– II –
“I don’t get it, Lieutenant,” said Tazla Star as she looked over the padd she held before she glanced up to look the Krellonian helmsman in eye. “You have a mostly spotless record, a few high honors including the Citation for Conspicuous Gallantry. You’re at best a few months away from getting a promotion to full lieutenant and after that, your career options are wide open. What would make you do what you did? Why turn on your own people like that?”
Culsten was clearly frustrated, the deep frown on his face a clear indication. “But I didn’t.”
“You willfully steered this vessel away from the construction site, disobeyed all orders and refused to stand down,” said the first officer, keeping her voice firm as steel.
The young man looked over to Elijah Katanga who was standing to the side in the XO’s office to find an answer in his sympathetic eyes which apparently, however, he was unable to provide. He glanced back at the first officer. “I … I didn’t do any of that.”
“Then explain my bruised knuckles.”
He tenderly touched his jaw. “I wish I could. That hit is about the only thing I do remember. Or at least the resulting pain.”
“The doctor ran a through scan and he could find no signs of memory loss, Lieutenant,” Star said sternly. “You now what that leads me to believe? That you knew exactly what you were doing.”
A frustrated Culsten shook his head. “No, I … Commander, I can’t explain what happened, I wish I could. But there is no way I would have endangered this ship and crew on purpose.”
“I want to believe you but the evidence says otherwise,” she said and shot a quick glance at the armed security guard standing by the door. “For the time being you’re relieved of duty and confined to quarters.”
The security guard stepped up and Culsten got onto his feet, a pleading look in his eyes. When it was obvious that the XO was not going to change her mind, his shoulder slumped and he was escorted out of the office.
“I don’t know,” said Katanga once they were alone. “He does not strike me as an enemy spy.”
Star leaned back in her chair. “We know very little about the Krellonians. A very secretive race. And let’s not forget that our murder victim hailed from the same species and was a friend of his.”
“You make it sound like there was some sort of conspiracy in the works here.”
“It would be a plausible explanation.”
“But you have no evidence, other than an unsolved murder and a couple of officers behaving very erratically. Something else could be at work here,” said the doctor.
Star stood. “You performed scans on both Culsten and Smith and you found no medical explanation for their behavior.”
But Katanga shook his head. “Taz, I’ve been around for a long time and I’ve seen a lot of things that cannot be explained by known science. Just because I haven’t found anything, doesn’t mean there isn’t something there.”
“Fair enough. But what do you expect me to do? I can’t simply attribute everything that’s happened to some unexplained phenomenon. Right now my theory is the only one that makes the most sense and I’ll pursue it until I have reason to do otherwise.”
The door to her office opened, startling Star for a moment. She was just about to snap at whoever had dared to waltz into her office unannounced when she realized that it had been the only person on board she did not outrank. She instinctively straightened her shoulders and reestablish her composure. “Sir?”
“Commander, where is Lieutenant Culsten?” he said with little preamble.
“We just finished interrogating him and I’ve restricted him to quarters.”
Owens didn’t appear particularly happy with that explanation. He glanced at the doctor next, ignoring for the moment the fact that he was still refusing to wear his uniform jacket. “Did you find anything that could explain his behavior?”
“I’m afraid not,” he said. “All his scans came back normal. No signs of memory loss or alteration. No changes at all to his biochemistry or brain patterns as far as I can tell. We’re still analyzing and comparing with the scans we took of Lieutenant Smith to see if something shows up.”
“I cannot believe that Culsten would just snap like this. He’s always been an extremely reliable officer,” said the captain and then glanced at Star. “Commander, what the hell is going on my ship?”
Star considered the question for a moment as if she was not sure how exactly to respond. She made eye contact with Katanga for a moment and it didn’t take a mind reader to tell what he was thinking.
Owens didn’t miss the telling look and focused on his first officer. “If there is something you’d like to tell me, Commander, now would be a good time.”
The Trill hesitated for a moment. She suppressed a sigh and then looked straight at her commanding officer. “I believe we may have a spy on board, sir.”
The captain looked understandingly surprised. “A spy? Explain.”
Star couldn’t hide her discomfort at having to reveal her theory even though she still had no tangible evidence to support it. “A couple of weeks ago I came across a few irregular readings which led me to believe that somebody was sending out encrypted and unauthorized transmissions. However who ever was behind it knew exactly what they were doing. It was virtually impossible to distinguish the transmission from background radiation and any traces that remained were deleted before I could make any records. Next thing we know, we have a dead body, an engineer trying to blow out the shields and a helmsman attempting to hijack the ship.”
Owens face spoke volumes, surprise and skepticism battling for dominance.
“What’s more,” she continued. “All three persons are connected. Katherine Smith worked closely with Jin Gedar in engineering and Lif Culsten was not only a fellow Krellonian, he was also a close friend of Gedar’s.”
It took a moment for all that to sink in. When it finally did, Owens glanced at Katanga. “Doctor, would you mind giving us a minute?”
He nodded, shot Star a parting look of sympathy and then left the office.
Owens stepped closer to his first officer’s desk. “And you’re telling me you’ve had this theory for a couple of weeks now?”
She looked visibly pained. “You have to understand, sir, I had nothing. A few transmissions which I wasn’t even sure were noteworthy at all. It was just a feeling, really, that something wasn’t right.”
Owens sighed heavily and then turned his back on her and took a few steps towards the windows from which Aphrodite sparkled in all its colorful glory. Then he turned to face her again. “Commander, I’m trying to trust you, I really am. But you are not making things easy for me.”
He stopped her with a raised hand. “You had no evidence, I understand that. But there was more than enough reason to suspect something. And I don’t care if it’s just your gut telling you this, as my first officer I expect you to come to me with those things right away.”
“I …” she was trying to think of an excuse but ultimately she knew she didn’t have one. “You’re right, sir,” she said, sounding noticeably deflated by her admission.
“Granted, I haven’t made things easy for you since you’ve come aboard,” he said, “so perhaps part of the blame lies with me. But Commander,” he added and then took a step closer. “If this is ever going to work between us, I need your full confidence and trust. You understand that, don’t you?”
She nodded slowly. Deep inside she wanted to shoot back that it was supposed to be a two way street. Owens wanted her trust but he was clearly unwilling to give her his. She didn’t put those thoughts into words. After all he was the captain and it was his prerogative whom to trust. “Yes, sir.”
“I want you to find out what the hell is happening on my ship. If there really is a spy who is responsible for all this, I want to know.”
“You have my word.”
Owens turned on his heels and had gone as quickly as he had appeared.
Star let herself fall into her chair again and swiveled it around until she faced the windows to stare into the mysterious cloud. Not only did she not have the slightest idea how to do what she had just promised, after this she didn’t even know how she would ever be able to get the captain to place even a shred of trust into her ever again.