The Witch Hunt
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Table Of Contents

Mission 11: THE WITCH HUNT

The contents of the Ship Logs are considered to be a "compilation" under the provisions of Title 17, U.S. Code (known as the Copyright Act): that is, "A work formed by the collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data that is selected, coordinated or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship." As such, it is the property of the shipís Captain; however, automatic transfer of ownership to STARSHIPS OF THE THIRD FLEET is effected upon publication of this mission by the shipís Captain ipso facto.

As outlined in Circular 1 (Copyrighted Basics, Library of Congress, Washington DC, USGPO 1989-262-309/12), "copyrighted in each separate contribution to a periodical or other collective work is distinct from the copyright in the collective work as a whole and vests initially with the author of the contribution."

This mission may not be reproduced in any form without the express, written authorization of STARSHIPS OF THE THIRD FLEET.

Prologue

Docking Bay, Starbase Flying Cloud ĺ Berth 43

USS PHOENIX eased into her berth inside the cavernous hangar bay of Starbase Flying Cloud with the ignominious assistance of two tugs. Black scorch marks ran like jagged knife wounds along her once pristine hull, testimony to the accuracy of the Orion gunners

"Moored, Starbase Flying Cloud. The Officer-of-the-Deck is shifting his watch from the Main Bridge to the Quarterdeck. Set the in-port watchĺ on deck, Section 3. All personnel prepare to shift to external power in 15 minutes."

CDR Stryker sighed heavily. This was the second time in his career he had brought a broken ship and exhausted crew into port. I hope the nightmares donít last as long this time, he thought. Wearily, he pushed himself out of the Command Chair and limped toward the turbolift doors. As they opened, he turned.

"Bravo Zulu to each of you." They were too tired to respond.

"Without your professionalism and dedication, we would still be out there. It is an honor to serve with you."

He grimaced. "I will inform you as soon as I know when the service will be held." Many of the Bridge crew dropped their eyes.

"Yes," the First Officer said quietly. "I will miss her as well." He stepped into the turbolift and the doors closed behind him.

Main Sickbay, USS PHOENIX

Several decks beneath the Bridge, the new Chief Medical Officer, CDR Kora Natavera, checked the seals on another cryogenic unit. They were stacked one on top of another in Cryogenic Storage. She looked at the nametag: LT Sandra Marie Olsen. Kora shook her head. She had seen death before, many times, but that didnít make it any easier to accept that, not so very long ago, there was a living, breathing person who answered to that name. Who will mourn you, Lieutenant Sandra Marie Olsen? Who will go home with nothing of you but a folded flag and memories?

Behind her, TíAmi Renner cleared her throat. "Does it ever get any easier?" she asked.

"No."

"I was afraid of that." TíAmiís voice had a catch in it. She checked the seals on Captain Steeleís chamber. Things wonít ever be the same again, will they? Renner asked. The cold titanium casing didnít answer.

"Maíam?"

Natavera turned. In the doorway stood Soen MoníTeith, her face an emotionless mask. Behind her stood a group of Security officers.

"Weíre here to escort our fallen to the starbase medical facilities."

"Of course," Natavera moved out of the way, her hands clasped behind her back.

Each Security officer had an antigrav unit. They carefully placed a cryogenic unit on each one, lining them up in the corridor outside Sickbay. Silently, they made their way through the ship and into Starbase Flying Cloud, being careful to remain out of step with each otherĺ a ritual for the dead that had its beginning hundreds of years ago on Earth. The people they met in the corridors scrunched against the bulkheads and stared at the long procession. Every step MoníTeith took alongside Captain Steeleís encased body seemed to be more and more difficult. At long last they were at the Medical Center door.

Starbase medical personnel took over from the PHOENIX officers. MoníTeith watched the proceedings, alert for any sign of disrespect from these unknown people. There were none. Soon all the chambers had been moved into storage. MoníTeith and her Security officers stood outside the Medical Center door. For the first time in her life, Soen was at a loss as to what she should do next. She thought for a moment, then turned.

"Detail, dismissed!"

Soen stood alone and stared at the closed doors to the Medical Center for several minutes. Finally she turned and made her way back to the ship.

Quarterdeck, USS PHOENIX

CDR Wolphbayne Stryker, Acting Captain, and LCDR Alice McConnell, Acting First Officer, stood shoulder to shoulder. Behind them, the Officer-of-the-Deck was busy being as unobtrusive as possible. In front of them was Fleet Admiral Daniel Evans. MoníTeith and her Security detail had just left the ship. Admiral Evans stared at the now empty gangway.

"All of that for a spice!" He shook his head. "For a ridiculous condiment! It was a price far too high to pay." His shoulders drooped and he turned to face the two officers.

"Admiral, Iĺ " Wolf began, but Evans interrupted him.

"I know, Wolf. I know. Thank you for bringing her home." He closed his eyes for a moment, and then took a deep breath. "Commander, you will remain as Acting C.O. with Lieutenant Commander McConnell as your First Officer for the time being."

"Any word on Captain Steeleísĺ " LCDR McConnel stumbled awkwardly over the word. "ĺ replacement?"

"No," Admiral Evans answered. "No word from Starfleet Command yet. Thereíll be a Board of Inquiry, of course, but your primary job is to put the PHOENIX back together. Your needs, and the needs of the PHOENIX, have top priority. If you have any problems with anybody, let me know immediately."

Stryker nodded. "Admiral? About the burial service. With your permission, Iíd like to conduct it day after tomorrow. My Engineering Officer has assured me that we will have our impulse engines on line by then."

Evans gave Stryker a wan smile. "Yes, I expected youíd want to handle that. Permission granted. Almost all the next of kin have arrived. I have already given permission for anyone on the Starbase who wishes to attend to do so. I, of course, will be there for my Talon." He glanced in the direction where the Security detail had taken her, his eyes full of pain. With a shiver, Admiral Evans straightened his back and squared his shoulders. He offered his hand first to Stryker, then to McConnell. "I still have a Fleet to run, Commander," he said.

Stryker looked at him.

"Iíll mourn my lossóour lossesóat the appropriate time. If you will excuse me?"

"Certainly, Admiral."

Main Lounge, Starbase Flying Cloud

Half of the patrons in the lounge were PHOENIX officers. CDR Stryker sat at a table with COL Horn, nursing a drink and staring out of the window at Enya. It looked a lot like Earth. "Big Blue Marble," Stryker whispered, which shook Horn out of his reverie.

"What?"

Stryker pointed out the window with his glass at the planet. "Big Blue Marble. That was what Earth was called in the late 20th Century, when humans finally made it into space and looked back on their home world. The planet looked like a big blue marble."

Horn grunted and returned to his funk, shaking his head. Where does he come up with all this stuff?

At the next table, Alice McConnell sat with Kate Travis and Tasi Maavasa. Alice was swirling the golden liquid in her glass around and around, staring at it. She had asked for Tanstaafl brandy, Captain Steeleís favorite drink, but now it seemed almost disrespectful to drink it. She looked at Kate Travis.

"You look like shit!"

Kate blinked, her blood-shot eyes full of misery. "I havenít been sleeping much at all the last few days. I canít seem to get it out of my head. It keeps repeating itself, over and over again."

"The Captainís death?" Alice knew the answer before she asked the question.

Kate nodded. "I feel so guilty."

"Guilty? Why guilty?"

"I should have done something." Kate lifted her glass and took a huge swallow.

Alice put her hand on Kateís and squeezed it. "If I remember your report, they had just beaten the snot out of you and you were busy bleeding all over the floor. What do you think you should have done?"

Kate emptied her glass and held it up for a refill, shaking the ice to get the attention of a server. "Itís my fault sheís dead, you know."

They both knew who "she" was. Kate let out an exasperated curse word. "It was not your fault, Kate. There was nothing you could have done. Nothing."

"I should have died, not her. Why didnít they kill me instead?" Kate took the full glass and downed half of it at one time. "Bring me another one."

"Thatís pretty strong stuff, maíam," the server said. "Are you sure? The Admiral doesnít take kindly to his officers getting drunk in public."

Travis looked up at the young man. "Go to hell. And on your way, bring me another drink." She slammed the glass on the table. An ice cube escaped and went slithering across the smooth top. The server shrugged, bent down to pick the ice cube off the floor, and retreated back to the bar.

"Kate!"

Kate Travis looked at Alice, tears running down her flushed cheeks. "Iím going to get knee-walking, commode-hugging drunk, Alice. Iím going to get drunk and crawl into my bed and pray for sleep. And when I wake up, Iím going to find someway to make up for what I did, what I didnít doósomeway to redeem myself in her eyes. And in mine."

The Acting First Officer of USS PHOENIX decided sheíd better act like a First Officer. She stood up. "Come on, Kate. Letís go back to the ship."

"Iím not drunk enough yet."

"Please, Kate? I donít want to make that an order."

Kate Travis wiped the tears from her eyes, finished her drink, and stood up shakily. "Oh, Alice!" she sobbed, her voice full of agony. "I just want it all to go away. Make it go away." She leaned on Alice and the two made their unsteady way out of the lounge.

Behind them, Tasi Maavasa reached out and captured Kateís full glass in one hand. He began to drink from each hand.

Conference Room, USS PHOENIX

Stryker felt uneasy sitting in the Captainís chair. He squirmed, then decided that was not the impression he wanted to convey to the group of department heads that sat along each side of the conference table. LCDR McConnell sat on his right, a bleary-eyed Kate Travis on his left.

"Many of you have never dealt with a Board of Inquiry before. I have." Several of the officers leaned forward to hear better.

."A Board of Inquiry is the civilian equivalent of a Grand Jury. It is convened to investigate the circumstances of accidents and incidents in order to determine whether or not disciplinary action is appropriate.

"It will be headed by a senior member of the Office of the Inspector General, and is always composed of an odd number of officers. At least one of the officers must be in the operational chain of command. The Senior Member has positional authority over all other members of the Board, regardless of their rank."

"So, they ask questions. What then?" Alice asked.

Stryker continued, "The Board can subpoena any records, any Federation citizen, any member of Starfleet or its components, and, through diplomatic contacts, may request the presence or deposition of a non-Federation citizen. Should classified material be required by the Board, it can convene sub rosa."

"Following deliberations, the Board may find that no culpability exists, or it may refer individuals to a General Courts-martial, a Summary Courts-martial, or a Special Courts-martial, depending upon the findings of the Board. In less severe cases, administrative actions may be taken, such as a Letter of Reprimand, a Letter of Admonishment, or loss of seniority."

"It is, then, as you humans say, a "witch hunt," from half-way down the table, the deep voice of the Chief Engineer, LCDR QaS rumbled.

Stryker shook his head. "No, it is a fact-finding body, although it depends upon the Senior Member. A Board of Inquiry usually takes on the personality of the Senior Member. If he or she wants it to become a witch-hunt, it will. I donít expect that in this case. Just tell the truth about what happened. None of us have done anything to be ashamed of. According to Admiral Evans, the Board will convene at 1000 tomorrow. I suggest we all get a good nightís sleep. The next few days will be intense, I assure you."

Stryker looked around. "Any questions?" There were none. "Then letís return to putting the PHONIX back together. By the way, dress uniforms will be appropriate." He stood up. When the conference room was empty, he sat back down and stared at his folded hands. The term "witch hunt" kept running through his mind.

Office of the Inspector General, Third Fleet Detachment, Starbase Flying Cloud

Chief Inspector Cluseau sat in his office and finished reading the last of the After Action Reports from the PHOENIX. He sat back in his chair and ran his fingers through his thinning hair, frowning. There is no reason to have a Board of Inquiry for what happened to that ship. Except that regulations require it. The crew has been through enough. We should just leave them alone to heal.

He swiveled in his chair to stare at the holograms on the bulkhead. After almost 30 years of service, Captain Maurice Cluseau knew it was time for him to retire. For most of those years, he had been proud to serve, doing his duty with both intensity and compassion. Since the Tomed Incident in 2311, however, the Inspector Generalís Office had changed. Instead of seeking the truth, it was now engaged in seeking scapegoats. He looked at the list of Inspectors on his computer screen and his frown deepened. Captain Rebecca Moritz was not the right person for this inquiry. She approaches her job like a Spanish Inquisitor. Her favorite expression was "Weíre not here to jack you up, butÖ." Cluseau reached into the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a bottle of bourbon, poured his glass half full, then filled it the rest of the way with water. He raised his glass in the general direction of the PHOENIX. Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here, Cluseau repeated the motto that, according to Dante, was inscribed over the entrance to Hell.

His fingers hesitated over the keyboard then, with a sigh, transmitted the After Action Reports and the official letter designating Captain Rebecca Moritz as Senior Member of the PHOENIX Board of Inquiry.

Yes, he thought as he sipped his drink, itís time for me to go.

Board of Inquiry Room, Starbase Flying Cloud

Strykerís dress uniform was uncomfortable. The chair was uncomfortable. He was uncomfortable. None of the rumors spreading through the Starbase and the PHOENIX about this Board of Inquiry were good. Next to him sat LCDR Alice McConnel. Other members of the PHOENIX crew filled the remaining chairs.

At the long table in front of the conference room sat five glasses, five carafes of water, five PADDs. In front of the center chair sat a golden bell and a small, ceremonial hammer. Behind the table hung a large Federation flag.

A side door opened and the members of the Board of Inquiry entered the room. With a loud rustle, the PHOENIX crewmembers stood up. Stryker looked at each member of the Board as they walked in. Stryker recognized the stately figure of Captain Youpon Proudfoot and smiled. Thereís one friend, he thought. He and Proudfoot had been in the same class at the Academy and Stryker knew her to be uncompromisingly fair in everything she did. The second officer was Captain Albert Speer, Commanding Officer of the heavy cruiser AGAMEMNON. Wolf didnít know him except by reputation as a fair officer. Next came Captain Tony Keggresse. Wolf knew nothing about him at all. When Fleet Admiral Daniel Evans took the next seat, Wolf nodded. I know where I stand with him, at least.

Finally, a tall, thin female with flaming red hair pulled back in a painfully tight bun and a severe, disdainful look on her face strode in and took the center seat, picked up the small hammer, and struck the bell in front of her four times.

"This Board of Inquiry is now in session."

Alice McConnell gasped. She clutched Wolfís arm in a death grip. She remembered Captain Rebecca Moritz from the Academy. She leaned toward CDR Stryker. "Captain! We have a problem!" Her voice carried to the front of the room. Captain Rebecca Moritz frowned.