Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"The Courtship of Alden Sumner"

By Christina Moore
_____


“May I help you?” 

The woman smiled benignly down at the second-year cadet behind the desk. “I’d like to see Admiral Prescott.” 

“Do you have an appointment?” the young man asked. 

Again she smiled. “No, I do not.” 

It was the boy’s turn to smile, though his was meant to be apologetic. “Then I’m very sorry, ma’am. I can’t let you in without an appointment.” 

Her expression didn’t change as she reached into her pocket and produced a data chip. “Young man, take this to the admiral. I believe he will see me—without an appointment.” 

Reluctantly, the cadet took the proffered chip, looked it over, and then stood. He moved over to Prescott’s office door and rang the chime, stepping inside a moment later. 

He returned inside of two minutes. 

“Begging your pardon, ma’am,” he said. “Go right in.” 

She nodded. “I thought as much.” 

John Prescott stood when she entered. “This is certainly a surprise, Miss—” 

She looked at him sternly, but not unkindly. “You know better than that.” 

Prescott chuckled. “Of course. I’d almost forgotten the Section is more paranoid than we are.” 

“And with good reason. If our identities are discovered, there’s a lot more at stake. The fact that you even know who I am is a courtesy, in deference to your position. The galaxy has eyes and ears everywhere.” 

“And you’ll have likely planned for this little excursion,” Prescott countered. “The fact that you yourself have come to see me speaks volumes, but I’m quite certain you’ve already got a contingency plan in place.” 

When a reply wasn’t forthcoming, he nodded, understanding. “The data chip.” 

She nodded. “The virus will not affect your systems. It will only erase any data pertaining to my presence here, including video surveillance.” 

Prescott scoffed. “I figured as much.” 

Returning to his seat, he folded his hands together in front of him. “By all means, then, let’s get down to business, shall we? You can sit, if you like.” 

She moved to one of the chairs across from him and sat. Prescott noted how graceful, almost cat-like, her movements were, as if she were prepared to spring at any moment. 

“Admiral, I’ve come because I need your cooperation,” she began. “One of my agents on Romulus has made a rather startling discovery.” 

“Such as?” 

“A sleeper. In Starfleet.” 

Prescott was silent for several seconds. “And this agent is sure the information is accurate?” he asked cautiously. 

“Quite so. The records were buried deeply within Tal Shiar databanks, which tells me they don’t want it to get out even amongst themselves. It says that a child, daughter of two of their best operatives, was planted within the Federation.” 

“I don't see how that’s even possible, there’s no Romulan—” 

And then he knew. 

“There is an ensign,” he said, almost to himself. “Just graduated from the Academy, going to be starting med school in the fall. We’ve kept an eye on her, of course, but there’s been no indication... the agent is sure?” 

She nodded. “We believe she has, as yet, received no instruction, and we cannot be certain when she will. She doesn’t even know she’s a plant, because her prior memories have been blocked. All she knows is the life she’s led since the age of seven.” 

Silence fell between them. She let Prescott mull over the implications of what she’d just revealed for several minutes. 

“What do you want from me?” he asked at last. 

“As I said, cooperation. You just pointed out the girl in question has recently graduated from Starfleet Academy. Her operational status may well be any moment—there’s no way to know when the Romulans will trigger her.” 

“There isn’t much she can tell them at this point,” Prescott said. “The only thing she knows about Starfleet is the Academy.” 

“Which may not seem like much, Admiral, but it will be enough to give the Tal Shiar an example of how our training facility operates. She will next be learning about our medical practices, and perhaps later starship service procedures.” 

Prescott sighed. “I ask again, what do you want from me?” 

“I’d like for you to recommend someone for an operation. I could, of course, simply have used one of my own agents, but in the interest of interagency cooperation, I thought it best to enlist Starfleet Intelligence involvement. She is, after all, one of Starfleet's own.” 

Interagency cooperation, my ass. “How kind of you,” he said bitterly. “I don’t suppose you’ve any intention of providing me with copies of your agent’s report?” 

She smiled again; that smile was beginning to grate on Prescott’s nerves. 

“On the contrary. I have already provided you with all the information we have.” 

Prescott shook his head. The data chip, he thought sourly. The bastards think of everything, don't they? 

“My agent will also be continuing the investigation on Romulus. Hopefully we will be able to discover more information,” she continued. “If more is forthcoming, I will be sure it gets to you, as I am sure you will keep me apprised of your status.” 

Prescott looked up as she stood. “What? No recommendation as to the kind of operation my agent should undertake?” 

“I’m sure you can figure that one out for yourself,” she replied. 

Then, in the time it took him to blink, she was gone. 

Reluctantly, Prescott reinserted the data chip she had left. Surely the virus meant for concealing her presence had already done its work—nonetheless, he ran a diagnostic on the chip and the Intelligence building’s computer systems. Everything, chip included, checked out, but as she had said, there was no record of her having been there. It was just as well. She might be a looker, but there was something about her that just didn’t sit well with him. 

Prescott reviewed the information she had given. There really wasn’t much beyond what she’d already said: A girl of seven, the daughter of two Tal Shiar agents, had been left at the O’Malley Home for Children, an orphanage located on Windsor III. Windsor III was one of the oldest Human colonies outside the Sol System, although now it was home to a few other races as well. The O'Malley Home was established for the express purpose of giving one to multi-species orphans, which was likely why it had been chosen. 

There was no indication of the girl’s parents’ identities. No record of who had ordered the operation. And naturally, nothing about how or when she would be triggered. 

Prescott then brought up the girl’s file. Myrian Anil was now twenty-one, her birthdate listed as being in December by Earth's calendar. She had arrived at the orphanage with only a name. The facility’s administrators had enlisted Starfleet’s aid in contacting the Romulan government on her behalf; they received in return a brief and succinct message: The Anil family had betrayed the Romulan government and chosen exile. As such, they were considered dead, and should they or their offspring make any attempt to set foot on a Romulan-held world, they would be executed without trial. 

That was, Prescott now suspected, a falsehood perpetrated by the Romulans in order to cover their tracks. And no one in Starfleet had bothered to press the issue. 

He shook his head at their own folly. 

Ensign Anil had grown up in the O’Malley orphanage, later using her Federation citizenship to force Starfleet to let her take the Academy entrance exams. He wondered briefly if it was what she had really wanted for herself, or if the desire to join had merely been implanted. He wondered also if her career in medicine was her choice or theirs. 

There was no way to know the truth. Prescott knew that the best they could do now was to keep an even closer eye on her—bringing her in would only tip the Romulans off that they had finally become aware of her true purpose. The only option he had was a deep-cover op— 

One of his men would have to become involved with her. 

***** 

Alden Sumner stepped into his darkened home, tired. No... 

...he was exhausted

Perhaps that was why he wasn't initially aware that he was not alone. 

“You’re home late, Commander.” 

Sumner whipped around, wishing like hell he had a flashlight. 

“Lights,” the voice spoke again, and suddenly the living room was awash in bright light. Sumner briefly covered his eyes, until they adjusted. Before he’d even seen who was there, one hand reached for his phaser. The other reached for his commbadge. 

“Don’t bother, Mr. Sumner. I’m blocking audio and video communications. Please, though, don’t be afraid. I’m not here to harm you. If I were, you’d already be...harmed.” 

Sumner frowned at the incipient tone—and the fact that his visitor was right. The man was sitting in his corner reading chair, looking for all the world as if he felt right at home. And had he intended him harm, he would have done it already. 

Unless, of course, he was waiting for the right moment. 

“Please, make yourself comfortable,” he said sourly. 

“I have,” came the reply. 

Ignoring the remark, Sumner went to a cabinet on the wall. He instinctively knew that all weapons in the apartment had already been confiscated or rendered inoperable, and likely so had the one he’d drawn from a holster at his hip. Not that it mattered—suddenly, all he wanted was a drink. 

“I’d ask who you are, but you’re probably not going to tell me,” Sumner said as he placed the phaser on the shelf and poured genuine Sumerian brandy into a snifter. 

“Probably not,” the man agreed. 

“If you’re not here to harm or kill me, then what do you want?” 

“Not one for small talk, are you?” 

Chuckling at Sumner's dark look, he chortled, saying, “I’m here, Commander Sumner, because we’d like your help.” 

Sumner took a drink. “And just who is ‘we’?” 

“Let’s just say we’ve a vested interest in the goings on of the galaxy. And recently, some information has come to our attention that disturbs us.” 

“What’s this got to do with me?” 

“You’re going to help us, of course. You see, there’s a very young, very impressionable ensign with whom we’d like you to become acquainted. Although she is Romulan, she’s really quite lovely.” 

Sumner stopped to think. He knew who the man was talking about—how could he not? Myrian Anil had been the subject of covert surveillance almost from the moment she’d shown up on Windsor III. It had become a mandate when the Romulans had refused to take her back, claiming her parents to be traitors. Despite the fact that she’d just graduated from Starfleet Academy, she was under surveillance still. 

“She’s done nothing wrong,” he said finally. 

The stranger nodded. “While this may be true, she will do something wrong in the future, of that we are certain. We simply do not know what or when.” 

“That makes almost no sense. How do you know she’s going to do anything? She just graduated from Starfleet Academy, for pity’s sake. That ought to say something about her,” Sumner argued. 

“Certainly it does, but we both know that Starfleet Intelligence has been keeping an eye on her for years.” 

Sumner’s eyes narrowed. “How the hell do you know that?” 

“We’ve been keeping an eye on her as well. She is Romulan.” 

“That doesn’t answer my question. How do you know SI’s been watching her?” Sumner pressed. 

The man chuckled. “At least you’ve an ear for detail. Let me just say that the people I work for know things.” 

Sumner swirled the brandy in his glass, trying to think. He’d already committed the man’s appearance to memory, the tone of his voice as well. He was trying to discern clues as to who he was, who he was working for. It would be vital to the report he planned to file as soon as he was gone. 

“Trying to figure out who I am?” 

Sumner looked at him. “Yes. And why shouldn’t I? You break into my home God knows how. You sit in the dark waiting for me, and then you make all these cryptic references to wanting my help getting close to an ensign whose only crime is being born Romulan, but you haven’t told me why. And you won’t tell me who you are, or who you’re working for. Sorry to say, but that doesn’t much make me inclined to help you. Or trust you in the least.” 

“Fair enough. The why is simple: We’ve recently discovered that the young woman in question is a Tal Shiar sleeper. A plant.” 

“I'm SI. I know what a sleeper is.” 

“Then you realize the implications of having a Romulan sleeper in Starfleet. This girl was programmed for the first seven years of her life for this job, a job she doesn’t even know she’s performing. It will be interesting to see where her loyalties lie when the time comes. Who I am you’ll just have to ponder to your heart’s content. As for whom I work for... 

“...I’m fairly certain you’ve heard of Section 31.” 

Sumner gripped the glass, the only outward sign of his surprise. He’d been thinking Federation Security Bureau, but now that he knew, he realized the Bureau wouldn’t resort to such childish measures as this. From what he’d heard of the Section, parlor tricks were right up their alley. 

He took another drink. “Well, I must say, I’m a little surprised you told me,” he admitted. “What makes you think I’m not going to go to my superiors and tell them you were here?” 

“Actually, I’ve no doubt you will. That doesn’t particularly matter to us, as we also know that Starfleet is aware of the news. Funny how often our interests are common.” 

Sumner scoffed. “You're telling me that both agencies have the same agenda? Yeah, right.” 

“In this instance, yes.” 

“How can you possibly know that?” 

The visitor smiled again. “I told you, we know things. 

“The point of this whole conversation,” he continued, “which has gone on longer than I expected, is that you have been chosen to serve a greater good, Mr. Sumner. The best way for us to know if the girl begins to receive instructions is to have someone close to her. Starfleet Intelligence plans to implement a similar operation.” 

“Then why are you coming to me? Why not use someone who’s already in Section?” 

“Because we believe they’re going to choose you, too.” 

He wanted to ask how he could possibly know that Starfleet was going to select him for the op. It was possible, of course, that Admiral Prescott had already chosen him and just not given the order yet. But how could this guy know that? The only thing he could guess was his service record. Intelligence operatives’ records were supposed to be inaccessible. Then again, Section 31 had spies everywhere. 

“For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right. I’m given the assignment. What makes you think I’m going to cooperate with a rogue agency like Section 31? I’m not a traitor.” 

“Neither are we. We’re patriots who do what Starfleet lacks the fortitude to.” 

Keep deluding yourselves, Sumner thought bitterly. 

“Be aware, Commander, that I’m referring to personal involvement.” 

Sumner’s mouth formed a thin line. “Is that right?” 

His visitor continued. “You may have to go beyond mere friendship. With no timetable by which to plan this operation, there is no way to tell how long it will go on. Could be weeks, months, or even years. If the girl takes a romantic interest in you, your objective would have to evolve. She may want more from you than casual dating or an intimate relationship.” 

“Are you talking about marriage?” Sumner asked incredulously. 

The man inclined his head. “Children, also, may become an issue. 

“Commander, I realize that this is a lot to process all at once, and I know that there are some agents who’ve a strong resistance to investigating a fellow officer. But if what I’ve been told is true, then we must act.” 

Sumner remained silent for several moments. “If—and only if—you are correct, and I am selected for this assignment, I will do my duty,” he said finally. 

The visitor nodded approvingly. “Good.” 

“You won’t be in contact with us directly,” the nameless man continued, “nor will we contact you again unless we think there’s reason to. 

“But we will be watching.” 

***** 

"Commander Sumner. You're to go right in, sir." 

Sumner nodded at the cadet as he entered Admiral Prescott's office. As his visitor had predicted, he'd been contacted first thing that morning. 

Once inside, he stood at attention. 

"Stand easy, Mr. Sumner. In fact, why don't you have a seat?" 

Sumner nodded wordlessly and followed the admiral's suggestion. He took a chair in front of the desk. 

"Commander, I know you've just returned from assignment, and were probably looking forward to some leave," Prescott began. 

"I was, in fact," Sumner said truthfully. "But something tells me I'm not going to get that." 

Prescott's expression was one shy of grim. "I'm afraid not. Some rather disturbing evidence has been brought to my attention. Command has authorized me to proceed with an operation." 

"Let me guess, sir: Myrian Anil." 

Prescott's features darkened. "How do you know that, Commander?" 

Sumner cleared his throat. "Sir, last night an operative from Section 31 paid me a visit. He was waiting for me when I got home." 

Inside, Prescott boiled with anger. What was the point of even coming to him, pretending to want cooperation, if they were just going to choose his operative for him? 

"And why am I just now hearing about this?" the admiral asked thunderously. 

"Begging your pardon, Admiral, but I did file a report last night, as soon as I'd woken." 

Prescott frowned. "What do you mean by 'woken'?" 

"I'm afraid I didn't have all my wits about me last night, as I was quite tired when I got back. I poured myself a drink not taking into account that the liquor in my cabinet may have been spiked. I was aware long enough for the operative to tell me why he was there before passing out. When I came to, I tested all my alcohol, and all of it had been tainted. I'm sorry, sir, I should have known better. Plus, I was pissed because I had to throw all the alcohol away, and it won't be easy to replace some of it." 

Prescott refrained from berating him, having himself gone straight for a drink after returning from assignment many times. Besides, a man should be entitled to enter his own home without suspicion. 

He sighed. "So you know, then, why I've called you here?" 

Sumner nodded. "Apparently, Section 31 and Starfleet Intelligence are of the belief that Ensign Myrian Anil is a sleeper agent for the Tal Shiar." 

While Sumner’s words were true—the Section director had come to him, after all—Prescott couldn’t very well allow that to become known. He had to act is if it were news to him. 

His hand balled into a fist. "I swear I'm going to find the mole in this building if it's the last thing..." He took a deep breath to calm himself. 

"Then it's true, sir? You think the girl is a sleeper?" Sumner asked. 

"All the information I have points in that direction. However, Ensign Anil is unaware of her precarious position, and there's no telling when the Romulans will decide to trigger her. We've got to make sure there is someone close who can tell us if anything suspicious goes on around her. Personally, the less people that know about this, the better. We don't want to cause a panic," the admiral explained. 

"I agree, sir," Sumner said. Then the words of last night's visitor rose to the fore of his thoughts, and he asked, "How close do you want me to get?" 

Prescott studied him carefully. 

"As close as you have to." 


2 comments:

  1. Oooh, I hate Section 31, I hate the very notion that my Federation would have an organisation like that, as realistic as it might be, and I've avoided wanting to include them in my own stories. Having said that, you captured the paranoid feel of their presence in people's lives, their smug self-assurance, as well as the taut desperate place that a character like Ensign Anil might find herself in at Starfleet.

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    1. I'm not a big fan of the Section either, which is why I painted them in a less than flattering light. One of these days, I'm going to get a "conclusion" story written, or couple of stories. I know I started one years ago, but can't recall if I ever finished it. I'm sure it's on my hard drive or a disk somewhere... Anyhoo, glad you like this one.

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