Chapter 7: In the Dark
Leticia Rodriguez stared out into space from the U.S.S. Excalibur. She missed her sons a great deal. Alex's younger brother, Lorenzo, had been missing for several months and presumed dead. She had wanted peaceful lives for her children. But all four of them followed in their father's footsteps and wore a uniform.
As a representative in the Federation Council, she pulled every string imaginable to get her children posted in the safest units of Starfleet, the MARCO Corps, or the Crime Investigation Division. But her children wouldn't have it.
Today, the Excalibur made a visit to Earth. Onboard was Rear Admiral Jonas Locklear, the deputy director of Starfleet Intelligence. He and Leticia had been friendly for many years, as she was the ranking member of the Council's Select Intelligence Committee.
Admiral Locklear entered the conference room and Leticia turned around towards the door.
"Admiral, nice to see you again," she said.
"It's my pleasure," he said. They shook hands. "Please, have a seat."
The two of them sat down and continued some small talk.
"Letty, as usual, I must stress that the information you are about to hear is highly classified and cannot be repeated to anyone."
"Of course, Jonas."
"Three days ago, my office received a communication from the Romulan Government. In the year 2351, almost 21 years ago, a science ship from the Romulan Astrophysical Academy received a message through a wormhole. The science ship proceeded to investigate the message. It turns out that the message came from the future. At least, it came from the scientist's future, the year 2371. Last year.
The rest of this gets a little unclear. According to a letter from the scientist onboard the Romulan ship Talvath, they contacted a Federation starship. The lead scientist was beamed over to the other ship through the wormhole. He toured the Federation starship, met with several of its officers, and carried back two isolinear chips with messages from the ship's crew to their families. He had promised to send these chips to Starfleet on a Stardate that passed a few months ago."
"A few months ago?" asked Leticia. "Why the delay in sending?"
"Dr. R'Mor had passed away in the year 2367, a few years back. He had left the isolinear chips with a friend, who hadn't remembered to send the messages until last week."
"Is this information that should be disclosed to the rest of the committee?"
"No. At least, not yet. We're still verifying the veracity of this situation. After viewing the message that Dr. Telek R'Mor recorded explaining what had happened, Federation scientists had some doubts about whether it was true. They couldn't confirm that it would be possible to be beamed through a wormhole, to a different timeframe no less. The isolinear chips themselves are of Federation design, but those could be acquired relatively easily. We scanned for the data in the chips, but both chips had been severely corrupted and very little usable information could be pulled out. In fact, one of the chips was completely useless, and the other was over 99% degraded."
"So… do you want to end the suspense and tell me what the remainder contained?"
"Over half of the datastream we were able to extract was a 30 second video message, from your son, Lorenzo."
Leticia Rodriguez choked up a little bit. She wasn't exactly sure what to say.
"Would you like me to play it?" asked Admiral Locklear.
After a couple of seconds of thought, Leticia Rodriguez said "Please, admiral."
A video screen popped up to life, and the face of Corporal Lorenzo Rodriguez filled it almost entirely. It started playing.
"Hi Mom and Dad," said a cheerful and smiling Lorenzo.
The video panned out and showed the young corporal in his combat fatigues, from the waist up. It appeared that he had been holding an image recorder in his own hand and flipped it to film himself.
"So, it has been two weeks since we moved over to the Cardassian ship here. It's been an adjustment but I think we're happier here."
Lorenzo panned the camera around to show his parents his quarters.
"This is my bunk," he said as he filmed it. "And that's Lucas' bunk."
Lorenzo kept talking as he filmed the rest of his living area. He shared his sleeping quarters with one MARCO, Lucas van der Hoeven. The two of them shared a common room for cooking, dining, and just sitting and relaxing, with four other MARCOs, whose sleeping quarters adjoined the common room from the opposite side. At one point, he went back to filming himself flexing a bicep, to show that he was still strong and healthy.
"Anyway, I've gotta make this short," said Lorenzo. "Captain Shin's trying to compress all of our messages into a tiny databurst. It was great that Paris offered to send some of our messages along with his ship's. I'm doing well. Plenty of excitement. I love you both."
The screen blinked off.
"This was recorded twenty years ago?" asked Leticia.
"Yes. And no. Stardate timestamp in microprint on the video image says it was roughly three months after Voyager went missing."
"But he wasn't on Voyager?"
"Unclear. At the time of that video, it appears he was not."
Leticia Rodriguez was not sure what to think. She was overjoyed that Lorenzo might still be alive.
"Who the hell is Captain Shin?" asked an angry Brigadier General Daniel Rostovsky, in a low and slow voice.
His aide-de-camp passed the general a padd with a personnel file and an image. Starfleet Intelligence had thought it proper to share the video with the brigade commander of the missing MARCO troopers. The thought of a squid having taken command of his troopers irritated him greatly.
"Val Shin," said the aide. "Starfleet JAG Corps; on t.a.d. to the U.S.S. Voyager as fugitive retrieval oversight officer."
The general had just watched Corporal Rodriguez's video. Rostovsky skimmed through the file. The billet history was full of ordinary run-of-mill desk positions, and occasional temporary assigned duty in the field. Nothing spectacular. But then, he saw two glaring aberrations. One large portion of the file was a blank space, with the words [Classified – Redacted]. There was a similar redaction at another place, but a much smaller one, probably the length of two sentences.
"Starfleet Meritorious Flying Cross?" asked the general, intrigued.
"Yea, he apparently took flight training back in the academy. He was pretty good, according to his flight instructors."
"Why isn't he a pilot?" asked the general.
"Seems it was just bad luck or bad timing. He was good, others were better. Starfleet only has so many billets for pilots, and his class happened to have been loaded with a bunch of natural talent. He was cut from the program during the final round."
Next up, his aide played for him a ten second video snippet that had its ends corrupted.
"aptin Shin is clever, for a squid. I think he'll get us home," came the voice of a female MARCO. General Rostovsky surmised the letter "c" had been cut of from the first word. The video didn't show the female's face, but it was filming as she was walking down a corridor. "Most of the time, I'm posted at engineering. I'm not allowed to vid the inside, but here's our engineer," she said.
The video showed a Cardassian female from several feet away, who tried to smile, and waved hello. The video then panned past a blur of a couple of people in MARCO uniforms, and then the video cut off.
Seymour Chandler hadn't been this excited for years. He had just started researching into the disappearance of the elder brother of one of her old friends. Whitford Shin had contacted him a couple of days ago and asked him to look into the possibility that Whitford's brother Val had been sent to the Gamma Quadrant a few months prior to the joint Romulan-Cardassian assault in Omarion Nebula. He was also asked to see whether there was ever a Cardassian Hideki-class scout ship named either the Kejal or the Vetara.
The deeper Chandler got into the mystery, the more excited he got. In fact, there was a Cardassian ship called the Vetara. It was a Galor class battleship and was a prototype for unmanned missions into the Gamma Quadrant. The official records listed the ship as missing in action, having disappeared before it reached the Bajoran wormhole. A likely ruse, in Chandler's opinion.
"Do we have any shots of Voyager?" asked Elizabeth Decker.
"No ma'am," said her colleague, an image analyst.
Decker greatly enjoyed puzzles. This morning, she had a file dropped onto her desk. She was specially requested to analyze a gaggle of seemingly incoherent data and try to make sense of it.
To the outside world, Decker was a meteorological analyst, figuring out weather patterns. But in reality, she worked as an intel analyst for the Bureau. Typically, she was assigned to matters of wider importance to Federation security. However, her current case was something that was of strong interest to her supervisor.
Carl Midori and Owen Paris had been friends since their days as young lieutenants onboard a deep exploration ship. Midori was a security officer and Paris was a science officer. The two of them got along very well. Paris used to joke around with Midori when he found out Midori had resigned from Starfleet.
"What could you possibly transition to that could be as exciting and meaningful as Starfleet?" teased Paris. If only Paris knew. Midori wasn't completely sure whether Paris even believed that the Bureau existed. Paris once made a comment about how he wondered whether the mysterious Section 31 had non-human operatives. In all the myths about the clandestine organization, all of the operators were humans. Midori couldn't tell if Paris was just entertaining a fictional hypothetical.
After examining both videos, there was only one single indication the isolinear chips involved the U.S.S. Voyager. That was the brief mention of Lieutenant Tom Paris at the end of Rodriguez's video.
"I've gone frame by frame for the two vids," said Smithfield, the image analyst. "It's a total of 37 seconds; 28 for the first one and a little over 9 for the second. We've done voice analysis of every person heard in the vids. We've identified Corporal Lorenzo Rodriguez and Private Caitlyn Evans as the filmmakers. Background conversations came up with Corporal Samantha Logan and Private First Class Hugh McCarter in Rodriguez's common room. Mentioned in both vids is Val Shin, who is seemingly the ship's captain. Mentioned in Rodriguez's are Staff Sergeant Nathan Driver and Paris. Shown in Evans' vid is a female Cardassian engineer. Every interior aspect conforms to a Cardassian vessel."
"What are they doing onboard a Cardassian vessel?" asked Decker.
"That's for you to find out, ma'am," said Smithfield.
Val sat on his couch and read through the information on his padd. Pow Beeshar and the Yond had recently joined the Vetara in flight formation, and soon, Pow Dergo and the Sullis would rendezvous. Both pows deferred to Val as if he had been a fleet commander for years. It was striking. And although Val was nervous, he played the part well. Strangely enough, the first time he ever learned to take charge had been a very similar situation, when he was unexpectedly handed command.
After washing out of flight training, Val had decided he would go to law school. He found law school to be a good fit for him. But even while a student, he was still a commissioned ensign in the Starfleet Reserves. He had the choice of serving one weekend a month throughout the year, or a continuous month out of the year, and having the rest of the year free. Since he had summers off from law school, he decided on the second option.
After Val's first year exams at law school, he was contacted by an acquaintance named Robert Carlino. Robert graduated one year ahead of Val at Starfleet Academy and went off into a Fleet post directly after graduation. As a member of red squad, Robert had a pretty prestigious first post and after a year and a half, was soon promoted. By the time of Val's summer after his first year of law school, Robert commanded a small tugboat.
"Mr. Shin, what are you doing this summer?" asked Robert. Although none of Val's friends called him 'Mr. Shin' and almost all of Robert's friends called him Bobby, the two of them met in an advanced mathematics class at the academy where the instructor insisted that all the students refer to each other by formal names. While Val was able to slowly transition to calling Robert 'Rob' later on, Robert stuck with calling Val 'Mr. Shin.'
"Eh, just boring law stuff," said Val. "About to return to San Francisco and for a summer associate posting at the Academy. It'll be fun times."
Robert chuckled. He knew how much Val hated desk jobs. The only reason Val tolerated the whole desk aspect of being a lawyer was because he very much wanted to be in court. Val would be willing to do a hundred hours worth of paperwork for every one hour in court.
"Come join me on the Resourceful," said Robert. "I'll make you my science officer." The Resourceful was sometimes referred to as a combat tug. It was very small, but relatively powerful. It was capable of pulling a galaxy-class sized starship. In times of conflict, combat tugs were used in fleet formations to pull heavily damaged starships out of harm's way and back to the rear of the formations.
"Ha," laughed Val. He knew that there was no need for a science officer onboard a tug. In fact, the tug could theoretically be operated by one person alone.
"You'd rather spend three months back at the Academy sitting behind a desk?" asked Robert. He knew Val would say no.
"You know, law students fight fiercely for these summer positions," said Val.
"You'll have plenty of time to sit behind a desk after you graduate from law school next year," said Robert. "It's not like you even need this summer position on your resume, you're already tapped for JAG after graduating!"
Robert was right, Val didn't need the resume builder. Val had always felt it unnecessary for law school to be a full two years. To think, back in the 21st century, law school used to be three years! Thankfully, it was shortened to two. But Val thought it could be feasibly done in one. The two year model was kept so that the students could have summer positions between their first and second year. It was basically one long job interview where the employers saw if the student would fit in.
And plus, Val would probably enjoy a little time out among the stars. Many law students split their summers so that they could work half of the summer for one firm or agency, and the second half with another. Val decided he would do that and spend his second half with his old friend.
"Sound agreeable to you?" asked Val.
"Sounds perfect," said Robert. "You'll report to me in a month."
"Aye, aye," said Val.
They both laughed and the comm channel closed.
(Still in the past)
"You'll leave the ship rudderless," said Val.
"Nope. You're the new 'rudder,' Mr. Shin," said Robert.
Lieutenant Robert Carlino had only commanded the Resourceful for three months, and he was on the verge of being promoted once again.
"Wow, you red squad guys really fly up the ladder. Third Captain?"
"No, I'm staying as a lieutenant," said Robert.
Starfleet had a very strange rank structure which evolved throughout the decades. At the beginning, there were four main field ranks: ensign, lieutenant, commander, and captain. Once Earth Starfleet started interacting with more alien species, it became confusing to other species why a commander would be outranked by a captain, especially in some militaries where the reverse was true. Starfleet converted the rank commander to vice captain. Aside from the four main ranks, there were two rare ranks which were referred to as "half ranks." In between ensign and lieutenant was a rarely used rank junior lieutenant. This was only used for doctors and lawyers, who would start out their careers as junior lieutenants instead of ensigns. They would be quickly promoted to full lieutenant. The other even more rare rank was one between lieutenant and vice captain, sometimes called third captain. This was used only on Starfleet flagships with a large enough crew that there needed to be a way to differentiate the third in command officer from all of the other lieutenants.
Robert was being promoted to third in command of the U.S.S. Vigilant, one of the Fleet's three flagships. He shot up the ranks pretty fast. Usually, a typical officer progression would take at least 5 years to jump from ensign to lieutenant, and another 10 to jump from lieutenant to vice captain. In the rare occurrence of third captain, one was usually a lieutenant for at least 7 years. Here, Robert was about two years out of the Academy and would soon move into a position that would normally require twelve years of experience.
"The Resourceful was really just a temporary 'in the meantime' assignment," said Robert. He had been tapped for the third-in-command slot on the Vigilant a while back, but the ship had unforeseen construction delays after Robert had already transferred out of his first post.
"All I have to do is take this boat back to Earth and then I'm fine, right?" asked Val.
"Right. Just keep her in one piece."
Val had been flipping out the entire day since Robert told him the news, but he was starting to calm down a little bit.
"You'll do fine. You know how to pilot the boat. Hell, you've piloted more complicated systems during flight training."
"This feels like some kind of conspiracy, to get me here to relieve you," said Val.
Robert chuckled. "Well, my original plan was to get you some flying experience. Didn't think it was fair that you washed out of flight training like that. But the timing worked out so you get to have some command experience as well. After all, that's the division you're in," said Robert as he poked at the red part of Val's uniform, on his chest.
Although Val was nervous for himself, he was happy for his old friend. Val wished him good luck.
"All right, Mr. Shin," said Robert as he was about to be beamed onto the Vigilant. He tapped Val on the shoulder. "Tag. You're it." Then Robert beamed away.
Val was only acting/interim pilot of the Resourceful for one and a half weeks. He felt like it was a pretty easy job. Senior Chief Wainwright, the flight engineer, was of great help. There was only one incident during the return trip to Earth, a glitch with the tractor beam emitters.
Once they reached Earth, Val thanked both Wainwright and Petty Officer Mitena Haro, a Bolian, for their help in running the boat. Although Val had dealt with more sophisticated piloting systems during flight training, he had never been in charge of a crew. He never flew with a co-pilot or any other support officer.
Wainwright told Val he would have made a good line officer, especially since he was willing to help the two engineers during the tractor beam glitch. Most pilots would have simply let the engineers work on that themselves. The senior chief wished Val the best of luck in the JAG corps.
"Staff Sergeant Driver, do you mind if I speak with you?" asked the princess, who was accompanied by her advisor Flin.
"Sure, please have a seat," said Driver. He was eating his lunch at the mess hall with one of his corporals. The corporal got up to let Driver have a private conversation.
"Shi Flin informed me earlier that both you and your captain may have some doubts about the military operations on my planet, is this true?"
"I can't speak for the captain, but I guess I do. It's really none of my business though, highness."
"Please, I would like to understand both you and your captain better. I have sat in on videoconference with your captain and the Admiral Maximus and their behavior leads me to believe that they will prevail in my name. Do you not believe so?"
"I don't know," said Driver.
During the videoconference, Val, Max, Beeshar, Dergo, Sardu, and a few others had discussed the situation on Yammja. Char Sardu was visibly elated that soon the shoe would be on the other foot and that the Krowtonan Empire's forces would mass and overpower the rebels.
"The rebels will surrender," insisted Sardu.
"No doubt, they cannot surmount our forces," said Dergo.
Val was the only one who had been reluctant to declare victory.
"I don't know about this, Max" said Val. Although Max Burke was technically an admiral, Max and Val had a friendly relationship where they both called each other by their first names. "I do not think they will surrender."
Max appeared to agree. "Would you, Val?" he asked. "Would I?"
The rhetorical question was not answered. Mah Tex later explained to the Krowtonan pows that by personality, Max and Val would not surrender even if presented with a superior opponent. It was a part of human behavior that was both a weakness and a strength.
But Max was not phased. Although he knew the rebels would not surrender, he also knew the Krowtonan forces would prevail.
"The Admiral Maximus appears to believe we will win. And easily," said Flin.
"That's the problem with the Fleet boys," said Driver. He wanted to be respectful to the Starfleet officers, but his disdain for the fleet came loose. "They don't understand what it takes to win in a situation like this."
"Please explain," requested the princess.
"Fleet always thinks people can be persuaded with orbital bombardments. In reality, very few objectives can be achieved that way. The bombardments are all fine and good if you want to blast a planet into dust. Or if you're engaging in ship to ship combat. But if you're looking to hold onto territory, or to liberate a territory, you need boots on the ground. You need people like me. Your combined forces simply do not have the manpower for this. Air cover is an essential element of winning a battle. But it can't win the battle by itself."
The princess left the conversation with a new view on things. She didn't want to have a raging ground war with the rebels. At the same time, she didn't want the orbital bombardments to turn her planet's southern continent into a wasteland.
Corporal Samantha Logan had been somewhat excited for the princess' coronation. The Captain reviewed her MARCO personnel file and discovered that the main reason she joined the MARCO Corps. was to protect high profile individuals. He wondered why she didn't join the secret service. Logan was assigned to be the princess' "shadow." In addition to the princess' regular detail of Krowtonan security, Val had decided to add a couple of MARCOs.
Val also took the time to study the layout of the palace where she would be coronated. He was relieved that the princess was looking to make peace with the rebels and had already reached out to some of their leaders. He was optimistic that the situation would improve and things would go smoothly. But if there were still security threats, he wanted to be prepared. His friend Aaron once said "Most battles are won before they are fought."
In fact, it almost appeared as if Val was more nervous about the coronation than the Princess herself.
"You know what they're calling you now?" said Ensign Marlena Gilmore, with a slight smile on her face.
"What?" said Burke, a little puzzled, but still mildly amused.
"Maximus the merciful," said Gilmore, chuckling.
Burke cringed at that thought. Just minutes before he was going to give the order to fire on rebel positions, he had been convinced by Val that the princess wished to open a dialogue with some of the rebel leaders. They would halt the rebellion and commence a path toward normalcy and stay within the royal system and in return, the princess would introduce some constitution reforms which would give common citizens some basic rights. Most of the rebel leaders appeared to be in favor of such compromise and were willing to negotiate the details of transitioning to a constitutional monarchy. The princess appointed Val as her legal reforms advisor.
However, not all of the rebels were convinced. Some were wavering. Burke gave them a deadline. They had to decide by nightfall whether they would engage in negotiations, or the ships in orbit would commence bombardment on the rebels as planned, starting with the heaviest ground formations.
"Even out in the middle of nowhere, halfway across the galaxy, Val Shin is at his core a law geek," said Burke. "Unbelievable."
Dusk arrived, with no word from the rebels. Then, a Krowtonan military intelligence officer reported to Burke.
"The rebellion has been split apart and the civilian leaders have been jailed. The army officers have taken up leadership and are steadfastly rejecting any negotiations with the royal family. They are determined to rule the Southern continent."
"Great," said Burke.
"It appears that the southerners have traded one perceived tyrant for another more real and closer to home."
"Ten minutes until your deadline, sir," said Captain Riker. "Ensign Sito, please move us into position."
"Aye, sir," said the Bajoran ensign. "30 seconds to station."
Burke nodded to his communications officer, who opened a channel fleetwide.
"Indigo," said Burke. It was his command word for moving the ships into position. The Yond and the Sullis both acknowledged and starting moving.
Previous strikes against the rebels had taken out the electric grid. It would be near total darkness and the rebels would never see what hit them until it was too late.