Chapter 2: Independence
Val walked down the corridors of Deck 7. He was getting used to the internal layout of the U.S.S. Voyager. In his past, he had never served aboard a starship for longer than the summer tour between his third and fourth years at the Academy. His stay on Voyager might prove to be significantly longer than that.
It had been six weeks since Captain Janeway assigned him to be her liaison officer with the MARCOs on board. There had been no more incidents since then. However, he kept a standing request for the MARCOs to avoid the maquis. A few days ago, Janeway finally gave the MARCOs permission to move freely about the ship. Val hoped that wouldn't start the incidents again. He knew there were problems with specific people. He learned from Sergeant Julie Hall the exact nature of the animosity that Corporal Rodriguez had for Crewman DuPont of the maquis.
Rodriguez held DuPont as one of the maquis responsible for the death of his brother. Val initially had a hard time believing DuPont could be involved in such an event. However, he also would have never believed DuPont would join a traitorous organization such as the maquis. Yet here she was clearly a member of the group.
Rodriguez' brother, as well as 5 other Starfleet crewmen, had perished while defending a Federation supply depot against a maquis raid. DuPont was not directly involved. In fact, Val felt she basically had no involvement at all. However, it was technically true that if DuPont had taken a different course of action, Rodriguez' brother would not have perished in the tragic explosion.
Val had been thinking about the situation for the past few days. He was not sure it would ever be resolved. Although he was no longer on speaking terms with DuPont, he thought that perhaps the tension could be decreased if he could get DuPont to express regret or sympathy to Corporal Rodriguez. He wasn't sure how he would go about doing that. And even if he managed that feat, there's no telling how many other maquis members the MARCOs had personal grudges against. This on top of the general problem that Starfleet Command considers the maquis to be outlaws and that any former Starfleet officers who joined the maquis were to be tried for treason. This included the ship's current second-in-command, Vice Captain Chakotay.
Now, as Val reached his destination, he wondered what new problem would arise. A maquis crewmember, an Ensign Seska, requested that he come to her quarters. He told her that if she had a problem with one of the MARCOs, she should bring it up with Janeway and then Janeway would pass it back down to him. But she insisted on speaking with him privately.
Val reached the door and pressed the button that activated the door chime. He was invited to enter.
Ensign Seska invited him to have a seat. Val sat down.
The two of them exchanged pleasantries, but Seska quickly got to the point.
"How good of a pilot are you?" she asked.
"I guess I'm okay."
"Can you fly a starship?"
"I think so. I thought about asking Janeway if I could become one of Voyager's relief flight officers."
"Because you think you are no longer needed to mediate between the maquis and the MARCOs since there has been a lull in the confrontations lately?"
"Not exactly. I thought about it before Janeway decided to have me be a go-between for her and the MARCOs. Do you have a complaint against one of the MARCOs?"
"No, counselor. That's not what this is about."
"I believe we have a common interest."
"What would that be?"
"First, let me explain who I am."
"I know who you are."
"No, you don't. I am not a Bajoran member of the maquis. I am a Cardassian operative. My mission was to infiltrate the maquis and take down Chakotay and his terrorist cell."
Val didn't give any visible expression, but he was intrigued.
"How blind is this Chakotay character," joked Val.
"Are you denying my feminine wiles, counselor," said Seska somewhat seductively.
"Not interested," said Val.
"Oh, that's right. You're into that DuPont girl," said Seska playfully.
"In the past, maybe."
"So, now let's discuss your future, counselor."
"I plan to take over this ship. And when I do, I'll need to know whether you are with me or against me."
"Sometime in the coming months, I will take over this ship."
"To what end?"
"I do not believe Janeway acts in our best interests. She is weak. She senselessly destroyed the Caretaker Array and stranded us here in the Delta Quadrant."
"So you're not a Janeway fan. You think you can do better?"
"By forging alliances. To survive in this godforsaken quadrant, we need to have powerful friends. We are alone here, at the mercy of unknown numbers of hostile aliens. The Kazon-Nistrim are willing to be our protectors in exchange for knowledge of our unique technologies."
"Great, well, call me when you achieve your momentous coup d'etat," said Val jokingly.
"It will happen, lieutenant."
"What does this have to do with me? Why would I even allow you to take this ship? I should just go to the captain right now and explain to her what you just told me."
"You could, but you won't."
"You are awfully confident in that."
"Quite. Now that you know who I am, let me tell you who I think you are."
"You're a thirty-one."
"Close. I'm only twenty-nine. I turn thirty this coming March."
"No, counselor. You're an agent of Section 31, the Federation's secret security service."
"I've never even heard of such a thing."
"I'm quite sure you have. In fact, this whole JAG officer bit is a charade. You've been placed there because it allows you free movement. Your various "field assignments" allow you to make frequent travels to far flung locations without raising any suspicions."
"That's an interesting theory. If it were true, why wouldn't I just be in the diplomatic corps. Or a merchant?"
"You were already a Starfleet officer when you were recruited into Section 31. In fact, you were already an environmental compliance officer."
"Ridiculous or not, I have confidence that you see things my way. We are in need of alliances here. In fact, we need to prepare for the possibility that we may never find a way back to the Alpha Quadrant. We should prepare to build a base of power here. It is the strategic thing to do. I know you agree."
"Even more ridiculous. You think I want to rule over this little backwater part of the galaxy as some sort of king? I have absolutely no interest in staying here. I plan to return to the alpha quadrant."
"You can engage in all the wishful thinking you want."
"Why do you need me? Why are you even telling me this?"
"I wanted to give you a head's up. Professional courtesy, one spy to another."
"Thanks. I'll keep that in mind if Janeway ever finds out and decides to hang you."
"So I guessed right, you won't tell Janeway."
"I won't tell her because I have complete confidence that you are harmless. Quite frankly, even if I did, she would simply dismiss my warning as some kind of hallucination against a member of the maquis."
Val got up abruptly and walked toward the door.
"Good night, counselor," said Seska.
"Good night, ensign."
Val laid himself down on his bed and stared up at the ceiling for a few minutes. He had a tough time deciding whether to tell Janeway of the exchange he just had with the young maquis ensign. He had worried about possible moves by the maquis against the Starfleet crew onboard. But a Cardassian agent? That was an interesting twist. His door chime rang. He sat up on his bed.
It was Staff Sergeant Nathan Driver, the current leader of the MARCOs.
Val directed the sergeant to a seat.
"How are you, sergeant?"
"Is there something I can help you with?"
"Sir, I wanted to share something with you."
"The men and I have crafted a contingency plan to take over this ship in case of emergency."
Val was surprised. "Just wonderful," he thought to himself.
"So you're taking over the ship, eh?" Val tried to say it in a joking tone. It didn't come out that way though, and Driver could tell that Val was uneasy.
"No, sir. It's just a contingency. And even if it happens, it will only be temporary. We would return control of Voyager back to Starfleet after we find ourselves a suitable planet to live on."
"You're abandoning this ship?"
"Not our preferred outcome, but we both know Janeway is itching to maroon us somewhere when the mood strikes her. Lord knows where she would ditch us. It could be a scorching desert planet, or a freezing ice planet. I want to ensure that the planet we wind up on has a reasonable climate and provides us reasonable chances of survival. Not a barren wasteland devoid of food and shelter."
"She wouldn't do that. I'm sure she'll keep you on board."
"Really? Because that is not what a young lieutenant said to the MARCO platoon just a month and a half ago when warning of Janeway's desires. You insisted she would take such an action if there were to be any more incidents between the MARCOs and the maquis."
"I did, sergeant. So control your damn people."
"Easier said than done. Maybe things will be okay for the next week. Or the next month even. But passions will boil over. I can't placate them forever."
"Even if Janeway makes the decision, she'll find you a hospitable planet. She's not callous. There is no need to take over the ship."
"Perhaps, but I'm not taking that chance. I've been a soldier for 15 years, sir. I know how to make contingency plans. My men come first. Your Captain Janeway can go straight to hell."
"That's mutinous talk, sergeant. Contain yourself."
"Sir. I need my men's welfare to be independent from the whims of the captain. When the time comes, we're taking over the ship. But I know I can't keep control forever. So it'll be temporary. I just need to know that you'll help us when the time comes."
"Help you? I'm not a marine. And by the way, what makes you think I won't inform the captain of your little mutiny?"
"I don't need you to help me take control of the ship. I could do that with one squad. What I need is a pilot. I know you have that skillset. None of my MARCOs do. When I take control, I need a pilot to fly the ship while we search around for a hospitable planet. Paris is loyal to Janeway."
"So basically, I'm not loyal to Janeway."
"Maybe you are, but I have faith that you are reasonable and will balance the needs of both Janeway and my men. What I plan will benefit my men, and will do negligible harm to Janeway, if any."
"You are putting me in a very awkward spot here, sergeant."
"I understand. I apologize for it, but it has to be done. There is no other way."
Sergeant Driver stood up.
"Permission to leave, sir?"
"You're dismissed, sergeant."
Sergeant Driver walked out of Val's quarters. Val laid himself back on his bed. What a nightmare. He hoped that both Seska and Driver were venting and that neither of their plans would come into being.
The next morning, Val woke up refreshed. He didn't give a second thought to the two encounters he had the prior evening.
He had just finished eating his breakfast. An ancient children's cereal called "Lucky Charms" that he loved as a child. It had no nutritional value whatsoever, but it gave him pleasure. The milk he doused it in probably had at least some calcium and vitamin benefit.
As he prepared to put on his uniform, he received an incoming communication from the captain.
"Lieutenant Shin, can you report to the briefing room?"
"Acknowledged," he said after he tapped his combadge.
Val made his way to Deck 1, where the briefing room was located right next to the bridge. He found that there were four officers already seated.
Voyager's briefing room was smaller and different from other ones he had been in. Almost always, the briefing room had a rectangular table. On one instance, he sat in during a meeting in a conference lounge with a rectangular table that was slightly curved. On Voyager, the table was very oddly shaped. Val wasn't sure how to describe the shape. Somewhat triangular was his best description. A curvy triangle. The captain sat at the apex closest to the window while there was space for 3 officers to the right or left of her. The third side did not have any chairs.
The captain sat at the head of the table. Two of her officers sat on one side. Vice Captain Chakotay and Lieutenant Tuvok, the ship's chief security officer. In the third chair sat Neelix, a Delta Quadrant alien whom Janeway took in. He often acted as her guide to the quadrant.
"Lieutenant, please have a seat," said Janeway.
"Thank you, captain," said Val as he sat down.
"The MARCOs seem to be much better behaved as of late. I have you to thank for that."
"You give me too much credit, ma'am."
"I'm beginning to have hopes that we can successfully integrate the MARCOs with the rest of the ship's crew. What do you think about that?"
"I think that's an admirable goal."
"But you don't think it's feasible."
"I just don't know, ma'am."
"You don't think the MARCOs can get over this whole maquis thing?"
"I wouldn't be able to say."
"Something struck my interest, counselor. You seem to get along with Lieutenant Paris just fine."
"I have no problems with Lieutenant Paris."
"Yet, he was highly disliked by both the maquis and Starfleet. My former vice captain and medical officer had very negative things to say. My current vice captain likewise had a very negative impression of the man when we first arrived in the Delta Quadrant."
"Mr. Paris' impression on others is none of my business, ma'am."
"What is your personal impression of Lt. Paris?"
"He appears to be an adequate officer."
"And your personal impression of Vice Captain Chakotay?"
"I have no opinion on that matter."
"Surely you must."
"I've always been taught that a gentleman remains silent if he has nothing good to say."
"See, this is what I don't get, counselor. You don't take kindly to the maquis. Yet, Paris was a member of the maquis."
"That is his business. People make mistakes."
"Yet, my 'mistake' is unforgivable?" asked the vice captain.
"I have no opinion on that matter," replied Val.
"Here is your preliminary advisory opinion to me when I first decided to integrate to maquis," said Janeway as she read from a padd. "This course of action is highly ill-advised. Members of the maquis should be locked up in the brig until a more permanent arrangement can be decided upon. Does that remain your opinion?"
Janeway was a little bit surprised to hear that. She had been hoping for a kinder response. After all, she thought there were better relations with the maquis by now.
"Would you also advise I throw Mr. Paris into the brig."
"That is your decision."
"What would be your advice?"
"I have no opinion on that matter."
Janeway was beginning to hate that phrase. She had always hated lawyers. The one sitting in front of her was testing her patience.
"If I place all the members of the maquis in the brig, why not Paris?"
"That's your decision to make."
"Give me an argument why not Paris."
"Mr. Paris has been caught, sentenced, imprisoned, and paroled. He did the crime, he served the time. The justice system has ran through its course with him."
Janeway was intrigued.
"So it's nothing personal?" asked Janeway.
"For me, it's nothing personal. They're criminals, they should be imprisoned. The law's the law. However, I will say that for a great deal of the MARCOs, it may be more personal. In addition, for a handful of Starfleet crewmembers, there may be a personal aspect to it."
"Which Starfleet crewmembers?" asked Janeway in surprise.
"I would not feel comfortable divulging that information."
Janeway took note of that. For now, she wanted to move onto a different topic.
"Counselor, do you think the MARCOs would be willing to team up with Starfleet on an away mission?"
"An away mission? Where?"
Janeway had signaled for Lt. Tuvok to brief Val on the situation.
"Two hours ago, we detected an automated emergency distress beacon. It is originating from a Cardassian Galor-class warship."
"Cardassian?" asked Val in surprise.
"Indeed. Sensors have picked up the ship, we should rendezvous within the next hour and a half."
"You want the MARCOs to board that ship?"
"Alongside members of my security team," said Tuvok.
"Why the MARCOs?" asked Val.
"It's obvious the MARCOs don't trust me. And I'm not completely sure I trust them. But someone has to make the first move. This is my opening gesture that I'm willing to trust them with an important task. I am sincere in my hopes that I can integrate them into the ship's crew. You know, during the first days after we took the maquis crew onboard, I had some concerns about how I would integrate the maquis. Before the Parallax incident, I was against the idea of making Lieutenant Torres the chief engineer of this ship. Chakotay convinced me that if Torres received a senior officer position, one that she deserved, and if the maquis in general were granted more responsibility, they would be more loyal to me. I think thus far the experiment has worked. They've earned my trust. I am eager to duplicate that success with the MARCOs."
Val wasn't sure. He felt that Janeway might be sincere. However, he knew in his heart there must be a hidden motive. He thought about it for a few seconds and thought he came up with a possible reason.
"I don't understand why you wouldn't just send an away team composed of Starfleet security."
"Doing so doesn't help me with the situation with the MARCOs."
Val decided to bluff and watch the captain's reaction.
"The MARCOs will think this is a trap."
"If indeed there is a Cardassian ship out there, they will think you intend to send them into an ambush."
"Nonsense," insisted the captain. "I'd be sending my own officers there too."
"We haven't decided yet," said Tuvok.
"It simply makes no sense that you'd send in the MARCOs unless you know beforehand that there is a dangerous situation onboard. I'm not saying they wouldn't relish the challenge. But standard Starfleet protocol is to send Starfleet officers on the away team first and only use the MARCOs as back-up in the event of hostilities."
"I'm breaking protocol, captain's prerogative."
"I notice you seem to do that a lot."
"Watch your tone, lieutenant."
Val smiled. He had gotten under the captain's skin. As a prosecutor, he had found it a useful tool to increase the frustration levels of people he had under questioning. Whenever people were annoyed, they tended to let their guard down a little bit and blurt out their honest opinions more freely.
He sat for a few more seconds and pretended to think. He already knew what he was going to say next, but he acted as if he was trying to figure something out.
"You don't trust the maquis," said Val coldly with a smile.
"Come again, lieutenant?"
"You don't trust the maquis on the ship. That's why you won't beam over significant numbers of your security personnel. You want the MARCOs to supplement your away team so that you can keep more of your personnel on board," said Val, confident that he had figured it out.
"I can assure you that is not the reason."
"Then what?" asked a curious Val.
Janeway was exasperated. "It's because I don't trust the MARCOs."
"Then why use them on a mission?"
"If I send my officers over, I leave the MARCOs unchecked on board this ship. I'm obviously not going to send any of the maquis over to the Cardassian ship. Having the MARCOs onboard while my security staff is significantly reduced means I will have a tougher time breaking up any fights that occur between the MARCOs and the maquis. I'm risking chaos."
That made sense to Val.
"Captain, your protectiveness of the maquis intrigues me. They're not a ragtag bunch of harmless misfits. Many of them are dangerous. I'm sure even your security chief will concur. Tell me Lt. Tuvok, do you not fear an event that will see the maquis take over this ship?"
"I am extremely confident that will not occur," said Tuvok.
"Extremely confident because you've taken appropriate counter-measures?"
Tuvok was uncomfortable, but said "Appropriate counter-measures for such an event have been contemplated." In fact, the Vulcan lieutenant had run holodeck simulations to see what might happen in the event of a maquis mutiny. He called it Insurrection Alpha.
Janeway looked a little surprised. Val did not.
"Of course," Val said. "It was the logical thing to do." Val knew Tuvok probably planned counter-measures in the event of a MARCO uprising as well.
"Fine, counselor. I don't trust the MARCOs, the MARCOs don't trust me, and there are apparently some Starfleet officers that do not trust the maquis. We're in a three-way struggle for power. But… I *am* still the captain of this ship, and I make the final decisions. Now, I am ordering the MARCOs to join Lt. Tuvok's away team. Will they comply?"
"I am sure they will, ma'am."
"Good. You're dismissed."
"Aye, ma'am," said Val as he stood from his chair and exited the room.
Val entered the MARCO barracks in Cargo Bay 3.
"Officer on deck!" yelled one of the corporals. The rest of the MARCOs quickly stood at attention.
"As you were," said Val.
He walked over to Staff Sergeant Driver.
"Sergeant Driver, I need a word."
The two of them sat down and discussed the situation. Val wanted two fire teams to send over to the Cardassian ship.
Driver decided to take two teams from the platoon's first squad and keep the third fire team on standby.
"You'll be accompanying four Starfleet officers. You and the first fire team will beam over to the ship's bridge. Sergeant Hall and the second fire team will beam over to the ship's engineering section."
"Sounds good, sir. Will you be beaming over as well."
"No. I'm not as brave as you are," joked Val.
"Few are, sir. Very few are," joked Driver in response.
"Be safe," said Val.
Ten MARCO troops and 4 Starfleet ensigns beamed over to the Cardassian ship.
For the first time in weeks, Corporal Rodriguez was thinking of something other than picking a fight with the maquis. He had his pulse phaser rifle at the ready. The entire room was dark, except for whichever parts were lit up by the lights mounted on top of the rifles. Everyone remained quiet and started scanning the room with their lights. From time to time, Rodriguez would look for Sergeant Driver to see if he was giving any hand signals to communicate.
The MARCOs had changed into their camouflaged uniforms. Although it was dark, it was easy to differentiate the two Starfleet officers who were also slowly looking around.
Driver tapped an earpiece in his right ear. "Fire Team Bravo, report."
Sergeant Hall responded "Engineering secured."
Only the MARCOs heard her. Driver had always thought it was strange that Starfleet security didn't wear earpieces. The combadge system was fine when on board their ships, but in an alien environment, you wouldn't want potential enemies to hear your conversations. Driver gave a thumbs up signal to one of the Starfleet officers near him.
That officer attempted to access one of the computers nearby. After failing, he tapped his combadge.
"Bridge team to Voyager, we're clear. No sign of life. Both the bridge and engineering are in complete darkness. No systems operational."
"Acknowledged," said Lt. Tuvok.
"Ensign Kim, is their power drained?" asked the captain.
"No ma'am. At least some of the ship's core functions are running. Life support and gravity are seemingly up, or else the away teams would have reported that. In addition, the automated emergency beacon is on, and whatever is jamming our sensors seems to be working."
"There might be Cardassians in some of the other rooms?" asked Chakotay.
"That's a possibility, sir."
"Tell Lieutenant Carey he can beam over," said Janeway.
Lieutenant Joseph Carey had been the second ranking engineer assigned to Voyager. When the chief engineer died during the transport to the Delta Quadrant, he had presumed that he would take over engineering. To his dismay, Captain Janeway decided that the maquis engineer Torres was a better choice.
Carey had promised to remain as the second ranking engineer and to serve to the best of his ability. Most of the engineers were surprised. When Lt. Torres was promoted to the position over Carey, at least two Starfleet crewmembers filed complaints. Even more surprising was that Torres earned the promotion soon after being threatened with a court martial. She had punched Carey in the face and sent him to sickbay. Tuvok had wanted to confine Torres to the brig. In addition, many junior maquis members expressed to Chakotay that they were prepared to seize the ship over the incident. Chakotay had been livid and warned any potential mutineers that he would throw them in the brig himself.
Since then, Carey had served as an outstanding engineer. Torres was usually the engineer chosen for away missions, but this time was different. Any maquis members beamed over to a Cardassian ship would be a recipe for disaster. He was chosen to beam over to the Cardassian ship's engineering section and try to bring the ship back on line.
Neelix was finally ready to report his findings to the captain. During the situation briefing earlier, when he was shown an image of the Galor class warship, he thought it looked familiar. He looked through his ship's logs and determined that it appeared to be a ship which he had been warned to stay away from.
"Who are the Krowtonan Guard?" asked Captain Janeway.
"The Krowtonan were a mid-level military force in this region. They have been marginalized as of late after picking a fight with the Kazon."
"And they boarded the Cardassian ship?"
"My sources tell me that a small Krowtonan force boarded the ship and found it to be completely inoperational and devoid of life. The story then gets interesting. The rumor is that the ship is haunted. The Krowtonans found at least two ghosts on the ship. These ghosts are rumored to have killed three of the Krowtonan boarding party."
"I'll have the away teams stay alert for any 'ghosts,'" said Janeway.
"Well, the accounts differ. Only some of the Krowtonan said they saw ghosts. At least one Krowtonan acknowledged that all three casualties may have been hit with friendly fire. In the darkness, and under chaos, I can see that happening. Though, the Krowtonan are well-trained. In addition, one of the Krowtonan said he fired his energy weapon and the burst went through the ghost. This possibly led to friendly fire if the Krowtonan had decided to surround the ghost."
"Alleged ghost, Mr. Neelix. Let's not get too carried away here. There are reasonable explanations for everything."
Carey worked on one of the computer consoles in the engineering section. The computer console turn on, but wouldn't allow him access to any of the ship's systems. It appeared he needed a security code.
He wished he had more light. He had asked two assistant engineers to keep their lights focused on the console while he was trying to get into the ship's systems. The rest of the room was dark, save three or four small spots where MARCO troops had been positioned.
Suddenly, he thought he saw something from the corner of his eye.
"Did anyone see that?"
"See what, sir?" asked one of his assistants.
"Nothing. I thought I saw something."
Carey spent a few more minutes trying to break the encryption and gain access to the computer systems. He soon decided that it would be a pointless endeavor. The engineering team and the MARCOs beamed back to Voyager.
"Next course of action?" asked the Captain in her follow up meeting in the briefing room. Teams of Starfleet security and MARCO troops had swept the entire Cardassian ship from bow to stern. There was nobody on board.
"We should torpedo the ship and then warp away," said Torres.
That seemed a bit rash. But Janeway was considering that course of action as well. Although Torres suggested it out of pure hatred for Cardassians, Janeway was considering it so that the Kazon would not get their hands on advanced technology such as food replicators.
"I'm not sure that's advisable," said Neelix.
"Why?" asked the Captain.
"Right now, we are technically in Krowtonan space. They've been weakened by their fight against the Kazon, and some of their other enemies have also found this an opportune time to attack while they are distracted. But they are still a significant force. They have probably ignored us because we do not seem to be a threat. As I've said before, the Krowtonan believe in ghosts. They would view torpedoing the haunted Cardassian ship as an action bringing extremely bad luck upon the entire region and dooming the entire region to be haunted by vengeful ghosts. It is likely this is the reason the Krowtonan themselves did not destroy the ship. In addition, a number of the other races in the region would view the destruction of the ship to be a sign of cruelty and disrespect of the dead. Something akin to burying a person face-down on your homeworld Earth."
The Captain sighed in frustration.
"There are so-called starship graveyards in this region," added Neelix. We can tow the ship to one of the nearby sites and that should be fine."
"Let's do that. And make sure we strip whatever technology off that ship before we leave it," said Janeway. "On another note: Counselor Shin, please convey my gratitude to Sergeant Driver for his team's participation in this away mission. I'm glad it went off without a hiccup. I look forward to future collaborations."
"Will do," responded Val.
Staff Sergeant Driver sat in his quarters after finishing up his after action report. He was glad to be getting back into the swing of things. He hadn't typed up such a report since Voyager got stranded in the Delta quadrant. Of course, it was a boring report. Nothing happened on the Cardassian ship.
He reminisced about the first time he had to write such a report. He was a newly promoted squad leader. Those reports were shorter than the ones he soon had to write up as the platoon sergeant. But he hadn't been accustomed to paperwork. And so much. His first mission as a squad leader had brought his battalion to a planet which was trying to escape civil war. It was his first peacekeeping mission. But just about anything that happened required a report. Not just text summaries, but supplemented with diagrams and digital photographs. Speak with a civilian leader from a neighboring village, write a report. Award credits to local businessmen for their cooperation, write a report. It was a phenomenon many sergeants and lieutenants called "death by paperwork."
Soon, he felt some sadness. His current quarters were those originally assigned to Major Douglas, his former commanding officer. It was then that he realized he wouldn't be sending his after action report to the major. In fact, he wondered if he even had to write one up. He soon decided that he would address the report to Lieutenant Shin.
His thoughts were interrupted by his door chime.
"Enter," he said. But nobody did. He walked over to his door and the door automatically slid open. He looked around, but did not see anyone. He then caught sight of a padd that had been left on the ground in front of his doorway. He picked it up and read it with interest.
Driver knew that Shin had just wrapped up a meeting with the ship's captain and senior officers.
He approached Shin's quarters and hit the door chime. Nobody answered. Driver decided to wait for Shin to return. It was a short wait, only a couple of minutes.
"Sergeant, I was just about to come speak with you."
"Sir, I think we should speak in private."
"Sure, please come in."
The two walked into Val's quarters.
"I just received some interesting information." He handed Val the padd that he found on the floor.
Val looked at the padd. It contained several lines of information.
Class: Galor modified prototype
Function: Unmanned exploratory warship.
Mission profile: Assigned to explore Gamma quadrant.
Fate: ship disappeared in 2370 prior to reaching Bajoran wormhole. Ship presumed lost. Unmanned concept deemed a failure.
That was interesting background information. But even more interesting were the three lines at the bottom. Three command codes to unlock the ship's systems. The first was the code for the ship's computers. The second was the code to access the ship's flight controls, and the third was for access to the ship's weapons systems. For some reason, the flight controls and weapons had been segregated from the main computer.
"Where did you get this?" asked Val.
"It just appeared at my doorstep. But who cares! Let's beam over and see if it works," said an excited Driver.
"Don't you see, sir? This is a gift. This is our shot. We don't have to deal with the contingency of taking over the ship. We'll have our own ship. We'll be safe. Independent from Captain Janeway."
"Sergeant, you may be pleased to know that just several minutes ago, Janeway praised your team for their professionalism during the recent away mission."
"I am indeed pleased to know that, but who knows how long that will last? We need to at least evaluate this situation."
"What is this usage of the word "we," sergeant? Don't bring me into this. You're a grown man, you can do this yourself."
"Permission to speak, sir."
Val knew he wasn't going to like what was coming.
"Granted," he said reluctantly.
"We both know why the MARCOs are here."
"I know, I know. To capture the maquis. I understand that you think your troops will never get along with them. But this is a rash decision."
"This is a time sensitive situation, sir. We have a small window of opportunity. We wait and Janeway either destroys the ship or warps away." Scuttlebutt across the ship had been the Janeway would destroy the ship.
Driver could see Val was thinking things through.
"And, sir. I meant to say that the MARCOs wouldn't be here if Major Douglas hadn't asked for this mission." Driver just hit Val with a ton of bricks. Starfleet Command's first request for a MARCO platoon was initially denied by Colonel Jessik. Starfleet Command pressured Val to pull some strings, and Val contacted Douglas to try to persuade the colonel. The colonel relented and agreed, but only allowed two squads, instead of the regular three. In addition, the colonel placed Douglas in charge as the platoon leader. Douglas' rank and position had been a company commander, in charge of multiple platoons. But he decided to do this for his friend. In a way, Val was responsible for his friend's death.
Val resented the fact that Driver would try to guilt him into this. But Driver had been a good man, a good soldier. The knowledge that Major Aaron Douglas volunteered the MARCOs for this mission was not known to the other MARCOs, and Driver kept it a secret. In a private conversation, Driver had told Val that he did not consider Val to be the reason for Douglas' death. It was an accident. However, Driver needed help. He needed Val's cooperation. And right now, Driver was going to play any card he had, including guilt tripping his superior with the fact that if it hadn't been for Val's request, Douglas would be alive and the MARCOs would be back in the alpha quadrant not facing their current dilemma.
"Do any of the other MARCOs know about this?"
"Not yet, but they will if everything checks out."
"How do you know it's not a trap? A booby trap of some kind? The ship could be rigged to implode once you enter those codes."
"That's a risk I'm willing to take. It'll only be the two of us."
"Great. That'll make me feel much better when I'm dead."
"Sir, you know there's no happy ending on this ship. The MARCOs and the maquis are not going to hold hands and sing. Janeway will eventually be forced to do something, and that something might be that she maroons us on a barren moon somewhere. I can't allow that."
"You don't need me!" insisted Val.
"Yes, I do. I can't go to the transporter room and just ask for myself to be beamed over. The transporter chief will ask her department head for authorization. You're a Starfleet lieutenant. The transporter chief will obey your orders."
Val was stymied. He eventually agreed to beam over with Sergeant Driver.
He was furious at the maquis ensign, Seska. He knew it must've been her who left the padd for Sergeant Driver. The command codes on the padd also contained the Cardassian symbol for the letter "O," twice. This represented the Obsidian Order, Cardassia's intelligence agency.
Val and Driver entered transporter room 1.
"Petty Officer, two to beam over to the Cardassian ship's bridge."
"Aye, sir," said the transporter chief.
In five seconds, Val and Driver were standing in complete darkness. Two beams of light sliced through the darkness.
Val walked over to one of the consoles.
"Would you like to do the honors?" he asked.
Driver punched the first code into the computer. In a split second, the entire bridge lit up. Multiple computer screens were lighting up.
"Yes!" said Driver triumphantly.
Ensign Seska smiled to herself. Things were working better than she could have ever dreamed. If she pushed the MARCOs into abandoning Voyager, she would have significantly less resistance when she finally put her plans into action to take the ship.
She just needed one more piece to fall into place before this phase of her plan could be called a success. She rounded up about eight or so of the maquis who she thought were most harassed by the MARCOs in the beginning weeks of the ship's arrival at the Delta Quadrant. After convincing them to seek revenge for their injuries, it was set into motion. Seska knew that a significant melee would ensue. That would push the MARCOs to realize that there would never be peace on board, and that they risk Janeway leaving them behind somewhere. For sure they would feel that the Cardassian ship was the safer option.
"Report," said Janeway from the bridge.
"Area secured," replied Tuvok. He had just left his station on the bridge to deal with the chaos in the mess hall.
Sergeant Matthew Raines walked up to Tuvok. He was the ranking MARCO there.
"This was not our fault," he declared. "Those maquis crewmen struck first." Raines pointed to three crewmembers that were lying on the ground, two of them bleeding profusely. A few other maquis were also injured. One MARCO suffered a broken wrist. Another had a head injury.
One of the Starfleet crewmen who were also dining in the mess hall confirmed to Tuvok that it was the maquis crewmen who started the scuffle. Tuvok gave permission for the maquis crewmen to take their wounded to sickbay.
Tuvok reported the situation to Janeway. She was not happy. She asked Chakotay to join her in her office.
Janeway tapped her combadge "Lieutenant Shin, please report to the Captain's Office."
"Lieutenant Shin is not on board Voyager," came the computer's voice.
"Where is he?"
Janeway then made a simultaneous call to all transporter room and shuttlebays. "Has anyone seen Lieutenant Shin?"
"Yes, ma'am," came the response from transporter room 1.
"When did he beam out?"
"About 25 minutes ago, ma'am."
"Thank you, Janeway out."
"Ensign Kim, can you contact Lt. Shin and tell him I wish to speak with him in my office."
Janeway was furious. She had thought the MARCOs and the maquis could eventually get along. Now it seems that once just one MARCO was off the ship, the maquis took advantage. What confused her is why they didn't take advantage during the away missions when a third of the MARCOs were off the ship.
"What the hell was Shin and the MARCO leader doing on board the Cardassian ship anyway," Janeway asked herself.
Her door chime rang.
"Come," she said.
Val walked into the Captain's Office.
"You asked for me, ma'am?"
"Yes. Have you been briefed?"
"Briefed about what, ma'am?"
"The all out brawl that occurred in the mess hall between the MARCOs and the maquis."
"No, ma'am. When did this happen?"
"While you and Staff Sergeant Driver were having an adventure in the darkness over on the Cardassian ship."
"Ma'am, I don't know how this could've happened. I know for a fact Sergeant Driver specifically ordered his men to refrain from any hostilities with the maquis. I was there when he said it, multiple times."
"This was one of the few instances when the maquis started it," said Janeway.
"I'll have a talk with my people," said Chakotay.
"Do that, vice captain. Start with the ones in sickbay."
Chakotay left the office and headed for sickbay.
Val was about to leave as well, but the captain stopped him.
"Lieutenant, please have a seat."
Val sat down.
"Val, I need your insight. I know you and Driver were on the Cardassian ship when this happened. You'll need to explain that to me, but first how do you think the MARCOs are going to react to this situation?"
Val didn't want to say it, but he had to tell the truth.
"Sadly, I think this will force the MARCOs' hand. Driver had planned to take the ship, and now he probably will."
"Over my dead body, Lieutenant. Voyager's MY ship."
"No, not Voyager. The Vetara."
"The Cardassian ship, its name is the Vetara."
"To what end? It's not operational."
"Driver and I just brought it back online. It's fully functional."
"I see, and how did you manage that feat?" asked a curious Janeway.
Val was always fast on his toes.
"Starfleet Intel had given the MARCOs access codes to various Cardassian ships in case Chakotay and his cell had commandeered one. If we were confronted with a stolen Cardassian ship, we could send the access codes to shut it down and then re-start it with another set of access codes after the prisoners were secured."
"Why did none of the MARCOs use these codes on the first walk through?"
"Only I and Major Douglas knew about the codes. When I realized, I had Sergeant Driver look through some of Douglas' files. He found the codes and thought it was worth a try."
"Why didn't you tell ME?" asked Janeway.
"I thought there was some risk that it might be a booby trap. Starfleet Intel's source was not completely reliable. I thought you would prevent me from trying."
Val was a very good liar. It is no surprise that Seska thought he was an intelligence agent. However, he wasn't. He was just your average lawyer.
"So now that Driver has the Vetara, what does he plan to do with it?"
"I'm not sure," said Val. I think he really just wants to go home. He would have loved it if he and his troops could stay on Voyager, but he knew in his heart this animosity with the maquis would unravel any chance of that."
"I can order them to stay on board."
"I am sorry, captain. But I think this is the end of them taking orders from you. I had some hopes after the successful away mission, but this recent brawl just brings back the point that the maquis situation is unacceptable. There's no happy ending here."
"You're making me choose between the maquis and the MARCOs."
"No ma'am. The choice is done. The MARCOs are leaving."
"I am sure you'll miss them."
"Sorry, ma'am. I will be leaving as well."
"Lieutenant, you are a Starfleet officer, under my command. You will not abandon this ship."
"Captain, I have never been a part of your crew. I'm just a JAG oversight officer. I have no purpose here. But my basic piloting skills are of use on the Vetara. I am sorry to breach my loyalty towards you, but the MARCOs have a much better chance of reaching the alpha quadrant if I am with them."
"Why do you feel a stronger duty to the MARCOs than to Starfleet?"
Val was reluctant at first, but he decided to tell the captain about how he convinced Major Douglas to get permission to have the MARCOs join Voyager on the mission to find Chakotay's cell. Val was responsible for Major Douglas' death. Val is responsible for the MARCOs being stranded in the Delta quadrant. He couldn't let the MARCOs just drift in space without a pilot.
Janeway finally understood why Val had been so protective of the MARCOs.
Although Val didn't ask for permission to disembark, Janeway said "Lieutenant, your request for permission to disembark and take command of the Vetara is granted. Good luck to you."
"Thank you, ma'am."
Val stood up from his seat and started to walk towards the door.
"One more thing, lieutenant."
"I remember during one of our private conversations, I asked you why you are no longer on speaking terms with your friend DuPont. You said something to the effect of her making the wrong decision, and someone dying because of it."
"I wanted to let you know. Sometimes, you can make the right decision, and people still die. It is not your fault that Major Aaron Douglas is no longer with us. I hope you learn to accept that. As a captain, which you now are, you will probably have to deal with more such situations."
"Thank you for thoughts, Captain Janeway. I'll see you in the Alpha Quadrant."
"You will. Dismissed."
Ensign Seska was quite proud of herself. Mission Accomplished. She heard the door chime ring.
"I'll make this quick, ensign," said Val as he walked through the door. "I am very displeased with how you manipulated this entire situation."
"Awww. Did I hurt your feelings?"
"You've gotta admit, I'm pretty damn good."
"You can color me impressed. What I don't get is why you didn't just take the Vetara and then flee to the Kazon. If all you wanted was replicator technology and advanced weaponry to deliver to the Kazon, you could've given them the Vetara."
"That's a laugh riot, counselor. A Galor class ship is not much compared to Voyager. I much prefer the ship I'm standing on right now, thank you very much."
"You should've taken the 'inferior' ship, ensign. I've already told Janeway that you are a Cardassian spy."
"No you haven't."
"How else was I going to explain to her how I got the access codes to the Vetara? Magic?"
"If Janeway knew, I'd be in the brig by now."
"Janeway knows, and she'll watch for who you're contacting so that she can get back whatever tech you've already given to the Kazon."
"You're bluffing. If it were true, why would you tell me?"
"Professional courtesy. One spy to another," said Val with a smile.
Val walked out of Seska's quarters and headed for his own.
Tom Paris had been waiting in the transporter room for a couple of minutes. Although he was not very close to Val Shin, they were friends. He also didn't want Val to leave without anyone saying goodbye, and Tom knew he was the closest friend Val had except for the MARCOs and possibly even including the MARCOs.
Val was the last one to beam over. All of the MARCOs and their equipment had transported over an hour ago. Val walked into the transporter room with a small backpack strapped on and a mid-sized duffle bag in his right hand.
"Hey Vince, I just wanted to wish you the best of luck," said Tom. Tom extended his hand. Val dropped his bag onto the floor and shook Tom's hand.
"Thanks Tom, I appreciate it. Oh, by the way, my friends call me Val."
"I know. It's just that I once had a serious relationship that fell apart with a girl named Valerie and I wince every time I say that name. Sorry, man. It didn't seem like you minded when I called you Vince."
"Actually, I don't. No worries. I just found it strange."
"Oh, Captain Janeway said that we would stay in contact for as long as we can. It will probably be at least several weeks before we are out of communications range. I wish we could keep our warp cruising speed a tiny bit slower so that we could convoy home together."
"Thanks for the thought Tom. I think Voyager should go maximum cruising speed. It's the right call. We'll meet up eventually."
"Yeah. Oh, and Tuvok said that he would keep an eye on the two maquis crewmembers you mentioned to him. He said you gave him some sort of inside information from Starfleet Intel?"
"Yea. I was going to tell the captain, but I thought she'd probably blow it off as my paranoia against the maquis."
"Care to share?"
"You can ask Tuvok. Tell him I said you can have a copy of the file. The encrypt password is Obsidian."
Crewman DuPont entered the transporter room.
"Sorry to interrupt," she said.
"Oh, not interrupting," said Paris. He walked backwards toward the doorway while facing Val. "I am due on the bridge. Good luck, counselor," said Paris as he raised his eyebrows in a quick gesture. He then turned around and left the transporter room.
"Hi V," said DuPont.
"Hey, how are ya?"
"Okay. I'm sorry to see you go."
"Nah. It's no big deal. We'll meet up again."
"I'll miss you."
"Nah. You'll forget about me soon enough."
"No I won't."
"Well, just in case you do, I give you permission to," Val joked.
"That's not funny."
"Hey, don't worry about me. I'll be okay."
"I shouldn't have defended Kirkland and Lewis."
Morgan Kirkland and Stan Lewis were two members of the maquis who had been caught by Starfleet. During their interrogations, intelligence officers got a little rough because time was of the essence and they had to find a hidden bomb. As a result, DuPont petitioned the court to suppress their confessions and the court agreed. Subsequently, Kirkland and Lewis were involved in the raid that killed Petty Officer Alejandro Rodriguez, Corporal Lorenzo Rodriguez' brother.
"You were a defense attorney. You did your job."
"Six Starfleet crewman died because of that."
"No, Karen. That wasn't your fault."
Val placed both of his hands under DuPont's and held them for a few seconds. Then he lightly bounced them up and down.
"It wasn't your fault."
Ironically, it was such tactics by defense attorneys which led the JAG office to send their officers to oversee interrogations and make sure they didn't get out of hand. In effect, Val would never have been sent on this particular field assignment, and perhaps the MARCOs wouldn't have either.
When Val let go of DuPont's hands, she reached into her pocket and pulled something out. She placed it in Val's hand.
Val opened his hand and saw two Starfleet rank pips.
"You're a captain now. You should have the appropriate rank insignia."
Val laughed. "Thanks. I'm not a real captain though. I can't just add two pips."
"Well, Captain Janeway gave two to Paris as a field promotion."
"Paris was re-instated. Not promoted. But I get your point. Thanks for the thought."
The two of them hugged for a brief moment. As they parted, Val brought his head down and they touched foreheads for a second.
"Be a good captain," she said.
Val then picked up his bag from the floor and walked over to the transporter pad.
"Don't volunteer for any away missions, okay? They're dangerous," he said to DuPont.
Val was laying down on his new bed. He was a little surprised. He had heard that Cardassians lived in very Spartan quarters. But here he was, in the Vetara's commander's quarters, and it was quite to his satisfaction. 600 square feet was not bad. Of course, his quarters on Deep Space 5 were close to 1,000 square feet. But 600 would suffice. The queen sized bed mattress was quite comfortable.
Then, something caught his eye. The room was dimly lit so he increased the lighting. He was startled. A female Cardassian had somehow entered his room.
"Stop right there," he said.
He tapped his combadge that was sitting on his bedside table, "Security to the captain's quarters!"
When the female figure slowly approached, Val reached for his phaser pistol.
She kept approaching, and Val fired. The beam of light passed right through her.