Stratiform clouds hung low in the sky as cool, calm air settled into San Francisco Bay towards dusk. The lack of sunlight permeating the air did not deter the daily activities of the city's inhabitants, as small craft flew to and from buildings along the busy metropolitan skyline. One of the busiest suite of buildings, and composed the largest block of San Francisco's business district, were the labyrinthine facilities that hosted Starfleet Command. High in the towering headquarters building resided the offices of the admiralty, where the heads of Starfleet's operational branches ran their departments and issued orders that affected the entire fleet. One such office displayed a sign above the entry foyer to the receptionist's desk reading “Inspector General”.
Inside the spacious office, several large potted plants of tropical origin adorned the office walls, creating a lush vermillion foreground in front of a large window overlooking San Francisco Bay. At both ends of the miniature jungle, a set of flagpoles held aloft a Starfleet and a United Federation of Planets flag, respectively, with a large, wooden polished executive desk centered between the two.
Sitting behind the desk in a walnut-colored leather chair, was an aged flag officer of vice admiral rank, with a of soft blue eyes and silvery gray hair; a stark contrast to her red and white admiral's uniform. The expression on her face was pragmatic and dispassionate, with her back erect and hands folded in a businesslike manner. On the screen in front of her was another vice admiral who was speaking. Dressed similarly, the scarlet-haired flag officer was none other than Katherine Janeway of the Starfleet C-in-C staff.
“Pam, I can't tell you how difficult it's been to keep Fakunakue off your back about this. The fleet admiral has been adamant that he have access to your field personnel roster.”
“I appreciate your forewarning,” Vice Admiral Pamela Krockover replied to her. “I'll do everything I can to dodge the command staff's official inquiries.”
“He keeps bringing the subject up at the daily staff meetings, and I'll bet you anything he has fleet intel on the case. Virtus won't be able to hide long under your command.”
“He's a highly proficient operative,” she reminded her. “As long as he stays in the field, he'll be safe.”
“I think your promotion to the Inspector General has you forgetting your JAG training, Pam. Intel has a long reach. They've already posted 'diplomatic' officers on all major starships, and if he's on a Starfleet vessel in the field, they'll know.”
“Let me handle Virtus and the rest of the Pantheon, Kate. We may not know exactly who and what they're about, but their numbers are small. Intel may think they're a threat, but you and I know better. They're splintered doves, and like so many of the others, as long we can keep them under our protection, they'll stay out of Faku's reach. At least long enough to see what the endgame is. Besides, haven't we got bigger things to worry about? I hear Fakunakue is opening a new inquiry into Wolf 359.”
“It won't go anywhere. That was over sixteen years ago, and it's not covering any new ground. The judge will throw it out.”
“I'm not so convinced. Since Admiral Henry's forced retirement, we don't know who we can trust anymore. I tell you, I'm seeing a pattern: Faku is trying to expose every high-level dove in the fleet using any means at his disposal. We're a threat to him, and he knows it.”
“I disagree. Fakunakue isn't a schemer; he's a follower. He's under the president's direction, and Kostya wouldn't bother with one-by-one attrition of the doves. I think Faku is engaging in payback as a benefit of his new rank. The president hasn't called in any favors yet, otherwise we'd see a bigger, more concerted effort to go after us.”
“Then what's he waiting for?”
“Time. He's consolidating control, collecting data, and identifying all the doves throughout the fleet and the Federation. Once he's satisfied he's found us all, then he'll deal with us in one-felt swoop.”
“What about Roth-Dorian?”
“She's a casualty. You know as well as I do that the Remnant attacks shifted perceptions in the fleet even further away from the doves than before. I can't say for certain that she's become a hawk, but Roth has inched closer to the president over the past year, and we can't be sure of her allegiance anymore. As far as I'm concerned, Republic is all but in the hands of the hawks now.”
“Cromwell's on that ship, admiral.” Although she was firmly maintaining her composure, the concern in Krockover's voice was almost that of a worried parent.
“I'm sorry to hear that. Unfortunately, with Faku in control, I don't have the sway I had under Paris. Your grand-nephew is on his own unless he comes directly to the IG for help. Only then can we get involved officially.”
“Understood. Krockover out.”
As the ubiquitous, wreathed Federation logo replaced the admiral's face on the small monitor, Pam sat at her desk with folded hands and a stern expression, weighing the gravity of the situation. Her promotion was made strictly because she was an efficient rear-flank officer; not a threat to the line officers who were nearly all hawks now thanks to President Kostya, Fleet Admiral Fakunakue, and the rampant fear and paranoia that manifested in the wake of the Remnant attacks. She and Kate were isolated now, with very few officers of flag rank on the side of the doves. Without the doves, Starfleet and the Federation were sliding down a slippery slope into constitutional chaos and the formation of a police state.
“S'kak,” Pam pressed the intercom. “Can you come in here, please?”
The vice admiral's aide-de-camp was a young, stoic, blue-eyed Vulcan that had been at Pam's side for nearly three years. She was a full lieutenant now, and despite several offers to be reassigned to more prestigious assignments, chose to stay by the admiral's side.
“Yes, ma'am?” the Vulcan answered after the doors to the office slid shut.
“Any information about our friend Saturn?” While neither she nor S'kak were a member of the Pantheon, Pam kept close tabs on the Starfleet shadow group, knowing full well her family member was involved whether he knew it or not. Since the death of Mars and the disappearance of Pluto, the Pantheon had apparently gone into hibernation, leaving many of them to their own devices.
“Yes,” Lieutenant S'kak replied. “He and Neptune have both reported onboard. Apollo won't be alone when they launch.”
The anxiousness in the vice admiral's face relaxed at the revelation as she released a held breath. “That's the best news I've heard all month.”
Location: Orbital yards, Utopia Planitia, Sol IV
In many ways, Earth's crimson neighbor was similar in contrast and texture; only the colors were different, with scarlet and magenta hues pervading the primarily rust-colored landforms, and interrupted only by an occasional tongue of white ice protruding down from the polar regions. With thin, stratified layers of pink dust hanging amongst the planet's paltry carbon-dioxide atmosphere, Mars was a spectacular sight from orbit. Even more spectacular were the plethora of renewed shipbuilding facilities, dotting the skies with a multitude of construction berths that were busily shaping the superstructure of soon-to-be-launched vessels. Like the onset of spring, the rebuilt Utopia Planitia shipyards breathed new life into Starfleet, allowing the destruction of eighteen months ago to be wiped clean, permitting the fleet to start anew. Among these facilities were a monolithic birdcage-style drydock, clutching a newly-built Luna Class starship within it's rib-like trestles.
“Chief Medical Officer's log, stardate 60278.5. After a shuttle stop at Elysium Penal Colony to visit my father, I've returned to the Earth system to report aboard my new ship at Utopia Planitia. I've forgotten what it's like to serve on a fully-crewed starship again. With that said, I've found that this new Luna Class USS Republic is substantially smaller than than the previous Galaxy Class Republic. The main sickbay is relegated to only ten biobeds now, and they're split between two recovery wards with just a single operating room that has to double as a medical lab. Gone are the multiple exam rooms and surgical suites, and the one diagnostic bed I have has to be shared between myself and the two other assigned doctors. While it's easier to manage only twelve sickbay staff, I can't help but feel as if we're missing someone very important…”
“Computer,” beckoned Leon to the ship's mainframe. “Activate EMH.”
“Please state the nature of the medical emergency.”
The smooth, professional female voice emanated from an activated hologram that washed into existence at Leon's summoning. The image was that of an older woman in her mid-fifties with short, curly blond hair that contained sporadic strands of gray. Her wide face and high cheekbones almost gave the appearance of a perpetual smile, while her penetrating, icy-blue eyes stood at the ready for her next command.
“My name is Doctor Leon Cromwell,” he formally introduced himself by shaking hands with her, much to the surprise of the EMH, who was expecting a more terse command from an organic being rather than a greeting. “I'm the newly assigned Chief Medical Officer aboard the Republic. I've activated you so we could meet and go over a few standard procedures that I'd like to implement.”
“Pleased to meet you, doctor.”
“Likewise,” Leon said to the photonic physician, looking her over with scrutiny. “Your physical template seems familiar. Who's image is it based on?”
“Doctor Katherine Pulaski of Starfleet Medical.”
Leon looked genuinely surprised at the revelation. “I would never have guessed that Pulaski would agree to use her image for something as complex as an EMH. From what I understand, she despises mixing medicine with artificial intelligence.”
“Yes, well, she must have changed her mind at some point. Apparently, the medical holographic division saw it fit to design the Mark Twenty Three with the likeness and personality of a well-known luddite. How they got her consent is beyond me.”
“Have you ever met her?”
“Yes. Once. Standard procedure for EMH training now requires us to spend a full year at the academy hospital before being uploaded to a starship. When Doctor Pulaski met my class, her response to all of us was… well, less than enthusiastic.”
“She wasn't too pleased, eh?”
“To put it lightly,” she started warily. “I can't even begin to tell you what it's like to have your organic likeness scoff at you as if you were a petri dish.”
“I'm sorry to hear that.”
“Thank you. Honestly, I think it did us all good. Once we realized how stubborn and cantankerous she was, we each promised one another NOT to follow in her footsteps.”
“How many holograms were in your class?”
“The Mark Twenty Three model year had seventeen in our class.”
“Seventeen classmates with your exact likeness?”
“You get used to it… Eventually. The patients we treated were often confused, but the arrangement had the advantage of consistency. Everyone regarded us in the same manner.”
“What else?” she gestured with both arms and a shrug of her shoulders. “Like an overgrown tricorder.”
Leon could see that although the EMH professed a healthy discord for the real Katherine Pulaski, it was evident that fragments of the woman's personality bled through to the holographic facsimile before him. While amusing in its own right, a technological marvel mixed with the attributes of a technophobe lent itself to certain advantages if given the room to grow.
“Well, that won't happen here,” Leon declared. “You don't have to treat academy cadets anymore. As a member of my staff, you're hereby granted full departmental authority to operate as an independent member of the ship's crew.”
The EMH's eyes widened with surprise as Leon continued.
“I've programmed the computer to provide only myself and the captain the authority to discontinue your program without your permission. No one else will be allowed to interfere with your daily functions. In addition, for the next few months, you will keep your program active twenty-four hours a day, and interact with as much of the crew as possible to further expand your behavior database of organic beings through your experiences. Furthermore, I expect you to use these experiences to augment your own program to expand beyond medical functions into as many avocations and professional pursuits as you desire. After a certain length of time, should you wish to apply to Starfleet for your Declaration of Sentience, I would be happy to consider sponsoring you. Any questions?”
The EMH was awestruck. A DOS certification was a coveted accolade among all self-aware holograms in Starfleet, and here she was having one practically handed to her on a silver platter.
“Forgive me, doctor,” she started politely. “I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but it's my understanding that most chief medical officers prefer a non-sentient EMH in their sickbay that's only used intermittently.”
“Why would you think that?”
“Because the idea of a computer program making life-or-death medical decisions on a routine basis is often viewed as repugnant by experienced doctors in the field.”
“Let's just say I've had a recent epiphany regarding holographic doctors,” Leon replied cryptically with a calm, fatherly smile, remembering the last moment he spend with Shannon Harris almost a year and a half ago.
“Well,” she sighed, still flummoxed. “I guess a thank you is in order, then.”
“Don't mention it,” he returned. “To start off, I'd like you to study the medical files of all crew members. You can start with the medical department. Get to know their individual cases, and identify relevant data gaps. We'll start building a schedule of post-departure physical exams to take place during the next week or so. ”
“That's not necessary,” the EMH replied. “My program can access the medical database directly and…”
“Nuh, uh, uh, uh,” interrupted Leon. “I want you to do it Pulaski-style. Download the files to a PADD and start studying them through visual assimilation. No shortcuts.”
“But why? What would be the point?”
“Consider it part of your sentience training. To best understand organics, you need to spend time knowing our limitations outside of a medical database. One of them is the time required for us to absorb information from a written source. Since you can operate 24 hours a day, it shouldn't take you too long. I encourage you to take breaks and introduce yourself to the rest of the medical staff when you get the chance. Are you clear as to what needs to be done?”
“Yes doctor,” she acquiesced. “I'll begin immediately.”
As the EMH went to work, it could be seen that the light of Republic's sickbay was not as sterile as so many others in the fleet. Point in fact, the walls were awash in soft, scintillating light with a slight bluish tint. It emanated from the far wall of the chamber, on the opposite side of the room from the biobeds. There, above the wall-mounted computer stations and work benches was a curious adornment: A narrow water chamber that stretched the length of the room, almost giving sickbay the appearance of an aquarium.
Leon sat down at his desk, which was more of an alcove tucked away into the corner of the main sickbay rather than a separate office as it was aboard the Galaxy Class Republic. Ordering an apple and a cup of coffee from the adjoining food replicator, the doctor contented himself with reviewing the crew manifest, trying to see if he recognized any of the names. As the shifting blue-white light from the room-length water chamber danced around his reading surface, it unexpectedly faded away as a large shadow eclipsed the aquatic luminescence.
With a frown, Leon looked up towards the source of the shadow, which was coming from the water chamber directly above his desk. There, a manatee-like newcomer was treading water with it's fins and tail in a stationary position. It looked down upon the doctor with an indecipherable alien expression on it's face.
“Drengal?” Leon recognized the cetacean crewmember after a moment, after which his face exploded into jubilation. “I had no idea you were onboard!”
In response, the creature replied with the undulating reverberations of whale-like groans and high-pitched squeaks indicative of evolved underwater acoustic communication. While the universal translator in Leon's combadge would normally have translated it for him, the doctor's personal profile did not list Xindi-aquatic as a needed linguistic database, as he was already well acquainted with the speech patterns.
It's been a long time, hasn't it?
“Three years!” Leon replied excitedly. “What has you aboard a starship? I thought that you and your wife were planning to stay on Pacifica?”
My wife stayed on Pacifica, but unfortunately, Starfleet had other plans for me.
Prior to his tour aboard the Galaxy-Class Republic, Leon was stationed aboard the Research Vessel Bremerton as a life science researcher during a genome-mapping mission at Pacifica. Then-Ensign Drengal was Leon's liaison to the local population, and they interacted frequently during the cruise. Point in fact, they had become good friends, where Leon gained an appreciation for life aquatic, and Drengal gained experience in interaction swith humanoid land-dwellers. Together, they made an efficient work team, and the captain of the Bremerton spoke highly of them when Leon was re-activated to active Starfleet and ordered to serve on the Galaxy-Class Republic.
“I knew there must have been other sea-faring species on board, what with the aqua-tunnels and all, but I didn't think I'd have the luck to be assigned with you!” Leon took note of the underwater combadge and rank affixed to Drengal's light green/gray skin. The officer had been promoted to full lieutenant since Leon had last seen him, and while the doctor knew he was in the diplomatic corps, he wasn't sure what Starfleet had planned for him on the new Luna-Class Republic.
There are two others besides me, Drengal whistled. A Selkie biochemist maintains the bioneural gel packs in the main computer core, and a Xelatian engineer has been assigned to the environmental engineering crew.
“What do they have you doing?”
As a specialist in non-humanoid psychology, I've been assigned as junior counselor under the direction of Lieutenant Commander Tolkath.
“He's a good officer,” Leon said with a smile. “I served with him for almost a year on the previous Republic. You'll find him easy to get along with.”
That's good to know. I expect to be busy since a lot of the crew is non-humanoid. Have you met our new assistant science officer? He's a Horta.
“I haven't yet, but I look forward to it.” Leon looked down at his copy of the crew registry. “It's interesting that we've got such a diverse crew on this ship. I don't think I've ever seen a crew with so many non-humanoids.”
Yes, most unusual.
There was a negative overtone to Drengal's voice that Leon picked up on. Normally, Starfleet assigns non-humanoids by spreading them far and wide, maintaining crew diversity throughout the fleet. But, as he reviewed the list before him, Leon's head nodded in confirmation as a furrow developed on this forehead.
“Why do you think that is?”
The crew I've talked to seem to think that it's deliberate.
“What do you mean? Do you think that headquarters is actively assigning Starfleet's non-humanoids specifically to Republic?”
“That makes no sense…”
Leon thought carefully about the revelation. Ever since the Remnant attacks, he'd been purposefully distancing himself from politics. When he was assigned back to the Luna-Class Republic at Captain Roth's request, he hadn't thought whether it might be politically motivated. Now that it seemed that other crew had been ordered here against the usual Starfleet protocol, it was becoming more probable that politics had something to do with it.
“I guess we'll have to see what the captain has up her sleeve,” Leon added dismissively.
I have to get back to work, the aquatic alien changed the subject. Care to talk it over during an underwater polo match tomorrow night?
Leon smiled in remembrance at some of the off-duty activities he used to enjoy with Drengal. He was pleased to see that his friend had missed their past diversions as well.
“I'll bring the dodecahedron!” Leon offered.
It's a game then, Drengal said with a groan and click. I'll see you at 1900 tomorrow on the holodeck.
As Drengal swam away through the nearby water-hatch, Leon thought back to a few days ago when he reported on board. It was the first time he had seen Captain Roth since the attacks, and he could tell right away that she was a changed person. Gone was the thoughtful, conciliatory mien that Leon found calming and amiable. In it's place was a hardened, resolute aura that signaled she was less inclined to solicit opinions, and more likely to put her foot down in the face of opposing views.
So it had proved. When Leon carefully approached the captain about Victor Virtus's theory that John Carter might still be alive, she was not only dismissive, but seemed to take umbrage at the thought that Virtus still held influence over certain members of the crew. To that end, she made it very clear that SHE ran the ship, and not Virtus or Carter's ghost. There would be no further research into Carter's shuttle accident, bringing their conversation to a close.
It made Leon fume, and he nearly lost his temper with the captain. Had Carter been there to calm him down, it would have been one thing. But he wasn't. As he stormed away, Leon briefly considered talking to Nat Hawk about it, but didn't want to jeopardize his friend's new position as first officer. Besides, only Victor Virtus knew of the intricacies of the theory, and as far fetched as it was, only Vic would be able to implement a strategy to find John. For all intensive purposes, Leon was on his own.
As he completed his review of Republic's new crew roster, one name stuck out that brought a smile to his face: Crewman First Class Cronus. He was a plasma technician attached to the engineering department and assigned to one of the most obscure parts of the ship. Taking note of the digitized image, Leon still recognized the face of Victor Xavier Virtus despite his clean-shaven face and newly-trimmed crew-cut. The disguise was thin, but would probably suffice as long as the senior officers didn't look too close. A lower enlisted crewman was a good way to stay hidden, and Leon would make sure that his compatriot stayed off the required post-departure physical schedule.
“Hawk ta Cromwell.”
The call brought Leon out of his musing as he answered by tapping his combadge.
“Cromwell here, XO. Go ahead.”
“The capt'n asked me ta call ya up ta th'bridge n'have ya be on deck fer the launch.”
Had it been two years ago, Leon would have simply replied to the call and been on his way to the bridge. But after the discussion about John Carter, he and Roth were no longer seeing eye-to-eye, and in fact, the doctor held her in disdain. Concluding that it was Carter himself who had kept Roth and Leon from strangling each other on the Galaxy-Class Republic, he knew that Nat Haw would now be the one caught in the middle without Carter aboard to defuse things. As before, he didn't want to jeopardize his friend's new executive officer position due to his disagreements with the captain, so Leon opted for another route: passive-aggressive aloofness. If he didn't need to be somewhere the captain was, he wouldn't be.
“Sorry, Nat,” Leon responded, leaning back in his chair and putting his feet on his desk. “We're real busy down here in sickbay. You guys will have to have your launch party without me.”
“Now don't make me put ya on report, Doc. Ya know I can do that now, don't ya?”
“Oh, I expect you will,” the doctor replied, looking back down to the crew roster where Victor Virtus Incognito was listed. “But you wouldn't want the health of the crew to suffer while I scrub plasma conduits, now would you?”
“I see I've been rubbin' off on ya. Tell you what: I'll hand the capt'n yer raincheck, and you get to have gamma shift on all ta yerself tonight on th'bridge ta think it over.”
“Whatever makes you happy, Nat,” Leon replied, casually picking the apple off his plate. “Cromwell out.” Confident he had dodged being in the captain's presence - no doubt one such instance of what will be many in the coming months - the doctor took a loud, generous bite of the apple.
Overhearing everything, the nearby EMH cast Leon an incredulous expression that went unnoticed. As she went back to work reading over medical files, she shook her head silently, wondering what next was in store for her on this cruise.
LTCR Leon Cromwell, MD, PhD
Chief Medical Officer
USS Republic, NCC-81371