– VI –
She took a deep breath, knowing that she needed all her strength and courage for what she was about to do. Of course nobody could have ever accused Nora Laas of being in lack of either. And yet the challenge she now faced was much more frightening than even the prospect of meeting the Cardassians or the Jem’Hadar on the battlefield. No, this was something much tougher than going into battle.
“This is ridiculous,” she mumbled to herself after realizing that she had stood in front of those doors for at least a full minute. Then she activated the annunciator. And almost immediately she wished for nothing more than being able to undo that one simple action.
Too late. The doors parted and Alex Clancy stood in the doorway of his quarters. He was wearing a civilian shirt with his uniform pants and considering the late hour this wasn’t all that surprising. It did help remind Nora how inappropriate her coming here at this time really was.
“Lieutenant?” he said, unable to keep the surprise out of his voice.
“It’s late, sorry, I shouldn’t have come and bother you. It’s just that I was passing by here anyway and I thought that maybe…” she stopped herself, cringing at the sound of her own words and hoped they didn’t come across as awkward to him as they sounded to her.
He quickly shook his head. “No bother at all, Lieutenant. Please come in,” he said and stepped aside to let her enter.
She debated the wisdom of stepping into his quarters for just about a split second. Ultimately she decided she’d rather be inside than do what she had come here to do in the corridor were any passer by could overhear.
She quickly slipped into his quarters.
They were not what she had expected. The light levels had been dimmed but that couldn’t hide the elaborately decorated lounge featuring numerous little statuettes of dragons and lions as well as stone figures of bearded men in what appeared to be monk-like robes. There was a noticeable smell of incense in the room and it didn’t take her long to discover a number of still glowing sticks which were releasing the aromatic fragrance in little wafts of smoke.
She had no doubt that most of what she saw had some sort of religious significance. “I’m disturbing you,” she said and turned to face him.
“Nonsense. I was just finishing up here anyway,” he said and walked over something that looked like an altar, adorned with a number of figurines and then began to put out the glowing incense sticks.
Nora found herself fascinated by all the decorations. She noticed an especially prominent symbol hanging on the far wall. She had seen it before but could not immediately place it. A circle half white and half black, with a black dot on white background at the top and a white dot on a black background at the bottom.
“This has a religious meaning, doesn’t it?”
“Among other things. The ying-yang is a concept embraced by a number of lifestyles and philosophies on Earth. At its core it’s a symbol of how opposite forces are interconnected to each other while also remaining independent.”
She nodded slowly. “But all this seems like it is more than a lifestyle for you. It feels more … spiritual.”
“It better. I’m a Taoist.”
Her eyes opened wide. “You are religious?”
“Why is that hard to believe?”
“I just always thought humans were not particularly spiritual people.”
“I suppose most aren’t.”
Nora walked around the room, carefully studying the many intricate statuettes decorating the room. “So what is it you believe in? Some sort of higher being or deity?”
“The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the Eternal Name.”
She turned to aim him a quizzical look.
He shrugged. “It’s difficult to explain. We do believe in a force that is responsible for everything. But it is beyond description. It can not be expressed in words,” he said but when he noticed that it didn’t little to help her comprehend, he added: “Those who follow the Tao, the Way, live their lives according to the Three Treasures. Compassion, moderation and humility.”
Nora nodded and turned back towards the ying-yang symbol on the wall. She considered it for a moment before she spoke. “I’ve never been very spiritual myself,” she said. “Which I suppose is odd considering the role it played for us during the Occupation. Many believe that we would never have fought off the Cardassians without our faith in the Prophets. I liked to think it was our actions and shedding our blood which forced the Cardassians to leave, not the belief in some sort of intangible concept.”
“But the Prophets didn’t turn out to be quite that intangible. They truly exist within the Bajoran wormhole. The Celestial Temple, you call it?”
“Yes,” she said and then turned. “And I can’t help feel as if I may have betrayed the Prophets. I can’t help think that the bad things that have happen to me, to those closest to me, that somehow I’m responsible.”
“Because you refused to believe?”
“Spirituality is a tricky thing. It’s all about your emotional connection and your own feelings towards you faith. I can’t tell you if you are right or wrong about the way you feel about this because at the end of the day, those are your feelings and only you can truly make sense of them.”
She offered a weak smile. “Is that you professional opinion, Counselor?”
“You want a professional opinion? Stop punishing yourself for what is passed. Move forward with your life and try to make a difference where you can. Maybe spirituality is your answer, maybe not, all you can do is try.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” she said but then quickly shook her head as if to shake loose those thoughts. “But I didn’t come here to talk about spirituality.”
“I had guessed that much.”
“I came here to say that you were … well that I spoke to Louise and that perhaps you were not entirely mistaken,” she said, clearly finding it difficult to get those words over her lips.
He smirked. “Apology accepted.”
Nora glared at him but only for a moment until her features softened again.
Clancy walked over to a table and poured two cups of tea. He offered her one before taking the other.
She accepted the cup and took a sip.
“What did you learn?”
“She was involved,” she said after a heavy sigh. “She didn’t kill him but she was involved with him. And she knew something about him. Something bad that she should have told somebody. But she and Culsten kept it a secret and now it may endanger their careers in Starfleet.”
“I’m not going to pry as to what that was. But I do have a good idea,” he said. “Are you concerned about Hopkins and Culsten being court martialed over this?”
“Yes. No,” she said, sounding frustrated. “I was. Star agreed to try and mitigate the charges so it won’t come to that. But at a price,” she added and put down the cup again, her composure slipping now after recalling the deal she had made with their first officer. “Damn it, Alex. She was ready to throw the book at them. I had no choice.”
“What did you do?”
She turned towards the window. “I agreed to play nice with her. I agreed to accept her as our first officer.”
A small smile formed on his lips. “I don’t know about you but that sounds like a small price to pay considering it’s what she has every right to expect from you.”
“That’s what makes this all so damn frustrating,” she said, still unwilling to face him. “And now, if she decides to take away this investigation from me, I will have no choice but to let her.”
“Then we just have to crack the case before it comes to that,” he said and walked over to his desk.
She followed him, quickly finding it just about as much in disarray as her own, with padds filled with reports littered all over and giving proof that he had done just like she had and tried to immerse himself into the case during every waking moment. It didn’t give her much confidence, after all they still seamed no way closer of solving the murder of Gedar. “There are just too many suspects who could have had reason to kill him. Colcord settling an old score, Rosenthal trying to keep him quiet about the shield designs, Yunta for him seeing Decaux and Decaux for him seeing Hopkins. Kolrami had a motive to further his career and with Lou’s admission, even she has a strong motive now.”
Apparently that struck a cord with the counselor and he turned to face her suddenly. “We’ve been operating under the assumption that Gedar was killed by a single individual. What if we are a looking at a conspiracy instead? What if this was a Murder on the Orient Express
kind of thing?”
“Murder on the what?”
He smirked. “A famous crime novel from Earth in which it turns out every single suspect was complicit in the murder.”
“Wait a minute,” she said and walked to the desk to pick up a few padds. “This reminds me of something I believe Sierra Decaux said very early on.” She continued to search the padds until she found the one with the transcript of her statement. “Yes, here it is. When we spoke to her for the first time.
You asked her: ‘Did you have any suspicions somebody else may have been involved?’
Decaux: ‘I can’t be certain but
we suspected that he was involved with a senior officer.’
At the time I just thought that it was an innocent slip of the tongue. Or maybe she was talking about her friends or cabin-mates with whom she discussed her personal life but what if she was accidently referring to co-conspirators?”
He nodded. “It could be but it’s not evidence.”
“Let’s assume for a moment she did. Whom would she have partnered with?”
“I think we can rule out Rosenthal and Colcord. They’ve only been on the ship a short while, it’s unlikely she knew about their history with Gedar.”
“Alright. How about Yunta?”
“Yes, that makes sense. Especially if they had begun to suspect that he had been seeing somebody else,” he said. “That would have had to infuriate both of them as he was apparently moving on from one woman to the next. And we already know that Yunta is both aggressive and physical.”
Nora continued to look at the case notes on the desk. “Decaux doesn’t have an alibi and Yunta …”
Clancy presented her another padd. “Yunta was near engineering that night.”
Clancy read another transcript:
“Yunta: ‘If you are looking for the killer, I think you should have another chat with that civilian engineer.’
Yunta: ‘No, not the woman. Rosenthal. I know for a fact he was hanging around engineering at around the time of Gedar’s death while he was all alone in there. Plenty of opportunity.’
And she was absolutely right. Rosenthal did admit that he was in engineering and spoke to Gedar that night. But how could she have known this? According to Major Wasco she had an early exercise the next morning which means he would have expected her to be back in her rack long before 2300.”
Nora nodded and took the padd. “I remember that. I thought she was just trying to deflect the blame when everything pointed to her.”
“And then let’s not forget that altercation in the Nest. That did not look like a random encounter.”
Nora took a seat when the pieces began to fall in place. “Decaux lost her nerve,” she said. “And she blamed Yunta for everything.”
“Yunta and Kolrami.”
She looked up. “The third conspirator?”
“Without him there wouldn’t have been the opportunity. It was on his orders that Gedar was alone in engineering that night,” said Clancy. “He set the scene.”
“But passed the lie detector.”
Clancy nodded. “Maybe because he wasn’t the one to push Gedar over the railing. Maybe that was Decaux or Yunta. Or both of them.”
“Yes, and that’s why he agreed to take the test in the first place because he knew he would pass it,” she said and then looked for the padd with his results. “Look at this. When I asked him if there was anyone else in engineering with Gedar the night he was killed, he said no. Which the computer determined to be a lie.”
“That is interesting,” said Clancy as he looked at the same padd. “He eventually remembered Rosenthal being there.”
A large smile formed on her lips. “Yes, eventually. But when the question is asked he doesn’t. Which means he knew that there was somebody else with Gedar. His coconspirators.”
Clancy took a seat in one of the chairs and considered their conversation. “It all fits. There is just one problem with this theory.”
“We have no proof.”
He nodded. “So far this is all circumstantial.”
Nora Laas stood, a sudden fire in her eyes. “Then what we need is a confession.”
The counselor offered a quizzical look.
“Three people were involved in this murder. One of them has already cracked once. All we have to do is find the weakest link and break it.”