Episode 3: Foxes and Henhouses
Location: USS Defiant, Port 13, Starbase Arcadia
Timeline: MD 0
The airlock opened in front of Captain Reynolds, revealing a long window lined corridor leading to the main portion of Arcadia. Artificial sunlight filtered through the water containment lakes above. For all intents and purposes, it was a calming serene visage. But Reynolds did not feel calmed by it. The doors had been opened and their mission to uncover the parasite infiltration had begun. She had already donned the grey and yellow starbase uniform, but her companions stuck to their traditional uniforms.
She turned to face each of them. "Alright, everyone. Pressure is on now. Keep yourselves safe and...just don't eat anything weird." She grimaced briefly, preventing her hand from drifting to her neck. "You know where you need to head?"
Elias nodded and patted the small case he had slung over his shoulder. "Yes Captain, we will keep our communicators on a scrambled channel. Arcadia's internal sensors shouldn't pick up our communications. One other thing," he said and brought out some small cases for each person, "I took the liberty of fitting these cases with scramblers which will deflect any security scans. Inside each is a phaser, but I would recommend only removing it in a emergency, Starbase Security will take notice if we are armed."
Charlotte took her case last before patted Ely's shoulder, in a display of appreciation from a senior officer. "Thank you, Ely. This is excellent. I just hope none of us need to use these."
Maralen took the case with a small smile, pleased at the man's initiative and strategic thinking. "Agreed. Thank you. And good thinking." he echoed. He did not want to sound as though he was simply repeating what Charlotte had said, but he did want the man to know that he was as appreciative as she was.
"Be safe." As the other two left, she turned to her remaining companions. "I've been called to the Command Tower to debrief with Admiral Haster. I don't need either of you to come, but I'd appreciate the back up. It's a risky situation, so I'll understand if you want to remain here."
Maralen was right behind his commanding officer, every sense he had on alert, though he did not look like it. His external manner gave no hint of his internal readiness as even his tail was still, coiled about his waist loosely. He was in Calm Efficiency Mode now. And he was not about to let her walk in there alone; gods only knew how many of the staff on this station might already have been infiltrated, including the admiral. Everyone was suspect until proven clean.
"I will go with you." he said. His tone betrayed nothing, but his eyes held a touch of concern in their depths, shown now only for her. He would shut it all down when they moved farther in, but he wanted her to know that she definitely had his support... and all of those well-trained reflexes backing her up.
Kenna just stood silent for a moment, her gaze considering. "Sir, I would recommend you take another few officers, under cover."
Charlotte nodded. It was a good suggestion. "I can't disagree. But coming in with a small army could arouse suspicion, where an XO and StratOps officer would appear innocuous. Do you have any suggestions for how to get them in there?"
Maralen considered. Both of them had valid points. Strategically, the fewer pieces that they had on the board, the fewer chances of something going wrong or someone getting caught. However, that also limited their assets when and if they needed them. Each alternative was a double-edged sword that could slice and dice the enemy or be used against them.
"In fact, our appearance would be considered fairly normal." he agreed with Charlotte. "If we have too many people disembark, it may raise suspicions." He did not like the idea of not having backup, though. "But Lieutenant Commander Wolf is correct as well. Backup is always good." He paused, giving some thought to methods of getting others in without raising suspicion.
Transporters were out as those would be detected. Simply walking in was out for the same reason, though the detection method was different. Internal sensors would also detect movement in the Jeffries Tubes. "Perhaps we could request permission for a few others to come on board to consult with starbase staff on varying matters." He was not suggesting it directly so much as thinking aloud. But he did not like that idea either as it had a ring of falsity about it. "No... that won't work either." He sighed. What was wrong with him today! Why could he not seem to engage that strategic mind of his?
"I'm open to suggestion, but I think it might just need to be us," Charlotte said. She led the two onto a speed rail train. Once the door closed, they began sailing towards the center of the station. The scenery was pleasant, with the large water pools and false sunlight giving the impression of a terrestrial setting. The pleasant views didn't alleviate much pressure though. Charlotte decided to do that herself. "After this, you should both take advantage of this shore leave. We've all been pretty high strung. You deserve a break for a while. I certainly know I need one..."
Maralen almost laughed at that statement. Almost. Compared to what he had lived through under the ThoughtSingers, this mission was... well, it wasn't a cake-walk, but it wasn't making his fur gray or fall out either. And he knew that she was right. Just because they had wanted their Servant-Tools frazzled, pained, guilt-ridden and a hundred other bad emotions didn't mean that he had to live that way now. It didn't even make that normal or desirable. Even the Realm had allowed their representatives to have their own lives, time off from the work they demanded of them. This was like that, he told himself.
"I definitely think it would be a good idea to step away from the stress, at least for a short time, to regroup and rebuild our strength for what comes next." he agreed, keeping his statements vague enough that they could refer to any mission Starfleet might see fit to send them on rather than the specific mission they had set for themselves. "Did you have any specific plans?" he asked of either of the two traveling with him.
"Going out for a pool night at the bars on station with Holland and Isley," Charlotte said. "But that's mostly a girls night thing I believe. I've ceded authority on that to Holland." She put on fake airs of seriousness for the last sentence. "Other than that, just keeping it open for now. I'm planning to do a little stargazing out on the artificial lakes one night. Looks like it'd be pretty scenic."
Maralen smiled at that thought, remembering lying in the grass on Ledara and listening to the world around him, taking in the sounds and smells. Granted, he had been too young at the time to be allowed to do this at night, but nature had always been something he enjoyed when he got the chance. "Would you mind some company for that?" he asked. If he was intruding, he would withdraw the request/offer; but it never hurt to put it out there.
"The more the merrier," Reynolds replied. "Otherwise, its just going to be me out there, waxing philosophical."
The rail came to a halt at the base of the Command Tower. The tallest building on Arcadia by a long shot, it extended to the highest point within the station, making physical contact with the top of the dome. The more intimidating fact was that it did this downward as well, extending through space that was otherwise used for storage and machinery. On a good day, the building looked daunting. Under these circumstances, it took on a more threatening tone.
Charlotte led her little entourage into the turbolift. "Admiralty Suite."
As the lift began to rise rapidly, they were treated to an exterior view of the tower, watching the station's scenery become more distant as they rose. The lift eventually slowed, and a small bell tone indicated their arrival.
The Admiralty Suite was one of the more recently completed locations within the station. It had numerous offices which could make their windows opaque as needed. but in its unoccupied state, the level was one big panoramic view of the station. It had large curved windows which extended beyond the rest of the tower, giving an encompassing view of the station and surrounding space. Straight ahead of them was Admiral Haster's office. It was transparent and warmly lit by the sunlight streaming in from the system's star. Though a bit spartan, it bore none of the telltale signs of a villain's lair. Charlotte mentally had to check herself. They had no way of knowing if the Admiral was actually infected, but that doesn't simply mean that she was.
Haster stood up to greet them, an almost friendly look on her face. "Captain Reynolds, welcome back to Arcadia. I see you've brought guests."
"Yes, Admiral. This is Maralen Seitha, my Executive Officer and Kenna Wolff, my Strategic Operations Officer," Charlotte said, gesturing to each.
"Executive Officer?" Haster gave her a slanted look. "From what I understood, Captain, Starfleet Command was assigning an Executive Officer to Defiant."
Charlotte visibly looked unphased. "Yes, ma'am. That had been the situation when we left Arcadia. However, any starship requires a functional command structure to operate properly. Additionally, with the strain of the war, it would take a long time for Starfleet to find a Command level officer without a ship needing a commander. The nature of our mission and the attempt on my life necessitated an XO who could take over in my absence. I selected Lt. Seitha."
Haster's brow furrowed. "Lt. Seitha is only a Lieutenant."
"I suppose we'll have to promote him then," Charlotte said. There was a bit more edge this time, but only a hint of it. The argument hadn't been planned from the beginning, but Charlotte leaned into it. It would serve their purpose well. If she and the Admiral were already standoffish, it would hide any tension about the potential infiltration.
"We'll discuss this later," Haster said. "May I have your report on the mission?"
"Of course," Charlotte said, grinning internally. They would not be discussing this later. "Mr. Seitha, could you provide your Executive Officer's report?"
Maralen nodded once to Captain Reynolds, his manner showing only the calm efficiency. His eyes locked then with the admiral's, and he proceeded, his tone showing only the same calm efficiency that was in his stance. "Upon entering Tholian space as required, we were informed that they had quarantined one of their ships due to some form of contagion. We were asked to assist. Myself and a team transported to the Tholian ship, whereupon it became quite clear that this was no disease. We discovered not only dead Tholians but also a dead Klingon, all of whom had been infiltrated by a creature which we had not seen before." He did not tell her then that the Realm had limited records of such beings because the information had been limited and sketchy at best. There was no need to add confusion. "We acquired two samples of the creature, one deceased and one alive, for study. My team returned to the Defiant, and I was informed that we would need to run the Tholian border. We returned here immediately afterward." He stood perfectly still, waiting for any corrections from Captain Reynolds or questions from the admiral.
"Captain, do you have anything to add? You have a dead officer and an attempt on your life. I imagine that would be relevant information." Admiral Haster looked her dead in the eyes.
Charlotte honestly wasn't sure what to make of the situation. Was the Admiral testing her? "Yes, Admiral. Ensign Kaln Thiriv made an attempt to kill me in my ready room. I was forced to defend myself, and when nonlethal force wasn't successful, I was ultimately forced to kill him. We discovered that he had been infected by the same type of entity. After a thorough search of the crew, we determined he was the only one infected. We haven't been able to determine exactly when he was infected, but it appeared to be a side trip he took near Tholian space just prior to the mission. I've included the information in my own report."
Charlotte held a straight face as best she could. Espionage was Captain James' forte, not hers. This plan of his was pushing her poker face to its brink. She couldn't ignore the fact that she'd just lied through her teeth straight to the Admiral's face. The document she handed over included falsified information about Ensign Thiriv's "trip", a fictional mission to speak with a local trading depot. It was supported by falsified records in Defiant's logs and in the shuttle he supposedly took. But it was all smoke and mirrors. The entire gambit rested on any parasites on Arcadia thinking that Defiant wasn't looking for more. Both Defiant and Artemis had agreed that Haster was one of the key targets in a possible infiltration.
There was a problem though. If the Admiral wasn't infected, then she'd just antagonized her, lied to her face, provided falsified records, and failed to disclose vital intelligence regarding a possible threat. That would earn her a court martial without question. She'd know for certain in a few minutes, when they exited and Kenna checked Jerry's improvised scanner. But until then...
Kenna waited and then after a moment held out another PADD. "Admiral, my report on the matter. I investigated the matter very carefully. The Ensign was a lone wolf in this matter. And there is no other evidence of him contaminating anyone else. His goal was to infect the captain here, and then the rest of the crew."
Haster looked up from her information padd. "Interesting. Well, it sounds like an isolated incident thankfully. I'm sure there's nothing further to worry about. I'll be sure to send my regards to Mr. Thiriv's family."
Charlotte nearly recoiled at this response. She'd expected more of a fight. Did this mean Haster was compromised? Or would a parasite have asked more questions, knowing that the cover story was implausible? "Yes, ma'am. If its alright, we'd like to finish repair prep procedures and allow the crew some shore leave."
"Granted and dismissed," the Admiral replied.
Charlotte felt as if she rocketed to her feet, making a b-line for the door.
Maralen was more than a little grateful for his Realm training in this meeting. He had tried to read the admiral, but she was well-trained too. Without more information such as a scan or a telepathic scan, he had to simply go with what he saw. Unfortunately, that was next to nothing. He could not tell if she had simply accepted the report at face value or whether this was the parasite being content that they were not looking for it and accepting the report at face value. He still had no way to know if she was infected or not, and that made him uncomfortable. Fortunately, he kept his calm as they were dismissed, standing and leaving the room without sign of his emotions or thoughts.
In silence the blond moved to walk behind her superior officers. She said nothing as they left the room, her eyes, however were watchful.
They were almost out the door when Admiral Haster spoke up again. "Oh, Captain Reynolds. One more thing."
Charlotte turned around half expecting an ambush. Her nerves were on end. "Yes, ma'am?"
However, the Admiral's face was pleasant. There was no sign of the trap she'd expected. "We're holding a conference here on Arcadia regarding the war effort. With the help of our illustrious Research and Development teams, I believe we have a strategy to present that could win us the war. Several key ambassadors, admirals, and politicians are coming. I even understand the Federation President herself is on the way. I'd like you to be there too. Full dress uniform, as I'm sure you can imagine."
A chill ran down Charlotte's spine, but her face was still. The situation had gotten substantially worse. If there were parasites on the station, this would be the ultimate prize. "Of course, ma'am. I'll be there."
The lift had deposited them on the ground floor. Charlotte had discouraged conversation before they left the building, in case of recording devices. They were deep in this plot now. They'd need to follow it through. However, as they walked toward the speed rail station, she started the discussion back up.
Maralen had not liked the announcement of so many dignitaries coming here. It made the place the perfect moment for those things to infect too many top people within the Federation... if they were on Arcadia already. Then again, the paranoid part of his mind reminded him, any one of those officials might be the carrier. The Klingon had carried it to the Tholians, and the Federation had all manner of contact with the Klingons. There simply was no way to know who, if any of them, was the carrier.
"This situation becomes more complicated with more people involved." he said softly so that only Charlotte and Kenna could hear. "I could not really read the admiral as far as her expression or tone; she is an adept cloaker." Like him, she seemed capable of hiding her true feelings very well. "And I am not thrilled with the idea of you going into that conference alone." he admitted. The admiral's invitation had sounded as though it was to the captain alone, and that worried him immensely given the situation they were in.
Kenna pulled the scanner from her pocket as she listened. "She got to where she was by playing the game. No results yet Captain. I would suggest that we get into the security planning as soon as possible."
“Agreed. I’m going to get the lay of the land and then we can make a plan. For now, just lay low and act normal. Take some actual shore leave. I’ll get your attention when it’s time to regroup.
Nodding Kenna stuck the device back in her pocket.
Just as the group began to disperse, a subtle beeping filled the air, clearly emitting from Kenna’s person. The scanner had reached a conclusion.
Kenna pulled it back out and studied it. Her face, its normal mask of calm didn't flicker, but she did let out a soft string of rather inventive oaths. She looked up at the two. "We have a major problem." she said softly. "Results are.. infected."
Maralen frowned in thought. On one hand, the admiral's response to Charlotte's statement that it was an isolated incident had seemed... odd for someone in Haster's position. He had thought that she should have asked more questions... at least. So he had suspected she might be infected. On the other hand, she might simply have intended to conduct her own investigation once the Defiant's officers had left. In that case, her response would have meant little to nothing.
Now, however, with Kenna's report, suspicion was confirmed. He truly hated it when his Realm-trained, Singer-pushed paranoid side was right! He sighed, allowing just a hint of his feelings show for a moment before he buried them again. What could he say though? He looked to Charlotte to see her response, finding it, when she did give it, appropriate.
"Well...," Charlotte said, dragging out the pause because she honestly didn't know what else to say. "So it begins."