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The Most Of Freedom And Of Pleasure


BREAKING NEWS – Interstellar News Service

Totalitarian Hegemony Toppled; Starfleet Assumes Emergency Police Powers as Kostya Declares Victory; “First of Many” President Promises

By LEAH WARNER, war correspondent

Sunday, January 13, 2385

GORNAR, Tau Lacertae Nine (INS) — Vladamir Kostya's unswerving battle march has reached its inevitable destination, and the might of the United Federation of Planet's war machine has completed its objectives on Gornar, the homeworld of the Gorn Hegemony. The galaxy watched Wednesday night as the first attack fleets and ground forces descended upon Cestus Three. Even while images of starship combat over the alien planet flashed across vidscreens — reminiscent of the Four Years War with the Klingons two centuries ago — it was clear how much the Federation's place in the galaxy has changed since that time. There are moments when the universe pivots, when it's clear that we can never go back. This is one of those moments. Starfleet has gone bravely into battle before, but never under the banner of pre-emptive defense. In the last century, we overcame our natural isolationism to join coalitions of planets in faraway battles against totalitarianism. We saw ourselves as the galaxy's enforcer of peace, avenger of wrongs, defender of democracy. Though President Kostya says he is fighting this war in the name of those lofty goals, it is clear that we are on Gornar for one purpose: to depose a hostile government we consider a potential threat to us.1)

At 0500 hours local time, Starfleet forces accepted the surrender of the commander of the armed forces of the Gorn Hegemony in orbit of Tau Lacertae Nine. Supreme Commander Sslumayla surrendered himself and more than 160,000 Gorn troopers under his command to Commander George McBrown of the Starfleet Marine Corps. “This is the only official surrender of Gorn armed forces to the Federation,” McBrown said. “I presented our conditions and accepted the surrender from him. I told him I appreciated what he was doing for his species and for the people of the former Gorn Hegemony. This will limit any future bloodshed.” McBrown asked Sslumayla to stay in uniform for thirty days, take control of his troops and starships, and restore order in the Gorn capital city, Tau Lacertae star system, and other surrounding star systems. “At the end, I saluted him,” he said. “I gave him that respect because he is a fellow combat officer.” McBrown said he was “honored” to represent Federation forces in accepting the surrender. “The best is yet to come,” he remarked at the end of the surrender ceremony.

Location: Sickbay, Deck 6, USS Republic (Luna Class), in orbit of Tau Lacertae IX
Timeframe: Present day, stardate 62033.6, 0700 hours shiptime (gamma shift)

It was early in the morning, yet Sickbay was packed with Republic personnel. Not patients, but several dozen officers and enlisted crew from various departments: Ops, sciences, engineering, and of course, medical. Absent was anyone from the command staff, with the exception of Counselor Tolkath, who had called the meeting at the behest of Assistant Chief Engineer Maria Pakita. Cromwell's incarceration sent a shockwave through the crew, and the stated charges brought ripples of disbelief and outrage. There were already rumors of a number of humanitarian violations against the Gorns by the onboard Marine detachment, and it was inconceivable that the doctor himself could have been the perpetrator of a war crime. Regardless, he was under heavy guard, and Roth was adamant about handing him over to the Marines for full interrogation and prosecution, spurring the gathered crew into action. Along with Tolkath and Pakita, the intense discussion passed between a number of others, with the most vocal being the Klingon/Vulcan science officer, Lieutenant Graq, as well as the sickbay's medical hologram and Lieutenant Depach Narundi from the security department.

“The Marines won't let anyone get near him,” Narundi remarked. “They completely locked down deck eight after transferring that human prisoner they arrested on Cestus Three. She's being interrogated by Starfleet Intelligence on the Lexington now.”

“That was a family friend of Cromwell,” Maria explained. “Our transporter chief overheard Cromwell and Hendrix talking about it between their first and second mission to the planet.”

“Even MORE reason for Cromwell to have revenge!” Graq said gruffly, his Klingon blood boiling at the inequity of the doctor's predicament. “First Hendrix dishonors him on the battlefield, then they dishonor a sister. Any Klingon would have claimed Rite of Vengeance and killed Hendrix.”

“Cromwell didn't kill him,” Reittan declared flatly. “I've had enough counseling sessions with him that I can feel his emotional state without being in the same room. There's no fear, guilt, or psychosis in him. Just anger spurred by a sense of injustice, and suppressed grief over his father. He's innocent. There's absolutely no question of that.”

“I don't think anyone here believes that Doctor Cromwell is a war criminal,” the Pulaski-styled medical hologram commented. “In fact, most of the crew feel that the Marines are lying to cover up what went on down there. They're very angry at the captain for hosting them aboard the ship in the first place.”

A whale-like groaning and series of clicks came from the scintillating water tunnel above their heads where the Xindi-aquatic junior counselor, Drengal, was listening. After quietly observing the conversation, he decided to speak up, and the Universal Translator kicked in a moment later.

=/\= “I've known Leon for a long time. He's emotional, but not a vengeful person. Something has to be done. This whole war is a lie, and Leon is paying the price. The whole quadrant is paying the price. War crimes are happening with each light year we transgress into Gorn space, and none of the perpetrators are being arrested. How many more people have to die before someone does something?” =/\=

“We can't wait for them to transfer Cromwell off the ship,” Narundi added. “Once they do, he's out of our hands, and the truth will never come out. They might very well execute him.”

“Oh come on!” Vehns, the Tellarite technician from engineering exclaimed. “Starfleet doesn't EXECUTE people! That's ridiculous!”

“No, it's not,” Reittan said soberly to the gathered crew. “I've been watching this Gorn war play out, and feeling the hostilities in the Marines on this ship; even from the bridge. They are prejudicial, prideful, unscrupulous, and arrogant. Worst of all, their personalities are toxic with strong narcissistic streaks. That's a dangerous mix, because they believe that they are above the law. If they wanted to change the rules and kill Leon, they would do it in an instant. In fact, I get a strong sense that one of them might do just that, though I haven't been able to figure out exactly who…”

“It's settled then,” Narundi responded. “We have to act.”

“You have to understand the gravity of what we're proposing,” Maria looked deadly serious from face to face around the room. “We are Starfleet. If we take matters into our own hands, we have to take the responsibility along with it. This is exactly the kind of thing that Roth and the Kostya regime would…”

Maria was cutoff by the door to sickbay sliding open, and the person who came through caused everyone to fall silent.

“What's this?” Meridian quizzed toxically as she lithely slid into the room, her hands clasped behind her back as if overseeing a room full of wayward schoolchildren. “A meeting of Republic officers?” she taunted. “And one without Captain Roth or Commander Hawk?” She looked around the room, spying faces of mostly alien origin, intermixed with the occasional skulking human. Aside from her own, there wasn't one uniform with red piping anywhere; only gold and teal.

Walking over to a computer console, she dialed in a few commands to recall the sickbay security algorithms on the screen.

“Well now,” chided Meridian. “This IS interesting… you've deactivated the comm system in here. No one can hear or record your voices. Now THAT'S not very patriotic… one might think you're conspiring about something. But of course, I KNOW that's not the case here… You're ALL loyal Starfleet officers after all, aren't you?”

=/\= “Roth to Meridian.” =/\=

The ship's diplomatic political officer tapped her combadge in response to the captain.

“This is Meridian. Go ahead.”

=/\= “Could you please join Lieutenant Devloch and I for some breakfast in the Officer's Mess? We have a few items we'd like to discuss with you.” =/\=

“On my way,” she tapped her combadge again to close the channel. She stared silently at everyone in the room before departing. She did not speak another word.

As soon as the door slid shut, the gathered crowd burst into a chorus of consternation and argument. However, it was Lieutenant Graq who spoke the loudest, and everyone eventually acquiesced to let him speak.

“She's going to tell the captain!” he exclaimed. “If she finds out, it's over! We've GOT to do this NOW!”

“Agreed,” Narundi added. “Maria, I know this goes against everything we've been trained to do, but it IS the right thing. You know it, and most of the crew does too. You heard her talk to Meridian. The captain's in the officer's mess getting ready for alpha shift. Now is the time to move.”

“Alright,” Maria agreed. “Inform your people… Let's do this.”

Location: Brig, Deck 8, USS Republic (Luna Class)
Timeframe: 0730 hours shiptime (end of gamma shift)

This wasn't the first time Leon had been in the brig, but this particular stint certainly felt the longest. He had roused from his stunned state after beaming back to Republic following Hendrix's death, and after being unceremoniously shackled, he was paraded in front of the rest of the Marines on deck before quite literally tossed into a cell and locked away. He wasn't even permitted a medical scan for his concussion, though he knew it was light and would likely subside given time. As if to drive home the point of how objectionable the Marines found him to be, Leon's meals for the past two days were the most spartan imaginable: Actual bread and water – a naval tradition not practiced since twenty-first century Earth to punish only the most reprehensible prisoners. Although he asked multiple times, the laconic Marines refused to remove his shackles, making personal hygiene and eating most uncomfortable.

And so, for the past two days, Leon spent most of his time laying on the bunk staring at the ceiling. No visitors, no declaration of charges, just the silent daily changing of the Marine guard watching over him. Early on, his questions of where he was going and why were ignored, and he hadn't seen a single one of his shipmates since returning from Cestus Three. He could only surmise that he was being framed for the deaths in the Gorn cavern, and judging by the feel of the deckplates, the ship had already entered warp and departed the Cestus system days ago, leaving the crime scene and evidence without a fair and unbiased investigation. Due to Code Green, the Marines were in charge of everything related to ship security, and his fate was in their hands.

Like clockwork, the transition of the Marine guarding the brig's watch desk took place as planned every eight hours. Silent and without ceremony, Leon had learned the routine to a tee, and while he paid attention previously in an attempt to gain favor with each new guard, hoping they would listen to his pleas for medial assistance and legal counsel, they all fell on deaf ears. Soon, there was no reason to even take note of each replacement guard. It was the same thing each time every eight hours, and Leon relegated himself to simply staring at the ceiling as the sounds of the watch desk changeover occurred yet again: The door slid open, a new Marine walked in, a series of computer beeps signaled the log off of the old guard, and another series of beeps signaled the logon of the new. Then, the previous guard exited while the new one sat down, and as before, silence would return anew.

Leon's usual daily sustenance arrived via a small closed-circuit transporter beam, materializing the standard fare of a cup of clear water and a slice of nutrient-enriched bread, with just enough vitamins to keep him alive and conscious. With a sigh of resignation, Leon sat up, pivoted to allow his legs to make contact with the floor, and got up to receive his tray. Dejectedly, he returned to his bunk to sit down, placing the tray on his lap and began consuming his “meal”.

This time, however, his shackled hands were about to reach for the bread when he spied a folded piece of cloth next to the plate. It looked like a set of silverware rolled into a white napkin, but considering that there was nothing extravagant about his meal that needed such eating implements, Leon unfolded the parcel with curiosity. Within it was a hand instrument he was quite familiar with: A laser scalpel. With medical instinct kicking in, his thumb flipped it on, and the bright orange glow of the cutting beam flickered to life with a high-pitched humming. He considered why such a device was on his food tray when the force field perimeter around his open cell suddenly dropped.

The hair stood up on the back of Leon's neck.

He looked up to see Purcell strolling towards him from the watch desk. To Leon's detriment, he hadn't bothered to take note of who the replacement guard was that came on duty, and he now realized he was facing his potential killer once more… alone and behind a locked door to the cell block.

Wielding his phaser rifle once again, Purcell stared at Leon with the same disturbed expression he saw when the ensign was looking out upon the piles of dead Gorn newborns in the berthing cave on Cestus. The two exchanged glances for only a moment when, without warning, Purcell pulled an instrument from his belt, and jabbed it hard on the inside wall of Leon's cell, right behind the wall-mounted controls outside. It was a laser scalpel identical to one in his own hand.

It now dawned upon Leon that he was being set up for a faux jail break. He immediately dropped his own scalpel just as Purcell finished sabotaging the force field controls from inside the cell. As the deranged Marine stuffed the deactivated scalpel back into his belt, he then turned back to Leon, leveling his phaser rifle at the doctor-turned-prisoner.

As he sat there in shackles, a tray of bread and water upon his lap, there was very little Leon could do to defend himself. He could throw the tray at Purcell and scream at the top of his lungs for help, but the Marines on deck would probably not arrive in time to prevent his murder. He could try bargaining with Purcell, but since he bore the same psychotic look in his eye as when he killed the Gorns on Cestus, there was no humanity dwelling within his soul to appeal to. Leon was trapped, and death was literally his doorstep.

As in the Gorn cave, Purcell resulted to a martial arts kick; this time upwards to knock the tray off Leon's lap and knock him to the floor. The water glass shattered as it hit Leon in the face, and with water and blood flowing into his eyes, thus temporarily blinding him, he scurried to the back of the cell as far back as he could. When he felt his back up against the wall, he wiped his eyes to see the Marine looming even closer. They locked stares once again, much as Purcell and Hendrix did on Cestus just before Purcell killed him.

“So that's it, then?” Leon asked, sitting in the corner of his cell, nursing a bleeding forehead while putting two-and-two together. “Killed while trying to escape?”

“…Gorns like it hot,” Purcell muttered with a sociopathic whisper, bringing the rifle's scope to his cheekbone.

As the psychotic trooper was about to pull the trigger, a hissing sound resonated behind him. An acrid stench of chemically vaporized metal permeated the air while an electric sizzle preceded the lights going out in the room. Purcell spun around as a strange scraping sound reverberated off the walls, as if a stone door had ground itself open. He switched on his rifle's spotlight, and hurriedly scanned the room to determine the source. As the sound fell silent, the ensign was clearly split between the odd commotion and completing his task of killing Leon.

Without warning, the grinding percussion resumed and reached a fevered pitch just as soon as Purcell trained his rifle back on Leon. The Marine looked over his shoulder, and from out of the shadows, a large heap-shaped construct mowed towards him. It's blistered surface pulsated with orange vesicles interlaced with veins of brown granite, and it propelled itself via thousands of string-like tentacles pushing it along the floor. Purcell's eyes widened with horror as the otherworldly monster reared up and consumed him, causing him to expel a shriek of panic. A maelstrom of searing hot gasses and stone-to-metal grating muffled the screaming gurgle of the Marine as he was chemically dissolved into vapors, leaving behind only his phaser rifle and a small pile of charred remains that vaguely outlined his prostrate form on the deckplates. The lumbering brown and orange mass of silicon then spun a quarter-turn to look upon a shocked Leon still sitting in the corner of the cell.

For his part, the doctor slowly lowered his shackled hands, which he instinctively used to shield his eyes after flinching in anticipation of phaser fire that never came.

“Thaaj!” Leon exclaimed, recognizing the Horta junior science officer before dropping his hands to his lap.

A square metal translator box strapped to the Horta's back returned the greeting.

=/\= “I came to get you out. The counselor was worried that someone was trying to kill you. It looks like he was right.” =/\=

Leon's face collapsed in relief. A moment ago, he was certain that he was about to die. It was the third time in as many days that Purcell had pointed a rifle barrel at him, and each time a near-miracle had kept death at bay, but not before having his own life flash in front of his eyes. With thoughts of his father's death still raw in his mind, Leon immediately wanted to know the status of those closest to him.

“Where's Lins?” he asked, hoping that she was still on the ship.

=/\= “She was transferred to the Lexington. She's no longer on board, which is probably a good thing considering what's about to happen.” =/\=

“What do you mean?” Leon asked with trepidation.

=/\= “Follow me. We haven't much time.” =/\=

Leon followed the Horta to behind the watch desk, where an irregular hole about a meter in diameter had been bored through the bulkhead wall, well-hidden and out of direct view from the rest of the cell block. With a quick slash of an acid-imbuded tentacle, Leon was free of the shackles and accompanied Thaaj through the wall opening and down a short, rough-hewn tunnel. The chamber beyond was a small engineering junction with floorspace just big enough for the two to uncomfortably fit inside together.

As they arrived, there laid a mesh sack filled with equipment at the doctor's feet. Leon recognized the implements within as the self-contained breathing gear he used for underwater polo matches with the aquatic crew. Normally, he kept the gear in a locker at Cetacean Ops on deck seven, but the Horta science officer had obviously relocated it down to this location. With the exception of the added Type 1 personal hand phaser, it was basically a sports kit containing a diving mask, a regenerating air-rebreather, a self-adjusting neutral buoyancy belt, and a pair of swim fins.

“What'd you bring all this down here for?” Leon asked.

=/\= “There's very little time to explain. Put this on and make your way to the bridge.” =/\=

“What about you?” he replied with confusion, wondering why he needed the scuba gear.

=/\= “I have several more unauthorized tunnels to make down to deck nine in a short amount of time. No matter what happens, be absolutely certain that you make your way up to the bridge. Good luck.” =/\=

Before Leon could respond, Thaaj began boring through the bulkhead once more, filling the small maintenance alcove with noxious vapors just as the doctor managed to don the breathing mouthpiece of his diving gear. As the fumes dissipated, the doctor found himself staring at a hole in the floor, up through which water began gushing. The water level rose quickly, and Leon had just finished putting on the swim fins when it reached his chest. Soon, he was completely submerged, and found himself swept up in a swift current that pushed him out of the maintenance junction and deeper into the bowels of the ship.

Location: Officer's/VIP Mess, Deck 2, USS Republic (Luna Class)
Timeframe: 0735 hours shiptime

Prior to going on day shift on the bridge, Roth-Dorian was enjoying a cup of coffee while she and her Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Vance Devloch, watched the report of the Gorn's surrender on the mess hall monitor. A pair of enlisted mess hall stewards, a Hekaran and an Algolian, both busied themselves with setting clean silverware on the dining room tables while the two senior officers watched the main viewscreen on the wall. The officers each smiled with satisfaction at the replay of the surrender ceremony, listening to Leah Warner's recorded narration and editorial of the end of hostilities.

“And so it goes. On Gornar, the fight has been difficult, yet daily life is expected to improve dramatically over the next several months, thanks to the courage of the Gorn people and a determined contingent of Starfleet Marines. The Federation Council has provided the mandate for a continual presence of Starfleet forces in Gorn space through the rest of the year, and are carrying out an ambitious strategy to strengthen Gorn democracy, including helping Gorn citizens prepare for their first round of free elections ever in their history. Whatever disagreements exist regarding this action to liberate the Gorns, we should all welcome this progress towards stability and peace, and we should stand united in helping the Gorn's new democracy succeed. Although I'll soon return to Federation space aboard the Starship Republic, you can be sure that I'll be giving you continuing coverage of this historical event from our INS headquarters. Until then, bless our president, bless our fleet, and bless the United Federation of Planets. This is Leah Warner, signing off.”

“You know,” commented Captain Roth-Dorian. “She reminds me exactly of her father. Her honesty and insight is just as refreshing.”

“I like her too,” Devloch replied. “There's something really enchanting about her reporting.”

“She should be back aboard by now. Let's see if we can have her…”

=/\= “Lieutenant Ragnar to Captain Roth.” =/\=

“Yes, what is it?” Roth-Dorian asked after putting down her coffee cup and tapping her combadge.

=/\= “Sir, I'm in the Ship Operations Center, and we're reading a malfunction in Cetacean Ops.” =/\=

“What kind of malfunction?”

=/\= “The water generators have been thrown into overdrive, and the lower level doors to the Cetacean suites have been jammed open. Water is filling the lower decks of the saucer section at a rate of about twenty cubic meters per second.” =/\=

“What do you mean 'jammed open'?” Roth inquired. “Have you tried cutting off power to the water generators?”

=/\= “The water's too deep down there. Engineering teams can't reach the Cetacean suites, and decks eight and nine are both underwater now. We've started evacuating the affected decks, but the water is quickly moving upward, and is already starting to flood deck seven.” =/\=

“Ragnar, this is Devloch,” the chief engineer piped in with a tap of his own combadge. “Activate the environmental containment fields on deck six and seven. Immediately!”

=/\= “Aye sir, we've tried that too, but the fields didn't stop or slow the water down. There seems to be several internal hull breaches that are bypassing the containment field generators.” =/\=

“The generators are being BYPASSED?” Roth exclaimed, looking to Devloch with disbelief. “How is that possible? There would have to be some huge holes cut through the main support longerons! Those are made of half-meter thick pure duranium!”

=/\= “It doesn't make any sense to me either, sir. I've reconfigured the security containment fields on deck six around the longerons to stop the flood from rising above that deck, but I don't know how long they'll last.” =/\=

At about that time, the two dining room attendants suddenly fell to the floor unconscious. Unsure of what happened, Roth and Devloch stood up, with the chief engineer tapping his combadge.

“Officer's Mess to Sickbay! Medical Emergency!”

There was no answer. Devloch tapped his badge again.

“Sickbay! Report!”

=/\= “Ragnar here again, lieutenant. We have a report of neurozine gas being released on the bridge, as well as decks two, three and four. Get the captain out of there!” =/\=

Roth and Devloch recoiled in surprise, grabbing their napkins to cover their mouths in an attempt to block the immobilizing nerve agent from entering their nostrils.

“This can't be a coincidence!” exclaimed Devloch as he and Roth backed away from the table.

“Sound general quarters!” Roth-Dorian ordered as she and Devloch made their way to the nearby door. They briefly thought about rescuing the two dining room attendants, but they were all the way across the room, and if she and the lieutenant didn't leave quickly, they too would be overcome by the paralyzing gas. “Evacuate decks one through four!” she shouted over her combadge as they expeditiously left the room. “Close the ventilation systems on all decks! Lock down the bridge, and seal off all bulkheads above deck five! Have security and senior officers report to the Ship Operations Center!”

The alert klaxon sounded shortly after Roth-Dorian and Devloch evacuated themselves from the mess hall. Throughout the ship, Lieutenant Ragnar's voice announced the change in the ship's alert status.

=/\= “Intruder Alert. General Quarters. All personnel: Evacuate decks one, two, three, and four. This is not a drill. Repeat: All personnel, evacuate decks one through four.” =/\=

(to be continued)


LTCR Leon Cromwell, MD, PhD
Chief Medical Officer non grata
USS Republic, NCC-81371

Apologies to The San-Jose Mercury News; 2003 editorial modified without permission
current_story/the_most_of_freedom_and_of_pleasure.txt · Last modified: 2023/03/17 03:16 by cromwell