A fast-moving vehicle trailing a huge cloud of dust and sand raced through a desert landscape, passing by endless seas of small bushes and succulents on both sides. On the horizon, next to a slowly setting afternoon sun, there was a shimmer of the city of Las Vegas, its remaining museum-turned casino complexes, once the epitome of greed, nowadays the main attraction for visiting Ferengi tourists.
The two occupants of the convertible hover car, their hair blowing in the wind, were heading for a small cluster of houses overlooking Lake Mead.
They slowed down when they approached their destination, a spacious cottage surrounded by a vibrant little garden with neatly trimmed lawn and cypress trees. The house was adobe and natural stone, a mix of Spanish missionary and Pueblo architecture, fitting nicely in the landscape.
While the hover car set down on the driveway with a waning roar a beautiful brunette looking through one of the windows waved to the couple exiting it and then turned the other way shouting:
“Honey, come down please. They’re here.”
Jessica Pita and Mark, her tall and goodly husband were just about to rang the doorbell, when the woman opened up with a wide grin.
“Jess, Mark, it’s so good to see you.”
“It has been far too long, Molly”, Jessica Pita responded. Molly hugged her tightly before turning to Mark. Gesturing at the plate full of apple pie he was carrying:
“I can see you took care of the dessert already.”
Mark responded with a friendly smile.
“Now what am I supposed to do with those cupcakes I spend all morning on? - Just kidding! You know I steer clear of baking. Love cooking though. Come on in!”
“So, I guess it will just be the three of us…”, Jessica Pita commented slyly. Molly turned around in confusion, only now noticing that her partner still was not there to greet the guests. She put her hands on her hips and looked up to the first floor before shouting:
“Mr Jefferson, will you please come down here right now, or do I have to come up there and get you?”
Mark leaned to his wife and whispered in amusement:
“Those poor kids in that school, I pity them.”
“Actually, my students are very well behaved and I don’t need to tell them anything twice. But this giant baby right here”, referring to William Jefferson who was just coming down the stairs, “with him I have to raise my voice once in a while.”
“I am sorry, dear.”
Jefferson gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek.
“I was caught up in work. Hey, guys, glad you made it.”
He quickly hugged Jessica and then greeted Mark with a handshake.
“What? No kiss for me?”, Mark joked.
Jefferson looked at him for a moment then grabbed Mark’s head on both sides, trying to pull him closer for a kiss.
“Alright, alright, knock it off, Bill, let’s just go inside and eat”, Mark countered, trying to get out of Jefferson’s firm grip.
The interior of the house was as elegant as its exterior, opulent but not pretentious. Jessica Pita and Mark marveled at the sight of the exquisite dishes which Molly had prepared for dinner.
After they had finished their meal, the two couples took a seat on a large cushioned corner in the living room. They all had glasses of wine and took a sip every now and then.
“The place has turned out really nice, Billy. When you showed me how it looked like before, I was really sceptical.”
“Thank you, Jess, but it’s all this girl here”, Jefferson indicated his fiancée, affectionately taking her hand.
“She has been doing all the work, well, telling the construction workers where to put everything, that is”, he laughed.
“With you being away so much, I need someone here to boss around, don’t I?”, Molly countered with a grin.
“By the way, thanks again, Jess, for bringing my future husband back into the neighborhood. It would have been years until we could have gotten our own place on Earth otherwise.”
“But it wasn't necessary at all. I would have gotten a different assignment sooner or later,” William Jefferson said with a bit of disappointment in his voice.
“Yeah, sure, and the moment there’s some new crisis, you’ll be back at the outer edge of the galaxy again, doing double-shifts”, Jessica stated with a bitter irony.
“Besides, I missed working with you. And so far, you have mirrored my career so closely, a little settling down won’t hurt you at all. Works out for me and Mark so far.”
Mark nodded in agreement.
“And I remind you also, that I am now your superior again, so don’t make me order you”, Pita mentioned with a wink.
“Speaking of that, there is something I need you to do first thing tomorrow.”
“I don’t want that kind of talk while we are sitting here, Jessica. His next assignment can wait”, Molly declared firmly.
“You are right, of course. I am sorry”, Jessica Pita said.
A while later Jefferson and Pita went on the terrace together. In the meantime Mark and Molly cleaned the dinner table.
“So, what do you have for me, Jess?”, Jefferson eagerly asked her.
“So much for settling down, huh?”, she commented.
“Come on, you know how it is. I like being with Molly and she has never been the type of woman who is content with staying on starships all her life. It’s great being able to live down here. But I am bored to death already. Out there, I could make more of a difference.”
“You’ll get used to it and before you know it, you are of rank high enough that you can choose your posting.”
“We’ll see. So what is this thing tomorrow?”, Jefferson asked.
“I can’t tell you much right here. You need to go to Jupiter Station tomorrow and I’ll fill you in on the rest then. Never mind your boredom, afterall it’s not every day that you catch a Romulan spy!”, she disclosed with a triumphant sparkle in her eyes.
The next morning William Jefferson was on his way to Jupiter Station. The facility, in high orbit above Jupiter, consisted of two sets of three immense flat-domed circular structures, similar to starship saucer section hulls, on top of each other, with a series of antennae and docking ports extending from the bottom and the sides. It served as a major maintenance facility, research station and MACO training center for Starfleet.
Jefferson’s shuttlecraft approached one of the docking ports which had an enclosed area for handling smaller craft. The young NCO piloting him sat down the shuttle on top of a designated landing marker and Jefferson got out quickly. Halfway out of the shuttlebay he was met by a man who introduced himself as Lieutenant Ariyya, the station’s security officer.
While both men were walking through the corridors Jefferson quickly skimmed the case file on a padd. After turning a corner they entered a turbolift.
“Deck Twenty, section E, security station”, Ariyya instructed the turbolift’s voice interface. The cabin then began to ferry them to their destination.
“Unsuspicious résumé on this guy. How did you even pick up on him?”, Jefferson asked.
“It was difficult to pull off. We were tipped off by one of your colleagues saying that a crew member on this station might be in contact with the Romulans. We had to employ an old-fashioned dragnet investigation and eventually caught him making unauthorized communications”, the security officer replied.
They arrived at the security station and Arriya led Jefferson into a set of rooms next to the holding area. A few duty officers were present manning their posts. Both men then entered an observation room which was directly adjacent to an interrogation cell in which the prisoner could be seen through a large monitor, along with a single guard. The observation area also contained a number of consoles and monitors, displaying the prisoner’s lifesigns and other physiological data as well listening devices which would record everything the prisoner might say.
Jefferson stared at the screen for a moment, sizing up his counterpart.
“Has he said anything to you?”, Jefferson wanted to know.
“Negative, Sir. No word. But we conducted only a limited questioning anyway. We were told Intel would send someone to take over”, Arriya answered.
“Very well. Our people will continue from here. The proceedings are classified. I have to ask you and your team to clear the immediate area.”
“Yes, Sir. I understand. We will be just outside in the next section, if there’s anything you need.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. That’ll be all for now.”
Arriya nodded and left the room quickly. The guard in the interrogation room also vacated his post.
Jefferson now entered the room and sat across the table. The prisoner, a dark-haired man with pointed ears, did not even look at him. His hands were tied to the table’s surface with forcefield cuffs.
“Good morning, Mr Tevek.”
The Romulan still not even glanced at him.
“You see, we did our homework on you.”
Jefferson began to read from his data padd:
“Tevek, born in the 1990th year, by your calendar, in the Romulan colony of Tan Vukov. You entered Starfleet twelve years ago under the alias of Sudak, from Vulcan. Trained as an engineer, specialties include plasma networking and advanced holoprogramming. Assigned to Jupiter Station seventeen months ago, and all this time, as we concluded, you have been sending encoded messages, to the Tal’Shiar no doubt.”
Jefferson got up from his chair and walked around the room a bit.
“I realize someone in your position is sufficiently trained to withstand interrogation and our efforts to coerce you to cooperate. And of course you know you are not facing an execution squad here either. But that’s not to say the Federation takes espionage against key targets lightly. You will face many years in a prison facility, maybe even a life sentence.”
He now sat down again and while intently looking at him, Jefferson enjoined the man to reconsider:
“You see, it’s my hope that we can help each other out. Maybe, in all the years you have spent in the Federation you have glimpsed at how we do things as opposed to your people, maybe you discovered that we aren’t that dangerous enemy your superiors had made you believe and maybe you say to yourself that it’s not worth it, spending endless time in a remote detention facility for the sake of your employers who already denied any knowledge of your presence here. But if you cooperate, I can arrange for a great deal of leniency. Think about it, Mr Tevek and if you’re willing to talk, just ask for me. Good day.”
Jefferson left the interrogation room and walked back to the observation booth next to it, hoping to witness his prisoner finally showing some reaction to his speech. He entered the poorly lit room, turning for the screen immediately.
Then suddenly a voice broke the silence in the room:
“Good morning, Mr Jefferson.”
Jefferson froze dead in his tracks. He knew that voice well. He stiffened and grimaced before he turned to the familiar man standing in the corner.
“Bowman. What are you doing here?”
The man stepped into the light of an overhead lamp which then illuminated his appearance, accentuating his bony features.
“Work, the same as you.”
“You are here for him?!”, Jefferson asked incredulously.
Bowman now stood right next to him, facing the monitor and watching the prisoner.
“That is correct.”
“How do you even know about it, they only caught him yesterday?”
“Mr Jefferson, you should know by now that we have our sources.”
“Well, then I am sure you are aware of the accusations against him, but also that he hasn’t said a word so far. I don’t see what you expect to get out of him, that I could not.”
“He is one of ours”, Bowman revealed coldly.
“What? What do you mean, he is one of ours?”
“A double agent with the Romulans.”
Jefferson fell silent for a minute at this news. Then he began to speak again:
“Hmm, I guess I am not yet that high in the hierarchy to know about Intel’s double agents with the Romulans.”
“No, Mr Jefferson. He is one of OURS”, Bowman expressed with slight annoyance.
Jefferson’s face turned grim, he understood what Bowman meant.
“He is a double agent for the Section, but the rest of Starfleet has no idea.”
“Of course not”, Bowman replied.
“What exactly is his mission then?”, Jefferson asked.
“We turned Mr Tevek fairly early in his career. After a short respite he agreed to help us. He has been feeding the Romulans selected information ever since”, Bowman told him.
“Disinformation”, Jefferson exclaimed.
“Not exactly. The Tal’Shiar is too smart to fall for information they can’t verify through a second source. They received only that information we want them to know about.”
“So, you’re giving them facts, willingly? That sounds like treason to me, Bowman”, Jefferson scoffed.
“The information he is providing in exchange is much more valuable. And I would advise you not to question our decisions. It is not your place to do so.”
“So, what happens now?”, Jefferson wondered.
“You let him go.”
Jefferson could not maintain a straight face answering him:
“You must be out of your mind. He’s been arrested for espionage and treason, falsification of identity, dozens of people know about it already, including the higher charges.
What am I supposed to do? Deleting all the files with evidence against him and smuggle him out, hidden in the cargo hold of my shuttle?”, Jefferson scoffed.
“You are not lacking fantasy, Mr Jefferson, I have always liked that about you. But none of that will be necessary. Just go back in there and hand him this”, Bowman said while holding out a tiny octagonal chip.
“And don’t lock the door when you go in. He'll know what to do with it. The rest is taken care of.”
Bowman now pulled another device from his pocket and held it against the surveillance consoles which immediately shut off.
Jefferson wrestled with himself, not sure what to do. He knew he had no choice.
“What should I tell Starfleet what happened here?”
“You don’t need to say much. You will get a reprimand for being careless with the door. They are going to assume he had that chip still hidden on his body. The Station’s security will get the brunt of the blame.”
“Why him? - And why me?”, Jefferson wanted to know.
“He has been deemed important to our interests. The Romulans already know about his capture and expect him to flee. For his services he will receive a significant promotion, maybe it’s even a springboard to a political career in the Romulan Senate. Now that is a source we can’t afford to pass. Not for your superiors’ petty sense of justice”, Bowman explained.
Jefferson looked at him with a deep sense of resignation. Bowman continued:
“You know it’s the right thing to do, you let one man go and you save many more from peril elsewhere. We brought you into our organization for a reason, you are one of the few who understand which things really matter. We have much confidence in you. Now go. I contact you, when this is over.”
Jefferson bit his lip and then finally turned and went back to the interrogation room. He opened the door and entered, making sure not to engage the lock, as he was told. He stared at Tevek for a short while, who still ignored him. Then Jefferson sat down and hesitantly pulled the chip from his pocket before finally sliding it over to the prisoner.
Tevek embraced the small device with both hands and looked up to Jefferson, showing a cheesy smile. The device activated and shut off Tevek’s restraints which had been holding him fixed to the table. In a swift move he now jumped up, connected the tip of his foot with Jefferson’s chin, knocking him out of his chair. Before he knew what had happened the Romulan was on top of him, shoving Jefferson’s head with tremendous force against the wall, knocking him unconscious.
When Jefferson came back to his senses, he could hear the station’s alarm blaring, his head hurt like hell, a deep laceration on his forehead was bleeding profusely.
“Sir, Sir, are you alright?”, Lieutenant Arriya asked him, after just having entered the room with a second security officer, both holding phaser pistols.
“The prisoner, he got away. Have you seen him?”, Jefferson wanted to know. Lieutenant Arriya answered:
“He shot his way right through my security post before making a run for the promenade deck. We gave chaise, but he had too much of a lead over us already. He successfully beamed off the station.”