Chapter Thirteen “How the hell are you, Matt?” a quiet baritone voice asked from behind where the Captain stood looking over the small courtroom where he had been summoned. He turned around slowly and looked with amazement at the sight of Benjamin Maxwell standing there, wearing his Star Fleet uniform. Slowly, Matt grinned, the grin turning into a warm smile. “Cap . . .” Matt broke off, and shook his head as saw the small change in Maxwell’s collar insignia, “. . . pardon me, Commodore Maxwell. I didn’t know you were back in the Fleet, Sir. I’m well, thank you.” “The hell you are, Matt. I know, I’ve been standing here—in this room—and for a lot worse that you’ve been accused of.” The older man’s face darkened and his eyes glazed for a second. “Events proved me right, Matt, but the way I went about responding to the Cardassians was wrong.” “When did you get called back?” Maxwell snorted. “Two years ago. Leyton’s coup attempt and the Dominion War took out more senior officers than Star Fleet had lost for nearly a century—something I consider to be a good thing overall. I'll flat-out deny ever saying that if questioned, Matt. I was asked if I would come back and work with the Strategic Operations Planning Board. No command, of course, and there are several officers who resent my rehabilitation in the Fleet, but at least I’m wearing the uniform again.” “It’s good to see you, Sir. I was worried that you wouldn’t have many visitors when I got orders to take command of Kearsage.” Ben shook his head. “No, you were worried I’d wind up eating a phaser. Those days are over, Matt. I’ve . . . I’ve had counseling.” “Yes, sir. What are you doing here, Sir? Come to watch your star pupil take his lumps?” “No, Matt. I’m sitting on your board. Admiral Parker’s hand-picked board.” Maxwell leaned close and whispered into Matt’s ear. “Like I said, Captain, don’t worry about this formality. We are going to ask you some tough questions, but by and large the board members are the kind of officers who don't have a problem with your actions.” Maxwell stood up straight again and looked over the room. “I’d better mingle some, before a report gets back to my Counselor that I’m being anti-social. Keep your jaw up, Matt.” “And watch out for low blows, aye, aye, Sir.” Matt watched as one of the two men who had truly taught him how to be a Star Fleet officer moved away—the only Star Fleet mentor he had left since Edward Jellico’s death two years ago. He was looking far better than the last time Matt had seen him—the call of duty had been good for him. A chime sounded, and Matt took his seat in the gallery as Maxwell and six other flag officers ascended a small dais—including Commodore Jurood among their number, and presided over by none other than Admiral Hawth Shran, the great-grandson of the legendry Thy'lek Shran. Admiral Shran had been the officer who almost single-handedly forced Star Fleet to confront their mistakes in the Leydon affair and the handling of the Dominion—and led the Federation to victory. There were no Vulcans or Betazeds among the seated flag officers, just the two Andorians, four humans, and a Denobulan. Admiral Shran took a small hammer and tapped a silver bell on his table three times. “This Special Courts Martial Inquiry in the matter of the USS Republic, her Captain, Matthew Lawrence Dahlgren, and their actions in the Cauldron Nebula, is hereby convened. Be seated.” There was a rustle as the observers and witnesses took their seats. The Andorian glared at Matt. “Captain Dahlgren, are you prepared to offer your testimony?” Matt stood. “I am, Sir.” “And have you brought copies of your ship’s logs as you were ordered?” “I have provided the logs to the to the Master-at-Arms, Sir.” “Then take the stand, Captain. And let us begin this inquisition into the affair.” ********************************************************** Matt took a sip of water as he considered the latest question posed to him by Admiral Takiro Abe. He had been on the witness stand before the Board of Inquiry for nearly two hours, after which Chan, Jim Nelson, and Ambassador Sepak had all been grilled. And then Matt had been recalled, to clarify his answers to the probing inquiries into every aspect of the decisions that he had made in the Lorsham affair. “Yes, Admiral,” he finally replied. “If I had the opportunity and the situation was the same, I would, after intense reflection, have proceeded in exactly the same manner. The Lorsham had already used a biological weapon against Ambassador Sepak and his aides, against the Kraal as well. They attempted to infect not only myself, but several members of my crew—and we can presume that they had subverted the entire complement of the Val’qis as well. Given the same circumstances, I would once again act in the same manner—to eliminate a grave threat not only to my ship and crew, but to the entire Federation; to the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.” Abe leaned back and scowled down at Matt from his elevated seat on the panel. “You would, once again, make an armed assault upon a race with whom the Federation has not declared war; a race that requested Federation assistance in the first place?” “A race that had already committed acts of war upon the Federation, Admiral. Yes, sir, I would.” “And you have no regrets—no remorse—over your actions?” “Admiral, I regret that thirty-seven members of Star Fleet lost their lives. I regret that I was forced to engage the Val’qis, and I regret that I was forced to kill a good number of Lorsham aboard their ships that attacked Republic. I am not remorseful for my actions, which I believe were justified in light of the threat posed by this biological weapon.” “And your authorization of this procedure used on Ambassador Sepak, Captain Dahlgren,” the Denobulan commodore stated, “you took a major risk in authorizing a procedure in which so much could have gone wrong.” “Yes I did, Commodore Thal. The decision to authorize this procedure was one that I felt had to be attempted; the Ambassador was dying. My ship’s surgeon—and the surgeon aboard the Phoenix—agreed that no conventional therapy could have stopped or slowed the deterioration of the Ambassador’s organs. I made the command decision to attempt to save his life—I expressly did not authorize any such attempts to cure his aides, whose lives were not in danger.” The members of the board made notes on data-pads, but none asked another question. Admiral Hawth Shran twitched one of antennae. “Does the board have any additional questions for this witness?” After a short pause, he nodded. “Very well. Captain Dahlgren, you are excused. The members of this Special Courts Martial Board of Inquiry will now retire to deliberate. Captain Dahlgren, you are subject to recall upon the conclusion of those deliberations. We are now in recess.” He tapped the silver bell three times and the members stood, and then filed out into an adjourning room. Matt stood as well, waiting for the flag officers to finish exiting, and then he gingerly stepped down from the witness box and limped over to his executive officer. “Well, they asked everything except what size uniform I wear, Chan,” he said. “That information is already contained in your personnel file, Captain Dahlgren,” Chan answered with a grin, “they had no need to ask it.” “Seriously, Matt,” he whispered, “your testimony was precise and on-target. I doubt you will receive more than a slap-on-the-wrist. Especially since my testimony corroborated yours completely and faithfully. As did that of the Ambassador and the record statement of Captain Nelson.” “Well, except the small matter that I did break the Prime Directive, Chan—justified or not, I did.” “Given the threat posed by the Lorsham, Captain Dahlgren, there was not much else you could do—and these men on the board are serving officers each with combat experience; they are not members of the Federation Council who have never in their lives commanded men and women in battle.” “True, but I still . . .,” Matt’s voice trailed off as the Master-at-Arms snapped to attention, the door to the deliberation room opening again. “All rise!” he intoned, and the court began filing back into the room. Admiral Hawth Shran once again took his seat and he tapped the bell three times again. “Be seated, this Special Courts Martial Board of Inquiry is hereby reconvened. Captain Matthew Lawrence Dahlgren, step forward.” Matt did so as the witnesses and observers took their seats. He stood ramrod straight directly before the court. “Captain Matthew Lawrence Dahlgren, this board has determined that your actions in the Cauldron Nebula were justified in light of the danger this biological weapon posed to the United Federation of Planets. We shall recommend to the President that no charges be preferred against you for violating the Prime Directive in this instance. Further, the Board recommends that the logs of USS Republic, USS Phoenix, and the recordings of these proceedings be sealed. The events leading up to your intervention in the internal workings of the Lorsham government and culture are hereby classified. Neither you, nor any member of your crew, are to discuss these events unless questioned under oath by a justly convened Board of Inquiry.” “For the official record,” and here Shran’s antennae twitched, “Star Fleet will publish that on Stardate 53750.7, USS Republic, under the command of Captain Dahlgren, responded to the distress call of Imperial Klingon Vessel Val’qis, which had been critically damaged as the result of an ion storm in the Cauldron Nebula. While moving to assist Val’qis, Republic suffered severe damage and was unable to prevent the loss of the Klingon vessel with all hands. USS Phoenix subsequently arrived on scene to provide assistance to USS Republic. The board further recommends that the Federation Council approve a permanent blockade and quarantine of the Hak’ta-thor system until a cure for the Lorsham biological weapon has been found. Captain Dahlgren, you and your officers are free to return to your vessel. This court is now adjourned.” The Admiral tapped the silver bell three more times, and slowly the courtroom emptied. **************************************************** “Captain?” the desktop terminal broadcast. “Yes, Grace?” Matt answered setting down the stylus and rubbing his sore eyes. “Admiral Parker is requesting a private secure channel to speak with you, Sir.” “Put him through.” Matt folded his reading glasses and turned the monitor to directly face him, just as the Josiah appeared on the screen. “Good morning, Admiral.” “Matt. We’ve got a problem—how soon can you get Republic into warp?” Matt jerked, and his jaw dropped. “You can’t be serious, Sir! We just arrived at McKinley yesterday! The station personnel haven’t even finished evaluating our damage, much less started repairs.” “Captain Dahlgren. At 1400 hours tomorrow, Ambassador Delena Mar will be introducing a new resolution in the Council—a second resolution demanding that Republic be scrapped. And this time she’s throwing the Star Fleet a bone: she’s offering her full support behind restarting construction on a new Luna-class ship with which to replace your ship. Did you sleep with her sister, Matt, because that woman’s got a real beef with you and your ship both?” “No, nothing like that. But I did have to brief her once when I was pulling desk duty down there—one of her aides made a snide comment I didn’t care for about how since peace has broken out Star Fleet is now obsolete and I cut him off at the knees. Didn’t think she was one for holding grudges.” “Yeah, she is,” Josiah responded, rubbing a hand over his thinning scalp. “Bottom line, Matt—Republic has to be in warp, out of the solar system, and en route to her next assignment by 1300 hours tomorrow. That gives you twenty-seven hours. What do you need?” Matt frowned as he pulled up the ship’s schematics on a separate hand-held data pad, shaking his head. “We might—might—get the hull patched and sealed in that time, but only if McKinley puts three or four work crews on us. I don’t see how we’re going to get the internal damage repaired in time.” Matt looked directly at his old friend. “And I haven’t had a single replacement report on board ship.” “They are beaming aboard in twenty-two minutes, Captain. What else?” Matt thought for several seconds. “I need to borrow eighty or ninety engineers from McKinley, Spacedock, Utopia Planitia, or Star Fleet Headquarters, hell, even the Academy.” “Borrow?” “Long term loan, actually,” Matt said with a smile. “I’ve got 118 empty passenger quarters, Admiral, those engineers will let me fix my damage while underway. Oh, and I’ll need an industrial replicator programmed for all of our various parts—along with the raw materials for replication.” Josiah stared at Matt for several moments, and then he took out a bottle of antacid and took a long slug. “I swear, Matt, it’d be simpler to let her scrap the ship—you still haven’t given back that officer and two crewmen you shanghaied from Jupiter Station!” “Such a harsh word, shanghaied, Admiral. They were transferred aboard this ship under signed orders—signed by you—reassigning them to me.” The CSO waved that off, and finally he nodded. “Okay—but I want these engineers back as soon as they fix your ship, Matt!” “Agreed. You’ll get the ball rolling with McKinley?” “Zak Jurood is meeting with Commodore Sampson at this very moment.” “In that case, I think I have work to do.” “That you do Captain.” “Where are you sending us, by the way?” Matt quickly asked before Josiah could sever the transmission. Josiah smiled. “I still hunting for something far enough away, and serious enough to warrant sending you back out on such short notice—but I’ll find something. Twenty-seven hours, Matt—and the clock is running.” The screen blanked, and Matt sighed. He pressed the comm stud on his desk. “Yes, sir?” Grace Biddle answered promptly. “Miss Biddle, assemble the senior officers in the briefing room and I need to see Mister Shrak immediately.” “Yes, sir,” she replied curtly. “I’ve also got a request from McKinley to send another five engineering teams aboard, sir.” “Beam ‘em over and expect more real soon. Now get cracking, Grace—we don’t have time to waste today.” “Aye, aye, Sir,” she answered as the comm cut out. Oh boy, Matt thought. Here we go again.