Table of Contents
There are sections of Starfleet Headquarters that are not well known, even to those who work within the vast complex on a daily basis. Buried deep underneath are many subterranean levels which house a host of obscure and minor divisions, ranging from intelligence to research, computers to think tanks; all part of the huge bureaucracies known collectively as Starfleet.
On level S-22, deepest of the lower reaches, was a seemingly endless corridor. Brightly lit, it was wider than most of those in these depths of the Admiralty, but the ceiling was low and the entire area was plain, devoid of art, terminals and, mostly, people. At the far end of this undecorated hallway a chime sounded, announcing the arrival of a turbolift.
The two Starfleet security officers, who had been standing at ease, suddenly came to attention, phasers drawn, safeties off and set for heavy stun. One stood between the lift and a formidable security barrier; the other behind the barrier, near a duty desk and a security terminal.
The turbolift doors opened after a brief pause and two Terrans emerged. One was an admiral, a vice admiral to be precise, with wiry blond hair and slightly disheveled look even in uniform. Most felt Admiral Kensington, Chief of Special Operations, had the air and appearance of a typical 'absent minded professor.' The other was a lieutenant, dark complexion and hair with a flash in the eyes that suggested a bit of mischief. As a regular visitor to this level, Lieutenant Nicholas Manusos knew the routine and proceeded to the security scanning station without speaking to either of the guards. The young Greek officer, also part of Special Operations, was subjected to a quick retina scan and in less than ten seconds a pleasant female computer voice announced clearance for this level. The officers then reached into their tunics and produced holographic ID's. The closest security guard checked both very closely and logged both names and service numbers into the nearby wall pad.
On the other side of the security screen, the second guard entered an elaborate code into his console. The energy barrier that separated the turbolift from the security area dropped. After the visiting officers passed through, the two security men saluted smartly, then reestablished the barrier and stood at ease once again.
The entire process took only a few minutes and the two visitors wasted no time as they walked briskly down the long, man-made cavern. Ignoring all of the other side corridors and doors, they went straight to the end of the hall and stopped before a dark brown doorway labeled ambiguously as S-22-K. Manusos placed his ID against a translucent panel located to the right of the doorway. Once again, he was subjected to a retina scan. Immediately, the door slid open quietly and the two men entered.
Now inside the room, the younger officer called to the computer for the lights and then activated the main view screen. As the viewer flickered to life, Manusos indicated two chairs at a worktable situated in the middle of the large room and the two sat down immediately. On the table was a smaller view screen, terminal and a collection of fleet standard briefing folders. The lieutenant picked up the largest of the metallic briefing folders marked 'Top Secret - Phoenix'. The electronic seal popped open obediently after being scanned with his encoded ID.
Clearing his throat and taking a deep breath, he began quietly and deliberately. "Admiral, what I'm about to tell you may seem unbelievable, but please hear me out and reserve final judgment until I have presented all of the information I have gathered." Then he looked hopefully at the senior officer.
Kensington nodded, waved his hand palm up across the table full of folders and said simply, "Proceed."
The younger officer continued in a hushed tone as if he were afraid of being overheard, even this deep underground. "It all began two days ago when a merchant and trader named Mudd was rescued from his ship near the Romulan Neutral Zone. Computer, display likeness of Harcourt Fenton Mudd."
"Acknowledged." The large screen was filled with the image of Mudd. Below the image were a number of Starfleet Security codes and notations.
"The med techs reported that Mr. Mudd was in horrible shape, but they somehow managed to keep him alive, at least for a while. Because of Mudd's poor condition, he was put in stasis and placed on the first available ship to Starbase Forty-Nine. The doctors did all they could, but there were too many internal injuries as well as complications brought on by long-term exposure to a thin atmosphere and low temperatures.
"As soon as security heard about it, they had him placed in isolation. When his condition improved slightly, he was questioned by the first available security officer."
The admiral shifted a bit and eyed the lieutenant intently. "Why was security interested in this fellow?"
"It seems that recently, Mudd was working as an agent, or more precisely, a double agent, for Starfleet Intelligence. He had been having financial problems due to several lengthy legal entanglements. The Judge Advocate's Office offered to drop charges and to cover the fines and fees if Mudd agreed to gather information within Romulan territory. Of course, to get the Romulans to trust him, Mudd was given some less than vital information to pass along as bait. Actually, his reputation as being somewhat of a rogue and constantly in trouble with authorities lent credibility to his situation. Mudd could claim he wasn't able to do business as usual in Federation controlled space, but during his travels he picked up useful information from other traders and merchants."
Once again, the admiral shifted his position, obviously not pleased with what he was hearing. "Was this fellow Mudd successful?"
"Absolutely, sir. Much of what we've learned recently has been because of Mudd. Not so much top secret or military information, but the day-to-day things, like availability of goods, satisfaction with the leadership, lifestyles, general sentiments on a variety of subjects which is a great help. In fact, most of the details about the current political upheaval within the Empire came to us as a result of Mudd's work. But there is something even more important and that's why I wanted to talk to you, sir."
Before the admiral could react, the junior officer continued and increased the tempo of the presentation and the level of his voice. "Computer, James T. Kirk, Admiral, Starfleet, deceased. Display most recent likeness."
Again the same pleasant female voice responded. "Acknowledged." Mudd's image was replaced by that of Kirk's.
Turning to face the admiral, the handsome Greek officer continued. "How much do you know about Captain Kirk's career, specifically his last few days?"
The older officer was genuinely surprised by the question, but obliged by responding with a simplified answer. "Killed with all hands on board the U.S.S. Vikrant during an inspection tour near the Romulan Neutral Zone. But just about anybody in the Federation could have told you that!"
Manusos looked a bit sheepish but continued, "Yes, that's about it, except not all of the facts are verifiable or known. Kirk was on board the Vikrant just as you said. After discovery of the wreckage, bodies were recovered. Remember, at this time the Romulans were beginning their isolationist phase. The Empire was experiencing many internal problems, foremost of which was a marked increase in political and military assassinations. Not much was known about the specifics, but the Federation anticipated the Romulans might try to 'share' their trouble. Misery loves company and all that. Starfleet had countered by increasing border patrols and conducting readiness inspections, including those by the U.S.S. Vikrant."
The officer was now caught up in the story and tried to ignore the look of bewilderment on the admiral's face. "The U.S.S. Lyon officially transferred Admirals Rya, Kirk and party on Stardate 9808.4. The Lyon's captain had reported an increase in Romulan subspace communications and two days later he received garbled messages from the Vikrant. Fearing the ship had come under attack, the Lyon reversed course. When they reached the estimated position of Vikrant, a large field of wreckage and rubble was discovered. Computer analysis confirmed their fears; it had indeed been the Vikrant. Many bodies were recovered and properly identified but none above the rank of lieutenant."
Now Kensington's interest increased noticeably. "That's not generally known."
Smiling slyly, he knew he had the admiral's interest so the lieutenant continued. "And neither is anything else I'm about to tell you. But as far as I know, it's the truth. After Kirk's disappearance, the Federation and Starfleet mourned a great man; the Academy dedicated a new building in his name, the fleet commissioned a new ship with his name; cities named libraries, schools, streets and holidays for him. The list is endless. But essentially, the book was closed on Captain Kirk, maybe--no probably--prematurely."
Now the admiral was sitting up and studying the face of James Kirk on the main viewer.
The lieutenant continued, "Back to Harry Mudd. When he was debriefed, he was delirious most of the time. He kept repeating over and over again, 'He's alive, he's alive.' I'll say it before you do. Mudd was badly injured, but just before he died, the med techs stabilized him and he was able to give the following deposition. Computer, begin coded file 'Phoenix,' access number oh-five, alpha, oh-nine, Mudd."
"Acknowledged," the computer responded dutifully.
The admiral shifted his position slightly to face the viewer square on. A series of codes and titles flashed on the screen. Then suddenly the image of Mudd on a bio-bed appeared. He was propped up with several pillows and the readings on the monitors above the man's head were not very good.
The recorded conversation started mid-sentence by an unseen interviewer. He spoke quietly, calmly and deliberately. "--you were saying, you had to tell us something?"
Mudd struggled visibly. His eyelids fluttered a bit and in the background the life readings dipped a bit lower, but thrummed on. "Yes, yes; I owe it to him," the older man lost control and his voice trailed off. He shifted around a bit, trying to get comfortable, but comfort was not to be found. Then he tried to speak again. "Romulans have him, in stasis, in the Great Hall--"
"Have who?" asked the interviewer in a soothing voice.
"The Captain," replied Mudd. "They have him and the other officers--saw them. Romulans must have seen me, tried to kill me, almost did."
"Which officers? What captain, Mister Mudd?"
"Captain Kirk, Admiral Rya, Commander Ramirez, even more."
The interviewer pushed the questioning gently. "Captain Kirk? Do you mean James T. Kirk?"
Mudd looked confused and frustrated. "Captain Kirk, Enterprise--knew him from before. Long ago--good man; saved me--"
"You said others. Admiral Rya, Commander Ramirez. You saw them?" The interviewer was now pressing hard.
"Saw them all, heard names. Palace guards talking, bragging about the torture--saw them all in stasis, Imperial Palace."
The interviewer probed again. "But they are all dead, killed aboard the Vikrant years ago!"
Now Mudd became very agitated. His voice grew louder and the readings on the bio-bed began to dip further. "No! No! Not killed, captured. Put in stasis after questioning and torture, but still alive--saw positive readings on the stasis unit."
Three separate readings went below safe levels and the built-in warnings sounded. A med tech appeared and injected something into Mudd's upper arm with a hypo. For a moment Mudd seemed to get stronger and he smiled. "I made it--I told them, Jim-Boy, I told them--"
Suddenly the whole line of life readings picked up slightly then dropped to the bottom and remained there. Mudd slumped back into the bed. Another med tech appeared and tried to assist the first in reviving the old man, but the viewer faded out during the effort.
Visibly shaken the admiral stared at the other officer. "Lieutenant, do you know what this means? How reliable do you think Mudd's observations are?"
Manusos was about to answer the first question but shifted to the second abruptly in mid-thought. "Sir, he knew Kirk, just like he said. Look in that grey folder. It's a hard copy of all Enterprise log entries related to Mudd. He and Kirk go back a long way and although Kirk did bring Mudd up on charges more than once; he also saved Mudd's life several times. And, sir, Mudd was on his deathbed--hardly a place for a lie, much less a practical joke."
Shaking his head in disbelief, the admiral looked at the logs as the junior officer continued.
"Mudd did have a reputation for stretching the truth and being a bit theatrical. However, that was much earlier, when he was earning a living as a trader. After beginning work as an agent, his information was solid and reliable. Evidently he was trying hard to end his obligation with Intelligence. From what I've learned, he had to be 'encouraged' or reminded of that from time to time. Ironically, this trip was to be his last. That's according to my resources in Starfleet Intelligence. By the way, they are starting to make inquiries regarding all those who had contacted him."
Nodding with an obvious understanding of the situation, Kensington leaned closer to the lieutenant and spoke with an agitated voice. "Almost forgot about those people. What had you planned to do?"
Not knowing if his answer would meet with approval, he swallowed hard and continued. "When Mudd's ship was discovered damaged near Outpost Number Seven, it was routinely logged in and reported. All such logs are monitored by Intelligence to keep track of suspicious comings and goings. The Intelligence people got wind of it before I knew about it."
"What have they been told, exactly?" The admiral was probably just trying to get a true picture of the situation, but his attitude was slightly intimidating.
"The truth, sir, as far as it goes. They made arrangements for Mudd to be taken to Starbase Forty-Nine and sent one of their people to debrief him. However, Mudd's condition worsened before he arrived, so a station security officer did the debriefing. He told Intelligence that Mudd died at Starbase Forty-Nine from complications due to exposure and prolonged low oxygen levels."
"And that's all?"
"That's it, sir."
"Did they buy it?"
"So far. Their follow up inquiries are directed primarily at recovering his personal effects, ship's log, and anything else that might be of interest. They don't know about the debrief."
"What about this security officer? What's his name?"
"Lieutenant Sharpe, sir."
The admiral began to sort through the various files. "He's the one who did the debriefing, correct?"
"Right, sir. He was on duty when Mudd regained consciousness. One of the best you could ask for in a situation like this. Totally reliable."
Continuing to sort the files, the admiral continued. "What about the medical staff?"
"Quarantined, at least for the time being; the story at Starbase Forty-Nine is that Mudd brought something back from Romulan space, which is not entirely untrue, sir." The junior officer finished the statement with a guilty look.
Ignoring the lieutenant for the moment, the admiral began examining some of the assembled documents. Occasionally, he would nod at something or toss a less important file to one side. Without looking up, he shot a series of rapid shot questions at the other officer. "What's the condition of Mudd's ship?"
"Nearly a total wreck, Admiral. It's a wonder Mudd lived as long as he did."
"What about the ship's log?"
"Sharpe has it, sir. All it provides is verification of Mudd's trip, his run in with a Romulan patrol and the damages to his ship. Nothing else of importance, just a ship's manifest, fuel consumption rates, navigational notes and such."
"What type of cargo was he carrying?"
"All types, mostly Romulan Ale but all of it was lost when the cargo bay depressurized."
"Any personal effects, Lieutenant?"
"Again, almost everything was lost, sir. What's left has been placed in a special holding area under quarantine conditions. Nothing of value."
Now the admiral finally seemed pleased. "Good! Nicely done, Manusos." The older man was beginning to appreciate the capabilities of the young officer. Although he had been the head of Spec Ops for some time, his staff never ceased to amaze him.
"Most of it was Sharpe's work, sir. I told you he was good."
Now the admiral seemed to be totally caught up in the situation and energized by the intrigue. "Okay. Have Lieutenant Sharpe check all personal effects very carefully. If he finds nothing else, turn the ship and everything, including Mudd's body, over to Intelligence, before they get too inquisitive. When he's done there, Sharpe gets an immediate transfer here."
"What about the quarantine directive, Admiral?"
After a moment of thought, the admiral replied in a stern tone, "He wasn't exposed, is that understood? I want him here, even if we have to divert a class one starship, clear?"
"Definitely, sir, I'll arrange it just as soon as we finish--"
"Now, Lieutenant," The admiral's voice was firm with what sounded like a threat behind it. He hefted the largest of the folders and glared at the officer. "You take care of it now, while I take a look at this file." It was more of a demand than an order.
"Aye, sir!" The younger man jumped to his feet and hurried the short distance to the nearby comm station. There he began entering the required commands and codes.
The admiral watched until he saw the board light up with an open channel. Then he turned his attention back to the information before him. To begin with, he chose the black folder marked 'H.F. Mudd.' While reading, he was hardly encouraged. Everything written about the man showed he was unreliable, untrustworthy and without a single redeeming quality.
The next folder was blue and very thin. It came from Intelligence and contradicted everything he had just read previously. There were statements of praise from the Chief of Field Operations to the Director of Intelligence herself. The only blot on Mudd's record came in the form of occasional reminders to continue his work until his 'contract' was up.
At this point, the admiral rushed through the other folders, mostly pertaining to court proceedings against Mudd and other legal documents.
A white folder marked 'Current Romulan Situation' caught his attention. Inside was a five-page brief prepared by Intelligence and earmarked for distribution within Starfleet Command. Briefs like this were common enough. The admiral had read many of them during his career. They usually contained useful information and some were downright brilliant. This particular brief he had seen before, when it was first distributed, but now he looked at it with a new understanding and insight. He began rereading it, starting about halfway through the first page.
The report had been amended with the last item and went on to include other observations along with a thinly veiled war warning. It was then he realized that Manusos was standing quietly at his side. "All arranged?"
...and the Romulans are still experiencing a number of difficulties since the initiation of the Klingon/Federation peace accord. Specifically these are:
- Lack of a stable leadership:
- Praetors: A combination of questionable suicides, confirmed assassinations and forced retirements; a total of five times in the last three years.
- Senate: Proconsuls, same as above; twenty-seven times in the same time period.
- Military: Similar fates; undetermined number in the same time period; estimated at well over two hundred officers of all ranks.
- Lack of Empire expansion:
- Necessary for general health of economy.
- Needed for new sources of raw materials, access lost when
Klingon alliance fell apart
- Need access to new shipping lanes, also lost as above.
- Lost pride/trust of Empire by everyday citizens:
- No recent conquests for 'glory of the Empire'
- Betrayal, by failure of Klingon/Romulan alliance and new Klingon/Federation treaty
- Confidence lost by lack of ability to reduce the Federation's
sphere of influence and power; also lack of stable/reliable
leadership as described in section one.
- Failure of the attempted Romulan/Tholian alliance.
- Unconfirmed reports but indications of following:
- Food shortages
- Ship commanders going private
- Loss of life from riots
- Suspected beginnings of full scale civil war.
"Yes, sir. Sharpe is already taking care of Mudd's belongings. He will report to the U.S.S. Pompey at oh eight hundred hours for immediate transport to Starfleet Headquarters where he will report directly to you."
"He's been eligible for leave for some time, so he's officially on leave. Since his family lives on Terra, it will appear he's just anxious to get back by the fastest possible means."
"And the Pompey?"
"She's been scheduled for the yards, overdue in fact. I informed the Pompey's captain that a berth just became available and if he hurries, it's his. Also, the crew gets an extended leave to boot. They'll probably set new records on the trip."
The admiral smiled then asked the obvious, "What about the dock schedule?"
"Yardmaster confirms an empty berth being vacated by Enterprise '01-B ahead of schedule. The next ship was to be the Columbia, but Pompey will beat her due to the inside information. Admiral Scott will reschedule Columbia as a favor to us."
That last statement seemed to affect the admiral and he sat quietly for a moment before responding, considerably more pleasant. "Nicely done, when can we expect Sharpe?"
"Normally, I'd say no sooner than twenty-two hundred hours tomorrow, but Pompey may surprise us. Remember, every hour they cut off their travel time goes towards leave time."
"Good, that gives us a little time of our own." The admiral pointed his right index finger towards the main viewer. "What type of access is needed to see this Mudd data?"
"So far, sir, only I have access. Sharpe sent it to me, scrambled and coded. I doubt very seriously anybody else picked it up."
A very surprised admiral asked, "Why us? Does he know you?"
"Yes, sir. We were roommates at the Academy and have remained friends. He used his own initiative. Figured someone in Spec Ops would like to have a look at it and could probably do something 'creative' with the information."
Now the admiral was smiling broadly. "My reputation precedes me. Is that it?"
Manusos grinned. "Also, he doesn't like Intelligence; they rejected his application. His communication arrived just about two hours ago. Since then, I've assembled these materials and contacted you."
Shaking his head in disbelief, he looked at the lieutenant with admiration. "Some of these documents are from other agencies and divisions--"
Anticipating the question, the lieutenant offered an explanation. "Don't worry, sir, either I got them by routine inquiry or I used some of my connections."
"More old friends, Lieutenant?"
"No, sir; old access codes. Not traceable to us. I used a terminal in the Admiralties' Library. Not even the Intelligence folks will track that to us, at least not right away." He finished the statement with a nervous smile.
The admiral was duly impressed. "Not bad, I may be calling you 'admiral' before this is all over. Still, I'm going to have a rough time patching things up with Johnson at Intelligence. She may ask for my head on a platter when she figures out what we've done."
"What I've done, if it comes to that, Admiral."
The admiral smiled broadly and suppressed a laugh. "Don't worry, it won't come to that. I do need a big favor though. Umm, it's Nicholas, right?"
"Everyone calls me Nick, sir. Name it."
"Can you remain here for the next few days? I'm going to need some help preparing additional materials before I present this to Starfleet Command. My aide is already busy with the Betazed admission and other projects. Besides, you've already got a head start and seem to have a real handle on this."
"Well, I did have plans for this evening, but I can reschedule. I don't think anyone will miss me at Bachelor's Officer Quarters. I have a reputation for not being home every night."
"Hmmmm, I see." The admiral studied the officer with a knowing look. "All right, cancel your plans and make the necessary arrangements to stay here. Right now, see if you can get in touch with Admiral Scott again. I've got a few questions for him and I want to apologize for ruining his yard schedule."
"Yes, sir. It'll just take a few minutes."
Before he could move, the admiral added, "One more thing, see if you can determine the status of the following officers." He finished composing a list of names then gave them to the lieutenant. "Get duty stations and availability, but do not contact them. Not yet, anyway. Understand?"
"Yes, sir; right away."
Reassembling the folders into a single stack, the admiral studied each, one by one. Then a thought struck him. He punched the 'Clear' button for the main viewer. The U.F.P. banner then replaced the static. Drumming his fingers absently for a few moments, he entered his own access codes in the console and waited.
The U.F.P. banner was replaced by the image of a young Terran female, one of the many civilian workers at Starfleet. She responded in a soft, pleasant voice. "Yes, sir; how may I help you?"
"Can you give me the correct title and name of the current Klingon liaison officer assigned to Starfleet?" He had heard the name previously but wanted to be sure to get it right. The Klingon's were real sticklers for protocol.
"A moment, sir," replied the girl. "Yes, here it is. Admiral Karn. Full name, rank and title; Second Admiral of the Fleet, Alamard Karn, personal aide to the Lord Chancellor of all Klingons. Would you like a listing of his awards, service record or a personal biography?"
He smiled at the suggestion. "No, thank you. You've been most helpful."
The screen went blank again and he entered another series of codes and waited briefly, then, "Computer."
"Activated." This time it was an atypical male voice instead of the standard Starfleet computer voice.
"Secure channel, priority one clearance."
"Open a comm channel to the Klingon liaison office."
"Working. Channel open."
A typically ruddy Klingon face appeared. It was a young lieutenant, most probably the aide or adjutant.
With all of his unusual operations and jobs, the Federation admiral was only slightly familiar with proper Klingon protocol, but he tried anyway. "I would like to speak with the Admiral, if possible. Tell the Second Admiral of the Fleet, Alamard Karn, personal aide to the Lord Chancellor of all Klingons, that he would honor me, Chief of Special Operations, by agreeing to a short conversation at his convenience. Tell him I await his pleasure." With that said he concluded by bowing slightly and quickly.
The young Klingon looked impressed by the admiral's request and nodded in acknowledgement. "A moment, sir."
The screen blanked out for a minute; then the young Klingon officer reappeared. "Would oh nine hundred hours tomorrow be satisfactory, sir?"
"Yes, thank you. Most satisfactory, Lieutenant. Tell the Admiral he brings honor to the Empire and me by further extending the cooperation between our two governments."
The Klingon only half suppressed a grin. "My Lord looks forward to this meeting as well, Admiral. Until tomorrow; communication terminated."
The screen went blank once again. The admiral sat back in his chair and smiled to himself. Now the wheels were in motion. He couldn't wait for that meeting. He then looked over towards Manusos. The man was as busy as the proverbial bee. 'h
A very good officer,' he thought to himself.
Picking up the stack of folders again, the admiral pulled out the one marked 'U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 and 1701-A; A Brief Outline of Operations and History.'
He began reading at the point where James T. Kirk assumed command, then leaned back in his chair.h