The arrival of Excalibur and Sutherland within the sector has made it easier to ward off traffic until the volatile nature of the field has time to dissipate and prove less of a major hazard to ships passing between Starbase 310 and Deep Space Four. Unfortunately, this will cause a major delay to many shipping and passenger liners that operate this close to the Cardassian border.
"Please state your name, rank, title, and present assignment for the log."
"My name is Ariel Ivanda Etsuko Katayama Elannis. My rank is Lieutenant Commander. My title is chief of operations. My present assignment is the starship USS Farragut
Tricia Hargreaves smiled at Ariel. "Thank you for appearing, Commander."
"Oh, it's your pleasure, I'm sure," replied Ariel mockingly.
"I assume, for the record, that you don't want to be here?"
"You assume correctly. For the record, I think this investigation is a complete waste of everyone's time."
Tricia's pleasure at Ariel's disdain for the investigation was clear by her smile. "You were carried on the crew roster as the ship's chief of operations as of Stardate 4322-"
"I was carried as the ship's chief of operations and the acting executive officer," corrected Ariel quickly. "I also supported Captain Leone's actions completely. Are we done, now?"
"No, Commander, I'm afraid we're not," Hargreaves said with a satisfied smirk. Her fingers tapped against the surface of the padd, but nothing changed on the PADD's display. She merely tapped in a refresh command over and over to give the appearance of recalling information. "On Stardate 43224.3, Captain Leone gave the order to alter the ship's heading to rendezvous with the Kasui fortress. According to the reports gathered from the logs and reports, you were in conference with the captain prior to her order."
"Were you included in the discussion regarding that change?"
"Yes, I was."
"Could you tell me about it?"
They sat in silence for a moment, before Hargreaves sighed. "What did you and the captain discuss in her ready room, prior to her issuing the order to alter course?"
"The captain was intent on withdrawing the ship from Tristnor space at the best possible speed."
Hargreaves' jaw dropped. "Excuse me?"
"The captain," she repeated, as though she were speaking to a person of lesser intelligence, "was intent on withdrawing the ship from Tristnor space at the best possible speed."
"Thank you," came the very dry reply. "What I meant to ask was, why was this information not included in the official report?"
"Because the conversation was conducted in private, and Captain Leone stands by her orders. She is a woman of conviction and great passion." Ariel leaned forward and a smirk appeared on her lips. "As you well know."
Tricia cleared her throat. "What did you and the captain discuss prior to the change in her orders?"
"A lot of things."
"I don't think that's relevant to your investigation."
"I determine what's relevant and what's not. Answer the question."
Ariel rolled her eyes as Tricia postured. She folded her arms and looked up at the bulkhead as though she were trying to recall the salient details of the conversation. "We discussed the situation and how the Prime Directive applied. She was certain that the Prime Directive did apply in this situation, and I played devil's advocate. We often do that when we're trying to dissect the circumstances."
"I'm sure that you do. In this case, it seems that your advocacy of an evil agenda worked on the captain."
"I dare say that it did."
"You heard me. I was the one who convinced the captain to change her mind. If there's any blame to be laid, I think I should be the one to-"
"Hold it right there, Commander. The captain ultimately made the decision to alter course and join the conflict with clear disregard toward Federation law."
"Then I'm an accessory. I supported her orders and I never questioned them once."
"That's nice, but-"
"Furthermore, I led the assault on the facility and was the
principal liaison officer coordinating the joint efforts between-"
"Commander, that much is a matter of record, and I have to caution you that by admitting your guilt, you may open yourself up to charges-"
Ariel scoffed, "Where you're concerned, Trish, I'm fucking counting on charges being brought."
Hargreaves, please. I don't recall giving you permission to refer to me by my first-"
"Oh, shove it up your ass, Trish. We go way back, you and I. All the way back to Victory
, remember? I was there, and I know what happened when Krys found out about your little problem."
Hargreaves shut off the log and fumed. "I would have fixed it, until she went and blabbed to Captain Wainwright-"
"As her duty entailed..."
"God damn you!" thundered Hargreaves, feeling her emotional control vanish. "Both of you! You both think you're so smug, sitting here on your very own ship, handed to you-"
"That's what this is about, isn't it?" asked Ariel, leaning back with her voice level. "You're here for revenge."
Trish slammed her fist onto the table. "I'm here for justice! That slimy bitch weaseled her way up the ranks and managed to use her mommy's influence to gain a starship command she had no business in accepting in the first place!"
Ariel got to her feet so quickly, the chair jumped out from under her and skidded on its wheels until the momentum carried it too far and it toppled to the ground. By the time it did, Ariel had already risen to lean menacingly over the conference table. "Because we go way back," she said, softly but furiously, "I'm going to give you a few seconds to revise your statement."
Seeing her move as quickly as she did caused a tsunami of fear to well up inside of Hargreaves. "A-Are you threatening me?"
"Not at all," said Ariel with a Cheshire grin on her face. "I'm stating fact. And your time is nearly up, Trish. What's it going to be?"
Hargreaves swallowed visibly. "I believe I have everything I need from you, Commander. You may leave."
Ariel stood upright with a self-satisfied smirk. "That's what I thought."
=/\= =/\= =/\= =/\= =/\=
The field of stars beneath his feet reminded him of the story his father used to tell him about walking in the Land of Eternal Midnight. As the story went, a guard that lived on a moon in orbit of a world that had a single occupant; a princess for whom he was to watch over and protect from any harm that space might bring. One day, after years of maintaining his vigilant watch over her, he decides to abandon his post to meet her. In order to make the journey from the moon to the planet, he walks within the Land of Eternal Midnight and has many adventures among the stars.
Of course, he felt like the guard, but no adventure other than the obvious one of survival met him as he floated with his limbs outstretched. Vertigo claimed him long ago, as he lost his sense of up and down or left and right. For a moment, he almost reveled in the feeling of being within the hold of nothing, but that moment flew away from him just as soon as it had come.
He looked down at the panel on his arm to check the status of the suit's life support system. The numbers on the display reinforced the notion of keeping his breathing as steady as possible to prevent the hoards of panic waiting to bust down his training-instilled control. He knew that his short-range radio call was not likely to reach anyone. He knew that there was a real possibility of dying of asphyxiation before any other demise he could think of. At least, the other kinds would require a ship to drop in, and he hoped that they would have the presence of mind to save him rather than shoot at him.
No matter how hard he tried, sleep did not seem to come to him. The tight fist of freefall clenched at his stomach, preventing the natural desire to blissfully carry him off so that he could at least let the time pass by faster than simply waiting in the void for a rescue that may or may not come. He wished he could sleep. His eyelids felt heavy, so he closed them, trying to imagine floating on his back in a pool of warm water and it began to work.
That's right, he thought. That's where I am. I'm in the pool at the Academy, just floating on my back when the days got really rough and I couldn't deal with it anymore. Well, this is one of the rougher days of your life and you could surely use that pool right now, couldn't you?
As Tommy O'Day floated in the Land of Eternal Midnight, he spoke aloud to himself with a slow nod:
"Yes, I sure could."
[... TO BE CONCLUDED IN STAR TREK: FULL SPEED AHEAD #6: "A GREAT PERHAPS"]