Location: Luna Colony, Sol III
It had been twelve months since John Carter's memorial service at Olympus Mons on Mars. Since that time, the crew of the Republic, as well as his former crew from the Freedom Star, came together to give their missing comrade a final farewell. Victor Virtus and Leon Cromwell took John's loss especially hard, as the officer was a friend, confidant, and mentor during a good chunk of their Starfleet career. His loss left a gaping hole in their hearts, which stacked upon the agony of the Remnant attacks, as well as the rise of Kostya to the Federation presidency. With these difficult events, Vic and Leon found moral comfort in each others' company, and took time off from their busy schedules to occasionally have dinner together, discussing politics, their current assignments, and even engage in a hand of poker to commemorate their fallen comrade.
Lately, however, their outings had become less frequent, as Leon was assigned to a starship that recently returned from the Gamma Quadrant, and Vic, whose position with the Starfleet Inspector General was time consuming, to say the least. Fortunately, a welcome message in Leon's message queue inviting him to a dinner at Luna Colony provided a means for the two friends to get together again at long last, giving them both a reason to look forward to returning to a star system that had changed their lives forever those many months ago.
The rebuilding of Luna Colony, specifically New Tycho, had brought about a renaissance among the other cities of Earth's closest celestial neighbor. As builders and contract vessels came in from all over the Alpha Quadrant to participate in reconstruction of Luna, other cities such as Lake Armstrong, New Berlin, and Copernicus City saw a growth spurt of transient workers, which was a boon to local businesses and commercial districts alike. In one such district of Copernicus City, the transparent aluminum walls of the main habitation dome reflected sunlight off the buildings within, where people bustled to and fro their daily activities, many passing a restaurant with quaint colonial brickwork and columns, and presenting a sign reading “The Wooden Tankard.”
Inside, Vic and Leon were seated at a quiet table overlooking the greenery of a walking park situated many stories below at ground level, where park patrons were strolling through the well-trimmed trees and shrubbery via a stone walkway. Food had already been delivered to the white shrouded table, which contained a variety of appetizers, entrees, and drinks. While not fancy, the local cuisine was freshly prepared, and a welcome break from the mundanity of standard food replicators.
“How was your yearlong tour with the Diplomatic Corps?” Vic asked while taking a sip of drambuie during a break from his entree. “I heard you were highly sought after for your first assignment since the Remnant attacks.”
“Yeah,” Leon said between bites of lemon chicken. “I had trouble deciding which posting to take. Eventually, the captain of the Archimedes invited me join her crew of eight as the combination medical/science officer. The ship is a modified Oberon Class outfitted for low-profile diplomatic missions. It seemed like a good way to get away from all the Alpha Quadrant hubbub.”
“The Archimedes?” Vic lifted his head in scrutiny, as if the vessel's name ignited a memory. “Isn't that's Mir Tanna's ship?”
The doctor could feel the underlying question in his friend's voice, as they were both friends of the Bajoran Starfleet officer, but for completely different reasons. It had not become known to Vic that Mir Tanna and Leon Cromwell had a romantic history together until John Carter's memorial service, where Vic noted that the doctor offered Tanna a consoling hug after the ceremony. For his part, Leon had forgotten that Victor's memory was sharper than most Vulcans, and that he probably knew the captain of every ship in the fleet, let alone the USS Archimedes commanded by Captain Mir.
“Yes…” the doctor cautiously answered.
“Interesting,” Vic noted while putting two and two together from Leon's previous statements. “And you said that your assignment was specifically sought after by the captain?”
Leon put his fork down on his plate, resting his elbows on the table.
“What's your point?”
“Nothing,” Vic said defensively, yet with a touch of amusement. “I just find it interesting that she never mentioned you during her tour aboard the Freedom Star.”
“There's a reason for that,” Leon explained himself. “She and I didn't date until my internship at Starfleet Medical in Chicago nine years ago. That was after her tour on the Freedom Star, but before the Dominion War. A lot has happened since then, and the war really changed the both of us. Especially Mir Tanna.”
“I'll say,” Vic snorted while putting his glass down on the dining table. “Tanna was an operations ensign on the Freedom Star. I think she tied a record by climbing the ranks to captain so quickly.”
“Well, if you read her war record, you'd know why,” added Leon as he grabbed a roll from the bread basket and began buttering it. “Sixteen major engagements with Dominion forces earned her just about every citation that Starfleet has a medal for.”
Vic couldn't hold it back any longer; he simply had to ask the question. “Yes, but did she receive the Doctor Cromwell medal of honor?”
Leon dropped both the roll and the butter knife onto his plate with a clatter. The glare across the table towards the smirking engineering scientist made it clear that Vic was skating on thin ice. “She was my captain,” Leon stated coldly and succinctly. “Our working relationship was on a professional level. Nothing more.”
“You were on that ship together for twelve months…” Vic still hadn't wiped the smirk off his face. “And you're telling me there was *nothing more*?” He raised an eyebrow, noting a certain glimmer in Leon's eye.
Although there was, indeed, more to the story, the doctor wasn't going to provide Vic with any more ammunition. Despite twelve months of a strict professional working relationship, Captain Mir handed Leon his reassignment orders to the new Luna Class Republic just a few days ago, officially breaking their professional commitment to one another. Neither he nor Tanna could explain in words what happened next. In a flash of unspoken emotion, their last moment together resulted in an embrace and a passionate parting kiss. Afterwards, Tanna silently walked away while Leon stood dumbfounded in the main gangway of the transit hub. The doctor was speechless that she had apparently still carried a torch for him after all these years, and by regulation, was keeping it at bay during their recent twelve months together in space. However, since it was assumed that neither of them were going to be together in the near future, Tanna's parting “gift” was left to stew in the bemused mind of Leon Cromwell as he returned to Earth aboard a runabout.
“Nothing. More.” Leon made it clear that that particular part of their conversation was over.
The next moments together were silently, as both men dug into their entrees. It was Leon who then broke the silence next, changing to the subject to that of the recent exploits of Victor Virtus.
“Anything new and exciting in the world of General Inspections?”
Victor paused to chew a corner of buttered bread. “I hated pulling the strings I did to get this post. But the investigation into the …attack… was too important to trust to the double handful of geniuses left in Sector 001. Even with three hundred sixty-six days of distance to temper the emotional responses of the investigators, we're too close to the subjects of the work to be truly objective. Thank goodness for the V.A.S. They loaned us one hundred highly trained specialists in everything from geology to forensic astrogation, which I did not know was a possible course of study until T'crit showed up.” Finishing the piece of bread, his thoughts floated towards the Republic crew, sharing them with Leon. “I get messages from the others now and then. Pakita is doing well planetside, but misses the excitement of deep space exploration. No news from Forrest, but that was expected. I've distanced myself from politics for now. 'Creator give me the strength to accept' and all.”
“From what I heard,” Leon added to the updates on the Republic crew. “The attacks had quite an effect on Captain Roth. Rumor has it that she and Kostya have called a truce.”
Vic scowled at the mention of HIS name, but seemed to consider this for a moment. “Where is Roth from again?”
“New York,” replied Leon. “The upper West Side, I think. Why?”
“Nothing,” he shook his head. “I was just wondering if the history of her birthplace might have something to do with it. Not the most gentle of neighborhoods, even today. Something on which the social anthropologists can write papers.” Although neither of them was willing to admit it, both of them had been dodging the subject of John Carter since they sat down to eat. Vic felt it was time to let Leon in on a little secret. “I've got news about hydrogen displacement in a vacuum.”
Leon blinked, confused at the statement, but let his friend plunge into the full story while he worked on his salad.
“Most of the critical details about the attack are going to be classified at a level so far above the President that I don't worry about them, or him,” Vic explained. “If there were a Temporal Division of Starfleet that could travel in time they'd still have to wait a while for those records to be available.”
Leon choked slightly on a sprig of asparagus but motioned for the animated engineer to continue.
“But the *juicy* details are the ones no one realizes are important,” Vic said with a grin.
Leon leaned in a bit, “Such as…”
“We have incredible sensors on our vessels, and even better sensors on our extra-stellar platforms around Sector zero zero one. Long range gravitic, subspatial, and tachionic suites that can detect minute fluctuations in the fabric of the universe minutes, hours, or days before they happen.”
Though not a high calibre student in quantum physics, the doctor nodded his rudimentary understanding as he leaned back and settled in. Despite his friend's years of training to be as quick and concise as possible, a lifetime of lecturing cadets on everything from physics to professional ethics made for long explanations. Leon was sure the big reveal would be suitably dramatic.
“We also have impressively under-appreciated interpretive and enhancement software that records, analyzes, and reports on the previously mentioned fluctuations.”
'Uh oh,' thought Leon. 'He's talking about computers AND physics…' It was going to be one of those conversations. The good doctor was in no great hurry, but decided to see if he could skip ahead a bit, just for the sake of his bladder. The drambuie was always a mistake he made gladly for Vic, but the six cups of coffee that went with it were going to be an issue if this story ran for more than an hour.
“What unclassified facts did you find, Vic?” Cutting to the chase came natural for Leon, but it took real skill to do so without being rude.
Vic got the message. Draining his cup of coffee is a single gulp, he started talking with his hands, which was something he only did when got excited.
“In this day and age no one comments on the versatility and accuracy of our tardonic communications and sensor packages.”
“Tardonic?” Leon looked puzzled. “You mean sublight scanners?”
“Exactly! It took me four months to get posted to the IG, and two more months to get the exact moment and exact coordinates of John's shuttle's last position update. Then it took weeks to scan that area with a level of detail necessary to find what I was looking for, and five months to magnify the images for proof.”
Leon quirked an eyebrow. Although he was slightly annoyed at the precise Malthusian's generalization of times and dates, by forcing Vic to cut to the chase, he uncovered a most unusual behavior in his friend. Apparently, he was still dwelling on the loss of their fellow comrade. Not in a melancholy, forlorn way, but in a deeply analytical manner that seemed borderline compulsive: The engineer had spent his year with the IG apparently obsessing about John Carter's death.“
“Look Vic,” consoled Leon. “John's death hit us all hard. Maybe you shouldn't have taken a posting so close to the investigation into the New Dawn and the attacks on Stardo-”
“Hang the investigation!” Vic exclaimed excitedly, causing the doctor to flinch in bafflement across the table. “Fleet has ten thousand, four hundred twenty-two specialists working on that! What I needed was a Vulcan forensic astrogator and a Tellurite image enhancement genius.”
“For what?” the confused doctor asked. “To perform the twelve-millionth re-analysis of John's flight path? How many more times do we have to go through this? The shuttle was an ancient model with countless age-related defects. The safety board concluded that the vessel was most likely blown from it's trajectory into an orbit that froze his life support systems, assuming that the shuttle even survived at all. You and I both know well the dangers of space travel, and as regrettable as it is, John's death is-”
“Now speculative,” Vic interrupted succinctly.
All thoughts of coffee and Captain Mir were now banished.
“Wait a minute!” Leon shook his head after a moment of staring at Victor skeptically. “I thought you said you took the job with IG to help with the building of an improved sensor net!”
“Technically true, but that is a tertiary goal at best. I took this post so that I would have access to the research telescopes aboard the Voyager 20 and Voyager 22 missions.”
Leon reeled with the history and nostalgia, “But those were launched decades ago, right after the incident with Admiral Kirk and the-”
“V'Ger probe, yes,” Vic interrupted again. “Voyager Six was lost to a black hole and almost three hundred years later, returned, and came within minutes of wiping out the human infestation on Earth.”
”-that have to do with John? The Voyager probes of the 2270s used the most advanced vis-light telescopes ever created by the UFP. And they are six light months away from Earth. All I had to do was point them in the correct direction and wait.“
Victor paused to allow that to sink in. He could see that the doc was tired of being interrupted.
For his part, Leon's mouth hung open with incredulity. “You took a job with the IG to look back in time to see John's death?!”
“No!” The excitement in Vic's voice did not ebb. “I finagled a job that would allow me to spend millions of credits and thousands of man-hours and the computing power of a dozen planets to look back in time and see John's DISAPPEARANCE!”
The pair were starting to draw stares from the other restaurant-goers, and the waitress was having a heated discussion with her supervisor about it. It was then that Victor noticed he was standing and pointing a forefinger at the heavens rather dramatically. Realizing he made his point, he lowered his hand and sat back down with a satisfied grin.
Leon had seen more than his fair share of officers obsess over the loss of friends and colleagues, but if anyone had told him it would happen to Victor, he'd have laughed softly and shaken his head.
Leon laughed softly and shook his head, “Vic, it's been a *whole year*.”
The off-duty scientist and part-time chronophobe smiled and took the edge off his words, “Spare me your professional opinion, doc. I only told you this - I only went thought all those steps - to firm up a decidedly unscientific hypothesis.”
“If John were dead I'd *know*,” he concluded with near-absolute certainty. “We live in a universe with documented cases of telepathy, empathy, remote and extra-sensory perception. We have whole species that rely on such racial traits for societal and physical survival. I have no proof that I possess such abilities, but my belief is stronger than my certainty that point-nine repeating equals one.”
Before Leon could slip in his next thought, Victor continued.
“And all of my findings point to the same thing. No debris, no energy bloom, no subspace disruption, no warp field generation, no electro-magnetic disturbance of any kind. Just a seventy-nine point one-nine meter radius of vacuum.”
“That's what the safety board's report said.”
“But the report was contaminated by the arrival of the investigating ship, the “Ranger”. A modified Type 10 Shuttle dispatched from Earth. Pushing a wave of interstellar hydrogen in front of it. But the binocular view from Voyagers 20 and 22 showed what was there before the Ranger arrived.”
“Which was…?” Leon again coaxed his friend to cut to the chase.
“Nothing. No space dust, no particulate matter, no interstellar hydrogen. A pristine vacuum of nothingness for minutes as solar winds slowly erased any footprints in the vast desert of space. John didn't explode. He vanished… or was kidnapped.”
“If you're correct-”
“I don't know. I don't know the implications, I don't know who has the technology, I don't know how to begin reverse engineering the process, and I don't know where he might be. Guardian of Forever, Q Continuum, Talos IV, Sha Ka Ree, he could be literally *anywhere*.”
Leon swallowed hard. If Victor was delusional, it was an epic and well-crafted delusion. If he was exceptionally sane, things were about to get very interesting. In all the time that Leon had known Vic, not once had he shone a glimmer of delusional judgement.
“What are you going to do now?” the doctor said in soberly quiet voice.
“Finish dessert, get some sleep, request reassignment to a ship, forge a mission requirement so vague as to allow said ship to go almost anywhere without questions being asked, find my friend, and on the side, avert any intergalactic catastrophes caused by the President and his Tea Party… all before bringing them down in an extremely spectacular and public fashion.”
Leon blinked once more before setting down his now stone-cold coffee. While Vic professed a notion to sleep, the doctor had no such allusions. The incredible story that his friend laid out before him was too distracting to think of sleep. If John was indeed still alive as Victor Virtus suggested, then there was no question as to what the next step was.
“Want some company?”
LTCR Victor Xavier Virtus
Special Investigator at Large
Starfleet Inspector General
LTCR Leon Anderson Cromwell
Chief SciMed Officer