Sensing his approach, Troi turned to the double doors in time to see Governor Solek open them. He appeared to be a rather distinguished looking older man, wearing a tailored dark green suit. Under his short, open jacket was a crew necked, pale green shirt, which clung to the governor's trim build. Troi could now see Solek as about one-point seven meters tall, and in rigid control of his movements.
Solek presented himself as a closed personality, or what he believed an authority figure should be. As he closed the door behind himself, the counselor noticed Solek never turned his back on the away team.
The governor shifted a translucent plastic clipboard to his left hand, and extended the right as a greeting to Picard. "Captain, I'm so glad you're here."
The Captain, however, was still seething over the loss of his security team. With his arms at his sides, Picard locked eye contact with Solek and stared phaser beams into the smaller man.
Picard opened with, "We've begun our investigation, Governor," then studied the man, clearly hoping to gauge the governor's reaction.
Solek withdrew his hand, and went silently to his desk. He dropped the clipboard on the desk, settled into his chair and steepled his fingers. Turning his attention to Troi, Solek asked, "Aren't you going to introduce your companions, Captain?"
Worf stepped forward to stand by the counselor, and announced, "Lieutenant Worf, Chief of Security." Worf glanced at Deanna as he snapped, "Counselor Troi." Introductions complete, he focused an impassive stare on the governor.
Troi shifted, holding her attention on the governor as well. She could tell he had been admiring her; but his blatantly lecherous intent has not seeped into his body language. As he once again looked her over, the counselor sensed his shock when he finally recognized her as a Betazoid. His fear grew so strong, Deanna could almost hear him call her a humanoid lie detector. Even so, his outward appearance revealed nothing.
Captain Picard marched past his officers and said, "It might interest you to know, we've apprehended a suspect in the shootings."
In the counselor's opinion, Picard's statement nearly sent Solek through the roof; but his eerie mask of calm held up. Troi could feel the panic well up in him, as Solek pulled his hands off the desktop. As his hands went out of sight, Worf edged a hand toward his phaser, ready for anything. Focusing on the governor had become hard work; so strong was the rage within the security officer, it interfered with the impression she got of Solek.
Outwardly, Solek wasn't at all concerned, merely curious. "You have?"
Picard confirmed, "The suspect attacked three of my officers, but was subdued and taken to my ship." Troi knew Picard's carefully neutral terms were meant to coax information from Solek, but the governor wasn't being baited. He sat quietly, and listened as Picard added, "The sniper is in my brig, undergoing examination right now."
Solek allowed a few seconds to pass in silence before inquiring, "What have you learned thus far in your investigation, Captain?"
Captain Picard's anger moved him to admit, "Two of my crew were attacked and killed a short time ago, by yet another gunman. One of the security team lived long enough to tell us it was not Edwin Matthews who attacked her."
Troi sensed the governor's fear rise into near panic, yet he still showed no sign of it outwardly. She supposed it was possible he was about to experience a stroke; but he held back the anxiety, nonetheless. Time perhaps, to reveal Solek's emotional state to the others.
"Governor, what frightens you so?" was all Troi asked, but she knew she had startled her shipmates.
Solek made total eye contact with her, and unsettled Troi with his cold, hollow stare. Once Deanna got a grip on her own emotional response, she was shocked to discover the governor's sense of fear was completely gone. Ice cold, Solek inquired, "What makes you ask that of me, Counselor?"
Troi's jaw dropped, but she could not find an answer to the governor's question. His smile sent a shiver through her; as though he'd set down a winning poker hand, when she'd been sure he was bluffing---had he been playing her? Troi didn't know what to think, and gradually concluded that was Solek's intent all along.
Her mind was a whirlwind of confused, emotional impressions. Troi could no longer determine what empathic contacts she had with whom, and it was beginning to make her a bit dizzy. She heard the Captain ask, "Counselor, are you all right?" and made a point of focusing on him, and him alone.
"I'm fine, Captain," Deanna heard herself say, as the tornado began to dissipate.
Solek grabbed Picard's attention again by asking all too calmly, "If not Matthews, then who? Someone perhaps, in his employ?"
Troi sensed Picard was becoming mired in confusion, uncertain of what his next question should be. Only Worf, who held fast to his anger, seemed sure of his way. "To what end?" was Worf's only question.
"I have no more idea than you, Lieutenant," Solek responded casually. "I can tell you Matthews came to me a few days before the first incident, all but certain this colony would have to be abandoned. Why, he wouldn't say until he could prove his point. Now he's gone missing."
Troi settled on a decidedly human word, to describe her assessment of Solek's statement; she was flabbergasted. "He's telling the truth, Captain."
The governor was quick to add, "You seem surprised, Counselor." His attention shifted to Picard as he told them, "Witnesses insist the first assault was carried out by Matthews, but these attacks haven't been the only troubles we've had of late, Captain. For weeks my constables have been answering calls from citizens, reporting someone was lurking outside their homes after nightfall.
Then came the sabotage incidents at the processing plant. Through most of this, Matthews was nowhere to be found. When he was finally spotted a few days ago, he opened fire on the constables who had found him. That's when we discovered what I've assumed were Mister Matthews' first victims," Solek concluded.
"Circumstantial," Worf uttered harshly.
"The constables who identified Matthews have also gone missing," Solek countered, but left the accusation hanging in midair.
"Circumstantial, but damning," Picard conceded.
"However," Solek calmly posed, "the best evidence any investigation has accumulated to date, would seem to be in your brig, Captain. Perhaps we should interrogate your prisoner?"
Captain Matthews had settled comfortably into the Enterprise command chair. On her arrival, Angela had found the chair empty; Ensign Ro, of all people, had been holding the Conn from the helm. Angela swallowed her shock, and focused on the little computer notepad her grandfather had left for her. She hadn't given a thought to finding the big chair empty, almost waiting for her; but after a few frustrating moments effort with the padd, Angela turned her gaze to the main viewer.
Matthews studied the back of Ro's head, as she thought about the ensign. The whole fleet knew about Ro Laren and her...mistake. It was quite a surprise to find her back in uniform, much less aboard Enterprise. Angela hoped she had concealed her astonishment at seeing Ro---and on the bridge, no less. Ro was once again a Starfleet officer, but Matthews hadn't decided if that honor was deserved or not. Of course she would afford the...ensign, every courtesy...at least until she made up her mind.
There was but one factor of Angela's decision making process which favored Ensign Ro; the captain of the Enterprise. Regardless of how or why he had been saddled with this, Bajoran, Picard had not personally thrown her overboard---at least not yet. That in itself Angela felt, was reason enough to give Ro the benefit of her doubts.
Matthews' gaze ambled about the bridge. It was a somewhat different layout than her own, as the new ship's command center had been upgraded a bit. Angela had also been allowed considerable input regarding the design of Tirpitz; and old practice Matthews was firmly convinced should make a comeback.
There was no better way for a captain to learn his or her ship than from the keel up. As a result of the approach, Captain Matthews knew she could find her way around her vessel blindfolded and drunk. She knew every smell, every sound---in essence, the feel of the ship. To Angela, Tirpitz was an old friend or better still, a guardian angel.
Even so, there weren't all that many differences. All the command function terminals were in roughly the same places; Helm and Ops faced the viewer, Engineering and Science stations were behind the center seat, facing aft. Tactical was still located on a balcony above her position. The big difference was a chair for the tactical officer. After spending a lazy moment mulling it over, Angela concluded there was but one major difference between her bridge and Picard's. On the Tirpitz, the captain's chair sat alone.
Her first officer's combat post was center seat of the battle bridge, in command of a complete backup crew. The ship's counselor would also operate the communications console, on the balcony next to tactical. The chief medical officer would have a main viewer relay setup in her office. It would allow Sterling to monitor events directly while staying close to her work. It was a layout that reflected Matthews' basic tenant of everything, or person, in the proper place.
Angela also believed the configuration would allow her a more active approach to command. She had always been the hands-on type, and it was her hope that she would continue to do so. The last thing she wanted her bridge to be was a prison to its captain---but then, if her first officer wanted to be the jailer Riker liked to be, Angela had a way around that as well. A direct link with the main viewer also went to a compartment adjacent to the main transporter room. That cabin, during duty hours, would be home to a permanent away team. If Angela couldn't get off the bridge, no one would.
Matthews had pushed the concept by a board of admirals, winning its approval with a few simple arguments. She had reasoned that a permanent team of specialists was better suited to the task they were to be given. Also, Matthews believed stripping the bridge of key personnel during a crisis situation could have a disastrous effect.
Of course, Matthews preferred to think the board had accepted her plan for a different, more personal reason. All had been ship captains, who had felt smothered by clucking hen first officers. None of the admirals would ever admit such a thing but to Angela, the records of their voyages suggested otherwise.
Captain Matthews, having been raised in an open, outdoor environment, chafed at most restrictions on her movement. During her second tour aboard Enterprise she had served as pilot, from time to time. From the helm, Angela had witnessed a number of discussions between the ship's captain and first officer. As most of the deliberations had gone Riker's way, Angela resolved to prevent such debates with her Number One.
Which was one reason she had decided to offer the post to Mister Data. While he would be duty bound to point out threats to his captain's safety, Angela felt she could talk him out of nagging her. She had considered ordering him to keep his mouth shut; but knew Data was not only too well programmed, but too damned curious to keep a cork in for long.
All of which presupposed he would take the job. Data's positronic brain could sort out his priorities in a microsecond, yet he had put her off. Were he human, she would've thought the Enterprise had infected him. Charming and eloquent he may be, but Data was still an emotionless machine---or was he? Sometimes, it was very easy to forget he was an artificial lifeform; sort of a cross between Frankenstein's monster and Pinocchio.
Angela wondered if Data had read Mary Shelley's novel. Of course twenty-fourth century attitudes and morals nearly assured Data's acceptance, but she found the concept fascinating, regardless. Angela thought over how Kate responded when asked about the second officer. Data was polite, courteous, attentive and generous almost to a fault; the kind of guy a girl dreams of. Angela quickly found herself dwelling in a place Shelley had dared not linger.
All the while, Matthews had been absently tapping the padd's touch screen controls. Just as her little fantasy was getting interesting, the padd emitted a brief tone, and hummed into operation. Angela raised an eyebrow as she examined the little minicomp, then began tapping on the touchpad with a purpose. She got past the main menu, and found one brief notation. It read:
Angel, if you are reading this I'm in deep trouble. Expansion blasting revealed a cave to us. When I discovered the artifacts, I sent for a Federation archaeological team. I think we're in over our heads here. Sorry I dragged you into this, but you're the only one I can trust now. Prime Direc
Angela read it over, and over again. This did not bode well for the colony, or for the major. In all the time she had spent with him, Grandfather had never been willing to admit needing help. To send for her, as the message suggested, posed the possibility of serious consequences for all involved.
He may not have finished the word, but anyone could see the major was referring to the Prime Directive. How the non-interference edict fit into all this, Angela could only guess. Angela discovered herself feeling something for her grandfather she had never experienced before; not just worry, but fear.
Angela's mind raced through a number of scenarios, ranging from wild to downright outrageous. None of them seemed to fit the facts as she understood them. As interpretation played a large part of analysis, she had to get to the bottom of these recent events. Forcing her runaway train of thought onto a sidetrack, Matthews went back to the beginning. She started with the note she had just discovered, and went through it step by step.
First, a newly discovered cavern. Knowing the major enjoyed caving, he would make a point of being the first down the well. He came back up, having made an alarming discovery. The major called in a team of archaeologists, who were perhaps the seven murdered people...but why?
Matthews extended a finger to the comm touchpad, on the command chair's armrest. "Bridge to Doctor Crusher."
A few seconds later the response was, "Crusher here, Commodore. I'm sorry to say I can't do the autopsies you requested. The bodies were cremated shortly after they were discovered."
Matthews was miffed. "That's not standard procedure."
Crusher was quick to offer, "I know that and you know that, but apparently no one told Governor Solek. He ordered it done."
"I see. Very well Doctor, bridge out." Matthews closed the channel, and clenched a tight fist. After a few seconds of watching her knuckles whiten, Angela let go the breath she held and opened her hand. As relaxation techniques go it wasn't much, but Doctor Sterling had recommended forgoing her daily workout.
Uncivilized, perhaps, and quite unladylike, yet Angela couldn't think of a better way to vent frustration than pummeling a holodeck combatant. To top it off, today she would have fought one of her favorites: a Tae-kwon-do warrior. It would be weeks before his turn came up again, but better to give the little Korean a reprieve than an unfair advantage. Angela had a hard enough time with the simulation as it was, and preferred it that way.
Angela was considering opening a martial arts school, not far from her as yet nonexistent Sendatius Minor retirement cottage, when the Captain paged her. "Picard to bridge; Commodore, would you mind joining us in the brig?"
Angela thought I have an alibi and almost let the remark slip, but responded, "On my way, Captain." Once again, as she left the completely comfortable command chair, her attention turned to Ro. A split second of doubt crossed Matthews' mind, but she gave the order anyway. "Ensign Ro, you have the Conn." When Matthews departed, Ro would be senior officer present, but it didn't make the words any easier to say.
Angela shook off her misgivings and went to the turbolift.
On her way down to the security level, Angela thought over Picard's request. He hadn't used her name and to her, that meant only one thing; Solek was aboard. She wondered if the governor was a guest receiving the grand tour, or perhaps more appropriately, a prisoner in the brig. The Captain hadn't specified, but Angela could hope.
In the end, Captain Matthews' training and experience forced her to give the governor the benefit of her doubts. Guessing they were looking over the remains of the sniper, Matthews strode purposefully into the maximum-security detention area.
There she found Solek, on the wrong side of the cell's containment field. The governor stood on Captain Picard's left, and was being menaced from behind by the burly, surly Lieutenant Worf. So much for wishful thinking, Matthews concluded.
As she walked toward the Captain and the others, Angela noticed the ensign at the duty desk. He was a young, tall, muscular redhead, and a little intimidated by the presence of both his section leader and the Captain. Matthews' arrival only added more weight to his load; she could tell by the way the boy tried to look busier than he should be. Angela remembered being that green once, a thousand years ago---but quickly snapped back to the job at hand.
Stopping at cell one, Angela saw Lieutenant Barclay in the cage with the sniper. Her attacker didn't seem dangerous at all, now that it lay in over a dozen different pieces. Scattered about the cell were android parts, a pair of tricorders, several padds, various tools and a lieutenant commander.
Angela studied Data's face as he sat cross-legged on the deck, examining a piece of the sniper 'droid. She swore he looked like a little boy on Christmas morning, puzzling out his new hover-train set. The sight of him test fitting parts was almost enough to break her poker face.
With some effort, she turned away from the littered detention cell and focused on the Captain. "Reporting as requested, Captain," Matthews announced crisply.
Picard stopped, turned his attention on Matthews and examined her tight facial muscles. She could see it in the Captain's eyes; he didn't need Counselor Troi to tell him what she felt, as she glared at Solek. Picard knew all that kept her from ripping Solek apart was her uniform. Matthews saw something else through the windows to Picard's soul; but couldn't begin to guess why there might be a touch of shame in his eyes. As this wasn't the moment to ask, once again Angela filed her questions away for later clarification.
The Captain allowed his voice to soften a touch too far as he told Solek, "Governor, this is the mission specialist who tracked down this device."
Solek turned his attention to Matthews, sized her up, then calmly confessed, "Yes, I know."
Matthews eyes went wide as Solek thrust a hard elbow back into Worf's ribs. The big Klingon went down like a bag of wet cement and hit the deck with a thud. Matthews threw a fist into the governor's solar plexus, but had no effect. He shoved Picard aside, took hold of Matthews by the throat and began squeezing the life from her.
The ensign at the duty station vaulted over the desk and charged Solek. The governor effortlessly knocked the young man aside as though swatting a fly, while tightening his grip on Matthews. The ensign fell in a crumpled heap, motionless but breathing. Solek lifted Matthews off her feet, with his single-handed grip on her throat.
Worf wheezed as he staggered to his feet. The security chief fell against the containment field controls, and released the invisible cell door. With the field open, Data bounded from the cell and locked a hand on Solek's forearm. Solek dropped the coughing, gagging Matthews long enough to shrug off Data's grip, then backhanded the second officer. Data slammed against the back wall of the cell, unprepared for the force of Solek's blow.
Recognizing him as the main threat, the governor stomped toward the cell, determined to finish off Mister Data. Worf lurched forward, clasped his hands together and dropped one sledgehammer blow into Solek's back. Solek stumbled a step, but stopped in the cell doorway and shoved Worf back.
As he topped backwards to the deck, the security chief flung a hand out at the containment field controls. The computer dutifully complied and in the process, shorted out the governor in a blinding flash. The image of Solek vanished; and revealed the smooth, dull gray metal body of another combat android. The force field went off line, and let the drone drop to the deck.
An unsettled Barclay slapped his comm badge and stammered, "Medical---I uh, we need help here, here in the brig! The maximum security brig!" He was sitting on the floor, plastered into a corner of the cell. Data was already running a tricorder over what they had thought to be the governor. Staring at the drone, Barclay asked, "Is it dead, Commander?"
"So it would seem," Data said nonchalantly, then turned a mask of concern on the lieutenant. "Are you injured, Mister Barclay?"
Quaking in his boots, Reg Barclay pulled himself to his feet, recovered his tricorder from the deck and joined Data. "Scared witless, but I'm not hurt," Reg admitted.
"Good," was all Data offered, then turned back to the second drone.
The brig's entrance opened and in charged Geordie, leading a medical team. As the chief engineer knelt by Matthews, he chastised himself with, "I only left for a moment---what the hell happened?"
LaForge was shoved out of the way by Doctor Crusher, who began a fast once over with a medical tricorder. Mr. LaForge stood up, and found Captain Picard slowly getting to his feet. The Captain shrugged off a medic, and walked toward his engineer in careful, measured steps.
Picard tugged at his shirt waistband as he explained, "Apparently, we didn't bring Governor Solek aboard after all." Turning his dull stare on the newly deactivated drone, the Captain inquired, "Mister Data?"
"I am undamaged, Captain," Data reported, "however this unit no longer functions."
"Good," Angela croaked, as she sat up.
"Unfortunately," Data continued, "deactivating this android could make certain determinations impossible."
Picard, for one, was quite happy it was dead. What it could have done to the ship was unthinkable, but Data was right. They had to learn about these things. "Such as?"
Data quickly responded, "We may never learn how this device was able to convince Counselor Troi it was a sentient life form. Nor was I able to visually detect it as a mechanism."
Picard was caught off guard. "Troi sensed an emotional presence from this thing, and a human one at that," he uttered, at once impressed and horrified by the drone's flawless camouflage.
"This would appear to be an infiltration unit," Data hypothesized, "capable of generating a sophisticated holographic image around itself, similar to a cloaking field. A secure assumption would be it replaces its target, for the purpose of gathering information."
Matthews got to her feet, stumbled forward and in a raspy voice, made her accusation. "That thing tried to kill me, Data."
Cool as ever, Data amended his report accordingly. "A virtually undetectable impostor would be capable of carrying out a number of tasks, including assassination."
Matthews shook her head. "Thanks Data, we noticed."
"It seemed to recognize you, Commodore," Data offered, "as the person responsible for the deactivation of the sniper. Acting on a preprogrammed command it attempted to, return the favor."
"Yeah, but Worf finished it off," Matthews protested.
Worf got to his feet, and shuffled up to the group. He watched Ensign Booker being carried off to sickbay, then turned to Picard and the others. "It would have killed us all," the Klingon announced with certainty, "but how did this drone know the commodore and I killed its comrade?"
"Unknown," Data answered, "but a better question would be, where is the real Governor Solek?"
Picard straightened up, tapped his pin and commanded, "Bridge, hail the colony. I wish to speak with the governor personally, if he's available." Before the officer at tactical/communications could say anything, Picard snapped, "Just do it, Ensign."
A moment later a voice from Picard's communicator announced, "Captain, I'm so glad you've finally arrived. When can you beam down? We need to talk."
The Captain flashed a look of mild disbelief around the room before responding, "I'll beam directly to your office, Governor. Picard out." He glanced at Data, and began handing out assignments. "Mister Data, relieve Ensign Ro at the Conn. Mister LaForge, can you spot another of these, infiltrators?"
Geordie seemed a bit uncertain, as he thought it over. "I believe so, Captain."
That was good enough for the captain. "Then join the away team. Matthews, Worf, we're beaming down again."
Matthews swallowed hard, trying to soothe her dry, buckled vocal chords. "Captain, wait," she gasped, and cast about for the padd. Finding it near the security desk, she scooped it up and offered it to Picard.
The Captain read the note, then handed the padd back to Matthews. "This would seem to clear your grandfather, wouldn't it?"
Angela left the padd on the security desk, then shrugged. "In light of recent events," she admitted, raising a hand to her throat, "the governor's accusation may be misdirected, yet accurate."
Picard smoothed out his uniform shirt again. "Quite," was all he offered, before he led the parade from the brig.
LaForge hung back for a moment and passed a tool to Barclay. "Here's the ionic flow regulator you wanted, Reg."
Lieutenant Barclay was standing by the cell entrance, staring at the second droid. "Thank you, Commander." Looking up at his section leader, Reg added, "I wish I hadn't been so wrapped up in this thing."
LaForge told him, "One of us had to get the regulator, Reg. The Captain doesn't want the drone---drones, to leave the brig."
As he waved the regulator, Barclay apologized, "If I'd gone for this, you would've recognized that thing before it did any damage."
Geordie's answer was thoughtful. "No Reg, this was just one of those fluke things. I'd better catch up with the Captain, but we'll talk later."
Reg Barclay nodded, and sat down on the cell's bunk. He watched Lieutenant Commander LaForge leave, and stared at the brig entrance for a long moment. Mister LaForge had been kind, but even if the Captain said not to---Reg wasn't going to let himself off the hook so easily.
He should've got up, hustled over to the cybernetics lab and got the damned regulator himself. Reg was so intrigued by the droid's primary information subprocessors, he simply voiced his need for a specific tool. He said nothing when his superior volunteered, then left to get it.
Reg stared at the second droid, then at the pieces of the one he had already disassembled. The very least he could do for causing all this trouble, was sort out the innards of these monsters. Unfortunately, Reg didn't feel even remotely close to accomplishing the task.
Barclay turned his attention to the security area, and was a bit unsettled to discover he was alone. The medical team left with the ensign who had been on duty, and it seemed everyone else had beamed down to the colony. Barclay was alone in the open cell with the deactivated androids.
"Sure," he muttered, "now they're dead so of course there's no one around." Barclay set the regulator aside, and rubbed his hands together. To the second drone, he said, "Well, let's see if you two have interchangeable parts."
As good a place to start as any. Barclay was a diagnostic engineer; learning what makes a machine work, not work and why was his specialty. Reg decided, for the moment, his time was better spent working. He could always kick himself later.
As he lifted the whole android up and dragged it clear of the cell, Reg grunted, "You're a worse dancer than I am." The droid's gray, metallic skin yielded like flesh under Barclay's grasp, giving it the feel of a man wearing a thin, metal foil suit. It was about one-point seven meters tall, but considerably heavier, Barclay thought, than a humanoid it's size should be. Barclay dragged the faceless android just clear of the cell and dropped it.
Reg stood over the droid, puffing. He preferred to take it to the cybernetics lab, but had already been told no. Barclay couldn't believe either android constituted a threat to the ship, dead as they were. Then again orders were orders and he did have everything he needed, more or less.
Reg had not yet figured out what made these things run, and it was beginning to work on his nerves. As he worked on the sniper, Lieutenant Barclay had wished for another example or two for comparison purposes. After seeing the infiltrator in action, he was sorry he'd asked.
Barclay felt he was taking far too long to sort out their nuts and bolts, but decided against blaming himself. These were two of the most sophisticated units he'd ever seen, and were his puzzle to solve. According to Mr. Data there was nothing like them on record, and Data would be the one who would know.
Barclay cleared his mind of everything but the job he'd been given. After all these years he still wasn't much of a "people" person, but the lieutenant knew his trade. He went back to the cell, and retrieved the regulator Mister LaForge was good enough to bring him. Reg busied himself with the chore of interconnecting the regulator with one of the tricorders in the cell. He hoped to use the hybrid tool to trace the droid's power system back to its source.
Glancing at the immobilized machine, Barclay began wondering about those who had designed it when an ugly thought crossed his mind. These were combat androids, and could have been boobytrapped. While he had not come across any such problems with the first unit, Reg wondered why the thought hadn't occurred to him sooner.
Aloud and to himself, Barclay said wistfully, "I suppose I can't think of everything."