The senior staff arranged themselves around the Observation Lounge as Captain Picard began his briefing. “Once we arrive at Mirkosa, I will be taking the away team down myself. As you all know, the Mirkosans are not fond of outsiders. As such, they create sensor interference so others cannot read the locations of key structures. They do understand the desire to ensure the safety of the away team, which is why they are allowing the Enterprise access to their sensors enough that you will be able to monitor our life signs. However, you will not be able to read our coordinates.”
The captain held up a hand to stop the protests of his first officer and chief of security. “This is a risk that we must be willing to take. The Mirkosans have agreed to meet and formalize this exchange with the Federation; however, they are only willing to do so in their council chamber, and they will not risk its coordinates potentially being made known to enemies.” Picard sighed. “I don’t like it any more than you do, but the technology we could acquire would give us a considerable advantage, should the Borg attack again. It’s a risk we have to take.”
Riker shook his head. “I still don’t like that you have to go, sir. We’re taking a big enough risk as it is not being able to immediately beam out the away team. I don’t know why we also have to send you, when there are other skilled negotiators available.”
“It is precisely because he is the captain of the flagship that he has to go,” Counselor Troi explained. “It’s a show of trust and good will on our part. Hopefully they’ll see it as such and reciprocate.”
“Exactly. Now, if there are no more objections, I believe we’re due to arrive in a few hours.”
The gentle tingling that accompanied the transporter engulfed the away team, and they soon found themselves standing in a sparsely decorated room. Warm light cascaded onto the floor from the five round windows, each the sole change in their smooth grey walls. The sixth wall contained the door, which shimmered to let an official through. The guards on each side snapped to attention.
The official began handing out devices a bit larger than their comm badges to each member of the away team. Finishing that, she stood before them, commanding their attention. “Welcome to Mirkosa. Because the security system doesn’t know your biosignals, if you were to attempt to walk out that door, you would run into what would feel like solid rock. What you hold in your hand is a transmitter that will read your biosignals and communicate them to the security system. As long as they are connected, you will be able to travel with relative freedom.”
Geordi turned the device over in his hands. “So… we just hold it and it transmits automatically?”
The official suppressed a sigh and walked briskly over to him. Taking the device, she pressed it firmly against his arm for a second. Geordi winced as he felt a sharp prick. As the official walked back to the front of the group, it stayed in place on his arm. “Now it will transmit automatically.”
He exchanged a glance with Data, and after a moment, Captain Picard and the rest of the away team had activated the devices on themselves as well. Satisfied, the official continued. “The Minister is waiting for us. Please follow me.” Turning, she left the way she had come.
After a moment’s hesitation, Picard followed. As he stepped through the door, electricity skittered over his skin, giving him shivers despite the heat. Worf, Data, Troi, and finally Geordi followed suit. As Geordi stepped through, it sent flashes of light through his visor. He paused to reorient himself as the shadows faded. When he looked up, Data placed a hand on his arm. “Are you alright?”
Geordi nodded as he steadied himself. “Yeah, I’m good. It’s just the door.” He smiled. “Thanks.”
As they followed their guide through the city, they were greeted by a multitude of colors and scents. Fabric draped from sleek bars, and holograms displayed a variety of designs and patterns. A man and woman cut off their conversation and pretended not to watch them pass. A family stopped by a display of fluorescent Mirkosan fruits to bring their children closer, but couldn’t stop the youngest from openly gaping.
Troi stepped closer to the captain. “It is very tense,” she said softly. “More tense than I expected. Our escort in particular doesn’t want to be showing us the way, even though it’s her duty.”
“Thank you, Counselor.”
Soon, the official approached another door. But before they could enter, Troi gasped in pain. As Picard turned to her, Geordi spoke first. “Captain.”
Wordlessly, he gestured to a crumpled figure who had materialized on the opposite corner. The Mirkosan was curled in almost a fetal position and was trembling uncontrollably. Their clothes were torn and bloodied in places, and the typically neatly brushed hair was messy and tangled.
“He’s terrified,” Counselor Troi breathed. “Terrified, and in shock, and in so much pain. Not physical, not most of it anyway.” She turned to the official. “What happened to him? What caused this kind of suffering?”
The official pursed her lips. “The Minister is waiting. Please follow me.”
With another glance back, Captain Picard slowly walked to the door. Reluctantly, Troi and the rest of the away team followed.
They barely had any time to look around the spacious entry area, before they were ushered through a second, more concealed door. As they entered, the Minister stood from behind her desk and greeted them. “Captain Picard, I presume?”
The captain nodded briefly and extended his hand. “It is so good to finally meet you in person, Minister Niara. This is my Chief of Security, Lieutenant Worf; Ship’s Counselor, Deanna Troi; Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Geordi La Forge; and Second Officer, Lieutenant Commander Data.”
“My pleasure,” she said, shaking each of their hands. “I trust your trip here was uneventful?”
“Yes,” Picard started, and Troi quietly cleared her throat. “…However we did have a disturbing encounter just before entering the building. A clearly distressed man materialized on the corner of the street. He appeared to have been mistreated. Do you know what happened to him?”
The Minister’s face fell, and she sank back to her chair. “I am so sorry that you had to witness that. That poor soul was an unfortunate victim of our punishment system. Like many societies I’m sure, in the early days, we survived, but there was a lot of crime. There were punishments, but there was recurring crime, regardless. Our founders wanted to eliminate as much crime as possible, including repeaters, so they implemented severe punishments to discourage crime. Over time, and as our technology has evolved, the punishments have evolved as well. They can, admittedly, be rather severe, and depending on the seriousness of the crime, can have unfortunate side effects. However, as a society, we have decided to give and receive these punishments, however severe they may be, as it has resulted in an exceedingly low crime rate.”
“What sort of punishment can possibly cause that amount of emotional suffering?” Troi asked.
With a sigh, the Minister bowed her head. “We have found the most effective means of discouraging crime to be… primarily psychological. I don’t like it, and I don’t like how little care the recipients are given afterwards. In fact, that was one of the things that I promised when I was given this position, and something that I have been working on reducing for years.”
“But that man had been practically tortured!”
“Counselor,” Picard interrupted. “I know it’s distressing; however, it is not our place to impose our judgement and legal system on theirs. Furthermore, that is not what we have come here to discuss.”
The Minister let out a breath and straightened. “Yes.”
“It is surprising that Minister Niara gave us access to the amount of information as she did,” Data mused as he and Geordi made their way to Engineering. “A direct link to the Mirkosan Society of Engineers and Mechanics Database was very generous.”
Geordi shrugged. “We were flexible, so they returned the favor.” The door slid open. “Hey, we’re still doing lunch later, right?”
Data looked at him curiously. “Of course. I would have informed you if my plans had changed.”
“Of course,” Geordi said as he smiled to himself. Sitting at one of the consoles, he pulled up the data connection to the planet. Data joined him at the adjacent seat. The ambient sounds of Engineering filled the comfortable silence that fell between them as they each began reading the information provided.
“Commander Data to the bridge.”
Geordi sighed as Data stood. After a pause, Data glanced around Engineering, then leaned down and placed a quick kiss on Geordi’s cheek.
“I guess I’ll see you at lunch then,” Geordi said with a smile.
“I am ‘looking forward’ to it.”
Turning back to his screen, Geordi shook his head fondly. As he perused the files and data, part of his mind began to wander, making its way back to the man that appeared on the street. How could they think that it was alright to just leave him there? He may not have had Troi’s empathic abilities, but Geordi had insights of his own, like the man’s racing heart. Whatever torture they had put him through, it had been recent.
He was vaguely wondering what he had done to deserve that, when a file appeared that took back the rest of Geordi’s attention.
“What’s this?” he muttered to nobody in particular.
“A file received from the Mirkosan Society of Engineers and Mechanics. Contents: Unknown. Authorization required,” the computer answered.
Geordi rolled his eyes. “I wasn’t asking you.” Selecting the file, he hesitated, then entered the authorization code the MSEM had given him. To his surprised, the file opened. He looked at the first entry and frowned as the computer translated the title. “‘On Holofields and Their Uses Pertaining to the Imprisonment and Punishment of Criminals of Both State and Civic Crimes’. ‘Optimum Use and Time of Holofields for Maximum Non-Lethal Punishment’.” Geordi’s stomach twisted, and after another moment’s hesitation, he closed the file. Standing, he found his hands trembling. He steadied them and himself against the table. Then, taking a deep breath, he headed for the bridge.
After a turbolift ride that was both far too long and much too short, the door hissed open and Geordi stepped out onto the bridge. To his surprise, Captain Picard was already talking to Minister Niara on the viewscreen.
Picard was holding his hands up to placate the Minister. “Let me talk to him first, see if I can’t figure out what happened. I’m sure it was just a misunderstanding.”
“A misunderstanding?” the Minister said with a huff. “If you had seen the files he accessed—”
Geordi stepped down to the lower part of the bridge. “Captain?”
Picard spun to face him. “Geordi. The Minister and I were just talking about what I believe to be a simple misunderstand—”
“Mr. La Forge, did you, in the last 15 minutes, access some unauthorized documents?” Minister Niara demanded.
Geordi’s eyebrows furrowed and glanced at Data, who was looking back at him. “I don’t think so. There were some documents that asked for an authorization code, and the one the MSEM gave me worked, so I assumed—”
“You assumed,” she scoffed. “See, Captain? By his own admission he accessed the documents.”
“Now, hold on a minute—”
“Minister, since the authorization code he was provided gave him access, he did not access them illegally.”
“He is an Outsider. He never was and never will be authorized to read those documents,” she said coldly. “Now, transport him down here so we can hold him until the trial and sentencing, or we will transport him ourselves.”
Geordi looked to the captain, who shook his head at him. “We are not transporting anybody off of my ship until you have a legitimate legal reason to do so.”
The Minister sighed. “Captain, we have been able to develop an understanding while you have been here; I would hate for this to jeopardize that. But I must ask on behalf of the my chief of security and the rest of the punishment system that he be released to us.”
“No,” Picard said firmly.
Wordlessly, Minister Niara looked off to the side and nodded curtly at an unseen assistant. Suddenly a cool shimmer began to surround Geordi.
“Shields!” the captain barked.
Looking back to Data, Geordi saw the android’s eyes widen and his mouth fall slightly open as if to begin speaking, as he helplessly watched Geordi dematerialize.
Picard whirled around. “Can we trace the signal?”
Worf was already bent over his control panel, and Data strode up to join him. After a moment, Worf slammed his hand on the panel. “Nothing,” he growled.
“The signal seems to be untraceable,” Data confirmed. “Our sensors are unable to determine a precise origin of the transporter, other than the planet.” His voice was calm, measured as always, but to those who knew him well, his normal, perfectly neutral expression was tainted by a hint of a frown and furrowed eyebrows.
“Thank you, gentlemen.” The captain sighed. “I suppose we’ll have to go about this the old-fashioned way.”