“Captain Yassal?” The Terran commander offered a polished grin and his hand. “Commander Jack Forester. Friends call me Jack.”
She took his hand, making her handshake firm. “Lahn. Captain Evlyn Lahn. Good to meet you, Commander Forester.” They froze a second as Lahn didn’t reciprocate the offer to be addressed informally. The commander let the expectation dissolve with an easy chuckle.
“The Admiral was just sitting down for lunch, Captain. Care to join us for a bite?”
“Thank you, I already ate.” But he was already guiding her out of the foyer into a small dining room, seating her in a free chair between two other brass in uniform. The array of food -- enough to feed twice again the number that sat at the table – was heaped on a crowd of delicate blue-veined Deferi porcelain platters. The matching place settings were framed by polished silverware that reflected the ornate glitter of a small chandelier. The officers introduced themselves between mouthfuls of food with names like Buck, Scooter, and Ace. Only the man at the head of the table, lean and sandy-haired, paused to carefully assess Lahn. His infectious quiet silenced the table, broken only as they all stood when he did, facing Lahn.
“Its Lahn, Sir.” She corrected for the second time. She wondered briefly it was a test.
“Well, damned if you don’t look exactly like her. Welcome to Defera, Captain Lahn. A Borg-infested hellhole, but *our* Borg-infested hellhole.”
Lahn glanced out a dusty window framed with embroidered curtains to the transporter banks where rows of Deferi and Starfleet lined up to be transported to various combat zones on Defera. There they would sleep close to the cold, muddy ground rocked to sleep by the thud of the heavy energy cannons, waking to the screams of those being assimilated. If the field replicators were online, they’d drink simple water and gnaw on templated rations; if they weren’t, they’d filter muddy water and wish for the rations. She glanced back and waited for the Admiral to sit first, then realized he was waiting for her to sit. She quietly took her seat, followed by the rest of the table. They all laughed briefly at the awkward moment. A pert betazoid ensign topped off his wine glass. Lahn wondered when uniforms with skirts so short were ever regulation.
The Admiral smiled to the ensign. “It’s amazing you stay in my service, knowing those occasional thoughts that come to me.
Her smile was serene. “Those thoughts aren’t just occasional, Sir.” More laughter at the table as Lahn politely sipped some water.
“Sure you won’t try some of the targ steak?” The Admiral asked Lahn, spearing a forkful of dark meat and lopping it wetly onto his plate. “The Klingons hoard their targ more than their bloodwine, but Lt. Commander Yoris – Ace -- here can work some miracles. So we don’t have to eat that replicated shit.” He folded a slab of targ into his mouth, talking around it. “You know that bit you did on New Romulus, that was true yeoman’s work. Inventive, too.”
“You know, Sir, I can neither confirm nor deny any activities that Yassal might have taken part of on New Romulus.”
“And that behind the scenes work at the Sphere…”
“Likewise, I cannot confirm nor deny…”
His jaw worked a little as he swallowed. “Of course, of course… “
“And as you know, by the agreement, those memories are not part of the primary set given to me at the time of my joining.”
The admiral took a gulp of wine. “Captain, what’s the point of wriggling yourself into that body if you’re not gonna get the good parts?”
Lahn kept her tone even, after the chuckles at the table faded. “With all due respect, Sir, We were here to discuss Evlyn Yassal, and what happened before I began.”
The Admiral frowned, tossing his napkin on this plate. As one, the men put their silverware on their plates. “No, no, don’t let this spread go to waste, seems the Captain here isn’t eating for two.” The men chuckled, and for a moment the only sound was the clatter of silverware as the Admiral and Captain studied each other.
Finally the Admiral spoke, grimacing. “So Yassal. A hell of a thing.”
Jack shook his head, scraping baked tubers on to his plate. “Hell of a thing, Sir.”
“Yeah, hell of a thing. “ He repeated as he swirled his wine glass. “Thought we were doing her a favor scaring up that…that--”
“Lester device, Sir.”
“Yeah, that. She’d just be dead without it. Simple to use, really -- we use it to swap her brain with that girl from the Mirror after that slug in her gut settled down. Poof! Yassal gets a new, young body and a worm in her tummy to keep her warm at night. Just what a girl needs, right?” His amused expressed melted into a scowl. “Then she gets all clever and uses the Lester thing to make a light show of herself.”
“Light Show, Sir?” Lahn asked.
“The Lester device’s output had been forked – one went to … well, you, and the other created a Photonic copy.” Jack explained, topping off Lahn’s water. “Techs found the copy in a memory core in station A-17. It was cooperative – even helpful.”
“Was,” Lahn said as her gaze remained focused on the Admiral.
“Three months after we discovered her, a Borg assimilation virus adapted to the defensive programs and got in to level four containment. She used the breach to escape.”
“Not exactly escape –“ Buck said as he peeled a vorta berry.
“Technically transmit a copy of the Photonic data to another location.”
The Admiral used a small knife to slice off the end of a cigar. “Whatever. Either way she’s out. These boys tell me she’s duped and I’m like, ‘hell boys, pull the plug on ‘em both.”
Ace added, “But first we need to find out where she sent the copy. Between her and the borg virus, there’s not a lot of data--“
Buck carved into a slab of targ. “And she’s been trained to resist persuasion, which makes things harder.” He sighed. “We even tried cerebral rearrangement but – “
“Persuasion.” Lahn’s gaze on the Admiral hardened as her statement ended Buck’s explanation.
The Admiral lit his cigar, and for a moment his face disappeared behind thick, milky smoke. “ We were dealing with a light show and an illegal one at that. So we could take the gloves off, as we used to say. We tried everything -- new school, old school, even the downright primitive, but she’s a damn stubborn set of spots, that’s for sure. Still, she wasn’t the only photonic we kept around for occasional ... assistance.” He snapped the lighter shut loudly“ A few of the photonics we kept in storage knew shit that would make you curl your toes, Captain.”
Jack shook his head with regret.” But Yassal still had a few tricks -- she’d find ways to check out before we’d get everything we wanted, and we’d have to re-initialize her all over again.”
Lahn looked down at the silverware, the array of knives and sharp forks, gauging the distance from her seat to the Admiral’s Adam's apple, forcing her face to stay slack to not betray her icy rage. “Where did she send the copy?”
Buck said, “We eventually sifted enough data remnants to trace the sneaky bitch’s copycast to Bajor. She was taking advantage of the old Cardassian systems there. We think its there that she found a supplier for portable projection modules, and picked up on any plans she’d sent spinning”
“Which including tipping off any groups with a grudge against this…organization, and then making my life complicated.”
The Admiral scowled. “She was always good at making plans. -- haven’t seen on the fly tactics like hers in a long time. But this situation – she's – it’s all gone off the nav plan.”
“She’s become a rogue element. Her methods – are unsound.” Buck added.
“Best intelligence has her heading for the Delta Quadrant, taking advantage of the weak Federation presence there – possibly allying herself with liberated borg elements –“
“The Cooperative,” Lahn said, her eyes catching her own distorted reflection in the polished silverware. She forced her jaw to unclench.
“But someone like you, Captain Lahn--,” The Admiral said with a sardonic smile. “You know her. Hell, you are her, with a worm to boot.”
“It’s a bit more complicated than that,” Lahn said.
“I’ll bet it is. I’ll bet. But you know how she thinks – you know what she thinks. You are the best one to get in there and set her ones to zeroes, so to speak.”
Ace offered a data module. “Here’s her *complete* file – parts even *she* didn’t know.”
The Admiral shook his head grimly, tapping a long trail of ash on the plate. “You have to put this right. This looks bad – really bad for Starfleet.”
Ace watched as she transferred the module to her tricorder. “We have no idea what condition the copy is in – it may think it’s the real Evlyn Yassal, Captain of the USS Munin.”
“In that case, “The Admiral said, “You are authorized to terminate her command.”
Lahn looked to the assembled grim faces around the table. “I’ll take that under advisement.” She stood. Their chairs screeched against the tiles as they stood with her.
“Captain, you clear up this mess – restore the honor of Starfleet --, and I’ll be sure you’re on a track to Rear Admiral.”
An Admiral, Lahn thought wearily. They’re going to make me an Admiral, and I’m not even in their damn fleet anymore. “I’ll take that under advisement, Sir.” She turned away with the shallowest of nods, crossing the foyer in brisk stops, and put her palm to the door frame. “I’m ready, Warden.”
The frame glowed and the door clicked open to a pristine hallway. Three guards gave her enough space to step into the hallway and let the door close behind her with an airlock’s hiss.
The Warden didn’t wear a helmet. “Did everything go alright, Captain? I’m detecting elevated blood pressure, and unnaturally high adrenal levels in your physiology.” He and the other holographic guards flickered.
Lahn slowly exhaled through her pursed lips, then nodded. “I’m fine, thank you, Warden. I want to thank you and the rest of Facility 4028 for being so – accommodating.”
“It was an unusual condition from the prisoner, but seemed – a harmless indulgence.”
She turned back to the door, looking at the monitor. The inside of the cell was bare again – a bed, a fresher, a small table for reading. The prisoner within slumped in his chair, small and alone. “I think the request was to once again be part of something greater, to re-live—“ she felt the distaste in her tone -- “ ‘good old days’”
“Good old days indeed. Some of what was said may be used to extend his sentence though his sentence is already many times that of a normal Terran’s lifetime.”
Lahn felt a cold satisfaction as her fingertips traced the monitor. Let these four walls be the last you have in this life, and let this life be your very last. “Warden, you wouldn’t happen to know if when he was apprehended, they found a photonic on the station?”
The Warden paused as he accessed data. “Yes, there were several. Most of them were…custom designs that couldn’t be repurposed. One was found in a permanent oscillation state – the moment photonic specialists tried to initialize it, it would shut itself down. An external memory scan showed the shutdown routine had been copied over previously existing memories – not many photonics are created with the capability to externally program themselves. According to the reports, there wasn’t much to salvage – the photonic team erased it.
Lahn felt a sour mix of relief and regret. “Of course.”
They walked in silence, only to turn a corner and nearly collide with more guards and a Tellarite -- stout even by their standards. She caught a glimpse of the rank and pulled herself to attention. He waved a hand to put her at ease. “If it is alright, Warden, I will see her out.”
Lahn sighed to herself. Surprises at prison were only when things went very wrong. They walked, the company changed, the silence familiar.
“I’m not sure you’re aware, Captain, but an Ensign Yassal served with me when I was a Lieutenant on the Darlington,” He spoke casually as they walked down the hallway. “Quiet. Intense. Quite the student of military history. We got into an argument over alternative tactics at the Battle of Axiom. You don’t – remember that, do you?”
Lahn thought for a moment. “If you recall Sir, I was joined specifically around a situation and even important memories of comrades –“
“Targ’s piss.” He cut her off. “She thought I was an idiot, and she was right. “There I am, getting louder and louder, wadded up tighter than Romulan undies, hammering at my points, while she’s cool as Andorian Ice. I made a fool of myself. I’m sure to a clan gathering, my invective was pure poetry, but in a wider universe, I was just building a cairn for my ideas – and my career as an officer. A few years later, I thanked her for the lesson, and you know what she said?”
“That she was just trying to win the argument, taking the fight to where you were weakest?”
“That she was – oh. Quite” The silence lasted several footfalls. “All orders that Yassal was operating under are rescinded.”
Lahn furrowed her brow. “I didn’t think one could rescind orders that never existed.”
“They always existed. They just weren’t acknowledged. I’m acknowledging them, so they can be officially rescinded and maybe this Dog’s breakfast –“ he tilted his head back toward the cell she had left, offering a PADD “—won’t happen again.”
Lahn stopped, her eyes scanning the contents. Events she knew. Events she suspected. Failed oversight – the collapse of internal controls in the face of multi-front wars. “Sir, events weren’t -- weren’t just about a failure of command. Yassal had her own part in this. It's one of the reasons she--”
“Joined. Yes. The only innocents in this are those who died senselessly and their families. Captain, I don’t think I have to remind you that you’re responsible for each and every life on the Valkyrja.”
“No Sir. They’re my crew.”
They stopped in the hallway. “And you’re mine, Lahn. I take that responsibility very seriously. I want captains who do the same. More than a couple of my task forces have asked for you specifically for help in Delta, but you’re here.”
“Do you know where the photonic copy went?”
“Delta – or the Rolor Nebula.”
“Captain Myles is there. It's largely uncharted inhibits long range scans –“
“The liberated you were assigned overwatch? Didn’t she take off with her crew in some merchant ship --“
“Avenger? How in Hell’s murk? There’s only---”
“Its Iconian, Sir. From one of the fleets they made to appear that the federation was attacking.”
“You stole a ship from fluidic space? “
“I suppose I helped, Sir, but really Captain Myles-“
“Now that’s damned sneaky.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“I’m not sure it was exactly a compliment. That’s not even in the list --”
“Yassal many times made her own plans, Sir.”
“Like to Pon Farr the entire black ops situation on Romulus?”
“She did what she felt was –“
“You know that ACI would *really* like a look at that ship.”
“I can see how it would provide—“
“Intel, Sir, and –“
“Can you find it?”
“I can’t. I think Yassal can.”
“No Sir. Well, maybe Sir, but ---“
“The one you carry around?”
“Yes, sir. There’s a process. Witnessing – but there were agreements against--”
“Agreements.” He all but spat out the word half chewed. “ Ferengi contracts are easier. The people who made those agreements are here, Captain. Do we need to remind the Commission of that little fact? Do I need to remind you?”
“No Sir. I – Its just – for the last few weeks, I’ve been randomly tested –“
“Tested? You mean like--”
“Questions, investigations, random mind scans –“
He scowled. “So by you by tested, you mean –“
“By parties operating in secret to determine if I was the Lahn they expected and wanted, consequences if those tests were not passed.”
“Thankfully Captain, you are now among friends and comrades.”
“Sir, with all due respect, I am talking about friends and comrades.”
He grunted. “Are you making a formal complaint?”
“No. It's handled. Just explaining why I’m not ---“
“Which life do you want to live, Captain? Yassal’s? Or—“
“It's not like just walking across a line, Sir.”
“You could draw one. If you don’t. I will. You could start by being clear with me. You prevaricate like Orions fuck.”
Lahn was taken slightly aback. “Thank you, sir?”
“That’s definitely not a compliment.”
“But Orions – they have a reputation--“
“You lie for almost any reason, with some talent, and damned little provocation.”
“So when you say prevarication, you mean –“
“I mean fucking lying, Lahn! Just –“
“I’m not prevaricating–“
“Don’t lie to me. Just don’t. I’m trying to help you here, and not by playing this cloak and dagger targshit.” Now, do whatever you need to secure that ship. The Iconian issue is our top priority right now.”
Lahn frowned. “And the crew?”
“Captain Myles is AWOL. The rules here are pretty clear.”
Lahn bristled. “Captain Myles was watching her crew getting torn apart by the people who put them together. I fully support Yassal’s decision to her get off that Nav plan”
“Read faster, Captain.” The Admiral said, thrusting a stubby finger at the PADD. “ Those orders are rescinded. No one’s getting disassembled against their will. If Captain Myles returns in a reasonable period of time, I can see a cause for leniency. I expect regular evaluations to make sure those on her crew *still* want to be on crew.”
“There are certain advantages to keeping them together, like --“
“You don’t need to lobe me, Captain, we’ve been looking at that ever since we discovered the project. Yassal really was at her best when she was Myles’ overwatch. I expect the same from you, without the kill order.”
Lahn exhaled slowly. “I’ll make arrangements with the Commission.”
“Do that, Captain. We need every ship we can get – in top form. Resolve this. Put the ghosts to rest.”
“Yes Sir. “ She followed the Admiral and his entourage on to the transporter pads. She watched the transporter chief flicker. “Sir, about the photonic…“
“I trust you to use your best judgment, Captain. Assess the situation. We’ll accommodate any reasonable plan.”