Posted on August 22nd, 2021 by Hannah Ziredac and Scott Ammora
Quarters: Captain Jason Ziredac
June 30, 2400
Unreadiness was a new sensation. It sat in Jason’s stomach like a cannonball, cold and barnacled on the seafloor. He slouched forward on the edge of his bed, stared at the carpet.
“Don’t pick your fingernails,” Ariel said from the breakfast table. “Very least, you don’t want to face an admiral with a bleeding hangnail or something.”
Jason sighed, stopped picking. “Yeah.”
“You’re gonna be okay, Jase.”
“I know I’m gonna be okay. I’ll always be okay.”
“You know what I mean.”
He exerted all remaining energy to say it with even-keel kindness and curiosity: “I actually don’t.”
Ariel finished her blueberry granola, took the last sip of her morning tea. “You have such a good record, especially as a captain, that it would take the hardest-ass admiral in Starfleet to remove you from command. I’m sure more captains than we could ever guess have a formal reprimand on their record somewhere.”
“I don’t think that’s accurate.”
“Conjecture intended to make someone feel better isn’t meant to be accurate.”
“That, said, I—”
Molloy to Captain Ziredac.
Badge. “Ziredac here.”
The admiral is here. He requested to meet you in your ready room.
“Thanks, Commander. I’ll be there in a sec. Ziredac out.” Jason stood, straightened his uniform. To Ariel he added, “Long walk to the gallows.”
“Oh, shut up.”
Then came the part Jason had dreaded the most: walking the corridors, taking the turbolift, crossing the bridge. Ariel’s was the only face he had seen since Commander Molloy had him escorted off the bridge a week ago, aside from a brief visit from Molloy herself to keep him abreast of the Refuge situation. He didn’t know how he would feel meeting eyes with any member of his crew, let alone the likes of Commander Leirone, Dr. Molloy, Lieutenant Stilton, or Lieutenant Martin.
Christ alive; he feared Lieutenant Martin the most. Though he had gone to exhaustive lengths to exonerate her in his written report, what mattered was that he coerced her into doing his dirty work. He owed her a personal apology, and he was totally unready to personally apologize to someone with that woman’s cold stare.
Providence emptied the corridor and the turbolift, however, granting him an even worse fate: isolation. An awkward glance from an ensign would have at least spiced up this green mile a bit.
He exited the turbolift onto the bridge, where he was greeted with the worst fate of all: nothing much. Lieutenant Stilton crossed from tactical to engineering, nodded, said, “Captain,” and went on her merry way to coordinate something with Leirone. Commander Molloy also gave a respectful nod and said, “Morning, Captain.”
No one else so much as looked up.
Jason crossed the bridge to his ready room and, without thinking, barged right in.
Rear Admiral Kyle Pierce stood with his hands clasped behind his back, gazing out the window. It had been some time since he had seen the man he met as his Chief Science Officer so many years ago. Nonetheless, this meeting and visit wasn’t of the personal connection kind. This was far from a nostalgic affair.
He heard the door open but didn’t turn. He took a couple of breaths, waiting. The silence was permeating. Internally, Kyle started to speak, stopped, started again, and halted once more. Finally, he turned. “Captain Ziredac. It has been a long time since I have been rendered speechless regarding someone’s actions, but after all we’ve been through, I’m not surprised that you were the one delivering that wonderfully-pleasant feeling.”
Jason’s veins turned to ice. Of course. Of course it’s Pierce. Why wouldn’t it be? Long had he been free of such sophomoric solipsism as to believe he lived in an elaborate simulation or Truman Show-esque charade, but this sent him rocketing back to that 19-year-old mindset.
“Admiral Pierce,” he said, his voice only just able to rise above a whisper. “Sir.”
He had prepared a short spiel, rehearsed it, revised it, hacked it down to the pithiest, most pitiable gesture of throwing himself on his own sword. Thoughts caught somewhere in his mind and stopped up his whole system upon seeing Pierce. Knowing the admiralty, he imagined a real possibility that this was intentional.
So instead he straightened his posture, locked his eyes dead ahead, and folded his hands before him.
The admiral leaned forward, placed his hands on the banister, and stared down at his former colleague. Pierce prided himself on his professionalism, his stoic nature, and his ability to break someone with a gaze when necessary. He knew at this moment that he would be unable to do that with this captain, nor did he want to. He wanted answers. He wanted truth. He wanted to not be dealing with reprimands when there were far greater fish to fry.
“Speak, Captain. Now. What the hell were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t, sir. Not clearly, at least. I…” Jason gulped, defaulted to the basics of his spiel. “I’ll preface this with the clarification that I only have an explanation for my actions, not an excuse. I’m sure you know, from all the documentation on the matter, that several people have seen—and extensively read—my sister’s warrants, and studied the evidence of her crimes. Her record’s baffling disappearance doesn’t remove it from our memories. That’s why I disregarded protocol on the matter.
“The other reason is completely my issue, and something I accept all accountability for. My sister’s been troubled since she was a kid. To call her a rebel is an understatement. She and I fought, absolutely, but what got to me was how she spurned our parents. The complete disrespect was… I’ve never been able to accept it.
“But even though all of that is true, it’s absolutely my responsibility to respond to her despicable behavior with exemplary behavior. I failed at that. No matter the admiralty’s decision about me, I am prepared to take on any and all reparative work and assure that I never do anything of the sort again.”
Lights out, curtain. Jason took a breath to punctuate his appeal. Then, an impulse: “If I may finish with a brief note of candor…?”
Kyle was good at recognizing honor, integrity, and sincerity. He saw it now. He took a moment, fighting the urge to raise his eyes to the ceiling in contemplation, then nodded.
“Lastly, Admiral Pierce,” Jason said, “I’m sorry I let you down, sir.”
“I appreciate that note of concession and acceptance. I appreciate the willingness to take responsibility for something that could, quite honestly, get you court-martialed. Court-martialed, Captain! Family history will hold up in a hearing about as much as my support of you with our history!” Kyle turned away, shaking his head, peering back out into the vastness of space. “There are reasons why we have rules about personal engagement, constraints on command officers indulging in flights of fancy when the root cause is nepotism.”
There was a slow turn: one that was dripping with intent and underlying meaning, coupled with almost two decades of setup forged through the time-honored connection only created by respect and experience. Kyle leveled his eyes, the situation was such that no other inflection was necessary, and he spoke clearly. “How long have we known each other, Jason?”
“Almost seventeen years, sir.”
“And in that time, Captain, have I ever put you into a position that you felt you couldn’t come to me? With anything, mind you. With all we’ve been through, have I ever given you the impression that I wouldn’t at least listen to your concerns?” The words were true, heartfelt, with a twinge of hurt. “Why didn’t you come to me with this?”
“Because I thought I could handle it,” Jason said. “And I hope this doesn’t sound like a boast, but if it was anyone other than my sister, I would’ve handled it. I’ve handled worse. My crew have handled worse.” He sniffed, scratched his face. “It was also a, uh…a heat-of-the-moment situation. Saw the opportunity to grab her, and—” He made a subtle gesture of snatching fruit from a tree.
“Lieutenant Kenton and I have been talking it over,” he added. “You know, gameplan for moving forward. I want to make this right, no matter what happens to this ship. It’s, uh, it’s pretty clear that I can’t keep my head on right when Hannah’s involved, so, in all regards the Meridian will steer fully clear of her. Within reason, but that’s all in the minutiae. As for me, I’m ready to propose a mandatory biweekly counseling session to address this specific issue. And that’s just the beginning.”
Jason cleared his throat, and threw in one more addition: “Biweekly as in twice a week, not every other week.”
“Thanks for the clarity. Your ability to take responsibility is admirable. But, there will be repercussions for your actions, Captain. Repercussions that I can’t defend you from; nor, from your candor, would you want me to. You know this, I know this, and Starfleet knows this. A verbal gauntlet on what you did is expected. And here I am.” Kyle sat down in the nearest chair, his hands folding leisurely across his lap.
He leaned forward, staring intently, “Is there something more you want to share, Captain?”
The gulf between a lieutenant and a captain felt, somehow, greater than that between a captain and a rear admiral. Compounding this with their history and the admiral’s presentation, Jason felt a latch click open somewhere inside.
“I’ve never known anger like the anger I feel toward my sister. And there’s not a lot I can really describe. Her disrespect toward me, my family, my friends, everyone I’ve ever seen her interact with… Something about her just finds a vein and punctures me. And it shouldn’t, At least, not after all this time. Maybe my rage befitted my adolescent self, but not now.
“I’ve held myself and others accountable enough times to know how to go about it, but it’s this…this… Hannah inspires a rage I don’t know how to handle. I’m scared, Admiral, if I’m honest. Even though I have therapy ahead, I’m scared of what I’ll find inside.”
Fear. It was a normal human emotion, but Jason had never been one to emote so forcefully, at least not to Kyle’s recollection. There was a rolling sea of turmoil beneath Jason’s normally-composed façade. Pierce admired the man’s self-awareness, his ability to take responsibility, and his lack of pride in sharing his demons.
Kyle swiped the PADD off the desk, “Family drama is family drama, my friend. There’s a part of me that cares and there’s the part of me that needs to point out that the separation of your personal life and your professional life is key to maintaining your composure. I know you understand the concept.
“I’ve looked at Hannah’s record, personally. It’s as clean as a whistle. And while I’m privy to a great amount of information, I’m still at a loss. So what do you know that Starfleet doesn’t?” Kyle clasped his hands and leaned forward. “You know I’m not a fool. What is it that caused you – minus your personal vendetta – to do what you did? Talk to me, Jason.”
“If you want the fullest possible picture,” Jason said, “Commander Molloy and Lieutenant Stilton will have more they can corroborate. Also the FSA ship Pinkerton, who briefly had her in custody.” With a clearing of the throat, he continued: “From my own memory of her records, she’s suspected of no fewer than a dozen counts of grand larceny, some of which include being part of a smuggling ring. Outside of that, her involvement with said smuggling ring—or rings; it’s yet inconclusive—links her to several dozen crimes, even if tangentially. These include more acts of grand larceny, illegal sales of contraband narcotics and arms, and murder. And that’s just in Federation space.
“For the record, I know my sister well enough that any link between her and a violent act is likely extremely tangential—but she’s linked to them nonetheless. To quote the FSA liaison we’ve worked with, ‘She could help implicate those responsible for the violent acts in question.’”
Jason made a silent gesture bidding for permission, and at Pierce’s nod Jason sat in the chair opposite the admiral. “She’s dangerous, Admiral. Just looking at the removal of her record alone… Whether it was Hannah (which I doubt) or some powerful ally of hers, the ability to alter records across multiple heavily encrypted databases is an extremely dangerous one. Even if we can’t legally detain her right now, we need to keep a close eye on her.
“By we I mean the authorities,” he added in haste.
Kyle nodded,. “And with no trace of origin in the breach of database present, then the testimony of people who have seen the original records becomes moot. Circumstantial, hearsay. I have to admit, though, for someone or some entity to be able to do what you’re saying is pretty profound. And, dangerous.”
Truth be told, getting through security of this magnitude needed some weight behind it. Eyewitness accounts were not insubstantial, but they weren’t enough. If they had run a background algorithm on access protocols and found nothing, then that was even more disturbing. Kyle was a little flabbergasted in his own right: things like this didn’t happen. Especially if the FSA didn’t have a lead.
“Off the record, what would be your plan to watch your sister—” Kyle punched these words as hard as he could, “—under Federation law to make sure any charges stick?”
Jason sighed. “The initial game plan was to convince her to agree to stay onboard the Meridian. Not detained, in any legal sense, but contractually obligated to just stay where we could see her until her records could be retrieved. The FSA even mentioned the possibility of lessening her sentence if she aided in investigations during that time. But when I lost control, we lost that option.
“As it happens, she’s on the Atlantis for the time being. Since Captain Harper has made it clear that Hannah isn’t obligated to stay there, I can only guess as to her true intentions. It certainly isn’t because she wants to make friends.”
“Given the evidence, I could make a case for espionage and detain her indefinitely pending an investigation. But that’s a reach, Captain.” Kyle put the PADD on the nearby table, “But I’d only do that if there was an end to the means. We’re in treacherous territory. If any investigation we order proves less than fruitful, it’s egg on the face of law and order. The ramifications of a botched crucible could prove extraordinarily disastrous. I’m not willing to stake my reputation on it.”
Pierce clasped his hands in front of him.
“But I’m open to alternatives. If I were to hand complete control of this investigation to you – theoretically – what would be your next step? And it better be something more pronounced than ‘we need to keep an eye on her’. ”
“Theoretically.” Jason felt the weight of the word on his tongue, tested its hardness index with his teeth. “I’m no investigator—not a forensic one, at least—but from my layman’s seat…” On the wings of a heavy sigh he said at last, “Given these circumstances, I’d get a tracker on her ship. Not just any tracker either; I’d go through the declassified Section 31 files for tech schematics, find something no scanner would pick up, except its paired transceiver. Put a watch on her, around the clock. Counter sneaky with sneaky.
“But that would, at the very least, mean getting someone to board the Atlantis. And I don’t think they’d take someone from the Meridian aboard right now—not anyone who would be left unsupervised.”
Kyle smirked, “Why don’t you leave that one to me? In my time in Starfleet I have pulled many strings for many people and have amassed quite the I.O.U. inventory. One of them has a son aboard the Atlantis. I think I can get it done pretty quickly and efficiently. Once we go down this route, we’re committed. More importantly, I’m committed. Don’t take that offer for granted.”
With the ease of a wispy breath, he chuckled, “Jason Ziredac, never a dull moment with you, is there?”
Jason’s turn to smirk. “Despite my best efforts, sir.”