Dancing with the Devil

Posted on Fri Jun 10th, 2022 @ 6:24am by Captain Nycolas Temple & Lieutenant Kalin Brennan-Griffin PhD

Mission: The Only Thing Left Was Hope
Location: Brig

Shae sighed as she gave the field analysis of the Pithos Outpost event another once over. What a disaster! Of course, she had been there, she had seen how badly out of hand things had turned, but the data they had recovered from the outpost's computer made everything so much worse. None of the data they had collected supported any notion that the solidified dark matter would ever be useable, at least not with their current level of technology, there was no way to contain it, so it made absolutely no sense why the team had been cleared to excavate. A whole planet ripped apart, for nothing!

Putting the final touches on her evidence report that was to be submitted to the Court Martial committee, Shae suddenly stopped then leaned back in her chair. No, she was missing something... She had interview the surviving scientists, she understood how they played into this, but the one thing she didn't understand was the mind behind the madness. She couldn't sign off on the report until she had a clearer understanding, otherwise she would be leaving a gaping hole in her report. She had to know.

Saving her work, Shae grabbed an empty PADD, then exited her office, taking a lift down to Security territory, and finally to the Brig. She had been in and out of the Brig for days doing interviews, but this last one was one she'd hoped she'd never have to make.

"I'm here to interview Admiral Thac," Shae said to the on duty Brig Officer, smiling politely to the man she had grown quite familiar with in recent days. He nodded and smiled back, then double checked her clearance before leading her towards Thac's cell.

Thac was sitting upright on his bench, hands clasped formally in his lap, staring straight ahead of him. He waited for Brennan to cross into his eye sight before deigning to look at her. A small smile played on his lips. "Ah. I was wondering when it would be my turn." He said calmly.

Uhg, that smug smile, it smacked of arrogance and gall, suggesting he believed that she had saved the best for last.

"Good evening, Admiral Thac," Shae said pleasantly as she withdrew her reading glasses from her pocket and placed them on. "I am Doctor Kalin Brennan, Chief Science Officer of the Pandora, and I have a few questions for you regarding the research being conducted at Pithos Outpost." She paused to remove the stylus from her PADD and used it to start a new file with which to start taking notes. "If you would please confirm the intent of the activities of the outpost, that being the recovery and weaponization of the Dark Matter core of the planet."

"Well if you know the answer, why are you asking the question?" Thac replied with a shrug. "Ohh. I know. Because you want me to incriminate myself, is that it?"

Shae jotted down something on her PADD, seemingly unphased by his non-answer. "How did you intend to weaponize the solid Dark Matter?" she asked, not bothering to look at him as she continued to write on her PADD.

"You'll have to ask the scientists about the minutia of it all, but the facility's primary goal was not weaponry." Thac remarked, "Dynamic, impervious shielding. Something that would have saved countless lives across the entire Federation." He stood and looked at her intently, "A cause worth fighting for, yes?"

"Hmm," Shae hummed as she continued to write on her PADD, finishing off with 'MORON' and underlining it, twice. "So you freely admit that you do not understand the science or mechanics behind retrieving, storing, or refining for use dangerous materials like Dark Matter?" she asked in an almost bored tone.

“Oof. You’re leading the witness.” Thac replied, eyes squinted. “That’s an awful lot of prejudicial opinion for a scientist. I can see why you’ve never progressed past your current position.”

That caused Shae to finally look up from her notes to stare at him. "There was nothing of prejudice or opinion in my query, either you do understand and can explain to me how you intended to interact with Dark Matter, or you do not understand and leave such 'minutia' to the proper authorities on the subject matter."

“I never said I didn’t know, I just said you’d have to ask them.” Thac shrugged, “I am not obliged to answer you, Lieutenant. You have nothing I need. Do you?”

Shae simply narrowed her eyes then returned her attention to her notes. "It's interesting that you should tell me to ask your scientists, because I did," Shae said, blatantly ignoring his last statement. "And do you want to know what I learned? Not a single one of them had any clear or concise explanation as to how they were going to handle the Dark Matter. One of them suggested that perhaps the same containment fields used to store anti-matter might prove useful, but I found nothing in the data we recovered to indicate that any actual studies or simulations were run to test such a method of containment. This is why I ask if you were as clueless as your scientists."

“It seems you’ve drawn the same conclusion as I.” Thac leapt on the Lieutenant’s words, “That the scientists are to blame for the Pithos incident? I’m so glad you’re on my side on this.”

At this, Shae chuckled and looked back at Thac. "Tell me, sir, do you have any children?" she asked.

“You don’t get to Admiral at my age by spending your time changing diapers, Lieutenant.” Thac huffed, “But by all means, make your derogatory comparison. I’m positively thrilled by your opinion of me.”

"Oh, I'm sure you are," Shae said with amusement. "But it's a good thing you have no children; an individual of your intelligence, or lack thereof, should not be contributing to the gene pool. Now, back to the topic at hand!" Shae glanced down at her notes, then nodded. "Right, now I don't condemn the scientists under your command for two very good reasons: one, the science and technology that would allow us to interact with Dark Matter simply does not yet exist, and two, they did everything right; they followed orders to the best of their abilities and when they couldn't, they followed proper protocol and submitted their concerns and complaints to the Chain of Command. I have pages upon pages of scientists asking instructions, schematics, equations, anything that would help them do their job, and then even more reports criticizing the lack of useable information and data, and even complaints and concerns about the legitimacy of this project and whether it should continue. I have even read transfer requests that were denied. Now, the way this looks to me is that you either have absolutely no clue what you're doing and a planet was destroyed for nothing, or you knew exactly what you were doing and made a conscious choice not to disseminate the necessary knowledge that would have made this mission a success. Either way it doesn't bode well for you, and truly that's what brought me down here, I was curious as to which was true."

Thac blinked for a moment before letting out a large sigh. With a shake of his head, he turned and sat down on the bunk again. “Insults and threats. Just like all the rest. It’s just so… disappointing.” He frowned, “After he spoke so highly of you. He said you were different. A specimen of natural ability and manufactured cunning. A beast, but with a brain. I guess I just don’t see what he saw in you.”

"You're going to have to try a lot harder than that to get under my skin," Shae said bluntly as she began doodling on her PADD, the form a little pile of poo with an angry face and animated flailing arms, and atop it all a pair of Andorian antennae. "The point I'm trying to make is that it has to take a gross level of incompetence to make the officers under your command want to flee like rats on a sinking ship. Just the chance to study solidified Dark Matter is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a publication on the matter would have meant instant prestige in the scientific community, regardless of whatever use you wanted for it. When I first heard about it, I was willing to give up my left leg simply for the fleeting glance at the material! I mean, how could you mess this up so badly?"

Thac raised his arms up, “And that’s exactly the point that keeps staring you in the face and you keep missing, Lieutenant Brennan. How?!” He gave an over-acted shrug. “How, indeed.”

"Well, if you would just tell me what you know about Dark Matter and containing it, then perhaps I could actually help you," Shae replied with earnest consideration, though that didn't stop her little 'art' project, adding in admiral stars and then coloring in the poop the just right shade of blue-green-gray-brown; perhaps she should send a copy to Nyx, he would surely get a laugh out of it.

“No, Lieutenant that isn’t the question.” Thac said in a huff, starting to tire of this. “You already know how Pithos fell, as I pointed that out in my first answer to you. You’ve already asked the scientists and drawn a very clear conclusion. Dark matter containment, unstable material, checks and balances. But what you really want to know, what should have been lurking in the back your minds this entire time, is how did Pithos get built?” He looked at her plainly. “How indeed.”

"That point is irrelevant to my part of the investigation," Shae said dismissively, though the question was a good point, so she opened a text message to Nyx and quickly wrote out a message, 'How did Pithos get built?', then attached her little poop picture for good measure and sent the message. "Once command fell to you, it became your responsibility to ensure the project's success, which would have included providing the scientists with instruction and vital data. So, why didn't you?"

“But it’s the whole point, Lieutenant. You have been so keen to blame me for everything, you have consumed every bit of information that has been fed to you that makes me look guilty. You haven’t once stopped to realise that you are being lead along a pre-determined path that is writing your report for you.” Thac simply said. “So you sit here with your dismissive attitude and your notes, your insults and your threats, because you think you’ve got me. Maybe you’ve got me. But somebody’s got you.”

"And nothing would prove that more than cooperating, but you have been anything but," Shae pointed out. "And for the record, I never threatened you, though I do admit to insulting your intelligence and genetics."

“Well I hope that made you feel better about yourself.” Thac remarked, dripping with sarcasm, “I can’t possibly wonder why I wouldn’t cooperate.” He folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the hard metal wall. “If you want my cooperation Lieutenant, if you want to know what’s really going on, and - possibly - save your ship and your Captain from ending up where I am, then you need to offer me something.”

"I am not in a position to offer you anything other than a personal promise," Shae stated, staring the man in the eyes, "that being: as a scientist, my loyalties are to the truth, whatever that truth may be." She wasn't buying his innocent scape-goat act, but she really was devoted to the truth, so if he surprised her with a different truth, then so be it.

Thac stared at the officer for a while, eyes taking in her face and trying to see honesty, or just some kind of receptivenesses, coming from within. Finally he gave a nonchalant shrug, “I’ve been telling your people from the beginning that I can help you, and I’ve been ignored. Forgive me if I don’t leap to believe you now. But I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you information -not about Pithos, but something more… personal. If you investigate and act on it, I’ll know you’re ready to handle the big stuff.”

Shae hugged her PADD to her chest as she stared at Thac with an appraising eye; he had certainly piqued her curiosity, and with her naturally inquisitive nature she surely could not leave such a delightful string left unpulled. "Alright, let's hear what you have for me," she said, offering just a hint of a mischievous smile form at the corner of her lips.

“His name is Andre Santos.” Thac replied. “Blond hair, slicked back. Wears gloves all the time. Officious to the point of pompous. He gained a reputation within the organisation for cleaning up other’s mistakes and wiping away evidence. He’s good at it, the bastard. I believe he’s even given himself a nickname to match his title…”

"Hmm, not nearly as good as he would like to think. He used bodies that had succumbed to sword wounds to fake a scene involving only phasers. Not that bright, in my humble opinion," Shae said candidly, curious to see how Thac would react to such a tidbit. "Not to mention, I had a collapsed lung, that just doesn't resolve itself without some kind of medical intervention, something my husband certainly wasn't capable of. Too many loose ends..."

“Oh. So you’ve met him?” Thac replied, blinking quickly. For a moment, however brief it was, there was a moment of genuine sympathy from him. “I’m sorry. Believe me, I am. I know you think very lowly of me, but I honestly don't think anyone deserves to be subjected to that creep.” He shook his head.

Was... was that genuine sympathy?! With a discreet scenting of the air, she could even taste the honesty. "Your sympathy, though surprising is appreciated," Shae said with a nod.

“I’m sure you’ve gathered that he has a predilection for… hirsute species?” Thac continued being uncomfortably delicate. “I’m not surprised if he was a little sloppy when around you. It is his weakness.” He frowned, looking down at his shoes. “Especially if his special subjects are… injured. Vulnerable.” Shaking his head once again, Thac sighed. “But he does normally do a good job and that’s all that matters to 31. They’ve turned a blind eye to his side interests. So far.”

"Oh, Stars help me, I had not recognized his... fancy towards me," Shae said with a groan, bringing a hand up to rub at her temples. "I was quite focused on escaping, then I was injured, I did not make that connection, now I wish you hadn't told me... Oh, I need brain bleach, or at least a good hour in a shower, I feel so dirty," she admitted with a shudder.

Thac gave a half smile. “Ha! Yes. That is most people’s reaction to meeting him.” He thought about this for a moment before he cleared his throat and tried to be serious. “Nonetheless, you are right about his intentions. I knew before I left for the Expanse that he had taken an interest in your profile. I guess in the intervening time he has chosen to act on it?” Thac furrowed his brow, his mind starting to wonder how and when that might have happened. He decided to ignore that for now. “You are not his first special interest. In fact, he has a facility where he houses those he has successfully captured. Dead and alive. His trophies.”

Thac felt the air thicken with the awkwardness of the conversation. There are things that he would do, and things he would never do - not intentionally, anyway. He didn’t want to make the Lieutenant so uneasy but the truth had to be spoken.

“Not even 31 wants a part of his hobbies. They’re happy to pretend it doesn’t exist, but they won’t be protecting him over it either.” He explained. “So he’s put it in the one place where enough Federation credits will buy you silence and privacy.”

"Please don't say that place is Ferenginar," Shae murmured under her breath, her eyes squeezed closed as contemplated her life choices up until this point. Then she opened her eyes with such extreme reluctance she almost looked drugged. "So, you want me to find his 'zoo'? It's better than a harem, I guess, small mercies for that..." No no no, don't go there, Thac, don't tell me he does that too...

“I should hope not.” Thac retorted, “But he must be stopped.”

At this, Thac’s face grew serious once more, though a regretful tinge pulled on the corners of his mouth. “Yes, that is my goal if I tell you his location. But I also want to be honest with you, Lieutenant. Santos is a competitor of mine within the organisation. He resents that I’ve been promoted so quickly and that I gained a legitimate position within Starfleet because of Vincent. He disagrees with our plans for the Expanse, and has been vocal about it. I know about his predilections because I had agents tagged on him, hoping to find dirt for me to use one day.” He looked intently at Brennan, with laser focus. “I believe that right now he would be plotting against me. If 31 knows that Pithos failed, he’d be using it undermine me, campaigning to ‘clean’ me away too. He will be leading the charge to discredit me and erase me. Heck, it’s what I would be doing if the roles were reversed.”

"Well, I can tell you that I am cognizant of his ambition, beyond erasing and supplanting you," Shae stated uneasily, thinking back to that day in the shuttle. This was turning into a nightmare, a tangled mess and she wanted no part of it! She was a scientist for fuck's sake, not a spook, not anymore! Shae sighed; she had been doing quite a lot of sighing as of late... "So this zoo?"

“Should you expose his little house of horrors, force him into hiding or, perhaps, even manage to get him arrested, you would be helping me and Vincent.” Thac explained plainly, not a drop of a lie in his words. “One less voice of opposition in 31, is one more step towards complete freedom for us. With him gone, I have a clearer path towards vindication and a warm welcome back. I could even use him as my scape goat if the public outcry is so bad.” Thac shrugged, “The question is, what do you really believe in, Lieutenant? The truth? Whatever that may be, and whomever finding that truth will serve? Or is it more important to “win” against me? Because you may not get to have both.”

Shae listened, then sighed, yet again, reaching up to carefully remove her glasses and slip them into her duty jacket. "What I believe..." Shae echoed, the words heavy on her tongue as she considered the man in the tiny cube before her. "I believe in science," she started with resolve. "I believe in science purely out of a yearning to obtain knowledge, not for what can be perverted out of it. Science could bring so much peace and joy to the universe if not for people like you who can't see how the very lives you step over to obtain your goals taints every accomplishment you make. I also believe that one day, and hopefully soon, the shadows will peel back under the light of truth, illuminating you and your ilk. One day, the truth will win. This, I believe. But until then, I will play your game. I will expose Santos and his zoo, but not for you and what you might gain out of it; no, I do it because it's the right thing to do and those beings don't deserve to be caged. But in return, you will tell me what I want to know about Pithos."

Thac put a hand to his chest. “Beautifully said, Lieutenant. I think you have a bright future in front of you. Assuming…. Well, let’s just hope for the best. It’s a deal then? You’ll take care of Santos and I’ll tell you what you need to know?”

The question was left tantalizingly in the air, an answer not yet given. Shae was not about to give him the satisfaction of making the deal right now; he would have to wait. But Thac had nothing better to do than wait.