“Captain’s log, March 20th, 2401. Janoor III has paid more than their share for the victory we’re holding onto today…the death toll is unthinkable. The Mack crew left a few hours ago. I worry about our crews and how they’re going to process this…experience. It was hard for me the first time..and that war went on for years. This lasted twenty days, and there’s a sense of hopeful relief we’re all holding onto…that maybe we’ve been through the worst. The experience is over…but the collective recovery from watching a city of five thousand razed by hatred…that will take time. Our counselor has started getting her staff to work holding group sessions. The only way we’ll survive the emotional trauma is together. I learned the hard way on the Denver…and I don’t want my crew to have that experience. One day at a time is the best we got. End log.”
Crawford sat on the couch in his ready room, his heart heavy. He’d taken responsibility as Deputy Squadron Commander to handle the final fatality and injured reports. They’d made headway on the planet with the clearing of the former capital, Polaris. They’d used their eight runabouts and eight shuttles to do the work, and those crews had retired to rest that morning. The Chief Flight Control officer had his next group ready, and they’d been working through the afternoon to bring order to the chaos. His badge beeped, “Captain, I have the Marianias Squadron Commander hailing.” He let her know he would take the call on the bridge. He stepped onto the command center and sat in his chair, signaling Atega to open the channel.
“This is Captain David Fountain, Federation Starship Marianas Trench in command of the Marianas Squadron, Task Force 514. We’ve been ordered to assist in the recovery operations for Janoor III.” Pete tapped into his console. The squadron consisted of a New Orleans, an Intrepid, and an Olympic-class ship. He would have been impressed if he hadn’t been so annoyed.
He retorted without regret, “Would have been nice to have you in the fight earlier, Captain Fountain.” He’d become fed up with lines they’d been fed both from command in the Task Group and Starfleet. It felt like they were on an island in Fourth Fleet.
The man blinked at the statement, his face stoic and devoid of any statement. “A fight that was well within your abilities to win. We’ve seen nothing to suggest anything significant.” Pete felt his face harden. Captain Basta and his crew would have disagreed. The civilian ship and her crew would have disagreed. Janoor III and her dead citizens would have disagreed. He opened his mouth, but Fountain continued, “We understand you’re the holder of the data and research regarding recent alleged discoveries regarding Changeling technology.”
Crawford didn’t fight showing the deep frown that cleaved a canyon in his face, “We’re working on studying the data and samples…I’m not sure how that’s the business of….”
The captain interrupted again, “You will turn over all data, samples, information, and data chips and remove all computer records from your database.” His eyes bored into Crawford.
Pete shifted in his chair, feeling the oxygen being sucked out of his bridge, “The heck you say, Captain Fountain…where does this authority….”
Fountain tapped at his console, “This order comes directly from Starfleet Command.”
Crawford didn’t take his eyes off the man. He waited as he heard Presley Atega working her communication console and the slightly exasperated sigh as she checked the orders and ran them through the system for confirmation. It was official. “We’ll need time to….”
“We have a team assigned to this duty, Captain. They will transport over in ten minutes, and you will personally escort them to the various points of the previously mentioned items for collection.” Fountain tapped the channel closed.
Crawford fell back in the center chair, “What in the hell is going on?”
Prentice turned in his chair, “Do we dare try and copy the data?” He was one of the more rebellious members of the crew.
His CO shook his head, “They’ll check to see if the data’s been copied or modified recently. Atega, send a message to our science teams to collect all data, samples, documents…everything related to the Changeling project and organize it in Cargo Bay 1.” He returned to the screen showing the three ships lumbering in space. “I don’t see a way out of this that doesn’t involve getting us all slapped with a conspiracy charge or worse. Given Captain Fountain’s nature…worse would be bad.”
As he stood from his, Fowler asked from her station, “They can’t stop us from talking about it…can they?” She saw threats of court martials in their future.
Crawford stopped at the turbolift, his mind working as he thought, “Taking the evidence strips us of legitimacy. Whoever we tell or whatever we share, they’re going to ask for the evidence…and we won’t have any. We’ll sound crazy to most. Some of our friends will understand…but it seems like the Fourth Fleet is alone in more ways than one.” He entered the turbolift with one more thought, “Eventually, the truth will out. Let’s hold on to that.” The doors closed, and the bridge crew glanced at each other.
Crawford had walked them from one end of the Olympic to the other, from offices to laboratories to computer cores to the bridge where the nervousness of the officers was beyond palpable to the science department for a complete systems inspection to the transporter room where he stood with the imposing group of Starfleet officers who held the entirety of the evidence in their hands. He gestured to the transporter pad, glad to see the back of them soon to be far from him and his ship.
The lead officer turned to him, “It would be advisable for you and your crew not to speak of this event freely with others.”
Pete felt his hackles rising. The orders had been verified, but there had been no mention of a gag order or nondisclosure. “That’s not a part of the orders, Commander.”
The man looked at his group as they shifted on their feet in an attempt to appear more imposing. Crawford was nonplussed and unimpressed as the officer replied, “It a suggestion, Captain Crawford. Were I in your shoes, I would take it to heart.” They remained standing before him, not moving toward the transporter pad.
Pete sighed and tapped his badge. The transporter room door opened, and Athena Catari stepped in with her five-member Hazard crew, armed and staring quietly ahead. He watched as the Marianas team stiffened, and he spoke plainly, “I’m tired of whatever this passes for in your Squadron, Commander. You have what you came for, and I’m going to ask you to step onto the transporter pad respectfully and please get off my ship.”
The leader puffed up his chest, “You can’t do that Cap….”
Crawford scoffed as it was his turn to interrupt, “The hell I can. I’ll ask one more time, less respectfully. Get off my ship. Now.”
The team members started looking nervously at each other while their commander straightened his posture, “I’m going to suggest you change your….”
Pete threw up his hands, “I tried. Chief Catari – please escort them to the transporter pad.”
The four others didn’t wait, bounded back to the pad, and stared at their commander, silently hoping he would see sense. He glanced around and scowled at them, “I didn’t give you permission to….”
It took Catari two seconds to knock his feet out from underneath him and attach restraints to his arms and legs. The Hazard team wordlessly and gently lifted the cursing and struggling commander to the transporter pad, placing him gently on the glass. They stepped down and returned to stand behind the Bajoran security chief. Crawford looked at each of the standing members of the team, ignoring the curses and shouts from their commanding officer, “You got what you came for…don’t make this any harder than it has to be.” There was a moment where each of them looked at each other as if to ask…then they all nodded, and one gave a nod to Crawford. He turned to the transporter officer, “Energize.” They were gone a moment later, and he turned to Catari, “Good work, Chief. Let’s leave this…incident out of the reports for now.”
She smiled broadly, “We don’t know what you’re talking about, sir.”
Pete chuckled and headed into the corridor, “You’re my kinda people.” He walked quickly back to the bridge and went to the chair, “Report?”
Fowler confirmed, “The squadron has taken up orbit around Janoor III, and we’ve received confirmation of mission parameters being transferred to them. Captain Fountain was oddly complimentary.”
Crawford sighed, “I would be too if my XO were an asshole.” He glanced around the bridge, “I mean unprofessional.” A few chuckles were his reward, and he returned to the business at hand, ”Helm, plot course for our first drop-off point…and engage when ready.” He sat back in his chair, “Let’s get on our way.” The USS Olympic took a deep breath…and jumped to warp.