– III –
“We had a minor setback when the we lost power to two cargo bays because of that EPS grid … uh … incident,” said Louise Hopkins to give the captain an update on the sensor array construction in the observation lounge, along with Tazla Star, Doctor Katanga as well as Nora Laas and Alex Clancy in attendance. Nobody missed that the young engineer had hesitated when referring to the incident in which one of her own had been involved and suspected of foul play. Hopkins had fiercely defended Kate Smith’s innocence. “We were able to convert the secondary shuttle bay to coordinate construction efforts instead. We won’t be able to launch any shuttles from there for a while but we’ll still have the main shuttle bay operational.”
Owens nodded. “Are we still on schedule?”
“Absolutely,” she said. “The external framework is already complete and sensor pallet installation should be finished by the end of tomorrow. After that we’ll do final calibrations and we should be ready for our first test run.”
“Good work, Lieutenant,” said the captain. “And please communicate this to the rest of your team as well as to Professor Rosenthal and his people. I think we’ll let you get back to your work now. Thanks for your report.”
Hopkins nodded shortly, made eye contact with Nora Laas, and then left the observation lounge.
“What is the update on the murder investigation?” the captain continued once the chief engineer had gone.
The question had clearly been posed to Lieutenant Nora but when she didn’t respond immediately, Clancy fielded it instead. “Our best lead remains Sergeant Yunta. She had means, motive and opportunity,” he said from where he sat. Nora had chosen a chair just about as far away from him as physically possible.
Owens shook his head sadly. “That a Starfleet officer, serving on this ship, could be able of such a despicable crime. I have to be honest, it’s hard to swallow.”
The Trill first officer seemed to have fewer difficulties accepting such a reality and leaned forward, first looking towards the security chief, but when she refused to make eye contact, she focused on the counselor instead. “But you haven’t charged her yet?”
“Well, no,” he said. “There are still some questions—“
“There are still other suspects,” Nora said, speaking up for the first time since the meeting had started.
“What other suspects?” Star said.
When Nora didn’t immediately respond, Clancy jumped back in. “It appears Lieutenant Gedar had managed to make a number of enemies on the ship. He was involved with multiple women on board and members of Rosenthal’s team had personal history with him as well.”
The captain frowned, clearly not happy hearing such stories about a former crewmember.
“It’s been four days since Gedar was murdered, we need to bring this investigation to a close and get the guiltily party behind bars before they can strike again,” said the first officer.
The Bajoran glared at the other woman. “I’m sorry, Commander, I was under the impression you wanted to make sure we have the right person before we charge somebody with this crime. If you prefer of course that we ruined somebody’s life and career over a whim—“
Star glared right back. “My understanding was you had more than a whim to implicate Yunta,” she said in a tone icy enough to freeze over a small sun.
Owens quickly inserted himself. “Let’s be absolutely certain before we charge anyone of murder. I trust we are able to hold the sergeant until we have more definitive proof.”
Clancy looked uncomfortable answering that and avoided looking back at the captain.
“You do have her locked up, Lieutenant, don’t you?” said Star, her piercing eyes resting on the security chief.
“I’ve released her into Major Wasco’s custody for now.”
She looked shocked at this. “You can’t be serious? She’s a prime murder suspect. She belongs—“
Nora leaned forward suddenly, projecting her anger. “Commander, I was a Marine once. And I fully trust Major Wasco and his people to handle this situation with all appropriate means both for the safety of this crew and the sergeant’s herself.”
Star glanced at the captain as if to say that she couldn’t believe how Nora had decided to handle this. But Owens remained unmoved, regarding the security chief carefully. “Very well, Lieutenant. We shall trust your judgment on this.”
Nora took her baleful eyes off the Trill to look at the captain. “Thank you, sir.”
“But I expect results,” he said, his voice taking on a harder edge. “Right now there is a killer on my ship and I cannot abide by that. I fully expect you to have identified the culprit before we leave this nebula. I do not want to have to bring in external investigators to resolve this crime.”
“You won’t, sir.”
He nodded and then looked at his first officer. “Where do we stand with the investigations into these strange occurrences that have been happening?”
“Both Culsten and Smith are currently restricted to quarters. Both are still insisting that they have no idea what happened to them.”
He considered the doctor. “Do we believe them?”
“I’ve been doing this a long time, Captain, and I have seen a lot of strange and crazy things. Mind control, memory wipes, split-personality syndromes and what have you,” he said. “I’ve tested both these kids for all of that and everything else I could think of and so far I have found nothing which could explain it.”
“Let’s assume for a moment they were not influenced somehow,” said Owens. “And that their actions were malicious and pre-determined. What would be their motive for doing so?”
Star took that one. “Sabotage.”
Owens looked skeptical.
“We already have circumstantial evidence that suggests that we may have a spy on board. The hidden transmissions I was able to locate seemed to imply somebody had been sending unauthorized messages to unknown parties. What we are doing here, building the sensor array, could significantly alter the course of this war. If the Cardassians or the Dominion had a spy on this ship, they would greatly benefit from our efforts being disrupted.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” said Nora and looked right at the captain when she spoke, “but if you ask me that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Culsten has served on this ship as long as most of us. He’s been nothing if not loyal to a fault. What possible reason could he have to betray us?”
“How much do you know about the lieutenant?” Star said sharply, once again glowering at the Bajoran.
“More than you, I’m sure.”
She smirked. “Really? So then, did you know that the Kellonian Star Empire which is not a member of the Federation and with which we barely even have diplomatic relations, has only recently signed a non-aggression pact with the Dominion? Did you know that they have a comparatively ruthless intelligence network and a monetary based economy in which material wealth is almost as much, if not more, revered as in the Ferengi Alliance?”
The blank look on her face, all their faces, told her that nobody in the room had known this. Had known much about anything about the enigmatic and mostly isolated people from which Lif Culsten hailed.
“How do you know all of this?” said Owens.
“I still have quite a few contacts in the intelligence community,” she said and knew Owens had no reason to doubt that, considering her history.
He nodded. “Alright, at this point I’m certainly not willing to rule anything out, the stakes are too high. But let’s say for argument’s sake, Culsten is somehow involved in this, perhaps by pressure he’s been put under by his own people, how do you factor Smith is involved?”
“I’m not sure yet. But there is a connection. I haven’t ruled out yet that Gedar was involved as well. After all he was a Krellonian as well and friend’s with Culsten. Gedar worked closely with Smith in engineering and—“
Nora leaned back in her chair and uttered and exasperated sigh. “Great, now we’ve got a ship-wide conspiracy on our hands.”
“Lieutenant, I would prefer you did not interrupt me again.”
A chastising look from the captain stressed her point and Nora offered a contrite look in response. “I apologize,” she said, even though when she looked back at Star, it didn’t quite ring true. “But if we’re playing a game of separation here as a basis for some sort of conspiracy, there’d be no end to it. Everyone on board is connected in some way or form, most obviously by the fact that we’re all on the same ship to begin with.”
“I realize this, Lieutenant, and I’m still working on my theory.”
Nora swallowed a flippant response to this when she saw Owens’ hard eyes focused on her. “Sir, permission to be excused to carry out my investigation,” she said, the implication not all that subtle, that hers was the only one with any real merit.
He nodded. “By all means,” he said and looked at both her and Clancy to let them know to get on with it, perhaps even a little bit relieved to not have the two women in the same room together.
Moments later the security chief and the counselor were gone. It escaped nobody’s notice however that Nora hadn’t even waited for her supposed partner, hadn’t even as much as looked at him from the moment they had arrived.
“Well, that was a fun meeting,” said Katanga after they were gone. “Is it just me or did it just get five degrees warmer in here?”
Star gave the veteran physician a look to let her know that she didn’t think his observations were helping.
He nodded. “Just me, then.”
She turned to the captain. “Sir, Lieutenant Nora’s colorful insights aside, something else is happening on this ship than a murder investigation and we need to find out what it is.”
“An EPS explosion nearly took out two decks, Commander and I have a helmsman apparently dead set on commandeering my ship. I’m fully aware that things aren’t right here,” he said and stood. “Find out what it is and make it stop,” he added before he headed out of the doors.
Katanga raised an eyebrow. “I wonder if it’s too late to ask Jane to come back.”
Star uttered a heavy sigh and let herself fall back into her chair.