By Christina Moore
“What are you doing up there?”
Andon Vehl turned and looked down from his task to find Master Chief Dilik Zram standing next to the ladder on which he was perched. The Trill lieutenant nodded cordially and returned to his task.
“I’m installing a surveillance camera, Chief,” he said, his voice somewhat muffled from the fact that his head was inside a hole in the bulkhead.
“Lieutenant, you are aware, I presume, that the security systems have been targeted by the saboteur more than once?” Zram asked pointedly.
“Then why bother installing new cameras? Once he finds out that they’re up, he’s just going to hit them, either by removing them or attacking the circuitry,” the Bolian security officer continued.
“I’m aware of that also, Chief. Could you hand me that set of fuses there?” Vehl said, pointing absently down at the instrument tray connected to the ladder.
Zram picked up the fuses and handed them up. Vehl accepted them with a “Thanks” and continued his work. “The point of installing new cameras, Chief, is to catch the perpetrator.”
A derisive snort was the initial reply to that comment. “Kid—sorry, Lieutenant—we’ve tried that more than once already. The perp keeps taking them out.”
“There,” Vehl said triumphantly, then backed out of the bulkhead and slid the panel back into place, with just enough room for the camera’s lens to do its work. The younger man then backed down the ladder and turned to face Zram.
“At risk of offending, Master Chief, the reason your security cameras are being bypassed is because there is a leak in the chain of command,” Sanctuary’s SCIS officer continued. “One of you is either not keeping classified information to yourselves, or one of you is the saboteur.”
“Are you seriously going to accuse a senior-level Starfleet officer of committing sabotage?” Zram asked incredulously. “Of purposely trying to derail this pet project of the Federation’s?”
Vehl shook his head as he turned and began collecting his tools. “Of course not. Everyone here is innocent unless I discover evidence to the contrary.”
After he had repacked his tool kit, Vehl sat it on the floor to free his hands up for folding the ladder. Once that was done, he took the now-compact device in one hand and bent to retrieve the tool kit in the other. “Speaking of senior-level officers, you and I still need to have a talk.”
He gestured ahead of him and he and Zram fell into step. “What did you want to talk about, Lieutenant?” the veteran master chief petty officer asked mildly.
“To quote Dal Kirek when he was speaking to Counselor Roijiana the other day in the meeting, ‘you make a natural prime suspect.’”
Zram turned to him. “How the hell would you know that? You weren’t even in the room when he said it.”
“No need to shout, Chief, I’m standing right next to you,” Vehl said calmly. “Though to answer your question, I’ve reviewed the meeting log as well as spoken with Counselor Roijiana, Dr. Garcia, Dr. Rejal, and Commanders Kelley and Grafydd.”
Zram snorted and continued walking. “You sure get around, don’t you kid? Excuse me, Lieutenant.”
Vehl was silent for a moment as they walked, then looked sideways at Zram. “Interesting…” he said. “Your psych profile doesn’t give any indication you’ve a negative attitude toward authority. Well, at least it didn’t up until four months ago.”
The Bolian stopped again, this time blocking Vehl’s path by stepping his large, muscled frame in front of the younger man, who, though slighter of build, was no slouch in the muscle department himself, and the two stood eye-to-eye even though Vehl was an inch taller.
“What the frack are you doing looking at my psych profile?” Zram asked angrily.
“Mr. Zram, I suggest you take a step back and check your attitude,” Vehl said slowly, keeping his tone of voice even despite his own ire flaring. “I was assigned to the Sanctuary crew in order to apprehend the person or persons responsible for the apparent sabotage that has been ongoing since the day Starfleet showed up on this station. I have to look at everyone who has been here since that first day, and that includes having a look at psychological profiles for possible motive.
“I find it interesting that your psych profile says nothing about aversions to authority, yet in the last four months, Captain Natale has been forced to make numerous reports in your permanent record regarding this newfound desire of yours to ‘mouth off,’ as she put it, not to mention your behavior toward the Cardassians—Eton Kirek in particular. Now, on the one hand I can understand your feelings about the Cardassians, given what happened during the war. I daresay none of the Starfleet officers and non-coms on this station are very pleased to have to work side-by-side with them.”
Vehl paused for breath, then continued. “On the other hand, most of those same officers and non-coms are behaving far more respectably than you are. They’re not happy about the assignment to this station, but they’re keeping their attitudes in check and not making their feelings public. So I took a closer look at you, Mr. Zram, dug a little deeper, and I discovered why you’re as natural a prime suspect as our former Maquis counselor.”
As expected, Zram’s expression darkened. His eyes flashed angrily as he said, “Enlighten me then, sir, as to why you think so.”
“I’m quite certain you already know what I’m going to say,” Vehl replied. “You lost a sister and your mother in a massacre that happened because the Cardassians acted on disinformation. They attacked the colony without stopping to do a thorough investigation as to whether the reports of our using Setlik III as a staging point for an attack against them were accurate. I understand that you were very close to your mother as well as your sister, which is why you took her daughter in to raise as your own when your brother-in-law later committed suicide.”
“And that makes me a ‘natural prime suspect’? Because my baby sister and my mother died? Because my brother killed himself?”
Vehl nodded. “Yes. You wouldn’t be the only man to wait years to exact revenge against the Cardassians for what happened at Setlik III, Master Chief. Ben Maxwell made quite a spectacle of himself nine years ago for attacking Cardassian ships without evidence of what he accused them of, all because his wife and children were killed at Setlik, and two of his crew. He threw his career away because he couldn’t let his anger go.”
The seconds of silence that followed stretched into a minute, during which Vehl watched a number of emotions cross through the Bolian’s eyes. He could tell Zram was angry and wanted to take it out on someone—maybe even him. At long last he settled on a neutral expression that Vehl found difficult to read, though his voice when he spoke carried in it a note of barely restrained fury.
“Losing someone you love is a wound that never fully heals, Lieutenant, I freely admit that. But my name’s not Ben Maxwell. Are we finished now? Sir?”
Vehl nodded. Zram turned around without another word and walked away.
“What do you want?”
Vehl paused in the doorway of Eton Kirek’s office as if to truly give the question thought. “Well, let me see… I’d really like a home on the water in a locale with a temperate climate—not too hot in the summer and not too cold in the winter. I’d like more money than I can count in the bank, and I’d really like to come home from work every day to a voluptuous woman who shares my bed at night.”
Much to his surprise, Kirek burst out laughing. “May the Great One strike me down for admitting this, but you might just be the first Starfleeter I actually like,” he said when his mirth had settled.
Vehl smiled. “I believe I will take that as a compliment, Dal,” he said as he stepped further into the room, allowing the doors to close behind him. “Perhaps a better question to have asked would be, ‘Why are you here?’”
“Indeed,” the Cardassian conceded with a nod. “Why are you here?”
His visitor took a seat in the only visitor’s chair in the room. “I told the senior staff at the meeting the other day that I would be conducting your interviews personally.”
“Oh yes,” Kirek replied, “your little hunt for the saboteur. How is that coming along, by the way?”
Kirek’s usual sneering tone had returned, though having witnessed his moment of brevity, Vehl knew that a lot of what he was putting off was for show. “I’ve sifted through a great many reports on the saboteur’s activity, how the engineers are fixing things only to have them fail again.”
The dal snarled lightly. “That bastard, whoever he is, ought to be strung up in public and quartered—while still alive,” he said. “One of these days, someone is going to get hurt by one of his little pranks, and if it’s my daughter or another of my people, he’ll be lucky I don’t just kill him.”
Vehl had taken classes during his SCIS training on criminal profiling, which he had put to good use during the last few days of the investigation. Kirek didn’t realize—no one did, really—that everything they said gave away clues. He filed what the station’s XO had just said away for further contemplation.
“If you kill him outright, Mr. Kirek, we won’t learn anything,” he countered calmly. “And then Captain Natale would have to request a new first officer.”
Kirek snorted. “As if she’s not itching to do that already, the vile woman...”
He looked across the desk at Vehl. “I suppose now you’re going to tell her I said that, aren’t you?”
Vehl chuckled. “This isn’t grade school, Dal. I’m not going to run and tell teacher you said something bad about her. Though I will admit to being curious as to why you dislike her so much. She’s just here to do a job, same as you—same as any of us, really.”
“Spare me your Federation feel-good propaganda, Lieutenant!” Kirek shouted, pushing out of his chair. “You don’t care about my people. None of you care!”
“Now see, that’s where you’d be wrong,” Vehl said, sitting back in order to look up at the man towering over him. “While certainly it’s true that there aren’t many of us who like Cardassians, that doesn’t mean we don’t care when millions of innocent men, women, and children have been left homeless. Doesn’t mean we don’t care when they don’t have food to eat. And it doesn’t mean we don’t care when they are sick and dying because pirates and smugglers and thieves are stealing the relief supplies they so desperately need before they can make use of them.”
Kirek’s laugh this time was without mirth. “You, Trill…” he said, pointing his finger at him as he sat back down again. “You almost had me there.”
Vehl blinked. “Whatever do you mean?”
The older man shook his head. “The expression on your face. The tone of your voice. You’re a very fine actor—I’ll give you that, boy.”
“I would say thank you, except I’m not acting,” the Trill countered. “Look, if I may be honest with you—”
Kirek scowled. “Oh, by all means. Feed me another lie under the guise of honesty.”
Suddenly Vehl recalled that Cardassians more often than not responded positively to aggression rather than pretty words and politeness. Not his usual style, but… Very well then, he told himself, took a deep breath, and stood, planting his hands on the desk as he leaned across it and spoke in a harsh tone.
“Look, what would you rather have us do? Ignore the fact that your people are literally dying in the streets? Ignore the fact that if someone doesn’t help you protect your borders, all the other aggressive, planet-grabbing schweinhunds will come in and swipe those planets out from under you, not caring one sliver of gold-pressed latinum that people still live there? Hmm? Should we go on the public networks and tell the citizens of the Federation how we’re sitting just this side of the border, laughing our asses off over the suffering of your children? Or how about this—we take advantage of the weakened state of your military and your government, and we come swooping in and conquer you all for good?”
Kirek stood again and leaned across the desk in the same manner as Vehl. “At least then you would be showing your true colors, Starfleet,” he said coldly.
“No, Dal Kirek, we’d be showing yours,” the lieutenant said quietly, standing back at last. “The Federation doesn’t work that way. Even though we, too, suffered greatly during the war; even though we also lost millions of lives of our citizens and soldiers at Cardassian hands, we are an organization which is guided by a higher principle. Even though very recently you were our enemy, we still hold out a helping hand to you.”
Vehl walked to the door. “I suggest you take a moment to think about one thing, Dal Kirek—we never wanted to be your enemy, and have always wanted to be your friend.”
With that, he turned and walked out.
SCIS Officer’s Log, Supplemental…
For the past six days, I’ve been sifting through reports and interviewing staff on Sanctuary. It disheartens me to say that I believe one of them is a saboteur.
For the first time since he had returned to his position as an investigator with Captain Kaav’s team, Andon Vehl was regretting that decision. He should have done as Captain Callahan of the Ireland—whom he had served with for most of the war as a tactical advisor—had suggested he do: switch fields, and seek a career in command.
When you discovered that a traitor was one of your own, it made you feel sick to your stomach, and that’s how the Trill felt as he walked up the steps to Captain Natale’s office. He reached with a leaden hand for the keypad and tapped the door chime.
Vehl sighed as he stepped inside and walked to stand in front of her desk. The dark orange-skinned Orion held up a finger as she closed down her desktop monitor, then looked up at him.
“What can I do for you, Lieutenant?” she asked.
“I have concluded my investigation, Captain,” Vehl told her, handing the PADD he carried across the desk.
“So soon?” Natale queried as she took it from him and thumbed it on.
Vehl said nothing, waiting in silence as she began to read over his report. Her expression went from mild interest to shock, from shock to horror, from horror to hurt.
Looking up, she said, “Are you certain? Wait—don’t answer that. You wouldn’t have come to me if you weren’t.”
The Trill nodded. “That is correct, Captain.”
Natale looked down at the PADD again, sighing heavily. “What am I going to do with him?”