Imperium in Imperio
In orbit around Hitora the USS Valentine was facing a Klingon bird-of-prey. Inside the conference room Captain White was sitting at one end of the table, Low, Jones and Mettus were with him. On the far end there was an enraged Klingon with his aides, once a formidable warrior, a bulging belly was now hindering his agility, his long curly hair was turning grey.
“This is an outrage, Captain. The High Council agreed that your men could apprehend a criminal, not turn this place into a warzone!”, he bristled.
“Governor, our team, I myself included, barely made it out alive down there. We weren’t the ones that fired at the building”, White tried to soothe him.
“Apparently the attack was made by a small cloaked vessel”, Mettus informed the Governor.
The elderly Klingon rose from his seat and leaned on his arms, spitting nails, he countered:
“Are you suggesting that it was my people who attacked you?”
“No, Sir”, Jones said, ”the projectile that hit us was a micro-photon torpedo, like those we are using on our attack fighters.”
“I see. So it seems, one of your people wanted to kill this man, ah, Phoenix, rather than bring him back alive. After what he did, I can certainly relate. However, I advise you not to leave orbit until my people have verified your claims”, the Klingon governor told them.
He turned away and grunted at his aides to follow him.
As soon as the Klingons had left the conference room, Gracie Jones angrily slammed her fist on the table while jumping up from her seat:
“Ok, so what the hell is going on here? A cloaked Federation vessel firing on us?”
“How do we know it was one of ours? It could have been a Klingon ship”, Heather Low responded.
“It couldn’t, Commander. When it fired the Valentine’s sensors were able to detect trace particle signatures, however they did not show any resemblance to current Klingon cloaking technology. I also don’t see how they could have integrated a Federation-issue torpedo in their weapons system, they simply don’t have the expertise for it.”
“So, Romulans then?”, Captain White asked.
“Klingon cloaking devices are based on Romulan technology, so that’s a negative. Whatever that was, the cloak was technically different from what we are used to and it’s very advanced”, Jones said.
“A number of alien races have cloaking technology as well, any of those could be responsible”, Low countered.
“What else do we know about it?”, the Captain asked.
“The vessel was rather small, about the size of a large shuttle, small enough to accurately maneuver so close to us, it was only a few metres from our starboard bow, when it fired”, Commander Low reported.
Captain White grabbed his forehead while he summed up the issue:
“Alright, so we have an unidentified craft firing a Federation-type torpedo at the site where a wanted terrorist has just been apprehended, making it look like to the casual observer that our ship did the firing. But why?”
“A Starfleet vessel firing on a Klingon colony, someone could try to start a war between us and the Klingons”, Commander Low suggested.
“But it was not an attack on the colony itself”, White replied.
“It was a precision strike that took out the one man responsible for the Admiral’s death, depriving us of any possibility of bringing him in for questioning”, Jones continued.
“And preventing him from ever revealing his reasons or anything else, for that matter. Suspect dead, case closed - quite convenient”, the Captain finished.
The last sentence left an uncomfortable silence in the room.
A few hours later the USS Valentine was still in Orbit around Hitora, facing off with the Klingon warbird, which had now been joined by a large battlecruiser. On his ship Captain White once more received the Governor, now accompanied by his superior, a Klingon general. The latter is not unknown to us, he was the commander who came to the rescue of the President’s ship earlier. To accommodate the high-ranking guests and to appease the Klingons’ mood, a small buffet had been arranged, a mix of Klingon delicacies: tentacles, mollusks, worms, in shades of gray, brown and magenta, one more slimy than the other. Both Klingon dignitaries had a dish of Gagh sitting before them. The Governor was silenced by the presence of the General, not displaying any of the aggressive demeanor he had done earlier, he sat quietly while the General addressed Captain White:
“It appears that your initial claims were true, Captain. There was indeed a small vessel of non-Klingon design that fired on that site near the settlement. It is fortunate that your people all escaped unscathed from this cowardly attack. However, since we can’t pinpoint the origin of the attack and the circumstances suggest some sort of foul play, I must insist that your ship leaves Klingon territory immediately. The High Council wishes no further occurrences.”
“qoH SoH, Sov chaH puS nuq chID chaH [I am sure they are not admitting all of what they know, you fool!]”, the Governor snorted.
“mu'qaD Qo' chergh jIH [Do not talk to me like that, I am warning you]”, replied the General angrily.
“chaH DaH ghob'e' qengtaHbogh Duj'e' net maH [Only one ship is carrying them, it won’t be on our conscience for long].”
“yap SoH wIpI'moHtaH maH! [Enough, stand down!]”, the General yelled, his hand wandering towards the handle of his dagger.
“qaH, nuqneH Hol yab [Sir, please mind your language]”, Captain White interrupted them in perfect Klingon.
The General gave the Captain an affirmative grin, the Governor folded his arms and pouted in silence.
“My ship will fully comply with your demands, General. However there is one more thing that I would like to inquire about, Sir.”
“And what is that, Captain?”, the General asked.
“I understand you were in charge of the force that came to the aid of President Okeg, when his ship was under attack. What can you tell me about this attack?”
“There is not really much I could tell you that goes beyond what your people have filed in their report, Captain.”
“And how did you know about the attack in advance, General?”, Captain White wondered.
“I am afraid that information is classified. I would advise you to have a word with the captain of your President’s ship, I am sure he can give you all the answers you need, Captain”, the General answered stoically.
Captain White sighed in frustration.
After he finished his meal the General pulled a pen-sized embroidered piece of metal from his coat and used it as a toothpick before he got up from his seat, throwing the tiny needle on the plate before him, which the Captain noticed with disapproval.
“I must compliment you on the skill of whoever programmed your food replicators, Captain. The Gagh was quite good.”
“Thank you, General. I will convey your praise to my crew.”
The General nodded kindly, then signalled the Governor to follow him and they left.
White now walked over to the bridge through a different door.
Commander Low was sitting in the command chair, she got up and faced the Captain as soon as she noticed him.
“The Klingons demand that we leave their territory at once. Commander, set a course for the Federation border and engage at your discretion. I’ll be in my ready room”,
Captain White ordered with resignation.
“Understood”, Commander Low replied.
The USS Valentine turned towards open space, the huge warp nacelles powered up and the ship bolted away in a flash of light.
From his new glossy office at Starfleet Headquarters William Jefferson was having a video conference with the team onboard the Valentine: White, Jones and Mettus, who were appearing on a large video screen in front of him.
“Have you at least been able to secure any physical evidence from the site?”, he asked.
“Negative, Sir. According to the OMEGA operators the place was clean, the only piece of interest would have been Phoenix himself”, Jones told him.
“Too bad. Well, given the circumstances, there is no point in continuing the investigation any further. The evidence against Phoenix is convincing and after his death we have nobody we can charge with the crime in court”, Jefferson exclaimed.
“Hang on, Sir. There is still the issue of the unidentified attacker, I mean we ourselves almost became victims. We have to pursue this lead now, Admiral”, Jones replied mildly shocked.
“I agree, Sir. The same goes for the attack on the President”, White added.
“A different team is investigating the attack on the USS Leeds. And I am not impressed with your conjectures about that cloaked attacker either. A number of foreign assassins could have been responsible. An intelligence operative can make enemies very easily. Ms Jones, Mr Mettus, I want you to return to your station. Prepare your final report and have it ready for me at your arrival. Captain, kindly ferry them back to Starbase 56, Jefferson out”, the Admiral said before closing the channel.
In the Valentine conference room the investigation team looked at the suddenly black screen with confusion.
“Great, just great”, Jones scoffed,
“I don’t suppose that the General left you any more relevant information, Captain?”
“No, just a toothpick”, White complained.
Jones’ face dropped at hearing this.
“What did you say, Captain?”, she asked in bewilderment.
“I mean after he was done eating he used some small metal piece as a toothpick and left it on the plate. Why?”
“We need to find it right now, trust me, Captain!”, Jones yelled.
Captain White nodded and tapped his combadge.
“White to Mess Hall!”
“Go ahead, Captain”, was the answer over the intercom.
“Please find out who cleared the table in the conference room after the Klingons left and have the crewman report to me.”
“Wait, tell them to meet us at Holodeck 2”, Jones interrupted.
“You heard the lady, make it so”, White added.
He looked at Jones baffled.
“Would you tell me what this is about?”, he demanded.
“Come me with me, I’ll show you”, Jones answered.
White, Jones and Mettus stepped off the turbolift adjacent to a corridor leading to Holodeck 2. Jones was moving with a purpose now, the other two were struggling to keep up with her.
“Gracie, do you really believe it is that simple?”, Mettus asked her.
“Yes, either that or it is just a coincidence, but from the very Klingon that both saved the President’s ship and won’t give us any intelligence that we can make use of, I bet it isn’t!”
Next to the holodeck entry they met a nervous looking male crewman.
“Crewman Suma reporting as ordered, Captain”, he said while pathetically trying to stand at attention.
Jones moved very close to him.
“Now listen carefully Mr Suma, when you cleared that table, did you find a small metal object on one of the plates?”, she asked him, almost pushing the poor young man against the wall.
“Uh, yes, Ma’am.”
“Where is it now?”, Jones wanted to know.
“Uh, I… I… I still have it here”, he babbled and pulled the piece out of his pocket, Jones snatched the tiny metal rod from his hand immediately.
“I did not want to put it in the recycler, thought I could keep it as a souvenir… Am I in trouble?”, the young man asked with uncertainty.
“No, but I must ask you to keep this issue strictly confidential, do you understand?”, Jones told him.
Crewman Suma turned to Captain White for reassurance. White nodded and said:
“That will be all, Crewman.”
Gracie Jones went inside the holodeck, Mettus and Captain White followed her.
“Are you going to tell me what you want to do with this thing in here?”, the Captain asked.
While she quickly typing a few combinations on the user interface, Jones answered him:
“Even though the General used it to pick leftovers from his teeth, this thing is a datarod.”
“A datarod? You mean it contains information?”, White asked.
“Possibly, Sir. We have encountered these rods a few times during the War. Their advantage is, they can be hidden in plain sight. They appear to be just some fancy insignia on a sash or a miniature dagger that can be worn on a belt. And no person in their right mind would try to take such an item for inspection from a Klingon warrior”, Mettus explained.
“What do we need to read the information?”, White wanted to know.
“If there is anything on it, we can not read it simply by plugging it into a console. The rod can not be interfaced with our technology directly, it needs a Klingon console port, but an advanced holodeck such as this ought to create a sufficient replica”, Jones replied while she finished her programming.
After Jones pressed the last button on her panel the hologrid constructed a small console of Klingon design in front of them, its maroon colored screen blinking, awaiting input.
Jones plunged the rod into a port on the console’s surface. Rows of Klingon script appeared on the screen.
All three looked intently at the display. Finally Mettus commented the content:
“Nothing more than sets of spatial coordinates. Why would the Klingon General send us coordinates? Why go through all the trade craft, if he has nothing more substantial?”
“He wants us to take a look at those places”, White answered.
“The Klingon General?”
“No, Jesse Phoenix”, the Captain said.
At his Starfleet Command office William Jefferson was reading incoming intelligence reports. A young aide-de-camp officer entered to deliver a set of data padds.
“These are the remaining reports you wanted, Sir.”
“Thank you, anything on the other issue I asked you about?”, the Director asked.
“No, Admiral. There has been no update to the latest reports”, the officer responded.
As soon as the young man had left his office, Jefferson switched on his comm terminal and pressed a combination of keys.
His hail went unanswered, which prompted him to smash his fist on the table.
“Something vexes you?”, the familiar voice asked from behind him.
“Winslow is gone. Ever since he was arrested on the USS Leeds, he disappeared”, Jefferson announced.
“Well, we sent the Fixer after him, didn’t we?”, the voice corrected.
“No, you don’t understand. Winslow was never meant to be caught in the first place. Something went wrong. The Fixer could not have gotten to him before his arrival at Headquarters, but he wasn’t even on the transport and I can’t reach the Fixer now either,” Jefferson urged.
“Then we will have to rely on different assets instead”, the voice stated.
A few days later
The USS Valentine was holding position near Starbase 56.
On one of the upper decks, Gracie Jones and her deputy Mettus were on their way to the transporter room in order to return back to the starbase. They were accompanied by Captain White and Commander Low.
“The past days certainly have been unusual, Captain. I would like to say that this investigation concluded satisfactorily, there sure are many questions yet to be answered”, Jones stated with mild resignation.
“I agree, maybe there will be elements in Starfleet Command or the Council who will reopen the inquiries at a later time. When that time comes, my ship will be at your disposal”, the Captain said and offered his hand to Jones.
“Save journeys, Captain White, Commander”, Jones addressed her hosts before stepping on the transporter pad, Mettus closely followed her.
Back in open space the Valentine was gracefully making her way to a new destination, traveling at low warp. Life has gone back to normal, there are random impressions from the life aboard this futuristic spaceship: crew members walking about corridors, greeting each other, engineers diligently working at the massive warp core, scientists analyzing sensor data in their state-of-the-art laboratories, a couple sharing a romantic moment while looking out the panoramic windows of a lounge, the bridge crew manning their posts after they gad relieved the previous shift. Throughout this we hear Captain White dictating a personal log entry:
“The revelations of recent events have troubled me very much. The knowledge that a secretive organization under the command of a renowned Starfleet admiral might wield such power within the Federation is unsettling, to say the least. Against Phoenix’ advice I have shared the content of his attempts in contacting me with my First Officer, as well as with the Intelligence specialists among the team. The latter only became suspicious with Director Jefferson’s order to cease the investigation as soon as Phoenix was reported dead. They agreed with me that it would be best to continue the investigation in secret. Commander Low on the other hand remains sceptical. There are so many unanswered questions. Why did the Klingons get involved in this? Was the General working on behalf of Phoenix? And if not, how did he get his hands on all that intelligence? We may never find out if Jesse Phoenix was telling the truth or not. If yes, then all of us need to be extremely careful, giving away any indication to a possible Section 31 spy could turn out to be fatal. Maybe for all of us.”
While sitting in his quarters, Captain White noticed that his ship suddenly turned and changed to a new course. He tapped his combadge and inquired:
“Captain to bridge, what is going on?”
“Low here, Sir. We received a distress call from a fellow Federation vessel, they requested immediate assistance.”
“Understood. I’ll be there in a minute, Captain out.”
On the bridge the turbolift doors opened and the Captain quickly walked over to his command chair, Commander Low was typing on a small console next to her seat, retrieving data for her to report to the Captain.
“Report!”, Captain White demanded.
“Audio only, Sir”, Low informed him. She switched on the transmission.
“This is the Federation starship USS Rabin, our position is 765.5 by 92.8 by 451, Argus Sector. We request assistance from anyone who can hear this. We have massive plasma leakage and our warp core is offline, life support is holding for now, but we are dead in the water.”
White reacted with the calm determination that his crew has come to expect from him.
“Alright, Helm, increase speed to maximum warp.”
“Aye, Sir”, the helm officer confirmed.
The Valentine raced towards the emergency at tremendous speed.
Upon arrival in a remote region of the Argus Sector the USS Valentine approached the fellow Starfleet vessel and stopped athwartships from it. The USS Rabin, a tactical cruiser configured as an escort-carrier hybrid with an aggressive design was listing heavily to starboard, her twin secondary dorsal hulls, like that of an upside-down catamaran, were swathed in greenish-blue plasma clouds coming from the failing warp nacelles.
On the bridge of the Valentine Captain White and Commander Low stood in front of the large viewscreen and looked on with concern.
“Open a channel to them”, White ordered.
The bridge of the Rabin appeared on the screen. The picture was grainy and blurred. It showed a middle-aged Andorian Commodore, Ghee Shelk, the commanding officer, slightly disheveled, but seemingly relieved.
“Captain White, you were the last person I would have expected to show up. And you are too late for any heroisms anyway, my crew have already been able to stabilize the key systems”, the Andorian bantered with the Valentine Captain.
“Glad to hear it Shelk, I guess we’ll be on our way then”, White joked.
The Commodore gestured his surrender.
“If you could send us some spares and a team of engineers for support, that would be great”, the Andorian requested.
“Of course, I’ll take care of it right away”, White responded.
“Bridge to Engineering, assemble a response team and beam over to the Rabin at once.”
“In the meantime, will you join me in my ready room, Captain? I think I even have your Earl Grey on the replicator file”, Commodore Shelk said.
“So, your ship is still immobilized, but your replicator is working, huh?”, the Captain asked with an impish smile.
“I told you, the key systems are back online”, Shelk laughed.
“You have the bridge, Commander”, Captain White told his First Officer and then left the bridge.
He materialized on the transporter pad aboard the Rabin, the engineering team which came along the same transporter cycle quickly fanned out to different corridors in order to support repairs. White made his way to the bridge, where he found Commodore Shelk talking to an officer. Shelk gave a quick nod to his bridge crew and motioned White to follow him to his ready room.
As soon as the door closed Shelk ordered:
“Computer, lock the door, authorization Shelk-Alpha-2-4-6.”
The computer gave an affirmative chime.
Shelk marched over to the replicator unit installed in the wall next to his desk and ordered their respective beverages, Earl Grey tea for Captain White and Andorian ale for himself. While being handed his teacup, Captain White inquired:
“So, you got my message then. I take it this looks worse than it actually is, a little too melodramatic for my taste, but on the other hand, you have always been a showman, Ghee.”
“You said ‘make it look real’”, his old friend replied.
“Yes, however I did not want to spend more time here idling than really necessary”, Captain White countered.
“We won’t be idling, Jeff, there are some superficial repairs that have to be made, which can be done in no time by the combined efforts of our crews and then your ship will escort me to your destination, which is, I am sure you noticed, not far and the closest inhabited system”, the Commodore answered while raising his glass for a toast.
“You didn’t really sabotage your own ship, did you?”, Captain White wanted to know, looking uneasy.
With a confident smile Commodore Shelk told him:
“No, I let some of the engineers in on my plan to perform an ‘intense readiness exercise’. The rest of the crew thinks this is real - and in case you haven’t realized - you owe me!”