by John R. Plunkett
The commandant sat behind her desk, apparently lost in thought. As usual a whole host of gadgets littered the desktop: today it was three portable workstations, thirteen data units, a portable scanner, and- rather ominously- a handheld raythrower. With a full charge, according to the telltale.
Admiral Hanson entered first. The commandant didn't appear to notice him. For his own part, he couldn't help noticing that the raythrower pointed at where the commandant's guests would have to sit. Admiral Hanson wanted to think that positioning was accidental. The raythrower, along with all the other devices, gave every appearance to the casual observer of having been tossed haphazardly onto the brightly polished surface.
One could think that right up to the point where the commandant reached out and carefully adjusted one of the data units by a tiny amount. Everything on the desk had been placed with meticulous care. Including the raythrower.
If the display bothered Admiral Rostron, who came next, she gave no indication of it. She wore an expression of stern disapproval, but she always looked like that. She wore her iron gray hair in a tight bun, which in Admiral Hanson's mind only heightened the impression of a stern schoolmarm watching over a pack of unruly children.
Admiral Zidane, coming last, did seem a mite concerned. As well he should; the unfortunate outcome of the Cape York investigation hadn't exactly covered him in glory. Rather the opposite, in fact. Admiral Hanson supposed it wasn't really appropriate to glory in the misfortune of a fellow officer, but at least Zidane's troubles knocked the Orwell Operation out of the spotlight for the time being.
"Be seated," the commandant said, without actually looking at any of her guests. "Amazing, isn't it?" she mused. "With everything that's going on these days, one little Morph has us all in a twitter."
"She isn't just a morph," Admiral Zidane insisted. "She's clearly an intelligence asset."
"Oh, yes, and what a valuable asset she is," Admiral Rostron put in breezily. "She walks up to us with a big sign hanging around her neck that says 'I'm a spy.' Probably a good thing too, or we might have missed her." Her tone, and the arch look on her face, clearly indicated that by we she actually meant you.
"Fortunately for us, Hanson's boy there suggested the miracle cure that'll solve all our problems," Admiral Zidane responded. "I mean, how could I not have thought of asking the help of a wanted criminal? Sheer genius!" He shook his head in wonder.
"I don't suppose it's occurred to any of you that Selah might be a distraction meant to hold our attention while other intelligence assets go about their work?" the commandant inquired mildly, her eyes flicking from one person to the next as she spoke.
A heavy silence fell. Admiral Hanson certainly hadn't thought of it, and considering how Admiral Zidane's expression became slightly more concerned and Admiral Rostron looked as if she'd smelled something unpleasant, it seemed possible they hadn't either. Admiral Hanson attempted to keep his expression neutral and heartily wished himself invisible. He'd survived the conspiracy by being too colorless to recruit or liquidate. His leap to flag rank and coverall command of the Psi Corps should have delighted him. Instead, of felt like plunging headfirst into icy, black water.
"We don't need to rehash the arguments," the commandant said as Admiral Zidane opened his mouth to speak. Instead, he subsided into silence. "The essence of this situation is very simple," the commandant continued. "First: we don't know if Selah is a real defector of a plant. Second: she represents a technological development of a type we hadn't believed the Gosper Fringe capable. That issue troubles me more than the other. We're accustomed to seeing Fringers as uneducated, backward hicks. Dr. Havershiem has just disabused us of that notion. Dr. Havershiem wants us to stop poking him. He's just shown he's willing to play hardball."
"Sir," Admiral Hanson interjected, somewhat diffidently, "I agree that the technology is troubling, but I don't see how Dr. Havershiem could use it in a fashion that would cause trouble to the Federation."
"Don't you?" Admiral Zidane inquired. "If he can build one Selah, he can build more. What if he built an entire army of them? An army that has instant and almost telepathic coordination between all its parts, an army in which each individual soldier can have his or her fear reactions suppressed, and whose knowledge and experiences can conceivably be recovered, even after death? An army whose replacements can be cloned in vats, with necessary training injected directly into their brains so they're ready to go the moment they're decanted? Oh, and incidentally, an army that's absolutely and fanatically loyal to the Fringe?"
Admiral Hanson swallowed nervously. He hadn't considered that possibility. He couldn't have, not even in his worst nightmares.
"It's a nice idea, but it doesn't make any difference," Admiral Rostron said, dismissing the notion with a disdainful flip of the wrist. "Without an adequate space fleet, this cyborg army is nothing but science fiction. Expensive science fiction, if the Fringe is stupid enough to try building it."
"They can get ships elsewhere," Admiral Hanson pointed out.
"Not enough," Admiral Zidane declared. "And not the kind of front-line warships they'd need in order to establish space superiority so they could land their army. It'll take them a long, long time to amass that kind of a fleet. We'd see them doing it, and they'd bankrupt themselves in the process."
"Dr. Havershiem is smart enough to know all those things," the commandant calmly pointed out. "And yet, he sent Selah anyway. Strange, is it not, that he'd expend such a valuable asset?" She arched her eyebrows. "The reason, simply, is that he's banking on a completely different outcome. Something so wild, so wacky, so far out there we either haven't thought of it or we've dismissed it as absurd."
"Then it is absurd." Admiral Zidane commented scornfully.
"Dr. Havershiem believes it'll work," Admiral Hanson observed quietly. "He's cranky, arrogant, prejudiced, and an utter bastard, but he's not stupid. And we have him up against a wall, so he might just be willing to try something crazy."
The commandant nodded approvingly. "That is my take on the matter as well. Therefore, I have decided that the opportunity cost of putting the matter before Chase is worth paying."
"He's still a criminal," Admiral Zidane insisted, huffily. "Not to mention a civilian."
"He's only a criminal in the Terran Dominion," Admiral Hanson pointed out. "And at that, mainly because he could expose the Psi Corps doing things it shouldn't have been."
"Which the outcome of the Orwell Operation rendered moot, did it not?" the commandant inquired. Admiral Hanson nodded. "The Chakonan government hasn't expressed any concern over him, has it?"
"Yes, they have, actually," Admiral Hanson admitted. "But he hasn't committed any actionable offenses within Chakonan territory."
"He was charged with murder, wasn't he?" Admiral Zidane inquired. "Because of that Skunktaur?"
"Yes, but the court found it to be assisted suicide," Admiral Hanson corrected. "So all he had to do was pay for the damaged equipment. They also worked out a community service arrangement in lieu of any further action. The Brotherhood of Psi-Maestros objects strenuously to Chase's philosophies and teaching methods, but he has a lot of support among people he's helped in various ways. Besides, on Chakona parents are not required to submit their Gifted children to training with a licensed instructor. So the fact that Chase has been denied recognition by the Brotherhood doesn't make him ineligible to teach. And he is recognized as an Acolyte by the Order of the Subtle Mind."
"Which one is that?" Admiral Rostron asked.
"Caitians," Admiral Hanson supplied.
"Admiral Rostron, you will direct the Canberra to Chakona," the commandant stated briskly. "Admiral Hanson, your man will stay on to monitor the situation. Yes, I'm aware there's issues between Chase and the Psi Corps; I leave you to resolve them as you see fit. Admiral Zidane, you will dispatch a security unit to meet the Canberra in orbit. No matter where Selah goes or what she does, your agents will be there. They will protect her from harm, and they will also monitor her. If she is a plant, there's no reason to go searching for her contacts if she'll lead us to them."
The commandant laced her fingers together. "We could learn a great deal by carving the Link out of Selah's skull and subjecting it to a proper analysis. Of course she'd have to be dead, or if she weren't we'd almost certainly kill her in the process of removing it. Now, I have heard a suggestion bandied about that if Selah suffered some kind of grievous accident- one that fortuitously left her skull intact- we could do our analysis with a clear conscience." She wiggled her fingers without unlacing them. "I'm sure I needn't mention that if Selah were to die, and if the media were to get even the hint of an idea that her death might have been... shall we say assisted in any way, there will be a scandal that will make the Orwell Operation and the Cape York investigation look like nothing at all. Since I am not willing either to throw away my career, nor to let Starfleet's reputation be irreparably harmed, I want your assurance, Admiral Zidane, that your agents will protect Selah's life and well being as if their own depended upon it. Furthermore, I've taken the liberty of recording myself giving this order, just on the off chance that someone might ask about it later. I trust I've made myself clear on this matter?"
Admiral Zidane swallowed. He looked distinctly green around the edges. "Yes sir," he croaked. "Crystal."
"Very good." The commandant nodded. "Dismissed."
The admirals rose, saluted, and filed out.