[Age of Mouldwarp]
Cadavers (Part 5)
Had the investigation not taken a sudden and dramatic turn for the better, Franzoni was going to find himself in a tight spot with the Captain, whose main concern all this time had been Haley Minor and its political turmoil, which had been assisted by herself four years earlier. It had become an obsession of hers to set things right, and unbeknownst to her crew or most of Starfleet, the only reason she had been allowed back was because she had promised Admiral Logan that if she could not succeed she would resign her commission. From a maniacally devoted career officer, this had taken even Logan as extreme, and that is why he was convinced that she was not only serious about it but that she had a plan already worked out on how to accomplish it.
Captain Matheson had orchestrated all that had transpired so far, even the surprise appearance of the criminal Derek Parkes, and the Prime Directive had only been strained by it all, including Lt. Jacobiís yet unrevealed business on the planetís surface. Matheson, too, had negotiated the arrival of the Salient, and those who would have thought of it would have recognized Captain Lewis Rivera as Mathesonís previous first officer. What was his real purpose here? To swerve attention away, and that alone, from the far more important events in which Lt. Jacobi was embroiled.
The wild card was of course, the image Franzoni had uncovered in the holodeck. Derek Parkes might have been considered one as well, but he had gone missing, and now the investigation into the two murders was becoming something more. Franzoni hesitated to call it a manhunt, since it was not, but very soon he found another reason to call it such. The two searches suddenly became linked.
Doctor Sokor, who had finally gotten Parkes to at least enter Sickbay, the last place Parkes was to have been seen, had closed it off at the Commanderís request. One more cordoned off location, was how the news spread among the sealed crew quarters of the Copernicus. In Douglas Velarís, speculation continued to be collected, and illegal contact outside of it was achieved. They learned that Chenoweth was even now examining a metallic patch that resembled a holographic emitter; it had been recovered from the bio-bed Parkes had spent all of two minutes on.
That was when the sudden and dramatic turn had taken place. Lt. Cmdr. Hounsou reported that he had found the source of the mysterious blip in life sign readings, a pack of Letheans, and communications had stopped thereafter. When Franzoni headed a party toward Hounsouís last known location, a section of Jefferies tubes below Engineering, Lt. Cmdr. Zimmer had caught up with them and announced that he had found Hounsou, beaten to within an inch of his life, and no Letheans. Franzoni went in search for the intruders, and was quietly beamed away in the process.
He found himself in Weapons Locker 12, on Deck 4, and was disoriented enough to not immediately recognize whether he were alone or not. A voice from behind him cleared that up rather quickly.
"Commander," the voice greeted.
Franzoni, who had fallen in the confusion of the moment, lifted his head groggily and tried to concentrate. The voice did not seem familiar, but he knew all the same who it was. The face had already haunted him, and an echo of the voice as well. He took a moment to thank his grandfather for that. He then shook off whatever remained of the debilitation and looked his captor in the eye. "Gul Pentek. Finally ready to play your hand?"
"Arenít we a little versed in Cardassian personalities," Pentek replied. "Shall we get on with it or do you require further formalities?"
"Save your Cardassian bullshit and get on with it," Franzoni suggested, standing back up.
"I have a certain amount of vested interest in your Captainís quandary," Pentek said. "Rest assured, as you have no doubt realized and your fellow officers will soon discover, Derek Parkes has much in common with myself. Of course, all your crewmates will learn is that the holo-emitter was formerly attached to the arm of a Cardassian. They will not learn on whom by the negligible evidence I left behind for them, thanks to the continued maladies the Empires records are plagued with since the Dominionís parting gift. But you will."
"Parkes was never here," Franzoni surmised.
"Very perceptive," Pentek commended. "He was not able to show up because he has been dead ever since your last visit to this planet. I have been playing his part that long, or a hologram of my design has until the schematics for holo-emitters fell into my lap recently. Being Parkes heldÖcertain advantages for me. You see, Iím still seen a monster by your Federation and Bajoran friends, since the days of the Occupation. A fugitiveís life quickly lost its appeal, and Parkes presented a most delicious alternative."
"You still have not gotten to the point," Franzoni observed. "What part of that brings us to where we are?"
"The Phalli possess technology that could alter my very DNA, which would end this fugitive nonsense for good. That is reason enough," Pentek said. "So I assumed the persona of Derek Parkes before his absence was noticed, and resumed his life for the next four years. Your captain is far too eager to be manipulated. It was my idea for her to receive her redemption from this whole affair, or it was the suggestion of one Derek Parkes."
"It seems like a lot of trouble for something any number of other species could provide you," Franzoni noted. "How are going to achieve this now?"
"As you might have noticed by now, my associates have proven less prudent than I originally anticipated, so I was forced to alter my plans," Pentek said. "You are going to help me."
"Is it a common trait, for Cardassians to be delusional?" Franzoni mocked.
"You would benefit from this, I assure you," Pentek said, ignoring the comment.
"What would you have me do? Captain Matheson would become suspicious fairly easily if I started to act abnormally," Franzoni said.
"You are too kind. Your reputation precedes you," Pentek insinuated. "In many ways, you are not unlike Parkes."
A momentary flash of what that could mean washed over Franzoni. But he quickly rejected the possibility that Pentek would be so crass as to expect a second assumed persona would work. The Commander was becoming intrigued, if truth be told.
"There will be no further casualties aboard this ship," Pentek stated, quickly clearing up any lingering suspicions on Franzoniís part. "I wish Matheson to succeed, so that she can remove herself from the picture. All you need do is produce a hologram of a corpse, and make sure the business on the surface concludes amicably."
Franzoni continued to listen. By then he had figured out how the ruse had been played. Pentek had initially used common holographic projectors to keep Parkes animated, an easy enough task if you were suitably connected, and Franzoni believed Cardassians to have the most connections of any species he had ever come across. When the emitter became an option, Pentek simply placed the holographic Parkes as a shroud around him, allowing him to operate directly in as precise a manner as was needed. He had constructed the final program aboard the Copernicus, and that is what Franzoni had found. No doubt the Letheans had proved useful in facilitating all this. He wondered how Pentek had found himself onto the ship, but that was the least of his concerns now. No doubt the Tellarite, Dolan.
A team of which Crewman Gird was a part finally captured the Letheans. The Klingon enlistee had been granted by Matheson special commission after asking directly for a chance to do so. Leading the disgraced Lt. Fonden and a Denobulan ensign named Okafor, Gird found them in a sensor-free pocket in the junction behind the mess hall on Deck 9. They had achieved the silenced area by a complicated system of radio waves that had scrambled the shipís detection capabilities, and had no doubt been assisted by Dolan in setting it all up. Girdís knack for suspecting the unexpected had led him there, and he thought by this he might win some respect from his superiors. But, as Franzoni was the officer he most craved respect from, he might have to wait a while longer.
Hounsou found himself in the medical bay, waking after some time in sedation on a bio bed and being waited on by Dr. Chenoweth. "We were wondering if you were going to make it," Chenoweth joked. Sokor stood not far away, but his face remained as stolid as ever.
"Your efforts were not entirely in vain," the Vulcan doctor noted. "The Letheans are now in custody, and we have a lead on an additional accomplice. Lt. Collins is examining your sensor scans as we speak for evidence of Cardassian activity aboard the Copernicus."
"Cardassian?" Hounsou considered that he had heard Sokor incorrectly. "What would a Cardassian be doing aboard the ship?"
"It is a suggestion of intrigue," Sokor said. Ever the logic with Vulcans.
"Hereís something that is not a suggestion," Franzoniís voice called out. Several heads that swiveled in the direction of the entrance found the Commander, holding the body of Derek Parkes. Pentek had not one but two emitters.
"My godÖ" Chenoweth exclaimed.
"It would seem that the fatalities have not ended," Sokor suggested.
"Not so. The Letheans led me to him," Franzoni suggested. "Heís the last."
"Does the Captain know yet?" Chenoweth asked, clearing his head.
"She has been informed," Franzoni said, his ruse being accepted because there was no reason not to. And what was more, he had taken steps to ensure that the hologram would read as human, and if Sokor performed an autopsy, the emitter, camouflaged as it was, would compensate. Pentekís contacts had been thorough in aiding his preparation, and Franzoni knew his way around the holodeck, including the proper ways of erasing his activity. "Her attention remains on Haley Minor."
"As it should," Sokor said. "This situation has been resolved as far it need be at this juncture." There were times that Franzoni was grateful to have Vulcans available to clean up like this. "We will confirm Hounsouís health in the meantime."
That was all, really, except for Mathesonís concluding efforts regarding the Phalli and a final revelation even Franzoni could not anticipate. He neednít bother. The truth was still haunting him.
characters and story © copyright Sean "Waterloo" McKenna 2001-2003; Star Trek copyright Paramount