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[Age of Mouldwarp]   
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Cadavers (Part 7)
Voyage from Haley Minor
Lt. Cmdr. John Zimmer, chief engineer of the U.S.S. Copernicus, was the first person Franzoni came to in his new capacity as Pentekís errand boy.  There were still tracks to cover, and even if Franzoni did not grasp the full picture quite yet, Pentek had made it clear that Zimmerís independent investigating was not going to help things die quietly in the night.  There had been two murders aboard the ship, one act of sabotage revealed, chief of operations Lt. Cmdr. Louis Hounsou wounded, and a gang of Letheans captured.  The part that only Franzoni and Pentek knew but that the staff in Sickbay was rapidly making progress on deciphering, was that Derek Parkes, who had come as mediator for the Haley Minor talks, now concluded in failure, was not Derek Parkes at all, but stowaway Cardassian criminal Gul Pentek, who remained the one undiscovered piece of the jigsaw.

"Whatíre you doing," Franzoni asked, casually, from behind Zimmer, who was himself now examining the very same panel in the holodeck that the Commander had before.  

"No offense, Sir, but you missed some things.  I was just finishing up here, but I believe Iíll be able to recall the image created and the image of the person who created it in a matter of minutes," Zimmer ignorantly revealed.  

"I suppose a man of your considerable skills could do that," Franzoni smirked.  "Show me up.  Carry on."  He couldnít reveal his hand, and he gathered that Pentek had a contingency for this as heíd had for every other problem that had cropped up in the past few days.

"Are you going to stick around for the grand unveiling?" Zimmer enquired?

It was tempting.  "No," Franzoni said.  "Iíve got other matters to attend to.  Even with things falling into place, my job is never done.  Itís the curse of ambition!"

Managing a light chuckle, he left the holodeck, and staggered ten feet down the hall.  A sharp pain was jabbing at his temples.  It was a familiar ailment, one he had always associated with his grandfatherís accursed passing of the Betazoid telepathic genes.  GrandfatherÖWhy?  You are going to be the death of me. He rested against the corridor, gasping for air without quite understanding why.  The pain was intensifying.  His hands slapped the sides of his head, and even if he knew that the action made little sense, nothing was making very much of it at the moment.  Perception was playing tricks on him.  He didnít know up from down.

Franzoni nearly collapsed.  Thatís when he pulled himself together and walked on, a latent aching still present, despite his attempts to suppress all of it.  He didnít know where he was going, so when Lt. Fonden inexplicably appeared in front of him, he uttered a terse, "Why are you out of your quarters" while suggesting with his body language that he wanted the Benzite to walk with him.

"The Captain has begun loosening ship-wide restrictions," she noted, taking the initiative to follow the body and not the words.  "I was one of the first to be let out."

"Why wasnít I told?" he asked aloud, undirected and unintentionally.

"It was announced throughout the whole ship moments ago, Sir," Fonden noted.

"Of course," Franzoni breathed.

"Sir?"

"The last few days have begun catching up with me," he allowed as they continued their walk, with a turbolift in sight.

"Understood.  Word has it that Dr. Sokor has discovered who had been using the holo-emitter," Fonden said without thinking, her source having been illegal at the time.

But Franzoni wasnít concentrating hard enough on the conversation to notice or care.  "Oh?  And do you know who it was?"

"Thatís what weíre on our way to find out," Fonden stated with a hint of incredulity in her voice.  The past few days hadnít exactly been easy on her, either, having been temporarily removed from active duty, and as her job was chief of security and she had been heading the murder investigation, she had been particularly affected.  Still, she was beginning to become suspicious of the Commander.  They reached the turbolift, entered, and called for the bridge.

When the lift hopped to a stop, the pair exited and headed for the observation lounge across the way, where they found Matheson, Sokor, Dr. Chenoweth, chief helmsman Lt. Joel Nelson, and Captain Rivera of the Salient waiting.

"Cmdr. Zimmer will be with us shortly and of course Hounsou will not be able to be with us," Matheson said in greeting.  "Good of you to join us."

"Likewise, Captain," Franzoni returned and he and Fonden took their seats.  

"Dr. Chenoweth and I believe that we have discovered the identity of the chief conspirator in our quandary," Sokor intoned, standing up and moving towards the monitor behind Matheson.  Calling up an image, he continued, "Kaman Pentek, former Gul of the Cardassian Fourth Order and wanted offender by the Bajoran Provisional Government for war crimes during the Occupation."

"Lt. Dolan has assisted us in some of the finer details," Matheson chimed in, "confirming that he had been cooperating with the Letheans and an unknown second party, which Pentek, who is now is custody, has graciously revealed to be himself."

"Who accomplished snaring Pentek?" Franzoni asked.

"I did," a voice announced from the opening doors of the lounge.  It was Zimmer.  "After I had repaired the damage Dolan had caused the deflection grid, which had caused a loop in shipís sensors, it made detecting the presence of whoever I might find out to be the culprit in the holodeck that much easier.  You can connect the rest of the dots yourself."

"But why would Pentek employ Letheans?" Fonden wondered aloud, suspecting that she might be let off the hook by the unraveling of the entire affair.

"We believe that he had been using them to wipe the memories of any officers or crewmen he might have manipulated along the way," Chenoweth said.

"When weíre several weeks removed from this, Iíll be much happier," Matheson sighed.  "The Phalli have made their decision official.  They have withdrawn their petition for membership in the Federation.  You can expect a thorough debriefing from Command on all this, but Iím confident weíll emerge relatively unscathed.  Unless thereís anything that any of you might want to add, consider yourselves dismissed and on leave for the trek back to Epsilon Station.  Aside from security," and here she directed a warm face at Fonden, indicating that all was forgiven, "of course."

A few words shared with Matheson and Franzoni was soon off after the rest of the assembly.  Pentek had not revealed their partnership.  On the whole, Franzoni almost considered it void anyway, since he hadnít really done anything besides producing the counterfeit body of Parkes, which he could hardly be found culpable for.  He bumped into Crewman Velar, who seemed unusually distraught, on the way back to his quarters, but exchanged the regular curt salutation, their personal differences knowing no holiday.

He should be on the bridge right now, but the headache was returning, and this heíd given Matheson as his excuse.  Indeed, he had a history of migraines, and he had always associated it with his grandfatherís curse, even though the one he was now experiencing was several times over more intense than he had ever had before.

He stumbled inside his doorway just in time to hear Matheson and respond.  Harm, weíll need to start on the extradition paperwork soon.  Lt. Jacobi and the others have probably had their fill of Haley Minor.  Captain Rivera has already agreed to wait in orbit for the orders to come through.  Get some rest.

"Aye, Robin," Franzoni managed.  "Franzoni out."  He ordered a drink from the replicators; something the Captain had noted Fonden singing the praises of after the briefing.  A Mint Julep.  Perhaps that might clear his head, drown his sorrows.

Short answer: it didnít.

He decided to return to the bridge.  If a distraction was what he needed, he knew no better place than the bridge of the Copernicus for it.  Hounsou was observing Lt. Collins at the OPS station, which Franzoni observed in a mildly bemused light.  Starfleet and its fidelity with duty.  Matheson was seated in the command chair and standing to the side was Dr. Sokor, as was his sometimes prerogative, and Zimmer not far away.  The three of them made Franzoni sick, but for the first time he did not consider that a bad thing.  It distracted him from his other preoccupation for a while, and thatís exactly the sort of thing he wanted at the moment.

Joel Nelson at the helm was turned in his seat and attempting to engage Fonden at tactical in mild flirting.  "Looking good there, lieutenant.  You might even have a future in that role."  Mild laughter from all.

Franzoni took his seat by Mathesonís side.  They exchanged pleasant looks and Zimmer moved off to a terminal on the side, Sokor remaining impassive as always.  "Lovely day for a comet shower," Matheson commented, drawing the Commanderís attention to the viewscreen, where indeed a comet shower was having its day in the sun.  It wasnít really a comet shower, but the view from warp of the stars.  The sentiment remained even if the illusion was lost on Franzoni.

"Itís quite breathtaking," He said at last.  He wasnít the only one who needed something else to concentrate on, after all.

"It is only logical for Pentek to occupy the cell Derek Parkes once did," Sokor observed, inadvertently breaking the reverie.

"How do we know if Parkes ever occupied it himself," Zimmer commented from the side.  "For all we know, Pentek might have been passing himself off as Parkes for months.  Scares the hell out of me."

"Indeed," Sokor agreed.

"Pentek wonít be incarcerated at the same facility.  Heís got new charges to answer for, and probably a different penalty to serve," Matheson observed.  "But as captain, I order everyone to forget about this mess for a while.  Weíll be talking about it in great detail soon enough, and personally, I donít relish the thought."

There was a round of cheers then, and Franzoni did not participate in it.  Since the start of the mission he had had one goal and one goal alone on returning to ES1, which was to hand in his resignation.  He was tired of Starfleet, tired of the Copernicus, and most of all tired of answering to Matheson.  He wasnít going to answer to her now, and he had a feeling that she had a secret that should have been answerable to him, her first officer, that she wasnít going to divulge.  It was his grandfatherís curse, the Betazoidís third eye, which had been blinded along the way, and that had made all the difference.  He was not going to resign now.  He was going to stay, and stay here aboard the Copernicus.  It was a matter of guilt.  He owed it to himself and certain others.  And it was all thanks to his grandfather.  One dayÖone day, he thought.

Commander Harmon Franzoni had two revisions for his Starfleet record, one that indirectly tied into the other, and the other was more likely, if ever found out, to lose him his commission.  Neither would ever see the light of day, and at the end of the day it was more this resolve than the guilt that would keep him there.  And for this he cursed his grandfather for a final time.  
FIN
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exhumed
characters and story © copyright Sean "Waterloo" McKenna 2001-2003; Star Trek copyright Paramount