Chapter 3: In Command
Three MARCOs bursted into Val's room. They only person they saw was Val, holding a small hand phaser.
"Are you okay, sir?" asked a corporal.
"Yes, I'm fine." There was nobody else there. Val must have imagined the intruder.
"You fleet boys are easily spooked," said one of the privates.
"Come again?" asked Val.
"Your face, sir. You're as white as a bedsheet."
Val laughed silently to himself.
"Maybe it's cuz Halloween just passed a week ago. You should've stayed away from the horror movies, sir," said the corporal.
"Maybe," said Val. "Thank you for your team's quick response."
"No problem, sir," said the corporal. "If it makes you feel better, the Voyager engineer was easily spooked as well. What was his name, Gary something?"
"Carey. Joseph Carey."
"Right. You could tell something spooked him, though he wouldn't admit it. Have a good night, sir."
The three MARCOs left Val and he went back to bed. Before falling asleep, he made a note to himself to speak with Lt. Carey about what he might've seen during his time in the Vetara's engineering section."
The next morning, Val had basically forgotten the incident that happened in his quarters the night before. He had a brief conversation with Carey. The engineer didn't see anything. He thought he might've seen another person in the distance, at least twenty feet away from him. But once he shined his light in that direction, there was nobody there.
The ship seemed to be running fine. For the time being, Val charted a course which trailed behind Voyager. No piloting skills needed thus far. The power systems seemed to be running at optimal. The Vetara was a sturdy ship.
That night, he decided to read up on the systems of the Cardassian ship. He would familiarize himself with the energy systems first. Then, perhaps the propulsion systems.
As he started getting tired, he put down his padd and started to lower the lights. He again noticed an intruder in his quarters. But this time, it was a different person.
"You're not real," he whispered to himself. He closed his eyes tightly and started blinking hard. But the figure did not disappear.
Val froze for a second, transfixed by what he was seeing. But he soon gathered his wits and tapped his combadge laying on his nightstand. "Security to the captain's quarters."
The woman slowly walked toward his bed. She had her hands up slightly in front of her, as if to signal that she was not going to harm him. She reached his bed, sat down and touched his hand. Val felt pressure on his hand. This was not a ghost.
"I'm not a threat to you, captain," said the woman. "I'm yours."
"Mine? What do you mean, mine?" asked Val.
"I belong to this ship's commander. I belong to you," said the woman.
Just then, a team of MARCOs came in, rifles at the ready.
"Hold fire!" shouted Val. He wanted to hear more from the woman. But more importantly, he still wasn't sure whether the phaser fire would go through the woman like it did the previous night, and wind up hitting him.
The woman suddenly disappeared, but this time, the MARCOs had caught a glimpse of her before she did.
"Sorry I doubted you, sir," said one of the privates. It was the same team that had entered his quarters the night before. "I guess ghosts do exist."
"That wasn't a ghost," said an annoyed Val. He wasn't annoyed with the MARCOs. It was just an annoying overall situation. He grabbed his uniform jacket and headed out.
"Where are you going?" asked Corporal Santiago.
"Engineering!" said Val as he quickly walked toward the closest turbolift.
"Are we following you, sir? Or are we returning to our posts?" asked Santiago.
"Your choice, corporal. I won't need a guard detail if that's what you're asking. It wasn't hostile."
The three MARCOs followed Val into the turbolift.
"Officer on deck!" said one of the MARCOs as Val entered engineering. They stiffened up and stood at attention.
"As you were," said Val. The team of four MARCOs standing guard in engineering returned to simply milling about.
"Corporal Logan, please run a systems diagnostic, ship-wide. I want a record of every system that has been accessed in the past hour."
"The screen in front of you. Review the ship's systems and tell me what programs have been running in the past hour."
"Sir, with all due respect," said Logan. "I'm a marine. I don't know anything about ship's systems. If anyone in this room is running a ship-wide diagnostic, I think it's you," she said jokingly.
Val walked over to the console and Logan stepped out of the way. He moved his fingers quickly across the touchscreen and read through the information. He spotted the program he was looking for. It had been activated in the past 15 minutes, and it was also activated around the time he thought he saw the "ghost" the previous night. It worried him that there were about a few timecodes in between when the program appears to have been briefly activated. He pushed a couple of buttons and the hologram appeared in the middle of engineering.
A few of the MARCOs reflexively brought their rifles up, but Val held up his left hand to signal them to stand down.
Val wasn't sure how interactive the hologram was, but from what he had seen thus far, it would be one of the higher functioning holograms in his experience.
"Identify yourself," said Val. He actually felt a little ridiculous demanding that, since it should probably be the hologram demanding that Val identify himself. After all, this was a Cardassian ship and she was a Cardassian hologram.
"I am Kejal. I am this ship's caretaker."
"The Vetara was converted from a warship to a prototype unmanned exploration ship. There was some concern that the ship would run into unforeseen malfunctions along the way. I was designed to monitor the ship's systems and carry out repairs if necessary."
"You're the ship's engineer?"
"Perhaps repair technician is an appropriate designation. My program self-activates once a month unless a malfunction alert triggers to bring me online."
"Why were you in my quarters last night?"
"I am not an original program. Maintenance skills were added on top of an existing program. My original designation was the commander's consort. Those subroutines are still active in my programming. I am not allowed to delete them. Even if I were, I believe it would cause serious damage to me, as the consort program is the "skeleton" of my current program. The consort subroutines were dormant until your presence was registered in your quarters."
"Interesting…" said Staff Sergeant Driver. He had just arrived in engineering. He was notified by one of his corporals about the holographic program.
"What about the other hologram?" asked Santiago. "The one in the captain's quarters 20 minutes ago."
"That was also me. I took a form that would be more pleasing to your captain," said Kejal.
Val was a little embarrassed. He had hoped the discussion wouldn't move in this direction.
"Yes, I noticed that it was the same program that ran during both nights," said Val as he pointed to the screen.
"You're into Orions, huh?" asked Santiago. Earlier in the night, Kejal had taken on the appearance of an Orion female from Val's past. Once he recognized her, he knew she wasn't a ghost.
"Maintain your military bearing, corporal," said Sergeant Driver.
"Yes, sir," said Santiago. He was trying to lighten the mood. In the end, he respected Val as a superior.
"I'm going to deactivate your program temporarily and transfer you to the captain's office. I'd like to get some questions answered, but with less of an audience," said Val. There were now over a dozen MARCO troopers assembled in engineering. News apparently spreads fast.
"Captain," said Kejal. "There are no holo-emitters in the gul's office."
"Okay," said Val. "Sergeant Driver, please clear engineering."
"You heard the man," said Driver. "Everyone out. Corporal Logan, please take your team to the armory until I call for you."
"Sergeant Driver," said Val. "You can stay."
"Sir, with your permission, I'd like for Matt and Julie to stay as well."
After the room cleared, Val continued to ask questions of the Vetara's caretaker.
"Kejal, is it?"
"That's a nice name."
"It's Bajoran. It means independent."
"The engineer in charge of the unmanned exploration ship program, Glinn Daro, served a rotation on Bajor during the Union's administration. He picked up some words from the Bajoran language. He thought Kejal would be an interesting name for the ship as it would operate independently. However, Gul Evek was in charge of the program. He was displeased and would not allow a Bajoran name for a Cardassian ship. Evek decided to name this ship Vetara, after his flagship, the Vetar. Daro then decided to name me Kejal."
"And Evek didn't care about that?"
"I'm not sure Evek knew. In any event, there were multiple rumors that some Cardassian guls assigned to the Bajor sector kept Bajoran consorts."
"Which brings me to this question: why is there a consort on a commanderless ship?"
"This ship was originally designed to have a crew. My program was initially installed prior to the modification to unmanned exploration."
"So you're saying a consort is a default program on all Cardassian ships?" asked Driver.
"On most warships, yes. Cardassian military officers are not allowed to bring their spouses or families on post with them. I believe Starfleet has more relaxed policies on that front. A consort program was deemed to enhance the comfort levels of Cardassian commanders on long deployments."
"Wonderful," said Val sarcastically. "And you said I can't delete those subroutines from your program."
"No, you cannot."
"We can trade quarters if you like, sir," joked a smiling Driver.
"Not funny," said Val.
"This ship has imprinted Captain Shin as the commander of this vessel," said Kejal. "Regardless of which quarters he sleeps in."
"I'd like to get to that," said Val. "Although I'm glad that you see me as your captain, why is that? I'm a Starfleet officer on a Cardassian ship. Why am I not registered as an intruder on your ship?"
"That is complicated. I am unsure as to whether you would like me to explain in front of your men. The explanation might involve details you wish to keep private."
Val thought about dismissing the MARCO sergeants. He was unsure what Kejal might say. However, he wanted to build trust with them, so he allowed them to stay
"You may explain with my sergeants present."
"Last night, when I first appeared in your quarters, you had already been confirmed as one of the individuals who had entered in the activation codes to bring this ship online."
"So if Sergeant Driver had those quarters, you would have deemed him this ship's commander?"
"But he punched in the first code."
"That isn't enough. However, you match other criteria. Last night, after I saw your face, I ran a facial recognition program through our databanks. I read through your file, and you are now deemed to be this ship's commander."
"Yes. Here," said Kejal as she brought up something which looked like a personnel file regarding Val.
"I can't read Cardassian," said Val.
"Oh. Of course, captain. That's your name," she said as she pointed to some words on the screen next to an image of his face. "And this says 'Starfleet officer Val Shin is a level 2 Bureau operative.'"
"Come again," said Val.
"I do not understand that request," said Kejal.
"I mean, what does that mean? Level 2 operative."
"I do not understand. It means what it says. You are a level 2 operative. One step above a level 3 and one step below a level 1."
"What's the Bureau?" Val asked with a puzzled look on his face.
"Ah. I believe you wish for your sergeants to leave the room?"
"No. No. You can explain with them here."
"But, I don't understand," said Kejal. Now it was she who had the puzzled look on her face. "It is my understanding that Bureau operatives sometimes feign ignorance to deny knowledge of their agency's existence to civilians."
"No. no," said Val. "This is real ignorance." Val felt stupid for saying that. "Please explain to me what the Bureau is."
"The Bureau is shorthand for the Federation's Bureau of Interstellar Security; or Bureau of Interstellar Stability. The Obsidian Order is not entirely sure. We only know that the humans call it the Bureau and that it was created pursuant to Article 14, Section 31 of the Starfleet Charter."
"And you think I belong to this organization?"
"The file says you do."
"You're a thirty-one!" said Driver in surprise.
"Wait, what? You've heard of this?" asked Val.
"Yea. Well, rumors of it. Starfleet Intel, Sub-Division 31. Clandestine activities group, interstellar security. It's rumored they poach MARCO officers from time to time."
"There's no such thing as sub-division 31. Or the Bureau, for that matter. And I'm not a level 2 operative of this phantom bureau."
"Yea, well, that's what a thirty-one would say," said Driver.
"Well, then what would someone who's not a thirty-one say? That he is one?" retorted an exasperated Val.
"The captain doesn't strike me as a thirty-one," said Sergeant Hall. "But then again, I guess that's the point."
"Oh lord," said Val.
"Of course it exists," said Kejal. "But it is the Order's understanding that the Bureau exists outside the command structure of Starfleet Intelligence. The Bureau appears to be a civilian run operation. It is confusing that some Bureau operatives are uniformed Starfleet officers. There is a note about that in your personnel file, Captain Shin."
"Okay, okay," said Val, who appeared to resign his effort in arguing against the existence of the Bureau. "Let's run with the premise that I'm a so called level 2 operative. It now makes even less sense that you would allow me to command this ship. Would I not be an even greater threat to you? Shouldn't you reject someone like me from commanding this ship?"
"No," said Kejal. "My particular set of directives makes it so that you are now the ship's rightful commander."
"Why?" asked Val.
"This ship is tasked to explore the Gamma quadrant. Under normal circumstances, only a Cardassian Gul would be authorized to command a Galor-class ship. However, because this is an unmanned ship, there is no commander assigned. At the same time this project commenced, the various security agencies of the Alpha quadrant powers met and created an ad hoc alliance for the sole purpose of evaluating any threats from the Gamma quadrant. This alliance comprised of the Cardassian Obsidian Order, the Romulan Tal Shiar, and the human Bureau. The three agency alliance all sent out ships and agents into the Gamma quadrant and agreed to share information and coordinate actions if threats were identified. The directives embedded for the Vetara's mission states that in the absence of any Cardassian officer, the ship can be lawfully commanded by any officer of the Tal Shiar or Bureau once this ship has left the Alpha quadrant. Because of that specific wording, I have decided that Captain Shin has assumed command of the Vetara. The exobiology tech concurred, and we entered the commands into the central computer accordingly."
"Exobiology tech?" asked Val.
"Yes. I am the Vetara's maintenance technician onboard. The ship has a second holographic program. He is a somewhat less complex program than I, but he is an exobiology survey technician. He keeps track of the various alien species this ship gathers information on."
"Where is he?" asked Driver.
"His program activates once every three months, unless called on by me. His station is research lab 2 on E deck."
Driver tapped his earpiece to open a channel to his men.
"MARCOs, stay away from E deck."
Driver didn't want any of his men running into the hologram by mistake. His six corporals all acknowledged the order.
"You mentioned that Tal Shiar or Bureau agents assume command in the absence of Obsidian Order agents, correct?"
"In absence of any Cardassian officer, whether Obsidian Order or military from the First through Twelfth Orders."
"So, I would lose command once a Cardassian officer arrives onboard?"
"No. Under normal circumstances, a Cardassian Gul commands his ship and remains in command until he cedes it to a succeeding commander, or is legally removed by a Legate from Central Command. That chain of succession protocol remains in effect for Tal Shiar or Bureau agents who assume command of this ship. You may also be relieved if you were to disobey a direct order from Central Command, or Gul Evek. Seeing as we are in the Delta quadrant, I view those scenarios as unlikely."
"Interesting…" thought Val silently. He didn't want to express his concern, but he had worried what might happen if Seska were to arrive and claim this ship as hers. Val bet she didn't think about this whole chain of succession tidbit as she basically gave the ship to him. Then again, Seska was a smart cookie. She may have been willing to lose the Vetara forever just in order to have a shot at taking Voyager. In any case, Seska had grossly miscalculated. Val had a brief conversation on a secure channel with Tuvok earlier in the day. Janeway had already authorized some type of trap to catch Seska red-handed if she were to attempt any further communication with the Kazon-Nistrim. Janeway decided that if Seska were to behave herself the rest of the way, Janeway would forgive her past mistakes. But if Seska fell for the trap, Tuvok would throw her in the brig for the rest of the voyage. Val thought that was fair. After all, he did tell Seska that Janeway knew.
Val had kept secret the part about Seska being an Obsidian Order agent. He had a feeling Janeway would want to give her a second chance, and if Seska were willing to keep herself out of trouble from now on, it would be better if the crew treated her as they do now. No need to get a fourth or a third of the ship wanting to hang her simply because of her race, which would almost certainly be the case if the maquis knew she were a Cardassian. He only told Tuvok that he suspected Seska of communicating with a hostile enemy. It was up to Tuvok to figure out the exact nature of what Seska was doing.
Val's thought returned to the scene in front of him. He noticed that they had been talking for a while now. He was satisfied with the answers that he had gotten thus far, and wanted to retire to bed. He was already half-asleep about an hour ago. The sudden intrusion spiked Val's adrenaline levels, but now he was starting to feel a little tired again. He was comfortable with assuming that the holographic repair technician would not see him as an intruder onboard this Cardassian ship.
"I think that's enough for tonight. I'm going to spend some time digesting this information," said Val. "Sergeants, you are dismissed. Kejal, please return to monitoring the ship's systems."
"Yes, sir," said Driver.
"I will continue to watch over the ship's systems," said a compliant Kejal.
Val took off his uniform jacket and changed into his pajama pants. He really liked the feel of silk on his skin. He fell asleep in a matter of minutes.
In the middle of the night, after a couple hours of deep sleep. He started to rouse. He turned over to look at the small clock on his nightstand. He bumped into something and was immediately startled.
"Ahhhh!" he screamed and jumped out of bed. He blinked a couple of times and put his hand up to his face. A couple of his fingers were digging out the dried protein and salt that accumulated in his eyes during his sleep. His heart was pounding rapidly and strongly, but he tried to calm down.
"Kejal, what are you doing?" he asked as calmly and quietly as possible.
"Are you not pleased?" asked Kejal. "Your file suggested Navaar would make you happy. I am your woman. I want to make you happy."
"Wait. Stop right there." Val took a second to compose himself. "Kejal, you are not my woman."
"But, captain. I am."
"No, you're not."
"Am I not attractive enough? Would you prefer I take on another appearance? A human?" asked Kejal, eager to please Val.
"No, please don't. You're only going to confuse me even more. Your Cardassian appearance is appropriate."
Kejal's hologram flickered for second and she returned to her Cardassian appearance.
"Is this better? You prefer a Cardassian woman as your consort?"
Val put a hand to his forehead. He thought about how he could make himself clearer. For a second, he also worried about Kejal's feelings, but then wondered if holograms had feelings.
"Okay, how's this: I release you from your consort duties. You are free."
"Being your consort is no burden," said Kejal, smiling. "I wish to make you happy."
"Surely you have other desires."
"Your happiness is my sole concern."
Val was thinking the Cardassians were very thorough in programming their mistresses.
"How about your other traits? You're the caretaker of this ship, right? Your maintenance and repair duties. Aren't those your concern as well?"
"They are minor. Nothing ever needs to be repaired. Sporadic monitoring of the ship's systems takes less than a minute."
"Well, what do you do when I'm out and about? When I'm duty on the bridge?"
"My program remains inactive."
"Let's do that. Whenever you're not on duty as the ship's repair tech, you'll stay inactive."
"But… I don't want to stay deactivated," said Kejal. Val wasn't sure, but he thought he almost heard a hint of sadness in her voice. This hologram was probably more lifelike than Val had first imagined. In fact, Kejal was probably more similar to the Doctor aboard Voyager. He too had made some requests to have control over when he could activate or deactivate.
"So, you do have a desire other than to please me," said Val.
"No…" Kejal seemed confused. "I wish to stay activated so I can please you."
"But… what if it pleases me to have you stay inactive."
Kejal looked saddened. "As you wish." Her program disappeared.
Val smiled. Finally, he could get some rest. He went back to bed and closed his eyes. A few seconds later, he could sense a guilt trip coming on. What if Kejal had independent wishes and truly didn't want to stay inactive? She would have to obey his orders and stay inactive, but what if she wanted something else? It bothered him for a few seconds.
He decided that he needed sleep. Tomorrow, he would speak with Ensign Harry Kim from Voyager to see if he could teach Val some basic skills on programming personality traits in a hologram. He wanted to give Kejal a hobby or something. Val knew Harry would perform maintenance on the Doctor's holographic program from time to time. The Doctor had a boatload of hobbies.
Val managed to get in about 5 hours of sleep. For breakfast, he had a new cereal replicated for him. Another ancient children's cereal. This one was called Count Chocula. It was basically chocolate for breakfast. Val thought of it when one of the MARCOs mentioned the Earth holiday Halloween a couple nights ago. Val only had it once or twice when he was a child. He doused it with milk and then started eating. As he ate, he read through the status reports from Sergeant Julie Hall from the last 8-hour shift. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Ensign Kim sent him a message about holo-programming. He said he would be glad to give tutorials about tweaking holographic programs. However, Janeway had him assigned to multiple projects at present. He could get back to Val in a couple of days. Also, Kim mentioned that Lieutenant Paris was a prolific holo-programmer and that Val might be wise to ask for Tom's help. When Val reached out to Tom, he also responded that he was currently swamped with various assignments. He made the same offer to help in a couple days time.
As he thought about what hobbies he might add to Kejal's programming, the thought also occurred to him whether he should train the MARCOs to learn to operate some of the ship's basic systems. Perhaps Kejal could teach them rudimentary skills. It would be important. But mostly, Val thought the MARCOs might be bored. The bridge and engineering each had a fire team standing guard in rotating 8-hour shifts. He would speak with Sergeant Driver to see what his opinions were about having his MARCOs perform other tasks from time to time.
Val spent most of his afternoon on the bridge. He further familiarized himself with the ship's piloting controls. Although the writing was in Cardassian, he had learned to recognize the basic words that went with the respective controls. He practiced how to set speeds, and how to perform basic maneuvers involving yaw, pitch, and roll.
It was only the third day Val and the MARCOs had adopted the Vetara as their new home. Already, Voyager was several hours ahead of them. With each day that passed, an additional 2 hours and 13 minutes was added to the gap. It would be a while until Voyager sailed out of communications range, though. And Val knew that Voyager would probably stop at some planets along the way out of curiosity. There would be ample opportunities for the ships to meet up. Val thought that it was possible for there to be several "bunching up" points for as long as the next year. He thought about whether he would take Vetara out to explore. If he did, that might pose a problem for catching up with Voyager. At the same time, he probably would want to allow the MARCOs some shore leave from time to time, just as a change of scenery. He put that train of thought to rest and decided that he would cross that bridge when it appeared.
After ten hours on duty, Val headed back to his quarters. He decided to have a meatball sub for dinner. After dinner, he relaxed a little bit and read a novel. A mystery thriller. He took a shower, and then climbed into bed. This time, he wouldn't be caught off guard when Kejal materialized in his quarters. At exactly 1130 hours. That was apparently the default programming. He sat up against the headboard, counting down the seconds. When Kejal materialized, she saw that he was expecting her.
"You would like me to deactivate," Kejal said in a sad voice.
"Not yet," said Val, holding up his left hand as if to signal halt.
A smile came to Kejal's face.
"You would like to engage in intimate relations," she said, still smiling, and walking towards Val's bed.
"No," he said, but smiled back. "Please, have a seat." Val pointed a chair near his bed. About 3 feet to the right of his bed was his desk and chair. Kejal sat down, and swiveled the chair to face Val.
Kejal still had a somewhat goofy grin on her face. It left Val a little unsettled.
"Kejal, I'd like to discuss your programming a little bit."
"I know I can't take the consort subroutines out of your program, is there a way for me to keep them dormant?"
"I do not know. In any event, I would not like to remain dormant."
"I know, I know. I think I can compensate for that soon enough. How about the place you materialize, can I change that? I would like to assign you your own quarters and maybe you can materialize there at night."
"No, only your quarters have the appropriate holo-emitters. No other quarters are equipped in this fashion. Besides, what would I do in a room by myself?"
Val thought about the holo-emitters. It should be easy enough to rip them out of his quarters and install them elsewhere. If necessary, he could always just change quarters. Though, he had gotten attached to the gul's quarters. The next biggest quarters were less than half the size.
"Well, we'll get to that as well. In the next couple days, I am going to attempt to add more subroutines to your program. Maybe give you some interests or hobbies or something to spend your time with."
"Captain, you're going to alter my program?"
"Well, I won't subtract anything out of it, if that concerns you. You'll still be yourself, except with a newly learned skill or something. Maybe music or something. Would you like that?"
"I don't know," said Kejal.
"Well, we'll discuss it together. I won't give you a skill you don't want. We'll work it through."
"Okay," said Kejal in a neutral voice. She didn't sound too excited about it, but Val thought it would be better for her to have some interest in her existence other than pleasuring him in intimate relations.
"Well, I'm going to get some shut eye. Will you please return to engineering?"
"I'm not allowed," said Kejal.
"What do you mean? I just allowed you."
"No. My programming doesn't allow me to perform any function other than as your consort from 2330 hours to 0730 hours, roughly corresponding with first watch. Either I am serving you, or I am inactive."
"But what if the ship needs repairs during those hours?"
"Then… I guess you would have to carry them out. Or one of your men."
"But… what if I'm not here? What if nobody is here? You're the ship's emergency repair technician."
"If you were not here, captain, then my consort subroutines would not be active. As long as you are here in your quarters, during this time frame I cannot be anywhere else."
Val couldn't believe he just walked into such a random catch-22. Normally, he could see such things coming. He was now seriously considering changing quarters. He knew Kejal would be sad if he deactivated her. Or, would she? Do holograms having feelings. Damnit, he thought to himself. He just had this debate with himself the previous night.
"Okay, well, I'm going to sleep. Please feel free to play with the computer," said Val as me rolled over to face the viewport into space.
"Play with the computer? What does that mean?" asked Kejal.
"You know, browse the library. Watch a movie or something. There are earbuds in my backpack."
"Why would I do such things?"
"I don't know. To relax? Occupy yourself with something? You said you didn't want to remain dormant."
"But… I'm an interactive hologram," said Kejal. "If I'm not interacting with you, or doing something for you, then I'm dormant. I can't be a passive receiver of information. Assimilating your computers entire library of video files would probably take me a matter of minutes."
"Okay." Val sat back up in his bed. He thought of what he could do to interact with Kejal. Other than using her in a physical way.
"Grab the padd on my desk. Read to me," said Val.
"Anything. Pick something from the library."
Kejal started reading the introductory chapter of a textbook on advanced astrophysics. She read it at a fast pace. Her voice was somewhat monotone. Val couldn't decide whether her reading it was putting him to sleep, or annoying the bejeezus out of him. He would have been okay if it put him to sleep. Though, he was afraid it was doing more of the latter.
"Okay, okay," said Val as he put up one of his hands to signal for Kejal to stop. It dawned on him that he was going that a lot in the past few days. "Slow down your speed. And don't just read it as if you're reading it for yourself. Read it as if you were talking to me. In a conversation."
Kejal changed her tone and speed a little bit. It sounded more pleasant. However, it didn't do it. It was still annoying Val more than anything else.
"Okay, stop." Once Kejal stopped reading, Val thought for several moments.
"Okay, bring up my personnel record. Read that to me."
"Wouldn't you already know all this information?" asked a curios Kejal.
"Well, I know who I am. I'm wondering how accurately Cardassian Central Command got it," said Val, smiling.
Kejal brought up Val's service record and started reading.
"It says here you were born in 2343, which gives you 29 years right now. You were born in an area called New York, which would make you an American by culture. Your personnel profile in Cental Command's database was last edited over a year ago. At that time, in standard American units, you were 5 foot 6 inches tall, and weighed 138 pounds, with standard fluctuation of 5 pounds heavier or lighter depending on your current eating habits and activity levels. You have black hair, dark brown eyes. You are right-handed."
"Stop. Those are physical descriptors, read to me about my past? Where did I go to school? Where did I live? That kind of thing."
"Our database does not include that sort of information."
"What was my first posting out of the academy? Where did I spend my summer between second and third years?"
"We do not have access to your Starfleet service record, except for your graduation date from the Academy and whether you were an active officer at the time of the last update to your file. It says here that you were."
"What about my Bureau file, you have that?"
"Of course not. The Bureau doesn't share their files about their operatives. Although, once in a while, they will share lists of their operatives whom the directors believe have been captured behind enemy lines. They sometimes offer spy exchanges with the various agencies, such as Obsidian Order and Tal Shiar. The recent alliance strengthened those exchanges."
"And I was on one of those lists?"
"No. But then again, you hadn't been captured. So you wouldn't show up on that list."
"So how was I identified as a Bureau operative?"
"I doesn't specify exactly. However, there are two typical routes for the Obsidian Order classifying you as a Bureau operative. The first would be if you self-identified as a Bureau operative to an Order agent. This could have happened assigned during a joint Bureau-Order task force. The second route would be if an Obsidian Order agent discovered you were a Bureau agent, without you having admitted it. It is unclear how you were identified. But normally, if an Order agent classifies you as a Bureau agent, he or she would not write something such as 'Mr. X identified to me that he was with the Bureau.' The order agent would have just written in the file that you were Bureau."
"Who was the agent that wrote my file?"
"Multiple people appeared to have edited your file. No agents though. One Order asset, and two analysts. Navaar seems to have written 90% of your file."
"She was an Order analyst?" Val asked in surprise.
"It was an aspect of the Federation-Cardassian Treaty of 2370. Both the Obsidian Order and Starfleet Intelligence were allowed to have certain "assets" in the demilitarized zone who would report to them regarding the condition of their peoples. As some Federation colonies and Cardassian colonies switched hands, the situation become complicated when some colonists decided to stay, and found themselves under new administration. Because there were transparency concerns, each side was allowed to have people on the opposite side of the border to report how their ethnic compatriots were treated under foreign administration. Navaar was an Order asset who would occasionally report on how ethnic Cardassians were being treated by the Federation authorities. All intelligence assets were registered with both governments."
"And she labeled me as a Bureau operative?"
"Yes. She was the initial determining factor. Her identification was then analyzed by the home office on Cardassia. Various analysts scoured through as much information as they could find about you. Your travel history and your activities. They then approved your classification as an operative. They did not specify which activities, and your file does not explain why level 2 was attributed to you."
"I see…" The information surprised Val a great deal. When Kejal had taken the appearance of Navaar, Val had surmised that a Cardassian officer may have seen the two of them together while in the DMZ. He would not have guessed that Navaar herself was a Cardassian officer, or reported to one.
Kejal proceeded to read through the entry, which was mostly a history of Navaar's interactions with Val during his mission to a newly annexed planet in the DMZ. Val was a part of the Starfleet contingent that surveyed the planet. He was the deputy oversight officer on the team. Part of his assignment was to make sure that proper humanitarian supplies were reaching all the colonists on the planet, which included an enclave of Cardassians. To his surprise, the Cardassians seemed to get along very well with their human neighbors. There were also a handful of Bolians. Navaar was the captain of a cargo freighter which helped distribute the supplies. She had been contracted by the UFAID, the acronym for the United Federation Agency for Interplanetary Development. The civilian agency was in charge since armed ships were not allowed to enter the demilitarized zone. Navaar was the first Orion Val had ever met. She was named after an ancestor who happened to be one of the first Orions Earth Starfleet made contact with. Val and Navaar got along well.
As Val was thinking back to his first meeting with Navaar, something he heard piqued his interest.
"Wait, wait. Repeat what you just said," requested Val.
"Navaar slept with you during the last three days of your mission."
If Val had been drinking something, he would have most likely spit it out and started coughing. He almost couldn't believe that was in the file. Though, perhaps he should have anticipated something along those lines. But, who in their right mind would include such a detail. And a possibly misleading detail at that.
"Can you edit my file?"
"Of course not. I'm not an Order agent!" said a surprised.
"But what if something in the file is erroneous?"
"The Order does not make mistakes."
"Then why would it ever need to be edited?"
"To add information."
"Okay, then can you add information to that file?"
"No, I cannot. I am not an Order agent."
Val was silent for a few seconds.
"But… I suppose you could enter additional information. It is your file. I can enter it under your name. Please just put your thumbprint on the padd."
Kejal handed him the padd and Val placed his thumb on it.
"What would you like me to add?" asked a curious Kejal.
"Really just a clarification."
"Okay, captain. Clarify."
"Navaar did not sleep with me. She slept in proximity to me. Next to me."
"Okay," said a confused Kejal.
"Also add that a few days after our arrival, there was a strong storm which hit the compound we were staying in. Half the habitat was destroyed. We had to double up in our rooms. Navaar's room had been destroyed and she chose to double with me. It was completely innocent."
"I don't know what that means," said Kejal.
"Please, just add it."
"This information was already in the file. A storm hit the compound. Navaar's room was destroyed. As a result, she went to your room and slept with you for the remaining three nights."
"Near me. Change it to near me. Not with me."
"I can't change it. But I will add that she was also near you. Which I believe would be obvious."
"No, no. Not near me in addition to with me. Take out the word with!"
"I can't take that out. But I will add that it should be near and not with."
"Okay. Thank you," said Val. Kejal saw that Val seemed relieved. She was still confused, but did not pursue it.
Kejal continued to read the file. It was basically information about Navaar and Val's interactions for the remaining three days. Val checked on the wellbeing of the colonists as Navaar delivered aid. After a few minutes, Val had fallen asleep.
"This is all just a huge misunderstanding!" screamed Deputy Undersecretary Keith Jordan.
He was caught in the crossfire as MARCOs were advancing from the south side of the building and Cardassian troops from the north side.
Val was right next to him, taking cover behind the abandoned building. They had both been running for the past 7 minutes.
Keith Jordan was a deputy undersecretary in diplomatic affairs department. Val had accompanied him and nine others as part of a diplomatic and legal team to secretly negotiate a cease fire between the United Federation of Planets and the Cardassian Union. The year is 2369. This was Val's first field assignment, only a month after his promotion from lieutenant junior grade to full lieutenant. Val just realized, he was dreaming about his past. Often, when he discovered that he was in a dream, he would be able to wake himself up, or control some aspects of the dream. This time, he couldn't. He would simply watch the dream unfold.
Seven minutes ago, the negotiations looked promising. It was the second meeting between the deputy undersecretary and a legate from Cardassia's central command. Suddenly, one of the legate's aides handed him a report. The legate then accused the Federation of attempting to assassinate him. His personal bodyguards found multiple bombs planted at the meeting site.
The bodyguards drew their weapons.
"We're not a threat to you," said Jordan. "We didn't plant those bombs."
"Quiet!" said one of the bodyguards. He then shot his disruptor at one of the undersecretary's assistants. The assistant was able to dodge the shot. However, this resulted in the lead Starfleet officer to draw his phaser and fire. A firefight had ensued. One of the undersecretary's bodyguards tossed a phaser to Val. But even with Val's addition, only 5 of the Federation team were armed. The Starfleet security chief ordered everyone to fall back to the extraction point, and the Federation civilians fled while the three Starfleet officers covered the retreat.
The MARCOs met up with the undersecretary's team at the abandoned building.
"Val!" screamed his friend Aaron.
Val turned his attention to the direction of the MARCOs. Aaron threw him a couple of unused grenades and an earpiece. Val put on the earpiece.
"Aaron, we've got at least a dozen Cardies on our six."
"Val, we can't go back to the transport."
"It was attacked. It's now a fireball. Both pilots are dead."
"Great," said Val. That was their only way off this godforsaken rock.
"Listen. Listen! We've got alternate transport. Take your team six clicks to the east. There's a Cardassian shuttle there. Catch this!"
Aaron threw an access cardkey which Val luckily caught.
"That'll allow you to get onboard. Once on, enter the code I wrote down on the piece of paper I wrapped around on those grenades I just passed to you. It's in Cardassian but I'm sure you'll figure it out. Once you get the engines going, you can show my some of those magical flying skills I remember from back in advanced training."
"Got it!" said Val.
"You and your fleet buddies take point. The civvies follow. Me and my MARCOs will cover your butts. Run!"
The plan went off as devised. They met no resistance on the way to the shuttle, and the MARCOs successfully fended off the chasing Cardassians.
Once they got onboard, Val flew the shuttle off the moon and they successfully rendezvoused with the U.S.S. Jackson, back in Federation space.
As Val was about to leave the Jackson to return to his fun old desk job, Aaron went to see him off.
"Thanks bro. I guess I owe you my life. The whole team owes you our lives," said Val
"You do indeed," said Aaron. "Nice flying, by the way." Aaron smiled. "I'm not going to go as far as to say we're even, but I'm thinking those civilian pilots for the diplomatic service may not have dodged the anti-aircraft fire as artfully as you did."
"Oh, by the way, you owe one of my sergeant's lunch, seeing as how your terrible flying caused him to lose it."
Val and Aaron laughed it up.
As they parted ways, Val said thanks again.
"No problem, man. That's what us MARCOs do, bail you fleet boys out of trouble. You're as bad as the civvies."
"I'll make a note of that."
"Oh, by the way," said Aaron, "you also have the Obsidian Order to thank."
"One of them apparently had a crush on you," joked Aaron.
"Well, for real, I was approached secretly by three of their agents once the diplomat transport exploded. One of them gave us the access key and the code. They also jammed communications frequencies so the Cardassian ships in orbit wouldn't know what was happening. They saved us all."
"Why would they do that? At the same time they were trying to kill us all?"
"Well, the one I spoke to said that it was in the Order's interests for the Federation and the Union to make peace. It was in the Union's interest. She said those that planted the bombs at the peace conference were enemies of the state. And, get this, the one that approached me, was a freakin' Bajoran. Her colleagues weren't Cardassians either."
"Yea, she was surgically altered or something."
"What was her name?"
"Can't remember? Something with a 'K'?" joked Aaron. It was a running joke the two of them had. During advanced training, Val and Aaron noticed that there were an unusually high number of girls in their units with the name Katie. And a handful of girls named Kelly. Over half of the girls had names starting with the letter K.
The two of them bumped fists as Val walked towards his shuttle. It was the final boarding call.
His dream then turned to his final minutes with his friend Navaar. Now, it was the two of them saying goodbye.
Val awoke slowly. He knew he had been dreaming, but couldn't quite remember what about. His pillow was no longer under his head. It was on his chest, and he had one arm around it. He slowly turned to his nightstand to check his timepiece.
"Ah!" he said, momentarily startled.
Kejal had been sitting on the chair at his desk, looking in his direction.
"What time is it?" asked Val.
"How long have I been asleep?"
"For at least 5 hours 40 minutes. I didn't notice the exact minute."
"And you've been sitting there this whole time?"
"Why didn't you deactivate?"
"You didn't order it."
"Do not discuss with the crew anything about watching me sleep, or anything we talked about yesterday night."
"Of course not. A consort would never talk about her captain."
"The Order asset Navaar was correct. You are cute when you are asleep."
"Haha," Val said in a mocking tone. He threw his pillow at her. "Deactivate."
Kejal's program disappeared. Val set his alarm for 0730 hours and went back to bed.
It was 1000 hours. Staff Sergeant Driver arrived at engineering. Val knew that Kejal didn't have much to do, so he told her to brief Sergeants Driver, Hall, and Raines on what alien species she had come into contact with since the Vetara's arrival in the Delta Quadrant. There was at least one, the Krowtonan Guard.
The briefing only took 20 minutes.
"Sergeant Driver, may I ask you a personal question?"
"The English language confuses me. What does it mean when a person sleeps with another person."
"Um…" said Driver. He didn't know if he should explain this. "Well, when one person sleeps with another person, that usually means they go to bed together and hook up." Driver knew that she probably wouldn't know what hooking up meant, but he really didn't want to have this conversation.
"I see," said Kejal. She was still puzzled.
"Would there be a difference between a female sleeping with a male, versus a female sleeping next a male, or in proximity?" Kejal emphasized the words "with" and "next."
"Oh, well, usually when a female says that she slept with a male, it would imply some sort of romantic entanglement. The distinction would be that non-romantic partners may sleep near each other, but the word with would not be used in a non-romantic setting."
"Sergeant, please have a seat," said Val.
Staff Sergeant Driver had asked to speak with Val, and Val invited him to meet in the gul's office next to the Vetara's bridge.
The office was tiny; somewhere between one-half and one-third of the size of Janeway's office on Voyager. But it was still big enough to have a desk, the captain's chair, and two other chairs on the opposite side of the desk.
"With all due respect, sir, your personal matters are private, but are you sleeping with the Cardassian hologram?"
Val was taken aback.
"What? No," said Val emphatically.
"Okay," said Driver. He would take his captain at his word. Driver was about to get up, but Val motioned for him to stop.
"What makes you ask that question? Is that what your MARCOs are thinking?"
"No, sir. It's just that the hologram asked me a weird question this morning. Asked me what the phrase meant when a person was sleeping with someone."
"Oh. I can explain that. I had asked her about the file the Cardassians apparently have on me. The one that says I'm a Bureau agent. In the file, it mentions that I slept with an Orion named Navaar on one of my past assignments. In reality, we slept in the same room. Just a subtle difference, I guess."
"I see. Thank you for that clarification."
"While you're here, sergeant, I wanted to get your opinion on something."
"There may be a member of Voyager's crew who has decided to defect to the Kazon, and possibly spying for the Kazon at this moment. I am wondering whether it would be better if we moved the MARCOs back onto Voyager to help defend the ship in case of an attempt to commandeer her. Any thoughts on this?"
"Well, although I would rather us MARCOs stay where we are, if there is true danger to Voyager and we can help, I think that would be something we should do. Perhaps Voyager should slow down and we can convoy together. I think that would be the best course of action. But you are in command and I defer to your judgment. If it is your call that we go back to Voyager, we will of course do that."
"But you wouldn't want that?"
"No, I would prefer not. We don't mix with the maquis. Though, in the event of a Kazon attempt at taking the ship over, I suppose we may bond in the midst of battle. Stranger things have happened."
"May I ask a question, sir?"
"It's a member of the maquis, isn't it?"
"Well, the particular person hasn't been caught red-handed yet. Why would you say it's a maquis."
"It would make most sense. The crew of Voyager seemed the most adamant about finding a way home. Some or most of the maquis seemed a little ambivalent about it. I probably would be if I knew I was heading for the brig once the ship returned to the alpha quadrant. Many of the maquis really had nothing to go home to. Some were petty criminals. Some were just violent thugs looking to wreak havoc. I don't really know how Janeway keeps them in line."
"Chakotay's a strong first officer."
"Chakotay's a freakin' clown," said an annoyed Driver.
"That may be, but he's a clown who outranks you. If we have to return to Voyager, please at least pretend that you respect the chain of command."
"Really, it's ultimately his fault we're in this mess."
"His fault, Janeway's fault, my fault. We're all at least partially responsible. Look, it doesn't matter anymore. We need to move forward."
"So, he had a Starfleet spy planted in his ranks, and now a Kazon spy is in his ranks. Ridiculous. At this rate, Torres might turn out to be a spy for the Klingons and maybe one of his men is an informant for the Cardassian Central Command!"
Val was a little surprised Driver stumbled into that. Though, he knew Driver didn't know. He would tell Driver anyway.
"Indeed. There was a Cardassian agent in his ranks. That person is the one who handed you the codes to this ship. I guess you should be thankful in the end."
Driver's face showed a man in disbelief. He had forgotten about the codes.
"The man's a freakin' clown," he insisted again. "Both a Starfleet and a Cardassian spy planted into his cell. How the hell did he elude capture."
"Word has it he's a very resourceful individual. After all, he was an above average Starfleet officer before he left the fleet."
"You mean, before he turned into a traitor and joined a terrorist organization."
"What makes a man do something like that?" asked an even more annoyed Driver. "I mean, what makes a decent man turn into a traitor?"
"Hey. Every man has his own story. I'm sure in his mind, Chakotay sees himself as a victim of his circumstances. Or perhaps even some kind of noble martyr. I know when I write my memoirs, I'll be a goddamn superhero."
"With lasers shooting out of your eyeballs?" joked Driver.
"Both laser vision *and* x-ray vision. I'm a double threat. Assault capabilities along with information gathering. I haven't learned to fly yet. That's next on my list." Val joked. He was glad he could get Driver to lighten up.
"Well, you can fly a starship. That's good enough for me."
"Anyway, the man's been decorated for valor multiple times."
"You mean twice."
"Hey! Two is multiple."
"I've got corporals more highly decorated."
"Well… that just means MARCOs get medals handed to them and Starfleet officers actually earn them," joked Val
"Well, we know that can't possibly be the case, since you have one," retorted Driver.
"With respect, sir, I was wondering what you got your medal for. I know it was in the same action as one of Major Douglas' medals."
"Sorry, sergeant, it's heavily classified."
"I know. Can't even give me a hint, eh?"
"Nope. It's very weird they even make the medal known in my record. I was just at the wrong place in the wrong time, I guess."
"But… you were the right person at that wrong place. And you performed. I believe a British admiral once said that heroes are just ordinary people who rise up in extraordinary situations."
"Right. Or maybe I just got lucky."
"Hey, you saved many lives. Or so I hear. I wonder who you saved."
"Exactly what a member of the Bureau would say," joked Driver.
"If you must know, I was on duty as a lawyer," said Val. "Unfortunately, we were somewhere we weren't supposed to be. On the wrong side of the line drawn on a map by the politicians. I helped get us out of a dicey situation. The end."
"Nice. Hopefully, no dicey situations for us!"
Just then the ship shook.
"What the hell was that?" asked Val.
Both Val and Driver stepped out onto the bridge.
"Report!" said Val.
"I… I don't know," said Sergeant Hall.
The ship shook again. This time, multiple alarms started sounding. Val contacted engineering. "Kejal, report!"
"We're being attacked!" came a frantic voice.
Val went over to the navigator's station. Multiple dots were moving toward the ship. The Vetara had automatically raised shields. Weapons were brought on line.