Conflict of Interest
Location: Courtroom 113, Centauri Penal Colony
Timeline: Late Shore Leave
The courtroom was surprisingly full. At least, that was Alina Soyka's initial assessment of the situation. Her previous hearings hadn't nearly been so well attended. Which was good. She hadn't had much interest in facing a large crowd. But today, she certainly had a crowd. A cursory search of the room indicated that there were a substantial amount of crew from the USS Tempest, the ship her prosecutor commanded. That wasn't surprising either, she supposed. Admiral Reynolds was trying to turn this into one of the largest cases of his fairly illustrious career.
There were some familiar faces too. A few former Zheng He crew had arrived. Some were there as supportive friends, despite her crimes. Not supportive of her actions, but not wanting to leave her without any friendly faces. Others were members of the crew who felt angry, betrayed, or simply intrigued.
What was surprising was the appearance of the felinoid man in the red dress uniform. The mission patch on his shoulder gave her notable pause. USS Defiant. Charley's new ship. By the rank stripes on his sleeve and badge, she assumed this had to be the First Officer.
"I...hadn't expected to see anyone from Defiant," Alina said somewhat softly as the man walked toward the front row, just behind the defense table. Her next words were even more cautious. "Is...she here?" Alina had no expectation of Charlotte's presence. She'd actually advised her to stay away. But she couldn't help herself asking.
So this was the infamous Alina, he thought to himself as he studied the very uneasy woman before him. He could smell the emotions on her as much as see them in her eyes. Part of him wanted to feel compassion, but another part felt that she didn't really deserve it since she had betrayed Charlotte, a woman she had professed to love. But then, who was he to judge. He had betrayed Ari. No! They did that, not you! He tried to remind himself, but he had never really forgiven himself for that moment.
He pushed his own thoughts aside and leaned forward slightly to keep their conversation between only them. "She will be, though I'm not sure when." he admitted. His expression took on a look of mild apology. "I'm sorry I can't be more informative."
The woman nodded, her eyes looking a little more drained than they already had. She’d clearly not slept well. “I understand. I’d told her to stay away. I didn’t want her swept up in this. I suppose I should have known she’d get come. She’s never been one to shy away from a fight,” Alina said with a soft laugh, her eyes noticeably becoming somewhat distant as she reminisced about times long since past. “At least I’ll rob him of some opportunity to go after her. I’m going to plea no contest to his sentencing.”
Maralen did not need his extensive training in vigilance or observation to note the shift in Alina's expression when he had said that Charlotte was here. If he had not been aware of the situation, he would have gotten that she was not pleased. But she was going to give up to protect Charlotte -- he might in her place except that he would never be in her place. Still, he could appreciate the sentiment shown in that gesture.
He shook his head a little. "I don't think she would want you to do that, Alina." he said softly, his expression softening slightly. "We both know that Charlotte does exactly as she chooses. And if she chooses to be here, she must have her reasons. Maybe you should give her the chance to do whatever it is she has chosen to do here." he advised kindly, remembering the conversation in the shuttle then in the suite. He was not sure what her entire plan was, but he did know that she would not want Alina to just surrender.
The woman's brow furrowed slightly. What was Charlotte planning to do? But before she could ask additional questions, there was a bustle of activity at the front of the room. The officer serving as bailiff spoke out from the front of the room. "All rise."
The room rose to their feet, as a man in Commodore's dress uniform entered. The bailiff spoke out once more. "The honorable Commodore Burkes presiding."
Alina shot Maralen a look with raised eyebrows. "Ok...don't surrender then. Going in without a plan is always fun."
"Isn't it just?" he said in return, his expression showing her that, while the words were meant to be light, he took this very seriously and that he agreed with her. Plans were always better... when you could have them. Now, however, was not such a time for her.
Judge Burkes looked at the two tables, noting the lack of representation at the defense table. He didn't address it yet, and turned toward the prosecution. "Representation for the prosecution, please identify yourself for the court."
From his seat at the opposing table, the man in full admiral's regalia rose to his feet. He was a fairly tall man, who held himself with significant formality and confidence. But the look on his face was hardened with the events of the past decade of his life. After tugging his uniform straight, he spoke in the deep voice that had served his command well. "Your honor, Admiral Jacob Reynolds, Commanding Officer of the USS Tempest, and commander of the region in which the crimes took place."
The judge nodded, reviewing his notes. "It says here you are seeking maximum sentencing for this case."
Admiral Reynolds stood firmly. "Yes, your honor."
The judge inclined his head slightly. "Life imprisonment? That's unusually high sentence for smuggling charges."
"During times of war? I think it only fitting, your honor." The Admiral seemed rather pleased with himself.
Seeing no change, the judge turned slowly to the still vacant defense position. "And for the defense?"
Now what? Alina thought to herself. Had she known she shouldn't just submit to the sentencing, she would have sought out a defense. Instead she now had the tall order of representing herself to against a fairly determined Admiral. "I'll be representing myse-"
A very familiar voice came from the back of the chamber, tucked away in one of the corners. "Captain Charlotte Reynolds, Captain of the USS Defiant, and Commanding Officer of the defendant at the time of the crime."
There were a few notable gasps from Zheng He crew at the appearance of their previous commanding officer at the back of the room. Dressed in her brand new, crisp dress uniform, Charlotte stood tall, with the Defiant mission patch on her sleeve and several of her medals affixed to her chest, opposite the Starfleet Delta. Her hair was tied back into a tight professional bun. She'd surprised herself this morning, looking far more formal than she usually managed. Now, walking down the aisle of the courtroom, she felt glad she did. As she slid in behind the defense desk, she subtly gave Maralen a look. "Here goes nothing."
His return expression was equally subtle but showed he was behind her 100%. "You'll do fine. But if you need me, I'm here." he whispered. She had not surprised him by mounting a defense; he had known she was planning to do that. Her 'entrance' having been made as it had, he had not expected. He made note to himself to expect the unexpected with her.
The relatively sudden appearance might not have surprised Reynolds' XO, but it certainly surprised Alina and her father. The woman on at the defense table looked genuinely shocked. She'd told Charlotte to stay a safe distance away from the trial. When she heard Charlotte was here, she never would have expected her to actually take up the defense. They'd spoken one single time in the months since her arrest. And now, here she stood. Alina's expression was mixed, filled with both apprehension and affection.
The Admiral looked particularly pleased, if only because it seemed to give him the perfect opportunity to kick things off. "Your honor, I think it is improper for this woman to assume the defense. It was her own negligence which allowed Commander Soyka's crimes to go unnoticed for so long."
Charlotte returned quickly. "Under Starfleet Regulation, it is not only proper but expected that a commanding officer will appoint counsel or serve as it themself. Crimes do occasionally occur on Starfleet vessels, Admiral. Nearly all of those occur without the knowledge of the Captain. The fact that the crime occurred does not automatically rule out a Captain’s legitimacy. If that was the case, the regulation I cited wouldn’t even exist."
Charlotte looked over toward Alina. She felt a brief blossoming of emotion, in a dozen different directions, some pleasant and some not so pleasant. But she did her best to maintain her composure. They could talk after all this was over. For now, she needed to be on her game. Her gaze returned to the judge. "Lt. Commander Soyka is guilty of the crimes she is accused of. Neither she nor I nor this court disputes that. However, this is a sentencing hearing and as such, it is incumbent upon me to represent the best interests of my officer and of Starfleet. A maximum sentence is not in either interest.”
Her father wasn't quite done yet. The next barb landed, much as she expected it would. "It is not simply the fact that it happened under your command that disqualifies you. It's your conflict of interest, your romantic involvement with the defendant. Is it not true that all of her crimes were committed under your nose during this tryst?”
The judge looked at Charlotte, asking despite it being a matter of record. “Is this true?”
“It is. However, our relationship ended with the discovery of her crimes and the stripping of her commission. I stand here as her Commanding Officer, nothing more. I assure you, I can maintain my objectivity.” Charlotte knew that would be hard to hear for Alina. Hell, it was hard for her to say. But it was the truth. She wasn’t here in a grand romantic gesture or to rekindle her relationship. She was here because it was the right thing to do. And she was here to stop a bully, and she couldn’t abide bullies. "However, to reassure the court, I would like to add my Executive Officer, Lt. Commander Seitha, to the defense."
The judge looked over toward the red-clad Ledaran. "Commander Seitha, do you accept this request?"
He had known that she intended to mount some kind of defense against her father. He had expected her to cite his conflict of interest. Instead, she had let it stand without comment and taken a tack which included him in a plan he had no information on. Well, it would not be the first time he had been thrown into a situation with no information. He remembered a time when the Executive had done that. This was different, though. If he failed, he would hurt Charlotte as much as their case. He was internally unsure if he should do this, but he had said that he would back her up. He had given his word that he would help her in any way that he could, and this was the way she had chosen. So he stood.
"I do, Your Honor." he said, his whole demeanor calm, efficient and the complete picture of what Starfleet officers were expected to be. He only hoped Charlotte knew what she was doing.
The judge nodded. “Very well. Please join the defense table.”
As Maralen joined her at the table, Charlotte felt bad pulling him in without warning. However, she wouldn’t be putting too much pressure on him. His presence here was an assurance to the court. She would be impartial, and she’d added an officer untied to the case to her team as a balance. Now was the tricky part. She’d been assembling the metaphorical chess game in her mind. She had to be careful, accomplishing each step in sequence.
The first had been escaping her father’s accusation of conflict of interest. It had been predictable, but it was a challenge nonetheless. She was now relatively confident she could move forward with Step 2. And she hoped Maralen and Alina would let her do it without interruption.
“Your honor, I also move to have the representation for the defense removed from the case,” Captain Reynolds replies, holding herself as steady as possible.
A shocked murmur spread through the room. Even Alina looked startled. Her father’s voice was the loudest. “On what grounds?”
“Conflict of interest,” Charlotte said, a slight smile cracking her mask for the first time.
“Conflict of...” Her father was livid. “Conflict of interest? I assure you, Captain, I’m capable of extricating my actions from the fact that you are my daughter. I’m insulted by the implication.”
“While I’d happily argue that claim, that wasn’t the conflict I refer to,” Charlotte said, reestablishing control of her expression.
Alina looked up at the woman, with no idea what she was up to. She tugged at her side. “Charley, what the hell are you up to?” she whispered.
The judge seemed somewhere between annoyed and intrigued. “Captain Reynolds, please explain yourself.”
“Gladly,” Charlotte replied, her mask firm again. “I move for the removal of Admiral Reynolds because this trial is directly related to the document in my hand.”
She handed a padd to a court official whose eyes went wide in surprise before handing it to the judge. Before the judge could say anything, Charlotte explained. “I recommend the court remove Admiral Reynolds from the prosecution because his position there directly conflicts with the charges I have filed against Admiral Reynolds for Abuse of Power, Dereliction of Duty, Tampering with the Courts, and Conduct Unbecoming a Starfleet Officer.”
The room erupted again far more surprised this time. “Holy shit,” Alina said unable to keep her volume down.
Outwardly, Maralen's expression shifted only the tiniest fraction, showing slight surprise and confusion. But that was gone in the next instant. He had not seen the document in her hand, and so he had no idea that she had filed charges much less what they were or how she had arrived at them... or what evidence she had to support them. Therefore, he was not at all sure how to help her in this case. But his ability to adapt to situational, strategic and language differentials -- in other words, his ability to adapt to any change in his environment -- had been one of the things the Realm had prized in him. And he was not to disappoint now. His expression held only calm efficiency and assurance in it. Anything he felt had quickly been buried deeply in his mind, leaving only that calm readiness.
Admiral Reynolds was dead silent. His face flat. Charlotte met his gaze unwaveringly.
The judge seemed genuinely overwhelmed. “Captain, these charges are very severe. Making such an accusation should not come lightly. Do you have evidence to back this up?”
“I do, sir. On Stardare 2263.108, Admiral Reynolds was informed of the criminal activity of Lt. Commander Soyka. He learned of this only due to an unhealthy obsession and focus on my command. An obsession which led to heightened monitoring of a Starfleet vessel without the consent of the crew. Luckily for him, my former XO made the foolish choice to engage in a smuggling operation. Were her activities not uncovered, he likely would have struggled to justify his behavior. However, when he discovered this crime, he did not follow standard procedure. He did not inform the regional Judge Advocate Officer, as regulation would dictate. He didn’t inform me, thus robbing me of the opportunity to act on this information. Given his supposed belief that I was compromised, he also did not inform my Second Officer.”
Charlotte continued. “Instead, he took the USS Tempest away from a battle zone during wartime, leaving numerous vessels exposed, to personally handle the situation. He did not even handle the arrest professionally. He snuck up on the Zheng He, ordered the crew not to alert me, arrested the Commander Soyka, and took her into custody aboard his own ship. Ignoring the fact that this process alone violates Starfleet regulation on numerous points, this is merely a single instance in his stream of unbecoming activity. The motivations behind this very investigation were corrupt, predicated on personal conflict between my father and myself. The entire process was designed in an effort to undermine my command and seek legal authority to remove me from the chair.”
“Since then, his actions have been so blatant that the defendant had almost intentionally forsaken her chance at a defense. She nearly chose not to fight a life sentence just to try and stop his personal crusade. In return, she has been personally harassed, threatened, and badgered repeatedly by the Admiral.” Charlotte was holding no punches. “I think his actions speak for themselves and you’ll find thorough documentation of each of these events in the document I provided. It is for that reason that I recommend Admiral Reynolds be removed from the prosecution and remand him to the judiciary for Court Martial.”
The judge ran a hand through his hair. She’d put him in an uncomfortable position, being forced to weigh the legal future of a superior officer. “Captain, I’m going to need a few minutes to review this.”
Charlotte nodded. “Of course, your honor.” She settled down into the seat between Alina and Maralen.
Maralen listened to her recounting of the details of the situation. He had known some of it from when she'd told him before, but not all of the details she had just given. In the light of those details, Admiral Reynolds did indeed seem to have behaved against Starfleet regulations, and her charges did indeed seem reasonable. Still...
He leaned toward her as she sat and whispered very quietly so that only she would hear. "If there is more to this plan, may I know it so that I can better aid you?"
Charlotte nodded subtly, watching the judge's reactions as he reviewed the evidence. Her father meanwhile looked stunned. He'd spent so long on the offensive, leaving Charlotte defending herself. It seemed he had been wholly unprepared for a true counter attack. And she'd played her hand well, establishing her own credibility to the best of her ability, drawing out an aggressive move or two on his part. "You've seen most of the plan at this point. But I want to hammer the point home. Would you be comfortable cross examining Alina?"
Maralen studied her quietly for a moment. "I can do that. What direction do you want me to take it?" It would likely be easier on her as well if he did that part. Besides, it would prove to the court that she was keeping any feelings out of the proceedings by having the uninvolved third party, him, do it. But he needed to know where she wanted him to direct the questioning in order to help her.
Charlotte nodded. "The line of questioning will be the contacts she’s had with Admiral Reynolds since her imprisonment. I want a neutral voice to ask her about it. That way, I don’t look like I’m exaggerating his threats.”
He nodded. "How much contact have you had with her? It would help to know as I might be able to show that, while you have not contacted her, he had." If memory served, the last time she had spoken to Miss Soyka, the latter had initiated the contact, not Charlotte. If this was indeed the only contact, then it made her case even stronger against the admiral and his actions.
"It should be easy enough to demonstrate," Charlotte said with a nod. She'd thankfully made this portion of their cause easier for their team. "Prior to entering this courtroom, I'd spoken to her once since her arrest. It was on our second day docking at Starbase Arcadia, if I recall. I've neither spoken with her nor attempted to contact her since."
He nodded. "And that time, who initiated the contact?" he asked. That answer could make or break his idea.
"She did," Charlotte said, flatly.
Maralen nodded. "That will help us." he assured, his tones showing some of his natural warmth, that warmth that he kept beneath that Shield of Calm he wore so much of the time, that warmth that he had spent so many years burying deep inside of himself where the Realm and the ThoughtSingers couldn't see it. Now he offered a bit of it to her in hopes that it would help her.