White, now in his uniform, was walking towards the conference room to rejoin the FIA team, when Commander Low and Chief Engineer Aq’Numi intercepted him in the adjoining corridor.
“Captain, we need to talk, it’s urgent”, Low announced. White faced both women and answered:
“Sure, have you found out something about the malfunctions?”
Aq’Numi nodded nervously, at times looking at passing crew members with a sense of paranoia in her eyes.
“Not out here, Sir, please”, she pleaded.
White understood and they made their way along the corridor into a small unoccupied lab.
“Ok, so what’s going on?”, the Captain demanded to know.
“We were able to find out why those systems malfunctioned”, Aq’Numi said apprehensively.
“Someone intentionally planted a number of commands into the computer, designed to affect specific systems under certain conditions, shutting them off or causing overloads. And whoever did this, knew exactly how to do this without attracting attention and how to conceal the traces”, the Chief Engineer reported.
“What?”, the Captain wondered with anger.
“Captain, there is a saboteur onboard”, Low said.
Without a word, but visibly furious White paced around the room.
“Sir, right now we only know of those malfunctions that have actually been set off: long-range subspace communications, minor engine failures and your replicator. But every major and minor system could be affected and we won’t know until we put in for overhaul, however the manner of programming involved suggests that the commands are not made to last and will be overridden by daily procedures very soon, but until then, I can’t guarantee anything, Sir”, the Commander Aq’Numi explained.
White turned to face her:
“What else do you know? How exactly does the sabotage work?”
“From the looks of it, the saboteur must have accessed minor system junctions throughout the ship multiple times, planted a harmless command which would then trigger a different system elsewhere. With your replicator, the command was apparently some sort of codeword, as soon as the voice interface registered it, an increase in plasma intake was triggered while simultaneously it shut off the adjacent valves, causing an overload.”
“Earl Grey!”, the Captain said.
“‘Earl Grey’, that must have been the codeword. I ordered a cup of tea just before the explosion. It was the only thing I said out loud after I got into the ready room.”
“Sonofa…”, Commander Low commented with mild rage.
“What you are telling me, this requires years of experience with starship technology, but also regular access, am I right?”, White asked.
“Correct, Sir. The saboteur must have extensive experience. I can actually count on one hand the crewmembers who could do it, I myself included. As for the access, all malfunctions we know about seem to have been planted in the past few days. Probably not before we left for the Khefkan system”, Aq’Numi responded.
“Is there anything we can do to catch the saboteur? Lay some kind of trap maybe?”, Commander Low inquired.
Aq’Numi thought for a second, then she told them:
“I suppose I could program a shipwide surveillance command which would register all system accesses with their password authorizations and timecodes. It won’t tell us anything until a new malfunction is planted though.”
“Alright, for the moment I want this to stay between the three of us. What about your team, Ms Aq’Numi, do they know what’s going on?”, the Captain asked.
“Only bits and pieces, I had to do much of the work myself, the engineers who gave me a hand only knew about the individual malfunctions they had to repair.”
White nodded and said:
“Let’s keep it that way, get started with the trap right away!”
“Aye, Sir”, the Chief Engineer acknowledged.
“Captain, I must point out that Lt.Commander Soman might fit the requirements for the saboteur”, Aq’Numi added.
“How do you figure?”, the Captain asked her.
“Well, he wasn’t assigned here until a few days ago, he has worked in a number of departments during this time, giving him easy access to ship systems and he has substantial engineering experience according to his résumé”, she explained with slight discomfort.
White and Commander Low looked at each other uneasily before he announced:
“Thank you, both. I take this under consideration, but we won’t assign blame prematurely, so investigate in all directions, is that understood?”
Both women nodded and White left the room.
Meanwhile Thalen’s team had finalized the adjustments to the simulation. Captain White rejoined them, as had Attorney General Haff.
The slightly changed simulation was playing again in a loop.
“It is a match, Sir, the pattern of the destruction and the supposed path of the blast wave fit exactly to a detonation within this building”, the chief analyst stated in cold amazement.
“Can you freeze the simulation and zoom in on the exact building that was hit?”, FIA Director Thalne requested.
“Zooming in now, Sir.”
“What is that? It doesn’t look like it even belongs to the embassy. Must be almost a kilometer away”, Attorney General Chetra Haff commented with growing interest.
“According to the blueprints, it’s a multi-purpose storage facility. The colony seems to have used it as a warehouse, for cargo deliveries and such”, one of the analysts explained.
“You are right, Ma’am. It’s almost a kilometer from the main colony buildings and the embassy”, the young man added.
“Now why would they not target the embassy itself? They claimed they wanted to punish the Federation for its imperialist ways of expansion. Why not fire on the embassy itself, seat of the Federation envoy, the place hosting the trade conference. Why the warehouse?”, Haff wondered.
“Well, does it really matter? The explosion destroyed everything within eight kilometers throughout and would have destroyed an even larger area if the topography of that valley would not have prevented it by deflecting the remaining blast upwards. They don’t need to do precision targeting”, Thalen countered.
“Maybe their ships weren’t able to do better”, Thalen’s aide suggested.
“No, they should be, all fairly modern raider ships are”, the Captain confirmed,
“besides, the Klingon outpost they hit two days ago was a much smaller target and they scored a lethal blow with their first shot.
But if I am right about the torpedo, then its yield would not have been sufficient to cause the amount of destruction. Only a heavy torpedo could do that. One like those we saw in their video message.”
“So, if they fired a smaller projectile but the explosion was from a larger piece, how did it get down there?” the Attorney General inquired.
White had got up and was pacing around.
“Maybe they smuggled it down somehow. I don’t know”, he answered.
“And we also know they have enough weapons capacity to destroy the colony with what they had onboard their ships, it would only take more ordnance. Why smuggle down a heavy plasma torpedo which does the same, except for the additional radioactive fallout?”, Director Thalen queried.
“Director, you said the other day the Khefkans wanted us to help them predict the fallout. What about the dispersal pattern of the radiation? Can we see what areas are being affected?”, Captain White wondered.
The chief analyst pulled up the data, overlaying the simulation with an opaque cloud, symbolizing the fallout and its movement.
“Latest updates are showing the radiation cloud to move beyond the area of destruction in a south-eastern direction. The Khefkan Prefect told us they already had to evacuate their settlements in this area. Along with the mining area”, the analyst explained.
Captain White stopped short:
“What mining area?”
The technician showed them a wider view of the area close to the colony with a number of heavily industrialized spots.
“The region has substantial deposits of tritanium ore. It was discovered only a few years ago. Prospector’s scans show the Khefkans are sitting on roughly 17% of the galaxy’s entire known deposits.”
“But when the radiation cloud hits the mines it will contaminate the ore for years, maybe decades”, White commented.
The others nodded in agreement.
“What if they didn’t want to hit the colony at all, what if the mines were the target instead and the attack on the colony just a distraction?”, the Captain suggested.
A little while later, the investigation team was sitting in the conference room, talking to the Khefkan Prefect via video communication.
“Sir, we believe the exact point where the explosion originated was a building on the outer perimeter of the colony, a sort of warehouse. Do you know what they would use it for during the conference?”, Thalen inquired.
“I know they had one of the annex buildings in use as storage every time Starfleet dropped off supplies. But those supplies would always be distributed quickly. Normally it should stand empty. And during the conference? My guess would be to offer customers a way of inspecting the merchandise, take a sample, whatever. It’s rare though.”
“What do you mean?”, Captain White inquired.
“I mean we have had conferences here before. I myself used to be a trader before I got into civil service. At conferences like these most people attending would not be making negligible deals. It’s about long term trade agreements, licences, franchising, tariff quotas, options. Hands-on dealing with merchandise is for petty dealers. This isn’t a bazaar.”
“Thank you very much, Sir.”
The Prefect nodded and switched off the communication.
Thalen got up and read aloud the information from his padd:
“The Khefkans provided us with the last transporter data before the attack. There was a small Karemma freighter asking permission to transport a piece of merchandise to the coordinates of the warehouse, the dimensions specified in the request match the size of a crated up Reman plasma torpedo.”
A bag of thick fabric was pulled off the head of a young Gorn male, tied to a pillar and unconscious.
Next to a number of Klingon warriors Gracie Jones was standing in front of him, cross-armed and ordered:
One of the Klingons stepped forward and put a hypospray injector to the Gorn’s neck. The small device wheezed audibly during the injection. The Gorn began to groan and slowly woke up. He began to look around, he recognized the dungeon-like bowels of a Klingon ship with its rust-colored grilled walls and the damp atmosphere, the sight of the Klingons and the Starfleet officer made his face turn into an image of total disdain and he croaked and hissed in anger.
Gracie Jones began to address him:
“So, judging from your reaction, you know who we are. We definitely know who you are. You are a gofer for Gumo, one of his followers. With you having fallen into Klingon hands, it’s really unfortunate that your boss attacked that Klingon outpost yesterday. They declared martial law afterwards. As an accomplice and accessory you will be tried and executed very soon.”
“You can’t scare me, woman. We are prepared to die and the Patron will prevail in the end. My death means nothing”, the Gorn sternly proclaimed.
“Oh, I’m sure you believe that.”
The Gorn now smiled.
“You are a fool, as if anyone would kill me with a Starfleet officer around. You wouldn’t let them.”
“Look around you, pal. You are onboard a Klingon ship. I have no jurisdiction here. I am just an observer. One with the faint hope, you might tell us something useful first”, Jones countered.
“Pah. Why should I tell you anything? I told the Klingon authorities everything about my father back then. After the Klingon occupation of my homeworld, he beefed about it for months in public and I told them that he was a senile and grumpy old man, who’s complaining about everything and all the time, but they declared him a seditionist and deported him to Rura Penthe. Do you know what happens to reptiles on a frozen planet? He was dead within a month. On the day of his death I swore I would devote my life to the fight against monsters like these”, the prisoner declared.
“Oh yes, and what a glorious fight it is. Your group killed fifteen hundred innocent civilians, most of them people from Federation worlds which had settled on Khefka IV, outside of Federation space, on a foreign planet, people who had nothing to do with your struggle, not even one Klingon was amongst them. Is this the liberation from oppression Gumo told you about?”
“Victory demands sacrifice! They are martyrs, like all of us, like me!”, the Gorn exclaimed.
“Sacrifice? Martyrs?”, Jones asked him,
“What about your family on Ryna-Bravo? Will they be martyrs too?”
The Gorn now gulped and looked at her with sorrowful agitation, not saying a word.
“Yes, we know about them. You haven’t devoted your entire life to this fight, haven’t you? There are still people you want to protect, protect them from harm? From the danger of coming under fire from this Klingon task force which is on its way right now to smoke out the presumed insurgency hideout which is in the neighborhood of your family’s home?”
“You can’t do this!”, the Gorn shouted.
“We can’t? Your boss declared war on us and the Klingons!”
“You are no different than them. That’s why we fight you too, Starfleet”, the man added.
Jones turned away and prepared to leave. The prisoner now became really agitated.
“No, please, you can’t!”
“Yes we can. And good luck to your family, they’re going to need it. Maybe the Klingons will send troops down instead of bombarding the place from space. That’s more than the people on Khefka IV got.”
“No, please, you have to stop this!”, the Gorn pleaded.
“We are done here. He’s all yours”, Jones coldly said while moving for the exit and looking at a giant fierce looking warrior coming out of a corner, dragging his huge bat’leth sword behind him. The Klingon positioned himself directly in front of the Gorn, he briefly looked down on his tied up victim, baring his teeth with delight, then he took aim for a decapitating blow. He tightly grabbed the handles of the mighty curved weapon, then raised it high up in the air, its razorsharp blade flashing lethally. The moment it was about to come down upon him, the Gorn yelled:
“Stop! I’ll talk, please stop!”
Jones stepped forward again and gently pushed the giant Klingon aside who then let go of the Gorn who, now hectically gasping for air, was ready to wet himself.
“Alright, now talk”, Gracie Jones demanded.
“It wasn’t Gumo’s plan. I was there, on Qo'noS, with him when they came.”
“Who?”, Gracie Jones demanded to know.
“They were foreigners. It was a woman, nobody ever saw her face, but she said she worked for another group. They said we had common interests. They were also very interested in using the plasma torpedoes we possess.”
In a secluded corner of the extensive engineering deck of the USS Valentine Chief Engineer Lt.Commander Aq’Numi met with Commander Low.
“What is it? Have there been more malfunctions?”, the First Officer asked.
“Negative, but it’s about the same issue. Look, I think Soman is the saboteur, has to be. And I have a plan to catch him with a smoking gun in his hand. But I need your help”, the Chief Engineer said.
“The Captain gave orders to investigate in all directions, you heard him, why do you want to focus on Soman?”, Low wondered.
“Heather, come on, are you telling me, you aren’t suspecting him? Open your eyes and see the reality. There’s virtually only one other person except myself who could pull off this kind of sabotage and that is you. I didn't do it and neither did you. Soman is the unknown variable.”
“Ok, you’re correct. I do suspect him as well. But can we really exclude anyone from the crew, I mean, you have some brilliant engineers down here, tactical, science departments, they are all first line”, Commander Low tried to calm her colleague.
“Yes, but they are mostly trained in their respective areas, but what’s going on here, is an entirely different level. And I just don’t know what Soman might actually be capable of. The Captain is a good man and tries to be impartial and just, but not taking action might be risking lives.”
“Fine. What is your plan?”
“So, I have set up the trap I told the Captain about, but maybe we should offer our rat some cheese as well. I need you to take Soman into an area of the ship which is almost unfrequented, deflector control or up in the nacelle pylons. Tell him to work on something while you are doing the same, but visibly out of sight from him. With nobody around he’ll feel safe enough to make another attempt. I stay in Engineering and monitor the situation from there, as soon as he makes some offbeat input, I can shut him off and we got him”, Aq’Numi disclosed.
Commander Low hesitated shortly, before she answered:
“I think about it.”
Station Chief Gracie Jones continued her interrogation.
“Go on, what else?”, she asked the Gorn prisoner.
“I was not present the entire time. But I know the woman remained in regular contact with us. The Patron once said he believed them to be from within the Federation. We don’t know who they are, but they seemed to be well connected, knew more about us than Klingon Intel, even where to find us!”
“Why did they want you to attack this place in particular?”, Jones inquired.
“They told us the conference was about future Federation memberships. Hitting the place would be a lesson for your people. And they said, if we could pull it off, the leadership in the fight against the Klingons would be ours. That’s all I know.”
“Where is Gumo now? Still on Qo’noS?”
“No, I think he went to a hideout near the Badlands”, the Gorn replied.
“I don’t know.”
“Where?!”, Jones demanded.
“I don’t know exactly. It’s on the other edge of the Archanis Sector.
“Thank you, dear”, Jones said with a friendly smile and turned around for the door.
The Gorn yelled after her:
“Wait! What about the task force and Ryna-Bravo, you have to cancel the mission! What about my family?”, the Gorn implored.
Jones ignored him.
“Don’t leave me here with the Klingons! I request asylum!”
With her back turned to the Gorn Jones answered slackly:
“Not necessary. Computer, end program.”
Within one second the Klingon warriors, the ship interior and everything else dissolved into thin air, revealing the familiar yellow lined checkerboard grid walls of a Starfleet holodeck.
Commander Low was slightly upset when she entered Captain White’s ready room on the USS Valentine.
“Captain, I was just told we’re changing course and will rendezvous with the Sutherland?!”, she inquired.
“Yes, that is correct, Heather”, White calmly answered.
“Is there a particular reason? I thought we would be staying here until Director Thalen and his team are finished?”
“They are almost done and Captain Elson and the Sutherland can give them a ride home.”
“And Command authorized this?”
“Yes, I told them we have to call at the next shipyard for maintenance, due to the sabotage, but I want to go to Starbase 56 first”, the Captain announced.
“Respectfully, Sir, but as your First Officer I need to be informed about your intentions. How am I supposed to help you carry out orders, when I have no idea what’s going on?”, the First Officer stated.
White looked at her, then he smiled warmly.
“You are right, Heather, of course. We are going to Starbase 56. Mr Mettus earlier made a call to me. He said he investigated the Phoenix case more thoroughly and has found incontrovertible evidence, tying Director Jefferson to the murder of Admiral Pita.”
“Captain, I thought we were in agreement about this and now you still want to pursue the issue?”, Heather Low asked, shaking her head.
“Heather, I know you aren’t nearly as convinced as me, and you don’t like me going after this case, but I just need to do it. It is my decision”, White firmly declared.
“Very well, Captain”, Commander Low sighed.
After Gracie Jones had exited the holodeck on Starbase 56 she went back to meet with her Klingon liaison Krag.
“So how did it go?”, Krag asked her eagerly.
“Splendid. A little bumpy at first, but eventually he became very cooperative.”
“What did he tell you?”
“He knew more than I expected. By the way, the place you are looking for is in the Archanis Sector”, Jones mentioned.
Commander Krag gave her a smile and added:
“I tell my superiors immediately!”
He activated his communicator.
“IKS Qapchu'mup, come in.”
There was no answer.
“Come in, do you read?”, Krag repeated.
Suddenly the nearby bulkheads were shaken by tremors.
“What is going on?”, Krag demanded angrily.
The station’s red alert now came on. Without saying a word Gracie Jones ran towards the next section, Krag followed her. They arrived at a small lounge with windows that allowed a better view of what was happening outside of the station. There they witnessed the Klingon cruiser, docked to the starbase and thus not able to maneuver being swarmed by a dozen small raider vessels, like ugly metallic insects, they relentless fired their weapons into the flanks of the mighty battleship, explosions ripped gaping holes in its hull, more raiders decloaked and attacked the station’s defensive weapons, disabling them after a short fight. The Klingon ship finally began to break apart, its nose section which was still attached to the station’s docking port, was snapped off from the rest of the vessel, its burning hulk beginning to drift away.
“We have to get to the tactical station, now!”, Jones shouted.
Both raced through the corridors, passing by numerous Starfleet officers on their way to their battlestations.
“This is the Station Commander, we are being boarded. All personnel execute Defense Plan Epsilon-Five. Security teams to Decks 4, 15 and 26”, a male voice ordered over the speakers.
“Epsilon-Five, what does that mean?”, Krag wanted to know while running next to Jones.
“No time to explain, just stay with me”, she answered.
When Jones rounded the corner at the next intersection, she received a hard blow to the stomach with the butt of a disruptor rifle, stumbling back into Krag’s arms who was able to catch her. That minor distraction prevented him from drawing his pistol quick enough before a disruptor stream burned a massive tunnel into his torso, killing him instantly.
Jones was holding her stomach in pain, looking up in the faces of a group of Nausicaans, their leader raised his rifle and knocked her out.