The heat of the afternoon sun beat down on the long stretch of sandy-white beach. Feathery stalks of Marram grass and tropical trees of palm variety segregated the oceanside paradise from the inland congregation of huts and villas. Out to sea, the distant horizon bore shallow whitecaps offset by submerged reefs, with the occasional protrusion of a cloth sail marking the stationary presence of an anchored leisure boat. Closer to shore, the raucous cawing of seabirds could barely assert themselves over the billowing breeze off the water. They fought their way between a diverse population of colorful paper kites flown by beach-going patrons, casting a checkerboard pattern of shadows on the sand below where blankets and lounge chairs hosted sunbathers of all alien races and colors.
One such sun-worshipper was a black-haired, middle-aged human draped across his canvas lounge chair, his eyes covered with a dark, semi-transparent glare-shield, and his pink body slowly turning brown under the scorching rays. The outlandish pin-stripped swim trunks served only to amuse younger beachcombers, but the occasional chuckle went unheard by the man, clearly unperturbed, demonstrating his carefree languor. As the afternoon wore on, and the shadows of the palm trees grew to threaten his tanning ritual, one lone passerby chose to approach the man, casting his own shadow over the length of his body.
“Do you mind, buddy?” the sunbather spoke in a gruff, familiar voice. “You're blocking my sun.”
“Hello Saal”, the newcomer replied smoothly, not moving from his spot.
The former Republic surgeon, clean shaven and reddened with sunburn, slowly lowered his glare shields.
“Doug?” he said after a moment of recognition. “Doug Forrest?” With increasing interest, the retired doctor sat up in his beach chair to scrutinize the return of his old comrade.
“I'm afraid I still can't go by that name,” he replied. “And I'd appreciate not using 'Dragon' anymore either. You never know who's listening.”
Saal was visibly surprised. “A year and a half later and you STILL don't have you lifeline back?”
The doctor was referring to the dissolution of the Federation citizenry of one Lieutenant Commander Douglas Forrest, former intelligence officer of the late Galaxy-Class USS Republic. Known to Saal as “Dragon” during their early intelligence careers together, Doug Forrest was sent on a mission by the captain of Republic over two years ago to track down a mysterious and utterly sinister neuro-toxin synthesized by the Orion Syndicate. After tracking it to the neutral world of Farius Prime, Starfleet Intelligence chose to electronically cancel Forrest's credentials in the main Federation database. An unusual tactic, to say the least. The action erased his Starfleet profile and Federation citizen record, not to mention his passport, as well as all personal and professional assets, effectively leaving him nationless and destitute on a crime-ridden planet outside the Federation. Worse yet, if he were caught by the authorities within the borders of the Federation, the citizenry database would have no record of him, and he would be tried as an foreign spy by Starfleet regulations.
“Give me a break,” the fugitive spy replied. “I was lucky to find my way here to Risa without being detected.”
“Over four hundred Federation worlds on which to hide, and you just *happen* to choose the one I retired on?”
“Don't blame me,” he replied. “I thought you and your wife were heading to Norpin colony.”
“Yeah, lucky that,” Saal replied morbidly, settling back into the beach chair. “Our cruise ship was enroute to Norpin when the Remnant attacks obliterated the colony. We were re-directed and spent the next six weeks at Deep Space Five until I could make other arrangements.”
“Then you're here with Marge?” the former intel agent surmised, referring to Saal's wife.
“Nope,” Saal concluded with a discernible finality in his voice. “She hooked up with a freighter pilot at DS Five and divorced me. That's when I cut my losses and came here.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“Don't be,” Saal seemed chipper. “It was for the best. Now I can take half my Starfleet retirement pension and spend my days sunbathing on the beach and eating fresh, non-replicated seafood. Not a bad arrangement, if you ask me.”
“*Half* your retirement?”
Saal looked back at Doug-the-former with an air of distaste. “Marge got the other half… She's probably spending it at the Dabo tables on Ferenginar.”
“Now that you're all caught up on my life, what's your story?” Saal asked the question with an air of grouchiness. “What happened after you dropped me and Cheshire off at Bajor? I thought you were headed to the Luna base mainframe to track down the person who cut your lifeline?”
“I didn't get very far,” the former lieutenant commander explained. “I was caught between Bajor and Earth when the Remnant attacks hit. It seemed like very port-of-call in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants were on alert. With that illegally spruced-up contraption you left me, anywhere I went I would have looked like I was fresh off a pirated blockade runner from Rigel.”
Ex-Forrest was referring to the the Type-8 shuttle that Saal had unofficially borrowed from the Galaxy-Class Republic to find Forrest after receiving his distress call from Farius Prime. Saal, in his haste to fit in with the local riffraff, severely modified the shuttle so that any trace of a Starfleet profile was removed.
“Don't tell me you brought that thing here??” Saal asked incredulously.
“Why not?” he replied. “It's all I really have at the moment. To stay off the tracking network, I deactivated the shuttle transponder and slipped into Risan airspace during a solar flare a year ago. All I had to do was follow the magnetic disturbances all the way down to the northern pole. No one with the planetary defense service saw me come in, so I tucked the shuttle away in a sea-side lava tube up at Paradise Bay.”
“You've been living out of the shuttle for a year??”
“It was more like six months,” the intelligence fugitive corrected the retired doctor. “Late last year, I was able to finagle a temporary tourist profile from the Risan chamber of commerce, though who knows how long it will last.”
“Look, Dragon, I don't think…”
“I TOLD you! Don't call me that.”
“Well, if I can't call you Doug or Dragon, what the hell would you prefer?” he pulled his glare shield off in annoyance. “Pluto?” Saal's voice was sarcastic, but the man previously known as Forrest took no umbrage.
“Right now, the locals have me in the citizen registry as 'Miguel Costanza',” he explained. “From the G'nuubian monastery on Pinaab Five. The priests there shun all forms of technological utility in their daily lives, so much so that the entire congregation have no individualized Federation citizen records. When they leave as pilgrims for sabbatical, they have to register as tourists just so they can procure accommodations.”
Saal chuckled at the irony. “I guess that should last you little while.”
“Up until the Federation cultural attache takes another census at Pinaab. When that happens, the gig will be up, and I won't be able to touch another computer access terminal without Intel knowing about it.”
The two sat on the beach in a moment of silence, watching the kites and seagulls sailing in the breeze.
“So what are your plans now?” Saal finally asked.
“I'm not sure,” explained his comrade. “While I could easily take off and head somewhere else during the next solar cycle, I'm more likely to get picked up by the Merchant Marines the longer I'm on the run in Federation space.”
“So you're going to stay here?”
“There are worse places to be stuck,” he said, alluding to the stint on Farius Prime before the attacks. “But when it comes down to it, I want my life back.”
“I don't think you'll be able to do that here.”
“Maybe not, but it turns out that it's the home of someone else besides me who knows the truth.” He cast Saal an approving glance.
“Truth?” the doctor turn a skeptical eye towards him. “What truth?”
“That you, I, and Cheshire could have stopped the Remnant attacks from happening if Fleet Intel hadn't cut my lifeline.”
“So what are you saying?”
“Whoever deleted Doug Forrest in the Federation databanks - whoever it was that stopped me on Farius Prime - is responsible for the death of hundreds of millions of people.”
The warmth of the sunshine could not stop the chilling prospect creeping up Saal's spine.
“Are you saying…” he started before being cut off.
“Yes,” the fugitive intel operative declared. “If what you told me a year and a half ago was right, and Kostya was the one who ordered my lifeline to be cut…”
Saal completed the thought. “Then the current president of the United Federation of Planets is the man responsible for allowing the Remnant attacks to succeed.”
The weight of the truth bared down on the two men like an asteroid on course for planetary impact. As the sun approached the horizon, and the bright yellow ball in the sky transitioned to a softer orange glow, the breeze died down, and the two men finally stirred from their somber thoughts.
“Let's go get something to eat,” Saal offered.
Location: Inmate bunkhouse #117-A, New Zealand Penal Settlement, Sol III
The dingy gray walls of the Spartan abode supported a lengthy hallway with multiple open doorways. Through each were standard one-room dormitories, complete with only the basic necessities that accentuated the austere nature of the sleeping chambers of the confinement facility: A sink, a waste commode, and a bed.
One such room was obviously inhabited, with only few personal items such as a storage chest on the floor, on which a deck of cards and a half-filled glass of water sat next to a deactivated PADD. In the corner, a clothes rack contained several slightly-soiled work jumpsuits of standard prison-issue, as well a pair of boots encrusted with dried mud. The sink and commode sported a few grooming instruments, but was otherwise unremarkable.
On the bunk, an older man in his late sixties laid unconscious but active as he rolled about on his side in an unstable, thrashing manner. Stress and hard labor had etched deep wrinkles into his face, hidden only by a greying beard and curly silver and brown hair. Muffled grunts and indistinguishable words erupted from his pained lips as he reacted to non-lucid ghosts of his past, manifested in the form of a nightmare.
“It's not over!” he shouted in his mind. “I have enough loyal officers to make a fight of it!” His thoughts turned to that of a barely discernible office at Starfleet Command, with a close friend and confidant aiming a type-I hand phaser at him.
“Who will you fight?” the man in command red shouted at him. He bore the rank of captain, and his bald head and dark skinned face were alive with fiery rage. “Starfleet? The Federation? Don't you see, Admiral? You're fighting the wrong war!”
Meanwhile, in the waking world outside in the hallway, the echoes of multiple footsteps sounded off the walls, then came to a stop outside the open doorway of the man's abode. It was a pair of helmeted and uniformed prison guards with phaser rifles slung over their shoulders. Like all guards here, they were relaxed with the knowledge that most prisoners at this facility were non-violent, but nevertheless, they were required to carry stun weaponry by regulation. Accompanying them was a young Starfleet lieutenant in command red, and her pointy ears and arched eyebrows revealed her Vulcan ancestry. Looking down at her PADD, she compared the information on her screen to that of the man in the bunk.
“Admiral Leyton?” the Vulcan beckoned to the sleeping man.
For his part, the bunk occupant startled himself awake, his aqua-blue eyes exploding open in confusion, scanning the ceiling above him.
“Vice Admiral Leyton?” the lieutenant beckoned again after a moment.
Disoriented, the man sat up, and brushed a trembling hand across his face. It took a few seconds for him to realize where he was before noticing the individuals standing in his doorway.
“Sorry to wake you, admiral.”
The old man bore a confused look. His eyes darted between each newcomer, as if attempting to ascertain their motives. “I haven't been called by a rank in over ten years,” he rasped with distrust. “What the hell do you want?”
“You've been paroled, sir,” she replied succinctly. “Fleet Admiral Kaito is in need of your expertise, and he's re-instated your commission on a probationary status.”
Impossible. He was still dreaming. Ten years in the penal colony; denied parole after five. There was no mistaking his sentence, as he was sure Starfleet wanted him to rot in prison for the rest of his life. Leyton was about to ask if this were some sort of sick joke, but as he looked into the Vulcan's eyes, saw no hint of deceit or deception.
“In case you haven't noticed, lieutenant, I've been out of Starfleet for over a decade.” Reaching for a set of boots under the bunk, he slipped his feet into them one after another. “What skills would I possibly have that could be of use to the Fleet Admiral?” His voice still betrayed a hint of skepticism, not sure if what was happening was real.
“Perhaps so, sir,” the Vulcan replied. “But I have my orders to escort you to Starfleet Intelligence Headquarters.”
The response had the effect of freezing Layton in place. As if putting two and two together, he looked back towards the lieutenant with stupefaction and disbelief.
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