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Posted on Tue May 18th, 2021 @ 12:54pm by Admiral Audra Milne & Captain Nycolas Temple

Mission: The Gauntlet
Location: Deck 2 - Senior Crew Quarters
Timeline: After "Friends Forever"


Nyx quickly entered his quarters, having received a secret subspace frequency smuggled to the Pandora by Brennan and Griffin, in order to contact Admiral Milne. He hoped that this code would grant him immediate access to the Admiral on Carnwennan Station, away from potential interference from Section 31 or the Alrakis Pact. The room lights had only just come to full luminance as Temple hastily sat down at their computer station. His fingers darted over the screen as he accessed the communications relays and entered the code. He also hoped that Milne had something of use to say, given the danger she had placed his close friends into by sending them back into the Expanse. He had been less than impressed with Milne's handling of Shae and Cailus on Carnwennan Station, and her secretive tactics in bringing Aenardha and Valriya to the Pandora. It was more game playing and Nyx was entirely sick of games at this stage.

The console screen showed the Starfleet logo and a "Connecting" message for several minutes; Nyx's patience soon was wearing thin as he stared at the unhelpful message and lack of immediate response. He wondered if perhaps the code and the clandestine mission had been a waste of time. It had been a number of weeks since Milne had sent Shae and Cailus back to the Pandora; he could only assume it still worked and that Milne was wanting to hear from him. Disconnected from the Federation, deep in Alrakis territory, the Pandora had no idea what was happening on Carnwennan or within the Federation. He started to fear that maybe it was too late to make a difference.

Nyx was just beginning to listen to his doubts when the call was hurriedly answered. A tired looking Milne appeared on camera, clearly having been just woken up. She was wearing her Starfleet issue pyjamas and the rest of her quarters was in total darkness, the screen providing the only light into her room. Audra's usually tamed hair was a noticeable, tangled mess. Nyx felt immediately embarrassed at having interrupted the Admiral's sleep, knowing this was usually cause for a lecture from anyone else. Waking an Admiral could be a Captain's worst folly; careers could depend on proper call etiquette.

"Captain Temple?" She coughed groggily.

"Oh." Nyx frowned, "I'm sorry to have woken you."

The screen flickered a little as Milne sat down at her desk and pushed her long black hair out of her eyes, blinking into the light of her computer. "No, no, it's fine." She said, "I'm glad to hear from you. I take it Brennan and Griffin made it to you safely?"

"Yes, they've all arrived." Nyx said with a smile. "Katya and Qaraq delivered our two new officers, too. Our family is back together."

"Good, good." Audra said with a yawn, rubbing her tired face. "I'm thrilled to hear it."

"We can talk later if it's better for you?" Nyx said hesitantly. "But... well, there are some things to discuss."

"Certainly are. We can talk now, I'm awake." Audra replied seriously. She took a deep breath and looked into the screen, her stare now focused. "You know that Section 31 infiltrated my station?"

"Yes." Nyx nodded grimly.

"I have detained their contact but there could be more." The Admiral sighed. "There's always more."

"Indeed, I believe there is." Nyx added quickly. "We have concluded extensive research into the source of the 'Stop the Pandora' signal, and it appears to be originating from Carnwennan Station."

"What?" Audra's mouth dropped. "How?"

"We don't know how exactly, we're assuming it is being echoed into the Expanse through Starfleet subspace grids and into local networks. We just know that Carnwennan is the primary relay into the Expanse, which was triggered by Admiral Thac from Hesiod." Nyx explained. "Can I send you our report?"

"Yes, this frequency will except data packets." Audra nodded.

"Good," Nyx replied, making a mental note to do so. "You will likely need to check all of your communication and data signals on a microscopic level."

"Thank you, Temple, we will do so right away," Milne nodded, "I hope we can terminate it, too, for the Pandora's sake."

"Me too. And you can thank our Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Mindo for the discovery." Temple said, "He undertook the research necessary that found the source."

"Okay, be sure to thank him for me, there will be a recommendation for him when you get back home." Audra replied warmly. "How did he do it?"

Nyx leaned forward as he explained, "We actually had to go through contacts that we have made in the Expanse to complete the trace back. Trying to pinpoint the original broadcast location via Starfleet subspace grids simply led us to echoes of an echo. It was only by using a Pakled ship that we were able to find the real source."

This caused Milne to frown, face contorting in confusion, "So you mean other, non-Federation technologies were able to trace back the source?" She asked.

"With difficulty, but yes." Nyx answered. "It appears every local trader, civilian, or transport ships - including the Alrakis Pact - have received the message. They were able to trace it back to it's original broadcast point."

"So they only wanted us to be in the dark about the location?" Milne sighed. "There's only one organisation I know who would use such tactics."

"Section 31." They both replied.

"Yep." Nyx said with a sigh. "We've come to the same conclusion."

"That ties in with what we have discovered from the investigation into Fleet Admiral Vincent," Audra announced gravely. "We now believe he was working on behalf of 31 all along."

"Vincent?" Nyx asked, squinting. He knew it was likely true, but the sheer utterance of the idea was still baffling. Starfleet Command was supposed to promote the best of the best; those who had Starfleet running in their blood. For Command to have been infiltrated by the immoral agents of 31 was a disgrace. A failure. "But he was a Fleet Admiral!"

"I didn't want to believe it at first, but it is sadly true. 31's influence has far exceeded their usual boundaries." Milne nodded, "Vincent used his position to push 31 projects, recruit for them, and cover their tracks. We believe Vincent promoted Admiral Thac to lead the Inconnu Expanse operations just so that he could run the Pithos facility. Vincent was the puppet-master, Thac the willing minion."

"On our last chat, Thac tried to claim he was just following orders." Nyx replied, "I guess he actually told us the truth there. Then he boasted about how Starfleet would do nothing about Pithos. He was betting that Vincent would protect him?"

"I'd say so. He doesn't know that Vincent is dead?" Milne asked.

"No." Nyx said seriously. "I let him do all the talking."

"Good," She nodded, a slight smile threatening to form on her lips. "Keep it that way."

"But it confirms that Thac is working for 31 as well?" Nyx asked.

"Yes. And I believe this brings us both to the same conclusion once more; that Admiral Thac and Fleet Admiral Vincent had been working with them from the beginning." Milne explained, "I mean, it had been obvious to everyone that Thac was Vincent's little protégé; the younger man rocketed from Commander to Admiral in a matter of mere months to run the Second Fleet's operations in the Inconnu Expanse. Vincent had passed over Admiral Francis and myself for the role, which ruffled many feathers within Starfleet. Francis was the far better choice for the Expanse. But we believed Vincent knew what he was doing and our superiors told us to let him manage his Fleet how he wanted."

"I was surprised to find Thac in such a position of power all of sudden." Nyx agreed, "He's not much older than I, with very little captaincy experience. And he... just didn't seem to know what he was doing, to be honest."

"Well now we know, this was only because Vincent was using Thac as his puppet for Section 31's project." Milne said, "Vincent gave Thac full responsibility for Pithos; a facility that boldly sought to create impervious shielding to the Federation, promising him eternal glory and credit for the historical advancement. The young, eager, egotistical Thac naturally jumped at the opportunity."

"Sheer fucking hubris." Nyx muttered, shaking his head.

Milne paused, then nodded in agreement. She continued, "As you know, when Pithos fell, it was clear that Federation laws and Starfleet protocols had been utterly violated to make it happen. We arrested Vincent and the Pandora arrested Thac. While Thac was still stuck deep in the Expanse heading back to Federation territory, Vincent was taken in secret to a high security Federation prison. Starfleet Command - either through a fear of embarrassment or the possibility of further accomplices hiding in the shadows - had been quick to silence any information about Pithos, Vincent, and Thac from becoming public knowledge. It was immediately swept under the rug."

"So no one else knows?" Nyx gulped at the thought.

"Just those at the very top." Milne nodded. "I was dispatched to Carnwennan Station on an undercover mission to find out everything I could and gather as much evidence as I could. With no one but Starfleet's highest command knowing the situation, it came as quite the shock, therefore, when Vincent was discovered dead in his cell one morning. Apparent suicide but this could not be confirmed. A likely 31 assassination to prevent Vincent from talking."

Nyx sighed, "Sounds like them, once again."

"This leaves Thac as the only living person that we can identify at this moment, who knew what really went on behind the scenes between them." Milne said. "A facility such as Pithos could not have been established without resources and people - beyond what a Fleet Admiral and his puppet could accomplish. If I can prove that 31 was behind Pithos, it would confirm how the pair were able to get the facility built and operational, and show that 31 was operating outside of Federation law. Knowing it to be true is one thing, being able to prove it is another."

"So do you have any proof of this?" Nyx asked carefully. "We have logs that we were able to retrieve from Pithos' database, and statements from surviving crew members. But nothing that shows a link beyond a doubt."

"Yes. Vincent was very clever in covering his tracks, but he did it too well." Audra replied, "His communication records were cleaned, so to anyone observing them, it would appear as normal Fleet Command subspace logs. But his transmissions did not entirely match up with those specifically to and from Thac. The data showed seemingly innocuous contacts between them both but now we know that Thac was in the Hesiod region, the transmission times, dates, and subspace relays used were clearly manufactured. Once we discovered the pattern of fabricating the logs, we were able to retro-fit an algorithm to uncover his true transmission history."

Nyx nodded, "So by covering his tracks, he actually helped you find out what he was hiding?"

"Exactly," Milne said. "We're still de-coding his history but we've been able to compare a sample of them with the transmissions belonging to the Section 31 agent we discovered on Carnwennan Station. Those logs show they were in contact with each other, and others within Starfleet that we suspect of working with 31."

"Sounds like you're building up a solid case." Nyx replied, giving a satisfied half-smile. "But how does that prove 31 was behind Pithos?"

"It doesn't - not yet, anyway. We've been conducting a forensic review of all of Thac and Vincent's paper work. We have uncovered construction contracts and service records for something called the Inconnu Defensive Initiative, the original codename for Pithos." Milne explained, "It appears that Vincent was smart enough to keep his name out of anything specific, but Thac's name is all over it. This isn't the smoking gun we're looking for, but it gives us reasonable cause to investigate every single person involved in the project. I have a Federation judge working in closed sessions to grant us a wide scope of discovery. We're still hopeful to find what we need to tie 31 to it."

"Well, we've still got Thac on ice in our Brig." Nyx commented. "He's not given us much, except for the usual bad guy gloating."

Admiral Milne rolled her eyes noticeably. "Of course." She huffed.

"Consul Valriya suggested I used Ensign Aenardha's telepathic gifts on Thac, to find out what he knows." Nyx continued. "Perhaps that's not such a bad idea?"

"Thac is not the brains of the operation," Milne mused, "But he likes to think he is. Is there a way you may be able to get him to confess without using a telepath?"

"Perhaps." Nyx shrugged, "I'm willing to give it a try. But to be clear, you're saying no to using telepathic questioning?"

"Not on the Pandora." Milne answered firmly. "It needs to happen here, with more witnesses and under the right circumstances. A confession brought through those means could be deemed inadmissible if not done through approved channels and the right location."

"And a recorded confession?" Nyx asked. "What about that?"

"Get him to tie himself to 31 and it kicks the door wide open for us." Milne nodded, "That's all we need."

"Very well, I'll see what I can do." Nyx replied. He took in a deep breath and a moment of hesitation passed over his face.

"Something the matter?" Milne asked. Even in her just-awake state she could read his face. She asked the question gently, but with purpose enough to receive an answer.

Nyx frowned again, "I'm not a fan of secret plans, Admiral. In fact, I'm getting quite sick of them. While I'm happy to have Shae and Cailus with us, and for Ensign Sh'vastarth and Consul Valriya onboard, and to try and gain a confession from Thac, I have to raise my concerns about what we're doing here."

"Oh?" Audra furrowed her brow.

"It doesn't feel right, Admiral." Nyx nodded. "None of it. I feel like I am compromising myself to achieve results and all we are getting is more compromises. The further into the mud we sink, we are not getting any cleaner."

"I agree." Audra replied, "I don't enjoy making those decisions, but you know what we are up against. I am trying to dodge and weave Section 31 within Starfleet while also fighting the Alrakis Pact within the Expanse. The situation calls upon us to be flexible, but resolute in knowing what is right and wrong."

Nyx gave a shrug, "Look, I'm not immune to making difficult choices myself. There are.... things that I have done, that I'm not exactly proud of. I am fully prepared to answer for those choices when we get back to the Federation. I just don't want to add to the tally while I'm at it. It's a slippery slope to ending up like Thac."

The Admiral smiled, "Trust me, Captain, if you are aware of what you are doing, you are nowhere near going down the same path of Thac."

"I don't intend to." Nyx replied without mirth. "In fact, this whole mess has ensured that I stick to regulations more tightly than before. No more justifications."

"I'm glad to hear it, Temple." Audra nodded. She could see the determination in his eyes and he wanted to ensure he was listened to. "I respect that and I'm sure Starfleet will, too. Assuming we can uncover and isolate the corrupt ones first."

"I hope so." Nyx said. "How much can we rely upon Starfleet Command to understand the choices we are making?"

Audra thought about this, too. In truth, Command had been relying upon the Pandora's long journey back home as a means of delaying talking about the Expanse, Pithos, and recent events. It was convenient for them not to have to face up to the realities of what had been happening. It would be an entirely different story when the Pandora did return and the whole mess was revealed to all. The possibility of Section 31 infiltrating the highest levels of Starfleet Command had seemed possible to Audra - if they could reach Fleet Admiral level, why not higher? That would mean that her investigation and the careers of the Pandora would be sacrificed and tossed aside to protect 31. Even without that happening, Starfleet Command did not like to be embarrassed. It is just as likely that they would come down on Milne and Temple as well, tarnishing them all with the same brush.

"I am hopeful they will see how we have fought for the greater good of the Federation." Audra tactically replied. "We are doing our best to shine a light on the corruption within Starfleet."

"It's a lofty goal, but I'm willing to work for it." Nyx said firmly, "As long we all know what we're doing and why we're doing it. No more secrets."

"Very well." The Admiral agreed. "So what is your next step? How long until you can leave Paradise?"

"As soon as we have a clear window." Nyx answered, "We have a route that we're going to take through a local nebula; this will hopefully protect us from Alrakis detection and give us a head start into the Carnwennan Corridor. I am hopeful that by the time they know we have left, it will be too late to catch us."

"Sounds risky, but I trust your judgement." Milne said. "Raise the signal when you are on your way. I have organised a fleet of ships to be on standby to greet you at the border."

"A welcome back party?" Nyx couldn't help but laugh. "How are you managing that?"

"I've said it is a snap training drill," Audra smiled, "The COs have been told to respond to the exercise at any moment. They will be able to form a defensive wall should the Pact be on your tail."

"I appreciate it, Admiral," Nyx replied, "Let us hope we don't need it."

"Travel safe, Captain." Milne nodded, "We will see you here soon."

Nyx closed the call after saying his goodbyes. He sat in the chair for a few moments, reflecting on the conversation and it's heavy consequences. After taking it all in, he leaned forward and tapped at his screen.

"Computer, relay this message to all Senior Staff." Nyx called out and the system replied immediately, "Meeting at 0800 tomorrow morning. All must attend."



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