Day Three: The Big Sleep
– I –
Michael Owens stifled a yawn as he stepped out of the turbolift on deck twenty-four. After seemingly having lost an entire night already, he hadn’t been particularly happy when Lieutenant Nora Laas had woken him at oh-dark-thirty, calling him down to engineering for an apparent emergency.
At least he had slept this time, however short the cycle had lasted. It was still a complete mystery to him what had happened the previous night. Could it have been a remnant of the Hyterian infection as Deen had suggested? That had happened over two years ago and he had experienced no further ill effects after that episode had concluded so it seemed unlikely that his lost night was related to that long-dead civilization.
For now he would just have to write it off as one of those strange anomalies one encountered on a regular basis while living and working in outer space and hope he’d find the time on making up those lost hours soon.
He found a crowd had gathered outside engineering and he noticed the number of civilian engineers who were part of Professor Rosenthal’s team were being kept out of main engineering along with many regular crewmembers. Two armed security specialists were guarding the main door.
Charlie Colcord, the professor’s senior advisor, immediately zeroed in on him when she spotted him coming down the corridor.
“Captain, what is the meaning of this?” she said even before he had reached the group. She looked visibly upset and even more astonishingly, not the least bit weary or fatigued considering the late hour. Instead she was the epitome of an energized professional, looking crisp and ready to work. “As you are aware, sir, we are on a very tight schedule to complete the array and do not have the luxury to afford these kind of delays. It is completely unacceptable that we are being kept out of engineering in this manner.”
Owens joined her and took in the scene. Rosenthal was in the process of polishing his eyeglasses, once again quite happy to have his young and energetic colleague do most of the talking.
“Miss Colcord, I’m sure there is a perfectly good reason why main engineering has been sealed off—“
“A better reason than completing a spy array which will yield invaluable data on enemy fleet movements which could play a role in winning this war?” she said.
He sighed. “Honestly, I don’t know,” he said truthfully. “Why don’t you let me find out?”
She nodded. “Yes, please do. We are here to work, Captain, not stand idly by and wait to be given access to vital areas of the ship.”
He couldn’t be entirely certain but the look on Rosenthal’s face appeared slightly pained and he wasn’t sure if it was because of Colcord’s insisting attitude or for some other reason. Did he know more than he let on about what was taking place beyond those sealed doors?
“If you excuse me,” he told the young woman. “Professor.”
The civilian engineer gave him a nod, his expression having turned to one of concern now.
The security guards stepped aside for him and he quickly slipped into engineering.
At first glance nothing here looked quite out of the ordinary until he realized that the many gold-shirted officers busily going back and forth were not engineers but security personnel. And they were not monitoring or studying the many computer consoles and equipment in this room, they were studying the actual room.
He found Nora Laas along with Commander Star standing close to the warp core at the back of engineering and without further delay headed their way. He thought it to be odd that Star was already here. He was sure Nora would have called him first, not because it was protocol but because it seemed unlikely the Bajoran would have wanted to clue in the first officer on any urgent news before him.
He was well aware of the difficulties the two women had had working together ever since Tazla Star had come aboard to become first an acting XO and then take on the role permanently. There was something about their personalities—both headstrong, proud and uncompromising—that simply didn’t allow them to click. And there was something else, something more personal which caused friction between his chief of security and his executive officer.
Nora Laas had been in a short-lived romantic relationship with Star’s highly respected predecessor which was cut short after he was tragically killed in the line of duty. Killed while saving her life no less. It had not gone over well with her that a known traitor and criminal had come in to replace the man she had been in love with.
And while Owens had his own problems with the Trill first officer, Nora’s issues it seemed were of a more personal nature and one which he needed them to work out together.
“Captain,” the Bajoran said, beating Star to it. “Over here, sir.”
“What’s going on?”
“We have a situation.”
“You called me down here at 0100 hours. You better be having a situation, Lieutenant,” he said as he stepped up next to the warp core, gently humming and pulsating with bright azure light. Looking around he couldn’t immediately see what the nature of this situation could be.
“See for yourself,” said Star, and Owens found her looking particularly grim which he didn’t attribute to the early hour, as she looked down the pit surrounding the warp core. He noticed that she made an effort not to touch the bright red safety railing.
Nora mirrored the move and the captain followed suit.
The situation was a dead crewman, lying sprawled out at the bottom of the pit, at least twenty meters below and in large pool of his own blood. The man wore a golden uniform undershirt, making him a technical specialist or security officer. He had dark skin and long, silvery hair and was clearly humanoid but possibly not human.
Michael immediately felt a sickness growing in his stomach. Not because of seeing a dead person, he had seen plenty of those before, many more than he’d ever wanted and even more so since the outbreak of the Dominion War, he was getting this feeling because this death, no matter what it turned out to be, seemed to him like the most senseless of all. This was not a wartime casualty, losing his life while defending freedom and the Federation, this, it appeared was an entirely preventable and tragic death.
“What the hell happened?” he said, unable to keep the anger in check. “Who is that?”
“Lieutenant Jinlu Gedar, sir,” said Nora Laas.
He gave her and empty look. He remembered the promising young engineer from his great performance in the play two days earlier. He, it had turned out, had been a most gifted actor and had drawn much praise from the audience that night, including from himself.
The fact that he had known the man, shook his hand even, it made this so much worse. It probably shouldn’t, this was tragic no matter who the dead person was, but feelings didn’t lie.
“He was discovered about twenty minutes ago by the duty engineer. It’s too soon to say what happened but I doubt it was an accident,” said Star.
Owens missed the dark look the security chief was aiming at the first officer, obviously not happy with her already making speculations.
“You’re saying this was done on purpose?” said Owens, unable to keep from sounding astonished by the revelation.
“I think we need to treat this as a homicide,” said the first officer.
“A homicide?” said the captain, still trying to get to grips with what she was saying. In his entire Starfleet career he had never come across a murder scene. They still happened within the Federation and even more infrequently within Starfleet but hardly ever on a starship. Perhaps on some frontier outpost or a border colony but on Starfleet vessel something like this was almost unheard of.
“The only other option would be a suicide and from what I know about Mister Gedar, I find that difficult to believe,” said the first officer.
Owens turned to look at his security chief for an opinion. She nodded hesitantly as if it pained her to agree with Star. “I don’t think we should rule anything out yet but I’m I think we should treat this as if it where a homicide as well. We may have a murderer on this ship and if that is true, we need to act quickly.”
The idea disgusted him. Bad enough they had lost people to the Dominion, now one of their own was killing fellow crewmembers. It was entirely unacceptable. “If you’re right I want who ever did this brought to justice as soon as possible and before they have a chance to strike again.”
Nora nodded sharply but before she could respond, Star jumped in. “Sir, I think I should lead on the investigation.”
“This is a security matter, Commander,” the Bajoran shot back. “I’ll handle this.”
“If this were a simple security matter, perhaps,” she said, managing to keep her cool considering Nora’s brusque tone. “But this is an actual investigation. We don’t know who we are looking for yet and whoever did this is likely trying to cover their tracks. We’ll need a certain finesse to catch the perpetrator.”
Nora defiantly crossed her arms under her chest. “And you’re saying I don’t have finesse, is that it?”
Star was unapologetic. “It’s not a quality I would attribute to you, no.”
“Captain, with all due respect—“
But Owens raised his hand to stop his two officers to get into it in front of a crowd of spectators, not to mention at a murder scene. It was the last thing he needed. “Let me make this very clear to you both,” he said, keeping his voice low but with enough edge to make it clear he was being serious. “Whatever it is that’s going on between the two of you, I need it to stop. Right now. This,” he said and pointed towards the warp core pit, “is absolutely unacceptable on my ship, on any ship, and I want to know who is responsible. That’s all I care about. Understood?”
The two women nodded sharply.
“And I’ll find out, sir,” said Nora, not willing to give up on the argument even after the captain’s speech. “Criminal investigations of any nature fall into my purview. Let me handle this and I promise I get you the killer.”
He considered her for a moment and also noticed Star’s doubt filled eyes. She seemed eager to take on the investigation herself, this much seemed clear but he couldn’t be sure if this was because she genuinely felt more qualified or because she saw this as an opportunity to prove herself to him. He finally gave the security chief the nod to proceed. “It’s your investigation, Lieutenant. Whatever it takes, get me whoever did this.”
Star pretended to be a good loser but she clearly had one more point to make. “Sir, I hate to bring this up but there is the matter of the sensor array construction. The longer we delay Rosenthal and his people access to main engineering and other areas, the greater the chance that we will not meet our deadline to finish construction.”
“A man just died here, Commander, I’m not sure what that means to you but my priorities are clear,” Nora barked.
“People are dying by the hundred every day,” said Star and doing a commendable job of keeping her own voice down. “I am as disturbed by what happened here as the rest of us but I also understand the wider implications of our mission here,” she added and then looked back at the captain. “I’m not trying to prioritize one thing over the other, sir, I’m just saying that both objectives are of vital importance.”
Owens considered that for a moment before he found himself in agreement with his first officer and nodded. “Lieutenant, do whatever you have to but wrap things up in here quickly,” he said, already aware that Nora’s security people were taking a myriad of scans of the engine room and knowing that that should allow them to recreate the crime scene into minute detail. “We cannot afford to significantly delay or hinder the professors’ efforts, the stakes are too high.”
Owens took one last look at the unfortunate dead body of the former Lieutenant Gedar. It was the least he could do as regardless of how he had died, it had happened under his command and therefore part of the reasonability was his. It was going to be his job to find a way to make his family understand that their son had died in the most senseless fashion on board of his ship. It was a duty he was already dreading.
“I want whoever did this,” he seethed before he turned and headed for the secondary exit, consciously avoiding another run in with Rosenthal and Colcord.
Going back to bed and catching up on sorely needed rest, he knew was no longer an option.
* * *
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