Episode I: Diplomatic Talks
Chapter 7: Epilogue
Spock entered the captain's quarters. Kirk was sitting at his table, surrounded by datapads. He raised his head as the Vulcan entered, his face brightening.
"Spock! So good of you to come by! I think I'll die of boredom if I have to write one more report." The captain encouraged his officers to do all their work with enthusiasm, and he liked to lead by example. As a result, Spock secretly felt privileged that he was comfortable enough with him to complain about paperwork. Spock personally didn't mind writing reports, it would be illogical to do so. He understood their importance in the running of as large an organization as Starfleet. But ship captains had at least as many forms to write and review as first officers. Besides which, many humans seemed to have a deep aversion for "bureaucratic" work.
"You asked me to come, Captain."
"If you say so, but all I can think of at the moment are the figures for our upcoming resupply at Starbase 19." The USS Exeter was due to arrive the following day, bringing Ambassador Veronica Koenig and relieving the Enterprise. Once it arrived, they would leave for Starbase 19 for much needed rest and resupply before proceeding to the next sector in their patrol route. But even such a routine stop required a lot of preparation.
"I fear that I am only bringing you more work, sir."
"Spock, just call me Jim. It's just the two of us here."
"If you prefer, Jim." Spock passed him his datapad. "I have the final engineering evaluation of the warship's wreckage, and the preliminary results of the investigation about the coup on Galinedoria Beta IV. Also included are my findings on Doctor John Smith."
"Ah yes, I asked you to investigate our missing guest. Five days, and still no sign of him anywhere," he remarked, glancing at the datapad.
"I could come back after you have had the opportunity to review the documents."
"No, Spock, please stay. I'd like to hear your executive summary. I can finish my reports later."
Spock raised an eyebrow but complied.
"Very well. Regarding the wreckage, the warship's destruction was very thorough. Mr. Scott estimates that scuttling charges were positioned at key locations about the ship to guarantee little of value could be recovered in case of destruction. Even so, his team was able to verify most of our prior hypotheses. We have recovered enough of the engineering section, as well as structural frames, hull, and armor, to confirm it was, originally, a hitherto unknown type of Klingon Bird of Prey. However, the weapons systems were identical to those in use by Starfleet, sans identification codes. Tracing the chemical signature of the components yielded mixed results: they had come from several different manufacturing plants."
"Looking for possible sources of military-grade equipment on the black market will surely give Starfleet a headache. Heck, I'd have never believed there could be a black market for Starfleet equipment before this. Not when Orion pirates, among others, are selling sophisticated weapons systems to suit all needs to whoever has the money to pay for them."
"Indeed. But it is also possible that at least some of the components were salvaged from Starfleet wrecks. I would recommend it as a possible avenue for further investigation by Starfleet Command."
"Very good, Spock. What else?"
"Examination of organic remains definitely excludes Klingons and Romulans, indicating instead a previously unknown species. With the possible exception of some metallic debris too small for positive identification, nothing was found to indicate the use of Romulan components. Mr. Scott's team has concluded that the ship was extensively modified by an unknown party to incorporate Federation weapons systems and a cloaking device, similar to that used by the Romulans."
Kirk sighed. "I had hoped for a more definitive answer on that cloaking device. Starfleet will be more than a little worried about it. Okay, what has Lieutenant Montero found out about the coup? Mr. Williams said something about the mercenaries being Parangans." Parangel, the Parangan homeworld, was the closest planet in the sector with warp capability, and they had been one of the neighbors helping the Galinedorians acquire the same.
"Since we sent Mr. Montero to serve as the interim Federation security liaison to the Galinedorian government requested by Mr. Williams, he's proven to be a gifted investigator, Captain - Jim," Spock corrected, as Kirk raised an eyebrow at him. "Indeed, that is what the Galinedorian government claims, but Montero disagrees. A number of witnesses recognized the off-worlders supporting the rebels as Parangans, but he found that a large number of the rebels and most of the off-worlders have simply disappeared."
"Indeed. And those who were arrested — at least, those who were off-worlders — are already dead, their bodies incinerated in the explosion that killed most of the rebel leadership in the prison."
"Including General Valdorr. I see. Montero suspects they're covering their tracks, eliminating anyone whose testimony could've cast doubt on their story."
"There were two bodies which were not completely incinerated in the explosion, and the autopsy has confirmed that they were Parangans. However, Mr. Montero has been able to match them to the two missing Parangan trade liaisons, who were never near the rebel headquarters."
"I'm impressed. Still, with no positive proof…"
"He did manage to find two staff members who had had close contact with previous Parangan delegations, and they swore that those who came to aid the rebels were definitely not Parangans. Their behavior betrayed them, and even the language which they used among themselves sounded nothing like Paranghi."
"Good, that should be enough to start an official investigation by Starfleet. Where are they now?"
"Dead. An unfortunate 'accident'."
"Of course," the captain sighed. "So we have nothing. Nothing that would confirm a potential threat to the Federation, at any rate. The Parangans may not be Federation members, and Parangel may be building up their fleet and making aggressive noises, but they're not a credible threat."
"Not yet, Jim. They have been attempting to advertise themselves as an alternative to the Federation presence in this sector, so they would have an interest in keeping the Galinedorians away from the Federation. However, if there is someone else behind these events, it is possible the Parangans themselves are being manipulated. As I recall, they appeared more than willing to join the Federation when we first contacted them. They quickly and inexplicably assumed a hostile attitude towards the Federation some time after first contact."
"I wouldn't have pegged you as a conspiracy nut, Spock. What are you saying, whoever it is behind the Galinedorian rebels was already active, what, seven years ago?"
"Eight, but yes, that is what I am saying. There is someone else with an interest in this sector. We do have the evidence from the organic remains from the ship. I surmised that they might not have taken seriously the possibility of their ship being destroyed here, so I have asked Doctor McCoy to check them again. He was able to prove that they were not Parangans, either."
"That's a start. But the ship could have simply been hired by the rebels using their Parangan contacts. It's not enough. If it wasn't for the Doctor, it's possible we wouldn't even consider looking beyond the Parangan connection. If we can find him, he might give us more to go on. What did you find on him?"
"There is no mention of a Doctor John Smith in the records of Human independent explorers, at least not one matching his apparent age and physical characteristics. His face is not a match for any of the wanted suspects and criminals on Federation watch lists. It is not possible to access all the separate citizen registries for Human colonies from the Enterprise, so I have forwarded a request to Starfleet security to look for his possible birthplace. However, I did find one record of his presence on a planet before here."
"Not a Federation planet, you mean."
"No. The Vulcan diplomat currently in charge of the Federation office in Parangel received a complaint from the authorities regarding a Doctor John Smith who was arrested on charges of espionage three weeks ago. She attempted to visit him, but the Parangans suddenly denied his existence. Understandably concerned, she sought her contacts among Parangan security forces. One of them finally confessed that the man had somehow disappeared without a trace, and they were too embarrassed to admit it."
"That does sound like them."
"She wasn't fully convinced he was still alive when I contacted her. But she had been shown a photo from his arrest, and she was able to identify him from our images of the Doctor."
"That's a start. The man certainly seems to look for trouble. Two arrests in a month."
"And two escapes, not counting his departure from the Enterprise."
"Right under our noses," Kirk grumbled. Spock understood that his captain hadn't forgiven the stranger for attacking his crewmember.
"Under hypnosis," he continued, "Mr. Rahdi was able to recall that Doctor Smith apologized just before he lost consciousness."
"Apologized?" He narrowed his eyes.
"He apparently said he was sorry. Mr. Rahdi is convinced he meant him no harm. Doctor McCoy hasn't been able to determine exactly what happened then, but Mr. Rahdi has not suffered any negative aftereffects. On the contrary, his insomnia hasn't returned, and he reports feeling more rested and less irritable than before the attack."
Spock waited, but the captain didn't seem ready to share his thoughts yet. So he continued, "Whoever he is, Doctor Smith seems familiar with Starfleet systems. The diagnostics routine he used to interface with the science console temporarily disabled some of the security routines. I am convinced he adjusted the parameters to delay the reactivation of the transporter monitoring process, disguising it among many other unrelated programs affected by his actions. When I began resetting the systems, I did not consider the possibility of his activating the transporter without the use of the targeting scanners, which were not affected. If I had, I could have prevented his leaving the ship."
"Don't blame yourself, Spock. You didn't know he intended to leave."
"I suspected he would try, sir." Kirk frowned, looking at his first officer. "His words, before leaving the bridge, clearly indicated it."
"What did he say? It didn't catch my attention at the time."
"He reassured me that he would keep his promise to tell me all he could about himself later."
"He might've been lying, Spock."
"Perhaps, but it would be illogical to remind me of his promise at that moment, knowing as he did that it would alert me to a possible escape attempt. I presume he did it so we would expect to meet him again."
"I'll believe it when I see it. What I don't understand is why he wanted to leave. It's not as if we were going to arrest him. We just wanted to talk."
"He did violate our quarantine."
"That wouldn't be enough to land him in a cell. No, there's something else here. He knew too much about the situation, and that we might need his help. And we did. Without him, there would have been thousands, perhaps millions of Galinedorian casualties from that cloaked ship firing on the planet. Even his lecture, infuriating that he was, helped us focus. And then, with the crisis over, he faked that injury and left."
"His pain was real, Jim. His self-control was remarkable for a human, but I recognized the signals. He was in pain the entire time, but he kept it hidden so we would allow him to remain on the bridge." He noticed Kirk's look of disapproval and amended, "I respected his self-control and his decision to defer medical attention in order to assist us."
"Hmm, you would. I guess you were right. Even so, I'd rather be informed about these situations."
"Please forgive me, Captain. Jim. It won't —"
"I trust your judgment, Spock," Kirk interrupted. "Just tell me, when you can."
"Of course." He didn't add the word 'captain', but Kirk frowned at him and sighed anyway. "It is possible he had some secrets he was not ready to share. If he is working with or for Starfleet Intelligence, it could jeopardize his cover."
"Perhaps. Let's hope that's all it was. No sign of his ship yet?"
"No. Either he is still hiding on the planet, or he managed to leave without being detected, perhaps during one of the recent solar flares." No matter how good they were, the Enterprise was just one ship. They couldn't watch it all.
"What else did you find? Anything on how he managed to adjust our sensors to defeat that ship's cloak?"
"As a matter of fact, yes. During the battle, when I realized what the Doctor was attempting to do, I activated the recording of raw sensor data at maximum resolution. I haven't completed my analysis yet, but reviewing the data collected by the sensors has allowed me to conclude there was a second cloaked vessel present in orbit of the planet."
"Another ship? But we didn't see anything, either on the motion detectors or the modified sensor array."
"Indeed. In our earlier encounter with the Romulan raider, our motion sensors showed themselves capable of detecting the movement of cloaked vessels from a distance against the subspace background and plotting their approximate location. But they are not effective when the opponent is too close, as the Bird of Prey was. Regardless, in spite of the distortion from the nearby planet, we should have been able to detect the presence of other cloaked vessels in the vicinity, but neither Mr. Chekov nor I noticed anything. Later, however, when I reviewed the subspace sensor data, there were subtle indications of the presence of another ship in orbit, a ship which managed to completely elude our sensors."
"Something made you suspect that there could have been a second ship."
"Yes. The sudden disappearance of a large number of off-worlders and rebels once the plot was defeated suggested they were transported to a ship in orbit, and I decided to find out whether it existed. The trace evidence indicates that the cloaked ship was able to disguise its presence from our motion detectors enough that our recognition protocols would overlook it. I have concluded that the ship was equipped with a cloaking system more advanced than that of the Romulans, though it was not yet fully calibrated to completely mask its subspace trail. Possibly a prototype."
"A more advanced cloaking system. The news gets better and better," complained Kirk.
"The evidence from the motion detectors suggests that the ship stayed in orbit for some five hours after the battle, long enough to beam up all the missing rebels. Then it left the system at high warp when we were on the other side of the planet."
"That blip we detected. We assumed it was a passing ship that only came so close to the planet due to a reckless pilot."
"Yes. The trails from the motion detectors wouldn't be enough, by themselves, to confirm the presence of a second cloaked vessel. However, when I analyzed the modifications the Doctor made to our sensor array, I realized that they might confirm the existence of the second ship. He had adjusted the sensors to focus on our immediate vicinity, but once I reprocessed the data allowing for objects at greater distances, the sensors clearly showed the presence of the second ship, parked in a stationary orbit above the northern continent."
"You mean you've been able to replicate whatever it was he did to our sensors? But that's great!"
"Not particularly, Jim. The signal disappeared after thirty minutes, even though the motion data indicates the ship hadn't moved from its relative position."
"But how? That is, how did it work originally, and why did it suddenly stop working?"
"I have found that the protocols the Doctor introduced work by searching for patterns of electromagnetic energy in a number of very specific frequencies. It seems the cloaking system works in part by deflecting photons around the ship."
"Yes, I know a little about cloaking theory." Probably more than a little, Spock thought. But he himself was still working on the details of his theory, and he couldn't assume the captain understood it all.
"The cloak cover is necessarily imperfect, and the flaws allow a small amount of photons, at specific vectors and frequencies, to escape, rendering the vessel detectable to someone who knows what to look for. The cloaking system was probably adjusted to overlay the deflection fields in the best arrangement possible to minimize the number of escaped photons. I believe it would be extremely difficult to derive their pattern from pure observation. In fact, I have ascertained that the Doctor brought the pattern with him and uploaded it as soon as his device interfaced with our systems. The work he did afterwards was to adjust our scanners and recognition protocols to take advantage of it."
"I see. Starfleet would be extremely interested to ask him where he learned about this cloaking pattern."
"In any case, it is useless now. The other vessel must have inferred that we were able to defeat their cloak, as well as how we did it. I suspect they modified their cloaking system to switch between a number of configurations that, while suboptimal, would still be good enough to prevent detection and avoid presenting a single pattern of escaped photons. Theirs is probably a very good engineering team, to complete the modifications in less than half an hour. However, once modified, their cloaking system will no longer be easy to pierce."
Spock saw the hope that had brightened his captain's eyes disappear as he absorbed what had just been said. No matter how many tactical maneuvers they rehearsed, they both knew how much advantage such a cloaking system gave to an adversary.
"Well, that settles it," the captain chuckled. "The Doctor cannot be Starfleet Intelligence."
"Why not, Jim?"
"I have yet to see an intelligence operative who would willingly give up any kind of secret. For this one, I'm certain they'd let the whole planet burn rather than allow someone to suspect they might have it. I'm not sure I'd give it up myself. It's the kind of trump card that can only be used once."
"I agree. But that raises the question of who this Doctor Smith is, who would sacrifice such a valuable secret in order to save the lives of complete strangers."
"A good man." The captain turned and said, "I really hope you're right and we'll meet him again, because I want to thank him for that. We owe him."
This completes the first episode. My heartfelt thanks to you all who have followed the story up to this point. If you've enjoyed it, please take some time now to review and tell me what's working, and what's not.
Very special thanks for my beta, Ersatz Einstein, who's helping me turn my drafts into a readable form. Any errors that remain are solely my fault.
This is followed by two interludes, from the points of view of the Doctor and Spock, respectively. Next episode, Investigation, will be posted from February 2016 onwards. The whole story will have between 8 and 10 episodes.