Posted on October 18th, 2016 by Kathryn Harper and Daniel Vallero
by Kathryn Harper and Daniel Vallero
After Harper had disappeared into the ready room with Lieutenant Quinn, Daniel Vallero was left sitting in the center of the bridge, still in a state of shock. Blackthorne and T’Kirr, the ship’s former commanding and executive officers, were still alive. A deep part of him originally silenced now screamed out at him that he had known this to be a possibility all along, but it was far easier to cope with the idea that it had actually been a terrible, freakish accident, as was the official story.
As Atlantis sped towards the Neutral Zone in slipstream flight, shock festered into anger and guilt. By the time Quinn left the ready room, Daniel was standing and striding towards Harper’s office, mumbling to Lieutenant Commander Wright that she had the bridge.
The door had only been closed behind Quinn for a few seconds when the chime rang. Still standing in front of the desk where the previous conversation had taken place, Harper beckoned for whoever was waiting to come in. It would seem that at least one more personal explanation was owed.
Despite Vallero’s purposeful approach towards the door and his grim determination entering, he found he could only glance momentarily at Harper’s eyes before averting his gaze and pacing the room. One hand wrung over the knuckles of the other as he debated with himself about what to say. There was always the possibility that it would come to this, but he hadn’t spent too much time thinking about it, and now he didn’t know how to start.
Captain Harper watched her executive officer, imagining a struggle between loyalty to his captain and his oath to Starfleet raging within him, which had to be difficult and something much of the crew would be experiencing. “Go ahead, Daniel, say what you need to. I know it is hard, but we are doing the right thing.”
Vallero stopped in his tracks and looked at Harper in confusion. He then dropped his eyes, continuing to wring his hands. “No, Captain, I’m with you one-hundred percent in this.” After heaving a great sigh, his voice fell to half volume, his brows deeply furrowed. “If you only knew, it’s the least I can do.”
“Hm? Since you did not attempt to relieve me of command, I figured that I had your support.” She offered a smile as concern crept into her voice, then gently pressed, “So what is wrong?”
Sighing again, Vallero pinned his betraying hands behind his back and raised his chin, but he still couldn’t meet her eyes. “I haven’t been honest with you.” There was no point in half-truths. He had to tell her everything. Secrets were no longer an option. “I was assigned to Atlantis to replace Captain T’Kirr. It wasn’t until now…” The fact that Vallero hadn’t known the whole of it gave him courage enough to meet Harper’s eyes. His disgust in himself was surpassed only by that for Section 31. “…that I realized how far they would go for the mission.”
Kate’s eyebrows narrowed, not fully grasping his meaning. “How far who would go, Daniel? Who are they?”
A grin stretched across Vallero’s face, mirthless and pained. That was the question, wasn’t it? His eyes sought refuge in the slipstream vortex rushing by outside the viewports. For so long he couldn’t give voice to its name, and it wasn’t easier now. “At first I thought it was opportunity, choosing Atlantis after it loses its top two officers. Radical, yes, but killing their own? No, they wouldn’t do that. Kidnapping, though…?” He swallowed nervously, as if part of him was just catching up and realizing what he was now admitting to. “Yeah, I suppose they could justify that.”
He looked back to Harper. She looked like she was going to say something, but apparently once he started speaking, he couldn’t stop. “And being assigned to you, of all people? I thought it coincidence, at least I told myself it had to be. But I know differently, now. They knew that we had a past. They thought I could get you to trust me enough that you would fire on those Romulans at the border.” At this, Vallero lost his courage, and almost lost his voice. “They were just refugees after all.”
She locked eyes with him as her mind processed what he had said and realization set in, followed by disbelief as she answered in an almost-whisper, “Daniel… no, you can not mean that—no, not you…” Kate paused a moment, remembering how uncharacteristic she found his insistence that she fire on the Romulan refugees, then asked as doubt in him crept in, “Are you working for Section 31?”
The pain in her voice shot through him, just like Vallero always imagined it would if she were to find out about him. He brought his arms up to hug his chest and began to pace again. “Yes. Well…I was. But I failed. I was given another chance, but…no, not with what I know of them now, what lengths they’re willing to go to. No more. They no doubt want to kill me, now.”
Harper took a step back, her mouth falling open as she took in a breath and raised her hand, intending to tap her combadge to call security. Never in her life had she felt such hurt and betrayal, not just by Daniel, but by the organization she had served her entire adult life. Had he physically punched her with his fist, he would not have stunned her as badly as those words did. Another step back and her rear found the desk, which she steadied herself against with her left hand, her right still poised to summon help.
But did she need help? This admitted Section 31 agent was not threatening her, but instead was confessing what she assumed was something that was never to be shared. Maybe the man deserved at least a chance to explain himself before she had him hauled off to the brig. Kate let her hand fall to also grab the desk’s edge, and instead of calling security, simply asked, “Why?”
Assuming Harper wasn’t asking him why Section 31 wanted to kill him, Vallero gave some thought as to how he could put his reasons into words, still pacing. He had seen Harper’s hesitation in calling what had to be security, and even as he pondered, he found himself surprised to still being allowed to speak to her. Too early to tell, he thought, and his next words may very well make a difference in her decision. “Because I believed in reform. Things needed to be done, and bureaucracy was always in the way. Don’t get me wrong, I was in love with the Federation since before I was a cadet, but how many times has a captain needed to act now and their hands were tied behind their back?”
Vallero shook his head as he walked. “It started with just two, maybe three people who were the problem. Replace them with people who could make decisions, make the system run smoothly. Do what you have to for the greater good. But of course, it didn’t stop there, did it?” He huffed, realizing how much he had been moving around the office and made himself stop in place and face Harper. “You have absolutely no reason to trust me, but when I say I understand that years of my life have been wasted on them, I assure you I’m being honest about it. I won’t even pretend that we’ll be able to be friends again. All I can tell you is that right now, the most important thing to me is helping to right their wrongs and get your people back.”
She relaxed slightly from the hyperaware shock-induced state that his disclosure had induced, but kept her eyes fixed on him like a wounded, distrustful animal. It was rare that the usually voluble Kate Harper was at a loss for words, but this was one such case as she searched for the correct response. She surmised that this could be a final contingency plan, to confess and lean heavily on that trust that had been so cruelly manipulated to get him this far. Regardless, this supposed desire of his to do the right thing, along with his brutal honesty, did remind her more of the Daniel she once knew than the man that had tried to get her to kill innocents.
Trying to maintain an even tone to mask the whirlwind of anger and pain that this revelation had caused within her, Kate finally asked, “They put you here because they knew I would trust you, but you—” And you went along with it, exploiting that trust! “…you really did not know the whole truth of the situation?”
Vallero let out another sigh, this one slower, even as her desire to understand fanned the flames of hope within him. This was the heart of the matter, really, and difficult to answer. It’s a question he had asked himself many times in recent days. “At first, no. Over time, though…” He grimaced and shook his head. “I wanted to believe their lies. In time, there were too many inconsistencies, and… Vallero met Harper’s eyes. “In truth? I…was a fool.”
“You are damned right you are!” Kate snapped, then continued into a few choice epithets in several different languages before gathering her composure again. “I think they played you worse than they did me, but that remains to be seen, does it not? By all rights, I should throw you into the brig, but here I am considering your offer to help, even though it could be one last clever ruse. So, Daniel Vallero, if you have anything else to say for yourself, now is the time.”
Hope now swelled within him, even as he attempted to squash it. Vallero hadn’t expected to get this far. He certainly didn’t feel like he deserved it. He knew Kathryn Harper, though. That same willingness to give someone a chance that spared the Romulan refugees and caused him to fail in his mission would be his saving grace now, even if only temporarily for this mission. He couldn’t think of what to say to her other than to beg her to believe him, so he instead ventured to voice his own thoughts.
“If it came down to you not trusting the Romulan refugees and my succeeding in my mission to have you destroy them, that and having you knowing my transgressions now and risking my continued help under Section 31’s nose…” Vallero shook his head. “Screw their murderous mission. I’d fail again to help you, no question.”
It would be so easy to lock him away and forget about him, but her intuition was telling her to believe him despite her anger at having been deceived and manipulated. “Dammit, Daniel…” Kate began before trailing off, wondering if other Captains had to make decisions this difficult. She closed her eyes and lowered her head, let out a long breath, then realized that she had already made the decision to trust him one more time by finally being able to look away without fear of attack.
Captain Harper raised her head once more and assertively delivered her judgement. “Alright, Commander. The crew can not know about this, since if they did, I fear that you would be unable to do your job effectively. But now that I know, they are the least of your concerns, because I will be watching your every move. Please do not make me regret this decision, if you ever valued our friendship.”
Vallero lowered his head in submission. “Between you and me, I serve in the capacity of executive officer not because I’ve earned the position, but as recompense.” He again met Harper’s eyes. “For Blackthorne and T’Kirr.”
“I am certain they will appreciate it when we find them, but for now, my acceptance of your service will have to do.” Harper circled around the desk and took her seat, assuming a less vulnerable stature before commanding, “Now, you will tell me everything you know about Section 31.”