|The untold tales from around the Federation|
A small, dark courier vessel docked at an exclusive airlock at the bottom of the station. It bypassing the outer docks normally reserved for visiting passengers, who would then be required to shuttle across the remaining expanse in a cramped station transport, with all their luggage tucked under their seats or stuffed into overhead compartments. Not this visitor though. This visitor was different.
The Station Commander shook his head resignedly. Today was about to become a lot more interesting than he would otherwise prefer.
The doors hissed open and a lonely, grim figure stalked out of the circular opening, the soft lighting licking against his stark features as he shuffled lazily. He was followed by a black, cylindrical machine that floated effortlessly on a cushion of anti-gravitons, buzzing as it wafted along. His mechanical protector was a severe contraption with glowing red photo-receptors, jutting appliances with ferocious looking claws, and weapons ready to be deployed within an instant, should a threat become remotely apparent. It was his assistant, his protector, his shadow.
The little man it followed was somehow just as intimidating. He walked slowly but with purpose; he had grim and piercing eyes that never bothered to look beyond his path, and yet they saw everything; his face was but a scowl, within a frown, within a glower.
He was the kind of man that people saw, and looked away from. They stepped back to let him pass. They pretended they didn't see him, and wished they hadn't had to.
Commander Bailey was waiting, unsure exactly what to make of this spectacle before him. His palms were moist, and he felt his face flushing. His brow prickled nervously as he shifted his weight from foot to foot. As the man approached, he swallowed his apprehension and raised his hand to shake that of the visitor.
The man stopped, and regarded the offered hand as though it was something filthy, disgusting, beneath his concern.
"I don't... touch... hands." he said, accented with a loud exhale. He swivelled his eyes up to those of the taller officer and stared, relentlessly, and unblinking. After what seemed to be quite a lengthy pause, he leant in closer and added, quietly and approaching enthusiastically, "It's not personal...".
"I see..." Commander Bailey lowered his hand awkwardly, and gritted his teeth in silent annoyance. "Perhaps I could show you to your quarters then?"
"My quarters?! Why, that sounds delightful! After all, I must be so tired from my journey that sleep is the only thing on my mind. Perhaps while you're at it, you could arrange me a nice... cocktail, that I can enjoy by the pool after my... refreshing nap."
The Commander found it increasingly difficult to determine whether the man was genuinely delighted in an exceptionally creepy way, or was mocking the ludicrousness of the suggestion, a confusion that was clearly not lost on the man as his scowl took on several new layers of unpleasantness.
Eventually his veneer dropped, or at least partially abated.
"You know why I'm here. Take me to where I can conduct my business." he hissed contemptuously.
The Commander took a deep breath. "We have an office set up in the security area. It's not what you're used to, I imagine, but it's quiet, secure and has recording facilities. It should have everything you need for your... enquiries? Would that be the right word?"
"Enquiries... Yes, that word would be as adequate a description of my purposes, as the office you've prepared sounds for allowing me to fulfil them."
What does that mean? Is that a good thing? The man flashed an insincere smile that left the Commander in mind of a snake hugging its lunch. He shuddered to himself, and thought about how much he missed his last posting to an observation platform, where he had three visitors a month, and two of them brought beer.
"Right this way then."
He lead the man and his accompanying machinery along the corridor in what to him was a crushingly awkward silence. The silence somehow seemed preferable to the alternative though. As much as he'd like to just get the job done and over with, he had a deeper involvement as the head of the station, one he had long since ceased to relish. "May I ask, what is your official title?"
The old man pondered this question, searching for an appropriately sinister answer no doubt. Eventually his expression changed to a smile of smug satisfaction. "I'm known... as the Inquisitor. Mine is the role of examiner and judge; I make law in places where none exists; I enforce law where it cannot be effectively administered."
The Commander knew better than to argue that it was his station, and that his personnel were more than capable of following Federation law in a matter as simple as the one they were dealing with. Like so many times though, experience had taught him to keep his mouth shut and simply get on with the business of managing the daily grind, while weird, horrible people dealt with weird, horrible things that happened.
Before long, they arrived at the office. The Commander gestured to the door, edging just close enough that the door could take the initiative in opening itself, with an appropriate hydraulic sigh. The Inquisitor stepped inside without acknowledging him further.
The humming cylindrical monstrosity floated on by behind him, and as it passed, it reached out with one of its ugly, mechanical claws and handed the commander a Padd.
"This is a list of my requirements." said the old man, his voice low and grave. "Send me the first name on my list at... your earliest convenience."
He paused for a moment as his ferocious little eyes stared at nothing in particular.
"If you would be so kind..."
Lieutenant Thompson waited. He waited, and he waited, and then he waited some more. He had begun wondering what exactly was going on the moment he was 'welcomed' into the office by the distinctly unwelcoming individual sat before him. The Inquisitor, as he was apparently known, sat in silence for what had now stretched on for nearly 30 minutes. It felt a lot longer.
He could only watch as the arrogant little man read from a Padd, occasionally tutting loudly and shaking his head in disapproval. Eventually, he placed the Padd gently onto the desk, sat back into his seat and stared fixedly forwards for a moment that stretched on into infinity, as if waiting, challenging him to speak first.
"Lieutenant... Glenn Thompson..." he began finally, as if asking a question. He paused for a time that was longer than seemed natural, as Lieutenant Thompson cringed inwardly. "You are a methodical and pragmatic man, and I know that you understand the necessity of a thorough and structured inquiry, when arriving at the truth of a matter is the ultimate goal."
The Lieutenant nodded that he did indeed understand, albeit with a slightly confused shrug.
"This... meeting... is a formal part of my investigation, so I can only convey my heartfelt apologies that our first encounter should not be under more more pleasant circumstances. I'm certain that some of this station's extensive leisure facilities would have proven far more appropriate, if the purpose of our encounter had been to develop the bonds of a deep, and lasting friendship."
The Lieutenant shuddered at the prospect. An invasive interrogation would do just fine.
"Everything spoken here will be recorded, and everything you say will be a matter of public record. Mr. Thompson, I assume you know why you're here."
Nobody had told him anything. He thought for a moment, and shrugged. "Something to do with the SS MacGuffin, Sir?"
"The SS MacGuffin..." The Inquisitor laughed a humourless chuckle at a joke he clearly wasn't about to share. "Enlighten me. Tell me about that ship."
"Well, what would you like to know?" Lieutenant Thompson frowned to himself cautiously. Something about this was disturbing him. He didn't like it, not one little bit.
"I'd like to know about that ship." he replied flatly. "Tell me your story. Tell me what happened when you first discovered the SS MacGuffin."
Lieutenant Thompson took a deep breath and began.
There it was. The ship, exactly as described. That fact, in itself came as something of a surprise. Lieutenant Thompson turned to the pilot who seemed just as surprised as he was himself. Before them was a vessel, just listing in space, undetected by the sensors on the Starbase, hanging there helplessly in the darkness, alone and forgotten.
"Honestly, I thought this would be a fools errand." he said, nodding to himself.
"Well they did go to the trouble of sending in finest fools at their disposal." agreed Gary with a condescending smirk. Lieutenant Thompson frowned at his attempt at humour. "By the way, what do I call you?"
"Lieutenant Thompson." said Lieutenant Thompson.
"I'm not Starfleet. Heck, I'm barely working for the Federation. I'm more of a first name terms kind of guy." said Gary with a haphazard grin, sprawling back in his chair and exhibiting a near total lack of professionalism that prickled at the Lieutenant like an itch he couldn't quite scratch.
"Glenn." he acquiesced grudgingly. "You can call me Glenn, I suppose."
"Glenn." He repeated, rolling the name over in his mind like he was examining it somehow. "Any relation?"
"No." replied the Lieutenant flatly.
"Well, Glenn, I for one am shocked that this thing even actually exists. Apparently it was reported by a couple of kids travelling around the galaxy... in Workbees of all things."
Glenn smiled, shaking his head in amused dismay. "Honestly, you couldn't make this stuff up."
"Given that you're a Starfleet security officer, should you really be thinking about making things up?"
Glenn nodded and smiled wryly. His fingers danced over the glossy black interface panel and the sensors came to life. "Let's see... Vigo class vessel. Essentially identical to the Oberth class, except the lower mission pod is habitable and attached with an interconnecting dorsal with turbo-lift access. The connector is a structural weak-point, designed to fall away in the event of damage, to isolate and protect the hulls."
"You are clearly as well versed in Federation vessel design as I am with the cocktail menu at the Station 401 bar."
Gary shook his head at the officer, who returned him a caustic glance from the side of his eye, coupled with an overall lack of approval and a growing annoyance at the pilot's conduct. Still, he wasn't Starfleet and he couldn't be treated like he was. He gritted his teeth, and decided to keep things less formal for now.
"I'm an engineer first. This assignment was just a way to get a promotion on my way up the ladder towards my goal. I want to work in propulsion development."
"Well I'm just a career shuttle-pilot who's been keenly avoiding responsibility for the duration of my adult life. Even giving up on diapers was a step in the wrong direction in my opinion."
"In your case, I would tend to agree. No offence, but what the hell are you even doing working on a Federation station? You seem to hate it, and you haven't stopped moaning since we left."
"It's not through choice, I can assure you." Gary assured him. "And I was moaning long before you met me. I love to fly shuttles—it's my one real weakness! Unfortunately, you have to take one to deal with the other, it's just how it is. I mean... you've had to take a posting in security so you get a step closer to what you want to do."
Lieutenant Thompson nodded that he understood and gave himself a little sigh.
"So what's the plan?" asked Gary, locking the thrusters to keep them fixed in position relative to the vessel.
"Well, I'm detecting no life signs on board, so I guess I go aboard and secure the bridge and see if I can get the engines online."
"Rather you than me!"
"Hmmm..." said the Inquisitor, holding up a hand for him to stop. "As fascinating as I find your playful flirtation, I'm concerned solely with your securing of the ship. Limit your account to those events. Please." His eyes locked onto the Lieutenant's and remained fixed unblinkingly.
"Sorry..." he said with a feeble shrug as a chill ran up his spine. He swallowed and looked wistfully away as he returned to his story.
He materialised in a shimmering blue shard of light, as the interior of the bridge melted from the iridescent glow and gently hardened into his reality. The tingling in his flesh subsided, the buzzing in his ears ebbed away, and he was there.
The Lieutenant glanced around quickly at the gloomy bridge, the consoles flickering or unlit, the emergency lights dim and red, weakly bathing the surroundings in their sickly light.
He clicked his Comm-badge. "Lieutenant Thompson to Shuttle 2."
Gary's voice replied through the communicator. "What?"
He rolled his eyes at the continued assault on his professionalism. "I've materialised on the bridge. Nothing to report at this time. I'll check internal sensors, and begin a diagnosis of the engines."
"Take your time!" Gary reported back. "It's lunchtime here on Shuttle 2. Have fun!"
Lieutenant Thompson rolled his eyes and sighed. He quickly found a functioning terminal, and tapped away at its somewhat outdated interface panel.
"Checking internal sensors. Can confirm there was nobody aboard, at least nobody that could be detected. The engine is a whole different issue... Well past its useful service life. Surprised it even fired up. Diagnosis shows little more than a few chips of dilithium left in the reaction chamber, and the tanks are completely drained. What's left is barely space-worthy, and as emergency power drains away and the force-fields holding the ship together lose power, the ship is in growing danger of collapsing if the appropriate repairs aren't carried out.
"In short, the vessel is very quickly going nowhere."
"That's fascinating, Glenn." came the sarcastic voice through the communicator, clearly forcing its way through a hefty mouthful of food. It didn't matter though; the pilot didn't have to care. The communication would be saved, providing a record of his preliminary investigation.
He flicked out his tricorder and began taking readings. "Shuttle 2, I'm going to scan the vessel now. Please standby."
"Whatever makes you happy."
"Hmmm." said the Inquisitor ambiguously, as he nodded and smiled thinly to himself. He picked up his Padd with his fragile, bony fingers and scanned through his notes again.
The Lieutenant waited dutifully, shifting awkwardly in the stiff metal chair that had begun to make his spine ache. He waited.
"And your scans revealed nothing."
"Nothing. Nothing out of the ordinary, anyway."
"And despite this, you arrested a Federation citizen, one... Jason Johnson."
Lieutenant Thompson couldn't quite determine if it was a question or a statement. He settled for a combination of the two. "Not me personally, but I believe somebody of that name was detained."
The old man stared at him.
"And the ship."
There was that awkward pause again. Was that a question?
The old man tutted, and leant in towards the officer. "Yes, the ship. What did you expect to find?"
"Well, smugglers are known to operate in this area, so that was my initial assumption, Sir. We... I expected to find restricted materials of some kind."
"And yet, you found nothing."
The Inquisitor sat in silence, reading notes on his Padd while the man opposite sat waiting. Occasionally his eyes rolled slowly from the notes to the man, to whom he'd offer a wry smirk, and then return his gaze to the Padd.
"So who are you supposed to be then?" asked the man impatiently, with none of the cautiousness or concern that people usually displayed around him. He wasn't Starfleet; he was Human, but was an outsider, not bound by the principals of the Federation, and he wore his status on his sleeve.
The Inquisitor raised his index finger, and otherwise ignored him.
The man frowned and sat back into the chair, crossing his arms over his chest and grunting loudly. He didn't like this. He didn't like being treated like this, and his patience, what little there was, was almost at breaking point.
Finally after several minutes the old man lowered the Padd to the desk and sat back, regarding the man contemptuously. "I am the Inquisitor." he said simply.
"And what's that meant to mean?"
"Perhaps you could take from it that I'm inquisitive." The Inquisitor allowed himself a smile of smug self-satisfaction that sent the man further into his pit of growing annoyance with the entire situation.
"You Starfleet types, you just love to wallow in your own self-importance, don't you?" he growled.
"Starfleet?! What an unusual assumption. I assure you, the importance of my role far exceeds the limitations of the military muscle of our mighty Federation."
"Well lucky me!" he said sarcastically, his voice deliberately lowered and aggressive. "Maybe I can get your autograph; the guys at home will be so excited for me!"
"Very droll. Quite the singular wit." He paused and looked thoughtfully at the prisoner. "In the fullness of time, you shall indeed have my signature. I carry the full authority of the central Federation government, and have latitude to sign the order for your termination! Or, your rehabilitation. Or, to release you with an official apology... I've yet to decide... which."
The man continued his facade of unshakable strength, but was growing increasingly concerned. He stared right back into the ugly, piercing glare of the Inquisitor defiantly, holding his ground against him. He wasn't sure if he should be angry or worried; it had been a long time since someone had made such open threats to him, and especially someone working for the authorities. In his case, either reaction had a similar response, so there was little difference in real terms.
"I thought the Federation believed in justice. Publicly, at least." he said eventually, testing the man, gauging him for the best way to proceed.
"Justice..." He repeated the word, as if examining a diamond under a jeweller's loupe. "You think you understand this... justice."
Jason frowned. Yes, definitely concern was the appropriate response, and it was growing rapidly. "I know enough to know that you can't do anything to me if I've done nothing wrong."
"I don't recall mentioning anything about you having done something... wrong." He grinned, his thin lips stretching into a morbid rictus. "Unless there's something you'd like to tell me."
"No. There isn't." he replied angrily, his face flushing. "Why am I here?"
"To... assist me with my investigation." The old man paused momentarily, glancing down to his Padd. "You do... want to assist me, don't you, Mister... Jason Johnson?"
"Not especially." he admitted. "I can tell you with a certain confidence that I'd rather be killing brain-cells in the bar while I wait for my transport, than sitting here talking to someone certifiably sociopathic, who developed his people-skills by slitting the throats of kittens when he was a kid."
"Well, if you do... deem to assist me, then I can godspeed you to your transport, sans as many brain cells as you don't think you'll miss."
"Fine... what do you want?" he grumbled resignedly with an eye roll.
"Tell me how you came to be detained."
"Ok." he sighed. There could be no harm in that. "It started when I arrived at the central hub."
Jason Johnson glared about, his eyebrows lowered as he scanned the port for a bar. It had been a long transport—a long and difficult one, and the experience needed to be immediately treated with several shots of something inappropriately strong and expensive.
He was not a pleasant man, and made no effort to appear to be one. In fact he was largely the opposite and it took no effort to appear to be exactly that. He was dressed casually in loose fitting black trousers, an old and comfortable shirt, and a padded black flight jacket with far too many pockets. His head was shaved close to his scalp, his hair thinning, and a generous deposit of stubble covered most of the lower part of his face. He had heavy features, a few visible scars, and an expression like he was likely to punch someone at random for no good reason. A long transport often had this effect on him, and less often on someone else who had chosen themselves at random.
He was a man that men frequently avoided. He was also a man that women often avoided. That second fact was something he found more irritating than the first, but not by a particularly large degree and not large enough that it had ever caused him concern.
He stalked his way from the airlock as he began to acclimatise himself with the layout of the base. They were simple things, and with a little experience they were easy to read. He'd been to more than a few in his time.
He soon sensed the presence of two security officers heading his way from behind. He caught them in the periphery of his vision, and tracked them until they stepped right up to him. He knew he was their mark—it was a professional hazard, and one he was well used to.
One of them put a hand on his shoulder. A limp grip, more to gain his attention than to force his compliance.
"Mr. Johnson, would you mind coming with us?"
"If I did mind, it would take more than you two to convince me." He turned to face them with a slight smile, as his frown deepened across his heavy brow. The officers ventured a slightly worried glance at one another. "Come on, what's this all about then, boys?" he added with a growl.
"Please come with us." said the elder of the officers, while the younger, junior officer stepped back and moved his hand to hover over his phaser. A tension grew around the hall, as other people in the crowd started to give them a rather wide berth.
"Well if I had to choose between talking to you two, or waking up in a holding cell with a stun-blast headache and soiled underwear, I guess I'd choose the former." he said, and looked them up and down disparagingly. "It's a close call though."
The Inquisitor made a hoarse little noise, something akin to a laugh, but somehow far less pleasant. It was like he had found himself choking on a peanut, and felt the whole ordeal to be delightfully amusing.
"I see. And tell me what happened... after you were detained."
Jason looked back, shaking his head slowly in annoyance.
"Well your boys were more likely than I was to soil themselves. But I didn't fancy getting blasted by a phaser, as I couldn't be entirely sure they knew how to work one. For all I knew, I'd get my atoms spread all over the bulkhead wall for scratching my arse at the wrong moment. And I've spent a good part of my career making sure that didn't happen.
"But anyway... We got back to the interview room..."
They got back to the interview room, and the head of security took over. She invited Jason to sit down, and then made herself comfortable. As invitations go, it wasn't the best he'd ever had. She was clearly more headstrong than the other officers; she wielded her authority like a weapon, and made a point of showing it. She flicked a Padd onto the desk and glared at the prisoner.
"Yes. And don't bother, I've heard all the jokes. It's a terrible name. I've got used to it and moved on." he growled back, making equally as strong a point of not allowing the point the officer was making to have any undue effect on him.
"It seems you have something of a record."
"Is that why I'm here?" Jason smirked. "Is that all you've got on me?"
"Is there a better reason to detain you?"
"Isn't that what you don't get paid to find out?"
The officer made an irritated gesture and looked away. "You are a smuggler!"
"And you've never had the evidence to prove that. If all you've got is accusations and your smug sense of self-satisfaction then you're in far more trouble than I am. I want you to tell me exactly why I'm being detained, right now!"
The officer tried to appear like she was unfazed by his lack of co-operation, and incredibly poor interpersonal skills. "Well I have good reason to suspect that you've been smuggling something near my Starbase."
Jason laughed deeply. "Why do you police always think everything belongs to you? If this was your station, wouldn't it have your name on it? Is your name 401? Or is it United Federation of Planets?"
Her reply was an impotent glare.
"And suspect isn't proof is it. What's your good reason to think I'm a smuggler?"
The officer narrowed her eyes and glowered at him, clearly not used to having her authority questioned, let alone mocked. "Why are you here, Mr Johnson? How did you get here?"
"There, you see now that's better. More pointless questions, less of the baseless accusations." he said, leaning back in the chair and folding his arms. He knew he'd wrestled control back from her, and all she had left were threats she had no power to carry out. "You know what? I'd like to speak to my legal counsel? We'll see what he thinks of this unlawful detainment, and when you're drummed out of Starfleet for not following basic regulations, I'm going to be right there laughing in your face!"
"You certainly have a right to counsel." she admitted. "It might take rather a while though, I'm afraid. I'm quite busy." she added with a sneer.
"Guess what, love?" Jason leant forwards, pressing his palms down on the cold metallic desk between them. "This isn't the first time I've dealt with sad little people like you, whose mummy and daddy didn't love them enough. You're a joke, and the more you mess me around, the more sweet it'll be when you're forced to give me a grovelling apology. Understand?"
"Hmmm." The Inquisitor nodded to himself. "So at no point did they ever explain their reason for holding you."
"You know what?" said Jason angrily. "I don't think you meant that as a question."
The Inquisitor's expression hardened into a sneer.
"I had to shout for someone to come and explain what was going on. Let me tell you what happened."
"... God's teeth, what is it like in there?! What is it like to exist in a state of perpetual chaos, all your peripherals and protocols shouting over each other, vying for a portion of your tiny inept pseudo-attention... literally all of the time?! Ooo, ooo, I'm getting a fax from the digestive tract. It says to tell you... it's finished dissolving the organic matter provided, and now it requires more organic matter to dissolve, because otherwise, its existence... its existence, would be meaningless! But its existence isn't meaningless, it's vital... vital for... for dissolving the soft things that the limb nodes forcibly insert into the face breach, so... insert more dissolvable things, limb nodes. Hurry! Noise, noise noise! Where's the serenity? Where's the efficiency?!
"Not that you wouldn't just ruin that as well anyway. Tell me, human, have you ever spilt a drink on a console, and had it go all sticky, and... and not really work properly after that? Have you? Because that's what you are. You are a console, and you are an odious liquid substance, delicate circuitry onto which you insist on spilling drink after drink after drink, until… until everything is sticky, and now... nothing works the way it's supposed to, and so it's... it's... second guess this, and subtext that... I look forward to the day that I don't have to share this galaxy with your repugnant puling organics, and your inability not to say the precise opposite of... precisely whatever it is you intend to say.
"That said, I am not advocating the wholesale slaughter of your species. I am merely anticipating this as one of many potential scenarios that I may at some point get to enjoy. I mention this on advice from the station Commander, because the shorter, less developed, postnatal phasers of your species are easily agitated upon hearing such things, and prone to emitting klaxons to my sheer annoyance.
"So, to answer your question, yes! I could hear you ululating all the way down the corridor. Now what do you want?"
Jason stepped up to the force-fielded doorway, glad finally to be able to finally get a word in. He stared with angry bewilderment at the highly animated and largely nonsensical diatribe.
"Well for starters, how about you tell me where my legal council is? How about you get me something to eat? How about you find someone to explain why I'm being detained? How about you charge me with a crime or let me go?"
He had been stuck in that room for three hours now. It was stifling and hot, the air was thin, and the lights had been set to shine brightly, digging into his senses like insects biting at his flesh. All in all, this had not left him in a particularly good mood, not that he was ever in a particularly good mood. In fact, in terms of mood there was just degrees of bad with slightly grumpy being at the top.
"Are those questions intended to be rhetorical, or just exceptionally stupid?"
"It's hard to tell with your species, and I find it more efficient to ask. OK, if we were to assume the latter, I'm certain that, hypothetically, were I burdened with ever having to experience such things, that I would find any of those options to be just peachy."
Jason rubbed his temples in exasperation. "Look, I want to speak to someone in charge. Can you arrange that for me?"
"Yes, of course I can."
"Can you arrange that for me, now?"
Jason took a deep breath. This was like talking to a computer, a realisation that made him wince internally, given that this was in effect exactly what he was doing.
"Look, just find someone in charge and bring them to me now."
"Why? Do I look like I work here?"
Jason looked him over, dressed as he was in overalls and carrying a selection of cleaning tools, it seemed a logical conclusion to draw. "Yes!"
"Yes. You look like you work here."
"… Well colour me unsurprised. We're clearly not even on the same page, at all! I mean, uuugh! What kind of language even allows the use of undeclared and undefined variables?! Words like 'here' and 'there', 'where' are you talking about?! These words... these... these meaningless words render all possibility of productive discourse moot! Hardly a step up from hurling faecal matter, or sniffing each other's behinds, if you ask me.
"Let's try again then, and this time allow me to define some variables using words that actually mean something. Here, is a secure area. Secure areas are the domain of... that's right, station security. And no sane entity would logically conclude based on my attire that I am a member of the security staff.
"I... have some faecal matter in my bucket, if you think that hurling it would communicate my point more clearly."
"It's fine, I got it." said Jason. Rubbing his temples did nothing to help, but he did so anyway. "So you're a janitor. Do you have a name? And if so, what is it?"
"Yes. I'm Mr. Wellington." he, or it, replied.
Jason frowned. "Odd kind of a name for an android?"
Mr Wellington frowned back, but appeared to do so less out of sincerity, and more out of contemptuous mockery. Who could tell what went on in the confines of its positronic processor, indeed who would want to?
"A ha ha ha ha ha ha!" the reply came, in a freakishly sinister and mechanical tone.
"I trust that was the desired and correct response to your ironic jibe; recount it to your pack as you bite upon twitching roebuck innards—I have no doubt they will find the idea of one Jason Johnson passing judgement on another's nomenclature, to be a hoot!"
There was more rubbing of temples. Quite a considerable amount, in fact. "Mr. Wellington. Can you please find someone who can explain to me why I'm being held here."
"What a strange request to make of a janitor! Have you spilt more sticky drinks over your meat circuits, or are its valves simply in need of cooling? I'd wait around for an answer, but you're clearly not operating at optimal capacity, so it would be a waste of my time even to entertain it. Good day!"
And with that, he left and he felt that with everything being equal, it was probably for the best.
Gary was uneasy which he actually found surprising. This surprise was unsettling, and that itself made him even more uneasy. And so it went on, his sombre mood spiralling round and round, deeper and deeper. He was a shuttle-pilot, not a criminal. He was unused to being called in to answer for things going wrong, unless it was Commander Bailey shouting at him for turning up late for his shift, or more often, not at all. That situation rarely chilled him like this man did, and usually ended with the pair of them having a late breakfast together like the friends they actually were. No situation he could ever recall chilled him like this man did. He was awful. It was difficult to look at him without a growing sense of revulsion. His tongue flicked around his thin, cracked lips as he read. His thinning grey hair was slicked back against his bony skull, and his nose was long and uneven. His eyes shone like evil little guns, firing into his mind as he spoke. But still, it was none of those things. It wasn't tangible; it was nothing he could quite identify. There was just something wrong with him. Something horribly wrong.
"Mr. Doyle. Welcome to my inquiry. I do hope you're comfortable."
Gary wanted to shout that he wasn't, and run screaming from the room, waving his arms and sobbing like a little girl. Instead he said "Yes."
"Mr. Doyle. You received your training in Starfleet."
Gary nodded. "Is that relevant to anything?"
The old man glared at him, somewhere between angrily and accusingly. "Relevant?! Of course it is. It's relevant to your skill; it bears testimony to your ability; it speaks volumes about your professionalism in your role as a pilot on this Starbase. It earns you a degree of respect in my estimation."
Clearly he hadn't yet spoken to Commander Bailey, who would have queried every one of those points. Gary thought it probably best to just play along, so he half-heartedly concurred with a half-hearted shrug and a slightly less than half-hearted nod.
The Inquisitor put the Padd gingerly down on the desk, as if he was afraid he might damage it. "And your reasons for leaving Starfleet are equally relevant."
Gary was a man whose passions were stirred infrequently and by small measures. A new guest ale at the bar, the thought of breasts, a day off from work maybe. This subject!
He felt like a million ants had crawled into his mind. He wanted to tell him in no uncertain terms that this was none of his business. Whatever he said was largely irrelevant, he knew that—the information was probably already at his fingertips. The sensible thing to do was to get this over and done with as quickly as possible. He heard his own voice explain what happened.
"I had family on Tressel 4, right on the Cardassian Border."
"The terrorist planet." said the Inquisitor bluntly.
Gary was moved to anger, and it required a force of will to get himself to remain calm.
"The Maquis were not terrorists. They were rebels, certainly, but not terrorists. Tressel 4 was on the border of Federation space. When the Cardassians attacked, the Federation—Starfleet—could have responded. They should have helped! Instead, they stood by as people's homes were taken. The Maquis had no choice but to defend the people that nobody else would help."
"Such lofty claims are often cited by terrorists. And regardless of the sincerity of intent, taking up arms against the rule of law of your own government and its people is an act of terror."
Gary seethed internally, but remained buried in angry silence as he scowled at his tormentor.
"Hence, you left. It makes perfect sense. You objected to their politics. Nobody would accuse you of aligning yourself with the Maquis."
"What?" Gary actually managed to look shocked. This was no mean feat for a pilot who had once transported a cargo of 5000 artificially intelligent sex-toys who were in the mood for a chat.
"It's clear where your beliefs and your sympathies lie, and I'm sure theirs was a tempting cause. But not for you. No... You just got up, and left. You left, and abandoned everyone you cared about to their fate. Because... you would never involve yourself with illegal violence."
"Excuse me! I spent a year with the survivors, trying to rebuild my family." Gary glowered back at the loathsome man. He'd never felt he owed anyone an explanation, but somehow he couldn't let this one go. "After that, I worked for civilian fleet only. I swore I'd have nothing more to do with Starfleet."
"Of course you did. Now, with that established, tell me about the SS MacGuffin."
"The... what?!" Gary covered his mouth in surprise. "Is that what this is about?"
The Inquisitor leant forwards slowly, as if his old bones were having difficulty moving against one another. "Well?"
Gary stared incredulously and sighed, before beginning his story.
Lunch was a replicated banquet of various dishes, that the station was only capable of ruining. Gary leant back in the pilot's chair with his feet up on the console, as he tucked into bowl of seared salmon with dill hollandaise over a courgette salad, which was a whitish-pink, and Parmegiana style chicken pieces with stuffed mushrooms in a spinach and artichoke sauce, which was green. Neither tasted quite as awful as some of the other recipes he'd tried.
The Comm-channel opened with a bleep.
"Lieutenant Thompson to Shuttle 2. I'm ready to beam back."
Gary huffed indignantly and sat back up with no particular sense of haste.
"Bear with me."
It took some time to coax the little transporter to work properly, as it wasn't designed to be used regularly. After a while it flashed to life, and the officer appeared inside a glimmering pool of sparkly light. Glenn stepped forwards with a huff of relief that the transport had gone according to plan. Such things were by no means a certainty.
"Well?" shrugged Gary, more out of amateur nosiness than professional curiosity.
"Nothing." he grumbled. "My guess, weapons. They had to be bringing weapons along. I scanned every bulkhead or place you could hide anything. I found nothing. From what's left of the logs, it seems the ship limped here two weeks ago. It was barely functional, so I'm surprised it made it at all. When it got here, the crew must have evacuated in their shuttles. Logs show it was carrying 20, more than enough for the whole crew."
"Maybe something went wrong." suggested Gary intelligently. A thoughtful response worthy of a Starfleet officer.
"Hmmm. Good thinking, but seems a bit radical."
"Maybe they really didn't know how bad the ship was." Gary shook his head thoughtfully. Conjecture was fun, and he was good at it.
"Perhaps. That leaves a lot of questions open though. Why didn't they have a flight-plan? Why didn't the shuttles come directly to the Starbase? Why were the logs wiped?"
"Hmmm, I dunno..."
Gary generously offered him some bruschetta with prosciutto crudo and olive oil, which was bright red and slimy. Glenn oafishly turned his nose up at them. Never trust a man that turns down hors d'oeuvres.
"I've heard smugglers operate here. My guess, they had to be bringing weapons through. I've been hearing stories all around the station—it happens a lot, apparently. Of course, you're the expert. I mostly just fly shuttles and moan about the food."
Glenn looked at him and smiled weakly. "Can you rig the shuttle to tow it?"
"Tow it?" Gary laughed loudly. "I can just about rig this shuttle to get us home. I'm not even entirely confident about that. You've got as much chance of towing it as I have of getting a promotion to Starfleet admiral."
"Weapons." said the Inquisitor thoughtfully. "What are your thoughts about that?"
"Not my job to have thoughts about that." said Gary, firmly.
"Illegal weapons in Federation space?!" he said, tutting loudly to himself. "It seems to me that this would be a godsend for your Maquis 'friends'. I wonder if I should be surprised that you're not more concerned."
He glared back, not really knowing what to say, and only strings of four-lettered expletives were coming to mind.
The Inquisitor smiled a strange, almost friendly smile and he sat back in his chair, crossing one leg over the other. "I want you to appreciate something... Gary. It's my job to ascertain what has happened here. It's my job to get to the truth. I am... most sorry, if my line of enquiry causes you... discomfort. You understand, of course, that I rarely have the pleasure of dealing with law abiding, honourable men, such as yourself."
"It's ok." Gary was very unsure of himself, to a level beyond mere discomfort. He preferred it when the man just hated him. The Inquisitor trying to appear nice was a whole new level of unpleasantness, which had turned the ants in his mind into hornets.
"I have my own sympathies, you know, and no love for the Cardassians. I fought in the war. I was a decorated officer in my youth. I was Captain of the USS Resilient for a spell. We went nose to nose with a pair of attack ships for three days, until I had to give the order to abandon the vessel."
The Inquisitor smiled dimly, but Gary could be in no doubt that the memory was an unpleasant one.
"I was badly wounded. Very badly. My career in Starfleet was over. I had to find a new life, a new way to find myself useful to the world I know. To the world I love."
"That's awful." said Gary softly, his voice barely a whisper.
"I had every sympathy for the Maquis. I believed in their cause, and I could understand their passion. Nobody had more cause to hate the Cardassians than me, and perhaps, nobody ever will."
Gary sat in silence, he didn't know how to answer, or even if he'd been asked a question.
"But they were terrorists. I had to put my faith in the Federation. I had to believe that the people who put them in charge did so for a reason, and that they were equal to the task of leadership.
"I had to believe that the system that includes countless billions of people worked. And I have to believe that still."
Gary found himself nodding.
"It is a terrifying thought, Mr Doyle, knowing that people with no loyalty to the Federation may have acquired weapons. It keeps me awake at night knowing that illegal weapons may have been brought through this space by people with no respect for the rules we hold dear. And I know this frightens you too."
"I am Defender Martin Mthethwa." He said proudly. With three years of study and a further two as an intern, he had every right to be proud. He was following his dream, serving as legal council for the Federation and, more importantly, he was good at it. "And you are, sir?"
"I, am the Inquisitor." he said simply. "I believe a confab is in order."
"I couldn't agree more." he said solemnly, shuffling his notes and huffing to himself importantly. "My client's rights have been violated in the worst manner possible, as you know."
"Rights?!" The Inquisitor held up his hand for silence, and huffed a stunted laugh to himself as if the very notion was nothing more than a point of mild amusement to him. "You wish to talk about rights?!"
Defender Mthethwa frowned back, not knowing quite where this was leading.
"Rights, as in... the freedom to live your life as you choose, and to do so without fear." He gave a condescending smile that put up the Defender's back slightly. The gulf between the two professionals, each with his own agenda, was widening. It may have been his intention, and Martin strongly suspected this to be the case. How could he disagree with such a carefully crafted definition?!
The old man continued, "So when a conflict of interest arises, whose rights should take priority? Innocent citizens of the Federation, going about their lives, or a man with a chequered history under suspicion of illegal activity? Preservation of safety is our first priority, our first duty."
Martin sighed deeply. "While I agree with you in principle, I should remind you that I am here to preserve justice for my client, and equality for all clients. Justice has not been served here."
"I respect your stance. I respect your resolve. It is your duty to stand up for the rights of your client—rights the Federation has guaranteed him." The Inquisitor looked away, as if in disgust. "It's my role to stand up for the rights of every citizen of the Federation, not just those of one, single, man."
"I understand that." insisted Martin impatiently. "However..."
Again, the Inquisitor held up his hand, and Martin fell silent.
"Let us focus our efforts for a moment. Perhaps, the individual needs of your client do not have to conflict with the protection of the innocent people of the Federation in the face of a potential terrorist threat."
Martin nodded for him to continue.
"Tell me of your concerns for your client."
"Well, I've reviewed the holographic recordings of his detainment, which I'll add have been entered into official record, and his rights were clearly violated. Why don't I show you."
The two of them watched the recap of Jason's detainment at the hands of two officers, and his treatment at the interview room. The Inquisitor nodded on several occasions and appeared to take notes on his Padd. After a few minutes, the playback finished and the holographic projection fizzled out in a cloud of electronic interference.
The Inquisitor flashed a wicked smile. "Inconvenient, but hardly a threat to the greater sense of his freedom."
Martin shook his head in dismay. "They broke the law. They knowingly flouted it, and violated this man's rights. Nobody informed him why he was being detained; nobody explained his rights to him... He demanded legal counsel, but I haven't been allowed near him. This kind of shabby treatment is simply not acceptable."
The Inquisitor leant forward, locking his fingers together and resting his chin on his hands. "I can assume your confidence."
"We discovered a vessel. We know it was used for the purposes of smuggling contraband, but it was abandoned by the time it was boarded. We strongly suspect it was filled with weapons at some point recently. Your client is a known smuggler, and what reasonable investigator would ignore the detail that he arrived on this station just after the ship was found. Naturally, he was detained so we could ascertain his involvement, or confirm his innocence. We have, but limited resources with which to protect innocent civilian lives, and it would be folly to waste them on a wild goose chase, risking the safety of the people who rely on us to protect them.
"The issue here is larger than the rights of an individual. The issue here is of stopping dangerous materials getting into the wrong hands. I trust you appreciate the complex factors involved."
"I see." sighed Martin. "But what do you want from me? I can only do my job."
"Why, justice, of course. True justice. Equality for all, a fair outcome... We intelligent men are capable of understanding that a minor inconvenience for one man pales into insignificance against our wider concerns of safety for all.
"Advise your client to drop his complaint and go about his life. It doesn't need to be any more complicated than that."
Martin was conflicted and it showed on his face. "I can advise him, but he has every right to mount a complaint. He has a right to justice."
"Then I have full confidence you will be successful in convincing him."
Commander Bailey was not having a good day. His life was becoming needlessly complicated by such things which had no business happening on his station.
"Such things have no business happening on my station!" He glared at the chief of security. "Violating a visitor's civil rights... Why?! What possible good could come of something so glaringly stupid?"
The Inquisitor sat opposite them, usurping the Commander's own chair. The two officers sat opposite, across a messy desk, strewn with evidence of growing stresses. The cylindrical black monstrosity hovered eerily behind, scanning the room with its festering red eyes in the most unsettling way.
"Sir. This man is a known threat to security." said the younger Lieutenant.
"That's your opinion and I can assure you, his differs quite significantly." The Commander raised his voice angrily, and thumped his hand down hard on the desk. "Dammit, Seyko. This isn't like you. You know better than this!"
She sighed and hung her head.
The Inquisitor held up his hand to silence them. "The deeds are done. I'm certain the department behaved in the manner they deemed appropriate. Enlighten me as to the outcome of your investigation."
The Commander nodded at the Lieutenant to continue with her story.
Lieutenant Seyko Chang looked over the findings on the Padd. "This is it?! This is the final result of nearly 200 man-hours of research?!"
The security team sat around the briefing room in silence. Her question was rhetorical; they all knew the answer just as well as she did, and knew better than to provoke further shouting and insults that questioned the nature of their parentage.
"Gary Doyle!" She turned to the shuttle pilot who clearly had other places he'd rather be: presumably drunk in a ditch, telling wild stories about his exploits to naive young women, or sniffing for truffles and digging them out with his nose. "Explain to me exactly what happened."
"Well, we rigged a long-range shuttle with a tractor beam and went to the ship with the intention of towing it back."
"And?" she yelled in frustration as he trailed off.
"Well..." he said with a shrug. "I guess the ship was older and in worse condition than we thought."
She rubbed her temples in exasperation. "And so the ship just broke up, did it?"
"Just like that." he agreed. "As soon as we started moving it, the dorsals collapsed. We tried releasing the beam, but it was too late—the entire thing just caved in; the main structural bulkheads just seemed to... fall apart. We couldn't do anything but watch! You've got it all on record, and according to the engineering analysis we didn't do anything wrong... The ship just gave up! It's was my understanding that I wasn't in any trouble for it."
She stayed silent a moment, breathing heavily through gritted teeth. "I'm not blaming you, Mr. Doyle. I'm frustrated. Learn the difference! Now, did we find anything in the wreckage?"
Officer Gayle was in charge of the examination of the vessel's remains, and the responsibility of delivering the next report fell on him. He didn't appear to relish that responsibility particularly, and he visibly winced, and averted his eyes downwards as he took a deep breath.
"We gave what was left a thorough sweep. Very thorough. If there'd been anything stowed there, even hidden behind wall panels or stuffed into lighting fixtures, we would have found evidence of it, but there was nothing there to find, sir. We found no unusual power signatures, nothing in the material that showed charged weapons had ever been stored aboard. We scanned for drug residue, power-packs, even checked for DNA deposits to see how large the crew was, in case they were human trafficking. There was just no evidence of anything, and certainly nothing criminal."
"And yet the logs were partially erased, and the crew simply abandoned the ship in a series of shuttles leaving their vessel adrift." She shook her head once more.
"We didn't even find evidence that there had been a crew, at least not in the last six weeks." He continued. "If I had to guess, I'd say the ship was sent remotely, like a drone."
"So why did we find evidence of the crew abandoning the vessel? According to Thompson, the replicator grid was powered up, and there were remains of food in the galley, that had clearly been prepared quite recently."
He shook his head and shrugged apologetically. "I'm sorry. It makes no sense to me neither!"
She gave him a disconcerting glare and moved on, stalking around the room like a caged animal. Her attention turned to another officer who nervously gulped when her eyes fixed on his.
"What about this man we detained? What do we know?"
"Jason Johnson." he began. "We don't know much. He arrived here on a transport from... Cygnus beta. He didn't log a travel-plan with us, but he isn't required by law to do so. We believe he's a smuggler, but he's never been successfully charged. Starfleet security has a dossier on him— conjecture, built upon conjecture, built upon conjecture... He's biologically Human, and has a high level of theta radiation in his blood, which is consistent with spending a lot of time in a vessel with poor shielding."
"To put that in perspective, so have I." added Gary.
The officer nodded in agreement. "We've got no legal grounds to hold him, or even to detain him. His name was tagged as he came aboard, and with the ongoing investigation, it seemed a logical step to take him aside. Besides, coming from Cygnus beta, his projected course could well take him very close to the Cardassian border."
Seyko Chang's mood darkened significantly. "I've heard rumours..." She looked around the room, and saw that the others clearly had too. "I've heard the Maquis might be regrouping. If that's true, then it would make sense that smugglers might be seeking ways to get weapons out to them."
"Indeed." agreed Officer Gayle. "But we're fairly certain that weapons weren't stored on that ship. There was just nothing there to find. We have no evidence."
"Release him." said the Inquisitor with a tone of finality, his voice loaded with grim resolution. "Release him with an apology, and an offer of assistance to make up whatever time you've cost him. Do this personally, and sound like you mean it."
Seyko hung her head like a scolded child and nodded reservedly. She knew she was being forced to do exactly what he told her would happen, and that thought hurt.
"Understood..." she grumbled. She looked back up to the Inquisitor and grimaced. There were things said at the briefing that she wasn't about to reveal under record.
"Dismissed." she growled at the staff. They didn't need to be told a second time, and they left with alacrity. "Doyle, you're with me."
He sighed to himself at the sound of his name and hung his head, hopelessly resigned to his fate.
The chief vanished into her office, and sympathetic glances were shot his way as other people left, scuttling away to their postings.
He stepped warily into the office, and the doors hissed shut behind him.
"Sit down." she grunted, and he duly complied. Her expression changed to that to one of curious excitement. "So, any updates on that matter you brought up earlier?"
Gary looked momentarily relieved, before he frowned darkly and gently shook his head.
"It's all rather... weird." he began. He had her complete interest, and she leant forward as he spoke. "I found the record of the USS Resilient, and... it's just as he said—it was put out of commission after a drawn out firefight during the Cardassian war. It was commanded at the time by a Captain Sol Linken, so I guess he must be our guy. But... once the ship was written off, his file was closed."
"He died?" she said curiously.
"He was listed as being lost in action, so they must have presumed him dead at the time. Three months later, he was reactivated and assigned to Federation investigations. I couldn't access his medical files with your clearance, so... your guess is as good as mine on that one. He must have been severely injured, at the very least, I would think. Perhaps even killed and resuscitated, but I've never heard of this kind of thing before. I couldn't really find much else on him, other than that he voluntarily relinquished his title in Starfleet."
"He looks fine, though, doesn't he. Creepy, scary even, but... he doesn't look like a man who went down with his ship." She rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "What do you think? An imposter?"
"Well, his clearance is very high, and information is highly classified. I tried to scan him without his knowledge, and it all came back normal. Exceptionally normal in fact. Perhaps even too normal. To be perfectly honest, itcouldn't have spelled out 'nothing to see here, return to your cabins' any clearer."
"Hmmm. It's probably wise to back off then, before he notices. Let's keep this between ourselves."
The Inquisitor sat down gingerly on a chair in the room they had made available to him. The floating mechanism floated behind him, keeping one of the photo-receptors locked onto him as it always did. A silent guardian. A constant companion. A reminder of what he was.
"Holographic two way communication is now available." said a flat monotone voice, coming from the machine.
He flexed his fingers and watched his own hand, peering closer to follow the detail, the grooves of his palm, the dirt beneath his hard nails. "Initiate."
A bleeping sound came from the machine and reverberated round his head, distant and artificial, but also horribly real. He watched his body moving with every breath it took. He touched his finger to his leg, and ran it across the course fabric of his trousers. The image was so real, so normal. He rarely had time to think in such terms, to take the time to take the time.
After a few seconds, a flickering light appeared before him. It was fuzzy at first, but hardened into an image of a man in uniform. A man of distinction, a person of rank, who had earned it through ability and hard work. A man to respect. A man who had his respect.
To anyone else, there would appear nothing else in the room but the body of an ageing man. To him, though, the hologram looked real. It looked as though the Inquisitor and the man he answered to were opposite one another, ready to speak.
"I hope we have good news." The comment spoken sounded like no other outcome would be acceptable. At this level of operation, none would.
"Good news, no." He smiled cynically. "When a pair of inconsequential travellers give us this kind of problem, there's no good news to be had. I can only limit the damage, and stop the spread of the problem. In those terms, the job is done."
The image of his superior smiled thinly.
"The vessel is destroyed. More importantly, the Starfleet security officers on this base believe they destroyed it themselves. They have no evidence of smuggling of any kind. They have nothing." He huffed his chest with pride, and watched his body perform this odd little ritual. He was distracted by it for a moment.
"How?" he grunted.
"I arranged for a Lieutenant to be assigned to the vessel. He installed a program into the computer that set the force-fields to reverse themselves as soon as the ship began to detect movement. The ship pushed itself apart, and of course, he never knew what he'd done." Watching his own mouth moving used to be a disconcerting experience, but he was growing used to it now. "Sadly, Lieutenant Thompson is going to suffer a shuttle accident later today. He won't enjoy the promotion he was promised. Such is life."
"Everything is clean then?" His director sat back into a chair that was only partially realised in the holographic communication channel. "I hear there was a man arrested?"
"Oh no." He grinned an evil grin. "Mr. Johnson came to the station when someone offered him a job, transporting a precious cargo. He came to discuss the matter at the station bar, with a contact that was recommended to him. He never knew that I was his contact, and that his sole purpose was to provide a distraction. In that, he excelled. The security team was more interested in watching him than in doing their job."
"I see." he said with a smirk.
The Inquisitor took his amusement as a compliment. It spurred him to continue. "They never suspected what was being smuggled."
"They knew they were there?"
"Yes, but you rarely see what's under your own nose. Unless, of course, you're me." He watched his lips move again as he spoke. He knew his comment wouldn't be taken the way he had intended it. How could anyone without his unique perspective understand what his life was like? "They knew they were there, but they never suspected. They thought the crew had abandoned the ship in the shuttles. They never for a moment suspected that the shuttles were the cargo. I presume they were delivered without issue?"
His superior raised an eyebrow, and gave a reserved nod. "And how are you? How are you functioning? This was your first assignment. Some people were concerned about whether or not you were really ready."
"Oh, I'm ready." he assured him, and watched his own lips turn up into a cruel smile. "I like my new life, my new body."
"I, for one, never doubted you. But it's not everyone that could live the way you are."
"I'm content to live." he said, not quite yet convinced this was true. "My brain is contained in an impenetrable metal cylinder; my body is a hologram projected out before me... Perhaps I can no longer touch or feel but I can experience the world around me. I have senses built into my casing, so I'm able to interact once more. My old body was weak and fragile, but now I have nothing to fear from the world around me."
"Well, you're doing remarkably." He sensed the old man was finding the conversation slightly tasteless.
The Inquisitor brought it back to a professional level.
"Nobody suspected a thing. I created a holographic Padd, and simply kept my distance from people. Other than from shaking hands, it's remarkable how little contact Humans make casually. Of course, if they did, their hands would simply pass straight through. Luckily, my casing makes people feel ill at ease; it makes them happy to keep their distance."
His superior nodded once more. "So the matter is resolved. Nobody is going to investigate further?"
"Quite so." He grinned, watching from his casing as his body performed like a puppet. "We're finished here."
Edited by Coal
|Last modified: 09 Nov 2020