of solar activity on M-class planets'.

'Hmmmm . . . ', the slim woman thought to herself, it seems the Commander and I have something in common. A fascination with Magnetic Field Theories."

"Computer. What is current station t . . . . belay request. Computer, lights to nine percent, play ocean waves on sand for twenty minutes, then off, set alarm for oh six hundred."

"Acknowledged."

Maria lay back and listened to the digitally reproduced sounds of her childhood, and pictured the sun setting on the horizon, her mother cooking lobster and her father strumming his battered guitar singing about when life was simple. A lone tear formed, and with a rueful smile Maria Grizelle Pakita drifted off to sleep.

Location: USS Perpetua, en route to Starbase 39 Sierra

Somewhere within the Perpetua, a very tired Bruce Burke was cupping water from a washroom basin and splashing his face. He hadn't slept at all. Maybe it was the excitement of being in space again. Maybe it was nervousness. It was probably a little of both. Or maybe it was the misaligned torque transducers and sensors behind the wall, only centimeters from his pillow. It seemed at first to sing pianississimo, but by the end of the trip he was convinced it was forte. The crescendo of metal on metal, peeling and grating, clamoring and clanking, until it seemed the very wall was vibrating.

As he mussed his hair before the mirror, the sonic shower began to hum behind him, sending yet another hum through the compartment as one of his many bunkmates prepared for duty. It had been a long time since he'd had a roommate, but the courier provided him three. And not one of them could hear a thing.

Burke made a final pluck at the white lent on his black suit and quipped, "Knackered. Really Knackered. No way to start a first day."

"Knackered?" came a voice from somewhere behind him.

"Very tired." Bruce saw in the mirror his two roommates were dressed, and unwilling to wait their turn, were shaving over his shoulder. They were the ship's second and third officers respectively. (The first officer was the third roommate, and he was the one in the shower and he had started to sing something).

"Well you were up all night." one roommate quipped.

"We'd better not hear about this in staff meeting." said the other.

The two fresh-faced young lieutenants turned their heads and lifted their chins as they shaved, occasionally looking at Burke askance. "I can hear it now, `Burke was on the ship one week and fixed the IDF anomaly,' I can just hear it. I've been trying to trace that gap in the IDF field for almost a month." The lieutenant turned off his razor and placed his hand on Burke's shoulder, giving it a grateful squeeze. "I owe you one."

"Not at all, safety is everyone's concern. I was just glad to have something to do."

The singing from the man in the shower became exceptionally loud. Actually, not so much loud as bad. The third officer laughed, "Oh man! You were right about the IDF sub-harmonics . . . listen to how he's gone tone deaf."

Burke grinned, "If they can't sing well they'll sing loud. Well, I better get going mates." He rapped on the sonic shower door and coyly whispered, "Yeah mate, sing on the inside. The inside."

The first officer, having been properly, though deservedly scolded, stopped singing. But the door popped open just enough for him to extend his hand. "We all owe you, Brucie."

"Hey, thanks for the ride."

***

Outside the airlock, John Carter waited as the courier's gangway hatch opened. He couldn't help a smile as a large man with a barreled chest and a full, round face accented by a well-trimmed beard. His head was crowned by wavy, white hair. This was the visage of Commander Charlie Swan, Captain of Perpetua, and his countenance, combined with his red uniform collar mad the large man look positively jolly.

Commander Swan lumbered down the gangplank, followed closely by a Lieutenant in Operations gold. Republic's XO stepped forward to greet the pair. "Welcome to Republic gentlemen." he offered. Charlie Swan gave a quick nod. "Permission to come aboard
Commander?"

"Granted, commander?"

"Swan sir," the elder man said, extending his hand. "Pleased to meet you."

"John Carter. Pleased to meet you too, Mister Swan." Carter tilted his head, looking past Swan to check over Perpetua's sleek hull once more. "She's pretty." he offered.

Swan smiled, giving Burke a sidelong glance. "She's outdated, but she's mine, and that's nice of you to say. But you have Mister Burke here to thank for getting us here in one piece." John turned to look over the operations officer. "Nothing too serious I hope?"

Swan smiled again, the warm grin seeming almost infectious. "Not at all. Just sorry to see this man go."

With that, Bruce Burke stepped forward. "Lieutenant Commander Burke, reporting for duty, sir."

Carter took the new arrival's hand. "Welcome aboard, Commander. You come highly recommended."

Burke tilted his head slightly. "Oh, right? Who was it that recommended me?"

"Victor Virtus is a good friend of mine. He asked me to show you around a bit."

Burke's expression lightened as he put two and two together. "Rightio mate." he chuckled. "He's a good engineer, that one."

John smiled. "Yeah, Vic's something, that's for sure." Quickly, Carter turned his head to address Commander Swan. "I don't suppose you have anything else for us, Commander?"

Swan dug a meaty hand into a small pocket inside his duty tunic, producing a small data chip. He held the small artifact up to the light, then handed it to Carter. "Just this I'm afraid. Doesn't look like much I know, but I was instructed to deliver it to either you or Captain Roth in person."

Carter felt his expression sour. A hand delivered message was never good news. Normally, ship deployments were handled over coded subspace channels or in some cases, an isolated PADD. If Republic's new orders were on that simple isolinear chip, then it meant that the greatest care was being taken to keep the orders from even LOOKING like orders.

"Merry Christmas." the Martian officer said, sarcastically.

Swan gave the XO a quick wink. "Sorry I couldn't bring you something nicer Commander," he offered warmly. "Maybe next time." Swan gave Burke a friendly clap on the shoulder. "Thanks again lad." he said. "I'll let you get to work." With that, Commander Swan turned and made his way back to Perpetua.

"Tell you what, Burke." Carter said, turning to exit the shuttle bay. "I'll let you get settled into your quarters, and if you like, you can meet me in The Hill for a quick bite. Most of the crew is there at one time or another, so if you want to get to know the ship, that's the best place to do it."

"The Hill?" Burke asked suspiciously.

"Our crew lounge, deck ten, forward." Carter explained. "The name just kind of stuck."

Burke nodded. "Ah mate, waddya recon, but I don't drink."

John nodded. "Okay, in that case, the Officer's Mess will do." he commented as he walked out of the bay into the hall. "See you in a bit Mister Burke."

 

 

Location: Main sensor room, deck 15, USS Republic

Despite all the analysis and dissemination of sensor information to the ship's various subsystems and crew, it is often overlooked how the data is actually collected. There are several types of sensor arrays that make up the eyes and ears of the Republic: long range, short range, active, passive, internal, external, etcetera. However, none of this equipment sends transmissions directly to the receiving end (usually an individual). All of the raw data is first fed to main sensor room where computers and technicians splice, compare, integrate, and filter the information prior to being routed to the Republic's main computer and monitoring station. This is done more as a precautionary measure rather than to increase speed and efficiency of the ship's sensors. After all, in the uncertainty of space travel, only an experienced technician would be able to anticipate whether an unknown object or phenomena would overload the sensors or be laced with some alien signal that takes control of the main computer.

These technicians, although trained and dedicated, still have their emotional side to deal with, and when boredom and monotony falls upon them during their duty shift, the creative side of their personalities take over.

"Did you hear?" a young crewman in operations gold asked softly to a nearby petty officer third class. The room was currently full of operations crew upgrading the sensor systems.

"What?" the addressee replied. "I haven't heard anything of interest since Chief Rainier came aboard." He nudged his head towards the chief of the boat across the room who was inspecting a piece of equipment with the senior enlisted operations supervisor.

"Captain Roth assigned us a new operations officer. Sullivan won't be with us on our next mission."

"So? We all knew that Sullivan was being reassigned. In fact most of the officers in operations have left. All except for Klaus." The last sentence he spoke was laced with animosity.

"That's just it," the younger technician added. "Our new boss is an ensign fresh out of the academy."

The petty officer slowly displayed a wide smile. "Oh boy! A greenback! Those types of officers are SO fun to mess with! Before long, we'll be having them handing out four-day passes like they were candy."

"I wouldn't mess with this greenback," the crewman shook his head with widened eyes. "Her name is Kuga, and Thompson told me she was thrown in the station brig for beating up a couple of Klingons on the docking level."

A frown developed on the petty officer's face. "Where did you hear that?"

"Johansson down in security told me when Lieutenant McTaggart went to go get her released."

"Sounds like this Ensign Kuga should be the tactical chief, not the operations chief."

A chuckle from behind the two technicians brought them out of their conversation. Chief of the Boat, Brad Rainier, was now standing a few feet behind them and overheard their conversation.

"You boys better check out your sources," he said with amusement. Turning around toward the turbolift door, Chief Rainier made his way across the room while calling out to a subordinate chief petty officer in operations gold manning the sensor distribution console.

"Thanks for the tour, chief. I'll be on the bridge." With that, the chief of the boat left the room.

The two enlisted gentlemen, now slightly embarrassed, allowed their adrenaline to wear off from the sudden encounter with a senior non-commissioned officer. A few moments later, the young petty officer asked another crewman at a control station about four meters away.

"Lambert," he beckoned.

"Did you hear about our new Ops Chief beating up two Klingons on the docking level?"

"Yeah, I heard it," the third crewman replied. "Except that there were three of them, and they weren't Klingon. They were Naussican!"

The technician turned back to his friend with a concerned expression. "You're right. I don't think I want to mess with her . . ."

 

Location: Surgical suite 12, main medical complex, operations level, Starbase 39 Sierra

The brilliant white walls were more than a conformation of the operating room's antiseptic conditions. They reflected the lights in such a way that nothing in the room was veiled in darkness. In addition to the low-level ultraviolet LED's situated along the ceiling in a half-meter grid, the soft hum of the sterilization field was music to the ears of a surgeon who constantly concerned themselves with invasive bacteria.

Two such doctors occupied the suite and hovered over an operating table, with a third observer standing near by. Their blood-red Starfleet-issue surgical garments were a stark contrast to the pearlescent walls, as were the masks and caps that shielded the identity of the individuals. However, the unconscious face of Arthur Cromwell on the surgical bed gave little doubt to who at least one the attending physicians were.

"You know, Skip," Leon said while both hands were sunk deep into his father's flesh. "That was a mean trick you pulled on him."

There was very little blood present, as the surgical module that encapsulated Arthur's body contained many useful options for a surgeon to include a capillary restriction grid that, when activated, stops all blood vessels surrounding the incision area.

"It was either that or having him croak in front of a jury," Skip retorted, revealing who the standing observer was. "Besides, it was no different than what I had to do at a wedding party we attended two years ago. He can sure be obnoxious when he's drunk."

"You don't seem too upset about this hearing," Doctor Cromwell changed the subject. Turning to the attending nurse, he asked for an instrument. "Arterial retractor."

Skip replied nonchalantly. "I'm pretty sure it's just a formality. They can't blame us for protecting our homes."

"I wouldn't give Starfleet that much credit," Leon said with slight irritation.

"You're starting to sound like your dad," Skip smiled through his mask. "No, I don't trust them either, but it's just common sense."

"I didn't realize how close his cardiovascular system was to collapse." The doctor was in awe at the amount of trauma Arthur's blood vessels had undergone. "All plasticity in the arterial walls is gone. He would have had more than a thrombosis; his entire circulatory system would have clotted up before too long. There's no way a full physical could have missed this. He must not have been going to the geriatric clinic for his regular checkups."

Skip shook his head. "The older you get, the less you want to be in a doctor's office. You'll get there some day yourself and see."

Leon stopped what he was doing for a moment to give the elder observer a stern look before turning his attention to the nurse.

"How's our Aortic regen coming along?"

"Still scanning the nuclides at ten-to-the-ninth base-pairs per second, doctor."

"All this," Leon rolled his eyes to look at the room around him. "And you people can't come up with a faster base-pair sequencer?"

"Sorry sir," the nurse replied.

"Anyway," Doctor Cromwell turned back to Skip. "You might want to put some more serious thought into your defense. If Fleet intelligence has their hands in this, they're not likely to go easy on any of you."

***

Location: Executive docking port 31-C, VIP level, Starbase 39 Sierra

The courier shuttle softly inserted its locking ring with the portal, docking into place with a metallic thump followed by a pneumatic hiss of the interlocks securing the vessel to the station. An overhead light changed from red to green, and a computer voice sounded.

"Airlock pressurization sequence complete."

A mechanical grind was the next chorus, as the hatch rolled open revealing two individuals standing inside the airlock. Both wore civilian clothes, but the age difference between the two was clear to see.

The younger wore a beige suit, with the stylistic, folded-up collar with a V cut at the throat. His hair was jet black, straight, and combed back with slick flare to it. With dark brown eyes, he was in conversation with the older man. This latter individual was slightly shorter than his junior counterpart, with a similar suit except more gray than beige, and a black overcoat as an accessory. The face bore the expression of a person who had seen evil itself, and did not flinch. His eyes were calm, and held the hue of faded blue with shoulder-length, wavy grayish-brown hair to complement it. Looking back and forth, the older was detached from the one-sided conversation spoken his compatriot, and settled his eyes on a Starfleet lieutenant standing just outside the airlock.

"Judge Wade," the lieutenant greeted the duo. "Welcome aboard Starbase thirty-nine sierra."

"Thank you," the senior arrival replied while walking out of the airlock. His companion followed quietly.

"I'm Lieutenant Hanson," the officer shook the hand of Judge Wade. "I've been instructed to be your JAG liaison for the Cestus Three hearing."

"Excellent." Turning to the younger man in the beige suit, Wade presented him to the lieutenant. "This is Robert Purves, my paralegal assistant."

Purves reached out to shake Hanson's hand.

"Glad to meet you, lieutenant."

"Likewise, Mister Purves," the JAG liaison replied. Returning his attention to the judge, the lieutenant continued. "We have quarters and a study ready for you a few levels up. If you'll follow me?"

The three walked away from the docking port and proceeded down a hallway.

"First off, lieutenant," the Judge changed the subject. "There's a few ground rules. I'm not sure how Starfleet does it, but I allow no media in my court."

"Of course, your honor," Hanson replied. "Neither does Starfleet."

"Second, please let both counsel's know that I prefer clear facts over circumstantial evidence. We'll do our best to sort this out, but I don't want any underhanded attempts to spin the facts in either favor."

"Yes, your honor."

"I've had a meeting with an Admiral Kostya who gave me background on this case, and the reasons why it was transferred to the civilian court system. I do NOT want any of the defendants who are in Starfleet to wear their uniforms. This is now a civilian case, and if any individuals are to be put on trial, they will be treated as citizens of the Federation. No more, no less. Understand?"

"Completely, your honor."

The three entered a turbolift and the lieutenant beckoned to the computer.

"Executive suites, section five-alpha."

As the doors began to shut, Judge Wade made one last order.

"Assuming no obstacles, the hearing will commence in forty-eight hours. Inform both the prosecution and the defense."

"Right away, your honor."

***

Location: Recovery suite 25, main medical complex, operations level, Starbase 39 Sierra


Aside from his usual grouchy appearance, Arthur Cromwell displayed a slight touch of confusion mixed with annoyance on his face as he lay back on the biobed. His inpatient smock did not help his attitude, as it served more to embarrass him whenever a nurse came in to check on him. Although the silver blanket of the biobed assisted with maintaining his dignity, but not to the level he would have preferred.

"Can you explain to me, Mister Cromwell, in detail, exactly what occurred on stardate 57494.2?"

The question came from a man sitting in a nearby chair. His dress was that of a business man, but the quaint leather briefcase on his lap and the PADD he held in his hand indicated that he was not making a sales call. In fact, the brown-haired man's questions seemed more judicial in nature, giving him the aura of a lawyer.

"Well, I was just sitting there," replied Arthur sarcastically. "Minding my own business when a little lizard told me that the Big Bad Wolf was coming to get me."

"Mister Cromwell," the visitor exclaimed. "This interview is for your benefit. A clear statement by you could work more in your favor at the hearing."

"Okay!" Arthur held up his hands, and feigned an innocent expression. "I admit it! You caught me!"

"Caught you at what, Mister Cromwell?"

Arthur's expression turned to that of a stoic prisoner being interrogated, and if it were not for the obvious overtone of mockery, it would almost be convincing.

"I'm part of an elite terrorism team sent by the Romulan High Command to take over the Federation. We're known as Task Force Tomalok!"

The questioner displayed a look of offense, annoyance, and failure, all in one expression. He lowered his head, blinked twice, and formulated a plan that included the phrase 'let's take it from the top.'

However, the visitor did not get the chance to speak his mind as the door to the recovery suite slid open, and two individuals stepped inside. One was Doctor Leon Cromwell, and the other was a Starfleet Commander in command red.

"Actually, I'm glad you're here, Mister Cole," Arthur said sourly to the civilian attendee while looking to his son. "I'd like to report an infanticide."

Leon rolled his eyes as the dark-skinned Vulcan commander stepped forward and addressed Arthur's interviewer.

"Investigator Cole," the deep, monotone voice addressed him. "It is improper for you to interview a defendant without counsel present."

"Not at all," the lawyer replied without concern. "Mister Cromwell did not ask for counsel, and in fact, may have just hurt his case by not providing me with appropriate answers to my questions."

"You are to leave until this man has had a chance to prepare a defense."

"That's fine," Cole said, placing the PADD back into his briefcase and snapping the lid shut. He stood up and looked the commander in the eye. "I was done here anyway." Without another word, Cole walked out of the room.

As the door shut behind the investigator, Doctor Cromwell and the commander turned back to Arthur.

"Who's your petticoat friend?" Arthur asked Leon, but it was the Vulcan who answered.

"My name is Commander Tuvok," came the reply as the tall officer looked at Arthur stoically. "And at the request of a friend, I am . . ." he paused momentarily to raise an eyebrow as if to show slight disdain towards finishing the sentence. ". . . your defense attorney."

Location: Captain's ready room, USS Republic

Kimberly Roth looked skeptically at the isolinear chip that had been conveyed to her from the U.S.S. Perpetua. The chip's yellow pearlescent coating glinted in the subdued lighting of the room. Curled up on Roth's shoulder, Smoke looked at the flashes with a simple twitch of the nose and `bleeked'.

"You stay out of this stinker," the captain chided. "Remember, this is Captain's Eyes Only, which means no looking over my shoulder. Even for you." Roth wagged her finger for emphasis, but Smoke had already moved on to finding the next location in the room from which he could be the centre of attention.

Across the Captain's desk, John Carter chuckled. "Why do I get the feeling that he's only humoring you?"

"Oh, there's no `feeling' about it XO," she commented. "He's got me wrapped around at least one of his little fingers." Roth set down the chip and steepled her fingers in front of her. "Everything all right with our new arrival?"

"So far so good Captain. In fact, I'm going to meet with him as soon as we're done here. He's the last addition now that we finally have a Tac Chief onboard."

Roth took a deep breath. "Yes, about that . . . "

"Don't." Carter slapped a hand against the top of the desk. "Don't even tell me there was ANOTHER problem with our Tac Chief. Damn it!" Carter threw up his hands in frustration. "What did he do? Implode? Get assimilated by the Borg? Maybe a hangnail?!"

"Close," Roth said grimly. "Transporter accident."

Immediately, John felt his face redden. "Oh . . . oh, God. I didn't think . . . It's hard to remember that thing's actually dangerous."

In truth, Carter had a point. The transporter was originally invented in the early 22nd century by Doctor Emory Erickson over 150 years ago. Like any technology, especially one as radical as matter/energy conversion, there were problems in the beginning, but for years now, the process had been refined to the point where travel by transporter was taken nearly for granted. As with any process that relied on mechanical assistance, there was always the potential for a mishap, but the quadruple redundant configuration of most transporter systems throughout the quadrant made actual system failure fairly rare. Still, Carter supposed, if you roll the dice a couple of billion times a day, eventually you're bound to roll snake-eyes.

"I've had a thought about filling that vacancy though, and if it works out, we won't have to wait weeks for a new arrival from `Fleet."

Carter crossed his arms over his chest. "Who do you have in mind?" he asked.

Commander Forrest is back on board. Not permanently, yet," Roth paused, considering for a moment what Admiral Kostya's reaction might be to granting her THAT particular favor, "But I think I can cut through the red tape. I know he was on Cestus three with you and the Hazard Team during the last mission. What are your impressions?"

Carter paused, reminding himself to give his Captain a fair and honest answer to her question. "Well, he's calm under pressure, that's for sure, and I assume he's qualified to operate any of the tactical systems."

"But . . . "

John rolled his eyes. "But he's a Black Shirt, Captain." Carter admitted letting his bias against SI show through. He assumed Captain Roth wanted his honest opinion, and Carter was determined to see that she got it. "I just don't like the idea of leaving the Tac position in the hands of a man I don't really trust."

"Would you have trusted Vaax if he'd made it onboard?"

"Sure, but that's different. I'd have had no reason NOT to trust Vaax."

Roth tilted her head. "But you have some reason not to trust Forrest? What did he do?"

"Nothing exactly," Carter admitted. "It's just that . . . "

"Did he or did he not help you and the Hazard Team on Cestus three?"

"He did."

"And did he or did he not comply with all your orders during the mission?"

"He did, Captain."

"Even the ones he might not have agreed with?"

Carter felt the familiar smirk cross his face. "Oh, that's for sure Ma'am."

"And the rest of the Department would follow his lead?"

"They'd better Ma'am," Carter said, letting the slightest edge of pride creep into his voice, "I trained them."

There was a slight glimmer in Roth's eye as she could se she'd made a point with the XO. "Right then," she said, setting her hands on the polished black surface. "I'll put in the request to PERSCOM by the end of the day. And look at it this way, Carter . . . at least now we can keep an eye on him."

Carter chuckled, glad to see that he and his captain were on the same page when it came to Starfleet Intelligence. "Since we're clearing the air here Captain, can you set me straight on some scuttlebutt ?"

Roth nodded. "I'll do what I can XO, but the stuff has a mind of it's own."

"Don't I know it." John said, running his fingers through his hair. "Heard we had some V.I.P.'s on board?"

"That's right. Compliments of Admiral Janeway. Competition for Mister Cole from what I understand."

"Janeway?" Carter said, more than a little confused. "She's here?"

"Not exactly, XO. She's provided your council for the preliminary hearing on the Cestus three Affair. Commanders Tuvok and Paris came onto the station a short time ago. I met with them briefly, and They're meeting with Doctor Cromwell and his father right now." Roth paused and placed a finger along side her jawline. "Or rather, Commander Tuvok is. I have no idea where Commander Paris might be."

Carter nodded as he considered his situation. "Well, I've already had my session with Mister Cole, but I don't think `Check the report' was what he wanted to hear."

Roth quickly held up a hand. "Stop right there Mister Carter," Roth said with all the seriousness Command School had taught her. "The trial's a civilian matter. As your current CO, I can't allow you to discuss the case no matter how trivial the comments might be."

"Civilian?" Carter asked, but his mind was already working the puzzle out for itself. "So that's what Cole meant by all that President's Office business."

"Right," Roth agreed. "Commodore Heizler confirmed the civilian judge's arrival earlier today. The judge has requested that no uniforms or ranks be used during the hearing, since it will be a civilian matter."

"But if Commander Tuvok is my counsel, then isn't that a conflict of interest for the 'actual' civilians Ma'am?"

"Not in this case," Roth said as she shook her head. "It seems that Commander Tuvok also holds a license from the Federation Bar, so he can still represent all of you."

"I see." Carter nodded, than looked back toward the door. "Then if you'll excuse me Captain, I'd better get Mister Burke squared away and see my lawyer."

Roth waved the Martian officer ahead. "On your way Mister Carter. I'd like this mess cleared up as soon as possible." Roth cast a weary eye on the isolinear chip that seemed to lay heavy on her desk. "I need you and the good doctor back where you belong."

"Thank you Ma'am," Carter offered with a slight nod of his head. "I'll do my best not to keep you waiting." With that, he turned quickly and left the Ready Room.

As the hatch hissed shut, Smoke stirred from the slumbering mass he'd been during the officers' conversation and craned his neck to make eye-contact with Kimberly. His nose twitched, and the animal gave out a curious rumbling warble.

"No," the captain answered. "I don't know if they'll come out of it okay or not, but I certainly hope so."

The dark, graceful creature `bleeked' again.

"And no more celery for you either!"

***

Without pause or hesitation, without error or fault, the nimble shuttle craft Delta Flyer moved through space with the grace and agility of an accomplished dancer. The unorthodox design coupled with the accomplished pilot at the ships controls made for a masterful display to any who watched. Skimming less than a meter over the outer shell of Starbase 39-Sierra, it was astonishing enough that the pilot was human. To know that the pilot was also flying blind, unaided by the crafts sophisticated sensors, made it all the more remarkable. To Lieutenant Nathan Hawk, this was as close to serenity and inner peace as he would ever know. The irony that it came on the verge of a trial in which he and his colleagues where accused of charges ranging from attempted murder to treason wasn't lost on him.

"Damn," remarked Lieutenant Commander Tom Paris, "I must be loosing my edge."

Hawk's only reply was the hint of a grin at the corners of his mouth. Tom Paris was, after all, one of the best pilots in the known galaxy. To have him insinuate he considered himself to be out-classed by someone younger, lower ranking, and by all definitions even more or a rogue than himself was a compliment even Hawk had to admit, he was honored to have bestowed on him. After all he didn't exactly have a lot of respect for the majority of Starfleet 'by-the-book' officers. In truth he could count on two hands just how many people he did respect and know personally that wore the uniform.

"M'surprised I ain't lost mine," Hawk finally commented in reply, "been sittin' 'round, twiddlin' ma thumbs so much lately. Not ta mention only flyin' I get ta do 'nymores a big ole bucket Galaxy-class." he added with irritation.

"Could be worse," Paris replied, "you could be grounded all together. Considering why Tuvok and I are here, I'm surprised you're not confined to quarters." he admitted.

"Hrumph," Hawk snorted, "So I take that ta mean ya read up on all this bullshit?" Hawk queried, as he spun the nimble Flyer hard to port and 'dove down' along the station's upper mushroom-like dome, deviating from his perfect circumnavigation.

"Well, there wasn't much else to do on the ride here. Tuvok isn't exactly renowned for his conversational skills, if you know what I mean." Paris responded.

"So ya think m'guilty Tom?" Hawk asked suddenly, without formality. Ninety-nine percent of other superior officers, he knew would object to being called by their first name by a subordinate they had only just met. He could tell from Paris' disposition and reputation he wasn't one of them though.

"Well," Paris replied, stalling a moment, caught off guard by the straight-forward question. "You admitted you did what you're accused of, but I think you where justified. So do a lot of people who know the details. Like Admiral Janeway." he said, his tone sounding as if he was trying to re-assure someone.

"Ya know," he said, as he quickly maneuvered the small craft into a steep turn/dive up along the underside of the starbase, "it ain't m'self I'm worried 'bout n'all this. I've got more ace cards up m'sleeve than a crooked poker player. It's Carter n'the Doc, not ta mention the Doc's ole man." Hawk admitted.

"If I where you, I'd be worried about myself just as much. Besides the charges you're all facing together, you've got the attempted murder and assault and battery charges on you alone. Even if the court finds it justified, you could still be looking at serious time."

Shaking his head, Nat slammed on the control rods, throwing the Flyer hard to port and spinning her around level at the same time, sending her heading out into open space, away from the starbase. While he had dreamed for years of taking this ship out for a spin, he couldn't focus now on his flight as their conversation continued.

"I ain't gotta worry 'bout m'self, Tom," he said, spinning around from the controls to face Paris, who sat only a half-meter away at a secondary seat next to the pilot. "I can't get inta specifics, but, like I said, ace cards n'all. I'll be fine. It's . . . " he said, trailing off.

"Your friends?" Tom offered. Hawk winced, not eager to use the term, but then shook his head deciding it was the only one that really fit. Colleagues was too formal for the moment. "Listen, Tuvok is probably the best lawyer you could have. I mean, hell, he once won a case convincing Captain Janeway that a Q had the right to commit suicide." he said with an exasperated smile. "It's not gonna be easy, but if there's a way, he'll get them - and you - out of this."

"I ain't sure there is a way, though," Nat replied. "I mean, this whole case s'bunch a bull, n'they know it. The blackshirts r'the ones who screwed up royal, not us. They broke the treaty n'then they say the Doc's pop is some sorta terrorist fer defendin' his home. It ain't right, none of it, n'anybody who knows the facts knows that." Hawk insisted.

"Bureaucracy in action, one of the few things I didn't miss in the Delta Quadrant." Paris quipped in response.

"Bureaucracy, ignorance, arrogance, Vulcan logic," Hawk prattled off, "all v'it lumped t'gether times a couple thousand, that's what makes the Federation just s'bad s'the Romulans, Ferengi, Cardies, ya name it."

"It could always be worse, you could be stuck in the Delta Quadrant, seventy-thousand light years from home, under constant attack . . . " Paris said, his tone of voice actually going from re-assuring to nostalgic as he went on.

"Ya miss it?" Hawk asked.

"The Delta Quadrant?" Paris asked back.

"Don't sound half bad from all's been told," Hawk replied, wondering how well he would have adapted to such a scenario. Would he have turned out like Paris? Reformed, responsible, husband and father, pilot turned executive officer? Or would he have gone the road less traveled? Like Seska and Jonas.

"It had it's charms," Paris replied with a quirky smile. "Lets just say it's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't wanna live there. Again." he added. "What about you?" he queried.

"Hmm?" Hawk responded.

"The war, the 85th, flying a fighter. You miss it?" Paris asked.

"Every damn day m'life," Hawk answered honestly. "Only time m'life I actually felt . . . "

" . . . Complete?" Paris offered.

"Yeah," Hawk confirmed. "Somethin' bout being at the controls of a one-man ship, flyin' n'fightin', so much goin' on yer mind can't catch up, actin' on instinct, only care n'the cosmos is winnin' the day . . . "

"What about survival?" Paris questioned.

"Overrated," Hawk replied with a snort, "Ma thought always was, long s'I take some them bastards with me, r'keep other folk from gettin' blown ta hell, it's worth my life."

"That why you made all those Kamikaze runs?" Tom asked.

Looking at Paris, Hawk scrutinized the man for a moment before saying anything, "Y'know, only folk ever ask me 'bout them either impressed folk, curious ta see if it's true, or Counselor's tryin' ta get inside ma head."

"Well I am impressed, sort of. And I'm not a Counselor." he replied. Realizing Hawk was suspicious, he decided to try the direct approach. "Honestly?" Paris offered. "Tuvok can't make heads or tails of you. Your record has more disciplinary marks than anybody else on record, half of it is blacked out by Starfleet Intelligence, and everything about you is contradictory. He thought I might be able to make some sense of it all." Paris admitted.

"Have ya?" Hawk queried.

"I'm not sure myself," Paris replied. "I'm not even sure what Tuvok expects."

"Tom," Hawk began, "Ya tell yer Vulcan buddy, whatever he needs from me ta get Carter n'the Doc and his Pop off, he's got it. Ain't got nothin' ta do with them Kamikaze runs though."

"Alright." Tom replied.

"Republic to Delta Flyer," came a hallow voice from the ships comm-circuits.

"Flyer here, go ahead." replied Paris.

"Sir, Commander Tuvok needs to meet with you as soon as possible." said the voice.

"Acknowledged." Paris replied.

Turning around to face the controls again, Hawk laid in a course back for the Republic. After a few moments of silence, Hawk finally spoke up.

"Tom," he said. "Thanks."

"For what?" Paris asked.

"Being a Pilot." Hawk replied with a shrug, unsure what else to say.

"Any time." Paris replied with a smirk.

Location: Turbolift, USS Republic

Naruko was shocked that her little meeting with the Captain went so smooth after her being in incarcerated at the Starbase, though she told the truth, but on all but one topic. The doors slid open on to deck three where the Mess Hall was just right around the corner.

Location: Officer's mess, deck 3, USS Republic

A group of young crewmen were sitting down at one of the large tables enjoying each others company.

"I hear our new Chief of Operations is still in the brig at the Starbase, because the Klingon government is demanding a trial on Q'onos." said a crewmen

"Are you sure about that?" questioned the second crewmen confused by his buddy's statement. "I thought it was the Naussican government."

"Yea same here." said the others.

"Yea before you know it Starfleet is going to think the Captain is running a pirate ship." commented one of the crewmen.

One of the crewmen stood up in his chair, "Argh mates we're goin off to rape and pillage some Gorn outpost to find that latium for ours booties."

Others just shook their heads in silence, as their shipmate made a fool of himself.

One of the crewmen noticed a young oriental ensign sit down at the table across from them. "Hey who do you think that is?" Pointing out the young oriental ensign.

A few of them took a quick glance, when one of them said, "No way is that the new Chief, she's too puny"

"Yea I have to agree with that."

The joker of the crew got up and walked over to Naruko, saying in his pirate voice "Arr.. Would you like to join me and my shipmates for a few brews missy?"

Naruko couldn't help put chuckle a little giving a nod of approve, "Yea sure" she said thinking it might be a good chance to get to know her shipmates.

Naruko sat down towards the end of the table as the pirate of the group began to introduce everyone.

"Argh, these are my fellow shipmates next to you is Davis, to your right is Tracy, John is across for from ya and I'm Captain Lambert captain of this crew of misfits." He said with zeal of emotion.

"Oh god, you had to say pirate in this conversation and the now the new kid thinks we're a bunch of comedians." said Tracy feeling a bit abashed.

Davis tried to comfort Tracy by patting her on the back. "Come on I'm sure the new gal doesn't think that, look at least she laughs at Lambert's lame jokes."

"Hey! My jokes are not lame." said Lambert in defense.

"So Ensign what's your name?" inquired John

"Naruko" she said

"Cool name, that's Japanese right?" asked Tracy

"Yea" said Naruko nodding her head, 'I hope their not like this on duty' she thought.

"See I knew she can't be the new chief ops, Kuga is a Chinese name . . . I think." stated Davis

"What are they saying about the new chief ops?" questioned Naruko wondering what their saying about her.

"What?! You haven't heard… it's the like the talk of the ship." said Lambert in a state of shock.

"At least he dropped the pirate act." commented Tracy

"Argh! We'll see who the smart ass is when ya walk the plank!" said Lambert sacristy.

Tracy rolled her eyes ready to throw Lambert out the airlock.

"Anyway last thing we heard was that the new chief of ops got thrown in the brig at the Starbase for beating up three Naussicans," said John.

Naruko nearly choked on her tea after hearing the rumor on her.

"Are you ok Naruko?" asked Tracy

"Yea, the computer made the tea a little too hot for me." she stated trying to cover her shock.

As the others went on Naruko couldn't believe the rumors that where popping up over something that was so absurd that happened to her at the Starbase.

A Starfleet security officer approached the table, "Ensign Kuga?"

Naruko knew her undercover was over with, when she looked at the others at the table she wasn't sure who was more shocked her or them. She turned towards the person behind her, responding "Yes?"

"Ensign would be please come with me for questioning." stated the Officer.

Naruko trying to keep from bursting out with laughter replied "Of course." As she get up she looked at the others and whispered "It was five."

As Naruko and the Starbase Security Officer left the Mess Hall, the others sat in silence not sure what to make on what just happened.

About an hour passed as rumors regarding Ensign Kuga circulated around the room, and before too long, Commander Carter strolled through the doors for his meeting with the new chief engineer.

There were lots of things on John Carter's mind at the moment. Classified orders from Starfleet, a hearing to determine his fate and possible freedom, and it had been far too long since he'd spent any time with Shannon Harris. With a soft swish, the doors to the Officer's Mess closed behind him, and Carter was surprised how welcome he found the idle chatter filling the space.

"I'm telling you," said one petty officer in science blue. "Five Klingons, and one was a Da'Har Master!"

"You're cracked!" Scolded the other participant in the conversation. "There aren't even any Klingons on the station, and what the hell would a Da'Har Master be doing here? It wasn't five Klingons, it was three Nausicans and a Ferengi" The correcting crewman sipped a bit of coffee from his mug. "And she laid `em out in 10 seconds flat. The Ferengi didn't even move. She would've killed him if station security hadn't hauled her away."

Carter shook his head as he continued to look over the room. `Some things never change', he thought to himself.

It was Beta shift on Republic, so the Officer's Mess was filled with crew from the first shift enjoying a meal and some down time. While a lot of the crew preferred to take meals on The Hill, the Officer's Mess provided a more simple atmosphere that was less social and more regimented. As John scanned the room, returning a number of nods by lower-ranking crew members, he was surprised to find how much the Mess reminded him of the Academy. There were days at the Academy when John Carter had felt utterly helpless; surrounded by events that were bigger than himself. Here, in this sterile, regimented flashback of an environment, he realized that history was repeating itself.

Carter shook his head to clear that troubling thought away, and moved to a small table near the middle of the room, where Bruce Burke was enjoying a light meal and looking over several PADDs. "I see you're getting right down to work, Lieutenant Commander."

Burke looked up from his splayed document. "I'm reading some tech update manuals to familiarize myself with the Galaxy Class. Teaching at the Academy and actually running one are two different depths."

"Looking for anything in particular?"

"Just familiarization, nothing anyone can help with I think. The ship's huge."

Carter hid a small chuckle, remembering his first time on a Galaxy Class starship. "Fair enough," he said finally. "Lieutenant Pakita was Vic's assistant. She'll keep you from crawling down the wrong tube."

"I've met her in passing. She briefed me on ship's operations. It took her a minute to realize I had clearance."

"She's good. Not really innovative, but she works fast, and she's thorough. Excellent software programmer too."

Burke returned an easy smile. "Well, you're here now Commander, what's the first thing I need to know?"

"First things first," Carter said simply. "We use a standard three-shift schedule. Department heads and Command staff on Alpha, assistants on Beta, and Gamma's got the night shift. We find it works pretty well."

"I'll tell Pakita what I've always said, if you are struggling then your enemies have got ammunition to use against you. Ah, . . . but then again, . . . I don't want to rush in changing things." Burke turned his head slightly, letting his thoughts continue. "I will just stick to my guns, get them to weekly staff meetings, keep them fresh and current."

Across the table, Carter looked on approvingly.

"Sorry, thinking out loud."

"Whatever works for you Mister Burke. It's your department. The Captain wouldn't have approved your transfer if she didn't think you could handle the job."

" I appreciate the confidence Commander, I'd actually like to know more about the rest of the staff. Where are you from commander? At least, where do you call home port?"

"Mars, born and raised," Carter answered. "Family originally come from Earth though. You sound like you're from Australia. Right?"

"Right. Albany, it's the far southern tip of Western Australia. It's a town of about 250,000 and so I'm considered a country boy."

"Shannon . . . that is, Counselor Harris is from Australia too. Have you met her yet?

"No I haven't, actually. What part is she from?"

Carter tilted his head oddly. "You know, come to think of it, I don't really know. That's odd . . . " Carter gave his head a slight shake. "She's actually the ships pediatrician. Our last counselor was a little . . . high-strung. She's been filling in for a bit, but there's a new one on the way. At least, that's what the Captain says."

John leaned back slightly in his chair. "How do you feel about poker, Mister Burke?"

"I, uh, I really wouldn't be interested. Actually I'm more into physical forms of recreation."

"No problem. All department heads have a standing invitation. Fridays, 1900, my quarters. Just an excuse to get together. Tell me then, what exactly do you do for fun?"

"Swimming, running, rugby."

"Rugby's a rough game. Fun though."

"I played Aussie rules football most of my life. But out in the world I find it easier to get mates together to play rugby."

"You've got a point there. I think the holodeck has some re-creations on file. A few of the Tactical folks might take you up on a game."

"Are you into any sports, Commander?"

"Just Lacrosse. Played it growing up, but, I'll try anything once."

"That's a wicked game."

John smiled, happy to have at least a small connection to the new addition to the crew. "It had it's moments. Nice and fast though. Like flying."

"You're a pilot? That explains a few things."

Carter cast a weary eye on Republic's Chief Engineer. "Good things I hope?"

"Mostly," Burke said with a bit of a smile.

"So . . . what was your specialty, Burke? Warp field harmonics? Inter-mix ratios?"

Burke laughed out loud. " That's a joke right? There is only one intermix ratio. One to one."

John smiled back. "See, that's why I'm not an engineer."

"But, anyways, I actually specialize in chemistry, . . . .a materials specialist. That extends into subspace fields, particle theory. In fact, I got 2/3s the way thru medical school before I switched over to engineering."

"Sounds like you've had a full plate. Speaking of materials, we got a good look at something the Gorns make their ships out of. Some sort of metal, crystalline composite. Defracts phaser energy like nothing I've ever seen."

"Interesting. Have samples? Data? I'd like to see it."

"The data's still in the computers. You're welcome to study them all you like."

"Thanks Commander. Tell me, are you married?"

"Me? God no!" Carter said, a little too fast. "I mean, not that I wouldn't . . . but I really don't think 'Fleet's the place for families. Still baffles me why we bring dependants onboard."

Burke shrugged. "Beats the hell out of coming home to a pet dog."

"Well, you're right there," John offered with a grin. "How long were you at the Academy? As an instructor I mean?"

"Three years."

"Hmm." Carter said thoughtfully. "I did a stint there as a Tactical advisor. Really enjoyed it actually."

"Yes, the middle coast is a beautiful place."

"Captain Voss was my department chair, and it was his behest that I return to the field. I'll give you forewarning that there'll probably be our share of cadets headed our way. I hope we can gear up to give them a fair go?"

"Don't see why not." John answered. This ship's got something to prove . . . at least to the rest of 'Fleet."

Intrigued, Burke pressed ahead. " Tell me about her, her history."

Carter chuckled a bit. "Well, Republic does have a reputation for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The saucer was originally the USS Saratoga. Found adrift during the Cardassian Wars. It took five years of work, but she was totally re-fit and re- christened about a year ago. Since that time, we've gone through our fair share of scrapes, and a stardrive section. Our first captain was killed a few weeks ago on one of Cestus three's moons, but I really can't say much more than that."

"They've built two stardrive sections?" Burke put a hand on his chin in a thoughtful gesture. "That's interesting. I thought the theoretical operating procedure in case of a stardrive section being lost in battle was to adapt the saucer for use with the nebula class, like they did with the Porvenir in 2376?"

"Well . . . we've had some . . . unusual attention from Command. Admiral Vladimir Kostya was sort of Captain Marshall's mentor." Carter felt his expression sour as he spoke the Admiral's name. "Anyway, we lost the first to an alien take-over during first contact with a race of shape-shifters called the Kreltans. Their ships were massive . . . I mean really powerful. We jettisoned the saucer and went back to face them near a planet called Styx. Barely made it out of there alive."

"Hmm," Burke offered thoughtfully. "Is this a matter of record?"

"You might have to do some digging, but yes, the whole thing's more or less wrapped up."

"I'll have to look into it." Burke stacked the PADDs in front of him to order the table a bit better. "Speaking of interesting things, Commander, did I hear something about the Command staff facing a court martial?"

Carter shook his head. "No, it's a hearing, and it's not the whole command staff. It's just me, Hawk, Forrest, and some civilians from Cestus three."

John gave his new chief engineer an appraising glance, but before he could answer, his combadge chirped.

Commander Tuvok to Commander Carter."

"Hang on a sec." John said, holding up a hand. He looked up a bit to address the chirp. "Carter, go."

"It is necessary that I meet with you before the hearing tomorrow, Commander. Please report to conference room two."

Carter winced as he felt a sudden surge of impending drama and maneuvering that we wasn't at all looking forward to. "On my way, Commander. Give me five mics."

"Take as many . . . mics . . . as you wish, Commander Carter."

John looked back at Bruce, noticing a bit of concern in the engineer's face. "Nothing to worry about Burke, just a walk in the park." Carter pushed back from the table and headed for the door. He paused and looked back over his shoulder. "Take good care of my ship, Mister Burke. You've got some big shoes to fill." With that, Carter stepped out of the mess.

"I'll do my best, Commander. Good luck."

Location: Private quarters aboard the Transport Ship Omniretant

Reittan was drowning in a sea of thought, "The USS Republic." The assignment rolled over and over in his mind. Excitement, wonder, and a little fear were caught up in a whirlpool of emotion. To try to break the tide of thought he began to look around the transport. He left his quarters and started down the brightly lit corridor for the mess hall.

Upon arrival he ordered a strawberry daiquiri, his human grandmother's favorite drink and one he had placed among his favorites. The usual din of an intricate weave of thoughts, feelings, and sounds surrounded him in the hall. He worked his way towards a table closest to the window where he could be close to the stars. Sitting down, he felt some unusually strong emotions from the table next to him. He looked up to see a male humanoid look at him then quickly glance down at the floor. The feeling of distain towards Vulcans emanated suddenly from the man. The thought was brief. It had entered the man's mind then it quickly changed, turning towards his female companion.

Reittan wondered on the scene. It had happened before, many times. Individuals would see his ears and assume he was Vulcan. After getting to know him, they were shocked at the "Vulcan's" openness and friendliness. Lieutenant Commander Tolkath admitted that his appearance gave him an edge with those who didn't know him. After all, who would suspect an empathic Vulcan? It was almost an oxymoron. He continued to muse at those who mistook his genetic makeup. It was always interesting to note an individual's reaction when they found out that he was empathic and telepathic.

Tolkath's thoughts were drawn back to the neighboring couple. Quickly, in order not to intrude on their communications, he looked back into the deep immensity of space and focused on it. It would be just a short time before they reached Star Base Sierra where the Republic was docked.

Suddenly, the emotions of the next table grabbed Reittan's focus again. The female humanoid's emotions seemed normal enough for the setting, longing, loyal, slightly aroused, but the male was hiding something. He's married, and she's not his wife. The thought of deception caused Reittan's skin to crawl. He returned to his frothy refreshment, and back to minding his own business; loosing himself to the stars and his drink.

Upon arrival at the star base, Lieutenant Commander Tolkath quickly gathered his things and left the Omniretant. He walked briskly through the corridors towards his new assignment. As he was walking, he happened to glance out the window and saw the Republic. A sense of excitement entered his being.

"I'd better report to the Captain at once," Reittan thought to himself. As he walked through the halls, different thoughts emanated from those passing by.

"Three Naussican, two Ferengi, and a Klingon were killed," and many other similar thoughts filled the minds of those he passed; though the number and carnage differed. Upon reaching the Republic, Reittan asked a passing ensign the whereabouts of Captain Roth. He wanted to meet the Captain as soon as possible so he could get started and go back over the personnel logs to familiarize himself with the crew. As he headed down the brightly lit corridor towards the captain's ready room, he sensed tension among the crew members.

"Already?" he thought to himself. "I guess I had better get briefed on the situation from the Captain."

Upon reaching the turbo lift, Tolkath waited patiently until the familiar hiss of the doors opening announced its arrival. "Man, this is a big ship," Tolkath thought in wonderment. "I had forgotten how big a galaxy class is." When the turbo lift reached its destination, Lieutenant Commander Tolkath stepped out and made his way to the captain's ready room.

***

Kimberly Roth looked grimly at the angular features of the Admiral on the other end of the subspace channel. "Yes sir, of course I appreciate the importance of the system, but until I get there I won't . . . "

"May I share something with you Captain Roth?" Vladimir Kostya asked on the other end of the link.

"Of course, Admiral."

"I have the utmost respect for your open-mindedness Captain." Kostya intoned softly. "In fact, it's one of the marks of a superior officer. But I do hope that you won't let your . . . enthusiasm blind you to certain realities."

Roth felt her eyebrow raise a habit she picked up from her brief association with a young Vulcan doctor on leave from the farthest reaches of the Federation. "I'm afraid that I don't quite take your meaning sir."

"Meaning, Captain Roth, that almost anything can happen to a ship exploring the farthest reaches of space. A captain should always be careful what course of action she chooses. That's all."

The menace in Kostya's voice was clear, even if his words weren't. "I'll share your . . . concern with the crew sir."

Kostya's demeanor was almost oily as a grin slid across his face. "A fine idea, Kimberly." He added with a leer. "Contact me when you've gotten the terra-formers back on schedule. Kostya out."

As the subspace channel went dead, Roth finally let herself shiver. As if on cue, Smoke moved silently across the room and slid under Roth's desk, finally taking a spot on the desktop near the subspace viewer. Looking up, Smoke cocked his head and give Roth a curious grumble.

"I know, I know, but that's the price of admission."

Smoke returned an expression that was close to a sarcastic smirk, then the creature's head snapped to the door chime.

Roth straightened her posture. "Come", she offered.

The door slid open and a tall, dark haired Lieutenant Commander with unmistakably pointed ears stepped into the room. He nodded slightly to the captain.

"Ah, you must me Counselor Tolkath." Roth stood up and shifted her weight as Smoke padded lightly up her arm and perched himself on the captain's shoulder. "Welcome aboard Republic Mister Tolkath. What can I do for you?"

"Nothing in particular Captain; just reporting that I am aboard before I go to my quarters and make them some resemblance of home." He flashed his famous smile again. He never was quite sure whether or not his was a famous smile, or whether or not it was the singularity of the scene of a smiling Vulcan look-alike.

Reittan could sense the mutual bond between the Captain and the creature on her shoulder. Unlike many of his Betazoid counterparts, small animals and the complexity of their emotions fascinated Reittan.

"Sounds like a good idea," the captain replied. "This ship is on a light duty schedule while we're in port. The skeleton crew is manning critical stations on four-hour shifts, and they pretty much have the rest of the time to themselves. However, this will change within the next few days as we prepare for our departure. Mission orders will be posted soon, so I suggest you track down your section heads and introduce yourself after you settle in."

"Very well, ma'am," the counselor nodded.

"Also, I don't know what type of ships you're used to serving aboard, but here on the Republic, the ship's counselor fulfills a very important role. Not only will you and your people provide diplomatic, linguistic, and psychological services, but you'll also work with the crewmaster; our liaison to the ship's civilian family members, as well as the ship's chaplain, archaeological officers, and anthropological teams."

"Sounds like a good workload, and I love a good challenge."

"Good. According to the ships logs, the Republic has been without a qualified counselor for months, and we've had to temporarily assign our ship's pediatrician into the job. I've informed her that she's going back to her regular job, and considering the stress of filling a position not associated with the medical department, I'm sure the doctor is happy about it."

Reittan nodded in agreement. After all, some would rather face a room full of Klingons than dare step foot in a room with a single counselor, the ravenous wolves they are.

The pause in the conversation caused the Captain to inquire, "Is there anything else I can assist you with, Counselor?"

"No thank you Captain, I look forward to serving with you aboard the Republic. I think I will retire to my quarters and begin to unpack. I can sense this is going to be quite the adventure."

***

Location: Deck 3, USS Republic

Naruko Kuga walked along Republic's oddly still corridors with a tall security officer at her side. To be fair, she was getting used to that, but that didn't mean she had to like it. A glance up at the crewman's collar told Kuga that her escort was a lower ranking officer. The single chevron on the man's collar pin marked him as a Petty Officer Third Class.

As the pair rounded another corner, the enlisted man ushered Kuga into a turbolift car. Once inside the car , Kuga turned a weary eye back to her companion. "Just where are you taking me, Petty Officer?"

"Questioning Ma'am, just like I said."

"Right." Kuga folded her arms across her chest and waited for the car to stop. After a few short minutes, the car came to a rest, and the officer led Kuga out again. The pair kept walking until Kuga's companion stopped in front of the large doors leading to Republic's gym. "Inside please ma'am." the Petty Officer said respectfully.

Reluctantly, Kuga stepped inside.

The scene in the gym was startling to say the least. A mix of non-commissioned officers and enlisted men from all of Republic's departments were crowded around an athletic mat. The mat itself was thin and square, and Kuga recognized the familiar set up for competition fighting.

In the centre of the mat, a short man with a dusty grey crew cut and a build resembling a fireplug stood, wearing a Starfleet Marine Corps tee-shirt and loose fitting sweat pants. His hands were covered with blue practice pads. The short man turned to face Kuga as she approached.

"Evenin' Ma'am," he said with practiced crispness. "Name's Brad Rainier, but most everyone calls me `Chief'."

"Chief of what?" Kuga asked as she stepped closer to the mat.

Rainier smiled, which made the age lines in his face more pronounced. "Chief of the Boat actually," he answered, "and I'd like to ask you a few questions." There was a sharp `thwack' as Rainier clapped his padded hands together, welcoming Kuga into the ring.

“I’m sorry Chief, but I don’t fight.” said Naruko

“And Klingons?” inquired Rainier

Naruko smirked, “Never happened chief.”

“I’ll believe that after our questioning” said Rainier as he clapped his gloves again. “Ready?”

Naruko and sighed with hopelessness as she shook her head.

“I take that as a yes” as Rainier took a swing towards Naruko’s face.

Naruko acting out of training and instinct dodge Rainier’s assault with a repeated right and left punches. “Sir, I don’t see the point of this line of questioning.”

Rainier aimed his next punch for Naruko’s gut, until he found his arm being blocked and his opponent’s foot an inch from his face.

Naruko let go of Rainier’s arm as she hopped a few steps to regain her balance. “Are we done Chief?”

Rainier took a deep breath and began his assault again.

As Rainier swung with his left arm, Naruko bent forward and with a gentle swing of her arm hitting the side of Rainier’s rib cage.

“Please tell me you’re not afraid to hurt an old man,” said Rainier as he took a few steps back.

Naruko stepped off the mat and took a bow, “Sorry Chief, but I think this investigation is over with,” she said.

Brad Rainier bent at the waist inhaling deeply to get his wind back after his quick exchange with Kuga. He looked up with an almost playful gleam in his eye. "I know all I need to Ma'am." the elder Chief said respectfully. He straightened and removed the blue practice guards from his hands. "Next time you get any grief from a civie, or anyone else for that matter . . . " Rainer looked briefly at the assembled company of commissioned and non-commissioned officers, "you just let me know. We've got you're back Ma'am. Just in case."

Rainer snapped to attention. "Attention on Deck! Rainier looked as if he were made out of stone, until he brought his right hand up, giving Kuga an antiquated salute which hadn't been used by Earth crews for over 200 years.

Naruko was surprised to see the rest of the assembled crew follow suit.

"Um . . . Dismissed." Kuga said simply, then she turned to exit the gym.

As Kuga exited, Rainier brought his salute down and stood at ease, then paced around the gym mat. "Alright you yahoos!" he chastised, more for effect than any actual emotion, "You heard the lady, clear out! You must have something useful to do."

Most of the assembled crew began to mill about in small clusters, when a young, dark-skinned crewman in command colors stepped up to look at the chief. "Excuse me Chief?" she asked as Rainier turned to look her over, "but, what was all that about?"

Brad looked the young crewman over. "By God", he whispered, "you people get younger every year." He turned his head toward the door and addressed the crewman. "That, crewman . . . what's your name?"

"Yeates sir."

"That, crewman Yeats," Rainier continued, now sounding rather like a grandfather to the young woman, "was a lesson in trust. We're going to have to trust the officers, and they're going to have to trust us, or people will die. I needed to know if Kuga could control her temper. She can. The Ensign needed to know that we'd back her play, and the decisions of the other officers as well. Now she knows she's got allies in her corner."

"Yes, Chief, But why the . . . "

Brad Rainier smiled. "'Cause scuttlebutt works both ways, Yeats. She might not tell anyone what happened here today, but sooner or later, word will get around. When it does, the rest of the officers and crew will know that WE know we're all in this together. Got it?"

Yeats shook her head. "Not really no. I mean, she's an Ensign. Technically, we'd have to follow her orders, right?"

"Absolutely," Brad agreed, "but once we learn to trust each other around here, you'll do it because you WANT to. Not because you have to. There's a big difference."

Brad looked on, searching Yeats' face for recognition. "Here endeth the lesson."

Location: Corridor, USS Republic

So far, her first day at her new assignment hadn't gotten any better. Then again, it also hadn't really gotten worse either, and a lack of bad was a good thing, wasn't it? Letting a sigh escape, she turned as the turbolift doors opened -- and walked right into a blond Lieutenant in command red, who was exiting the lift.

"Woah!" Hawk blurted, as the slim young woman bumped into him. As she stumbled from the surprise, he grabbed her upper arms to steady her. "Easy there, darlin'." he said. "Gotta watch where ya goin' er one a'these days you'll do that n'find no lift on the other side a them doors."

"Thank you…" said Naruko, still a bit startled. "I’m terribly sorry sir, I’ll be more careful next time."

"S'alright, not like I ain't used ta bumpin' bodies with pretty young things like yaself." he replied with a devil-may-care grin appearing on his face.

"If you don’t mind…" noticing the rank on his collar, "…lieutenant, I am not some pretty little thing placed on this ship for your amusement." stated Naruko, her blood now boiling.

"Feisty, ain't ya? I like that. Sometimes, anywho." he said.

"Feisty…?" As she was about to break a few bones of the officer in front of her, she realized it would be more trouble for just a few sexual comments. "…I think its better that I just leave… I have some things to do at ops."

"Well hold up a moment, this ain't no way fer console buddies ta start off." he said, blocking her path.

"Console buddies?" Naruko asked.

"Yeah, ya jus said yer Ops, right? Well, I'm Helm. So we'll be seein' a lot of each other." he told her.

"For your sake, sir, I hope not." Naruko said as she tried to walk pass him.

"Come on now, lemme least buy ya a drink, er maybe . . . hell, well, if I knew what time it was I'd suggest a certain meal but, ain't really been livin' by a clock past few weeks." he said.

"I’m sorry, but I think I’ll have to pass… I’m really not looking for a date." she said.

"Me neither, honest, I swear," he said, raising his right hand for dramatic effect. Seeing she wasn't buying it, he decided to try something different; honesty. "C'mon now, lets start over. I know I can come on a bit strong, dun mean nothin' by it. Just ma auto-pilot, I guess. Lemme buy ya a drink 'er somethin' - totally plutonic an official-like. Promise." he said.

“Alright, but I’m holding you to the plutonic agreement.” she stated

"That's tha spirit," Hawk replied. "So, ya new 'round here, I gather?" he queried, as they headed down the corridor toward the crew lounge.

“Yes, I just got on board after being held at the Starbase.” she said

"Hold up," he said, stopping for a moment, "yer sayin' yer the new Ops Chief? Tha one dun beat the frinx outta half-dozen Klingons over 'board the station?"

“Yea, but it’s not what you think.” Naruko said hoping to get this event behind her.

"Heh," Hawk snorted as they moved on, "Shoulda known. Never trust the rumor mill. Least not with details." he said.

“They hear my last name and think I’m some sort of kung fu master.” she commented

"So where ya from?" he asked as they entered the lounge, and he lead the way up to the bar.

“Earth… Japan to be more exact, you?” she said

"Me? South Carolina, Charleston. Originally, anywho. Ma folks . . . traveled." he said, struggling for a second with the words. "So uh, whadya think a the Republic so far?" he asked, changing the topic.

“Big ship, almost too big for my taste really.” she said

"Too bulky, ya ask me. I prefer most everythin' lean. Starships, steaks, women . . . " Nat agreed.

"What'll it be?" asked a Bolian from behind the bar.

"Whiskey, neat." Hawk ordered.

“Hot Tea, please.” Naruko ordered

"Can't hold ya liquor?" he asked.

“I choose not to drink around strange men.” she said

"Heh, I once drank a case a romulan ale on abet. Nasty stuff, ya ask me. Damn near blacked out fer a week. Started drinkin' near Betazed, woke up at the Wolf 359 memorial outpost six days later." he said with a laugh.

“That’s why I don’t drink liquor," she said with a smirk, "so how long have you been in Starfleet?” asked Naruko.

"Class of '73," Hawk replied, knocking back his drink in one movement and ordering another. "I graduated just as shit was hittin' the fan with tha D'minion. Me and ma squad - tha 85th, the flyin' aces - saw some tha first action, escortin' Maquis refugees outta the DMZ b'fore any formal declaration r'anythin'." Hawk said.

“Wow, so I take it you saw a lot of action during the war?” she inquired as she took a sip of her tea.

"Heh, ya name a battle, I was there. Most a the time, we was with the 7th Fleet. Even at Tyra," he said, his tone turning morbid at mention of the infamous battle where the 7th fleet had lost 98 out of 112 starships. Again he downed his drink in one swoop, ordering a third as quickly as the glass hit the bar.

“I’m sorry, must have been hard for you seeing so much death," she said. Pausing for a moment, she went on. "So what did you do after the war?” asked Naruko

"Naw, I left 'bout three 'er four years back. Me n'Starfleet thought it best ta part company after tha war. Only came back cause of . . . uh . . . uhm," he trailed off, never having had to explain - or at least make up an explanation - as to why he had come back before. "All the . . . wonderful . . . opportunities . . . " he finally managed. "How 'bout you? Why'd ya join up?"

“The adventure…” she said knowing that was lie “…being a computer assistant for my mom didn’t sound too pleasant.”

"Heh," Hawk laughed, "Yeah, can't say that sounds ta be much fun. She musta been happy though, right? With you joinin' Starfleet n'all?"

“No, my mom wasn’t too happy when she saw me packing my bags…” she said as she took a sip of tea remembering the fight she had with her mom. “…I guess she didn’t want to lose me like she lost dad.”

"Lost as in he left, er as in he left the buildin'?" Hawk asked.

“No, his ship went missing during the war.“ she said trying to hold back the tears.

"Yeah," Hawk said, not good with these types of situations, "that's rough."

“So why did you come back to Starfleet.” she asked trying to change the subject.

Despite the fact the question put him in a position where he could only lie, he was relieved to be off the topic of dead parents, not just for the fact he wasn't much good with dealing with other peoples baggage, but because of his own.

"Oh, well . . . just . . . couldn't pass up an offer I got." Hawk replied, managing not really to lie other than by omission. "So ya don't drink, ya don't hang 'round strange men," he said with a grin, "What do ya do fer fun?" he asked.

“Ever go to the movies?” she asked

"What-ies?" he asked, a befuddled look on his face.

“I love all the old motion pictures from the mid twentieth century, a lot of them have silly plots, but give a good perspective of what life was like back then.” she said

"Sorta like a holonovel, only ya ain't do nothin' but watch," Hawk said, remembering, "yeah, I think I saw one back at the Academy 'er somethin'." he said.

“How about you… “ giving a smirk “…When you don’t drink and fly on autopilot?” she asked

On instinct, a devil-may-care flirtatious grin slipped over Nat's face, but he quickly deactivated his autopilot, "Well ta be honest, usually flyin' on autopilot gets me ta the real fun," he said with a laugh, "but otherwise, lately, I've been fixin' up an old Peregrine-Class fighter. Prototype, actually. Beat ta hell, but, she'll be space worthy again. Eventually." he said.

“Sounds like fun, do you know what time it is?” she asked

“Oh 'bout 16:00 'er so, why, got a date?" he asked.

“No…” she said shaking her head “… I just wanted to get to the bridge and get started on my duties.”

"Ah, well, s'pose I'll see ya up there, someday soon. Ain't gonna be on duty fer a while longer. Sorta under investigation fer assault, attempted murder, conspiracy, the like." he said honestly.

“Assault… attempted murder?!” she said sounding surprise.

"It's a long story. Ain't just me in the fryin' pan either, Cyclops - that's C'mander Carter - the Doc, his Pop and some others. It'll work out though, always does." he said assuredly.

“I see, well I better be off now, thank you for the drink sir.” she said as she got up from the bar.

"Anytime, m'lady, anytime." he said with a wink as she departed.

***

The turbolift hum as it passed decks at the speed of over 1,000 kmh, Naruko stood in silence as she waited for the doors to open to her destination.

The turbolift began to slow down until it came to a halt, as the doors slid open a wave of an offal stench filled the air. She peered into the corridor of dimming lights and the red alert flashing down the corridor. She took a step off the turbolift, as she turned around to glace back inside… the lift had disappeared.

She began to walk slowly down the corridor the sounds of bulkheads collapsing and the horrible smell of death on the ship was beginning to take its toll as she neared a console. Starting to feel sick to her stomach from the stench, she also began to feel cold chills run up her spine as she tried to get information on where she was from the computer.

The screen quickly flashed to black as she entered her access codes, the sound of metal tearing echoed throughout the ship, as she turned back to the screen ‘Death’ appeared in front of her. She slowly walked backwards away from the console as the hairs on her skin rose in fear… suddenly she stopped as her heart began to race feeling the cold hand of someone touching her shoulder. Out of instinct she jumped around to face who was behind her.

The body of a young petty officer swung back and forth in front of the door way as his decompressed body hanged by a small piece of flesh from the ceiling. Is eyes had frozen blood or tears of red as if he saw death himself.

Her thought of the petty officer was replaced by sound of a little girl giggling as it echoed through the corridor, Naruko turned her head to see where the sound was coming from… A little girl standing at the intersection ahead in a white dress holding a teddy bear, unafraid of the death around her.

Naruko began to approach the little girl, but the girl quickly ran off down the corridor towards the darkness. Naruko began to run trying to catch up to the girl, only to find when she turned the corner to see a forcefield blocking the vacuum of space.

A weak almost near death voice echoed in the opposite direction from where the girl came from saying over and over again “Naruko… Naruko…”

Naruko instantly recognized the voice as she called out “Daddy!” With zeal she made her way down the corridor following the voice as it got louder and louder. She came to a halt as she recognized the cabin of her father’s on the Roosevelt. She looked in horror as she saw her father was being consumed by a Borg like machine.

“Help me Naruko… Help me” he said in pain.

Naruko took a step forward, but only to be thrown to the ground by a forcefield, as she came back to her senses from the quick jolt of electricity… the room now filled with the giggles of the little girl. She watched as the girl walked towards the door way, puzzled as how she got there after her disappearing act on the other side of the corridor.

The little girl gave Naruko an odd expression as if she was curious to see Naruko, or that she knew her “Don’t be scared… father is ok.” said the girl as she gave a smile trying to comfort Naruko.

Naruko began to look around her, as the sound of metal tearing began to echo through the walls of the ship . . . getting louder, and louder. As she turned her head towards her father again, she watched in terror as the hull of the ship broke apart.

“Daddy!” she cried out as she jumped up in her bed.

Nestled safely within the blanket of space proclaimed the property of the Romulan Star Empire, a lonely private yacht - adrift upon cursory inspection - resonated with the exotic harmony and melody of Terran music. Within the confines of this darkened and unremarkable vessel lurked three equally darkened and unremarkable humanoids - at least, once more, upon cursory inspection. As with many things throughout the galaxy, though, little truth can be drawn from such simplistic and vague examinations of only the surface details. By peering deeper than the surface, though, one can discover more than the most obvious. As is such with this particular situation.

The first individual of the trio is a bald, lumbering, heavy-set male seated opposite a narrow viewscreen, watching the images upon it, his mouth receiving the only form of exercise he has likely seen in far too many years. Though it would be easy to conclude he is content and perhaps even enjoying himself from the surface, only by delving into his relatively simplistic psyche can one understand that this is not contentment, but in fact, coping for him. A way for his considerably more evolved subconscious to protect it's lesser counterpoint from the gravity of their collective situation. A defense mechanism for an individual whose primary duty is defense of another.

The second individual is perhaps as much the opposite from the first as is possible. Laying upon a lavishly plush bed, engulfed by curtains and tapestries, her rapt attention is focused upon herself, or more precisely, the reflection of herself in the mirror grasped in her right hand. Tending to her full head of flowing red-brown hair, admiring her agile, graceful, and properly trim physique, her only distractions are her own selfish preoccupations of vanity. Though in fairness, she does give fleeting moments of consideration to the third individual's well-being; if only by way of how a change in such would effect her.

The third individual is considerably unlike the other two. Though he shares some basic traits - vanity, selfishness, preoccupation - he is neither equally alike nor opposite either of his companions. He is also by far more difficult to define. Though of proper mass and proportion, he is not overtly attractive either. Though preoccupied with selfish distractions, his are not as mundane as the others, but far grander in scope and scale. Though prone to agility and grace, his is with words and tone rather than physical bearing. His vice is his own mind rather than an external portion of himself.

None of these facets of individual personalities, faults, or vices are what makes this triad more than what they appear to be. None of these details, these descriptions, these definitions of the inner workings of this threesome, of whom they are beyond the surface, make them any more or less than a million others throughout the cosmos. What does make this trinity more than unremarkable, more than ordinary, more than the sum of their parts, is, ironically enough, three-fold . . .

The first of which is their species, which is rather uncommon outside of certain circles and certainly this deep into the firm grasp of the Romulan's - Orion.

The second of which is their affiliations to a specific organization of less-than-reputable status in the highly moral and respectable levels of existence - the Syndicate of the same name as their race.

Finally, the third of which is their identities, or to be more specific the identity of one of them, the third individual - Keevan Faro, perhaps the most notorious individual of the upper rung of the previously mentioned organization. At least, since his indictment six months prior at the hands of both the United Federation of Planets, and the local authorities of New Sydney.

This revelation also answers your next question, which is, why oh why is someone with no doubt a significant amount of power and influence, less the scrupulous as it may be, sitting adrift and virtually alone in a private yacht in the cold dark depths of the outer fringe of the Romulan Star Empire? If however, you're more like the first individual - you remember, the overweight and undereducated one? - I'll spell it out for you. Our dear Mister Faro, influential as he may be, is amongst the ranks of the galaxies most wanted. By which of course I mean that he is a fugitive from the properly adorned keepers of peace and justice.

In truth, he had never before given much consideration to said properly adorned keepers of peace and justice. In the past, whenever someone with so much as a passing affiliation with such authorities came within a parsec of himself, he simply 'dealt' with them in the manner organized crime syndicates have been 'dealing' with such people for thousands of years across thousands of worlds. It was such lack of consideration, he realized now, such arrogance about what he once considered trivial matters, that had finally been his own downfall . . .

"At least, for the time being," he mused to himself through gritted teeth, in a barely audible whisper - especially considering the music that bellowed throughout - as he looked out upon the glittering starscape.

"Did you say something, my love?" asked the second individual - Seya, Faro's long-time mistress and companion - as she lay upside down on the satin sheets covering the palatial bed. Faro, for his part, had to stifle his simmering temper at the sound of her voice upon his ears. While he did care for Seya, at times like these when his mind was focused on more important matters, he wanted little else than to extricate himself from her. 'Or perhaps her from an airlock . . . ' he thought to himself, an indulgent smile forming on his lips at the sinister thought.

"No, my dear, nothing," he finally replied to her in his normal cool tone of voice, turning towards her as the indulgent smile became one of reassurance and care - forced as it may be at the moment. Kneeling on the floor next to her inverted form on the bed, he caressed her cheek with his hand, as she closed her eyes and snuggled herself in closer to his warm touch. Planting a kiss upon her lips, he drew back slowly and looked upon her voluptuous form and gave thought to making love to her. The sudden snort of laughter from across the room quickly spoiled the mood and reminded Faro of the interminable presence of Zerik, his bumbling bodyguard and lackey.

"Zerik," he said, rising to his feet, his hand still held against Seya's face by herself, "go to the bridge, would you, and run a diagnostic on the sensors and the engines?" he prompted, wanting to be rid of him for some time.

"Awrm," came his mumbled response, his mouth packed with a variety of foods, "I wid wat wheriler," he added, which Keevan was quickly able to translate after years of practice to meaning 'I did that earlier'.

"Yeees," Keevan said knowingly, "but I'd like you to do it again. Better safe than sorry." he said with a cautionary wave of his index finger.

"Yeah, but," Zerik replied as he swallowed, "this is funny." he added with another burst of laughter as he continued to stare at the viewscreen.

"So watch it from the bridge!" Seya shouted, as she began to unclasp her barely-there vest-like blouse, knowing full well what Keevan had in mind.

"Aww, but I can't!" Zerik protested, "it's a live transmission!" he announced, instantly regretting the statement.

"What?!" shouted Faro, his previously simmering temper raging to a full boil.

"You bumbling fool! Are you insane as well as stupid!?" blasted Seya, rolling off the bed, unconcerned by her unfastened clothing and the fact it showed even more of her than just the flimsy garment itself.

"It's just a news broadcast!" came Zerik's defensive reply, as Faro marched toward him, raising his arm, his fist clenched, intending to strike his dimwitted employee. Thankfully for him, that last desperate statement saved him from Faro's fury - at least for the moment. News broadcasts where always live and sent out broad-spectrum, and as such where nearly impossible to track to specific recipients.

"It's still live, you moron!" shouted Seya, smacking Zerik over the head with a data padd, not feeling as kind as Faro.

"Oww! Boss! Make her stop! Ouch! Seya!" protested Zerik, who ineptly defended himself despite his capability to deftly do so. Stupid as he may appear, he knew enough to not fight back against his superior's mistress.

Faro, for his part, had turned his attention away from his oafish assistant and towards the viewscreen, as a rather repulsive Tellarite gave commentary to a video clip that consumed most of the screen. Inserted over the video, which showed a group of Terrans entering some sort of court, was a headline that read: "Federation Officers Answer Charges in Civilian Court" and below that, in smaller text: "Five Starfleet Officers and One Citizen of Cestus three attend a civilian hearing to determine if formal charges will be brought against them. Charges range from Treason & Attempted Murder to Conspiracy and Dereliction of Duty."

"Oww!" shouted Zerik, drawing Faro's attention away from the screen for a second.

"Seya," Keevan said simply, as he watched the slow motion play-back on screen. Though compliant in ceasing her assault, Seya did whack Zerik once more before tossing the data padd back on the table. Faro couldn't help but smile at the knowledge that not even the self-proclaimed morally superior Federation could escape such embarrassing situations. "How poetic," he observed.

" . . . One question that remains unanswered is the identity of one of those being charged," said the voice of the Tellarite reporter, as the screen was consumed by the video feed, which was obviously recorded play-back considering it had since begun again. "While we get a glimpse of him here," commented the reporter, slowing the play-back in speed, "His name has been censored from all press copies of the indictments, and Starfleet itself refuses to offer any identity for the apparent Lieutenant."

For a few moments, Keevan Faro felt more rage and hate, more contempt and volatile anger, than he had ever before felt in his ninety-four years. Even word of his indictment by the Federation and New Sydney authorities, which came with word that he had been betrayed by one of his own employees had not resulted in such emotions. Fondling the hilt of a dagger he wore around his waist, he gripped it firmly and withdrew it from it's sheath, a scream escaping from his lungs as he did so, drawing the attention of Zerik and Seya. For an instant, both thought the dagger was meant for each of them for some unknown, insignificant reason, until Faro plunged it forcefully into the viewscreen in a spray of sparks.

"Keevan?" Seya asked hesitantly after a few moments, as Faro stood with his back to herself and Zerik, never having seen him so enraged in all there years together.

Faro for his part did not reply to Seya's questioning tone, but instead began to do something considerably unexpected - laugh. Hysterically, he began to laugh, as he leaned against the shattered viewscreen for support.

"Keevan!?" Seya again asked, her tone more forceful and perhaps a bit more fearful as well.

Once more Faro said nothing, instead, he simply stepped to the side of the viewscreen and turned to face his companions. Blood seeped from a number of small cuts on the hand that had held the dagger, but he didn't seem to notice. As Seya drew her attention from him to the viewscreen, she finally realized why with a gasp that was soon followed by a scornful glare.

"That's Hawthorne!" shouted Zerik in dumbfounded recognition, as the magnified and frozen image now burnt onto the surface of the shattered viewscreen came into view.

"Lieutenant Hawthorne!" Faro shouted in reply, through bursts of insane laughter. Tearing a piece of fabric from her already short skirt, Seya wrapped it around Faro's bloodied hand as she stroked his face, trying to calm and comfort him. His mind overcome by a combination of madness and understanding, he didn't notice at first what she was doing. Once he did though, he drew his hand away quickly and pushed back from her, shouting, "Get away from me!"

"You're hurt!" she proclaimed, trying once more to tend to him, her concern overwhelming her judgment.

"It all makes sense," he said softly, unconcerned with his minor lacerations as he drew he hand from Seya's attempts to care for him, splattering drops of blood across the room.

"What does?" Zerik asked brainlessly.

"The indictment! The evidence! How he managed to escape and disappear and survive all this time, long after we eliminated everyone else in my employ who fled New Sydney afterwards! Even how he managed to infiltrate the Syndicate and get as close to me as he did!" Faro shouted, so many pieces of so many puzzles coming together within the confines of his mind.

"Uhh . . . " came the dense and dim reply of Zerik, who clearly hadn't put the pieces together as well or as quickly as Keevan had.

"It all makes sense now," he said, sitting down on the table across from Zerik, as he allowed Seya to tend to his wounded hand. "We knew someone had betrayed the Syndicate, but we didn't know who because so many of our lesser involved associates fled after word of the indictment. We eliminated everyone but that card shark and smuggler, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and when we heard about his ship being found adrift near Tholian space a few weeks later, everyone presumed he was dead, too." Faro explained to his half-witted friend.

"I don't understand how he got so close, though," Seya said from his side, "The Syndicate has contacts in Starfleet, even in Starfleet Intelligence. They haven't been able to infiltrate us since before the Dominion War, at least, not with any success."

"Not that we know of," Faro replied, a distant, distracted look in his eyes, as his mind theorized potential scenarios and possibilities. Finally, one occurred to him, " . . . Bilby."

"What?" Seya queried, not understanding what Keevan meant.

"Bilby," Faro repeated. "he was a low-level associate that worked for Raimus off of Farius." he explained. "When the Klingons got the jump on him a few years ago, and then that mechanic of his vanished, we always thought . . . " Faro trailed off, lost in thought for a moment, his mind going at warp speeds. "We know Hawthorne isn't a part of Starfleet Intelligence, every time they've tried to infiltrate us over the past five years we've been able to sniff them out. But what if . . . " Faro trailed off once more as his mind worked faster than he could formulate explanations, "What if he wasn't Intelligence? What if he was just some regular officer? Someone outside their entire division, someone our sources wouldn't be able to help us identify . . . "

"So he's just some peta'Q regular officer? No formal training?" Seya asked, almost insulted by the inference that someone like that could so capably fool them.

"He has to be," Faro replied, ignoring his own annoyance at the prospect of having been so well duped by someone without proper training or experience "Just a regular officer . . . " Faro repeated, a plan suddenly forming in his mind, " . . . a regular officer, whose exact location, we now know." Faro said, the same sinister smile as earlier forming over his face.

"Which means we can . . . 'deal' . . . with him properly." Seya surmised, thinking the same thing as Keevan, and pleased at the thought.

"Indeed," Faro replied simply. "Zerik," he began, as he looked to his bulbous aid, "get the warp engines back on-line, and then set course for the Typhon Expanse, best speed. I need to send a message . . . " Faro said, grinning at the prospects of what lay ahead.

"Right," Zerik replied, not really having followed what had just been explained.

"You know," Seya began as Zerik departed, "we have some time, it'll take us days to get to the expanse . . . I wonder what we could do until then?" she said, seductively inferring her own thoughts.

"I'm sure we can think of something," Faro replied, feeling far more amorous than he had earlier, considering what he now knew. "Before play though, I have some work to do. Hand me a padd, will you? I feel the need to . . . compose something."

"Compose? Music?" Seya replied as she searched for the padd she had beaten Zerik with, "You haven't composed anything in over a decade, my love." she reminded him.

"True, but I feel . . . stimulated. It's not every day, after all, that you find yourself so well blessed with knowledge as this." he explained.

"What in the galaxy would you want to compose at this particular moment?" Seya asked, jovially.

"Something befitting the day, my dear. Something special for our dear friend Hawthorne."

"For Hawthorne? What could you compose to fit him?" Seya questioned as she found the padd in question and offered it to Faro.

"A Requiem, my dear," Faro replied, as he accepted the padd, "A requiem for all our troubles . . . "

Location: Corridor section beta-6, deck 12, USS Republic

"Damn, I'm happy to be in sickbay again!" Doctor Harris said jovially as she walked through the corridor alongside of her colleagues, Doctors Cromwell and Yezbeck. "I didn't mind being on the bridge, but I'm not the most diplomatic person in the Federation."

"We know," Leon smiled with amusement, choking back a sly comment.

"At least you have some bridge experience now," Yezbeck commented. "Think you're ready for command school?"

Harris laughed out loud. "I think that's way down the road for me. Besides, I wouldn't want to tread over my chief medical officer."

Leon gave her a raised eyebrow, surprised that a woman with her leadership talents would be worried about insulting him.

"That's probably a good plan," he remarked. "If command school is as difficult as this bridge officer's course I'm taking, you'll need the extra time to prepare."

***

Location: Main sickbay, deck 12, USS Republic

In sickbay, there's more equipment to be tested and calibrated on a daily basis than in most other areas of the ship, engineering excluded. Even with the light work schedule of the crew while in port, it is necessary for personnel to tend to these daily activities in order to keep the medical department in top shape.

As the grey-haired Doctor Eliza Fernmoore stood at the main ward nurse's station, her attention was turned to the computer console where she was entering data from a handheld padd.

"Computer," she beckoned. "Activate EMH."

Within moments, a whisper sounded where a holographic human figure appeared in a blue Starfleet uniform. The black curly hair and blue eyes were not a mystery to most people who saw it, as the computer-generated automaton bore the face of the famous Doctor Bashir from Deep Space Nine.

"Please state the nature of the medical emergency," it asked with a smooth, British accent.

"No emergency," the elderly Starfleet lieutenant commander replied. "Just a fresh software upgrade."

"I understand."

"Now, I'm going to download this first file into your . . ."

Horizontal lines of static began to dance across the hologram's figure, creating a hissing sound that became ever louder as the interference got worse. With a frown, Fernmoore turned to the EMH just as it faded away.

"Oh no," Eliza said with disappointment. "Not again."

At about the same moment, the main doors to sickbay opened, and the trio of head doctors walked into the ward engaged in conversation.

"That reminds me," Doctor Cromwell said to Harris. "The hearing is in two hours. Are you going to join me on the observation floor?"

Shannon shook her head. "I just can't, Leon. If John's going to be taken into custody, I don't want to watch it. His pride and dignity are too important to me."

"Come on," the chief doctor replied with annoyance. "It's not every day that you see half of a starship's senior staff on trial." The truth was that Leon was worried about Carter, Forrest, and Hawk, and he didn’t want to watch the hearing without the support of a friend.

"Besides," Doctor Yezbeck jumped in. "You could use some time off the ship. You've turned Leon and I down three times to visit the station's restaurant district for lunch."

"Yeah," Leon agreed. "You've been working too hard."

"Sorry, gentlemen," she declined. "With all the worry I've gone through over this hearing, the only thing that helps is if I keep busy. The stardrive section infirmary needs inspection after the upgrade. If you need me, I'll be there."

"How about you, Saal?" Leon turned to Doctor Yezbeck. "You want to join me?"

"No can do, boss," he replied. "I'm just here to get my PADD. I have an important appointment on the station."

"That's great," Leon raised his arms in frustration. "I'll be the only one from my staff that watches this ridiculous hearing."

As Saal and Shannon walked out the door together, Leon looked across the room at Doctor Fernmoore. She appeared frustrated while she worked the computer at the nurse's station.

"What's the matter, Eliza?" he asked, walking across the room to her.

"It's this EMH. It's on the fritz again. Virtus told me he fixed it before he left the ship, but it's acting up again. It just stops working for no apparent reason."

"That IS a problem," Leon exclaimed. "What were you doing when it went out?"

"Just a software upgrade," Eliza replied.

"Better send that upgrade back to the Corp of Engineers and ask for a new download. There's probably a glitch in it."

"Yes doctor."

As Doctor Cromwell headed for the door, he called out and said, "If you need me, I'll be at the hearing."

When the door closed after Leon, the whisper of an activating hologram sounded once again.

"Please state the nature of the medical emergency," it asked. In response, Doctor Fernmoore let out a sigh of exasperation.

"What's the use?"

***

Location: Captain's ready room, USS Republic

"95% efficiency is nothing short of a small miracle." Captain Roth laid the system status report aside and looked over her Chief Engineer from head to toe. "I would like to assign you someone for interdepartmental training, just a part time basis."

"Okay, anyone."

"Well Commander, about him . . . you're going to need a lot of patience," she hesitated for a full second, "and him with you."

"I recon I know who you mean."

"As you know Lieutenant Hawk has had a difficult period. We're hoping to help him adjust."

"No worries, captain. He and I have spoken a few times. Someone the likes of Nate Hawk isn't capable of getting my goose," he then averred, "no, on the contrary. I think we'll have a decent and therapeutic relationship in no time."

Captain Roth was amused and more than a little incredulous at the blind faith of her Chief Engineer.

Roth tried to protect him from future embarrassment. "You wouldn't be the first to feel uncomfortable with the task of working with him."

"It'll be great."

Roth admired his leadership skills. It wasn't going to be a walk in the park and he knew it. She handed him a padd detailing Hawk's recent activities. "This report doesn't leave this room, so please take a look at what you're up against."

As he read it his calm expression occasionally broke into one of surprise. When he was finished he coolly returned the padd to the captain.

"Care to recant?" Captain Roth smiled.

Burke now seemed a little more subdued. "No, Captain, that's the story I'm sticking with. For better or worse."

Location: Conference room 6, Starbase 39 Sierra

Judge Robert Phillip Wade entered the lounge, his black robe surrounding him like a wraith-like skin. He’d always been curious that of all the traditions associated with his office, this one was the one that was still held to the strictest. Seated around the room were the players in the drama about to unfold.

A tall, dark Vulcan sat at the defense table. Wade had always found Vulcans to be a bit intense but they rarely made mistakes and never had emotional outbursts. A thin Human dressed in a well-made dark suit sat at the prosecution table, and ran his finger along his eyebrow, in a gesture of vanity or nervous habit.

“All rise,” interrupted the Bailiff, the only person in the room of Starfleet personnel, dressed in uniform. “The People vs. The Honorable Robert Phillip Wade, presiding.”

The entire room rose to their feet, the defendants standing at attention. The prosecutor stood alone, a sly smile on his face.

“Be seated,” spoke Wade, his clear tenor taking command of the room. “Just to clarify this is just a preliminary hearing. The prosecution is here to present its case and evidence. The defense will then present its case. I needn’t remind you that this is a Federation court and the typical methods applied through Starfleet will not be used. With that said, I expect professionalism and courtesy throughout this hearing.”

Wade watched the players, trying to read them, trying to gain insight on those in his court. He knew his methods were a bit odd but they served him well. In a preliminary hearing a lot depended on the people involved.

Tuvok, the defense council, sat calmly, no sign of anxiety or tension. Of the rest of the defendants, they seemed a mixed group, it was easy to determine who were the Starfleet personnel, despite the lack of uniforms. For the most part, they remained calm and at ease. The civilians amongst them; the colonists of Cestus III, had looks of worry and concern. All that is, but one. Arthur Cromwell had the look of a once proud man, now filled with some sadness.

"Let's begin with opening statements," the judge declared, turning his head to meet with Cole's eyes. "Counselor for the prosecution?"

"Thank you, your honor," the well-dressed investigator replied, standing up from his seated position.

"This is a case of individuals wielding the power of both their occupational positions and mob rule to take the law into their own hands to the detriment of civilized society."

Cole walked in front of the prosecutor table and immediately took center stage of the court, using hand-gestures and subtle yet dramatic poses to accentuate his statements.

"No doubt," he continued. "The Cestus Three incident of stardate 57502 will go down as a dark period in Federation history, as thousands of lives were lost, and Federation territory was brutally wrenched from our borders. However, unlike most border conflicts, the end result was not the complete fault of the tense relationship with our Gorn neighbors, but the irrationality, ineptitude, and willful desperado acts by the individuals presented before us today."

Spreading his arms in the direction of the defense table, Cole identified those he accused.

"Arthur Cromwell, a retired Cestus Three manufacturing foreman, took the arrogant role as terrorist leader of a rebellious group known as 'Shadowforce'. This group of vigilantes, instead of following article forty-seven of the Articles of Interstellar Law, which state that only government representatives of two opposing sides in conflict are authorized to negotiate terms of engagement, took up arms against the Gorns who, I must point out to the court, had taken not one Federation life in their military operation until Shadowforce's interference.”

Cole turned on his heel and continued to pace in the other direction.

“Their murderous acts caused the death of several hundred Gorn soldiers, who in their culture, saw the heinous crime as an escalation of combat that invoked 'First Blood' -- the Gorn axiom wherein, if confrontation crosses the threshold into loss of life, then complete and total war can be declared where any individual of either side has been slain. If Shadowforce had not killed those soldiers, the Gorns would never have slaughtered any citizen of Cestus Three.”

Cole waited a moment, sure that he had the judge’s attention, then continued. "Another sad violation of Federation Law came from Jonathan Theolonius Carter, who, instead of following the orders of his commanding officer, who had directed him and a security force to land on Cestus Three to contact the government in hiding, chose to join and assist Mister Cromwell's group of perpetrators. Furthermore, not only does Mister Carter share in the crime of mass slaughter of Federation citizens, but his inhumane release of sensor data from a Federation starship showing the death of his former captain to the mass media showed complete disrespect to the Marshall family, disdain and possibly even jealousy towards his commanding officer, and total disregard to protocol and Federation statutory law in regards to public media licensing for non-biased news coverage.”

Sitting in on the proceedings as an observer, Leon Cromwell felt his heart begin to sink as he heard the mountain of charges leveled against his crewmates. As Leon listened intently, Cole continued his oration.

"Finally, the third co-conspirator in this treasonous act of aggression and lawlessness, who is not present on this day, yet is a defendant in this case, is Victor Xavier Virtus. This individual not only shares in the crimes of the previous two defendants due to his co-operation with Mister Carter and Mister Cromwell, but violated the rule of law by the illegal tampering of public property that resulted in abandonment and loss of Federation lives and territory to a foreign government. If this had been any other government entity than our proud United Federation of Planets, a crime of this magnitude would result in the death penalty.

"For the crimes of second degree murder, treason, reckless endangerment of Federation lives, conspiracy to commit an unlawful act, and tampering of public property, we seek life imprisonment for Arthur Cromwell, Jonathan Carter, and Victor Virtus. In addition, due to being willful accessories to these crimes, the prosecution seeks the minimum of a twenty-year imprisonment for Nathanial Hawk, Douglas Forrest, Weyland Hirsch, Chester 'Skip' Mannfield, and Lindsey Davenport.”

Cole turned again to face the judge with an almost predatory sneer. “We will defer to the court’s judgment on whether other individuals should be charged, such as the security and engineering crew of the Republic, as well as the Hazard Team that accompanied Mister Carter's away team."

As Cole finished his statement, he looked to the defense table with a very stern and sober expression before looking back to Judge Wade.

"Please, your honor. Those killed in this terrible incident deserve justice. Look into the eyes and souls of these defendants, and listen to the voices of the dead who would still be alive today if it were not for the criminal acts perpetrated by these individuals. Thank you."

He cast one more glance at the Tuvok and the defendants as he returned to his seat at the prosecution table.

As Cole sat, Judge Wade looked on to Tuvok who would represent the defense. “You may proceed, Mister Tuvok.”

With measured, Vulcan precision, Tuvok rose to his feet, his dark Vulcan robes a stark contrast to the business-like attire that the rest of the defendants wore. “Thank you, Your Honor,” he bowed slightly. “The defense does not dispute any of the events that Mister Cole has just characterized so... colorfully. Those events did indeed occur.”

From Tuvok’s right, the voice of Nat Hawk interrupted the Vulcan’s remarks. “Jeezus, c’mander! I thought you were on our side! Why don’t y’all just give ‘em the rope?”

Immediately, judge wade pounded his gavel, still the ancient symbol of justice for the UFP on the table top that served as his bench. “Order! Mister Tuvok, please remind your clients that there will be no reference to Starfleet rank during these proceedings.”

“As you wish judge.” Tuvok answered.

The judge meanwhile, looked straight at Nat Hawk. “And Mister Hawk. I don’t care if this is only a hearing. You will NOT interrupt these proceedings again, or I will find you in contempt. Is that clear, Mister Hawk?” From Wade’s expression, his last words were more statement than question.

“Crystal, yer Honor, sir.”

On the bench, Wade rolled his eyes then waved a hand in front of himself. “Proceed Mister Tuvok.”

The Vulcan cleared his throat. “As I said. The facts of the case are not in dispute. The colony of Cestus Three was invaded by forces of the Gorn Hegemony. Members of the colony did use force against their occupiers, and Mister Carter as well as the rest of his away team were present on the planet surface.”

Tuvok paused briefly, for while he was a Vulcan, and trained to conceal his emotions, Tuvok was also a keen student of human nature, and understood the usefulness of theater to sway an observers opinion. “However, the defense will demonstrate that there were other forces at work of which Mister Cromwell and his civilian comrades as well as Mister Carter and his teams were unaware.

Said forces did in fact willfully break the Treaty of Metron, causing the loss of the colony, and also caused a catastrophic breakdown in the chain of command onboard the starship Republic, that left my clients not as gleeful murderers bent on revenge, or jealous cowboys looking to tarnish a man’s reputation, as the prosecution would have you believe. Instead the defense will demonstrate that my clients did in fact use every means at their disposal to uphold the laws of the United Federation of Planets. Misters Cromwell, Carter and Virtus, along with the rest of the defendants in fact worked to save not only the colonists of Cestus Three, but also the nine hundred forty-seven souls, both Starfleet and civilian onboard the starship Republic.

“Your honor. My clients regret the loss of life that circumstances forced them to witness. But more than that, they regret that the power of one organization has grown so much that it saw the citizens of Cestus three not as members of the United Federation of Planets, but as pawns in a mysterious and illegal power-grab that would have used the men, women and children on the colony as well as Republic as so much grist for the mill. Faced with such injustice and overwhelming circumstance, the defendants would have no choice but to take said actions again. Indeed, justice would demand it, as justice will demand that you find them innocent of all charges.”

"Mister Cole, you may call your first witness."

"Thank you your honor. The state calls Miss Lindsey Davenport to the stand as a hostile witness."

Biting her lower lip, and a determined look in her eye, Lindsey swallowed as she stood up and made her way to the witness stand. As she approached, Puruves, the young black haired paralegal who accompanied the judge from Earth, stood up with a leather-bound copy of the Federation constitution.

"Raise your right arm," he beckoned. As she complied, Peruves recited the well-rehearsed line that he had spoken countless times.

"Under penalty of perjury, do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?"

"I do."

"Miss Davenport," Cole slyly walked up to her. "How long have you known Mister Cromwell?"

"Twenty two years. He was present as my first child was born and became godfather to him."

"I see. Then you would say that you are very close to him?"

"I would."

"Have you ever known Mister Cromwell to lose his temper?"

"Objection, your honor. Leading the witness," said Tuvok, standing up at the defense table.

"Your honor," Cole retorted. "If you please, the rules for a hearing does not require the state to do nothing more than determine that a crime has been committed. An understanding of Arthur Cromwell's personality is vital to this."

"Overruled, Mister Tuvok. Please answer the question, Miss Davenport."

"Yes, " she said reluctantly with a cold stare at the prosecutor.

"Would you say he has a pattern of losing his temper under extreme circumstances?"

"Extreme circumstances never have a pattern, Mister Cole."

"Then perhaps I can show you." Walking to the prosecution table, Cole picked up a PADD and began to read it out loud to the court.

"The state would like to present exhibit A, the police record and public minutes from various meetings of the Cestus Colony council forum. Two years ago, Mister Cromwell was arrested and later released for disorderly conduct at a local tavern. The dispute dealt with a bar patron who rebuffed and insulted the defendant regarding Starfleet's movements along the Gorn border. Five years ago, during a meeting of the colony council, Mister Cromwell was quite vocal about his anger towards the government regarding security arrangements for the system. He was escorted from the chamber shouting remarks such as (and I quote), "You bastards have no idea what you're doing . . . I'm right and you're wrong . . . if you don't listen to me, they'll be hell to pay . . ."

Looking back towards Lindsey, Cole remarked, "from the evidence, Miss Davenport, I'd say that Mister Cromwell has a history of not only losing his temper, but forcing aside other peoples' views to promote his own opinions."

"But you don't understand!" Lins shouted out loud. "Those situations were unique!"

"Exactly," he snubbed. "Just as unique as a Gorn invasion."

"But . . ."

"No more questions your honor."

Judge Wade looked cautiously to the Defense's table. "Your witness Counselor Tuvok," he said simply.

The dark skinned Vulcan rose and looked for a while toward Lins, who fidgeted slightly in the witness box. "Thank you Your Honor," Tuvok said in measured tones, "but we have no questions for this witness at this time. I do however reserve the right to recall."

Wade nodded. "Understood Counselor." The judge gave a polite nod to Lindsey. "You're done for now Miss Davenport. Thank you."

Lins nodded and quickly slipped out of the box to seat herself back in the gallery. Before she was even seated, Cole stood again.

The state would like to call to the witness stand, Arthur Cromwell, as a hostile witness." After the pledge of truth, Arthur slowly slipped into the witness stand, looking spitefully at Cole.

"Would you please tell the court what happened on the first evening of the Gorn invasion?"

"I was at home with my wife. The next thing I knew, the Gorns were performing tactical strikes on government buildings. After they took our government officials hostage of course."

"I see", Cole nodded pacing slowly in front of Cromwell. "So they just rained down destruction from orbit, with no warning what-so-ever?"

"They transmitted a surrender order over all communications frequencies." Arthur closed his eyes briefly as thoughts of his family went through his mind.

"But isn't it true that the order to surrender came well BEFORE any seizure of land by the Gorn forces?"

Cromwell looked petulant in the box, almost like a pouting child. "I'm sorry…counselor but…I don't recall."

Cole stopped, with his eyes fixed on Cromwell's face. "Really?" Cole said with sarcasm. "Horrible, snaggle-toothed lizards…'Rexes', you call them, don't you…"

"Go to Hell." Crowell cursed, just under his breath.

"…demand the surrender of your planet, but you aren't sure when that happened?"

Tuvok shot to his feet, but there was little emotion in his voice. "Objection, your honor. Argumentative."

Wade nodded. "Sustained." He then turned to look at Cole. "Tread lightly Mister Cole. And while we're on the subject of manners, I suggest we call a Gorn a Gorn."

Cole nodded. "Of course, your Honor. I'll re-phrase." Cole turned and looked back at Cromwell. "Are you quite sure of the sequence of events that day, Mister Cromwell? That the attack started BEFORE the surrender request?"

"Damned right!" Arthur shot back.

"Objection your Honor," called Tuvok, "Question has been asked and answered."

Wade nodded again. "Indeed." He waved his hand in front of him. "Make your point Mister Cole."

In the gallery, Nat Hawk elbowed Carter. "That's two for the good guys. Lookin' good so far."

Cole stepped back to the table for the prosecution and picked up an isolinear chip. "The prosecution would like to enter People's exhibit B. Sensor logs from the Cornucopia settlement communications hub. The colony's own logs clearly show that the broadcast to surrender was sent at 1930 hours, local time. A full 30 minutes before any Gorn troops set foot on the planet."

Cole looked over his shoulder at the frustrated Cromwell. "Do you recall now, Mister Cromwell?"

Again, Tuvok shot to his feet. "Objection. Badgering."

Wade nodded again. "Sustained," then the judge looked squarely at Cole. "There's no jury to impress here Cole," he cautioned. "Just me. Lose the theatrics please."

Ever respectful, Cole nodded. "Of course, your Honor." Cole turned again, leaning slightly against his desk. "Tell me Mister Cromwell. When the Gorn did… eventually… land on Cestus three, what did you do then?"

"I sent my wife and daughter to the mountain caves where others were gathering."

"Gathering for what, Mister Cromwell? Official records show that the Gorn internment camps were clean, humane, and otherwise benevolent. Why didn't you and your family just surrender and wait out the conflict?"

"We had no idea what the Gorns were up to. They could have been executing people in those camps."

"So, instead of finding out for yourself, you sent your family away and went on the offensive?"

"Damned right I did. It was my home, and I wasn't going to let the Gorns take it from me."

"And exactly how did you keep them from taking your home?"

"When they came to haul me away, I considered it a violation of trespassing laws and defended my home."

"Don't you mean you attacked them?" Cole asked with a snort. "Don't you mean you killed them?"

Tuvok remained motionless for the moment…content to let the conversation play out.

"I know what I meant!" Cromwell answered. "They had their chance to leave my property. I used stun grenades and electric fields to keep them away."

"And then?"

"And then," Arthur proudly stated. "When they refused to go away, I made sure they wouldn't take my home from me."

"And exactly how did you ensure that?"

"I destroyed my home."

"You certainly did, Mister Cromwell." Cole added with a sneer. Then he presented another chip for the record. "The state would like to produce exhibit C: an application for obtaining a controlled substance; that being approximately one half-liter of antimatter. The use for which was declared as personnel orbital spaceflight. But that didn't happen, now did it Mister Cromwell?"

Arthur crossed his arms. "I chose to exercise my rights under section ten of the Articles of Federation." Cromwell enjoyed the raised eyebrow that accompanied his words. Even young Federation citizen knew their rights, and most important among them was the protection against self-incrimination that was built into the Federation's core documents. Protected by Section 10, No one could make Arthur Cromwell talk.

Tuvok nodded his head slowly, happy that Arthur listened during the pre-trial meeting.

"That's okay, Mister Cromwell, because the Republic's sensor logs can answer that for the court. Exhibit D, your Honor, details what happened next: an antimatter explosion that not only incinerated the Cromwell home, but every home in a ten block radius as well as the platoon of Gorn soldiers who arrived to apprehend the defendant."

"I was protecting my home."

"Oh, were you?" Cole spun around to face Arthur. "And exactly what did you do that brought the Gorns to you home?" The elder Cromwell did not respond and only glared at the counsel. "Well, Mister Cromwell?"

"You can't bait me like I was a school boy. I refuse to answer that question."

"Exhibit D should clear things up then: the Gorn communications log from 2100 hours that evening."

Cole pressed a button on his PADD, and the court's loudspeaker came alive with Arthur Cromwell's voice.

"This is Arthur Cromwell in the South Cornucopia residential complex. I have information on the whereabouts of Cestus Colony Governor Clarke. I would like to discuss a mutual trade of information for my freedom."

Whispers were shared among the observation floor where Leon closed his eyes in disbelief. The sudden revelation brought surprise to the face of the defendants, but their counsel remained calm and confident, as any Vulcan would.

In the gallery, Nat Hawk was somewhat less sedate. "Aw, frinx!"

"The prosecution submits that Mister Cromwell, in a pre-meditated assassination plan, lured the Gorn to his home and brutally slaughtered them with a substance that was obtained under false pretenses."

Marching back towards the prosecution table, Cole concluded his interrogation of Arthur.

"No more questions, your honor."

Wade noted the look of smug satisfaction on Cole's face as the prosecutor sat down. Maintaining the decorum he thought any judge should project he simply turned his head to address Tuvok. "Your witness counselor."

With practiced calm and focus, Tuvok rose. "Thank you, your honor." The Vulcan advocate took two steps toward his client. "Mister Cromwell," he said coolly, "Are you familiar with Federation by-law 1789?"

Cromwell nodded. "Yes, I am."

"And what does that by-law state?"

"Objection." Cole said coolly. "As Mister Cromwell's actions clearly show, he is far from an expert on Federation Law."

Wade snorted, annoyed. "Point taken, Mister Cole, but you really should stand when addressing the Bench. Sustained."

Cole nodded. "Noted your Honor."

Wade looked at Tuvok and continued. "You may want to re-phrase that, Advocate Tuvok."

"Indeed." Tuvok replied. "Mister Cromwell, did you think you were justified in the actions you took against the Gorn?"

"Of course."

"And was there a reason you felt this justification?"

"By-Law 1789." Cromwell added with a smirk as he winked at Cole.

"And what is your understanding of that law?"

"Objection, your Honor," Cole said, careful to stand this time. "Speculation."

"The question has direct bearing on my client's state of mind, Judge. Therefore, to him it is not speculation, it is fact."

Wade almost chuckled. "Nicely put, Tuvok. Let's hear it."

"The law gives me the right to defend my home using whatever force I deem necessary."

Tuvok nodded. "The defendant is essentially correct. By-law 1789 states that in the absence of Starfleet, or any other duly appointed protective organization, Federation citizens are allowed…"

Wade cleared his throat. "Mister Tuvok, I think I know what the law states. You've made your point."

"Thank you, your Honor." Tuvok said with a nod. "Mister Cromwell, what did you think was happening when the Gorn began to land their troops?"

"I thought it was an invasion. I thought we were at war."

"Just as you should have." Tuvok intoned.

"Objection!" Cole shouted.

"Withdrawn." Tuvok said with the barest hint of emotion. "There was no Starfleet presence in the system?"

"Not as far as we knew. That's why several citizens of the colony decided to form Shadow Force."

"And just what is Shadow Force, Mister Cromwell, for the record."

Well, for the record," Cromwell said, "Shadow Force is, or rather WAS, a militia unit. It was decided that if we ever had to defend ourselves, without Starfleet…help, then we should have a plan to evacuate the civilians and keep enemy occupation to a minimum."

Tuvok turned his attention to Judge Wade, "In full compliance with statute 1789." The Vulcan counsel then turned and stepped calmly back to his table. "Nothing further, Your Honor."

Wade smiled, not necessarily pleased with the direction of the trial, but more-so because the trial was going to be an exercise in fine litigation on both sides.

As Arthur Cromwell stepped from the witness box, Wade slammed his archaic gavel on the bench top. "I'd like to thank both advocates for a spirited discussion so far. You may consider yourselves in recess until tomorrow at 0900," Wade cast a weary eye to the heavy doors that separated the conference room from the rest of the station, and the assembled news crews on the other side. "And it goes without saying that you are not under ANY circumstances to discuss these proceedings with the…curious folk outside. The prosecution will resume their argument tomorrow." There was another slam of the gavel. "Dismissed."

As the room began to clear, Nat Hawk stood and looked at Republic's XO. "So, whadda ya think, Cyclops? Are we winnin' ?"

"Excuse me?"

Nat had expected a response to come from John Carter, likely in the form of some sort of brush off or grim comment, in response to his semi-casual, semi-sarcastic question, but instead of what he expected he got something else. Or rather someone else. Which wasn't really to be unexpected, as rarely in life did one get what they expected - unless it was something bad, in which case they usually always got it.

In this case though it was neither here nor there, as the two words in response had come from someone Nat had never before seen. He knew this for sure because he knew himself, and knew that if he had seen this particular someone at any point in his life prior, he most surely would remember either the best sex he had ever had or the worst rejection-caused hangover he'd ever had.

"I'm sorry," said the (very attractive) stranger as she took another step into the room, adjusting a pair of duffle bags slung across her should, "I didn't mean to interrupt."

"May we help you?" queried Tuvok, a subtle hint of caution in his tone.

"I'm not sure," she said, putting the bags down and retrieving a padd from inside the top of one of them, "I'm looking for Commander John Carter?" she said.

"Figures," Hawk snorted, disappointed.

"I'm Carter," Cyclops said, stepping forward, shooting quick look of disapproval to Hawk.

"Ah, alright, then this is for you," she said, offering the padd.

Accepting it, Carter found it's contents encrypted - albeit at only security level four, which every non-com from here to Rigel 7 had. Entering his own code, Carter then examined the contents of the document. Hawk watched as his expression altered slightly, going from tense and cautious as it had been for days, to adding a splash of all out irritation. "She's got to be kidding," Carter said under his breath.

"Commander?" Tuvok queried, falling back into Starfleet mode. Carter's response was to hand the padd on to Tuvok, who made a quick inspection of it before arching his left eyebrow in a stereo-typical Vulcan gesture of surprise, "Curious." was his only audible reply.

"Somebody wanna fill me in?" Hawk prompted.

"Hawk," Carter started, "This is Leah Warner . . . our new Director of Public Relations." he said with a hint of distaste.

"D'rector a what now?" Hawk shot back.

"You said it," the stranger - Warner - replied in agreement. "Really, I'm just a reporter, I have no idea what the title is all about, but Admiral Janeway thought it sounded good." she explained.

"You Voyager people don't know how to do anything the easy way, do you?" Carter prompted Tuvok. Hawk could tell Carter had meant the remark to be fairly light-hearted, but Tuvok, in an A-typical Vulcan manner, didn't perceive it as such.

"I beg your pardon, Commander?" answered the dark-skinned Vulcan.

"Never mind," he said, shaking his head.

"I thought we ain't s'posed ta talk ta reporters?" Hawk interjected, not really following what was going on.

"Who told you that?" Warner asked of Hawk.

"I did." Tuvok replied, "In my role as legal counsel. It would seem, however, that Admiral Janeway has other . . . ideas."

"You mean she didn't even consult you?" Carter asked.

"I have found the Admiral rarely . . . consults . . . when she knows the probable response will be in the negative." Tuvok replied.

"So, wait, ya don't know her?" Hawk asked Carter, "I mean, you two ain't ole pals 'er somethin'?" he asked of Warner.

"No, Hawk, we don't know each other." Carter asked, knowing full well why the question had been asked, and letting Hawk know it with his tone of voice.

"Oh, well then," Hawk said, promptly shifting gears, "It's a pleasure ta meet ya," Hawk said, offering his hand to Warner as his mouth formed a confident, flirtatious smile. When Warner reciprocated with her own hand, Hawk turned the would-be handshake into a chance to charm, and kissed the soft skin of the back of her hand.

Warner, for her part, smiled, holding back a laugh as she did, "You must be the Hawk I've heard so much about," she said.

"Oooh, ya mean somebody's been singin' ma praises?" Hawk queried, as he released her hand and yet took a step closer.

"So to speak," Warner replied, "rather, a friend of mine who was with the 7th fleet during the war told me a few tall tales." she said.

Like a deer in the headlights, Hawk stopped in his tracks, "Not a reporter friend, I hope?" he asked, hesitantly.

"Afraid so," she replied, holding back a laugh again, but this time at Hawk instead of at his gesture.

"Frinx," Hawk muttered, turning away from Warner, rejected before he even got out of the proverbial launch bay. Though Hawk was glum, the scene had done something to perk up Carter's mood.

"Do I even want to know?" he asked of Warner.

"No," Warner replied, laughing and shaking her head.

"Yeah, yeah, yuck it up," Hawk said, "thems was tough times, the war n'all, ain't ma fault."

"Oh, so, womanizing and jumping from bunk-to-bunk at warp speeds is all the wars fault?" Warner asked, still amused, but not quite as much.

"Ya even know the stats on a fighter pilots survival rate?" Hawk asked her, at this point getting a little pissed off.

"Alright, alright," Carter said, stepping in. "Come on, we've got things to do."

"Phh," Hawk replied, "I ain't got nuthin' ta do. Still relieved a'duty 'board Republic, ma fighter ain't gonna fly til I can find me a genuine twenty-year-old plasma coil, n'frankly any more legal-jargon n'am liable ta start bangin' ma head against a bulkhead."

"Fine, then why don't you show our guest to her quarters?" Carter suggested.

"Whadda I look like, some non-com pleeb?" Hawk replied.

"I could make it an order," Carter replied.

"Aww hell," Hawk grumbled, rolling his eyes, "I hate you," he said to Carter as he headed for the door. "C'mon then, Miss Priss, lets go." Warner, for her part, exchanged glances with Carter, not knowing whether or not to thank him or complain, before she followed Hawk into the corridors.

After a long and silent ride upwards through the station via turbolift, Hawk lead the way onto the stations main Promenade, enjoying seeing the starscape after four minutes of turbolift running lights passing by - or rather being passed by. He had planned to stop off for a meal, or at least a drink, but now that was out of the question. He was just about resigned to his fate of spending the next hour locating, assigning, and escorting their newest arrival to quarters when a familiar diamond-like shape caught his eyes out the window.

"Hawk to Delta Flyer," he said, tapping his comm-badge.

"Paris here," came the reply.

"Where ya off ta in such a hurry?" Hawk asked, the tell-tale signs of a departure vector and full impulse speed catching his interest.

"Distress call, actually," Paris responded, "The station asked your Captain to take a look, and I decided to offer my services."

"Got room fer one more?" Hawk asked, eagerly.

"Doesn't Tuvok need you for anything?" Paris questioned.

"Naw, I've been reduced to cargo hauling," Hawk replied with a smirk at Warner.

"Stand by then," Paris said.

"I'm coming too, you know," Warner suddenly said.

"Hell ya are," Hawk shot back.

"This is what I'm here for, Lieutenant," Warner replied.

"Bein' a pain in ma ass?" Hawk asked.

"Considering how much of an ass you are, that's really gotta hurt." Warner shot back.

Hawk gave her a stern look, before smiling ear-to-ear, "Alright, fine, ya can come. Just keep outta the way." Hawk said.

"Paris to Hawk, I've got the all clear from your Captain, ready for transport." came the voice from Hawk's communicator.

"Make that two ta beam up, Tom," Hawk replied.

"Two?" Paris asked.

"A friend a Admiral Janeway's wants ta join us," Hawk replied.

" . . . O . . . K . . . " came Paris' reply.

Before another word could be exchanged, the station's promenade was lit-up by the energy of a transporter beam whisking two people away. Seconds alter the flash of a starship entering warp filled the view ports, as the Delta Flyer headed off to the rescue.

Location: "The Lazy Susan", restaurant district, Starbase 39 Sierra

The quiet hum of conversation mixed with the occasional chime of cutlery hovered within the atmosphere of the casual eatery. Although a central circular bar hosted a few restaurant patrons, the rest of the hall contained tables and booths at which a major percentage of customers sat dining amongst themselves. One such corner booth was occupied by a lone guest who sat reading a PADD and enjoying a small plate of potato pancakes. He wore a Starfleet lieutenant commander's uniform with medical blue sleeve piping, and sported a head of thinning black hair with a bald spot at the crown. His black beard and moustache bobbed up and down as he chewed his meal, and as Doctor Saal Yezbeck continued to read his digital notebook, a mysterious person slipped into the booth across from him.

"Thanks for meeting me again, Shadow," the low, gravelly voice greeted the doctor.

Saal stopped eating in mid-chew, and slowly turned his eyes to the newcomer. His face bore the expression of a man who had heard a joke one to many times, and was becoming quite tired of it. As the doctor swallowed his last bite, he replied to his new companion.

"I switched branches a long time ago," Yezbeck answered him. "You can call me by my real name, you know."

"You'll always be Shadow to me," the man replied with a slight smile creeping across his face.

"And there's no need for the cloak and dagger business," Saal continued. "I'm not trying to hide my movements from anyone."

"Yes, but I am," came the sly response.

"What do you want?" the doctor chose to cut to the chase.

"I thought I'd fill you in on the Gorn poison you discovered in James Marshall's body."

Dropping his PADD on the table, Saal's expression changed to annoyance as he put down his fork.

"Doctor Cromwell and I sent that to Starfleet Medical. How did you become involved?"

"You should know," the mystery man replied. "The asynchronous isomerism of the poison was more complex than any ever encountered."

"So? It's still a medical issue. Not an intelligence issue."

"On the contrary. The poison has more than a medical curiosity surrounding it."

"I don't know," Saal retorted. "Fifty three permutations makes it a pretty interesting toxicology project."

"Try four-hundred and thirty-six," the man stated, enjoying the surprised expression on the doctor's face. Without a response from Saal, he continued.

"Once Starfleet Medical pegged down the biochemistry behind it, they realized it had implications reaching far beyond their expertise and handed the issue over to us. It turns out that the Gorns didn't make it."

"Then who did?" Saal questioned him.

"It's origins are Kafarian."

The doctor's attention was now firmly diverted.

"Kafarian?" he asked. "The insectoid race? But they're the most peaceful and sociable members of the Federation."

"Yes, but they're also the most renown biochemists within known space."

"Why would they make such a toxic bio-weapon? It's not only against Federation law, but violates their own cultural edicts."

"How much do you know about Kafarian history?" Saal's companion asked.

"I'm not a historian," he replied.

"Well then, what do you know about the Xindi?"

With a furrow developing in his forehead, the doctor looked upward in thought before answering.

"The humanoid race in the Azati Sector? What do they have to do with the Kafarians?"

"I see you never paid attention in your academy history classes." The remark caused Saal to roll his eyes. "The origin of the Xindi and the Kafarians are one in the same. Three hundred years ago, there existed six distinctly different species that called themselves the Xindi. Their home world was destroyed in the first Xindi civil war during which one of the six species was exterminated, and the rest of the five species were scattered across the Azati sector. They maintained a peaceful co-existence for the next hundred years until the second Xindi civil war following the end of the temporal cold-war with the Suliban."

"You lost me," Saal sighed in frustration. "Where do the Kafarians fit into all this?"

"The original six Xindi species were humanoid, hominid, aquatic, avian, reptilian, and insectoid. The avians were wiped out in the first Xindi civil war, and the reptilians became extinct in the second Xindi civil war, but not before the populations of the aquatics and the insectoids were reduced to only a few thousand members. The humanoids, hominids, and aquatics formed a coalition in the civil war, and became the victors after the reptilians were destroyed. The aquatic species migrated rimward and eventually settled on Pacifica. The aggressive insectoids, as allies of the now extinct reptilians, nearly met the same fate as them if it were not for a small colony on a barren planetoid in the Azati Sector."

"From the sound of it," Saal remarked. "You seem to be implying that these 'aggressive insectoids' have something in common with the Kafarians. But the word 'aggressive' is not how I would describe Kafarians. In fact, I don't think there's a word for 'war' in the Kafarian language."

"Apparently," continued the mystery man. "These insectoid colonists were descendants of a crashed Xindi hatchery vessel where the offspring were the only survivors. Because the hatchlings were born after their custodians had long since died, they never knew their racial history, and in an unusual twist of fate, did not harbor the instinctual aggressiveness of the rest of the Xindi insectoid species. It's not known why, but since the insectoid young usually inherit the emotional ingrams of their caretakers through imprinting, the genetic material that encodes their natural aggressiveness never formed. When the lost insectoid colony was discovered after the second Xindi civil war, the colonists were found to be sociable, diplomatic, and extremely peaceful. The decision was made to spare this group of insectoids."

"That's great," Saal responded. "But Kafaria is over a hundred light years from the Azati Sector."

"You're right, but I'm not done." Again, Saal rolled his eyes. "The small insectoid colony existed in an environment that was not very hospitable to their species. Although they survived, they were not prospering very well. After contact with the rest of the Xindi race was re-established, the insectoid colony was allowed to relocate as long as it was nowhere near Xindi space. With the help of the newly formed Federation, this small insectoid colony was resettled on the planet now known as Kafaria. Ever since then, they were close allies of the Federation, and their Xindi heritage was long forgotten."

"Okay," the doctor replied with a sigh. "You've given me a great history lesson. But you haven't explained why the Kafarians would want to create a bio-weapon like this poison that the Gorns used on Captain Marshall."

"That's where Starfleet Intelligence comes in. The Kafarian government was so outraged by our discovery of this poison's origin on Kafaria, that they requested an investigation into the perpetrators."

"And?" Saal edged on.

"And, we've uncovered evidence that the population of a small community on Kafaria may have somehow genetically regressed back to their aggressive Xindi roots."

"So, why don't you guys just storm in and quarantine the community?"

"We tried, but when the spec ops troops arrived, the community had deserted. Intelligence indicates that they went off-planet in an Orion cargo vessel. The poison you discovered got into Gorn hands through the black market. We shutter to think who else may have acquired the stuff."

"You blew it," Doctor Yezbeck remarked without changing his expression.

The face of the mysterious man switched to a humble appearance, and the bushy gray eyebrows rose in bereavement while he looked to the floor. It was apparent that he agreed with Saal, but did not want to respond.

"So what does this have to do with me?" Saal asked after a moment of silence. "I don't work for you anymore."

"True," his companion replied. "But our analysis indicates that the Republic may cross the path of these renegade Kafarians relatively soon."

"And how do you know this?"

With a smile, the intelligence officer replied, "the Republic has some links to the Orions that you, nor anyone else aboard, know of at the moment."

"Care to share how you know this?"

"No," he replied flatly. "As you like to continue reminding me, you don't work for us anymore."

"So why are we here talking to one another?"

"Because," the man replied. "Dragon is back on board."

"Dragon?" Saal raised his eyebrows. "I haven't seen him yet."

"That's because he's currently a suspect in the Cestus Three hearing at the moment."

"You don't seem too worried about that."

Looking at his watch, the intel operative replied, "I'm not. He'll be fine. I'd be more worried about your boss's father, though."

"You keep my medical colleagues out of this," Saal said with irritation.

"Don't worry. I'm only here to talk to you about the Kafarian investigation. Dragon is at the head of it, but I'd like to make sure that if he needs your help, that you'll be there for him."

"Dragon and I were partners for years," Saal stated confidently. "He knows that if he needs my help, he doesn't have to ask for it."

"That's all I wanted to hear," the enigmatic officer replied, sliding out of the booth and standing up to face the doctor. "Good luck."

"I told you," Saal reminded the man. "I don't work for you anymore."

With a smile and a wink, he replied, "I know."

As the secretive individual left the booth, Saal shook his head muttering, "I'm getting too old for this crap."

 

 

Location: Turbolift shaft 7-L, USS Republic

"Lieutenant!" snarled Klaus to himself in a sarcastic tone. "Meet me in my office!"

As the junior officer rode the turbolift alone, he paced a circle along the perimeter in disgust. As normal, his rough, uncombed hair gave him the appearance of a newly-wakened cadet back at the academy, and if it were not for the gold operations-colored collar on his uniform that sported a lieutenant junior-grade rank, the youthful appearance on his face would suggest as such.

Although Klaus originally joined the Republic's operations department prior to her launch almost a year ago, his rank at the time was a full lieutenant, assistant to the department head. However, his loss of rank six months ago following the destruction of the stardrive section in Kreltan-occupied space left a black mark on his record. This stemmed from an upheaval in the chain of command when an enemy spy made it's way to the command chair when the senior staff was no longer aboard. Counselor B'Rell, a civilian counselor that held a rank equivalent to lieutenant commander, was put in the executive officer's position and began a reshuffling of Republic's senior departmental personnel. Klaus, in the absence of Lieutenant Sullivan, was promoted to the Operations department head at the protest of the rest of the department personnel. Klaus was so proud of his appointment that he obeyed B'Rell and the disguised spy to the best of his abilities. When the ruse was revealed and B'Rell arrested, Klaus was perceived as a collaborated and demoted to his current rank. Since then, he had considered requesting a transfer, but with the reprimand scarring his career, he knew his best shot at redemption was to stay aboard the Republic. Little did he know how deep the scars had dug.

When the operations department had its officers reassigned upon arriving at 39-Sierra, Klaus saw an opportunity to regain his lost prestige when he found himself the only officer among almost one hundred enlisted operations personnel. Surely Captain Marshall's replacement would see the wisdom of making him department head?

Then SHE came along . . .

As Klaus stepped off the turbolift, he approached the corridor section that hosted the operations main office. There were uniformed engineering personnel huddled around the door, and as the lieutenant approached, he noticed that they were putting the finishing touches on the office door. The horizontal brown ID lines located three-fourths the way up from the bottom of the entrance were altered:

 

0827: CHIEF OF OPERATIONS
ENSIGN NARUKO KUGA

Klaus sneered in contempt at the change. Thomas Sullivan's name had occupied that spot for as long as he could remember, and although he had no particular allegiance to the re-assigned lieutenant, the fact that it was not his name replacing Sullivan's made Klaus' skin crawl. The engineering personnel, with their task complete, vacated the area on the junior officer's approach. Watching after them as they retreated down the corridor, Klaus let go a breath of exasperation before pressing the entrance buzzer, and as the muffled voice of Ensign Kuga sounded from the other side, the door slid open and the lieutenant warily walked inside.

Naruko was standing behind her new desk hovering over an open box from where she was unloading various business articles along with personal items to decorate her new workplace. Lieutenant Klaus came to a stop in from of the desk with a look of irritation on his face, and as the two officers faced one another, the poorly-groomed lieutenant spoke with condescension in his voice.

"Reporting as ordered . . . Ensign."

As Naruko finished placing the last item out of her box and on to the desk she gave an odd look towards the Lieutenant in front of her. "Have a seat." she said motioning to the chair beside him.

Klaus, in his irritation, looked at the seat and hesitated. His disdain for the ops chief grew after entering the room, especially after seeing just how young Naruko was.

'Have a seat'? he thought with a shiver of anger washing over his spine. It was him who should have been on the other side of that desk according to Klaus's reasoning.

Although in truth, there was no negative energy emanating from the ensign, but Lieutenant Klaus's exasperation was so intense that he mistook Kuga's professional demeanor as a form of mockery. After staring at the chair he looked back towards his new "superior" and refused to sit.

Trying to sound pleasant as possible, "I would appreciate the next time you address me please called me sir or ma'am, not . . . Ensign." She stated as she sat down in her chair. "If you don't like that you can submit a formal complainant to me, which I'll be more than happy to pass it up the chain of command."

'So she IS mocking me!' Klaus thought with a sneer. Captain Roth had already talked him down in her office, and he now saw Kuga as adding salt to the wound. They were both against him, trying to get him to request a reassignment. The hatred he was generating wafted across his mind, and although his attitude to both the ensign and his new captain reached an all-time low, he refused to give in to what he perceived as their collective goal. Swallowing his pride, he resolved to finally sit in the chair keeping careful eye on the ensign. 'They WON'T succeed!' he declared to himself.

"I'm sorry . . . . ma'am." It was clear that Klaus had trouble releasing the words from his lips, but with his newfound resolution to keep his leaders from forcing him off the ship, he chose to tolerate her taunting . . . for now. After all, she was just fresh out of the academy and didn't understand the dangers of deep-space exploration. Anything could happen in the next few months . . . anything.

"No complaints," Klaus lied to Naruko. "I sometimes forget that Operations has another officer onboard now." Although the words themselves were pleasant enough, Ensign Kuga was not born yesterday and she could note his sour disposition.

Naruko could already feel the plots of her destruction around her from Klaus, "Right now on the duty roster for operation, we're currently the only two officers fit to run this department. I'm not going to lie to you, that this is my first actual experience at being head of operations, so I will be relying on your expertise for awhile."

"Of course," Klaus responded. "I'm sure we'll be assigned more officers in due time. But for now," a toxic smile began to grow across his face. "It looks like it's just you and me."

Naruko wanted to return the smile, but she began to get more scared by Klaus, feeling as if she had fallen into the mirror universe. "By the wishes of the Captain that I do not place you as assistant of chief operations, which I can somewhat understand from your recent history on the Republic." 'This guy is going to be the death of Me.' she thought as she went on with her speech "Since this means the place of assistant is open until I can see someone who is able to handle the position like a true Starfleet officer."

Klaus nearly exploded. 'TRUE Starfleet officer?' he thought. The anger within him was swelling, and it was now focused solely at Naruko. From his point of view, the inexperienced ensign had no place telling him what a true Starfleet officer was.

'She wasn't there!' the rage echoed through his mind. 'She had no idea what I went through!' Although the lieutenant's actions during the B'Rell incident were contemptible at best, he could not help but to consider his situation as unique. Despite the fact that he willingly and unquestionably followed the indirect orders of an enemy of the Federation during wartime, thus putting several hundred innocent lives at risk, Klaus felt that his actions were understandable, and that there was no way that either Captain Roth nor Ensign Kuga could justify their treatment of him.

Nearly gasping, Klaus's face betrayed a slight crimson hue as he maintained his smile. However, it was clear that the expression was forced and bordering on a grimace.

"Ensign . . . er . . . ma'am, I feel that maybe you and the captain have . . . misjudged . . . my commitment to the ship and crew." Klaus's mind scrambled to find the words that would keep him in some sort of position of responsibility. He wanted Kuga's job -- badly. But it would do no good to demand that it be given to him. On the contrary, it would only serve to kindle the mistrust that the Captain harbored for the lieutenant. Klaus could have cared less about Kuga, as she was only an obstacle to his goal. Still, she had the Captain's ear, and anything he did now would be reported up the chain of command. He had to be pleasant, no matter how infuriating she was.

'My chance will come,' Klaus thought to calm him. 'She won't last long here . . . not long at all . . . '

"I would gladly take up any duty that may serve to help you overlook my past behavior."

"Good." said Naruko giving a brief smile "I'll be placing you on Beta shift in the sensor lab for the time being."

A snort that turned to a soft cough overwhelmed the lieutenant as he beamed a dagger-filled gaze at the ensign. The sensor lab was the most obscure and perhaps most inconsequential leadership position in the Operations department, and there was certainly no prestige in it. Slowly standing up, Klaus felt the nagging need to vacate the office before he said anything that would land him in the brig.

"If that's all," he managed to say through gritted teeth. "I'll go take command of my new duty post . . . . ma'am."

"Dismissed . . . Lieutenant" said Naruko 'Better watch your back Naruko' she said to herself as she watched Klaus leave the room.

". . . the court ends for the day here at 39-Sierra without a statement from the judge, but despite what Starfleet calls this hearing, it has all the feel of a real court-battle. The prosecution brought two witnesses to the stand today, both suspects in the case, and members of the Cestus Three resistance cell accused of inflaming the Gorn invasion force thus indirectly causing the deaths of thousands. The 'Shadowforce-Four', as they have been come to be called, was led by Cestus Three resident Arthur Cromwell, and who took the stand today.

Leon Cromwell was sitting in his quarters with shoes off and feet up on a footrest as he watched the news of the hearing recorded earlier in the day. The viewscreen flickered alive with images of the defendants coming out of the courtroom, and the flock of observers in the background holding signs that read "Gorns Go Home," "Cestus Forever," and "Republic = Scapegoat". The Tellarite reporter was in the foreground dictating the events of the day, and continued his coverage .

"As you can hear from behind us, they have gained quite a crowd of supporters, mostly young adults from various university campuses in nearby star systems. The defense claimed they were following Federation by-law 1789 which states any citizen has the right to defend their home, absence of Starfleet or any other duly appointed protective organization, using whatever force they deem necessary. However, in a surprising display of evidence by the prosecution, it was revealed today that Cromwell may have actually tricked members of the Gorn invasion force into a deadly home-made trap. This would, in effect, indicate that the resistance movement on Cestus Three acted offensively rather than defensively thus weakening their case of self-defense.

"As the hearing reconvenes tomorrow morning, Galactic News Network will be there to bring you all the details . . .

"Viewscreen off," Leon beckoned to the computer, and it obediently complied as the desk-mounted screen went black. With a sigh of disgust, he sat in his chair staring blankly at the wall. The thoughts that swirled through his mind were of confusion, frustration, and above all, anxiety. His father was quickly becoming a household name throughout the Federation, as was the Republic, and with the numerous text messages blinking their arrival at his com station, Leon could only assume that they were from friends and family who he had long ago lost contact with. The last thing Leon wanted to do was have to explain the situation over and over again to people he barely knew.

"Enough," Leon mumbled to himself. He slowly began to stand up, and although he had originally planned to go to bed, Leon thought that it might have been better to take his mind off current events. Slipping on his boots and ivory turtleneck sweater, he chose to head to the holodeck with the purpose to continue his studies for the bridge officer's test.

As he walked along the corridors in deck eight, Leon could not help to notice a group of three engineers gathered in front of a door. It had formerly belonged to Counselor B'Rell, the notorious Bajoran psychiatrist that nearly led the Republic's saucer section to destruction earlier in the year. However, since his departure, it remained empty, even as Doctor Harris temporarily took over his position. The doctor did her work both on the bridge and in sickbay, never concerning herself with the former counselor's permanent departmental office.

Watching the engineers, Leon could tell that they were finishing up with changing the stenciling on the door. Gathering their equipment, the trio of technicians paid the doctor no mind as they walked away down the to the turbolift. Without another glace, Leon turned his attention to the horizontal brown identification stripe located three-fourth's the way up the door:

 

0872: SHIP'S COUNSELOR
LT CMDR REITTAN TOLKATH

"Must be our new counselor," Leon concluded. He was about to continue to the holodeck when the thought occurred to him that this new senior officer would likely have to be a close colleague of his, since medical and psychology are related departments. Diplomacy was not one of Leon's strong points, and he knew it. If the counselor needed a tour guide, surely there was someone else aboard that could do it? Some ensign from the command department, perhaps?

Leon shook his head. "They can get their own guide," he thought taking one step forward before pausing. "But what am I in a hurry for?" Staring blankly in front of himself, he realized that maybe getting to know the counselor might be a good idea, especially with all the spare emotional luggage he had been carrying for the past year: His father's hearing, the death of James Marshall, and his own flashbacks to the Dominion war were all weighing heavily on his shoulders. As if mentally acknowledging his troubles, the doctor shrugged, stepped back, and pressed the door buzzer.

Counselor Tolkath looked over his office. A sense of uneasiness lingered, but with all the chaos on the starbase and aboard the starship he couldn't tell if it were from the present or from past phantoms. "Breathe Reittan," he reminded himself. He lay on the floor of the office, closed his eyes and began in a Vulcan meditation exercise his Grandfather had taught him. As his breathing, pulse and other bio-rhythms began to come into sync, Reittan's head began to clear, his empathic abilities became more focused. The external chaos was once more put at bay. As his eyes came open, Reittan moved to his desk and continued looking over the personnel files of the senior members of the Republic; trying to memorize names and faces. As he was losing himself to the Viewscreen the door sounded a visitor. "Come in." the Lieutenant Commander invited.

The doctor walked in, almost hesitantly.

Reittan sensed a complex cascade of emotion emanating from the visitor. "Ah, Doctor Cromwell. What can I do for you?" Counselor Tolkath asked as he greeted his guest with a warm smile.

Leon blinked. For a brief moment, he questioned himself on how this stranger knew who he was, but before saying anything, he answered his own question. "Betazoid," he thought. "Gotta be."

"I don't know if you've had anyone formally greet you," Leon began. "Especially since the senior staff hasn't met together since we came into port several weeks ago."

"No, I've only the chance to report into the Captain," the Counselor replied.

"Well, in that case, let me be the first." Reaching out his hand, the doctor greeted Reittan. "Welcome aboard the Republic, Counselor . . . ." Leon raised his eyebrows, hoping the counselor would fill in the rest of the sentence.

Taking Cromwell's hand in a firm grasp Reittan stated, "Tolkath."

"We haven't had a qualified counselor in months," the doctor explained. "It's been difficult with all the stress we've been under, and we're glad to have you aboard."

"Thank you Doctor Cromwell. You will have to excuse the clutter." Reittan said as he gestured to the nearly spotless room. "Please, have a seat." invited the Lieutenant Commander.

"Thank you," he replied, sliding into the chair in front of Reittan's new desk. The window behind the counselor accentuated his head and shoulders as the various docking bays and cargo vessels slid slowly past. It was at this time that Leon noticed Reittan's ears. They were, for the most part, human. But he could detect the barest hint of a point on both.

"Do you have Vulcan ancestry?" Leon asked straightforwardly.

Reittan smiled; a hint of pride swelled within him. "My paternal grandfather is Vulcan."

"I had a Vulcan doctor in sickbay, recently," commented Leon. There was the barest hint of regret in his eyes. "Y'lair was his name. One of the best physicians I've ever worked with. We lost him in a mission several months ago."

The sorrow that Reittan had sensed earlier from Doctor Cromwell was beginning to become stifling. He sensed this wasn't the only loss that this good doctor had experienced, but had not yet faced. But, as all good counselors do, Counselor Tolkath knew he had to let Leon travel this road at his own pace. The Lieutenant Commander was only a guide, and a guide he would be. Sensing the amount of emotional strain and fatigue that the doctor was going through was exhausting in itself. Something had to be done, soon. But, this situation had to be handled delicately. Many aboard the ship had grown disillusioned with the psychology department since the "moron Bajoron" as Counselor B'Rell had been affectionately come to known by many members of the crew who had known him. No one had ever spoken the name aloud to Reittan, but it had been "on their minds." "I can tell this loss wasn't easily overcome," the Counselor stated matter-of-factly.

"No, it wasn't easy. But then, this ship has lost a lot of good people during the past year. Including a captain. Overall, though, I'd say the crew has handled it well."

Sensing something inside the doctor wanted desperately to talk; the Counselor decided to continue. "So, tell me a little about yourself. How did you get involved in Starfleet?" Reittan asked, hoping to probe a little deeper.

"Me?" Leon said in surprise. "Well, let's see." He settled back in his chair looking at the ceiling. "I joined as an enlisted medical technician ten years ago, left to study for my MD on Luna, was hired by Starfleet again as a field surgeon during the Dominion war, and afterwards, got my PhD in Astrobiology before heading out on a science mission at Pacifica. I was called back to Starfleet a year ago."

At the mention of the war the counselor felt a surge of emotion against the barrier that had been so painstakingly been erected in Leon. "So you were involved in the Dominion war?" Reittan inquired intent on tearing down Leon's barriers that were long overdue for demolition.

"Yes, that's right," Leon replied. "A field surgeon. Starfleet was short of medical personnel during the war."

At this point Leon's subconscious cries for help were almost deafening to Reittan's empathic abilities. "I am sure you saw a lot of terrible things there. You surely dealt with an intense amount of loss. Were there any in particular that you remember?"

Leon felt a sense of nervousness rising in his stomach. Not towards Reittan, but towards the subject they were discussing. The doctor had talked about his experience in the Dominion war dozens of times, but never had he felt like this. It was as though his fear and anxiety about the war, which he had worked years to suppress, were rising within him. A bead of sweat trickled down the side of his head.

"Well," Leon cleared his throat. "There were a lot of patients I lost. I remember one that . . . ."

The doctor paused in confusion.

Suddenly, his throat tightened, and tears welled in his eyes. Leon thought that the pain of those days had long since subsided, but the anguish he now felt as fresh as if it had happened yesterday. With the sound of blood rushing past his ears, he grasped the armrests of his chair in attempts to hold back his tears. Moments passed where Leon worked to control his breathing, and as he did so, heard Reittan's calm, resolute voice bringing him back to reality.

"Doctor . . . , Doctor Cromwell . . . , Leon . . . , it wasn't your fault. It was NOT your fault."

Leon sat in the chair with a surprised expression, as if someone or something reached deep into the emotional recesses of his mind and brought to the surface the merest fraction of his life's pain. As it slowly receded back into the abyss of his soul, he wiped his now red, swollen eyes before looking back at the counselor.

"How did you do that?" Leon whispered in amazement. "I had no idea those feelings were still with me . . . "

"Doctor, all I did was to guide you to what you were truly feeling; showed you the pain that you have been trying to hide from for such a long time. Isn't it strange that the walls we form to contain our pain become our prisons, even keeping out those we love. But, anyways . . ." the counselor said curtailing his philosophizing.

The doctor was impressed, to say the least. Although Leon had visited numerous counselors to work on his post-traumatic stress from the war, he had never experienced a counseling session with an empath before. It was the most unique, introspective experience he had ever had.

"It's strange," Leon remarked with a smile. "I just came in here to welcome you to the ship, an instead, I get drawn into my own nightmares."

"We all get drawn into our own life dramas at sometimes the strangest times.'" Reittan said with an experienced grin. I think we should start meeting on a regular basis.

"Regular sessions?" Leon said with hesitation, "But I don't think . . . "

"Doctor, I insist." Reittan interjected. "These unresolved issues are not going to go away. It's best if we get your coping mechanisms back into place, with this trial and all," counselor Tolkath said raising an eyebrow in true Vulcan fashion.

Standing up, the doctor had a quizzical look on his face. "You're an interesting person, counselor. I dare say that you'll make an excellent colleague."

Reittan escorted Leon to the door, and the two shook hands.

"Thanks, counselor," Leon said.

"No problem, doctor. I also look forward to the tour of the Republic. Also, make sure to schedule an appointment for our next visit." Lieutenant Commander Tolkath smiled, waited for the door to open, and turned around and again took a seat at his desk.

As the door to the office closed, Leon shook his head in disbelief. Although he had not expected to show his personal side in front of a complete stranger this evening, the doctor felt as though a great weight had lifted from his shoulders. Leon proceeded down the corridor to the turbolift, feeling no need to keep his mind busy with holodeck training programs. He felt genuinely tired and no longer on edge. Deep down inside, Leon knew that tonight he would sleep well for the first time in weeks.

***

Throughout the Federation, a maze of subspace relays and communication nodes float in the depths of space, carrying with them the burden of a civilization's lifeline. Without the ability to send and receive messages, whether they be audio or visual, an interstellar culture could not expect to survive. Fortunately, the conduits of interchange are not subject to the distractions and maladies which afflict their users, and are ready, able, and willing to do their job without question.

Incoming subspace message

 

Priority Green-3 (low)
To: Cmdr John Carter, U.S.S. Republic, NCC-76241
From: Lieutenant Cmdr Victor Virtus, Sol three, SB-1
Stardate 57905.2

Hello John,
Sorry I could not write sooner. Plenty of time, just not for leisure. I hope the trial is going well. There's a pool going. I'm going to win, as I have not advertised my prior knowledge of your capabilities and 'well-developed' sense of ethics. I'll send you 10% of the profits after the whole mess blows over.

I apparently missed the Doc by less than an hour. I was coming in from a 'research project' just as he was leaving. Please tell him I said hello, and Maria and the black shirt as well.

Keep an eye out for a paper on breakthroughs in warp field resonance and it's effect on matter/anti-matter intermix efficiency. Two hundred percent mass to energy ratios are about to become a thing of the past. Just think of the damage you could cause with an extra nine percent maximum generator output in a tight spot.

I'd be happier if I could both claim full credit for the discovery, and that that had been what I was researching, but neither is the case. The discovery was incidental, and made by Lieutenant Tanna Myrr. She earns more medals in a year while sleeping than I have earned in the last ten awake. I'd be jealous if she were not so damned humble about it all. But I won two dinners, a tour of Paris and a rather dog-earned second generation copy of Miyamoto Mushshi's "Fire Rings" translated into Klingon, at poker on the way back to Earth. She's a genius, but can bluff to worth a tribble. My Klingon is so rusty you can hear is squeak over a nacelle at warp 9, but the book is still a fascinating read.

Take good care of Captain Roth. She got a raw deal a few years back, as I'm sure you know. I knew her CoE in that snafu, we were at the Academy together. She knows her stuff, but there's a worry that she might second-guess in a pinch. Don't let her. I know how you prefer to blindly follow orders and rarely voice what's on your mind, but these are problems I believe, deep in my heart, that you can overcome.

I wish I were going with you, but what I'm working on now 'might' change the way we look at the universe. (Or it might wind up as a bad example in a "How not to ruin your career as a scientist" comedic instructional holonovel.)

Look after the old girl for me. She's not sleek and nimble like the Valiant II, she's graceful and dangerous, like that flutist you were dating on Risa. (After the first time you decided to fly too close to a quantum singularity.) Speaking of Risa, have Burke tell you the one about the Horta and the Magnetic Flux Interpolator. I heard it second-hand from one of his old chiefs and I can remember the punchline, but not the build-up.

Be careful out there John, you're a pain in the butt sometimes, but a lot of folks would really miss you. If I have to drag you through space/time again, I'll be most cross.

My love to Shannon, and warmest well-wishes,
-Vic
" . . . look upwards . . . "

 

End Transmission

***

Location: Main engineering, deck 36, USS Republic

"Space is big," Lieutenant Pakita repeated to the new ensign.

"I don't understand", Ensign Donovan Kreel replied, confusedly.

Maria sighed. "It's something my last three chiefs said, and I'm just waiting for Lieutenant Commander Burke to say it. It's something that must be a requirement in the secret 'Chief Engineer's Manual'. It's meant to make us junior officers appreciate the enormity of Starfleet's mission, and the importance of the engineering staff in making certain the ship is able to carry out our assignments on a galactic scale."

Donavon pondered that, and as comprehension dawned within his eyes, Maria's heart soared among the heavens . . .

"So . . . there's a secret 'Chief Engineer's Manual?"

. . . before plummeting to bounce off the deck plating.

"You betcha Ensign. But I'm not allowed to talk about it. So mum's the word. If I hear any such nonsense in the future, I'll deny it under oath, understood?" Maria leaned in conspiratorially.

The ensign leaned in as well, "Aye aye, Lieutenant."

"Back to work then, these engines aren't going to maintain themselves. We've got a checklist nine meters long. Both of our transporter specialists are incapacitated, McHenri with Denebian flu and Bri'loth twisted an ankle coming aboard. The Doc did his usual Arcturian voodoo, sacrificed a mated pair of Lusian gekkos, and told him to stay off it for 48 hours. So of course, the number two cargo transporter's showing a Heisenberg anomaly."

The poor ensign's eyes glazed over again, "I . . . see. The ship's doctor is Arcturian?"

Lieutenant Pakita mentally slapped her palm to her forehead, while physical nodding in agreement, "Close, he's from Stetson VI in the Bow-vine system. Now get down to Cargo Bay Two and run a level three diagnostic on circuits five through nine. This is the fourth time this week this has happened on second watch."

Maria winced internally, waiting to see how Donovan would react to the barrage of numbers.

"Yes Lieutenant! Cargo Bay Two, Level 3 diagnostic, circuits 5 thru 9. Aye aye," he confirmed, nodding and heading for the turbolift.

The lanky Caribbean girl watched him go with a brief smirk, and glanced around. Finding no one within earshot, she sat down at a terminal, put her elbow on the display and let her chin rest on her fist.

"Computer." An electronic warble sounded. "Assistant Chief Engineer's Log, supplemental, . . . Ensign Kreel shows promise."

Location: 86th moon of Beaufort IV

The small escape pod was almost all covered by snow, there was no chance that the transceiver array would still work tomorrow. The nights were intolerable. With life-support offline, a thermal blanket was little comfort for nights at -50 Celsius.

Hranok was meditating. Not that it was his way to deal with difficult situations, but he had nothing else to do.

"This is finally the end", he told himself.

He survived alone 3 weeks inside the wreckage of the saucer section of the Odyssey, a galaxy-class vessel trapped inside the Gamma-quadrant. He has been captured and tortured in a Dominion Prison Camp. He climbed Mt Milana on Betazed in only two weeks, with three broken ribs. But now, even after only five days, THIS is definitely too much." He knew he was in hypothermic shock, he couldn’t feel his legs. "Well… better die here than ending eating these damn combat rations".

After he survived the destruction of 15 ships, after the war, he chose to switch from security to science. He wished that he could finish his career, happy, in an untroubled office, if possible with a window or two. He saw himself working in a lab at the Bureau of Temporal Investigation at Nairobi. When you don’t serve on a ship, there’s no chance that it’ll explode. Instead, he joined an officer exchange program with Romulus and served on the Imperial warbird Levek. He was then assigned to various Oberth-class science ships exploring temporal distortions and was chosen as Operation Officer on the most ambitious project Starfleet and the always-mysterious Temporal Bureau of Investigation even created: the U.S.S. Paladin. Hranok never thought that the project could go wrong; everything was planned and set accordingly. Now that the Paladin was destroyed, with obviously no survivors, the Temporal Bureau of Investigation would certainly close. Everything he worked for during the last three years would be destroyed .

***

Location: Delta Flyer

With practiced ease, Lieutenant Commander Thomas Eugene Paris, Executive Officer of the Starship Voyager under Captain Chakotay, slipped the agile shuttle of his own co-design from warp. As the stars fell relaxed back to their normal appearance, Tom felt a mixture of emotions he had felt dozens of times before since their return from the Delta Quadrant. Relief, a sense of home, a sense of wonder, and a sense of longing for the days - as hazardous as they where - when the stars where as unfamiliar as they had ever been.

"Now entering the Beaufort system." Tom reported to the others aboard - the Republic's Helmsman, Hawk, one of the Republic's Medics by the name of Teague, and the considerably attractive stranger - apparently a friend of Admiral Janeway's - that Hawk had brought along. In his day, Tom surely would have made a number of passes at the young woman by now. Being happily married put a damper on that, though. If only out of concern for B'Elanna's temper.

Around them, and throughout the system, chunks and metal and other miscellaneous substances drifted unnaturally between the various planetoids.

"This debris is from a Federation Starship," Paris commented. "If the metallurgical analysis is right, from a ship that couldn't have been here."

"M'Kay, so, which rock we gettin' this call from?" Hawk asked from the Tactical station. He felt considerably out of place and fairly useless anywhere but the Helm, but not only did Tom outrank him, but this was almost literally his ship.

"Uhm," Paris replied, checking the sensors, "Looks like the 86th."

"Oh, that helps." Hawk quipped in reply, as they looked out through the cockpit upon the dozens of moons of different shapes, sizes, and classes.

"That's what star charts are for," Paris replied jovially, looking to his sensor panel, which identified and labeled each stellar body. Plotting a course for the one of their specific interest, Tom indulged himself and activated the Impulse Thrusters, flying the nimble craft on limited manual as they approached their target.

"What is it with you pilots and dropping the inertial dampers just when your about to do loops and weaves?" Warner asked from the deactivated Engineering station at the aft.

"Space sick, darlin'?" Hawk queried, mockingly.

"Only because your here." She shot back with a sarcastic smile.

"If you two love birds don't keep it down, we're liable to miss our moon." Paris interjected.

"Hah," snorted Teague from Ops, opposite Hawk.

"What're you snortin' at, kid?" Hawk questioned.

"Nothing, sir," replied Teague, stifling his laughter, "It's just, Sickbay is never this fun." he added after a moment.

"I coulda told ya that," Hawk said, remembering his first day aboard and the liquid-metal surgical suite he'd created at Cromwell's request.

"Here we are, 86th moon of Beaufort IV." Paris announced, plowing the ship forward into the planetoids minimal atmosphere.

"Who n'the hell named this system, anywho?" Hawk queried to no one in particular.

"Scan for that transceiver, Nat," Paris replied, all business for the moment.

Clumsily, not used to non-navigational sensors, Hawk complied without response. Though it took three scans, the transceivers fading signal finally came back. "Bearin' 024 mark 5, distance, 200 kilometers." Hawk reported finally.

"Can we get a transporter lock?" Teague asked.

"I sure hope so," Paris replied, "the Arctic looks more inviting than this place."

"Just think how the survivors feel." Warner replied, unapologetically.

"I just meant it'll be a lot easier if we can just beam them up, that's all." Paris replied, defensively.

"Don't mind her, Tom, she obviously went to a Klingon charm school." Hawk said.

"Better than Drunken Hick University," she replied, looking off to the windows.

"One a these days, yer gonna sass the wrong person, missy, an then yer gonna have ta fight with a lot more than words." Hawk suggested, menacingly.

"Knock it off, you two! We've got a job to do here!" Paris demanded. After a few quiet moments, he couldn't help but feel a sense of irony at being the one to stop the jokes and petty bickering when about a decade ago, he'd been the one behind some similar situations.

"I've got a life sign, a Bolian, very weak!" Teague reported after another few moments of silence.

"Can you get a transporter lock?" Paris asked.

"Uhm," Teague replied, "I've never actually operated a transporter outside of basic." Teague admitted.

"Lemme," Hawk said, pushing Teague's hands from his console. "Got 'em," Hawk said. From the aft cabin of the Flyer, the faint whine of a transporter could be heard.

"I'm gonna make another pass, see if I can find more life signs. Otherwise we'll have to land and do a manual search." Paris said as Teague left his post to tend to the survivor. Feeling fairly useless, and seeing Warner following Teague, Hawk decided to follow suite.

"Hawk, if you don't stop following me, you're really going to earn that nickname 'Death Wish' of yours," Warner advised.

"Hawk? Nathan Hawk? The Nathan Hawk from the 85th Attack Squadron?" the survivor said, visibly confused. Warner, Hawk and Teague jumped, not knowing that the Bolian was still conscious.

The reporter smiled at the young pilot. "Well, once again, your reputation precedes you."

"I know you?" Hawk asked, ignoring Warner's remark, as Teague charged his hypospray with a metadynic fluid.

"Yeah," he said faintly. "7th fleet, the attack at Kalandra. I was the tactical officer on the Bismarck. We were coordinating together the attack on that defense platform."

"I saved yer ass!" Hawk exclaimed with a grin.

"Oh yeah, you did!" the Bolian agreed, coughing, but with a big smile. "That dogfight with the Cardassian raider was really something. We were talking about that for months afterward."

"Well, now I dun saved yer ass a second time." Hawk said.

"How modest," Warner remarked.

"A debt that I’m willing to pay with a bottle of romulan ale if you want?"

"Heh," Hawk snorted, "Yer gonna need more'an a bottle, just fer me. Not ta mention the rest a the gang."

"Wait, you where the tactical officer on the Bismarck?" asked Warner curiously. "Boys with big guns aren supposed to wear gold. Why the blue uniform?"

"I switched to science a few years ago, after the war." he said more seriously, still suspicious about the civilian clothing she was wearing. "And you are?"

"Leah Warner, FNS," the woman said, not mentioning what she was doing there anyway.

"A reporter? For me? Wow, I didn't realize I was so special." the Bolian said.

From the cockpit, Lieutenant Commander Tom Paris appeared.

"Welcome aboard, stranger," he said to the injured Bolian on the bio-bed. "I just talked to 39-Sierra. We found the debris of the Paladin floating all over the system. Commander Claudel was wondering what happened. The Paladin was commissioned more than 100 lights years away from here…"

Hranok knew that he would have to answer questions he didn’t want to. He needed a way out. The hypospray injected by Teague made tingle his right arm, he grimaced and kept silent for a few seconds. He was visibly trapped and needed a way to get out. "Who is Commander Claudel?"

"The Traffic Coordinator of the Sector and Strategic Operations officer at Starbase 39-Sierra," Paris answered.

"Sorry. I can’t talk about what happened," Hranok said. "I hope you’ll understand. Tell Commander Claudel I’ll brief Starfleet Command myself."

"Alright, but time is crucial here. We need to know what happened, incase there’s any other survivors." Paris replied, with a mix of curiosity and professionalism In his voice.

"Believe me," Hranok interrupted him. "There are no other survivors."

"How can you be sure?" Paris asked.

Hranok never answered. A reporter, officers he didn’t know… the risk was too high. He just smiled and closed his eyes. He would take care everything on Sierra-39 . . .

Location: Observation room, unit 327, residential level 1138, south complex 72B, Starbase 39 Sierra

As usually, the room was dark, and the only available light came from the expansive viewport that unveiled the billions of minute points of light amongst the blackness of space. The scene was quiet. Perfectly still, save the barely noticeable twinkling of the stars and the occasional spaceship either entering or coming out of warp. This was the way Arthur Cromwell liked it.

His face had grown weary over the past week, but the first day of the hearing robbed him of sleep the previous night, and the dark circles under his eyes were yet another signatory that his mental exhaustion was at a new low. The half empty bottle of scotch sat on the window sill as Arthur stared into the stars, and like his soul, the level of the whiskey had slowly leeched away overnight in despair.

As he gazed out into the vastness of space with bloodshot eyes, Arthur's jaw clenched slightly at the soft whisper of the door sliding open behind him. He did not turn around to see who it was, for there was only one individual who would break the solitude of this sanctuary.

Leon silently walked into the room allowing the closing door to signify his presence. More than a minute passed before his father acknowledged him, and by the fact that there was no irritable tone in his voice, it suggested a man who was at the end of his rope.

"It's ironic," he mumbled. "For over a hundred years, the Federation and Gorns have been at each others' necks. Now, after two thousand dead colonists, including Janice and Ann, the Federation blames not the Rexes, but me."

He took another sip of whiskey from a short glass he held in his right hand.

"Worse yet, I'm starting to believe them."

A knot formed in Leon's stomach as his worry for his father swelled. This was a man he had held in the highest respect as a boy, if not spite as a teenager and adult. Yet now he holds back the anguish of watching him wither into an old man whose heart has lost all hope.

'It's not your fault . . . it's not your fault.' Reittan's words echoed in Leon's mind from the counseling session he had last night. They were reassuring, and gave him strength to confront perhaps the biggest wound he had ever been forced to endure.

"Dad . . . you couldn't have known. You were protecting your home."

"Yeah," he admitted, but feeling no absolution. "But you heard the recording. I lured them there. They might have left me alone, but I lured them and killed them. It doesn't matter that they were invaders."

"You couldn't have exactly welcomed them with open arms," Leon replied. "Besides, they would have captured you eventually. As far as you knew, they were killing everyone in the city and despite what that jerk Cole says, you didn't have freedom of movement to find out."

Arthur was taken aback that his son was actually defending him, especially since every domicile in the Federation was having second thoughts about his role in the incident. Still, it gave him no joy, and he only turned around to face Leon with sad, tired eyes.

"Still, it doesn't matter anymore. Janice and Ann are dead, and everyone else thinks I killed them.

He tried to take a step towards the door, but in his inebriated state, he swayed, and nearly fell down if it were not for Leon who he grabbed at the shoulder.

"Easy," Leon said, helping his father to stand up. "C'mon. The hearing resumes in two hours. Let's get you a detox hypo and some breakfast."

***

Location: Commercial Transport Liner "Seaswift II", Starbase 39-Sierra inbound

Doctor V. X. Virtus drummed his fingers on the arm of the faux-leather and faux-hardwood chair in his nicely appointed but tiny cabin aboard the Seaswift Two. It'd had been an agonizingly long journey at warp three. Starfleet ships-of-the-line spoil it's crewmen with warp speeds in the five to eight range, causing a sense that anything slower was the equivalent of crawling through space dragging a Class M planet with a ninety-year old tractor beam. Comments like "would it help if I got out and pushed?" sprang to mind.

Assuming a logarithmic asymptotic warp curve, the closer one gets to warp ten, the closer one's subjective velocity gets to infinity. Thus, warp one being equal to the speed of light as measured by a stationary outside observer, warp three is several times the speed of light, and warp eight is, well, very-very fast. But the true break-throughs in warp field research are now in 'sustaining' high warp velocities. The engineering involved in designing an engine that will maintain warp eight point five or higher for more than a few hours has been long and difficult.

The good doctor mentally re-ran through his request to the Starfleet Corps of Engineer's Center for Astrophysical Research to be allowed to do 'sustained high-warp' experiments, using the labs, computers and maybe a torpedo or two, on the U.S.S. Republic. SCECAR was more than happy to get him out of the simulator and into the field again, if for no other reason than to prevent him from inciting cadets to riot during debates on trans-warp research.

The computer chimed, and a melodic woman's voice said, "Time to starbase thirty-nine sierra: one hour and eleven minutes."

***

Location: Counselors office, deck 8, USS Republic

Reittan finished his dictating his notes from the doctor's visit, and turned the view-screen away from him.

"View-screen off." He ordered wiping a bead of perspiration from his face. The computer complied.

Post-traumatic stress disorders were strenuous to him. It took a great amount of energy and concentration to guide the person, understand their emotions, but not experience them. Depending on the empathic ability, to a novice the task could seem insurmountable because of the intensity of emotion tied to the ordeal.

The view-screen began flickering, coming to life on its own. "What?!?!" Reittan thought to himself in bewilderment. As the message "B'Rell's a Bajoran Moron" scrolled across the screen, the Republic's Counselor started to grin. "Now that took some imagination and some ingenuity. I'll have to get engineering here to come fix this too." The repercussions of the previous counselor's actions aboard the bridge were most seen in the office. They had been ignominious. "Well, perhaps they'll get to this, after all they don't seem to be getting to the broken down holodecks anytime soon."

In the back of his mind he heard familiar voices. Just then the door chime sounded alerting him of someone outside the door. Reittan turned his chair to face the sliding door.

"Come in." he invited.

At the sound of his voice a visitor outside the door laughed, giggling like a giddy school girl.

Lieutenant Commander Tolkath couldn't believe his slightly Vulcan ears. "But what was she doing here?" he questioned himself.

"She is not the only one here. She is just the only one who was too excited to not giggle. But can you blame a mother?" the sage voice of Reittan's maternal grandmother sounded in his head.

"Well, what are we waiting for? He said come in." Jaren asked aloud to the rest of his party and took a step towards the automated door. Sensing his presence, the doors gave way with a hiss. Reittan's father walked in. Following close behind were an entourage which included his Vulcan grandfather, Terran grandmother affectionately known as "Grams", and Betazoid mother and grandmother known as "Grandmother".

"How are you, my child?" Reittan's maternal grandmother asked telepathically.

"Now Grandmother, you know the rules; as much as I'd love to communicate telepathically, we speak." Reittan gently chided her.

Smiling, the matriarch of the family proudly looked over her grandson in his Starfleet uniform, began picking at it, and said jokingly, "Ooh, look who's teaching who etiquette."

The Lieutenant Commander warmly embraced each member of his family. When the time for his Vulcan grandfather to receive a welcome arrived, Reittan raised his hand, separated the fingers, and stated admirably, "Live Long and Prosper." His grandfather proudly returned the greeting. He then invited them all to sit down and make themselves comfortable.

Counselor Tolkath had learned much from his very polarized family; this polarity would save his life. His gift would return the favor, paradoxically, during the Dominion invasion of Betazed. He had come to a balance between logic and emotion that few could appreciate. Genetically a few surprises had happened. Unlike his human/betazoid counterparts, Reittan had full use of telepathy, and could even use touch telepathy. His telepathic abilities and empathic abilities became problematic at times, they seemed overdeveloped; but through his grandfather and father's mentoring him in the teachings of Sarek, Reittan was able to remain stable. Ironically, stoic logic would become a stabilizing boon to Yaxara's and Jaren's son.

"Who is B'Rell?" Jaren, Reittan's father, asked pointing to a bulkhead that hadn't been completely cleared of graffiti.

Counselor Tolkath shook his head and the whole story unconsciously quickly cascaded through his mind "It's a long story, which I am sure you don't have time for." When he turned his head towards his mother and grandmother they had strange looks on their faces. He realized what had happened. It HAD been a long time since he lived with other telepaths.

The conversation ebbed and flowed from one topic to another. Finally Grandmother asked, "What is all this news about the trial? The air is so thick with confusion, chaos, and anxiety that you could almost cut it with a knife."

"Thank the Four I am not the only one who feels that way." Reittan thought to himself.

"No you are not." Yaxara spoke aloud unconsciously.

"A-hem" Grams said, with a wink that pulled the creases around the edges of her eyes together and a smile that could melt even a Vulcans heart. "We are here too."

Reittan then spent the next hour explaining what he knew of the invasion of the Gorns. Upon the mention of Tuvok's name Reittan's grandfather took special interest. Emotions ran high around the topic from the human/betazoid side while the Vulcans looked interested.

"Did the Federation learn nothing from the Dominion invasion of Betazed? I am going to march right up there . . . " said a livid Grandmother. Her diplomatic duties had taught her to usually use candor, but because the wounds of the war were so fresh, she had forgotten all tact.

"It is illogical that a man can not protect his own home . . . What does the Federation have to gain . . . " Reittan's grandfather said, his voice trailing off in thought.

Jaren stood up, walked over, and leaned up against one of the Republic's bulkheads. Peering out the window at the passing cargo ships and transports scuttling between the Republic and the Star base Jaren stared.

Reittan paused a moment, then asked hesitantly, "So, what is the verdict with the amendment to the Code of Sentience? Are they going to put a provision for the usage of telepathy in a time of life or death situation?"

Grandmother looked down at the pale floor. The topic was a sore one for the family. "They are still in debate."

"Reittan, the incident is behind us. Let us leave it alone." Yaxara pleaded with her son.

The memory haunted Reittan; he knew he had done what he should have. After all, it was that incident and the Dominion invasion that lead him from being a Doctorate degree holding Psychologist to a Starfleet officer.

"It was the logical thing to do." Jaren and his father eerily chimed in at the same time.

"Oh, I'm sure my humanity played into it, too. But, Reittan remember you saved people's lives; that's what is important." Grams reassured.

Reittan raised his eyebrow. "Praise the Four for such a great family." He paused. " I haven't seen the whole ship myself and was just going to go for a tour. Would you like to join me?" The family answered in the affirmative. The Counselor looked at his family dubiously, "Although, I'll have to make sure to get the proper security clearances; I'm not sure that Grams will pass." Reittan said jokingly.

With that the family headed out of the counselor's office in lively conversation.

***

Location: Room B-4, residential compartments, deck 13, USS Republic

Doctor Virtus looked around his modest new quarters aboard the Republic, and estimated how many steps there were between his door and Main Engineering.

Step 1. Out the door turn left
Step 2. Down the corridor into the turbolift
Step 3. Override security permissions
Step 4. Lift down to deck 36
Step 5. Out the door turn right
Step 6. Convince engineering personnel he was not a crackpot in the middle of a emergency as panels explode and people are falling from gantries and Borg are beaming in and Nat is flying beyond the tolerances of the inertial dampers while John goes EVA hand to hand with a hideous, tentacled beast to protect a beautiful unknown alien race female wearing a strangely see-through shapesuit.

Fifty-six strides walking, four-two at a combat jog.

"Computer, Doctor's Personal Log. Stardate 61005.5"

A an electronic warble sounded in response to his voice.

" . . . I'm home."

***

"Chief Engineer's Personal log, stardate 57528.6"

"I haven't made a diary entry in a while. The last several months have been a blur with every available systems upgrade being put to use aboard the Republic. I'm proud of my team, they chose to skin their knees and bang their heads in the ship's crawlspaces when they could've been on Starbase getting soft.

"Shen Baowen separated his shoulder helping to unload science equipment that had been abandoned in place. Doctor Cromwell says it looks like he'll be remaining on Starbase to recuperate. So, I set about finding a replacement Maintenance Officer. I'm pretty much decided on promoting a young woman named Rota Sonji to the post. Rota, who's been an operations manager on Farius Prime (Upsilon Andromeda) is in the same boat I was in not too long ago (5 months since I came aboard from Earth–time flies when you're having fun and realigning the warp coils!) She says she makes some strong hasperat. She also mentioned something about with azna with flaked blood fleas. I told her about my string green beans and dried onions recipe and she sounded like she was interested in an exchange.

"I've tried to teach a few blokes the finer points of Australian Rules Football but they're mostly afraid of getting hurt. I was thinking of holding a footy camp or even surrendering to the rugby enthusiasts. Quite a few people have been asking me how the holodeck cricket is going since it was featured in the ship's rumor mill. Things have been on hold a bit for the last month or so, partly because of the wet weather (the program is inalterable facsimile of current Earth weather). Crewman Kumar, who's our quickest bowler, doesn't much like the slippery tarmac and has been having a bit of a whinge, so we might have to invest in some carpet to use as a run-up. I'd expect things to fire up again once the Deuterium tank upgrades are up and running. It'll be just like when Wimbledon is on, the tennis racquets come out of the wardrobe. Once the blokes on earth start thrashing the Poms, I'm sure me and the boys be back in the holodeck with the taped tennis ball and I'll have some more stories to tell you."

Location: Conference room 6, Starbase 39 Sierra -- "Republic Eight" trial, Day 2

Inside the confines of the conference room, Judge Wade spoke in stern tones. "All right then folks, let's get back to business shall we." He nodded toward Mister Cole who seemed eager to continue his attack on the assembled members of Republic's command crew. "You have the floor Mister Cole."

With reptilian ease, Cole nodded. "Thank you, your Honor," he said coolly. "The prosecution calls intelligence officer Anathon to the stand."

As a door to the front of the room opened, the surly Andorian, dressed in the black fatigues of the Imperial Guard of Andor, walked to the witness stand, took the pledge of truth, and dutifully sat down.

John Carter's poker face failed him as he felt his eyebrows raise. "Sprocking Hell, that man HAS to have some Cardassian in him."

Next to Carter, Nat Hawk chuckled. "Jeez, Cyclops, how is it we always run into the people you pissed off?"

Carter turned his head slightly and skewed his face into a sour scowl. "Quiet," Carter hissed. "I need to hear this. He's here for a reason."

"Yeah!" Hawk huffed, barely keeping his voice discrete, "He's here to put you away." Hawk gave the XO a playful wink. "I'll give the Counselor yer best."

On the floor of the conference room, Cole gave the Andorian in Intelligence black a glance. "Will you tell the court of your duty position during the events in question?" Cole asked.

"I was a security officer at the Cestus three intelligence outpost."

"The outpost that is currently under investigation by the Federation Council for possible treaty violation?"

Tuvok raised an eyebrow at the prosecution's admittance of the security outpost that had caused this incident in the first place.

"Yes," Anathon replied to Cole's question.

"Now, I understand that that investigation is ongoing, and does not pertain to any of the charges being brought against these defendants, but can you tell me what your orders were when the Gorns began to invade Cestus three?"

"We were to observe only, and not interfere."

"And did you?" Cole asked.

"Did I what?" Anathon asked with a twitch of his antenna.

"Interfere?"

"No, I did not."

"Are you sure?" Cole second-guessed the Andorian. "Think carefully."

"I did not interfere," Anathon stated, with anger rising in his voice.

"The state would like to turn the court's attention to exhibit E; supply backpacks found on the four individuals from the so-called 'Shadow Force' resistance cell composed of Mister Cromwell and the others."

A bailiff pushed out a grav-cart with three similar looking black backpacks aligned next to one another. Anathon's antenna went flat, and his eyes grew with concern as a lump formed in his throat. He had completely forgotten about the "gifts" he had left for the mysterious sliver-suited colonist in South Cornucopia.

"Now, Mister Anathon," Cole turned his attention to the Andorian again. "Do you recognize these backpacks?"

"Yes," he replied. "They're Starfleet Intelligence Special Operations field packs."

"If they're Starfleet," Cole asked. "Then what were they doing in the hands of Mister Cromwell and his comrades?"

A bead of sweat trickled down the side of Anathon's forehead as he looked at the backpacks. Were they the ones he left for the colonist? Surely they weren't. There were hundreds of those at the outpost. Besides, what were the chances they fell into Cromwell's hands? There weren't many clues, since Intel left no distinguishing marks on their equipment. There was only one real answer. "I do not know," Anathon replied with a slight rasp in his voice.

Cole nodded his head, seeming to accept the reply. He then turned towards the defense table, making an announcement to the court. "The state submits that Mister Cromwell committed not only one offense of pre-meditated murder, but two. With the assistance of THOSE individuals." Cole pointed to Skip, Wey, and Lins. "And with the help of rogue Starfleet officers that include not only those of the intelligence outpost, but those officers before us today that stand accused of related crimes."

"Objection, your honor," Tuvok said. "Speculation."

"On the contrary," Cole rebuffed with a snobbish tone. "If I could continue without interruption, I will present evidence that precisely demonstrates the foundation behind this accusation."

"Overruled," Judge Wade replied.

"The state would like to present exhibit F, sensor footage from a Gorn security sweep of downtown Cornucopia during the events in question. They were provided to us by the Gorn government for these proceedings."

A viewscreen to the right of the judge's stand came to life, showing dozens of Gorn troopers in assault gear standing in the middle of the street next to a strange array of huge, V-shaped metallic sheets suspended over a small concrete building. Federation standard and Gorn text blinked to life in the log's lower left corner which read "Cornucopia Heat-Exchange Facility, Sector 2B, stardate 57502.8, 1019 hours Cestus Time, Region 6".

Suddenly, a loud explosion is heard in the background, and the Gorns quickly turn towards the direction of the sound. The street began to buckle all around the building, and as craters begin to form, troops, transports, and event the structure started to collapse below ground. Screams and curses sound as wisps of white smoke begin to obscure the sensor's lens, and as static forms on the screen, the last picture is of a water line with dead Gorn troops half-dissolved in a caustic, blood-frothed liquid.

The screen flipped off, leaving the courtroom silent with a few whispers and an occasional sob at the shock of the scene. Even Lins shed a few tears at the defense table as Arthur, Skip, and Wey stared blankly at the now deactivated viewer. After a moment, Cole, while staring at the ceiling in thought, continued his questioning of Anathon.

"Can you identify the source of the explosion, Mister Anathon? Do you know of anything that can rip through one-meter thick streets of tritainium concrete resin?"

"A very power explosive substance," he replied.

"Not antimatter?" Cole asked.

"No, but almost as bad," Anathon gulped, not sure of his next words. "Probably a military explosive."

"A military explosive . . . " the prosecutor nodded his head. "The Gorn's analysis indicated nitrate charges. Does that seem possible to you?"

"Yes."

Somewhat surprisingly, Tuvok made no objection to Anathon's validation of Cole's theory.

"Is it jest me," Hawk commented again, "Or did your lawyer…"

"Our lawyer, Hawk." Carter whispered.

"Or did YOUR lawyer skip one hell of a chance to scuttle blue-boy's testimony."

Carter looked on in silence, not pleased with the idea that he was agreeing with the young lieutenant.

Presenting another PADD from his briefcase at the prosecution table, Cole brought it over to Anathon at the witness stand.

"These are the contents of the backpacks found among Mister Cromwell and his cohorts," Cole stated. "Tell me Mister Anathon. Assuming these packs were standard intelligence issue, do you notice anything missing?"

"Yes," Anathon said. "The packs that Cromwell's team had are missing all the nitrate charges . . . "

Whispers were once again shared among the observers as Cole came to a close.

"No further questions."

Cole spun slowly, taking his place back at the defense table. "Very well, Mister Cole," Judge Wade said from the bench. "Your witness Advocate Tuvok."

With calm, measured steps, Tuvok approached the witness box, where Anathon fidgeted slightly." Officer Anathon," Tuvok said in crisp tones, "Have you ever been posted to the Starship Valiant II?"

"Objection, your Honor," Cole said from the prosecution's desk, "This is a civilian trial. Your Honor already reminded all assembled that the use of rank and Starfleet position would not be tolerated."

Wade nodded. "Advocate?"

"Your Honor," Tuvok explained, "Officer Anathon is not on trial, therefore, his rank and position past or present may be used. Further, his past postings have relevance to this hearing, if I may be allowed to continue?"

"Over-ruled," Wade answered. "Please answer the question Mister Anathon."

In the box, Anathon continued to sweat, then nodded. "Yes, I have served on the Valiant II."

"Please tell the court the results of your crew evaluation for that cruise."

"Unsatisfactory." Anathon answered with an edge o bitterness.

Tuvok nodded and turned to pace in the opposite direction. "And who was responsible for that evaluation?"

Anathon swallowed hard and spoke after a brief pause. "The captain and first officer of the vessel."

"Indeed, and do you recall the name of either of those individuals?"

"I do not," Anathon leveled his icy blue eyes at Tuvok, "Advocate."

"I would like to enter Defense exhibit A. Crew manifest and fitness reports from the U.S.S. Valiant II; Excelsior class cruiser, Galaxy Exploration Command. I would like to point out that Mister Anathon's unsatisfactory fitness report was filed by Captain Theresa Perkins, and acting First Officer of the ship, John Carter. The same John Carter who sits in this room today." As Tuvok turned again, this time to face the gallery, Tuvok's robes gave his movements dramatic flourish. "What was the reason for this evaluation, Mister Anathon?"

"Mister Carter found my conduct not to his standards."

Tuvok nodded. "I see. In point of fact, you gathered the other Andorian members of the Valiant II's crew, and tried to kill John Carter, did you not?"

Anathon's antennae lurched forward, in a classic sign of anger. "I was within my rights."

"Answer the question, officer. Did you try to kill John Carter ?"

"I did."

"Your Honor, I move that this witness's testimony be stricken on the grounds that it is prejudicial to my clients."

Cole stood up, showing the first signs of annoyance throughout the two days of deliberations. "Objection, your honor," he bellowed. "John Carter is not the only one on trial here. Mister Anathon's testimony pertained to the events on Cestus three and the method used by Arthur Cromwell to infuriate the Gorns. Mister Carter was not mentioned once."

"Interesting," Wade intoned. After a moment of thought, the Judge turned to Tuvok. "Your motion to strike Mister Anathon's testimony is valid for John Carter only, advocate. I see no bias the witness may have against Arthur Cromwell."

"Thank you, your Honor," Tuvok nodded. "Nothing further from this witness."

Cole developed a furrow in his forehead. A fissure was developing in his case against the defendants. Although his argument against the Shadowforce members was solid, the connection to John Carter and the other Republic personnel was starting to unravel. It was time for desperate measures, and although he had one crucial witness in mind to bring to the court, it was a very risky gamble . . .

Wade smiled slightly at Cole's obvious annoyance. "Call your next witness, Mister Cole."

Cole smiled and slicked his pinky along his eyebrow. "Thank you Judge Wade." Cole turned, rifled through a few briefs on his desk and looked back at the defense table. "The defense now calls Lana Taylor to the stand."

With an astonished look, both Carter at the defense table and Leon in the observation floor glanced at one another as a Starfleet lieutenant, acting as bailiff, escorted the station's chief medical officer, Doctor Chambers, and Lana Taylor dressed in a white patient's jumpsuit, to the witness stand. As they did so, Tuvok stood up and protested.

"Objection, your honor. It is not proper to call a witness who is not of sound mind to the stand."

"As I have mentioned before, your honor," Cole interrupted. "Mister Tuvok's objection would be valid in a full trial. But in this hearing, the state may call any witness they choose to establish that a crime has been committed. In addition, this station's own physician, has administered medication that will temporarily assist in accessing Miss Taylor's unbiased memories of Mister Carter's behavior aboard the Republic during Captain Marshall's command."

Nodding his head, Judge Wade agreed. "Overruled, Mister Tuvok." Turning his attention back to Cole, he added, "make it brief, counselor. You're walking a thin line with your choice of witnesses."

"Of course, your honor."

As Lana was held to the pledge, she sat down looking both innocent and slightly confused. Doctor Chambers stood beside her along with the bailiff.

"Miss Taylor," Cole began. "Do you recognize that man sitting over there?" He was pointing towards John Carter.

"Y . . . yes . . . " she said with vague recollection. "He's the tactical officer on the Republic." She squinted as she looked at him. "What happened to his eye?"

A snicker came from Nat Hawk as Tuvok gave him a stern look.

"You need not worry about that, Miss Taylor," Cole answered her. "However, can you recall how this man treated your captain while you were aboard?"

Rolling her eyes in thought, a pause occurred where Lana quirked an eyebrow.

"Yes," she said dreamily, but with concern. "They didn't like each other. Carter was always taking advantage of Jim's command . . . always pushing him aside whenever combat happened. He was jealous of Jim . . . "

"Would you say that John Carter resented James Marshall's command over him?"

"Yes, I would," she responded, looking across the courtroom at John with a sleepy expression. But the Martian was much less benign, as his face flushed with exasperation.

"Oh, that's IT!" Carter said in full voice as he shot to his feet. "This is unbelievable!" John slammed his hand against the top of the desk, and then looked squarely at Cole. "You wanna do me in, then put me on the stand and take your best shot!" Carter's voice thundered across the room. Even Leon was surprised at how much fury John must have been containing. "She has NOTHING to do with this!"

His face wide in shock, Cole spun and looked back at the judge. "Your Honor! Please?"

The judge hit his gavel on the bench, and the loud clap rang through the room. "Mister Carter! Sit down! Any plans that Mister Cole has for you, he can get on with soon enough."

Cole turned in surprise to face the judge. "What?"

Wade looked at Cole sternly. "Get that poor woman off the stand now, Mister Cole. I don't care who you work for, I will not have someone paraded about for humiliation in my court."

Cole nodded, "Yes your Honor," and waved for two bailiffs to escort Lana Taylor out of the box.

"As for you, Mister Carter," Judge Wade said, "behave yourself, or I'll find you in contempt, whether I agree with you or not."

"Understood Judge." Carter answered simply, trying to calm down. Next to Carter, Nat Hawk rolled his eyes. "Heh, looks like you been hangin' `round with me too long there, Johnny-boy."

There was an uneasy silence as Lana Taylor was led away and order descended, reluctantly, back to the hearing.

"Damn!" thought Cole as his attempt to bring a witness to Carter's personality failed. The decorated officer, although somewhat rouge in his disposition, had a good record, and the prosecutor was having a very tough time putting holes in it.

After a few moments, the judge hit his gavel to bring the proceedings back into session. This time, however, Cole decided to change tactics. If he could not make a connection between John Carter and Shadowforce, then he needed to split the case into two parts. With his case against Arthur Cromwell presented, he would allow the defense to call their witnesses, and disrepute the Republic's crew from another direction.

"The prosecution's case against Arthur Cromwell and the other Shadowforce members rests, your honor. But the state reserves the right to recall witnesses to shed light on the other defendants' crimes."

"Very well," the judge agreed. "Advocate," he turned to the defense table.

Tuvok, in turn, had elected to start the presentation for the defense with John Carter on the stand. The irritated Martian gave Cole a sour look as we walked to the podium, agreed to the pledge of truth, and sat down.

"Mister Carter, please tell me the nature of your mission on Cestus three."

"We ran and hid a lot." There was a small murmur of amusement from the gallery, quickly silenced by a hit from judge Wade's gavel.

"Specifically, Mister Carter, what were you ordered to do by Captain Marshall?"

"The captain ordered me to assemble an away team and make contact with any intelligence assets on the planet."

Tuvok tilted his head. "You weren't ordered to make contact with the colony's government?"

"No Sir, I was not."

"You were not ordered to assist in the liberation of the planet, or aid the members of Shadow Force?"

"Not specifically, no."

"And yet," Tuvok added with some caution, "you included the members of Republic's Hazard Team in your party. Please tell us why."

"When Republic was ordered to Cestus three, it was to investigate communications failure with the colony. We had no idea that the Gorn had even set foot on the colony. When we arrived in system, we counted 14 assault ships along with one command cruiser and several smaller capital ships."

"How many Gorn ships were in orbit when you arrived?"

"Twenty ships in all."

"Indeed." Tuvok held up a PADD and indicated toward the judge. "Defense would like to present exhibit B; logs from the starship Republic confirming the presence of 20 Gorn vessels." Tuvok leveled his gaze at Carter once more. "Then what did you do, Mister Carter?"

"Captain Marshall ordered me to assemble an away team and head planet-side, so we prepped a shuttle and made for the approximate location of the…assets."

Tuvok raised one eyebrow in classic Vulcan fashion. "You approached Cestus three in shuttle craft? Why was that?"

Carter gave his head a slight nod. "Safer. Beaming down would have required that Republic lower her shields to beam us back. By going in small craft, we could loiter or hide as long as necessary and leave Republic free to do whatever Captain Marshall required of her, without having to worry about us. Hazard Team was the Captain's idea."

"And what was Captain Marshall doing while you were heading for the surface?" Tuvok asked calmly.

"Objection," Cole stood up at the prosecution table. "John Carter is the one on trial here, not James Marshall."

"The nature of the captain's activities will explain the precarious position the Republic and Mister Carter's away team was placed in after the shuttle landed on the planet."

"Overruled," the judge nodded.

Carter turned his head to look back at Cole. "Captain Marshall told me that he was going to settle the matter diplomatically. He wasn't specific as to how."

Tuvok nodded. "And that was the last time you spoke with your captain?"

"Yes."

"Tell me Mister Carter, " Tuvok paused and turned, then continued to pace, "How did you first become aware of Shadow Force's activities on the planet?"

Carter smiled a bit, looking sideways at Arthur Cromwell as he answered, "We followed the signs of the explosion."

"Specifically, is that the conventional explosion from the reclamation plant?"

"As far as I'm aware, yes."

"Mister Carter, when you eventually made contact with Shadow Force on Cestus three, what did you do?"

"I decided to lead the civilians back to the settlement in the Gordonian Mountains so that we could sort this whole mess out."

"But you didn't get the chance did you?"

"No, we didn't. The Gorn Captain, G'Meth mentioned trial by combat, and the next thing we knew, the orbital bombardment started."

"Objection," Cole interrupted once again, causing an annoyed glance from the judge. "No link between the duel with Marshall and the orbital bombardment of Cestus has been established let alone proven."

"Advocate?" Wade looked to the Vulcan.

"Mister Cole is correct," Tuvok admitted. "There is no proof of a connection."

"Sustained then," the judge declared.

"No further questions," Tuvok said before walking back to the defense table.

"Your witness, Mister Cole."

With the look of a predator that had just been provided a sedentary meal, Cole slipped out of his seat at the prosecutor's table and approached John with a sly grin.

"Mister Carter," he started. "Wasn't it true that your captain contacted you once more before you landed on Cestus three?"

"Yes,"

"And wasn't it also true that he informed you that he was planning to duel with the Gorn Captain?"

"I don't remember."

"Perhaps defense exhibit B will help, as it contains the communications logs of the Republic during the Cestus three incident." Cole nodded, and the paralegal activated the speaker system which came alive with James Marshall's voice:

"Republic to Onizuka, come in!" shouted Marshall.

"Onizuka, Hawk 'ere. Sorry 'bout that Cap'n, ya spoke up at a delicate moment," Hawks voice came next.

"Commander Carter, is everyone alright? Your decent vector was-"

"Everyone's fine, Captain . . . More or less." Carter's voice sounded cantankerous.

"We lost track of you somewhere in the upper mesosphere, we had atmospheric readings all over the place, we thought you'd broken up."

"No sir. Just . . . skipped across the pond."

"I see. The Gorn have . . . re-accepted my challenge. We'll be departing within the hour, you have your orders."

"Aye sir. Good luck."

"Thank you. Republic out."

Turning back towards Carter, Cole continued his line of questioning.

"What did 're-accepting my challenge' mean to you when you heard it, Mister Carter?"

"He must have been referring to his arrangement to duel the Gorn captain," John replied. "At the time, we were in a very acute decent to the planet surface, and what he said didn't register in my mind. I guess I assumed he succeeded in contacting the Gorns. That's all."

"I see," Cole acknowledged smoothly. "Did you make any attempt to further understand what he was talking about?"

"No. I had immediate concerns."

"Matters that were so pressing that the safety of your ship and her captain were less important?"

"I didn't know about the duel!"

"You didn't know about the duel, but yet you still wished him good luck at the end of the communication?"

"He was going to enter negotiations with a hostile power. He needed all the luck he could get."

"You doubted Captain Marshall's diplomatic skill?"

Carter glared at Cole. "That's not what I said." Carter responded.

"But it is what you meant." Cole shot back. "Your captain told you he was marching off to die, and you all but pushed him out the door."

"Had I known, I would have said something!"

"Oh no," Cole looked very soberly at Carter with squinted eyes. "You knew. Maybe not about the duel, but you knew he was departing the ship. And you also knew the next in the chain-of-command was your friend Mister Virtus. Whether you did not hear the captain, or whether you heard him but chose not to act, which from Miss Taylor's testimony, is the most likely scenario, the fact remains that you did NOT act. That alone, as executive officer, makes you liable for James Marshall's death."

"You're sprocking loony!"

"Also," continued Cole. "In addition to the release of sensor footage of Marshall's duel shows your contempt for the man who was your commanding officer at the time. I question your motives, Mister Carter. I question your loyalty to your command, and I question your role in this disgraceful event."

"I did that to get at the truth!" Carter shouted.

"And just how did you think that would help the Marshall family, Mister Carter?"

"When the Away Team and I arrived and we discovered that there were in fact Starfleet Intelligence assets on Cestus three, I realized that no one was playing straight with us. I was sick of the lies and sick of all the deception. I wanted to make sure that no one could hide what happened to Captain Marshall."

Cole looked at Carter with a calm expression, content to let the monocular officer explain himself. Cole was confident that Carter's temper and maverick attitude would get the better of him eventually. "Really?" Cole questioned. "You mentioned deception, Mister Carter. If, because of your NOBLE actions regarding the death of your captain, there was no deception in that regard, then where did said deception occur?"

Carter sat back with a confident smirk. "I can't tell you."

The shock was visible on Cole's face. "Excuse me?" Cole paced in front of the witness stand. "Need I remind you that I represent the President of the United Federation of Planets? I assure you, I have full clearance."

Carter scanned the gallery. "You might, but they don't," he paused slightly, "Anything admitted in a civilian court is a matter of public record, and as a civilian citizen of the Federation, I am forbidden from discussing certain military secrets."

At the defense table, Tuvok felt the corners of his mouth tighten in the barest hint of a smile. In an effort to incriminate John Carter, Cole had inadvertently ran afoul of the Federation Official Secrets Act. This century-old legislation made it illegal for any federation citizen, whether Starfleet or not, to divulge any classified information. Tuvok had cautioned Carter, Forrest, and Hawk against becoming complacent because of the civilian nature of the trial. At this moment, he was pleased to see that his client had paid attention.

Cole, who had just realized he had cornered the prosecution's case against Carter into a quagmire, appeared frustrated and confused. He had hoped to reveal Victor Virtus' mutiny against McClintock's interposition order at this point, but it never occurred to Cole that these events could not be revealed in civilian court for matters of security. With frustration brewing in his face, he chose to bring to light one of the charges brought against him, albeit a rather minor one at that.

"Mister Carter, are you aware of the Federation's Fair-Coverage Media Act?"

"Yes," Carter replied sourly, remembering Tuvok's pre-trial interview of him. He knew the prosecution, based on the charges, was going to bring this up, but there was no denying that he had no license to broadcast raw Starfleet sensory material to the news agencies.

"It's the law that requiring media outlets that broadcast footage of Starfleet material to be licensed by the Federation Trade Commission and allow the footage to be reviewed by Starfleet's Office for Public Relations and Information for non-bias coverage."

"Very good," Cole responded condescendingly. "Now, was the Republic a licensed media outlet?"

"No," Carter said grumpily, crossing his arms.

"Yet, despite your noble act of transmitting this sensor footage to prevent a cover-up of James Marshall's death, you violated the law," Cole concluded. "In fact, your premature distribution of the material to the news networks went against the long-standing Starfleet regulation that requires the immediate family of deceased be notified before their names are provided to the public, isn't that correct?"

"Objection, your honor," Tuvok interrupted. "Starfleet regulations have no bearing in a civilian hearing."

"Sustained," Wade agreed. "Mister Cole, refrain from bringing John Carter's service record into this court. If he disobeyed Starfleet regulations, then that is a Starfleet matter."

"Understood, your honor," Cole replied calmly, confident that he had made his point and was finally able to cleanly attach at least one crime to John Carter after all this time. "No further questions."

Tuvok rose to his feet as Cole moved to seat himself at the table. "Re-direct your Honor."

In response, Wade simply nodded.

"Mister Carter, who was in command of the U.S.S. Republic when you left for Cestus three with the Away Team?"

"Captain Marshall was in command."

Tuvok nodded. "And if the captain leaves the ship, would you, as executive officer be under any obligation to return to the vessel?"

"No, Advocate. That's what the chain of command is for."

"Chain of command. Indeed. The prosecution said previously that Mister Virtus, whose deposition has been entered into the record, should have been in command when Captain Marshall left the Republic."

"Is that in fact what occurred?"

Carter nodded. "Yes, but only until Captain Marshall was murdered."

Tuvok felt his eyebrow raise, despite his formidable emotional control. "Captain Marshall died in ritual combat with the Gorn pack-leader which he himself initiated. He was killed as a result of those actions, but not murdered."

John shook his head. "He was savagely cut down and poisoned for no good reason. I've seen the logs. It was murder."

Tuvok looked sternly at Carter. "Your Honor," he asked the judge, "I move that the witness's last statement be stricken."

At the Prosecutor's table, Cole rose to his feet "Judge Wade, The State has no objection to Mister Carter's comments." He looked sideways at Tuvok. "As a citizen of the Federation, Mister Carter should feel free to speak his mind."

"Over-ruled." Wade said simply. "Litigation 101. Never ask a question you don't know the answer to. You opened the door Advocate."

"Indeed." Tuvok said simply. Then he elected to change strategy slightly. "No good reason you said, Mister Carter. Can you be more specific?"

John Carter paused briefly, then answered. "The duel was moot. Even if Captain Marshall would have won, the colony would have been lost."

"Please explain."

"I can't sir," Carter offered. "Perhaps you should ask Admiral Kostya."

Tuvok turned again to regard Judge Wade. "For the record, the witness is referring to Admiral Vladimir Kostya, Chief of Starfleet Operations. Federation information requests have revealed that Admiral Kostya had strategic command of the Cestus three situation as James Marshall's immediate superior." Tuvok stated flatly.

"Objection!" Cole shouted from the prosecution table. "Vladimir Kostya has not been charged, nor has he any bearing on this case. Mister Carter's mention of him, and the Advocate's reiteration into the record, is merely a ploy by both to redirect blame in another direction. There's no evidence that the admiral was responsible for anything other that the Republic's operational orders, which has already been established."

"Advocate?" the judge turned to Tuvok, allowing him a rebuttal.

"If we are to establish the events of what occurred after Mister Carter's return to the Republic, then we must reveal to the court the orders that her crew were required to obey prior to his arrival."

"As Mister Carter has already mentioned," Cole defended his position. "The classified side of those orders cannot be mentioned in a civilian courtroom. Any further discussion of this subject would violate the Federation Official Secrets Act. The State requests that events aboard the Republic from James Marshall's death to the return of John Carter and the away team be omitted from the record for reasons of security. We concede that the change of command from James Marshall to Victor Virtus occurred as per Starfleet protocol."

As Cole saw it, if he couldn't use what happened with McClintock and the interposition order to incriminate Victor Virtus along with John Carter, then there was no way that the defense should be able to use for exoneration purposes.

"The defense disagrees," Tuvok replied, beaming a stoic stare at Cole in a rhetorical face-off.

"Sidebar, gentlemen?" the judge offered.

"Only," Cole stated, locking gazes with the dark-skinned Vulcan. "If the defense concedes that the admiral's interposition order was legal and that Victor Virtus and a portion of the Republic's crew ignored the chain of command during this incident."

"If we were to concede to what amounts to an illegal order, then there is no way that Mister Virtus nor the crew could have enforced it." Tuvok, too, was engaged in the staring match, leaving Judge Wade to warily shuffle his eyes back and forth between the two.

As for the judge himself, he had not heard about interposition orders since it was mentioned occasionally in the media during the Dominion War. Apparently, there were some high brass in Starfleet who felt it necessary to issue orders that prevented the normal changeover in the chain of command on large capital starships and control cruisers when the commanding officer was incapacitated. This had to do with the possibility of Dominion changelings infiltrating the ranks, or something to that order. Wade never really understood it, and certainly didn't expect it to ever appear in his courtroom. Nonetheless, here it was, literally staring him in the face. He had to break the stalemate.

"The court declares the issue of the interposition orders to be a Starfleet issue. Any future litigation pursuant to the legality of these orders may affect the outcome of certain portions of this hearing, and therefore, the case may be reopened at that time. However, until then, the issue is to be considered out of the realm of a civilian court. Prosecutor, I assume this affects your case against Mister Virtus?"

"Yes, your honor," Cole admitted coolly. "If we cannot admit interposition orders into this court, then we have no case against Victor Virtus."

"Advocate Tuvok, how does this affect your defense?"

"Without a decision of the legality regarding Starfleet interposition orders, then there is no reason to assume that chain-of-command protocols were violated aboard the Republic."

"So be it," Wade ordered with a slam of his gavel. "Victor Virtus is eliminated as a co-conspirator in this case, and charges against him will be dropped. Mister Tuvok, you may continue your defense of your remaining clients."

"Thank you, your honor," Tuvok replied while Cole sat back down. "My re-examination of John Carter is complete."

"Mister Cole?" the judge turned to the prosecutor. "Do you wish to follow up?"

"Yes, I would you're honor," the well-dressed investigator replied. "Briefly."

"Please make it such."

As Cole walked back to the witness stand with his usual predatory smile, John Carter rolled his eyes.

"Mister Carter," he began. "You mentioned the fact the James Marshall was brutally murdered."

"Yes."

"And, although you may not have been required to return to the Republic when your commanding officer had mentioned he was meeting with the Gorns, your lack of doing so resulted in James Marshall's death."

"Objection, your honor," Tuvok interrupted yet again. "There is no evidence that James Marshall would not have died if John Carter had returned to the ship."

"True," Cole admitted. "But the advocate has to admit that his chances of survival would have greatly increased had Carter returned."

With a moment of silence, the Vulcan raised his eyebrow, computing the actual change in statistics with John Carter's presence aboard the Republic as a factor in James Marshall's death. Not only was Cole correct, but the chances for the captain's survival had increased by double-digit percentages. The court's eyes were on him, and he could not lie.

"They would," he responded, forcing a gasp of exasperation and shock from his clients.

"Therefore," Cole concluded. "If John Carter had the ability to return to the ship -- which he most certainly did -- but failed to react -- which he also did -- then he robbed James Marshall of a critical survival factor during his murder. Add to the fact that everyone else in the shuttlecraft -- who heard the audio transmission and didn't react by reminding John Carter that he may need to return to the ship -- added to the events that resulted in James Marshall's murder by the Gorns. That makes John Carter and the away team -- by definition -- accessories to murder."

The observation floor erupted in whispers of uncertainty as Cole spun around and returned to the prosecutor table. "No further questions for Mister Carter, your honor."

"Very well," Wade acknowledged. "Mister Carter, you may step down."

As John returned to his seat, he posed an irritable expression that made Nat Hawk slightly uncomfortable, for it reminded him of the standoff the two had in the turbolift during their first "unofficial" one-on-one discussion regarding professional behavior on the bridge. Turning away, Nat glanced at Douglas Forrest, who had maintained a quiet, cool demeanor throughout the whole trial.

"Ya don't seemed too worried about all this, c'mander. S'pose you know somthin' that I don't?"

Without concern, Forrest glanced down at his wrist chronometer. "Hawk, the sum total of things I know that you don't would fill several, by which I mean many, many, books." the intelligence officer replied.

"Well, that's a relief," Nat replied. "I knew not bein' able ta read would come in handy one of these days."

Hawk, if he was at all concerned about his situation, showed absolutely no outward sign. Tuvok, on the other hand, was very worried. In a swift maneuver, Cole had successfully turned John Carter's explanation of James Marshall's 'murder' against the defense quite efficiently. He slowly sat down as it occurred to him that everyone he had set out to defend in this case, from Arthur Cromwell and John Carter, to Nat Hawk and Lindsey Davenport, had been implicated in the hearing. It seemed that only Victor Virtus, by way of a technicality, had been spared the obvious outcome of this hearing: everyone being accused would be charged and held criminally liable for the Cestus three incident.

"Advocate," Judge Wade addressed him. "Do you have any other witnesses to call?"

Tuvok was coming to grips with the reality of the situation. With his clients anticipating his response, he simply interlaced his fingers, raised an eyebrow, and admitted failure for the first time ever since receiving his Federation Bar license.

"No, your honor."

"Very well," Wade replied, turning to the smiling Cole. "Prosecutor?"

"The state rests, your honor. We request that all defendants; Arthur Cromwell and Shadowforce for murder and accessory to murder of the Cestus three colonists, and John Carter and the away team, for accessory to murder and violation of the Fair-Coverage Media Act, be charged, detained, and prosecuted in a Federation court at the earliest possible convenience."

"So be it," the Judge responded somberly, raising his gavel. However, before it could be lowered thus sealing the fate of the defendants, the doors to rear of the courtroom opened to the surprise of the two attending Starfleet bailiffs. An aged man in a black uniform walked silently towards the defendant's table, handing Tuvok a PADD and throwing a stoic glance towards Forrest who responded with a calm nod.

Judge Wade was not accustomed to interruptions, let alone unexpected ones. He cast a stern glare at the darkly dressed intruder and gave an authoritarian grunt. "Who the hell is this? Advocate Tuvok, I should warn you that I am not a fan of theatrics or trickery. I appreciate your zealous defense but . . . "

Cole immediately shot to his feet. "Your Honor! I STORNGLY object. The defense has rested their case. You can't . . . "

"Incorrect Mister Cole," Tuvok said calmly. "The judge simply asked if I had other witnesses. At the time, I did not."

Wade leaned back at the bench, shaking his head slightly. "Why in the world did I think this one would be easy." Wade rose his left hand and motioned ahead of himself. "All right, Advocate. Let's have it."

"The defense calls Douglas Forrest to the stand."

The next few minutes were all testament to the give and take of courtroom procedure. Cole objected, to which Tuvok countered; like verbal fencers with thrust parry and riposte. Eventually, precedence was met, procedure satisfied, and the oath of truth administered to Douglas Forrest.

"State your name and occupation for the record, please." Tuvok asked the Black Shirt.

"Douglas Forrest. Intelligence officer, U.S.S. Republic."

"You were present during the Landing Party's actions on Cestus three, were you not?"

"I was."

"And, as an accomplished Intelligence Officer, what information can you offer to explain the origins of the Cestus three occupation by the Gorn."

"Objection, your honor!" Cole shouted from his table. "This man cannot testify. Any classified facts he reveals will put countless lives at risk."

"Advocate?" Wade asked Tuvok.

The stoic Vulcan rose to his feet and walked toward the bench holding the PADD he had recently been given. "This document, Judge, is an executive order from Admiral Owen Paris; Starfleet Commander-In-Chief. It re-affirms Mister Forrest's civilian status, and also waves the Federation Official Secrets Act for the purposes of Mister Forrest's testimony." Tuvok handed the PADD to Judge Wade.

"Admiral Paris does ask however that the records of these proceedings be closed by the court pending further review by the Judge Advocate General's office."

Wade scowled. "Hmm," he grunted thoughtfully. "Much as I hate to have my thunder stolen, particularly by Starfleet, the order does appear legal, and therefore binding. Records of these proceedings will be closed, and the witness will testify. Well played Mister Tuvok."

Tuvok allowed himself a small nod, then turned to face Douglas Forrest. "Mister Forrest. Do you know what a `duck blind' is?"

"Yes."

"Was there a duck blind on Cestus three?"

"Yes."

"Where was it?"

Forrest remained silent for a moment, looking squarely at Cole. "Two-Hundred-Six degrees, ten minutes, fourteen seconds longitude by fourteen degrees, twenty-seven minutes, two seconds latitude."

Tuvok nodded. "And in a geo-political context. Where is it?"

"Point six meters inside the Gorn sensor-control zone on Cestus three. An area designated by the Metron Treaty where no sensory equipment could be deployed because, due to planetary rotation, it constantly faces Gorn space."

There was a collective gasp in the courtroom as the enormity of Forrest's admission sank in.

"Sprock me," John Carter whispered.

"No shit," said Nat Hawk.

Tuvok's eyebrow rose. "Please clarify, Mister Forrest. You said that the duck blind was actually located inside this treaty zone?"

"That is correct."

"And what bearing would such an arrangement have on the Treaty of Metron?"

Forrest sat quietly for a moment, choosing his words carefully. "It effectively gives control of the planet to the Gorns."

"Indeed." Tuvok remarked somberly. "And when was the duck blind constructed?"

"According to the latest S.I. briefing I had access to, the base went live on stardate 57102.3," Forrest explained. "Eight months ago."

"Who else, beside yourself, knew these facts?"

"Standard procedure would mean all operatives in the field, Director of Ops for Intelligence, and Chief of Operations, as well as any commanding officer in the sector."

"Meaning Captain Marshall would have been told about the duck blind?"

"Yes sir, he should have."

"In fact, would that not explain why Mister Carter and the away team were instructed to find any intelligence assets, rather than the colony's government?"

Cole, who had been surprisingly silent during Forrest's testimony, finally spoke up. "Objection: Speculation."

"Sustained," the judge agreed.

"Withdrawn. It is sufficient to establish that both Captain Marshall and Admiral Kostya both knew of the duck blind. Is that your understanding Mister Forrest."

"It is."

Tuvok turned looking at the table full of stunned defendants he had so recently thought he had let down. Reluctantly, he admitted something akin to happiness that there was still life in his case. Now there was one more piece of the puzzle to slip into place.

The Advocate turned again to look at Forrest who's expression in the witness box was remarkably, disturbingly, constant. "How long have you served Starfleet Intelligence, Mister Forrest.?"

"All told, twenty-two years. Sixteen in `Fleet, the last six as a civilian contractor."

"Thank you," Tuvok said. He then turned to Judge Wade. "Your Honor, I would like to take advantage of Mister Forrest's experience as an expert witness."

Wade cradled his chin as he propped an elbow on the bench. "I'd like to see where you're going Advocate," Wade said. "I'll allow it."

"Objection Judge," Cole blurted out, "Mister Forrest is a key participant and a defendant in this case, he can't also be a witness."

"Your Honor," Tuvok explained. "Mister Forrest is entitled to the most vigorous defense available, and he has first hand knowledge of key facts which directly effect the charges against him. You must allow him to speak."

Wade nodded. "Relax Advocate," Wade cautioned, "the law's on your side, and like I said, I'm curious."

"Thank you, your honor." Tuvok's robes flourished as turned to look again at Forrest. "How does Starfleet Intelligence keep track of its field equipment?"

"Each piece of gear is tagged with a special code that is constantly scanned for and verified by the computer in the theater of operations."

"Including the nitrate charges from the emergency packs in the duck blind?"

"Yes."

"And what about the explosive itself?"

Forrest looked puzzled. "I'm afraid I don't follow, Advocate."

Tuvok regarded Forrest sternly. "Do not all Starfleet issue explosives, including those used by Starfleet Intelligence, employ a technique known as `micro-tagging' ?"

Forrest smiled. "Yes, yes they do."

Wade scowled from the bench. "Share with the rest of us Advocate?"

"Apologies Your Honor," Tuvok said. "Micro-tagging refers to the molecular encoding of a unique chemical sequence in every molecule of a nitrate charge so that, in case of accident or sabotage, the explosive can be specifically tracked."

In the Gallery, Nat Hawk whispered again. "Note to self; make sure all my lawyers are ex-tactical Special Forces vets."

"No shit." Carter agreed.

"That being the case, the nitrate charges used by Shadow Force should be traceable, should they not?"

Again, Forrest smiled. "Yes, Advocate." Forrest answered.

"And Mister Forrest, do you know, SPECIFICALLY where the nitrate charges Shadow Force used to destroy the reclamation plant came from?"

"Yes, Advocate, I do."

"Your Honor, I must protest! Where is Mister Forrest going to conjure this proof from? Thin air? The prosecution has not been made aware of any such evidence."

Tuvok spun quickly to face his adversary. "As the prosecutor is aware, this is only a preliminary hearing. Should we proceed to trial, discovery will dictate that both prosecution and defense gets copies of everything we have."

From the bench, Wade slammed down his gavel. "Gentlemen, if you please. This is still my court room. I'd appreciate if you'd let me rule once in a while?"

Both Cole and Tuvok nodded. "Of course your Honor," Tuvok offered.

"Sorry, Judge Wade."

"Thank you," Wade said. "Now, Mister Forrest. If you please, answer the question. Where did the nitrate charges come from?"

"The charges came from the Cestus three duck blind stores Your Honor." Forrest answered.

"And how do you know this?" the judge asked directly.

"From the standing orders to the duck blind's personnel. When Republic was deployed to the region, I was updated with all S.I. correspondence in the sector."

Wade nodded. "And you can confirm this?"

"Yes, Your Honor."

"Then I'm satisfied," Wade said simply. "Continue Advocate."

"Thank you, Judge." Again, Tuvok turned to address his client. "What were these standing orders, Mister Forrest?"

Forrest looked more grim than usual, inhaled deeply and answered. "To covertly assist the colonists in the event of an invasion."

"Thank you, Mister Forrest." Tuvok said. "The defense rests, your honor," he said coolly, turning his head slightly to regard Mister Cole. "I am most anxious to continue with a trial. Unless of course the prosecution would like to discuss . . . alternative arrangements?"

***

"It's a stunning development Tobin," the Bajoran reporter said to her absent colleague.

The young blonde was just one of dozens of reporters crowded around the conference room of Starbase 39-Sierra as the so-called `Republic Eight' exited the room that had been their crucible for the better part of two weeks as Tuvok and Cole went back and forth. All the news services could report for sure was that new evidence had come to light in the closing hours of the hearing which SOMEHOW drastically changed what all the experts KNEW would happen.

"We just got word that the hearing was concluded, and the prosecution has decided to deal. Judge Wade did issue a statement explaining that he had been approached by Starfleet JAG, and that the investigation was, quote, ongoing."

The young woman shook her head. "In that event, Tobin, I don't know when or even IF we'll ever find out what went on in there."

"So that's it?" Asked the Effrosian anchor, "It's over?"

The Bajoran reporter nodded. "We'll stay on the case Tobin," she offered sympathetically, "But for now, it looks like case closed. From Starbase 39-Sierra this is Li Darrin. Back to you."

Location: Judge Wade's chambers, Starbase 39 Sierra

"You're insane!" Cole shouted. "No time? How can you possibly expect me to go for that?" The prosecutor slammed his hand against the tabletop and fumed silently as he waited for Tuvok to reply.

The picture of Vulcan calm, Tuvok held his hands loosely against his robes; a common gesture of contemplation or resignation. "Because the crew of Republic did not contribute in any way to the political deterioration of Cestus three. If anything, one can logically conclude that Commander Carter's actions, and that of his crew did in fact save more lives through their actions."

"He broke the damned law, Advocate, or have you forgotten that?" Cole shot back with hostility.

"Certainly not," the dark Vulcan answered. "Commander Carter admits that he broke the law by releasing footage of Captain Marshall's death, for which he will gladly accept administrative punishment. Further, his actions allowed the Federation Council to save some measure of face by allowing the loss of Cestus three to be caused by the defeat of James Marshall in ritual combat, which is in fact, legally, the case.

Apart from the release to the media, Carter followed the letter of every order he was given, as did those in his command. In fact, the orders that the crew did not comply with can easily be shown to be at best unadvisable, and at worst, illegal."

"You want me to pin the loss of one of the Federation's oldest colonies on a dead man?"

"Either that," Tuvok answered with ease, or we drag the name of the live man who ordered the construction and staffing of the duck blind out in open court."

In the corner of the room, Judge Wade watched with appreciation as Tuvok let the full weight of his rhetorical and legal prowess fall on Cole's shoulders. It seemed to the judge that Cole had not argued a case that was less than air-tight in quite some time, and it had likely been longer since he'd argued with a Vulcan.

Wade let out a small grin as he wondered how Cole felt now that the tables had been turned on him. 'How unnerving is it,' Wade wondered, 'to face a man who holds all the cards and knows it?'

"As an advocate, I am sworn to defend my clients and seek the truth, however, I am also a Starfleet officer, and sworn to defend the Federation. Public disclosure of this conspiracy to take the Gorn to war serves neither of those goals. It is enough that you and I know the truth and let history discover it later, but if you would rather not wait . . . "

Cole braced himself against the table with his head slumped down. He'd been picked as prosecutor of the trial to see to it that the 'Republic Eight' took the fall for the loss of Cestus three, in the wake of a botched Starfleet Intelligence operation. Now, Tuvok was offering him a deal which still kept blame away from his shadow cabinet masters, but did not let retribution fall on the 'right' necks.

What Cole hadn't counted on was the testimony of Douglas Forrest, Republic's shadowy Intelligence Officer, who had elected to expose more than his fair share of secrets rather than let his shipmates take the blame for circumstances they had no control over. Now Cole had to decide whether to complete his initial mission, despite the mounting odds, or serve the 'greater good' and let the full measure of the operation's failure remain hidden.

Cole shook his head slowly among Section 31 operatives, failure was bad, but discovery was deadly, and given a choice between the two, Cole would elect to take the smaller defeat, and live to fight another day.

"Fine." he eventually hissed. "Marshall takes the fall. But You give me Cromwell." Cole lifted his head and stared with predatory focus at the Vulcan.

"Oh?" Tuvok said with a typical raised eyebrow. "And why would I do that?"

"He caused an explosion! He killed hundreds, HUNDREDS of foreign nationals, and instigated his own guerilla war, complete with his own army!"

"A war which a rogue element in Starfleet not only anticipated, but actively encouraged."

"None the less," Cole continued, "While the Black Shirts might have planned it, Cromwell actually did it. And what's worse, he'd probably do it again."

This time, it was Tuvok who had to concede a point. While the crew of Republic did not actually engage in hostilities, let alone admit to the action. In this case, the evidence backed Cole, and Tuvok needed to decided if discretion were the better part of justice, if not valor. "What do you propose?" He asked.

An oily sneer crept across the prosecutor's face. He slowly brushed his pinky along his eyebrow, a gesture which by now, any observer knew was a tell of confidence. "Cromwell agrees to minimum security confinement. Might I suggest Elysium. He's old, and not in the best of health. I'll be more than happy to see that he's comfortable, but he cannot have any contact with Shadow Force."

Tuvok nodded, seeing the logic of Cole's position.

"In addition, the members of Shadow Force are guilty of being accessories to multiple counts of murder, act of war or not, and they will have to agree either to confinement, or expatriation from the Federation. If you get yours, I get mine."

Grimly, Tuvok nodded. It was a good deal, and one that, while distasteful on some levels, would leave the battered reputation of Starfleet, let alone the Federation intact. "I believe," he finally said, "that I can make my clients see the logic in the arrangement. In any case, I will bring the offer to my clients."

In the corner, Judge Wade regarded the scene. "Do we have a deal gentlemen?" he asked.

"I believe we might." Tuvok admitted.

"I can work with it Judge." said Cole.

"Very well then," Wade said as he stood back up, heading for the door. "Let's get this circus packed up."

As the trio exited Wade's chambers, headed back to the makeshift courtroom, he felt the weight of his antique gavel in his hand. "Justice isn't just blind," he whispered to himself. "I think I might have watched her die today."

Wade crossed into the light of the main conference room. The bailiff stood and addressed the gallery. "All rise for the Honorable Judge . . . "

Location: Outside of conference room 6 ("Republic Eight" courtroom), Starbase 39 Sierra

As people poured out of the courtroom, encountering members of the press and student protesters, everyone intermingled as they moved away from the doors to keep the exit clear. Leon was among the crowd, and moved aside to wait for his friends and family. As expected, two Starfleet bailiffs escorted a somber Arthur Cromwell through the exit causing the press to explode like a powder keg.

"Mister Cromwell! Mister Cromwell!" they shouted. "Do you really feel responsible for the deaths of all those colonists?"

"No," he muttered looking at the camera. "The Gorns invaded my home, and I fought back. That's all."

"What about the Gorn soldiers? Do you grieve for them and their families?"

"Absolutely not!" Arthur responded grouchily. "They attacked, and I fought back anyway I could."

"Would you do it again, Mister Cromwell?"

"No," he said turning away from the reporters. "I'm too damn old for this kind of thing anymore."

"Alright!" Leon shouted, waving the press back. "That's enough! Leave him be!"

The bailiffs held off the press corps while Leon and Arthur had a last moment together.

"Well, dad," Leon started. "I guess the outcome could have been worse. I'm glad you chose not to take this to trial. They might have come down harder on you."

"I know," Arthur replied. "I just wanted it to be done with. No amount of courtroom litigation or guerilla warfare will bring Janice and Ann back. There just doesn't seem to be any reason to fight the system anymore."

He looked back at the press as they closed in on Tuvok and Cole, badgering them for information.

"Besides," he added. "I'm the only one left who thinks what I did was right."

"Oh no," Leon replied. "There's lots of others."

His father looked at him with tired eyes, wondering if this would be the last time he ever sees his son.

"Including me," the doctor stated.

The two looked at one another, father and son, and without spoken words, twenty five years of animosity evaporated in the realization that all the family they had left was each another.

"I'll stop by to see you at first chance I get."

"Thanks, son," Arthur admitted.

"And," Leon added, "I'll write you weekly. Even if there's nothing going on."

"Hey!" came a shout from behind Arthur. It was Lindsey Davenport, who was leading Skip and Wey out of the courtroom. "What about us?"

Leon and Lindsey embraced in a tight hug as she approached.

"Well, that all depends," he answered, standing back to look at the other three members of Shadowforce. "Now that you're no longer Federation citizens, where are you going to go?"

"Back to Cestus," Skip replied, causing a look of surprise on Leon's face. "The Gorns are granting amnesty to the colonists who refused to leave with the evacuation ships. Just as long as they relocate to where the Gorns tell them to go, they'll be left alone."

"Aren't you afraid of retribution?" Leon asked.

"No," Wey replied. "The Gorns were mainly after Artie, and now that he's been sentenced and the Federation has recognized that Cestus belongs to the Gorn Hegemony, they're happy and consider the situation resolved. It's funny how their culture works -- once they get an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, they go on with their business like nothing happened. That M'Geth guy thought that way, only he never felt like the situation between him and Kirk was resolved until now. He stretched his anger over a period of a hundred years. Can you imagine?"

"Anyway," Skip added. "If healing is going to start on our side, it will have to start at Cestus."

"Well," Leon replied. "Good luck. Let me know how you're doing from time to time."

"We will," Lins concluded.

As the bailiffs escorted Arthur away, and the remaining Shadowforce members made their way to the docking level, Leon looked after them deep in thought. He could not help but wonder where each of them would be a year from now and what they would be doing. Suddenly, a voice woke him from his day-trance.

"Hey doc," Carter said, causing Leon to turn around and see not only him, but Hawk and Forrest as well. "Hell of a hearing, wouldn't you say?"

"Hearing?" Hawk repeated. "Seemed a helluva lot more like a three ring circus ta me," he said. "Not ta mention the biggest bunch of bullshit in about a decade."

"Dare I ask, what you're talking about?" Carter prompted.

"Anybody else remember a lil thing called the Maquis?" Hawk retorted. "Bunch a colonists, displaced, screwed over by the Federation n'Starfleet, decided ta stick it out n'when push came ta shove, fight back? They were right then, n'Starfleet n'the Federation couldn't see past it's own bureaucratic nose ta spite it's political face. Look what happened there? Turns out them folks was right, Cardies never wanted peace, just more war. Took the Jem'Hadar massacrin' all them so-called 'terrorists' and a lil thing called the Dominion War b'fore 'Fleet n'the Federation Council would admit they screwed up."

Leon looked at Nat, realizing that the helmsman had made an accurate correlation. Starfleet and the Federation had indeed made a mistake with respect to neighboring empires. Twice. And both times, a war had broken out allowing the powers that be to admit a mistake while the headlines were focused mainly on the war. Both times, the real perpetrators escaped justice.

"He's got a point, John," The doctor replied, just as their communicators came alive.

"Republic to all personnel. Report to port-of-call. Departure in one hour. Repeat: departure in one hour."

"Hey," Forrest commented. "Don't we have a starship to run?"

"Yes," Doctor Cromwell replied. "And unless we want to disappoint our new captain, we'd better go."

"Be sure to dodge the media," Carter added. "They're probably already swarming the gangway."

     
 

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