Hewlett closed his eyes against his pounding headache, willing himself to remain calm, his hand steady on the scalpel.
“Lieutenant Baker. The ammonia, please.”
His assistant handled the substance with care, placing a small drop in the center of the delicate green shoot that was poking out of the earth.
“That’s quite enough, thank you. Bio-masks on.”
Hewlett pulled a mask over his mouth and nose, breathing in the stale, filtered air.
He paused for a moment to take in the bio-dome around him, willing himself to remember each leaf and branch of the living lab. There was the last sample of the tall Favinit orchid from Vulcan, the rare Klingon Fireblossom, and the common but no less beautiful Earth water lily.
If the fumes were too much, if this experiment overtook him, in his final moments this lab would be the only precious thing he had left to remember in the world. Well, that and the stars.
He glanced over at his colleague, who gave a short, sharp nod.
“Beginning the procedure.”
He cleared a little of the earth surrounding the shoot, which seemed to twitch at the movement. He fought against the heady humidity of the bio-lab, resisting the urge to lick the thin sheen of sweat on his upper lip.
Breathing steadily he angled the scalpel deftly towards the ridged outer rim of plant, preparing to pierce its damp hide.
He snatched his hand away quickly, his head snapping up to face the intruder.
He ripped off his bio-mask and strode towards the entrance to the lab. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?! We are in lockdown. Do you understand quite how dangerous it is to burst into a lab in the middle of an extremely delicate…”
Hewlett trailed off, blinking. The young ensign was wearing medical scrubs over his blue uniform. His body seemed to be shaking all over, his hands balled into fists at his side, as if in an effort to control himself. For a second Hewlett thought the fumes may have escaped prematurely, but it couldn’t be, the plant was still tightly sealed. He struggled to remember the boys’ name.
“Ensign… Jones, is it? Medical division?”
“Lieutenant Abigail's son?”
“Yes sir, Cicero.”
“Cicero, a fine name.” He began to approach the boy. “After Marcus Tullius, presumably. He was one of the foremost fathers of the Latin language, a primary influence on Standard, you know. A great orator and statesman. Quintilian proclaimed Cicero was ‘not the name of a man, but of eloquence itself.’ Did you know that?” He gave him a small, reassuring smile.
“Then let’s harness some of that eloquence now. Tell me, Cicero, what’s so important that you came rushing in here, defying regulations and the biohazard warning light outside the door?”
“It’s-“ The boy was clearly fighting back tears. “It’s the Captain, sir.”
Hewlett felt suddenly, instinctively that something was very wrong. “The Captain? Does he want me on the bridge?”
“No sir-” Cicero’s breath hitched, his hands balling into fists again. “He’s dead.”
Hewlett followed Cicero’s lead through the corridors in a haze. Everything seemed clearer and more out of focus all at once. He couldn’t see the blurry faces of the crew rushing past him, he was only faintly aware of their nervous chatter, but beneath him for the first time he could clearly feel the pulsing ebb of the Starship’s engines. He was suddenly so very aware of his small fleshy body, hurtling around the deadly vacuum of space in a tin machine that was barely keeping it alive. He felt ridiculous.
“Sickbay.” he said to the turbolift. Now he was talking to the machine. He glanced at the quivering Cicero. Did he feel it too? The absurdity of it all? His hand shook.
Just as he thought the journey couldn’t get any more interminable, they arrived. The drained, the pale face of Mary Woodhull greeted him as the doors hissed open.
“Doctor.” The preservation of rank was a comfort. “Report.”
Mary nodded. The CMO was matter-of-fact, efficient and professional. Qualities Hewlett admired. “Captain Joyce was discovered in his quarters a little over an hour ago, he was due to begin Alpha shift but had not been responding to hails from the Gamma shift bridge crew. He was unconscious, he wasn’t breathing. The Captain was immediately rushed to Sickbay where I attempted to resuscitate him. Unfortunately we were unsuccessful in our attempts.”
“Who found him?”
For the first time in Hewlett’s memory, Mary Woodhull stumbled over her words, “It was... It was Abe. Forgive me, sir. Lieutenant Woodhull. I sent him back to work but security has recommended we confine him to quarters.”
Hewlett was shocked. “Whatever for?”
“At this juncture I am not prepared to speculate as to a cause of death, however we cannot rule out the possibility of foul play.” Mary rubbed her eyes and allowed herself a small sigh. The sound of steady beeps and whirrs permeated the sterile air.
“You don’t believe Abraham…”
“Of course I don’t.” She snapped.
Hewlett shifted at the uncomfortable silence “I apologise, Doctor, if I overstepped-”
“No. Forgive my lapse, Commander. It is Lieutenant Commander Akinbode’s decision, as head of security this is his purview and I am forced to defer to his judgment. The Captain had a physical only two weeks ago and he was in perfect health. I have contacted Starfleet and I have no doubt they will order an investigation. At this point, Abe is the prime suspect.”
She let that one sink in. Hewlett nodded for her to continue.
“Procedure says all senior officers are to be informed immediately but we’ve kept it from the crew for now, until a new Captain is firmly in place.”
“But surely it is self evident-“
“The First Officer is in my office right now, there was a Comm from Admiral Andre.”
Hewlett nodded. “Doctor Woodhull, if all senior staff are to be informed where is the rest of the primary bridge crew?”
Mary looked at him levelly. “Andre requested to speak to you first.”
Before he could process this, a door behind them creaked open and they whirled around.
A tall, slight figure in a tight red uniform stepped out of Doctor Woodhull’s office. A man with a thin smiling mouth and cold, hard eyes.
“Commander Simcoe.” Hewlett addressed the First Officer. “What says the Admiral?”
The hard eyes surveyed him as the disarmingly soft voice replied, “He wants to speak with you, Commander.” In Simcoe’s mouth the title sounded more like a taunt than a mark of respect. “I’ll be on the Bridge if I’m needed.” And in one swift lithe movement he was gone.
Hewlett entered the Doctor’s office, sending Mary a tight smile before closing the door behind him. He spared a second to admire the well-ordered bookshelves and the cleanliness of her desk before taking a seat by the monitor.
John Andre was young for an Admiral, and his reputation preceded him. Best pilot in the fleet, youngest Captain in history, he was set to become a legend, until his hand was crushed on an away mission in the neutral zone. Deskwork didn’t seem to be treating him too badly however, he’d recently been appointed head of intelligence, and there were rumors that he had spies on every Federation and non-Federation planet in the galaxy.
“Commander Hewlett.” His tinny voice rang out through the speakers. “You are the Second Officer aboard this vessel, are you not?”
“And Science Officer, yes sir.”
“You have a competent deputy?”
Hewlett paused. This was an unexpected line of questioning. “Yes. Lieutenant Baker is exemplary, sir."
Hewlett took this as a cue to elaborate. "He has done outstanding work in the field of stellar cartography, a branch of science I must confess is particularly fascinates me, and his primary research on the positioning of the Orion principal has undoubtedly proven invaluable to the mapping of future undiscovered star systems, the technique has proven to be-”
“Yes, that will do Hewlett.” Andre interrupted, a slight hint of amusement in his tone.
“Er- Yes sir.”
“Commander, effective immediately I am appointing you Acting Captain of the Starship Setauket.”
Hewlett sat ramrod in his seat. “Excuse me, sir?”
“You heard me Edward…”
“…You have an extremely competent record as a Starfleet officer, you have quite an extensive research background specializing in, er, Klingon oysters, but crucially a strong history of loyalty to the fleet. You have proven time and time again that you are a steady hand - no disciplinary charges, not even anything minor from your academy days…”
“Sir. Forgive me for interrupting, I have very little combat experience.”
“Nonsense, I have your records here. Your Kobayashi Maru score was the second highest in history, your tactical aptitude levels went off the charts, as did your grades in Starfleet combat history. I skimmed your senior thesis – hearts and minds, very clever.”
Hewlett let out a slight cough. “But sir, I have little experience in the field. Commander Simcoe…”
“Edmund, I’ll be direct.” Andre leaned in close to the camera. Hewlett was struck by his unusually bright eyes. “I have a particular reason for not wanting Simcoe in charge. He’s a wildcard. A blunt instrument. Good in a fight but he doesn’t have the patience and the objectivity to lead. He needs you to temper him. Edmund, I’ve seen him kill a man without so much as a blink.”
Hewlett shifted in his seat. “Sir, with respect. You knew this before, why did you allow him to remain First Officer? What’s changed?”
“You’re right. There is more.” Andre leaned back a little, eyeing Hewlett as if weighing him up. “There’s a reason I need a steady hand at the helm now. I’ve been thorough in my investigations. You’re clean Edmund, totally clean. You’re a tactical thinker and you’re thorough, you never leave a stone unturned. I need a man like you to conduct the investigation.”
“Into the Captain’s death?”
“Captain Joyce’s death is part of a larger pattern, something that we’ve been keeping an eye on for a while. We believe there’s a Klingon spy aboard the Setauket.”
Andre raised an eyebrow. “Not so. There could be one, there could be more than one. These are high level operatives, Hewlett. Men with access to classified information, and we have evidence they’ve been leaking it to Washington himself.”
Edmund twitched. The Klingon rebels had been conducting raids on Starfleet bases across this sector for several years, but up until recently they had been no more than a slight annoyance, a bug to be crushed. They had some minor grievances about sovereignty from the Federation’s tyranny or some such nonsense; they were hurling all sorts of ridiculous accusations at Admiral King in particular. Recently they had gained some high-profile defections, Starfleet officers lured away from the fleet by promises of riches and profit, no doubt. The pirates. Their leader was one such former Admiral: George Washington. The very name made any respectable loyalist shudder.
“You and Simcoe are the only two men I’ve managed to rule out, based on your security access, timings and locations when the information was leaked. But as I said, Simcoe is a wildcard. Use him if you must, but proceed with caution. I need to you to investigate Captain Joyce’s death and find the mole. The two are undoubtedly linked, but the culprit won’t know we know that. Of course, normal operations will need to continue as this is going on, so as not to overly alarm the spy. Edmund, I trust I can rely on your discretion. Have I found my man?”
John Andre was eyeing him steadily. He was waiting for a response. Hewlett was ready.
“You can count on me, sir.”