“Forgive me, Captain, but are you kidding me?”
Margherita Garcia almost regretted saying those words, but a quick glance around the table showed her she wasn’t the only one who wasn’t happy about the news their commanding officer had just imparted. This shored up her nerves and she decided to go on.
“I mean, we just barely got through a crisis involving an attack on a three-star admiral,” she said. “Not to mention the fact that our engineers are still chasing failures in all the primary systems, including environmental.”
Synnove Natale, the dark orange Orion who was captain of Sanctuary, controlled a sigh as she looked at her chief medical officer. “I am fully aware of the situation, Dr. Garcia,” she said calmly. “I have been here for three months now.”
“Well then, let me put it to you this way—”
“I think what our eminent physician is attempting to communicate is the fact that Selkies require certain…amenities,” said Gilora Rejal, Sanctuary’s senior science officer. “They must have access to water at all times.”
“We’ve got the replicators working,” said Grafydd, the chief engineer. “Finally.”
Rejal turned to the Terellian with an expression one would wear if they were about to attempt explaining something difficult to a child. “As ecstatic as we all are to be able to partake of the replicators’ fine cuisine, Commander, I’m afraid they would be incapable of meeting certain particular needs of the ambassador and his party.”
“What particular needs are you talking about?” queried Lt. Comm. Jordan Kelley.
Dr. Garcia sighed with frustration. “She means that Selkies of a certain age are fully aquatic—they have to be able to submerge themselves in water for a certain amount of time every day. Many of them actually sleep submerged. The water can be anywhere from ice cold to a few degrees above room temperature to close to boiling—depending on the region of Pacifica the individual hails from—and they usually prefer it to remain that exact temperature at all times.”
“Engineering would have to build the ambassador and any other Selkies in his party tanks capable of containing several hundred gallons of water,” Rejal added primly.
Kelley nodded his understanding. “And with the environmental controls in the habitat ring still on the fritz, even doing that could affect the temperature of the water as well as the temperament of the ambassador.”
“We’re just not equipped or ready to accept diplomatic envoys,” Garcia went on. “We’re not prepared for residents of any kind for that matter.”
Natale raised a hand to pinch the bridge of her nose as though she had a headache. “I appreciate your concerns, Doctor. I’m not happy about Ambassador Sanbo’s visit either, and believe me when I say I tried to talk him out of it. I’ve spent I don’t know how many hours these last few weeks trying to convince him and the Diplomatic Corps and the Federation Council that this was not a good idea. As you are now aware, I was overruled.”
“Just what I needed,” Grafydd grumbled. “More work to do. As if I don’t have enough problems on my four hands trying to find the source of these blasted malfunctions…”
“Speaking of which,” spoke up the station’s Cardassian executive officer in his usual droll style, “I would like to discuss a theory regarding the malfunctions.”
Natale turned her attention to Eton Kirek with one perfectly arched eyebrow raised. Kirek almost never spoke at staff meetings unless it was to complain about something.
“What theory, Dal?”
Kirek sat up straighter. “As much as it displeases me to agree with our illustrious Chief of Security,” he began, casting a hooded glance down the table at the Bolian, “I am inclined to say that the malfunctions are the work of a saboteur. Somebody does not want this station to become fully operational.”
With that last line, he turned a sneering gaze onto Lt. Roijiana, Sanctuary’s senior counselor. The Boslic stared back with equal measure, lifting her chin with bold defiance.
Kirek wasn’t the only one who turned to or glanced at her, though most were not as obvious as he. Everyone seated at the table knew that Roijiana had defected to the Maquis in the middle of a mission in which she was supposed to be conducting a psychological study of their motives for Starfleet. Given that the attack on Admiral Tattok just ten days before had been orchestrated by one of his own staff members—another Starfleet officer who had defected to the Maquis—it was not without cause that their own former Maquis would be suspected.
“Are you implying that I might be involved?” Roijiana asked coyly.
“I don’t believe I said anything of the kind,” Kirek retorted. “However, you must admit that with your particular history, you make a natural prime suspect.”
“First of all, Dal Kirek, my ‘particular history’ is just that—history,” the counselor said sharply. “Secondly, the Maquis crawling about the stars now are hardly more than a ragtag bunch of men and women with too much bad attitude and too much time on their hands. They are fighting a battle that’s been over for a long time.”
“But they are still out there,” Dilik Zram pointed out. “What happened with Rkasi Cen is proof that not all of your former terrorist pals were killed or imprisoned five years ago. The attacks on the supply ships moving in and out of Union space means the Dominion-Cardassian slaughter-fest missed a few.”
“Master Chief,” Natale said with warning in her tone.
Roijiana turned to Zram. “As did the Federation starship captains who thought they’d picked up the rest and thrown them in prison. Remind me, though, Master Chief, who was it that the Federation turned to when they needed people who were actually willing to get their hands dirty during the war?”
Zram planted his hands on the table and stood, but before he could speak, Natale pounded her fist on it to get everyone’s attention. “That’s enough. No one in here is going to point the finger at anyone else without concrete evidence, is that clear? There are plenty of suspects on this station—even in this very room, as I am well aware of the fact that not everyone here is dancing with joy about this alliance. Your individual complaints have been noted and filed, and now it’s time for you all to grow the frack up and do your damn jobs.”
She spread her hands on the edge of the table and closed her eyes, taking a couple of deep breaths before she opened them again. “Now, given the concerns that there is a saboteur on board this station, we now have an officer on staff that specializes in criminal investigation.”
Natale then tapped her commbadge. “Ensign Demmé, you may send him in now.”
“Yes, Captain,” replied the young woman who had been assigned as Natale’s administrative assistant.
One set of the briefing room’s two entry doors parted, and in stepped a Trill male about six feet in height. His hair was brown and he sported the beginnings of a beard. His eyes scanned everyone in the room before coming to rest on Captain Natale.
“Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to Lt. Andon Vehl, Starfleet Criminal Investigation Service,” announced the captain.
Vehl nodded politely at those seated around the table. Zram, who was still standing, crossed his arms over his chest and looked sourly down the table at Natale. “Captain, we don’t need SCIS to find this guy. My security people can handle the investigation.”
“With all due respect to you and your security officers, Master Chief,” said Vehl, “you’ve had nearly four months in which to capture a suspect, and you have not. Your training is focused on providing safety and security, not investigating a criminal matter such as this. I, on the other hand, began my career in SCIS before circumstances forced me to become more of a soldier.”
Zram looked about to make a further protest, but a hard stare from Natale kept him silent. “Your objections, once again, are noted, Mr. Zram. However, Admiral Tattok and I are in agreement in that we’d like the matter of whether or not there is actually a saboteur cleared up before Ambassador Sanbo arrives in two weeks.”
“You really think this kid is going to solve in two weeks what we haven’t been able to solve in more than twelve?”
“We’ll certainly find out, won’t we?” crowed Kirek, who was clearly enjoying Zram’s irritation.
Vehl ignored both men and turned to Captain Natale. “With your permission, Captain, I’ll begin by reviewing all the records of the malfunctions, as well as scheduling interviews with each member of the staff.”
Even Jordan Kelley couldn’t resist a scoff. “You’re going to sift through more than three months’ worth of reports and interview three hundred people by yourself?”
“No,” Vehl countered. “My plan was to enlist the services of Master Chief Zram and a handful of his security officers, though if need be, I can request additional SCIS investigators be sent here by Captain Kaav.”
“I’m certain that Chief Zram will be more than happy to provide you with assistance,” Natale said. Several of the officers who’d been on station a while nodded to one another with knowing smiles, for they knew that she had not taken kindly to the SCIS sector chief’s attitude, nor his pulling rank on her, during the investigation of the attack on Admiral Tattok.
“Then it’s settled,” Vehl said brightly. “Though I should inform you all that I will be conducting each of your interviews myself.”
“That’s just fine, Lieutenant,” Natale said. “Anyone else have anything to add?”
“The Trident’s scheduled to depart later this afternoon,” Kelley said. “I have to admit that I’m going to miss having Commander Rogan here—the guy is a virtual genius when it comes to weapons systems. Almost as good as me.”
Natale smiled. “If he weren’t already Captain Kimura’s XO, I’d request he be permanently assigned here to work with you, Mr. Kelley. But there’s always subspace messaging for when you need some help.”
Kelley nodded as Grafydd cleared his throat. “Young Ensign Bowman, one of the loaners from the Triumph, has actually requested such a transfer, Captain—and if I may say so, I’d love to keep her here.”
The captain raised her eyebrows. “Really? Any particular reason?” she asked.
“Because she’s got to have one of the most organized minds of any person I’ve ever met,” Grafydd replied heartily. “Tell this kid something once, and she remembers it verbatim. If you put something down and forget where you put it, she can tell you where to find it if she saw you do it. She’s really amazing.”
The captain looked over at Kelley. “Commander, I know you’ve worked with Ensign Bowman a few times. Any other praises, or objections?”
“None,” Sanctuary’s defense officer replied. “Commander Grafydd is right, Ensign Bowman is a very bright young woman. I think we could use someone with her organizational skills in a place like this.”
“She’d certainly be useful in keeping track of arrivals and departures once the station is fully operational,” added Roijiana.
Natale smiled lightly. “Very well then, I’ll speak with Captain Wallace about it when the Triumph docks next. As that covers everything, I believe, you’re all dismissed. Let’s get back to work.”
As the officers were rising from their seats, Kirek sat back in his and said, “Actually, Captain, I’d like to have a word with you and Dr. Garcia.”
Natale, who had also not risen, nodded as she placed her hands together on top of the conference table. Garcia returned to her seat, and everyone else had gone before any of them spoke.
“What did you want to speak to us about, Mr. Kirek?” the captain asked.
“This woman,” Kirek barked sharply, “is forcing members of my staff to wear Starfleet uniforms.”
“Captain—” Garcia began, but Natale held a hand up to silence her.
“Dal Kirek, therein lies part of our problem,” she said. “You think of the staff as two separate units, when in fact they are not. The crew of this station cannot continue to be thought of as ‘the Cardassian crew’ and ‘the Starfleet crew.’ They’re the Sanctuary crew. And they are not your staff or my staff, they are our staff.”
She turned her attention to the doctor. “Now, Dr. Garcia, what were you going to say?”
Garcia flicked a glance at Kirek, whose expression had gone dark and angry at the dressing-down he’d just been given.”Well, Captain, it’s like this: We’re all supposed to be on the same team, like you just said. I feel that it improves performance and efficiency when all members of the team wear the same attire. Makes ‘em even feel more like a team. So yes, I asked the entire medical staff to wear standard service uniforms while on duty. If I as the senior officer of the department have to wear one, then so do they.”
“This is preposterous!” thundered the Cardassian XO. “They are not Starfleet officers—they are not even Federation citizens!”
Natale regarded the doctor silently for a moment, then nodded. “You’ve made an excellent point,” she said. “Have any of the Cardassian or civilian members of your team protested your request?”
Garcia shook her head. “Though in retrospect,” she went on, “perhaps it would ease some…tensions…if the Cardassians and civilian crew wear the jumpsuit variant, which do not particularly resemble the Starfleet service uniform.”
Natale nodded. “Dr. Garcia, you’re dismissed. Thank you.”
Without a word, the Human quickly rose and took her leave, not at all eager to witness yet another row between the captain and first officer.
“Dal Kirek,” Natale began, her voice laced with steel. “Dr. Garcia is the senior officer of her department, so unless this request of hers interferes with the operation of the Infirmary or this station—or one of the non-Starfleet staff files a complaint regarding the request—I am not going to step in and tell her how to run her department. If she believes it will improve morale, efficiency, and overall performance for each member of the staff to wear the same attire, then that is her prerogative and I will respect her decision. As will you. Consider yourself lucky I’m not going to ask the entire non-Starfleet complement to wear standard service uniforms, including you.”
Kirek stood slowly, and placing his hands flat on the table, leaned forward so that their noses were hardly more than an inch apart. “You will get me out of my armor, Captain, when you pry it off of my cold, dead body.”