This Is Not The End (Back post)
The Only Thing Left Was Hope
Location: Deck 2 - Captain's Quarters
It was the morning after the Christmas party, and just 24 hours remained before the Pandora reached the end of the Nebula and returned to Federation territory. Nyx had been trying to shrug off his hang-over with a healthy dose of vitamins, exercise, and water. It was only somewhat working; the linger of a headache, the tiredness in his voice remained. So he tried running drills with the Security team, climbing jeffries tubes to help Engineering with some basic maintenance, and then took in a meal with some off-duty Medical crew. This still... only somewhat helped.
Then he had the brilliant idea to go sparring with Cailus Griffin in the Holodeck. This could have only been from the remaining effects of one too many whiskeys clouding his better judgement, but this was clearly not a good idea. As Nyx hit the mat once again with a pathetic "thud!", he wearily patted his hand three times to indicate his surrender.
"No more." He gasped, trying to regain his breath and hold back the nausea at the same time. "No more!"
"Good spar," Cailus said with his usual taciturn tone before extending a hand to help Nyx up. Both men were sweating profusely, their thin vests clinging to their chests, testament to a thorough workout. Still catching his breath, Cailus headed off to the side of the spartan training area, grabbing a pair of holographic towels off a rack and tossing one to Nyx, before handing the captain a non-holographic bottle of water as well.
"We should do this more often," Cailus said mildly with only the slightest mischievous glint in his eyes as he took a deep swig of water. "Those Cardassian wrestling moves you used are impressive." Wiping the sweaty sheen of his arms, Cailus gestured to the side. "By my reckoning, Eoin should still be halfway through his nap right now. Do you think Emilie will mind us having a few minutes before I take him home?"
"I think so," Nyx said between breaths, "To be honest, we spent so much of the last few days in our quarters cramped together, 'cause everything else was closed, I got the sense she was glad to be rid of me today." He laughed, "But, I'm sure she'd like to see you."
Cailus smiled slightly. "I'm sure. We civilian spouses have to stick together while all of you are gallivanting about, being big damn heroes. Computer, end program," he added, and the training room around them was replaced by the black holodeck as the two men left. The corridors were empty, mid-shift as it was, with the crew at their stations. Thus, when Nyx and Cailus saw someone outside Nyx's quarters, it was something of a surprise, as Admiral Francis stood outside Temple's quarters in his parka holding an insulated metal carafe.
"I brought us some coffee. The real stuff! Had to bribe a few people to get into the kitchen in Pandora's Box to make it," the Admiral said in his barking barrage of a voice. "I wish that place had stayed open while we're here in the nebula. Mindo's bar food is giving me ferocious heartburn, but they do make a damn fine chili dog, and I've never had a better breakfast burrito!"
"Ooh coffee!" Nyx called out as they approached the Admiral. Even though he was sweaty and hot, the thought of a hit of the good stuff was very tempting. "I don't think I've ever had their burritos."
"You don't want to," Cailus muttered as an aside. "They taste good, but our quarters stank like you wouldn't believe that day." Somewhat more formally, he nodded at Francis in greeting with his usual stoicism. "Admiral."
"Mr. Griffin," Francis said with a nod. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything," he continued, addressing the Captain. "I'm afraid the reason I'm here isn't really a social call. It's in regard to Admiral Thac." He looked at Cailus again. "Normally I'd have to send you away for this, Mr. Griffin, as you are now a civilian. But you still have some security clearance, and because you were the man who captured Thac, I think your input could be useful. Unofficially, of course."
Nyx frowned slightly. He knew the Admiral had gone to visit Thac without him, something that made him feel uneasy. But this only pressed upon the awkward situation they found themselves in. Francis was an Admiral, and clearly out-ranked Nyx, but his status within Starfleet itself was shrouded in confusion. Admiral Milne thought he was missing in action; they now knew his identity and security access had been compromised. Nyx wasn't quite sure where that left them, but was trying hard not to stand on anyone's toes. He knew that Francis was on their side, at least, a voice of reason and personal support during this difficult mission. A voice worth listening to - that's what mattered over rank and position.
At the shift from companionable socialising to serious business, Cailus's demeanour changed, any trace of cheer leaving his expression. Clad in only a thin vest and shorts, his skin still slick with sweat and his muscular arms more evident than usual, he suddenly looked rather intimidating, like a predator that had just sniffed its prey. "Of course, Admiral, I'll help any way that I can."
"Let's go inside." Nyx replied cautiously, nodding towards the doorway.
As the trio entered the Temple family Quarters, Nyx looked around to gauge if Emilie was present inside. He was instead greeted by a small note left on the dining table from Ems, explaining she had taken the kids to the play center for the afternoon. He gave a slight sigh of relief.
"We can talk freely here." Nyx explained, as he moved towards the replicator. He decided to pre-empt the coffee with some more water first, replicating up two canisters for himself and Griffin. He handed one bottle over to his friend, while looking to the Admiral, "Cailus knows everything that we do so-far. But I don't want to compromise our investigation. If it's a matter of formality, I can employ him as an expert civilian advisor. His experience with the case is valuable to us."
After reading Emily's note as well, Cailus took the bottle gratefully, taking a long swig. "That won't be necessary," he said, looking between the other two men. "I was the arresting officer, so even if I'm not Starfleet anymore, you're entitled to use me to aid the investigation in a limited capacity. Legally you both have to note my assistance in your logs and official reports, but that's all you need to do. It shouldn't have any bearing on Thac's court martial."
Nyx meanwhile had finished his water and moved onto the coffee. It was indeed the "real stuff" as promised, and Nyx savoured the taste.
Admiral Francis set down his coffee mug. "It's your decision, Mr. Griffin."
Cailus raised an eyebrow in bemusement. "Decision made," he said brusquely, setting his water down on a table and crossing his arms. "Consider me volunteered, Admiral. What did you want to discuss?"
Francis glanced at Temple, then back at Cailus. "Thac thinks he knows more about our investigation than we do. He's behaving like an old comic book villain, a silly facade I'm afraid I'm unable to crack. So I gave him a lie of my own. I figured if I could feed that confidence perhaps we could get more information from him. I told him his old XO, Leta Rothgan, is dead from an apparent suicide. This couldn't be further from the truth. Rothgan is safe and sound on the Palatine, and has thus far been very cooperative with Starfleet Command."
Nyx couldn't help but raise his eyebrows at the Admiral's ruse. The Captain had lied before, of course, for his own purposes, but he hadn't expected this tactic from Francis. He had seemed too 'old school' Starfleet for that kind of deviousness. Nyx wondered if perhaps being left for dead in some far corner of the Expanse while another man used his name and face to run an illegal scientific catastrophe, had changed the Admiral's thinking. It was clear that the gloves were coming off in their treatment of Thac; Nyx just hoped this tactic would prove worth it.
Francis turned to Nyx. "Mr. Temple, Thac believes he has some information on our investigation that concerns you. He asked me why I wasn't conducting this investigation myself, saying something about it 'slipping out of your hands.' Any idea what he's talking about?"
Nyx felt a spike of embarrassment as he contemplated what Thac could have meant. His father. Thac knew about his father. The Captain felt his face flush for a moment before turning around, allegedly to place his water bottle in the recycler while he grabbed the coffee Francis had delivered. He concentrated on looking nonchalant, leaning against the kitchen counter.
Taking a sip of his coffee, Nyx replied, "I don't know... Perhaps that's his new angle?" He titled his head slightly, "He originally tried to recruit me - all of us, even - to help him and Section 31. Is it possible now he's trying to turn you all against me?"
Cailus huffed derisively. "The man is a criminal and a moron, but he can't be that stupid. Not even the most idiotic low-life would try to turn a Starfleet captain, least of all on his own ship." He paused, then shook his head. "No, this reeks of desperation. He's not playing the game. He's bluffing to stay in it. Think about it. Thac's pet project has failed in the most public and dramatic way possible. If it isn't already, news about this will have spread around the entire Federation. The Federation Council will have to address it, and probably strengthen the punishment for violating the Prime Directive. Starfleet Command will face consequences and an investigation. Diplomatically, it's a humiliation, and it weakens the Federation's position. Thac's career in Starfleet is done, his credibility is shot, and he has no more use as a public figure."
At that, Cailus scowled. "If I was an ally of Thac in any capacity, I'd have cut him loose by now. No, Admiral. Forget the games and deception. Thac just needs a reality check with the cold truth, probably the first he's had in a long time. He needs to realise that he's no longer in the game, that S31 have cut him off. That's my recommendation." He paused, thinking fast. "And I think that I know how to do it."
"So tell us," Francis said, refilling his coffee mug.
Cailus was quiet for a moment, glancing out into space as he thought. "I'd need access to classified materials and the clearance to share them with Thac," he said slowly, looking between Nyx and the admiral. "Beyond that, it's...difficult to explain. I was trained to investigate, to build a case, then later on, to conclusively prove that case to a prosecutor who would bring the case to court. I believe that I can do the same thing with Thac, in a sense. Relatively speaking, it isn't that difficult. I just have to convince the idiot to act in his own best interest."
Francis was quiet as he took in the details of Cailus' procedure. Finally he turned to Nyx. "You're the commanding officer of a ship ready to explode, with a substitute XO and a bounty on your head. And if Mr. Griffin is to do any kind of investigation, he's going to need a great amount of help." The old man sighed. "Gentlemen, Thac is right. It should be me leading this investigation. What scares me is if I take over, I run the risk of playing right into his hands." He looked at Cailus. "That's why I need you, Mr. Griffin. Your investigative skills are second to none. You might be the ace up my sleeve, as long as he's unaware you're helping me."
"I agree. Not about the 'Thac is right' part, I would never say that. But I think you guys could take another shot at him." Nyx nodded, "My strategy so-far has been to tell Thac almost nothing. I only needed to mention Section 31 and he was ready to spill, because he doesn't think he's in any danger. He doesn't know about Vincent being dead, he doesn't know about Admiral Milne's efforts to counter Section 31's movements, and he obviously doesn't think all the evidence we have will stack against him. He's a rat that doesn't realise he's stuck in a trap. He thinks us bringing him to Starfleet will result in him going free and this whole incident being swept under the rug. He doesn't see that returning home is not the end of this."
"What of you, Mr. Griffin?" Francis asked Cailus.
Cailus shrugged. "This is your investigation, sir..." He trailed off, having said the last word out of habit, and frowned in irritation. "If you want to keep my involvement quiet and continue playing games with Thac, I will aid you in any way that I can. However, with all due respect, I believe it's a mistake to continue playing games. That man is a snake. An idiotic snake, but a snake all the same. Lies and manipulation are what he trades in; that is his strength. We will never match his competence in that regard. I suggest instead that we stick to our own strengths: honesty, forthrightness, cooperation, and common sense."
At that, Cailus stepped closer to Nyx and Francis. "Give me a day to prepare, an hour with Thac in the Brig and temporary security clearance for all relevant classified files. After he has all the information and has heard a properly constructed argument, he will cooperate with you willingly."
Francis frowned. "I'm all for honesty and common sense, but you just admitted Thac has neither of those qualities. What makes you think a 'properly constructed argument' is going to make him cooperate?"
"Because Thac is driven by self-interest," Cailus said, scowling in disgust at his own words. "When I arrested him in the outpost, he was trying to cut and run, to leave everyone to die. He had no guilt or inner conflict whatsoever. I have no idea how such a man attained flag rank in a moral-drvien organisation like Starfleet, but regardless, it's clear that self-interest is his primary motivator. He might be craven or he's simply sociopathic. Either way, he can be used, so long as he believes that his self-interest aligns with our goals."
Cailus looked between Nyx and Francis, his blue eyes cold and earnest. "I'm guessing that he has no loyalty to Section 31, or indeed anyone who isn't him. If he believes that 31 has abandoned him, which I believe that they have, judging by our latest information, then he will help us. That information simply needs to be presented to Thac in the right way."
Francis nodded. "Alright, you've convinced me. I'll see you get the resources you need."
“Don’t underestimate Thac.” Nyx said cautiously. “His confidence has not swayed once this entire time. Sure it could be his arrogance, or his ignorance, but he’s also a snake. Whatever information you give him, he will use for himself.”
"It's a risk," Cailus admitted, "but a worthwhile one, if it gets us the result we need. And frankly, I don't see that we have much to lose at this point by telling him." He glanced at Nyx in askance; Francis had the higher rank, but it was still Nyx's starship, and his word was law. "It's your call."
"We've tried everything else." Nyx admitted, "I know Shae is wanting to take a run at him, too, to see what he knows about the dark matter experiments. Perhaps see what she learns and make a call then? I'll back whatever you decide to do."
Cailus nodded curtly. "Thank you, Captain."
Nyx clapped his hands together, "Right then. Anything else frightful and looming to discuss?"
"Yes," said Admiral Francis. "No one knows I'm still alive. And if they do, they probably believe I'm responsible for this entire mess. I want to see Audra Milne's reaction when she learns I'm back from the proverbial dead. Based on that, we'll probably have a better idea of who's who in this mess. Either way, I'll need to seek a hearing with the Federation Council. I'd prefer not to do it in chains."
"Starfleet Command will go berserk when you try to go over their heads," Cailus said, then smiled darkly. "Good. I hate to imagine how far the rot goes, so Command can't be trusted to clean up their own mess. The same damn thing happened a hundred years ago, when Chancellor Gorkon was assassinated. Special investigators from the member worlds spent years investigating Starfleet to ensure that there were no more moronic conspiracies. They even interrogated me a few times. The Federation Council might have to do it all over again, from the sounds of it."
"Then that's the path." Nyx replied, "We're going to get the truth out there. Shove it in their faces if we have to."