- III -
The turbolift set in motion the moment Nora Laas had specified their location. She then turned to look at the man next to her. “Let me do the talking on this one.”
Clancy consider her for a moment. Then he nodded. “I understand.”
“You understand what?”
“I suppose he’s not technically a senior officer but he’s part of the inner circle of the command staff. Part of the family as it were. You’ve worked closely with him over the last few years and therefore you wish to approach this delicately.”
She shook her head. “That’s not it at all.”
“Oh? What then?”
“It’s just that…” she said but then stopped herself. “Listen, I don’t have to justify myself. I’m in charge of this investigation, remember? What was it you called me? Big Meat?”
He chuckled. “Big Cheese.”
“Right. And do me a favor and stop trying to psychoanalyze me.”
He nodded seriously. “Of course, I apologize. Won’t happen again. But I do think you have to be prepared to face the senior officers just like you were when you went after the rest of the crew. Even if they are close colleagues and friends. Otherwise we might never get to the bottom of this.”
“He’s not a suspect,” she said defensively,” we’re just talking to him to verify some of the things that have been said about our victim.”
“He could still be involved. All I’m saying is that sooner or later, you may have to ask tough questions to people you know quite well.”
“I’ll handle it.”
“You don’t have to do it alone. I can be of—“
“I said I’ll handle it,” she said sharply. Then the turbolift came to a halt and the doors parted, allowing Nora to step out.
“I’m sure you will,” he called after her just before he followed the security chief.
They reached their final destination not a moment later.
“One of yours?” Clancy said when he spotted a slender, red-headed young woman guarding the entrance to the quarters they were heading for. She had a phaser strapped to her hip.
Nora rolled her eyes. “I forgot that Star had him restricted to quarters after the incident on the bridge. Didn’t realize she had him under guard as well,” she said, making it clear that she didn’t agree with the decision and perhaps sounding a little annoyed at herself that she had lost track of events on her own ship.
The woman immediately straightened her shoulders when she saw her boss approach. “Sir.”
“At ease, Skyler,” she said.
Petty Officer McIntyre relaxed slightly.
“I take it the lieutenant is safely in his quarters?”
“Yes, ma’am,” the guard said. “As to Commander Star’s orders, he has not left since he has been restricted to quarters.”
“Very well,” said Nora and then stepped up the doors and activated the annunicator.
The response was almost instantaneous. “Come in,” an excited voice called out.
Nora and Clancy exchanged surprised looks before entering the junior officer’s quarters.
Lif Culsten was coming out of the small, adjacent bedroom to greet his visitors. “Welcome, welcome,” he said. “Please tell me you’re bringing good news. You found who’s behind all this craziness and you’ve come to tell me that I’m a free man once more.”
Clancy smirked at the earless and silver haired Krellonian. “I’m sorry but that’s not us.”
He nodded slowly. “Right, you two are looking into Jin’s murder,” he said, his voice dropping noticeably. “But where are my manners,” he said and pointed at the compact couch. “Please sit. Can I offer you a beverage?”
“We’re good,” said the counselor when he noticed Nora shaking her head. They both sat and Culsten took a nearby chair.
“Regardless of the reason for your visit, I’m thankful you’re here. I’m starting to get a bit stir crazy. Skyler’s good company when she’s on duty but there is only so much we can talk about.”
The security chief clearly didn’t like what he had alluded to and shot the junior lieutenant a hard stare. “Petty Officer McIntyre has been in here? As a guest?”
Culsten’s eyes grew bigger when he realized what he had said, and more importantly to whom. He noticed Clancy slightly shaking his head.
“Uh … no, not like that,” he said quickly. “She’s been the utter professional. Keeping an eye on me like she should.”
Nora did not appear to buy that story.
“Lieutenant,” Clancy said, quickly making sure to move the conversation back on topic. “We have spoken to a number of witnesses and possible suspects about Gedar and they have revealed a number of things about him we were not previously aware of. We were hoping you could shed some light on those aspects of his life.”
He nodded. “Sure, I help where I can but … uh … as I told you before we weren’t all that close. I wouldn’t have said that he was a close friend.”
“You did mentioned that you spent some time with him socially,” said Nora. “That you helped him acclimate to life in the Federation.”
He nodded. “He’s been in Starfleet some years now but Eagle
was his first starship assignment. I suppose it’s more difficult on a ship. There is a lot less privacy.”
“From what we’ve heard, that wasn’t his problem,” said the security chief. “In fact, if anything, he was seeking out companionship perhaps more than he should have.”
Culsten nodded. “We talked about that. He had a definite weakness for women. Many of my people tend to get into multiple relationships but usually that urge lessens at his age. But not always and Gedar, even though he tried, couldn’t stay away from getting involved.”
“Even if he was already with somebody else?” Nora said.
“Yes, even then.”
“Do you think he may have been planning on leaving Starfleet altogether? Maybe return to the Star Alliance?” she asked.
He shifted in his seat and didn’t make immediate eye contact with the Bajoran. “No, it’s nothing he talked to me about.”
Before she could ask a follow up question, the door chime rang again.
Culsten looked up. “You expecting somebody else?”
She shook her head.
He got out of his chair and headed for the doors. “Well, the more the merrier, I suppose. Come in.”
The doors slid open to reveal the Trill first officer.
“Ah, Commander. I guess now we can officially start the party,” he said with a lopsided grin.
The first officer was in no party mood and if her hard features weren’t proof enough, the two armed security guards who followed her inside made it undoubtedly clear that this was no social visit.
Nora jumped to her feet. “What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same question, Lieutenant,” she said, her jaw twitching slightly, clearly not having expected to find the security chief in Culsten’s quarters.
Clancy stood also. It didn’t take a trained counselor to realize that the tension level in the room had just risen by about a hundred percent. “We’re just following up with Lieutenant Culsten, asking him a few questions about Gedar.”
Star nodded slowly. “We’re here to search his quarters.”
“On what grounds?” Nora asked, beating Culsten to it.
“Suspicion of sabotage and espionage.”
The pilot shook his head. “I told you before I didn’t do it on purpose. I don’t know what happened on the bridge.”
“Is that so?” said Star and held up a padd. “We have new evidence that links you to at least two possible subspace messages which were secretly sent from Eagle
a week ago.”
“I didn’t send any messages.”
“How exactly is he connected, Commander?” Nora said.
Star glared at the other woman for a moment before responding. “The messages were sent in a non-Federation lingua code. And Krellonian is a very close match.”
“That doesn’t prove anything,” Nora spat. “Even if those really were subspace messages, anyone could have sent them in a different language to redirect suspicion.”
“Sorry, Commander,” said Clancy. “But the lieutenant is right. I don’t believe it is enough evidence for a search warrant.”
The Trill took the opposition in stride. “I’m not looking for a search warrant,” she said and then focused in on the Krellonian. “I’m asking for your permission to search your quarters. If you are as innocent as you claim, you have nothing to hide.”
He considered that for a moment, looking towards Clancy and Nora and then back at Star. Then he finally nodded. “Fine, go ahead and search the place. But, Commander, I expect an apology once I’m cleared of all these charges. You’ll owe me.”
She turned to the security guards she had brought. “Go ahead.”
But the two men hesitated, glancing at the fuming security chief. They had quite obviously not expected their immediate superior to be here and their loyalties were clearly to her. It wasn’t difficult to tell that she was not pleased what was happening here.
“Gentlemen,” Star said sharply. “Get to it.”
Ultimately of course, they had no choice. Tazla Star outranked Nora Laas, and they went to work.
“Just be careful, I’ve got some delicate stuff.”
“We won’t be damaging anything,” Star assured him. “Why don’t you take a seat?”
He followed her suggestion reluctantly and after a moment Nora and Clancy followed suit.
Perhaps realizing Culsten was a little on edge from having people go through his things, Clancy focused on the pilot again. “Lieutenant, a few witnesses have told us that Gedar had an interest in acquiring material wealth. Do you have any idea why?”
It took the young man a few seconds before he was satisfied Star and her guards were not completely tossing his place and considered the counselor again. “Material wealth?”
“Money,” he clarified. “For most Starfleet officers that’s not a priority but Gedar seemed different.”
He nodded slowly but didn’t speak right away.
Nora noticed and leaned forward. “Lif?”
“We do have a fairly dominant monetary based economy in the Star Alliance,” he said. “Wealth is something to strive for among my people. Maybe he was trying to send money to his family.”
“But he must have known that it be unlikely he’d have much of a chance doing this when joining Starfleet,” said Nora, clearly not convinced by that answer. “If that was truly one of his goals wouldn’t he have been better off joining the Nyberrites or maybe even the Ferengi Merchant Navy?”
He shrugged. “I guess he had his heart set on Starfleet. It’s not easy to join when you come from a non-Federation world but he went through great lengths to pull it off.”
Clancy thought about that for a moment. “If that transmission the commander found was indeed sent in a Krellonian language and you didn’t send it,” he said but didn’t have to finish the thought.
“Gedar,” said Nora. “He’s the spy. He sent the transmissions,” she added and looked back at the helmsman. “And he was doing it for the money. Somebody was paying him for passing on sensitive information, wasn’t he? Either for your people or some other third party. That’s why he was looking to leave Starfleet. And a little extra money from Rosenthal’s designs would probably set him up quite nicely outside of the Federation.”
But Culsten shook his head. “You’re … you’re speculating.”
“It makes sense.”
Star stepped back into the room. “It does, indeed. Except for it doesn’t explain any of the things that have happened since he has been killed. Unless you were involved somehow, Lieutenant.”
He shook his head.
The Trill was not giving up and stepped closer. “You knew about him, didn’t you? You knew that your friend, your fellow Krellonian, was an enemy spy and you didn’t tell anybody else about it.”
Lif stood and walked to the window, keeping his back to the others in the room.
“I still don’t see it,” said Nora and stood also. “If Culsten was helping Gedar what possible reason could he have had to try and take over the ship or blow up EPS conduits?”
“I don’t know but I’m going to find out.”
Clancy, back on his feet as well now, took a step towards the Krellonian who refused to face any of his accusers. “You’re trying to protect some one, aren’t you, Lieutenant? It’s obviously not Gedar, he’s dead now. Somebody else.”
“Another coconspirator,” Star said.
“I believe there is a … a provision in the Federation constitution about not answering certain questions,” he said, sounding unsteady and keeping his back to the others.
Clancy nodded. “The Seventh Guarantee.”
The helmsman turned. “I’d like to invoke this now.”
“You’re not doing yourself any favors doing that, Lif,” Nora said. “It’s only going to incriminate you further.”
He bit his lower lip, clearly frustrated and unsure of himself. “All the same, I think I’d prefer speaking to an attorney before I answer any more questions.”
Star uttered a sigh. “Have it your way, Lieutenant but mark my words, I will get to the bottom of this and if you are involved, which I strongly suspect you are, you will lose your rank and your position. In fact, your career will be over.”
He didn’t say anything to that.
“You’ll remain restricted to quarters for now,” she said, gestured to her security guards who had clearly not turned up anything in the search and left.
When Culsten was not willing to speak with Nora and Clancy about the case anymore either, the two of them left as well.
“It’s Hopkins,” he said just after they had stepped into the corridor outside.
Nora threw him a glare, then when realizing that McIntrye guarding Culsten’s quarters was still within earshot, she grabbed his lower arm and dragged him away. “What?”
“It’s got to be her he’s trying to protect.”
“Think about it. Everything points at her. She was Gedar’s superior officer. Not only that but according to a number of witness statements she was particularly fond of him and I suspect they were having an intimate relationship.”
“There is absolutely no basis for that,” she said angrily.
“No? Decaux was convinced that there was another woman and that she was a senior officer. She suspected Wenera but we know that not to be the case. Colcord could see it too. As well as Yunta.”
She shook her head. “Colcord was trying to throw us off her own guilt and Yunta Fey was clearly jealous and hurt.”
“Then there was that argument the night Gedar was killed. Both Kolrami and Sanzenbacher claimed to having seem them having a heated argument,” he said and looked at this padd. “According to him, Kolrami overheard Hopkins accuse Gedar of destroying her career. If Gedar was a spy and she had found out somehow, maybe even covering for him—“
“You’re way out of line.”
“I don’t think I am,” he shot back. “Can’t you see that you are letting your personal feelings for her cloud your judgment? I’ve told you, you have to be able to look at everyone objectively and without preconceptions if you are serious about getting to the bottom of this.”
“And you’ve been trying to implicate a senior officer into this from the very first day. What is that about, I wonder? Do you somehow see this as an opportunity to make your career? Get a promotion? You think that if you can pin this on a member of the senior staff, you’ll lose the assistant from your title?” she said, her voice no longer able to contain her flaring anger.
Clancy simply stared back at her, for once not having any words to offer in response.
“You know what? You’re off this case, Lieutenant.”
“What? You can’t be serious.”
The hard look in her eyes made it clear that she was.
“We’re really close to solving the case. Don’t do this now.”
“It’s done,” she said and walked away.
“Commander Star is not going to be happy, you know,” he called after her.
Of course that had been the wrong thing to say to Nora Laas. “Oh no, what a shame that will be. Why don’t you go and complain to your good pal about how unfair the galaxy is? But stay away from my case,” she told him without gracing him with another look.