Part of Starbase Bravo: Sundered Wings and Bravo Fleet: Sundered Wings

Knots to Untangle

Starbase Bravo, Sector India-Navy, The Gate Inn
June 4th, 2400; 1230 hours
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The Velorum sector, long a strategic focal point for the Romulan Empire, carried old wounds. Not the least of these were felt by the Reman workers who slaved in the dilithium and mineral mines of the region’s rocky planets and planetoids. But even Romulans did not always fare well in Velorum. There were prison colonies out here, and hopeful-colonies turned sour, and just plain old stifled expression leading to a sort of spiritual depression among the masses. But, in the wake of the Great Disaster (a fitting term, considering the nature of the event that brought the Empire low), the Velorum sector had fallen to new depths.

Muninn sat at her usual table at The Gate, her glass filled by Terry, who had taken to spending a few moments each afternoon chatting her up in the pleasant sort of way that told her he now considered her a regular at his establishment. The air smelled of fried food and fresh beer, and the treble of conversation from the other lunch-goers laid a safe blanket over her mood. She still felt a pang at the conditions the report on the Velorum sector painted: so much hardship, and more still to come. And yet, the misery oddly did not infect her soul today, did not linger in the shadowy corners of her mind. Perhaps because another tenant already squatted there, occupying her thoughts. 

She picked up a piece of fried cod, the batter done with synthale and taken to a delightful golden color, like the setting sun from the San Francisco hills, and munched it down. She’d been liberal with the malt vinegar today, and the tang awoke her taste-buds, singing notes of acid sweetness in her cheeks.

Back home, and throughout most of the Federation territories, this sort of thing just didn’t happen anymore. Member worlds were required to maintain standards, and were further prompted to exceed the minimum through a complex array of diplomatic efforts. There were plenty of breakaway colonies, of course. Space was big, and many people set out in the desire of going it alone. But there were enough horror stories, like Turkana IV, that fewer and fewer took that route willingly. To be part of the Federation meant shedding all those conservative notions about the morality of work, as well as any antiquated nonsense about the selfish “nature” of sentient life. You learned, quickly, that the reason the other great Empires feared the Federation so was that its massive system of socialized welfare worked. Indeed, it worked so well that it formed an extremely complex and redundant system of interwoven strengths. Proof that working for the betterment of others, and standing up for the system as a cradle for the individual, took sentient life farther than all the self-interested pseudoscience that once had ruled supreme on dear old Earth. 

I’m starting to sound like Dad, Muninn thought, smiling to herself. But, out here, things are different.

The Romulan Empire’s way of doing things, rigid and conservative as could be, and built upon the backs of a slave species to-boot, could not withstand the sudden shift in fortune that the destruction of their home system had brought. 

Out here, people suffered the kind of suffering that had not been seen on a core Federation world since Earth’s twenty-first century. For Muninn, it formed a sort of fascinating portal into another place and time. Harrowing and awful, yet also intriguing to her psychologist’s mind. A not insubstantial part of her longed to be out there, exploring the sector, meeting those people face to face, and perhaps finding ways to spread ripples of good in those craggy pools where hope might still stand a chance of prospering. Here, on Starbase Bravo, she already felt stifled between paperwork and the absolute mind-numbing normalcy of the problems brought her way.

Only Asenth, the young Romulan girl, gave her real pause. In that teenage girl’s eyes, Muninn fancied she had seen something potent and vibrant. Subdued, yes. There were veils of horror between Asenth and any future she might have… but Muninn felt in her heart of hearts that those veils could, in fact, be lifted. And, if they were to be lifted, what then?

Anything she wanted, Muninn thought to herself. 

Asenth possessed the sort of mind and curiosity that could take her places, and could change the lives she encountered. But the work that would need to be done to get the girl there might never be allowed to start, the way things were going. Unless some sort of true closure could be gained, some measure of deeper understanding earned, it seemed likely to Muninn that Asenth would wither like fruit on the vine.

She glanced up at the sound of the door opening and saw a familiar blue face peering over the heads of the various lunch-goers. Lish, his eyes lighting up when he spotted her, made his way across the room with a hasty excitement in his stride. He plopped down in the free chair across from her and slapped a PADD down on the table-top.

“There,” he said with a great note of triumph.

“There what?” Muninn said, picking up the device with more care than he had thrown it down.

“That’s the colony your girl is from. The Romulan, I mean. It took more than some fair bit of doing, let me tell you, but I surprised myself with my ability to get to the root of things. There were a dozen or so different options to track down, but I picked the most likely and ran with it.”

Muninn scanned the screen. The Oumoren System. “And what was that?” she asked, glancing up at the Bolian.

“Why would Starfleet Intelligence seal a file like that? Few good reasons, am I wrong? Well, obviously, I let all of the more conspiratorial options float away on the tide because those are simply too unlikely or too daft to be plausible, and that’s when I hit upon the solution. Helen Anderson of Starfleet Intelligence was… working undercover. ”That made Muninn sit up a little. “Really? Undercover, inside a Romulan colony?”

“Quite so! That’s the part that caught me, though. The file, you see, bore two sealing dates. The original, from sixteen years ago, and a more recent one, just twelve years old. And I asked myself, ‘Why would there be two different orders to seal an undercover officer’s file?’”

He grinned expectantly.

“I don’t know, Muninn said, fighting not to roll her eyes. “Why?”

“Because only one of them was for her job. The other was when she went AWOL.”

“Away without leave? But… the seal stated that she was missing in action.”

“Quite. Only, she’s not. Never was, really. Just purged out of all the normally accessible places and that MIA tag slapped on over the original data. But I have friends who work in Intelligence—“

I’ll bet, Muninn thought with a small smile.

“—and they agreed to poke through some of the less-secure archives, the ones that might not get purged in a routine cover-up. As it turns out, there were two hearings on the matter of one Lieutenant Helen Anderson, and it was after the second that her case was updated to MIA. Only, there’s no record of the second hearing taking place. None of the normal breadcrumbs. And, what’s more, there were deleted communication logs from Helen Anderson up to a whole month after the last seal got placed on her file.”

“She was still trying to check in?”

“Oh yes, indeed! And sending messages to people in Starfleet, messages that never arrived. A deeper interdiction took place sometime then, and for the next two months her communications were intentionally blocked by a firewall. After that, the pings stopped coming in. She must have given up.”

Muninn pushed her plate, occupied now by just a few crumbs and a couple of leftover fries, away from her. She took a sip of synthale while Lish watched, his round face glowing with his success. 

“Who was she trying to reach?”

“There’s the really interesting part. The Judge Advocate’s office! She wanted legal representation.”

“And her own department locked her out?”

Lish nodded. “Mmmhmm. And, what’s more, I know why. Or, at least partly why. See, there was a very odd file stored away in an archived storage backup. My friend found it and sent it to me, and I think it cleared everything up. Scroll down.” He pointed to the PADD.

Muninn did as he said, and whistled when she came to the next section. “A pre-natal scan? She was pregnant?”

“Yes!” Lish clapped his hands together like an excited kid. “And I think that changed things for her. I think that she was assigned as an undercover officer on some case for Intelligence. Deep cover inside Romulan territory. And then something changed. She met someone, or somehow found herself with child, and refused to do her job anymore.”

Muninn speed-read the report. It mentioned a synthetic component in the DNA blend of human and Romulan, the same sort of blend one might find in a Vulcan-human pregnancy. Intentional pregnancy, that much we can at least infer. But what more than that? “But… why would they mark her as MIA after the second hearing? Why not allow her to return home?”

“Because,” and here Lish paused, clearly for effect. “That wasn’t what she wanted.”

“She wanted to stay with her Romulan lover?”

“No… and, I mean, this is just my best guess… I think she wanted to bring her Romulan lover and her new child here, to live in the Federation. Now, I don’t have all the details past this point, but my suspicion is that things soured between her and her superior officer on this particular point. He’s the only one who could have sealed things up with so neat a bow.”

Muninn took this in with a mounting understanding, and horror at what it was she thought she understood. “Intentional. You mean that this was intentional.”

“Of course! Starfleet wouldn’t have been happy about her choices, but they never would have cut someone off like that. Or, at least, not unless she truly turned traitor. But why send proof like this in, why try so hard to contact legal representation? Unless you wanted to come back to your home?”

“So… what? This made her boss in Intelligence look bad, and he decided to cut her off for it?”

Here, Lish shook his head. “I wish I could say. Anything deeper in Helen Anderson’s files is classified beyond what my friend was willing to stick his neck out for. But why dig through files anyway when we can just go there for ourselves and ask the woman directly?”

Muninn looked at him blankly. “Because she’s dead. Her daughter said she saw her killed.”

“Ahh,” Lish held up a finger, wagging it annoyingly across the table. “She told you that she found her parents dead, correct?”

“Yes. She saw Reman revolutionaries go into her home and found her parents bodies afterward. And her little brother.”

Some of Lish’s smugness faded at that, but he drove on. “Well, I looked into the most recent reports from our new Reman friends. It seems that the colony on Oumoren V did stage a coup against its Romulan governor. But it seems that a number of prisoners were taken, and among them was a human. Now, what are the odds that another human would be so far out there in Romulan space? And, add to that, what are the odds that a terrified and grief-stricken girl would make sure to thoroughly check if her just-brutalized parents were really well and truly dead before she went running off?”

“Or was carried off…” Muninn said, remembering something from her extended conversation with Asenth.

“Pardon?”

“She told me that she got pulled away by friends of her parents, who threw her onto one of the Romulan refugee barges that was escaping the fighting. That’s how she ended up here.”

“So she might not have even had a chance to check if her parents survived!” Lish grinned at her. And that seems to me to be the sort of thing worthy of a closer look, wouldn’t you say?”

Muninn let a little whistle past her lips as she absorbed all the new information. If there was any chance that Asenth’s parents were still alive, could she in good conscience ignore it? “Why not just send away through proper channels? Have the Reman authorities look into it?”

Lish made a scoffing noise. “They’re not a government yet, or even that unified. Certainly, Resak has given them all a common goal to shoot for, and a structure to work from, but the rebellion on Oumoren V came more like a wildfire than a planned event. There really was a massacre there. It’s not like we can just ask their local constabulary to look into things.”

“Yeah, but it’s not like two counselors from Starfleet can just hitch a ride over there either… Sir.”

But Lish gave her a large wink. “Ah, live and learn. I talked this over with a friend of mine who just so happens to have reason to be near Oumoren V. A resupply run for a small listening outpost. He’s willing to pick us up here when he comes to take on the supplies, and drop us off on the colony while he fulfills his mission. We’ll check things out, and then we’ll catch a lift as he swings back on the return journey.”

Clearly, something had come to life in the middle-aged Bolian. Lish’s eyes were wide with the sort of excitement Muninn normally assumed only existed in fresh-faced cadets. Whether it was just the thrill of the mystery, or if he had been on the starbase long enough to start going a little stir-crazy, or some other private reason all his own, she had the feeling that he was going to be heading to Oumoren V with or without her at the very next opportunity.

He seemed to understand something of her thinking, however, because he gave her a reasonable smile and said, “It’s not an order, Lieutenant. There is something here that needs untangling, but I can’t make you come with me on this one. It’s shaky evidence and supposition holding this together. But there’s little risk in it, for us. And a lot to gain for that patient of yours. Perhaps for Starfleet, too, if one of our own is out there and needs our help.”

For a moment more, Muninn hesitated, caught between conflicting needs. The safety of the routine she was building in this place, her new home. And the need that she had recognized earlier that day, a sudden itch for the life she had grown accustomed to the last two years: life aboard ship, always at the edge of some new discovery. She gazed into her superior’s eyes and felt his own magnetic excitement pulling her, swaying her decision, even as she knew that there were too many unknowns ahead to make any decision in good and clear conscience.

“Your friend,” she said, “when does he arrive?”

Lish’s face positively glowed. “Six hours. He’s captain of the USS Mogrus. It’s one of the new Raven-class ships that the fleet has all over the place these days. Allen, that’s him, said that he’ll be beaming the supplies he needs aboard at eighteen-thirty hours. If we want to go aboard, we should make our way to Storage A991 and come aboard with the rest of the materials destined for the listening outpost.”

“The USS Mogrus, hmm?” Muninn stood and stretched, and Lish, still grinning, did the same. “Alright,” she said. “I’ll pack and meet you there. A Raven-class, you said? Probably won’t be pushing high warp for something like this.”

“It’ll be about four days there and another four back, with at least one in the middle while Allen offloads at the outpost. More than enough time to make the inquiries we need.”

“Right,” Muninn said. And she felt a little thrill go down her spine and land somewhere deep in her solar plexus. “Right. I’ll meet you there.”

***

The Gate Inn had many small tables, as well as a few tiny booths where groups or couples could sit and relax in the assumption of greater privacy. From inside one such booth, near to where Muninn and Lish had been sitting, a face peered out at their retreating backs. 

A dark bowl-cut of hair, pointed ears, and a severe brow. 

Asenth watched the two officers departing and considered everything that she had just overheard.