• Blabberdock

THE HEART OF DARKNESS (novelette)

By Nathan Warner


Lt. Rigelle Dutroi of the Starfleet Investigative Division is hot on the case of crimes covered up during the Dominion War, whether murder or things far, far worse. Will her Betazed intuition help her crack her new case or drown her in the trauma of a childhood accident?


“What do you have?” Lt. Rigelle Dutroi asked impatiently, bending over Lt. Fa’Lok as she continued her Tricorder analysis of the skeletal remains excavated from the sand dune. It had been an hour since they’d taken possession of the scene and the body – and still the Vulcan scanned away – infamous as she was for her attention to detail.
“I have Less light,” Fa’Lok replied emotionlessly, brushing her black hair back over the pointed tips of her ears to keep it from falling into her eyes.
“Sorry,” Rigelle muttered stepping aside so the harsh sun could touch the desiccated corpse once more. She knew she wasn’t going to get an answer until Fa’Lok had finished. The Coroner was meticulous and methodical. And she had to be for the role – if there was one constant in the Universe, it was that the Starfleet Investigative Division (or SID) was painstakingly thorough!
Rigelle sighed. As an Investigator, she was thorough also, but she had to have material to work with. She glanced to the weathered lifeboat a thousand yards away and decided to run over the case in her mind from the top.
Why had the body been carried so far from the landing site to be buried? She wondered, glancing over the harsh desert conditions of Bidrend 4 – it would have required incredible strength and determination in the face of terrible weather. The official report delivered by Commander Eddy Reynod detailed how he had landed the pod in a storm. He had made his way alone through treacherous weather to a crashed freighter where he rode out the storm. The pilot of the freighter had been killed in a hard-landing years before, but with a little work, Reynod had succeeded in getting the small ship space worthy again. Navigation was destroyed, but everything else proved repairable. He lifted off and warped into the general direction he felt Starfleet would be.
After a couple of weeks, he was picked up by a Bolian Freighter and returned to Starbase 100 where he told of the valiant stand his ship, the U.S.S. Rightway, had made against a Dominion Battleship, but alas Captain Railo Descarte sacrificed the ship, pushing it at full impulse into the enemy warship with the self-destruct sequence armed.
Reynod was the sole survivor. He claimed he’d lost consciousness in the battle and found himself alone in a lifeboat spiraling out of control into an uncharted planet, where he’d made his heroic way back to Starfleet.
When interviewed by the Starfleet Investigative Division (SID), Reynod could not give any clues as to the location of the battle or the location of the planet he had landed on. The case was filed as “Unsolved” and left for after the War, when time could be given to conduct a proper investigation. In all Reynod’s testimony, he had never mentioned another crewman that had been in the lifeboat with him.
Yet, now, three years later, Rigelle was looking on one – clearly still wearing a Starfleet uniform. A crewman who had died and been dragged a considerable distance from the crash-site to be buried in the side of a sand-dune.
And there it might have remained undiscovered for centuries had not a passing freighter stopped by the planet a week ago to repair a faulty coil and discovered the life-boat and the corpse. And so, the SID was assigned the case, and thus Lt. Rigelle was impatiently waiting for a cause of death from Lt. Fa’Lok’s analysis. The Vulcan did not show signs of nearing completion and Rigelle began to pace behind her, kicking at the sand.
She was almost tempted to remove the Maang Tikka style jewelry that adorned her upper forehead. Made of Cavarian crystal, it descended over her upper frontal lobe from an ornate chain clipped to her hair, but most importantly, it shielded her mind from the thoughts of others. Rigelle was mostly Betazed, but as thought-reading was illegal in Federation criminal investigations – seen as an invasion of the personal liberty – she wore this shield whenever she was “on the job.” But now frustration almost made her lift it, just to get a little glimpse into Fa’Lok’s thoughts, which she was keeping to herself until she was finished.
Rigelle sighed. Of course, she wasn’t going to actually do it. She looked around disinterestedly at the Starfleet personnel milling about outside the investigation area and reflected that she could not hear their thoughts – they might as well have been holodeck projections. This “silence” had at first been disorienting for her, but with time, she had grown to appreciate the immense peace it afforded her.
She looked up at the sky – milky white with high-altitude dust. Somewhere up there, the U.S.S. Grisholm – a Saber-class starship – was keeping orbit, waiting for the scene to be cleared. At that moment, as if Commander Sean Barker was watching her from orbit, Rigelle’s com-badge chirped.
“Barker to Rigelle, are you there?” the Commander’s gruff voice sounded.
“Yes, Sir?” she answered.
“We’re waiting on you to begin conducting the interview.”
“Understood, Sir,” she replied. “Lt. Fa’Lok is nearing completion of her analysis – I will notify you at once when she is done!”
“Very well,” he replied. “Tell her she doesn’t have to raise the dead – we just need a cause of death.”
“I will, Sir,” Rigelle answered, knowing it would make no difference. “Any updates from Sullivan and Bailey’s soil analysis?”
“None, yet,” Barker replied. “They’re still in the lab isolating DNA traces, but it looks inconclusive so far – and with so much shifting sand down there, it is unlikely they’ll find anything, but you know them – persistent to a fault.”
“Thanks for the update, Commander,” she said, trying not to let her disappointment sound through the Communicator.
“Anytime,” Barker said. “Oh, and Lieutenant?”
“Yes, Sir?”
“I want you up here to take lead when we start the interview,” he said. Rigelle tried to contain her excitement. This would be her first time asking the questions!
“Than…thank you, Sir,” she stuttered.
“Baxter out,” the Commander said, chirping off his Communicator, leaving Rigelle in a stew of pleasant thoughts.
Lt. Rigelle was a rising investigator for the Starfleet Investigative Division which had numerous unites tasked with investigating mysteries that might have a criminal or unlawful element.
Her particular unite was dubbed “C14” after the Carbon 14 dating method, as it was primarily tasked with investigating unsolved mysteries – most of which stemming from the chaos of the recently concluded Dominion War.
“Do you like cold weather?” Commander Barker had asked her on her first day, over sixth months ago.
“Yes, I love it!” she had replied. He’d nodded.
“Good, because we only work with cold-cases,” he smiled an easy smile to soften the awful joke. Rigelle had instantly liked his fatherly demeanor.
Yet those cold cases had already led to some fascinating discoveries and prosecutions. They’d investigated rumors of a lost platoon of Jem’Hadar holdup in the jungle caves of Pagent 2 – still convinced the war was going on; found the lost wreckage of a Dominion vessel carrying the seeds of Armageddon before any pirates could salvage the weapons of mass destruction; prosecuted an Andorian militia for massacring two hundred Vorta captives; and more.
It seemed like every week they were off to a new location, assigned a new case from SID headquarters.
Fa’Lok closed her tricorder and rose from the ground. It was so sudden, that Rigelle stared blankly at her for a second.
“Well?” she asked in the silence. Fa’Lok arched her eyebrow.
“You will no doubt wish to express some emotion over these findings,” she said with the faintest hint of displeasure. “This corpse belonged to Crewman Roger Bails – assigned to the U.S.S. Rightway under the command of Captain Railo Descarte and Commander Eddy Reynod.” Rigelle absorbed the data. So it was true that Reynod had not landed alone on this planet – someone had been with him! Why had he never mentioned it before?
“And…” she asked her Vulcan associate breathlessly. “Cause of death?”
“He was struck from behind with a small circular object made of Tritanium – the shape profile of the wound indicates a hyperspanner from the tool locker,” Fa’Lok replied.
“From the crash?” Rigelle asked.
“Not likely,” Fa’Lok replied. “The force of the blow and the angle corresponds to the maximum power output of a blow from a humanoid between a Bolian and a Bajoran.”
“Well, humans are between those two, if I recall correctly,” Rigelle observed, trying to bring up a mental picture of the strength profiles from her criminal biology textbook of her Academy days.
“You are correct,” Fa’Lok answered.
“So, Crewman Bails was…murdered?” Rigelle asked, failing to contain her excitement in the question. If Fa’lok’s Vulcan training would have allowed her to roll her eyes at the emotional enthusiasm of her friend, she would have. Instead, she simply nodded rather than give Rigelle the satisfaction of a reply. It did little to dampen Rigelle’s enthusiasm. She spun on her heals and tapped her com-badge.
“Commander Barker?” she cried, staring up at the heavens. The slight delay felt like eternity – then the link connected through light static.
“Yes, Lt., do you have a result?” he asked.
“Sir, Fa’Lok’s analysis is complete. The deceased is one Crewman Roger Bails, assigned to the U.S.S. Rightway. The cause of death is a blow to the back of the head consistent with a human wielding a hyperspanner…Sir, the conclusion is murder!” she said. There was a long pause.
“Are you sure?” Barker asked. Rigelle turned and gestured for Fa’Lok to speak up.
“This is Fa’Lok, Sir,” she answered, stepping closer to the Com-badge. “The analysis is thorough and conclusive. I am uploading my findings to you now.”
“Very well,” Barker sighed, knowing not to question the Lt.’s meticulous examination. “Let the recovery crews in to the perimeter to recover the body and evidence. We’re beaming you both up directly.”
“Yes, Sir,” Rigelle and Fa’Lok replied.
Rigelle took one last look at the desolate surroundings and felt the hot, arid air sticking in her throat – then she felt the familiar tingle in her skin as the scene faded to white and then faded back to the transporter pad on the U.S.S. Grisholm. She took a deep breath of the cool, conditioned air of a starship, before stepping off the pad first. She caught herself at the door for Fa’Lok to lead the way to the briefing room – she still wasn’t familiar with the layout of the Saber class starship. The greatest challenge of her career was getting used to being on a different starship every week with their different layouts! But that was how the SID worked. You were assigned a different ship for every case and it would serve you for the duration of the investigation.
Last week, she’d been on an old Excelsior class vessel for a low-threat investigation of a reported mass-grave discovered in the Liorta system. The evidence declared it was the Jem’Hadar’s handy-work and the case was handed over to the war-crimes Tribunal. But the week before that, they’d been assigned a Sovereign class as they were charged with investigating rumors from freighter captains that the Dominion War was still raging day and night in an uncharted asteroid field somewhere in the Barankana Expanse. It turned out to be a lost fleet of Federation and Dominion ships trapped in a naturally occurring temporal bubble – unknowingly repeating the same battle in an infinite time loop. That had been a sticky situation to resolve! In the SID, your ride usually told you Starfleet’s threat assessment of the variables in the case you’d been assigned.
Fa’Lok and Rigelle made their way down a short corridor and entered a long room just behind the Bridge. There, Commander Barker sat opposite a middle-aged man with a sharp jaw, looking put-out by the proceedings. This was Eddy Reynod. He was wearing a command uniform and the pips on his collar told of his achievement to a captaincy.
He looked up with disinterest at Fa’Lok and Rigelle’s entry. Rigelle was immediately struck by the murky, cold eyes that passed her over, causing a chill down her spine.
Was it her proximity to a murder suspect or the thrill of justice? She couldn’t say, yet. Catching a murder case was always an exciting proposition for her – justice had to be served if society was to function and what more terrible injustice was there than murder – the unlawful termination of innocent life?
She took her seat on Barker’s left while Fa’Lok sat on his right. Behind them, the windows looked out on the stars to starboard and the desolate hues of Bidrend 4 to port.
The only other people in the room were two Starfleet Security officers and the Captain of the Grisholm, Marty Pressman, who nodded to Commander Barker and left the room in his care. The door closed behind him and was sealed. Barker cleared his throat.
“Captain Eddy Reynod, I understand you waved your right to legal counsel during this interview?” Barker asked. Reynod waved his hand dismissively.
“I’ve done nothing to warrant this investigation,” he answered.
“That is a ‘yes’ then?” Barker pressed. “For the record, you understand?”
“Yes,” Reynod replied, with the faintest hint of a sneer. “I wave my right to legal counsel.”
“Very well.” Barker said. “And do you know why your presence has been requested aboard the Grisholm?” Reynod shrugged.
“I was told it related to my service aboard the U.S.S. Rightway,” he said.
“That is correct,” Barker affirmed, sitting forward and reviewing the PADD with Fa’Lok’s findings. “Let the record show that I am handing this interview over to Lt. Rigelle Dutroi.” He nodded to Rigelle and sat back.
Clearing her throat, Rigelle prepared her line of questioning.
“Captain Reynod, I understand that this proceeding is unpleasant for you and it is forcing you to relive very difficult memories of a traumatic period in your career,” she began, pausing long enough to see the assenting nod from Reynod. “In your testimony 3 years ago, you stated that you were the lone survivor of the destruction of the U.S.S. Rightway, is that correct?”
“Yes,” Reynod said evenly.
“Very good,” Rigelle replied, setting down her PADD and projecting a holographic image of a young man smiling towards them, wearing his Cadet uniform.
“Do you recognize this man?” she asked.
Reynod leaned forward and looked the features over carefully.
“Crewman…Bails, I believe,” he said as if drawing from the depths of his memory.
“That is correct, Sir,” Rigelle said. “He served with you aboard the Rightway, did he not?”
“I believe he did,” Reynod said uncomfortably.
Rigelle adjusted the PADD and a 3-D scan of Crewman Bails’ corpse appeared hovering between them. Reynod hardly reacted.
“Do you have any idea how Crewman Bails wound up buried in a sand dune less than a kilometer from your landing site on the planet below?” she asked. Reynod pursed his lips and shook his head.
“Not a clue,” he said, shifting in his seat. “I was the only survivor that I was aware of. Perhaps he also made it off the Rightway…in a different lifeboat?”
“And how would you explain his death?” Rigelle asked. Reynod shrugged and waved his hands dismissively, lapsing into silence.
At that moment, Rigelle desperately wanted to lift her headpiece and unblock her Betazed senses – just to hear what was going through Reynod’s mind – what he was really thinking. But she knew if she did that, the investigation would be terminated and the case dismissed due to a “miscarriage of justice.” No, she would catch this killer in his own spoken words.
“Please, indulge me,” she said. “what do you think happened?”
“It’s a funny old Universe,” Reynod said lightly. “I mean how does anything happen, really?” He looked triumphantly as his questioners, but then sat up when his eyes met the unflinching gaze of Rigelle. It also didn’t help to have the knowing eyes of Commander Baxter and the piercing glare of the Vulcan sifting through his life.
“Well,” he said, staring off into the distance, “if I was to harbor a guess, I’d say that with his head injury, Crewman Bails probably was unconscious at the time and likely suffocated in the storm when the sand dunes shifted and buried his body.” Rigelle sat back and considered Reynod. His murky grey eyes quivered slightly under her gaze.
“Captain Reynod,” she said slowly, “I never told you Bails suffered a head injury, nor that he was found buried in a sand dune.”
“Well…it’s an obvious guess,” Reynod started. “I mean head injuries are common in crash-landings, aren’t they?”
“Not head injuries caused by a hyperspanner wielded by a human hand, Captain Reynod,” Rigelle said firmly, leaning forward. Reynod leaned back and shuffled his hands over his lap. He looked towards the door.
“I’d like to go now,” he said.
“I’m sorry, but we have some more quest…” Rigelle began but Reynod cut her off.
“You’re not in charge here!” he said sharply, and then pointed at Barker. “And neither are you! I’m a Captain, and I won’t be addressed in this manner by some witch-hunting Lieutenants or Commanders. Where is Captain Pressman? I demand to speak to the Captain!”
“Enough!” bellowed Barker. The room shook. Everyone was taken by surprise, but the shock proved more than Reynod could handle. He bent over and covered his eyes with his hands.
“It’s not my fault!” he cried. “If he’d just kept his mouth shut, it wouldn’t have to be like this! He didn’t have to be a boy-scout!”
“Just to be clear, you are admitting to killing Crewman Roger Bails,” Rigelle asked amid the sobs. Reynod nodded.
“If you have the spanner, you know already,” he choked. “My DNA is on it. I killed him.”
“Why did you kill him,” Rigelle pursued, ignoring the comment about the spanner, which they had not yet located.
“Well…he was going to tell the truth!” Reynod struggled to contain his emotion. “He was going to tell everyone what a coward I was! He was going to tell how I was placed in the Brig for attempted mutiny after I broke – I…I broke under the stress of Captain Descarte’s plan to hunt down a Dominion Battleship we’d seen on the other side of an asteroid field. We were a Nebula class scanning vessel, not a warship! He went mad – not me! But no! He was going to tell everyone that I was the one who’d had a mental breakdown and had to be forcibly removed from the Bridge! So, I did what I had to – I broke out of security. I commandeered Engineering, and I overrode the safeties to…to autodestruct the ship.”
The silence that followed Reynod’s rambling confession weighed heavily in the room.
“Why?” Rigelle asked breathlessly at last.
“I couldn’t let my father down, could I?” Reynod demanded. “He’s an admiral. Captain Descarte was going to tell my father what a coward I was…he was going to ruin me and…and kill my father with shame! He was the murderer, not me!”
“So…you killed all those people…and invented the story of the Dominion attack?” Rigelle asked in disbelief. Reynod nodded.
“Yes,” he said letting his sobbing finally get the better of him.
“And Crewman Bails?” Rigelle insisted. “What of him?”
“Bails…made it into my escape pod, just before I launched,” Reynod gasped for air. “I tried to convince him…to drop the whole thing and tell Starfleet my story! I pleaded…I pleaded for his life! But he wouldn’t listen! He was going to tell! It was his fault! It was all their fault…its…all…fault!” He began to babble.
Barker rose from his seat and nodded to the Security detail.
“Captain Eddy Reynod, I am placing you under arrest for the murder of Crewman Roger Bails,” he said firmly. “Pending additional charges for the murder of Captain Railo Descarte and the crew of the U.S.S. Rightway.” The Security team dragged Reynod to his feet and carried him from the room towards the brig.
“It’s not my fault!” he cried as his incoherent ramblings faded away down the corridor.
Barker leaned on the table a moment, as if to catch his breath before turning to Fa’lok.
“You did an exceptional job this time – as always,” he told her – as if he was trying to make her blush. He then turned to Rigelle.
“That was some amazing work, Lieutenant,” he said, straightening his jacket. “I haven’t been so on edge since I wrestled that Klingon wombat on the Kijornan precipice in my Academy days. I’ll be putting you both in for commendation. Now, if you will excuse me, I have some calls to make.” He punched up his Comm station and input for Admiral Cleaver – head of the SID.
Rigelle nodded and rose from her seat. She was exhausted. The atmosphere in the conference room was heavier than Jupiter. She ambled out, clutching her PADD with white knuckles. She tried not to imagine what the interview would have been like had her mind not been shielded from that deluge of psychotic emotion.
“All those people!” she gasped to Fa’Lok. “He killed them all like they were nothing! For what? His reputation?” The Vulcan arched her eyebrows.
“Indeed,” she said simply, preparing to turn and find her quarters, but Rigelle stopped her.
“I imagined him capable of killing the crewman,” she continued. “But I still can’t believe he murdered his entire crew!” Fa’Lok studied Rigelle for a moment.
“I believe you may be emotionally compromised, Lieutenant,” she replied. “Perhaps you need to see the Doctor?” Rigelle snapped into focus and forced a weak smile.
“No…I think I just need some strong Roktajino,” she said. They separated and Rigelle found the galley. She replicated a cup of Klingon coffee and found a table by herself gazing out at the stars. The off-duty crew milled about laughing and talking, but Rigelle didn’t know any of them – that was the one curse of working in the SID – you rarely formed any lasting relationships on the ships you caught passage to-and-from your next investigation. It could be really lonely when your team was preoccupied elsewhere.
Outside, the stars suddenly blurred and then streamed away as the Saber class went to warp. They were leaving the scene of the crime. Justice would be served. A shiver went down her spine as she recalled Captain Reynod’s pale, unseeing eyes. She was mesmerized and terrified by the motivations that could drive any one person to do unspeakable acts.
Suddenly, Commander Barker sat down across from her with a steaming cup of Roktajino.
“Great minds…” he smiled, and then considered her. “How are you holding up?”
“I’m fine,” she said. “Just tired.” Barker nodded knowingly and ran his hands through his thick gray hair.
“If we’re going to work together, you have to be honest with me,” he said. “You and I are the two investigators of this unit. The other three are doctors and scientists – they can operate on different wavelengths than us – you know, radiation samples, blood in the soil, metallurgy, etc., etc.…but you and I have to be in sync. We have to harmonize. And since I can’t read your thoughts and you aren’t supposed to read mine, you have to talk to me.”
“I’m sorry, Sean,” she said. “I just can’t believe that this man murdered all those people in cold blood…for what?” Barker shook his head.
“I know,” he said. “It can get to you…staring into the darker corners of the Galaxy – you see more horrors in a year than most civilians, or even your average officer, will ever see in their lifetime. But that is the job! Because someone has to do it – someone has to stare into the darkness and hold it accountable. That’s justice…”
“…’to hold evil in check through accountability – to call it by name and hang its handiwork around its neck’.” Rigelle finished, knowing her Commander’s maxim as much as he did himself. Barker smiled.
“You got that right!” he laughed, taking a long swig of his coffee. “We serve the rule of law…” he began, but Rigelle cut him off.
“…not the rule of passions, special interests, or latinum,” she finished.
“And why is that?” he challenged his pupil.
“Because,” she answered, rising to the challenge, “a rule of law makes everyone equal to justice, regardless of their circumstances of birth, the latinum in their possession, the special interests that lobby outcomes, or the power they wield in society. A rule of law levels the playing-field so that all may find justice regardless of their race, religion, or circumstances. The President and the Ferrengi bar-keep have equal access to it.” Barker nodded with pride.
“I’ve taught you well,” he smiled. Rigelle hesitated.
“What about mercy?” she asked. Barker sighed.
“Is this your old argument for grace?” he asked.
“Yes,” she smiled guiltily.
“Well, I also believe in grace,” he said, “but it resides in the victim’s hands – it isn’t our job to give it.”
“So, if they want to forgive, it is their decision?” she asked.
“Exactly,” he said gently. “For us to intervene is to rob them of their rights.” Barker took another long sip of his Roktajino and sat back to consider his favorite colleague.
“We serve a higher calling,” he said quietly. “The moral laws that form the Foundation of our Federation are very, very old – don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t pollute innocence…etc. They come from the belief in a higher power that gave the law and that keeps the law, meaning the law came from outside our making of it – it is above all – and it remains untouchable, unalterable by whims, designs, or lobby. If you don’t believe that, you must at least live your life as if you do believe it, otherwise justice will crumble and rot in the face of special circumstances, mob passions, and societal expedience. The push and pull on us “lawmen” is incessant and we can never give way. Many innocent people rotted in prison because special interests and societal expedience bent the men and women serving the rule of law. Many lynchings robbed men of justice because those whose job it was to administer it bent to the pressures of mod passions. Sadly, this cycle has been seen in every time and place throughout the history of the Universe.”
“You’re quoting Professor Strout again,” Rigelle smirked. Though a good generation lay between them, Rigelle and Barker both sat under the now aged Professor Strout’s legal instruction at the Academy.
“Am I?” Barker paused to digest what he’d just said.
“Word for word,” Rigelle said shaking her head. Barker smiled.
“Guilty as charged!” he laughed “I can hear his voice now.”
Already, he could see Rigelle’s spirits were rising.
“Say,” he said in hushed tones, leaning forward. “We have our next assignment from HQ.”
“Already!” Rigelle answered. “But we’ve only just closed this case!”
“I know, I know!” he said. “But investigations wait for no man.”
“Okay, what is it?” she asked, her curiosity already getting the better of her. Barker winked and pulled out his PADD.
“Well, we’ve been ordered to the Denebme System after a long-range, three-year recurring scan by a science vessel picked up an unlocalized reading of a Klingon hull composite,” he said. “It is believed to be a missing ship that was involved in some shady research under the Gowron chancellery during the height of the Dominion War.”
“Klingon?” she asked. “But isn’t that outside our jurisdiction?”
“Well, the finding is in Federation space,” Baxter answered, “so technically it is ours, but we will be working with a Klingon liaison from the High Council’s Honor Guard.” That sounded a bit intimidating – the Honor Guard were reputed to be the hardest edges of all.
“What’s the research?” she inquired.
“We don’t know for sure, but it was rumored to be a weapon of…” he lowered his voice. “…mass destruction.”
“Okay,” Rigelle sat up. “That sounds interesting!” Barker winked.
“I thought you’d like it,” he said. “A little change of pace from catching psychopaths.”
“You know I love that too!” she protested. “It’s just that a change of pace is nice, also.”
“I hear you,” Barker smiled. “Anyways, we’ll be travelling on a Prometheus class this time – U.S.S. Endeavor.”
“Cutting edge!” Rigelle said with surprise. “I don’t think I’ve ever been on one of those. But isn’t that a tactical warship?”
“Yep,” Barker replied, drowning his coffee. Rigelle sighed.
“This mission is going to be rough,” she said, downing her own coffee. “I just know it!”
After all that coffee, Rigelle knew she wasn’t going to get any sleep, so she ran a few kilometers along an infamous Klingon mountain on the holodeck, known as Molor’s Jaw. It was a twisted, razor-sharp ridge of lava chimneys all fuming, and quaking, and flaring with fire. Suffice it to say, she was exhausted by the end of it.
Yet, she slept fitfully that night – the mad face of Captain Reynod haunted her dreams and what he had done kept twisting into her thoughts. She woke early with a cold sweat – nothing a cup of Roktajino wouldn’t fix – and she was up before the others. She went down to the Galley, replicated some eggs and sausage and sat at the same seat, looking out at the gently warping stars flowing past her. It was so relaxing – almost hypnotizing if you let yourself go! Suddenly, she became aware of a white scintillating fleck that was not passing with the stars. At first, she thought it was a reflection on the window, but it was moving – growing towards her. It was the Endeavor! She stood up and leaned against the window, watching it closely. Slowly, through the distortion of the warp bubble, she could make out the features of the Federation’s most advanced starship – and it was to be her ride!
Soon, Commander Barker entered, grabbed some breakfast and joined her – followed shortly by Fa’Lok.
“Where are Sullivan and Bailey?” Barker asked, referring to the other two Lieutenants in their unit – an Engineer and Scientist respectively.
“They are still in the lab,” Fa’Lok replied. “In search of DNA markers for the Reynod case.”
Barker lowered his toast in disbelief.
“You mean you never told them we got a confession and the case is closed!” he cried. Fa’Lok raised an eyebrow in protest at the accusation.
“I told them!” she answered evenly. “They did not hear me.” Barker threw his toast into his plate.
“Why do I have to do everything around here,” he grumbled, getting up from his seat and storming out of the galley.
Rigelle exchanged a smile with Fa’Lok’s almost amused face, before glancing back outside the window to see the Prometheus now larger than ever, shadowing their every move. Both ships had business on their destination Corris 1, before the exchange of the SID was to take place.
Suddenly, Lt. Peter Sullivan and Lt. George Bailey stumbled into the galley, looking shocked and confused – and more than a little tired. They yawned in unison as Barker came in after them.
“Don’t just stand there!” he bellowed. “Eat! We have less than half an hour before we disembark and you still need to pack!” The two brainwaves absently ordered their breakfast and stumbled to a table all by themselves where they chatted variables more than they ate. Outside, the stars slowed back to points of light as the Grisholm dropped out of warp, presumably to enter the Corris Star System.
Over the intercom, Captain Pressman’s voice sounded.
“Attention, all hands,” he called. “We will be assisting Corris 1 shortly with flood relief efforts. Please refer to your duty posts. All Starfleet Investigative Division personnel to Transporter Room 1 in ten minutes to disembark for the U.S.S. Endeavor.”
“That’s our cue!” Barker announced, stuffing the rest of his omelet into his mouth. “Let’s not be late!” Rigelle rose and recycled her dishes. Before she followed the others out, she pressed up against the large windows of the galley and gasped as a massive gas-giant planet slowly slipped past them – its scintillating atmosphere tempting her to explore beneath its veiled head.
“Perhaps another time,” she said wistfully and hurried to her quarters to grab her kit.
In the Transporter room, Captain Pressman thanked them each for their service before sending them them on their way. The beam caught them up – away from the Grisholm – and in a moment, they found their feet aboard the Endeavor. Immediately, Rigelle noticed the clean, crisp smell of the Prometheus class, which belied its newness. She had found that all starships held a particular aroma that spoke to their personality. This ship was a clean, mean, tactical instrument. Even the throb of the warp core in the deck belied its power.
“Welcome aboard the Endeavor,” a black-bearded man announced genially from beside the transporter console. “I am Captain Shad Hivers.”
“Captain, we are honored to be aboard your fine vessel,” Barker replied, introducing his team.
“It is we who are honored,” Captain Hivers insisted through the sparkle of his warm eyes. He welcomed each in turn. “You folks have done some amazing work out there and have brought a lot of closure to families across the Federation. Even a few of our own owe you all a debt of gratitude.”
He led them on a brief tour of the Endeavor while the crew was offloading supplies for the Corris 1 relief efforts. Every room and station filled Rigelle with wonder, from the Engine Room to Sickbay, but the best was saved for last when they emerged on the Bridge of the mighty Starship – such a wonderful modernization and yet homage to what made a ship’s bridge work. It felt like the same old home and yet like a new place in the city all at the same time.
Outside the Viewscreen, Rigelle noticed that the ship was breaking orbit – full impulse brought it swiftly out of the star system and then it leapt to warp – on its way already to their mission field.
“And now, to the Conference Room,” Captain Hivers beckoned. “To meet our other guest for this trip.”
The doors opened and Rigelle was shocked to not be presented a Klingon warrior dressed in full combat armor but a Klingon woman in a form-fitting red jumpsuit with a long-sleeved coat over it that was missing its sides. Gold metal ovals were inlaid into the arms and legs of the uniform.
Her gaze was piercing, but she almost looked human in some ways. She glanced with interest on her “associates.” Hivers stepped up for the introduction.
“Lt. Dutroi,” he motioned, “meet Commander K’Helem – Chief Investigator for the High Council and Special Emissary from Chancellor Martok.”
Wow, this was serious! Rigelle thought.
“I am honored,” she said with a bow – truly humbled to be meeting such a lofty member of Martok’s renowned government. K’Helem bowed in return, but she did not speak – there was something imposing and dignified in her composure. After the introductions were complete, Captain Hivers motioned for them all to take a seat at the long table. Rigelle found herself seated next to K’Helem, across from Barker. Once they were all comfortably seated, Hivers gestured to Barker.
“Commander, if you would like to open the proceedings?” he suggested.
“Certainly,” Barker cleared his throat. “The mission directive from Starfleet is to locate the source of this Klingon debris in the Denebme System and ascertain its nature. There is a concern that it may be the remains of a missing Klingon vessel from the Dominion War, which may or may not have been carrying a classified weapon of mass destruction. I don’t believe I need to spell out why locating and retrieving such a device is so important, especially in a region polluted by piracy.”
“I have been ordered to give your team complete cooperation and support for this mission,” Hivers added. Barker gestured to K’Helem.
“Is there anything you’d like to add, Special Emissary?” he asked. K’Helem bowed.
“Thank you, Commander,” she began. “The missing ship in question is called the Kraval, which may or may not prove to be what has been located by your scans. The High Council’s directive in this matter is to investigate crimes committed prior to Chancellor Martok’s ascension to his seat – namely, questionable allegiances and actions made by his predecessor, Chancellor Gowron – both leading up to and during the Dominion War, which resulted in much pain and no little dishonor upon the Klingon Empire. It is Chancellor Martok’s desire to investigate any claims of dishonor or injustice that his predecessor may have caused and to rectify them.”
“That is very noble of him,” Rigelle observed, earning the piercing gaze of K’Helem upon her. The Klingon softened her composure when she observed her comment was genuine.
“Indeed,” she said, almost reverently, “Chancellor Martok is the noblest being alive.” Commander Barker cleared his throat again.
“Is there any additional information the High Council has authorized in regards to this missing ship and its cargo or compliment?” he asked. Rigelle noticed K’Helem hesitated ever-so slightly, but then pulled up her Klingon PADD. She rested her left forefingers on her temple, like she was steadying her thoughts or comforting a headache.
“The vessel was a Vor’cha class attack cruiser with a standard crew compliment of 1,900,” she recited from her screen. “Other than upgrades to its shielding, engines, and weapon systems, it is not remarkable.”
“Any information on what the unspecified weapon may have been?” Fa’Lok asked, speaking up for the first time.
“None,” K’Helem replied, glancing sideways at Rigelle. “It appears to have been an ‘off the books’ development program that Gowron had commissioned, but he does not appear to have kept any detailed notes on it. However, there is some evidence that a salvaged Romulan singularity drive may have been a component as one went missing from our laboratories around the time this project was initiated.” Fa’Lok punctuated K’Helem’s revelation with a significant rise to her eyebrow.
“What would they want an artificial quantum singularity f