“I’m home, mitts!” came a shout from the living area.
Claire, still sopping wet from her hot shower, came padding out of her quarters to find Geillis stretched out on their couch. Her head was buried in the pillows and beside her, an open backpack; from what Claire could tell, the contents consisted of a datapad, bag of trail mix, and two bottles of whisky.
“That bad, huh?” Claire remarked, continuing to dry her hair with a towel.
The sea of red waves parted and Geillis lifted her head, flipping her hair out of her face.
Claire raised her eyebrows.
“I can see that,” she said, poking at Geillis’ alcohol-laden bag with a bare foot. She knew she didn’t have to remind her friend that cadets weren’t allowed to imbibe during the semester.
Geillis snorted. “Och. Starfleet can fuck me.”
“Get caught with those, and they just might.”
Geillis sat up and placed her head in her hands. “I am this close to dropping out, Claire. I’m sick and tired of these arrogant arses in my training modules.”
“Aye. I’m about to set in a course, and Professor Harrison Agathy butts in wi’ ‘Be sure to double check your coordinates.’ Claire, I’m going to strangle the man. I bloody well ken how to lay in a course!”
“Infuriating,” Claire agreed, collapsing onto the couch next to her friend. In the background, an old recording of the 2056 Olympics played.
“Ye can say that again,” Geillis huffed.
Claire sympathized. She could think back on a couple instances in her own Academy career so far when, during a high-risk maneuver or stressful drill, a professor had simply told her to “stay calm and just get it right.”
“He’s out to get me, Claire. Every day, it’s something. Professors don’t know what it’s like to be a cadet. They’ve been in the teacher’s seat too long, forgotten what real space is like,” Geillis said. Then she sat up straight as a rod. Claire could see a plan forming behind her friend’s bright hazel eyes. “I’ve got an idea.”
Claire shook her head, blocking out the sound of former Germany’s figure skating victory. Whatever had just dawned on her friend couldn’t be good. “Geillie…”
“No, mitts, this is brilliant. Professor Agathy needs tae feel that terror, live like a cadet for one moment. Tomorrow, for my exam, I’ll give him the ride o’ his life.”
Claire jolted awake, breathing heavily. Heart racing, she brought her legs up, bracing against the chill of her quarters in the early morning hours. That afternoon was painted so vividly in her memory—but it was one she hadn’t thought about for years. The next day, Geillis went into her flight path exam with the intention of making it a bit bumpier, a bit riskier than usual.
In reality, the next day Claire had been informed that her roommate and Professor Agathy had perished in an unfortunate flight accident.
Shaking off the memory, Claire sighed. Well, I’m up. She threw her legs over the side of her bed and wrapped herself in a robe. A cup of tea and getting a head start on the day would clear her thoughts. Besides, as much as she dreaded seeing Geillis again, she hoped that this briefing would grant the Admiral and the task force exactly the information they needed to stop Randall. She hoped it would at least be a step in the right direction.
The next morning, Claire found herself directly across from a ghost. Geillis Duncan, now refreshed and uniformed in ensign’s wear, sat at the head of the table animatedly recounting the important information she’d gathered as an operative deep in the Romulan state. Her hair was as red as Claire remembered, eyes just as bright, if not a bit aged, and her energy lit up the room. Everyone at the briefing table sat in rapt attention at her account of the encrypted transmissions she’d intercepted from Jonathan Randall.
“They were directed to a member of the Romulan High Council, and they were brief. But they mentioned Borg technology, as well as his dealings with the Necesse.” With a press of a button, the decoded messages were transmitted to everyone’s datapad for reference. A quick skim was all the confirmation the captain needed.
“You decrypted these yourself?” Commander Baxter asked. “Have they been checked?”
“I was chosen specifically for my decryption skills. If the Admiral trusts them, so can ye, Commander, ” Geillis emphasized, narrowing her eyes.
Claire jumped in, her eyes scanning some broken phrases. “He seems particularly interested in maturation chambers and neural interlinks.”
“Aye. My knowledge of the Borg is less encompassing, Doctor.” Geillis smiled. “That’s why you’re here.”
Claire purposefully ignored her friend’s extended olive branch, returning her eyes to the datapad. “He’s hypothesizing modifications to existing tech and references to things I’ve only read about. This is beyond thorough—it’s almost obsessive,” she mused.
Across from her, Rupert nodded, clearing his throat. The lieutenant was stoic. “That confirms, then, the suspicions the Admiral had, aye?”
“Aye,” Jamie answered, beside her. He’d wordlessly found a seat next to Claire, and she had to admit she felt much calmer having him there. At the moment, though, he was less than calm himself. He seemed a livewire, ready to burst.
“What suspicions?” Claire asked.
“That Randall may have some plan for the technology of the Borg—potentially dangerous plans.”
Claire took a breath. “Because of this interest in Borg tech?”
“Aye. If he does, that makes him a dangerous man,” Rupert concluded. “And given the Federation’s desire to keep the remaining Borg at bay...it was of utmost importance to be certain.”
Commander Baxter sat forward. “This doesn’t confirm anything. We have records detailing Borg research here on this ship. A simple interest in it, and a few references to their technology, means nothing. By that definition, Doctor Beauchamp herself would be suspect.”
“Interest is one thing. Ill intent, another,” Geilis broke in. Another press of her datapad, and a new communique popped up. “This is another encrypted message I gathered, from a member of the Necesse. It mentions a ‘culling,’ and calls for a ‘cultural assimilation for the ages,’ as well as the possibility that they have gotten their hands on some Borg tech–”
“But that’s from the Necesse. How does that relate to Captain Randall?” Commander Baxter’s brow furrowed.
“The Necesse were found to be involved in an event immediately before Captain Randall went missing. Could there be a connection?” asked Captain Sirrim. The Klingon’s face was unreadable, but, having served with him long enough, Claire saw the way his mouth twitched when he was close to making a connection—or to victory in Parrises Squares.
“Absolutely,” Geillis nodded. “There’s enough evidence and direct correspondence in these messages to prove they are directly responsible for his disappearance and given his detailed hypotheses for improving on Borg technology–”
“I knew Captain Randall before the war. He was a good man. I simply cannot accept–” Baxter began.
“Commander,” Jamie interrupted. “We ken Captain Randall has been in communication with the Romulan High Council about Borg tech—that alone is incriminating enough. We ken the Necesse are calling for some kind of culling, as Geillis said, and we now have correspondence between Randall and the Necesse in which they claim to have procured Borg technology.”
“I think there’s enough to assume that whatever he’s involved in, it isn’t harmless,” Claire concluded, slightly more firm than she’d intended. Her friend’s unwillingness to see what was presented before him was beginning to frustrate her.
At this, the Commander sat back, an unreadable look in his eye. He didn’t respond.
“I agree with you, Doctor,” the captain said, with a quick glance to his first officer. “But we still need to find concrete leads as to what he, or the Necesse, may be planning. We need details if we’re to anticipate and put an end to it.”
“I may be able to help there, Captain,” Jamie said, sitting forward. He quickly displayed a rather personal message composed by Randall.
“‘...the same recipe as Aunt Asda, bless the Four Deities…’” read Captain Sirrim, a puzzled look crossing his face at the words before him. “‘Ring a gong in my honor at supper…’”
“Captain Randall is Betazoid, sir,” Jamie clarified. At the captain’s piqued interest, he continued. “He has two brothers still living on Betazed. It appears at least one of them...Frank…has been in communication wi’ Randall regularly. He may have some idea what his brother is up tae.”
“That decides it, then. I will forward our findings to the Admiral. With any luck, she will see the necessity of a visit to the Randall’s of Betazed.” Captain Sirrim stood. “Dismissed.”
As the table gathered their things, Claire heard the captain speak sternly to his first officer. Looking rather chastised, Baxter followed Sirrim out of the ready room. As most of those gathered left, Claire followed the two men’s exit with her eyes. She couldn’t help but wonder what was on Baxter’s mind. She’d never known him to be so willingly stubborn during a briefing.
She must have stared longer than intended, for Jamie spoke beside her. “I canna say I much care for the man, Sassenach.”
Jumping slightly, she let out a snort. “I am a bit surprised at him today.” Then she shook her head. “Commander Baxter is one of the finest officers I know and one of my earliest friends on the Vanguard .”
Jamie made a sound beside her, somewhere in between a grunt and a chuckle. But with a look to Geillis, who hesitantly hovered nearby, he said no more, smiled at her, and ducked his head in goodbye. As he left the briefing room, Claire noted the shift in the air around her. It was heavier.
“Mitts,” Geillis said. “Can we talk?”
Claire felt her anger beginning to rise, and she turned to face her old friend. She had no interest in beginning a heated conversation right then.
“Just let me explain.”
Claire let out a huff of air and rubbed her temples, still feeling sluggish from the prior evening’s episode.
“Fine,” she said, throwing the woman an icy look. “I’m meeting Commander T’Sen for breakfast in Ten Forward. You can explain on the way.”
With that, she turned towards the exit. Hearing Geillis behind, she continued her path with purpose towards the turbolift.
“That day, the day I...died–” Claire could hear the awkwardness in her friend’s words. “–I was approached by Admiral Janeway. She recruited me for a mission. It was important.”
“What, and you couldn’t send a message? Nothing to let me know you were alright? You had to die?”
“Aye, I did.”
“Why the secrecy?”
Geillis was silent as they entered the turbolift. Her jaw was set and her furious green eyes flashed, but she said nothing. Claire forced her fists to unclench.
“Deck Ten,” Claire said to the computer. It wasn’t until the whirring of the lift began, promising a speedy delivery to their destination, that she turned to face her friend. “Geillis, I don’t doubt the importance of the work you did. But, you cannot fault me for missing my best friend.”
“Then, what? Why can’t you look at me?” Geillis demanded. Claire felt her heart rate rising, but she stayed silent. Utter disbelief at her friend’s cluelessness raging through her mind. When she’d assumed Geillis dead, anger had held no place in her heart. How could she be angry at a corpse? But this? Deception and fabrication, even for the Federation…
“...for feck’s sake, I thought ye’d be glad to see me again–”
“I attended your funeral, Geillis!” Claire finally shouted, her voice being frustratingly swallowed up in the padded walls of the lift. “I saw you in your goddamned coffin.”
Her eyes searched Geillis’ face and found a flash of hurt. But the woman was silent.
As the lift doors parted, Claire practically bolted through them towards Ten Forward.
“You were my best friend. I trusted you implicitly with everything. And you just left, apparently, without a word.” Claire let the hurt drip off her words. They’d arrived at Ten Forward and she was done with this conversation.
“I didna want to lie to ye, Claire!” Geillis finally shouted. “Ye have to believe me, mitts. But ye kent I had been feeling out of place. The Academy did not work for me.”
“But disappearing off the face of the universe and lying to everyone who loved you—that did?”
“Claire–” Geillis reached out to grab Claire’s arm, but Claire pulled it away.
“Geillis, I…” Claire trailed off, feeling her anger dissolving into something closer to sorrow. This felt like losing her all over again. “I can’t.”
With tears building despite herself, an occurrence happening too often in her life recently, Claire began to enter Ten Forward when Geillis spoke.
“I was recruited for Section 31.” Claire froze. “Ye ken it?”
Claire blinked in disbelief,unsure if she’d heard correctly. “It’s real?” she asked. Section 31 was notoriously off-the-grid, the Federation’s method of operating in the grey area, so to speak. She only vaguely knew about it by name.
“‘Tis. Section 31 was my chance, Claire. I meant what I said, I felt out of place. Professor Agathy kent that too, actually. He and the Admiral offered me a way to make a difference, a real difference. And I’m bloody good at it.”
“Professor Agathy knew as well?”
“Aye. He joined Section 31, too.”
This is all too much . Claire rubbed her temples, then threw up her hands. “How do I know you’re telling the truth?”
Almost as if she’d anticipated Claire’s question, Geillis presented a sleek Starfleet badge. The shape was the same as Claire’s own, but one marked difference existed: it was black and gold as opposed to silver. In awe, Claire’s mind snapped back to the reality of what the group did. She’d heard stories and rumors about a myriad of their morally questionable actions. “But Section 31 is...” Claire began, her brow furrowing as she searched for the right word. “...is–”
“We canna all be by the book. We arena all perfect like yerself,” Geillis remarked.
“I am not perfect,” Claire warned, a steely edge to her voice as she took a step towards Geillis. Bile rose in her throat as she thought of her failures during her time as a Starfleet officer. “So don’t even try that.”
“I ken.” Geillis let out a breath. “This mission I was recruited for—it was imperative. And we’re still only uncovering the surface of it. Claire, in order for me to have operated and uncovered what the Federation believes we have, I had to be gone. Without a doubt.”
For a while both stood, silently staring at one another. Claire’s mind reeled, rebuilding events in her mind to match this new truth she was hearing. Erasing the funeral from her mind was impossible; however, replacing it with images of Geillis being involved in questionable activities with the likes of Section 31 was harder. Claire saw her friend in an uncertain light for the first time in her life.
Taking a leap and putting together the pieces of the last day, Claire asked, “Did it have to do with Randall?” At Geillis’ quick nod, she pushed for more. “Does the Federation know what he’s planning?”
“Maybe.” Claire was about to speak again, but Geillis cut her off. “That’s all I can say right now.”
Letting out a sigh, Claire crossed her arms, suddenly feeling very vulnerable. “How can I ever trust you again, Geillis?”
Geillis’ expression softened, and for the first time since their reunion, Claire saw a glimpse of the young woman she’d known in the Academy. “I don’t know, mitts. I suppose ye’ll have to relearn. Can ye give me another chance? I’m still the same person.”
Claire hoped she was right, and deep down, she knew that actually, Geillis’ words made more sense than anything else. Geillis had always been a purpose-driven individual, extremely capable and head-strong. If she had felt as out-of-place in the Academy, Claire now saw the rationale behind her decision to join Section 31. And, while Claire was still reeling from the imperative to fake Geillis’ death, she also understood that rationale.
What was it T’Sen always said? When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Well, here was the proof, the answers she’d been wanting—and they did seem probable.
Claire nodded. “Alright. Another chance.”
Geillis’ face broke into a small smile. “Alright.”
“I missed you, Geillis.”
“I missed you too, mitts.”