The late afternoon wind gently moved across the sky as the Callahan family walked across the plains towards their ranch. After spending the day at the local fair, a rare family moment, they were now returning home to continue spending the evening together by having a decent home-cooked meal. John Callahan looked up at his son, the ten-year-old was on his back, enjoying the ride his father was providing. Almost seven months ago their relationship was as harsh as the Chihuahuan Desert, but with John’s return from Challenger almost after its first mission it had given the father and son the time to rebuild burnt bridges. With John being assigned as a senior lecturer at the Starfleet Training Command complex in Houston, he was closer to his family and was still able to be in Starfleet. He had never considered being a teacher of the next generation of Starfleet officers as a possible career, yet the current war with the Romulans made his expertise in being out in space and engaging with so many aggressors someone Starfleet wanted to be preparing the latest recruits. Working at the former site of the Johnson Space Centre, which had been re-opened by the UESPA before being handed over to Starfleet a few years ago, was extremely memorable for the Texan armoury officer. Walking among the historical corridors where early human spaceflight was conducted was a surreal feeling for him. Callahan was able to work decent hours that allowed him to be home in the evenings and have the weekends off to be with his family. He was living the perfect work-life balance. That said, with the declaration of war against the Romulan Star Empire, he had considered putting a request in to transfer to an active assignment. He felt guilty about staying Earth bound while others were out there every day putting their lives on the line, however one of his colleagues had reminded him that he was making a valuable contribution to the war effort. He was preparing their students for what awaited them out in the void of deep space. The sentiment was a nice one, despite this it was purely empty for Callahan.
“So, I reckon that Pa should create his infamous BBQ sauce to go on the ribs!” Johnny stated, “Whatcha you think Lizzy?”
Nodding in agreement with her older brother, Callahan’s youngest daughter who was holding her mother’s hand cheered too. “That sounds yum!”
Both parents laughed at their children’s enthusiasm. “Well honey, it looks like we’ve gotta put some effort in with tonight’s dinner.” John remarked towards his other half.
“So, it seems.” His wife, Laura replied. She looked up at their home and the smile she had instantly disappeared, “But that may all have to wait.” She said, indicating to the figure that stood on the raised porch.
Callahan looked up to what his wife was staring at and paused in his tracks. He was surprised at who stood before his family. Slowly, he let Johnny climb off his back and instructed his children to stay by their mother as he approached the man who he hadn’t seen for months and was the reason why he was here today.
“Cap’n Burton, this is a pleasant surprise.” Callahan said as he climbed the few steps up onto the porch and extended his hand towards his former commanding officer.
“It is good to see you John.” Burton replied in his thick British accent along with a warm smile. “I hope you don’t mind me intruding on you like this?”
Callahan shook his head once, “Not at all cap’n, you’re always welcome here.” He said after letting go of the captain’s hand. He turned to his family. “Guys, let me introduce you to Cap’n Lloyd Burton, the skipper of the Challenger.”
Johnny raced up the steps to stand by his father. “Is this the guy who allowed you to return home Pa?”
Lloyd knelt down to shake the younger Callahan’s hand. “Johnny, I presume? It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Callahan’s son just shook Burton’s hand after nodding to him. Callahan spoke up. “I do owe the cap’n a favour for allowing me to return home, so I can be with you all.”
Laura, who was now holding on to Lizzy by her side stepped up to greet the stranger. “Captain, it’s a delight to finally meet the man who returned my husband to me in one piece.” She too extended her hand towards Burton, who gladly shook it. “This is our daughter Lizzy.” Laura mentioned.
“It’s nice to meet you both.” Burton replied, still smiling before looking back to Callahan, hoping that the armoury officer would recognise that the captain had come to see him and him alone.
Callahan had picked up the signal and looked to his wife and children. “Honey, why don’t you take the kids inside and start dinner. The cap’n and I have a bit to catch up on.”
Laura nodded, also getting the hint from her husband to give him some privacy. Before she entered their ranch house, she looked up and gave him a look that said: ‘don’t you dare go back to that ship’.
Once the door had closed behind them, Callahan offered for Burton and him to sit down on the small outdoor furniture that was placed on the wooden porch. “So, sir, what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?”
Burton smiled at Callahan’s directness. It was something he had missed from the Texan armoury officer. “I’ve come to ask a favour from you, one I promise won’t take you away from your family.”
Sitting, now confused at Burton’s words, Callahan was interested to find out more. “Last time I heard, Challenger was docked at the Obama Repair Facility undergoing extensive repairs and refits. So, I presume this favour would be Earthbound?”
Nodding as he relaxed into his chair, Burton clarified his remark. “I’m afraid the job requires a stealthily approach to it, as such I cannot depend on the use of the Challenger.”
Callahan took Burton’s words in carefully. “Understood, but before we go on, I heard what you guys endured out there. Did you lose anyone against the Romulans?”
Burton shook his head, “Fortunately no. The crew survived, but many of them were injured.”
“I’m pleased to hear that no one was lost, sir.” Callahan replied. “So, what’s this secret favour then?” His directness came straight out again.
“I need you to gain access to a personnel file that is behind sigma-level clearance.” Burton said in a hush tone.
“Sigma-level?” Callahan repeated. “Why would a personnel file be locked down with that?” He quizzed.
Burton shrugged his shoulders. “I’m not sure, but I need to find out more about them for a sensitive assignment I am currently working on.”
“Whose file do you need access to?” Callahan asked, keeping his volume low.
“Commander Alexa Hanson.” Burton whispered.
“Hanson?” Callahan said with some surprise in his response. “Why her?”
“You know her?” Burton asked back.
Callahan nodded twice. “Yup.” He said, emphasising on the ‘p’. “She’s on a detached assignment to Starfleet Training Command from Starfleet Security.”
“What do you know about her then?” Burton quizzed.
“Well cap’n she’s got a helluva of temper on her.” Callahan started with. “I’ve heard her rip into a lot of our recruits. She’s a harsh marker too.”
“Sounds like a great person to inspire the next generation of officers.” Burton commented sarcastically.
“Hanson has a bluntness about her that is colder than the Northern Wastes on Andoria.” Callahan added.
Burton stood up, crossing his arms against his chest and leaning against the balcony. The captain was wondering if finding out more about Commander Hanson was worth it. “Anything else?” He asked.
Leaning back in his chair further, Callahan nodded. “From what else I know she’s one of the finest to join Starfleet. She was given a field commission to lieutenant four years ago and is one of Starfleet’s rising stars, like yourself sir.”
Burton chuckled slightly at that. “Thanks John, but you don’t have to impress me, I’m not your C.O anymore.”
“Sir, I kid you not. Your fame is starting to give the likes of Cap’ns Archer and Hernandez a run for their money. You’re almost Starfleet’s poster boy!” Callahan said with a grin.
“Okay, we’re going off topic here John.” Burton commented on, he could feel himself beginning to blush. “Can you get me Hanson’s file?”
Callahan stood up and extended his hand towards his former captain. “Consider it done sir.” He said as they shook hands.
Midtown Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States of America, Earth
Stephen Braddock had always enjoyed his work as an architect, it had given him many opportunities to visit various locations across the United Earth Commonwealth, including visits to Vulcan and other allied worlds. He currently stood on the top floor of his latest creation: Travers Tower, looking down at Times Square. The high-rise building complex was owned by the Travers Foundation, a charity that had been formed at the end of World War III to support the rebuilding efforts in New York City. The charity had continued, even after the reconstruction efforts had been completed in the American city, it had grown to a global organisation now. Travers Towers was its new headquarters and would be where the charity would support a number of its projects from, but at the moment Travers Tower wasn’t officially open as such that fact helped with what he was currently involved in. Looking away from the beautiful evening skyline, Stephen cradled his son in his arms as the infant slowly sipped on the bottle of milk that his father was giving him. Smirking to himself as he looked at the scene before him, Stephen couldn’t hold back his chuckle. Working around the long rectangular conference table was his wife with her two youngest brothers. He looked at Madison as she sat at the head of the table, her face was all scrunched up as she concentrated on the desktop monitor before her. The way she looked made Stephen love his wife even more. Originally when she had told him about what she and her brothers had possibly discovered about their father’s death, he had thought they had been sold a wild conspiracy theory by Admiral Hathaway. However, Madison was absolutely convinced this was legitimate and wanted to pursue it. Even though he didn’t agree with it, he would support her, hence why they were using his building as a place to work. They needed to be somewhere where anyone else who could be involved in this possible conspiracy would not think to find them. Their parents’ home in Britain wasn’t the best place and their own homes weren’t a good idea either. However, as Roman had said, being in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world meant he could hack into any network from anyone’s server and gain access to information they may require without it being traceable to anyone, in particular the Travers Foundation. This whole thing would become illegal if they started to hack government servers and networks. Stephen hoped that he wouldn’t be raising his child while his wife (and her brothers) were serving time in the recently built Starfleet penal colony in New Zealand.
“Why has dad spent a lot of time between Earth and Mars recently?” Seth pointed out as he looked up from the tablet he had been reading.
“Mars?” Roman repeated back as turned away from the wall-mounted plasma screen he had been working at to look at his younger brother.
Madison had also looked up from her screen down at her pilot brother who was sat at the other end of the table. “I thought dad hated travelling off world. I was under the impression he had taken on more teaching at the university this year?”
“That’s not what his schedule is showing.” Seth stated as he mirrored the image from his tablet on to one of the spare operational wall mounted screens. “Look, in the past few months he has made at least twenty-one visits to Mars.”
Roman walked over to study his father’s schedule to find some explanation behind these trips. “For a teaching professor, he certainly wasn’t at Cambridge a lot during the academic year.”
“He was the holder of the Lucasian Chair, maybe he attended a number of conferences?” Stephen offered.
“But on Mars?” Madison questioned; she was still not understanding why their father would visit the fourth planet in the system. “Where did he visit on Mars?” She asked.
“Every time he went,” Seth started, “he would travel to Utopia Colony and then take a transport to Ares City. He booked with the same space-flight company too, some company based at Utopia which is named Trentuno Galactic.”
“So, what’s at Utopia Colony or in Ares City that dad has been involved with?” Roman asked. It was the same question that was on everyone’s lips.
At that point the main door opened, and Lloyd walked through, wearing his civilian clothing just like everyone else. In his hands he carried a standard computer tablet. “So, I’ve got some interesting information about our dear friend Commander Alexa Hanson.” He announced.
Madison, Roman and Seth all moved towards their brother to find out more from him. “Good,” Madison said, “hopefully it may answer a few questions we have.”
Lloyd looked confused at Madison’s comment. “What do you mean?”
“Seth’s been digging into dad’s schedule and discovered that dad has been to Mars a lot recently.”
“Mars?” Lloyd said, sharing the confusion with his siblings before carrying on with what he had found about the mysterious woman who had reported on their father’s death. “Well, Commander Hanson’s service record is interesting.”
“Do tell,” Seth stated. “Was it worth getting access to it?”
“Oh yes,” Lloyd said as he activated the tablet in his hands and quickly transferred his contents onto the wall screen that was next to the one that had their father’s work schedule. “Commander Alexa Hanson has had quite a career before Starfleet. Born and bred here in the States, she has degrees in forensic science, law enforcement and psychology all from Harvard University. She later married and moved to Britain where she worked for the British secret service. Her husband died during a covert mission in Jakarta. She left the service and returned back to the States. She was in the FBI for two years where she worked with INTERPOL before transferring to Langley to be an analyst with the CIA. Two years ago, she was given a field commission to join Starfleet Security. She now is without an official portfolio but is assigned to one of its special investigations bureau. I’m also informed by a reliable source that now and then she teaches at Starfleet Training Command too.”
“An impressive résumé,” Roman stated without sincerity. “how does it help us though?”
“I think this explains why Fleet Admiral Hathaway approached Lloyd about this.” Madison remarked as she crossed her arms against her chest. Lloyd only nodded in agreement with his sister while both Roman and Seth still looked confused. Continuing, she explained how this piece fit their puzzle. “I reckon Hathaway is just as perplexed as we are as to why Starfleet Security is involved in the investigation of our father, especially when they assign one of their brightest sparks to the case. We need to meet with Commander Hanson and work her out, see if she can tell us anything or give us a clue.”
“You read my mind.” Lloyd said.
Roman scoffed at that idea. “Do you honestly believe she will tell you that there’s more to dad’s death if there’s something that someone is trying to hide?”
“Roman is right, she won’t tell you.” Seth added. “I say we head to Mars and chase that lead and find out what dad was doing there so much.”
The four Burton siblings had reached an impasse in their research and all looked to each other, not knowing where to go next.
“It feels like we are pulling on loose strings.” Lloyd stated. “We’ve got two strong possibilities that we could follow up, but which one do we take first?”
“And if they don’t work out, what then?” Roman enquired.
“We still haven’t got a complete picture of what dad got up to before his death at this conference he attended. We need to find out who he met with, what he said at the seminars, things like that. We may find a clue from that to look into.” Lloyd answered.
“So how do we play this?” Seth asked his older siblings.
At that point the one person who had remained silent, until now, spoke up. Stephen’s voice echoed across the room from where he stood still holding his infant son. “Do you hear yourselves?”
Madison quickly shot round to look at her husband as he spoke. “What do you mean Stephen?” She quizzed, not understanding why he said what he said.
Stephen approached the group. “Do you really think you guys are going to be able to find out the answers you want to hear by the way you’re going about this? If there is some sort of conspiracy at work here, then from the sounds of it the builders of it aren’t going to leave clues just because the Burton Clan has turned up demanding answers. If you four all go see this Hanson and then go to Mars, it’s going to tip someone you are on to if they’re linked. You need to be more subtle with it. You four have just lost your father and meant to be on compassionate leave. On top of that do you really think your mother isn’t going to realise you are up to something? The moment you four go travelling she’s going to ask questions with Starfleet. If it’s not her then it will be the press. Your father was one of Earth’s leading physicists and even though his death was recorded as an accident it’s still a high-profile case. Plus, it doesn’t help that Lloyd commands one of THE fastest ships in Starfleet. You guys need to be more careful in your approach, plus you all have others to think about.” Stephen looked down at his son before finishing. “You guys may not be able to do this, and you may have to say to Admiral Hathaway you can’t complete this mission she has you all on.”
Lloyd looked at his nephew as Stephen spoke and nodded in agreement with him. He looked at his brothers and sister and they too had the same expression plastered across their faces, agreeing as well. “You’re right Stephen. We need to keep up appearances at the moment. We need to play it out that we’re none the wiser about any of this.”
“Then I may suggest we split up to deal with each of our leads.” Madison proposed. “I’ll meet with Commander Hanson. Lloyd and Seth should head to Mars.”
“What about me? Why aren’t you involving me?” Roman whined.
Lloyd smirked at Roman not seeing the big picture. “Because officially Discovery returns in two days’ time. For us to keep up appearances as everything is normal then we need to make it look like we are dealing with real life while dealing with this matter quietly alongside it. You need to return to duty, which is expected of you.”
Roman now crossed his arms across his chest. “Well, that seems unfair.” He said with a partial pout. Everyone else in the room ignored him.
“Once I’ve met with Hanson then I’ll return to staying with mum,” Madison said before looking at her husband. “If you’re okay with that?”
Stephen nodded. “Absolutely fine. We can carry on working on this while being with your mother and me without losing my job here in New York.”
“Seth, Roman and I should return to London today and we can be back with mum before this evening. We can use the excuse that Stephen was giving us a tour of his latest creation. Seth and I can work out how we will get to Mars from there.” Lloyd suggested.
Madison agreed with the plan. “I’ll call Starfleet Security from here in New York and arrange to meet with Commander Hanson. She can’t say no to meeting with a captain.”
“Well, if that’s the case then can I suggest this ‘tour of my latest creation’ is over and we leave here before anyone finds us and suspects anything?” Stephen said, ushering for everyone to leave Travers Towers.
Portsmouth, Hampshire, United Kingdom of Great Britain, Earth
“Lloyd, a second please.”
Lloyd had just jogged down the central staircase in his parents’ large house and past the doors to the lounge when he had been stopped by his mother’s voice coming from within. He knew that tone of voice wasn’t a happy or pleasant one. It was her serious tone, one that she used on him and his siblings on a number of occasions during their teenage years. Instinctively he complied and entered the room. His mother stood by the large bay window that sat in the centre of the opposite room; her arms crossed against her chest. She wore a beige coloured blouse and a burgundy pencil-skirt – her normal look. Lloyd had been slightly surprised to see her return to this appearance, but it was typical of Lynette Burton. She rarely allowed herself to look anything but pristine and flawless. She had even returned her greying blonde hair back to its normal bob cut style.
“Can I help you mum?” Lloyd asked as he approached her.
She turned on her heel. “You tell me.”
Lloyd gulped at her comment. “I’m not sure what you mean.” He answered, attempting to use his best poker face ever. It was going to be a futile attempt as his mother knew him too well, but he felt he needed to try.
True to form, she rolled her eyes as she looked at him with a displeasing expression and gestured for him to join her on the nearby couch. “Lloyd, I won’t be mad. I know when my children are keeping a secret from me. Just tell me what you four are up to.”
Slowly sitting down, Lloyd smoothed out his grey jumper as he responded. “Mum, I know you’re going to hate me for saying it, but it is classified.”
Lynette Burton re-crossed her arms and looked deeply at her eldest son. “Don’t give me that crap Lloyd, I’m your goddamn mother.”
“And I’m a Starfleet officer mum, you know I can’t break my oath.” Lloyd said in defence. “Especially while we are at war.”
“Fine.” Lynette said in defeat and stood back up and went back to looking out of the large window. “You know you four are as bad as your father with your secrets.”
Lloyd looked up at his mother, hurt by her comment but curious too. “What do you mean by that?”
Shaking her head as she was still angry at the current situation, Lynette spoke up. It was obvious whatever the matter was, it had been playing on her mind for some time now. It was not like her to bottle things up and then just come out with things without them meaning something. “Your father and his team spent a lot of time visiting Mars just before his death. He wouldn’t tell me the truth about what he was up to. I’m pretty certain he was working for Starfleet as a civilian consultant again.”
The mention of Mars caught Lloyd off-guard and for a moment he wondered if he should bring his mother into the fold about the mission he and his siblings were on. “What makes you say that mum?” He probed.
Lynette looked back at her eldest son. “Your father was a bad liar and would come up with poor excuses and reasons why he was visiting Mars. He came up with some rubbish that his department was part of some exchange programme with a college in Ares City. We had a number of arguments over the fact we weren’t spending as much time together like we used to, so I hired a private investigator to follow him for a while.”
Shocked at that last statement, Lloyd’s eyes were now wide open. He hadn’t realised that his parents’ relationship was so strained in its last months. He also couldn’t believe it that his mother had taken such drastic action. Her knowledge of their father’s visits to Ares City also rang alarm bells in his head. Not knowing what to say, Lloyd just spoke to fill the void. “Mum, I’m so sorry I didn’t know how bad it had gotten.”
Shrugging her shoulders, Lynette continued explaining. “Lloyd, do not worry. All four of you were out and about exploring deep space. It was only when Madison came home to have Oliver that your father seemed to have changed and was here more, alongside that when we heard the news that Challenger was declared missing and possibly destroyed, he was very adamant at being here. Things between us somehow returned to how they were before.”
Lloyd stood up and walked over to his mother and embraced her in a hug. He had been so wrapped up in his own affairs that he had never stopped to think about his family. “Listen mum, if I tell you what is happening you have to promise me you cannot tell a soul.” He begged in between their embrace.
Nodding, Lynnette spoke up after she finished hugging her son. “Of course, Lloyd.”
Lloyd took a deep breath before he shared. “We’re investigating dad’s death, as some things do not add up. Particularly the involvement of Starfleet Security, but if dad was a civilian consultant even an unofficial one then it explains why they investigated his death. Nevertheless, the whole Mars thing still doesn’t sit right with me and I’m sure the answers are there.”
“I had wondered why Starfleet Security had visited me and not the local police force.” Lynette remarked. “I suppose the shock of the news just blinded me from properly thinking.” She paused as she thought for a few seconds. “Lloyd, do you all think your father was murdered?”
The thought hadn’t crossed his mind, Lloyd just wanted to know the truth and if Admiral Hathaway felt it required investigation then it meant something. Now his mother had put the idea in his head he did wonder, was his father killed for the work he was doing? Was his father working for Starfleet, if so what for? Was it some sort of Romulan plot to remove one of Earth’s leading physicists from helping with the war effort? And why was he prepared to jeopardise his marriage for it? Too many questions he felt, he looked at his mother. “Mum, I don’t know what to think right now but what I do know is that we need to look into this. Tell me more about this private investigator, what did they find out?”
Lynette sat back down on the sofa and Lloyd joined her. His mother sat there for the next hour telling him everything she knew. Once she had finished, Lloyd had gone to see his brothers who had been planning Lloyd and Seth’s trip to Mars in Roman’s room. Once Lloyd had shared with them what their mother had disclosed to him, they had decided to bring Roman with them too. It had turned out that their father had purchased a small apartment at the Utopia colony. That would be their first place to investigate. They had also spoken with Madison who had confirmed her meeting with Commander Hanson. It had also turned out that Hanson visited their mother to inform her of her husband’s death. There were now too many pieces to this puzzle and Lloyd was eager to start to put them together and find out what the bigger picture was.