“Mr. Donar, do you see any signs of our people?” The captain’s voice was tinny, but still insistent. Tai swept his wrist lamp around the vacant bridge again. He held a rifle in the other hand.
“No sir,” he said solemnly. He quickly reported the carnage he had found before exiting the bridge and into similar macabre scenes. The security officer behind him gulped loudly, prompting the Angosian to whirl on the stocky Axanar. The man pushed down whatever was threatening to come up as he quickly stood at attention. Donar held the man’s gaze for a few seconds, satisfied he could contain himself, before moving on.
The Orion female accompanying them sniggered, prompting the Angosian to hitch his shoulders. The sniggering stopped in a nanosecond. Tai grunted, before activating his compin. “Commander Norrbom, have you found any traces of our officers in the engine room?”
“No sir,” the operations officer crisply replied, her professionalism finally papered over her vehemence. “But we have found something very interesting. I think you’re going to want to see this, the captain too.”
Tai was a little disappointed that it wasn’t Admiral Glover looking back at the assembled senior staff from the inset wall screen. The man had become increasingly, and uncharacteristically withdrawn, since the death of his father. Before that, he had to contend with the divorce from Lt. Commander Mendes, who had also been a former colleague on the Aegis.
It had been a rough time for his former commander and though they hadn’t been especially close, he at least wanted to see how the man was faring. If for no other reason than to report back to Juanita. Glover’s isolation had been extremely hard on her.
But instead of Glover, they got the wizened, yet surly eminence of Cormac Sullivan, the Federation Security Advisor. When the captain had gotten the word that the former admiral would be addressing the senior officers, she had taken it with aplomb, even though they all knew it meant that Erickson had become entangled in something with far reaching and dangerous consequences for the Federation as a whole.
“I’ve read your report,” the white-haired man said, shaking his head, and frowning, even adding more wrinkles to his countenance. He looked no less intimidating in a slate gray civilian suit. “This is most disturbing.”
Captain Redfeather shook her head. “I can do nothing but agree with you sir. The idea that a species has found a way to harness the energy of polaric ion isotopes is both heady and frightening.”
“I don’t see anything to sing songs about here captain,” Sullivan replied, wringing more silence out of the already quiet room. It seemed like the normal noises of the ship, the steady thrum of the engines even lessened before the man’s voice. “What I see is a quick unraveling of the new, hard won peace. Stable polaric ion energy would make the test ban treaty null and void, it would start a round of disastrous testing among the great and small powers, and it would lead to an arms race that would result in a war that would make the one we just endured with the Dominion look like an intense game of hoverball!”
“Sir,” Redfeather said quietly, but with resolve, “I think you are overstating the case here.”
“Captain, with all due respect,” he snapped, “I’m not only a desk jockey, I’ve faced off against the Cardassians and Tzenkethi and I saw too many friends bury their children during this last war, we can’t afford another conflict, and the discovery of this stabilizer, regulator, or whatever you call it is just the right kind of match for the tinderbox.”
“What about the positive usage of polaric ion energy,” she countered. “Properly harnessed, we could solve the energy needs of the Federation and countless other worlds.”
“The operative word is ‘properly’,” Sullivan riposted. “And you know as well as I do that the opposite is just as likely to happen. Could you imagine what this kind of power could do in the hands of the Romulans? Or even minor powers like the Alshain or the Son’a? They could end their war decisively, at the cost of genocide. We can’t allow this to happen. You won’t allow it to happen.”
“What do you want us to do?” The captain said tightly, her lips drawn into unsmiling line. Tension crackled among the other officers.
“First, I want you to scuttle that ship, there can be no trace of that kind of data left for our enemies to find,” Sullivan began.
“But sir, what about those victims? Don’t they deserve a proper burial? The preservation of some aspect of their culture? What if they are the last ones left?” Tai was surprised, but pleased, that the heretofore contemplative Dr. Narsan up this salient point. The captain couldn’t help but smile. Sullivan’s eyes flashed as they focused on the stout hearted Halanan.
But the fire dimmed briefly as the man sighed, “Listen, this might seem cruel, but there is nothing we can do for them now. We have to think about our own survival, and removing all trace of this regulator will make that a bit easier.” His gaze shifted back to the captain. “Once the ship is scuttled, I want you to follow those warp trails to their destination, retrieve the regulator, destroy it and any other data about it you discover.” Erickson had picked up two warp trails leading from the alien ship, one of which had belonged to the Oyekan. That strange twist had deepened the mystery surrounding the alien ship and its tragic fate even more.
“And sir, what if people have read and memorized that data, do you wish them destroyed too?” The captain challenged.
The security advisor sighed again. “You can place them into custody and bring them directly to Earth.”
“So you can kill them?” The captain asked. Sullivan’s mouth twitched with anger.
“How dare you accuse me of such a thing?” His face turned scarlet. “You are burning bridges I suggest you don’t…”
“Right now I’m more concerned with the rule of law than my future career prospects,” Redfeather said, with more steel than the chief engineer. Donar was very impressed with what he was seeing from his fellow crewmen.
“They will receive a fair trial,” he said through clenched teeth. “Just do your job and worry about due process later. The main priority is preventing that device and all data pertaining to it from falling into the wrong hands.”
“Part of my job is worrying about due process,” Redfeather pointedly replied. “Because what good is protecting a Federation that won’t protect its citizens.”
“The monsters who slaughtered those people aren’t worth much protection,” Sullivan said, and Tai was forced to agree with the man.
“If they are sapient beings, they will get a fair hearing, not for them, but for all of us,” the captain rejoined, “We will find the regulator and the get to the bottom of what happened here.” She paused and looked at each other senior officers, her twinkle dimming just a pinch, “And we will destroy all traces of the regulator.”
“Good,” Sullivan huffed, “I’m glad you can see reason captain, as well as respect the chain of command. Good people can disagree about things, but at the end of the day, either you are about protecting the Federation or you aren’t. I will be expecting regular updates,” he said, before signing off.
“What a peach,” Lt. French rolled his eyes. He turned to the man sitting beside him. “Great job Doc,” he clapped the impassive medic on his shoulder, “Didn’t know you had it in you.” Tai hadn’t either, but he didn’t say so.
“Captain, are we really going to go through with it?” Narsan asked. “These orders are outside the chain of command.”
“They are highly unusual yes,” she replied, “but not as suspect as they seem. Sullivan never would’ve addressed us if Command wasn’t on his side, and I think the reason he did so was to hammer home how important this is to the administration.”
“Yeah, to Satie’s reelection prospects,” French snorted.
“Can the political talk,” the captain snapped, and the helmsmen jolted forward in his seat, as if he had eased back on a live wire. “I don’t tolerate that while on duty, and you know that Tim.”
“Yes sir, sorry sir,” the young man looked chagrined.
“Even though I didn’t like Sullivan’s tone, I can understand his trepidation,” the captain added. “This could be a very catastrophic weapon, on par with the Genesis Device if left in the wrong hands. And we do have to prevent that at all cost.”
“Even if that results in death and despair for those that could be saved by this discovery?” Lt. Jilicia, a smooth browed, sallow skinned Boslic, standing in for Ramlo as science officer, spoke up.
“Yes, even so,” the captain gently replied. “Perhaps I’m a warhorse, just not as old, as Sullivan, I can’t help but see the bad in this.” She shook her head in disappointment. But Tai nodded his in agreement.
Jilicia shook her head, her innocence both beguiling and exasperating to the Angosian. “And that’s what I had hoped the war would mean the end to, of seeing the bad in every situation. What happened to the wonders of discovery, of believing in the innate capacity of sentient beings for good?” She asked, not just the captain and her fellow officers, it was as if she was also asking herself.
“We woke up,” Norrbom said, with an almost sadistic relish. “You should too Lieutenant.”
“Helen,” the captain chided.
“I’m only being honest,” Norrbom replied, “I’m not the only one in this room who doesn’t suspect that whoever attacked that alien ship has also captured or killed our colleagues, our friends, and they’ve got to pay for that. I am intrigued by this regulator, no lie, but I’m more concerned about getting our friends back safe and sound, and if the regulator has to be destroyed to do so, or in the process of rescuing them, that’s square with me.”
The captain shook her head, “Not the way I would’ve put it Helen, but I agree.” She clapped her hands and stood up. She eyed them all before saying, “Now let’s get to work people.”