Under the Shroud
The Only Thing Left Was Hope
Location: Carnwennan Station
Timeline: After "Ulysses' Return"
Rather than risk travelling through the station, which Temple was disinclined to do, Admiral Francis, Lieutenant Commander Mindo, and himself instead beamed directly to Admiral Milne's office on Carnwennan Station. The trio of weary warriors materialized before Milne, who sat pensively at her desk awaiting their arrival.
The blue lights had barely faded when Temple opened his mouth, "Permission to speak freely?" He asked immediately.
Milne nodded slightly, "I believe you've earned that."
"What in the actual fuck is happening?" Nyx immediately snapped.
Lieutenant-Commander Mindo's eyes went wide with shock, and suddenly he wished he could just shrink away from the situation. Of course, that would be difficult since at three and a half feet tall it was unlikely he could get any smaller.
Admiral Francis watched Admiral Milne's reaction with a stone face, but on the inside, he was laughing. "Audra," he said in an even tone, "as you know I'm not one for such extreme profanity, but I too want to know what in Satan's crotch is going on here. After all the Pandora has done in the Iconnu Expanse, all its crew and captain get is a cold shoulder. We all deserve an explanation!"
“I’m so glad I secured the room before you gentleman came.” Audra remarked with a wry smile, not taking the profanity too personally. She did wonder if the Captain would have been so forthright with a male superior, however. "Please, let us discuss what is actually happening."
“Admiral, you must understand my frustration.” Nyx sighed, “I was expecting more of a response here, given what has happened. The station isn’t even at alert. Unless, of course, you have reason to believe Section 31 is still onboard?”
“Of course, 31 is still on board.” Audra said nonchalantly, “But they have already showed their hand when they came for Brennan and Griffin. I have their operatives, I am working on decrypting their communication channels, and I have the identities of their ships in the region. Carnwennan being on standby, instead of at alert, is because I don’t want them to know what I know. They tried to put a fox in my hen house, but I am not a hen to fuck with, gentlemen.”
"OK," Mindo said, shaking his head. "There's gotta be a way to communicate without the barnyard jargon..."
"We were speaking freely." Milne replied, with another smile. Nyx caught this and gave a short chuckle, too.
"All right," said Admiral Francis, putting his hands in fists on his hips. "The first order of business is, what to do with Admiral Thac? I don't want the grimy hands of Section 31 all over him, but in his cell on the Pandora he's a sitting duck in a pond full of..." he looked down at Mindo, "er, well, he's vulnerable is what I'm saying."
"I've been working on that." Milne admitted, taking a seat in her chair and allowing the others present to do so also. "I've been running a few disinformation campaigns throughout their network. One says Thac died in the Expanse, another was that he was on the Palatine and already returned to Earth, one that he's on assignment, and finally, that he is still on the Pandora. I don't expect 31 to be completely fooled by this, they will investigate every possibility. But it may have them chasing their tails for a while."
"And when they stop chasing?" Nyx pressed.
"That is where the Shroud will come in handy." Milne replied.
"The shroud?" Nyx asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Since we lost Deep Space 10 due to an incursion from the Ravagers, Starfleet Intelligence has been working on technology that would make it impossible for an outside force to beam onboard a Starfleet location." Milne explained, "Once in effect, the Shroud scrambles the deck matrix and location data contained within the base or ship. Outside transporters will be unable to gain a read of where to send their people and will be unable to transport them in. They can override their safety protocols, of course, but that runs the risk of them beaming their crew into a bulkhead or the warp core. The probability of guessing a correct location is low, with all likely safe places also guarded by containment shielding."
Nyx looked to Mindo to see what he thought of this, but a pertinent question popped into his mind first. "That's all well and good for a foreign party, Admiral, but 31 comes from within."
"It also scrubs all prior data saved onto our databases, as if it was never there. Everything is removed." Milne shrugged. "Even 31 relies entirely on a computer system, but it is just data after all. Data can be changed."
Mindo put his knees under him and raised up a little. "I'd really like to see that technology, if it's available," Mindo said. "I know a particular Ontarion who'd like to sink his beak into it."
“Of course.” Milne nodded, as she grabbed a PADD and handed it over to the Commander, “I’ll need your help to implement this onto the Pandora. This will be the first time we’ll be activating the Shroud on a ship.”
Mindo nodded. "I'll see to it personally," he replied. Inside he rejoiced. Finally! An excuse to get back down to Engineering to do actual work rather than gather reports.
“Okay, so they can’t beam onboard.” Nyx interrupted, “What about entering from the station?”
“We have also detected high concentrations of chronitrons and gojiric radiation on your hull,” Milne answered matter-of-factly, “We will be placing the Pandora under a decontamination quarantine, and thus restricting access to the docking port.”
“Sounds good. You’ve got it all figured out.” Nyx replied with a slight shrug.
“I’ve not just been sitting here twiddling my thumbs, Captain.” Milne raised her eyebrow, “I have been preparing for the Pandora’s return since we last spoke.”
Nyx frowned, feeling a pertinent question forming, “So then why are we being held here? You’ve planned for this, you intended to keep us here and protect us from Section 31, why?”
“Because 31 is not your biggest problem, right now.” Milne said with a sigh.
Admiral Francis crossed his arms. "What in god's fingers and toes do we do about Thac?" he said, less asking a question than confirming Milne's thoughts.
"Surely we can hand him over to the Council?" Nyx asked, "Once we have assurances that he will be secured."
Audra dipped her head slightly, frowning, "No. The measures I have put in place on the station and the Pandora are so that you may continue to hold him for now."
"We were promised an audience with the Council." Nyx returned immediately, feeling as if he were speaking to a wall. "We have Thac and vital evidence to present to them. They must know!"
"And that evidence will undoubtedly shock and concern the Council." Audra explained, "But they will not be prepared to act, just yet." Sensing Nyx was going to interject, she held up her hand, "I know this Council better than you do, Captain. They will make grand statements about values and right and wrong; an investigation will no-doubt be called for. But then it becomes a game of politics." Sighing, the Admiral shook her head, "Many will not want to act against Section 31, or simply don't have the guts to. And they definitely will not act against any serving member of Starfleet Command unless the evidence is airtight. Everything will get picked over, examined, explained, and debated. In doing so, you will see your evidence whittled down to only what the Council feels prepared to act upon. In order for this to have any real consequence, we have to be convincing, and we have to convince the majority of the Council that it is convincing enough to act. We don't have the numbers to do that just yet."
"The numbers!" Nyx scoffed in exasperation. "That's what it comes down to?"
"Yes." Audra said firmly. "We don't have the numbers."
Francis folded his arms. "I'm afraid she's right, Captain," he said, resigned to the situation. "This is all a bunch of hooey, but there's nothing we can do about it."
"What do you expect us to do then?" Mindo asked, flabbergasted by what was happening.
"For now, you must sit tight. Act as if everything is fine," Audra instructed. "Take some time off. All of you. That's an order."
"How long?" Nyx asked tersely, already counting down in his head.
"Until I can guarantee that when we present our evidence to the Council, they will be able to act." Milne answered firmly.
"Very well." Nyx sighed, "We will wait. For now." Nyx couldn't wait to exit the room. He strode towards the doorway without saying a farewell, hoping to head back to the Pandora before his anger exploded.
Mindo followed as well, but Francis remained for a moment. "Audra we've known each other for a good long time," the old Admiral said. "I was fully supportive of promoting you to Admiral. What lies ahead will be the most difficult task we're likely to face in our careers. All I ask is that you don't sacrifice your integrity for the sake of politics."
Milne raised an eyebrow, "Francis, they will tear me apart in the Council. For knowing what I know, for enacting all of these secret plans. I don't expect to get out of this with any possible future career in Starfleet. But this is beyond me. Beyond Temple and the Pandora. I do what I do now so that the Federation retains its integrity." She gave a woeful smile, "I hope you can see that."
Francis smiled. "And I'll be with you all the way, Audra."