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SD242108.29 | [PLOT] Cmdr Stacker, Cmdr Archer, R2 | "A Shifting of Shadows"

Posted on Mon Feb 20th, 2023 @ 12:13am by Admiral Rochelle Ivanova & Commander James Archer & Lieutenant Commander James Stacker

2,783 words; about a 14 minute read

Mission: Genesis
Timeline: BACKLOG

Ethel Baul had found herself a rather niche little market by which to conduct business. The Vindicator used her in her role as Counselor and when docked at Theta, as they often were, the station itself utilized her particular brand of skills to help counsel the local merchants and wayfarers that found themselves in particular need of psychological services.

Therapy almost always managed to become synonymous with taking confession - but rather than roll her eyes, the woman found herself using ignorance to her benefit. Information was easily obtained under the guise that whatever was discussed went no further than her ears.

Her so-called patients would shit if they knew that the information she gleaned was immediately fed to Tr'Bak... So long as it seemed worthy of note and anything that eluded to the state of the Federation was always worthy of note. Especially when it came to supplies and items ordered by one Aksel Ravnsson.

One particular session, however, had set everything to be halted and had resulted in one unlucky Bolian suffering from a fatal heart attack out of the blue. He never made it out of her office alive, and she wept all the way through the witness statement - but damage control was damage control. Rochelle, or someone looking very much like her, had been "spotted" in some backwater city on Japori II.

Too much time had passed for ghost stories to be taken seriously, but precautions were still paramount when it came to lulling Ravnsson into a false sense of security.

Much to everyone's chagrin, especially Tr'Bak's, the people who should have been able to follow cookie crumbs and save the day were still idle and chasing their tails while Rochelle grew ever more comfortable in her new role.

And that's where 'Ethel' had come in again... Carefully finding her way into Commander James Stacker's pet Kelpian's quarters and dropping off a little care package by way of a PADD carelessly left in the center of the squid-thing's floor. Just enough evidence for those who could keep hope alive, and maybe a little more for those who knew where to look. The time had come for this game of thrones to come to an end and for Ravnsson's play for the top to be ended... Permanently.

Predictably, three hours later the shit hit the rotary impeller.

It started with the finding of the PADD. By no rights did it belong where it was found: even the most junior investigator within the security department would have near-instantly concluded that it was a plant from parties unknown. The "who" and "why" were solved after inspection of the device confirmed that it was not, in fact, a crude attempt at nefarious endeavors directed towards the safety and well-being of the intelligence section or its personnel.

About an hour after the device was found the contents were inspected by a bleary-eyed lieutenant (j.g.) thinking of the upcoming date he had with a Caitian from engineering. The first file made him scrunch up his face at the sick joke he was looking at, but duty compelled him to keep going. Files two and three elicited questions as to the sender's parentage and ancestry. Files four, five, six, and seven caused his jaw to drop.

A half-hour, and two comm calls later, James sat in the comfortable chair in the living room of the "Stacker quarters," blinking the sleep out of his eyes, face being caressed by a mug of coffee while he tried to wake up in the dead of the night. He rubbed them again, then blinked blearily, eyeing the mug as if he expected it to suddenly start speaking aloud. His eyes jerked to the door, however, when voices and footsteps became audible outside. He leaned back, thumbing the door control and opening it for the returning visitor - and the new arrival.

Archer wasn't amused, not even for a second. Being roused from much needed sleep by an insistent Kelpian and drug across a station the size of Theta wasn't ever high on his list. Ever. He'd barely had time to find clothes beyond underwear, a uniform was completely out of question. A faded prism and rainbow sprawled across the threadbare fabric covering his chest and he couldn't quite remember where the hell the pants had come from.

Sleep, after losing Rochelle, was a novelty. He'd only just recently become accustomed to catching more than an hour our two at a time. A quick glance over towards Parsuv told him that something major had transpired, arguing that it could wait until morning never would have worked. Another look towards Stacker as the doors closed behind them promised that the other senior Ghost wasn't exactly chipper and pleased either.

"I'm pretty sure we weren't all gathered for a pajama tea party by your kid, were we?" Archer heard himself speak, felt himself do a preliminary peak for teapot carrying child or her mother, and then settled in for what may be a bit more torturous than tea with Rune Stacker.

The grunt from the other commander made clear, without going into so many words, that that probability wasn't very likely. If at all. The man blinked his eyes again, squeezed them shut, then opened them widely before letting them relax, as he sat forward in the chair. He rubbed his face with a thumb as he spoke. "Warrant Officer Parsuv woke me up -" he stopped to check the antique watch on his other wrist, before resuming the rubbing, "about an hour ago. While he was out of his quarters someone broke in to leave a PADD behind. I'm too tired to beat around the bush, so I'll skip to the end of this tale: if the information is to be believed - and I'm told that so far it checks out - Commodore Ivanova is still alive."

Activity completed, for now, the man sat back in his chair and regarded the visitor. It was evident that he was still waking up, but the mug of coffee in his hand seemed to be working. He took another sip while he let the newcomer process what he'd said.

"Ro..." Archer caught himself, clearing his throat off the sudden metallic tang and tingles that had crept up his esophagus and dug into the roof of his mouth, "What information was given and who all knows about this PADD?" He asked instead, an eyebrow working its way up his forehead as he looked between the two gentlemen, "Ravnsson...." His head shook. Nope. Ravnsson couldn't know. They'd all be dead by now if he knew.

It was truly amazing how the brain worked while the body was exhausted and both were trying to recalibrate and work with one another.

Stacker gestured to the Kelpian, eschewing conversation for the moment and clearly deferring to his subordinate. "Images and biometric recordings and readings. Whoever left the data went to some effort to establish a timeline for us: all of the images contained easily-verifiable facts, such as newspapers and signs in windows. There was also a DNA sample, and video showing Commodore Ivanova. We have dated it to within the last three weeks," the alien concluded with a slight head-tilt and -flick.

"Tell him the rest," Stacker said in a half-growl, before taking another sip of his coffee.

"Hm? Oh, yes. A total of three people know. Commander Stacker, myself, and a junior-grade lieutenant who has been instructed to - how did you phrase it, sir? Ah. 'Display singular and career-enhancing devotion to keeping his mouth shut about this' was, I believe, how you put it," he added. The man in a bath robe and flannel pants grunted into his mug.

"And now yourself."

There was a heavy, whistling sigh that rose from Archer's chest. It easily could have been likened to a leaky balloon and it only ended with him running a hand through his short cropped hair and shaking his head. "And you believe it?" He asked, incredulous. The hand left his hair to gesture between the two other men, palm wide as if begging for reason and reassurance to be dropped within it. "I mean, I think we all know that we want Commander Ivanova to be alive, but how the fuck is someone getting close enough to extract DNA and not just bringing her to us?!"

He wanted to yell. He wanted to swear. His knees even threatened to put him down as he tried his best to process the information at hand. Rochelle. Alive. Free. Why wouldn't she have come home? Ravnsson... "I need a drink."

The station's XO looked up at the Kelpian, then made a side gesture with his head towards the replicator on the far wall. While the alien headed that way he turned towards the visitor. His words were more alert, now. Evidently the coffee was kicking in. "The information was sent in a way that suggests a new player in the game. One who doesn't want to tip their hand. But they did provide enough to identify a location: Japori II. If I were trying to return to the station, undetected, I'd strongly consider the Japori system as well."

He stopped for another sip of coffee. Several pregnant seconds elapsed before he spoke. "Without detailed examination of the DNA we can't be certain that it is her, but so far everything lines up. Even computer review of the video, which was a spot-on match to recordings of the Commodore walking in public. The lieutenant is scrubbing the files now for signs of tampering or clever editing, but the initial pass found nothing."

"Of course not." Archer knew better. Somehow he knew better. That hand rose again, this time covering his mouth as he helped himself to a seat across from Stacker and ultimately rested his elbows on his knees, hunching over as his brain kicked into overdrive. "You suppose she knows what we know? About Ravnsson?" He finally asked. Japori II was practically under their nose, just a hair's breadth away from the station, relatively speaking. "More importantly, why do you think this new player is tipping us off? Why now? To what gain?"

He was about to get up and begin to pace when the Kelpian returned and handed him a much needed glass of water, one he downed with gusto and nodded his appreciation over later. It kept him grounded, maybe even relaxed. "I want her to be alive... Maybe more than anyone else, I want her to be alive and well. I want her back, but there's a lot of questions..." He drawled off, lifting his eyes back to Stacker's. There was a likelihood that he'd said a little too much, but that wouldn't change a damn thing in the grand spectrum of things.

If he'd heard it, the man gave no outward sign. Of course given the hour it was also possible that he hadn't heard it, either. There was just no telling. "It's possible: I certainly wouldn't rule out her being aware of Ravnsson's involvement. As to 'why', riddle me this: you get halfway to your intended destination and stop. Why?" The eyes narrowed and turned to regard the far window. The one with a grand view of space and the distant nebula. "Security? Shelter? Maybe you've lost the will to press on. Maybe there's a compelling reason to stay. Maybe she needs help and this ... 'other party' ... is her way of getting word to us."

He grimaced and looked down into the coffee again. "I don't think we'll know for certain unless something can be arranged. But I think you'll agree that this is probably the first solid lead we've had for six months. And it's possible this other party is aware of that, too."

The other spook's mind worked over the question and its answer. There were no absolutions to be given or found. Archer's lips pressed tight in a thin, grim line and he found himself nodding more to the point than to anything else, "And what are we to do? Head to Japori II and collect her before Ravnsson catches wind or do we assume this is bullshit and a trap and ignore it?" Stacker was a far more cryptic and pragmatic man than Archer. Archer was far more prone to rash and off the cuff movements and decisions - neither was particularly useful on its own within the current context of the situation. It would require finesse and finery, but balls all the same to see this through without them all being killed in the process - Rochelle especially.

"Can I ask if there's evidence that she's with Landon? Everyone thought I was being ridiculous when I said we should be watching him... Just gotta know."

The eyes cut from Archer to the Kelpien, whose head tilted again in that alien way while he considered. It took a few seconds before he spoke, and when he did it was careful and measured, beady eyes cutting between both humans. "One of the images captured an individual who may be the captain. Unfortunately no face shot was presented. It was back-to, but the profile and musculature were close matches - even accounting for the local style of dress."

They sat there, in the room, for an even lengthier period of time before Stacker spoke up. "I think it best that we investigate this. Quietly, if feasible. Six months ago my movements and activities were being monitored, or at least that was hinted to me rather strongly. I don't know if that vigilance has lessened." His eyes flicked to the Kelpien, then turned to the visitor. "Can you arrange to get off the Vindicator for a credible reason? Long enough to get to Japori II and back? I'm the XO of a Federation starbase: my absence would be noticed. But I can send the Warrant Officer with you. And arrange for a few trusted colleagues to go along."

This time the other spook grunted and counted the king for himself. He'd been right, but it even so it would have been difficult to monitor Landon and not catch someone else's suspicion and ire. It could have been done, though, and then what? It was best left unthought about. The reality of things was far too interesting and dire. Rochelle may be alive, but she was far from truly safe. Danger lurked just about everywhere and she wasn't being practical or careful enough if someone was able to snag several images, a video, and a bit of her DNA. The last part was still the most peculiar and stressful of all. How? Why? Was she even still alive? What if this was just bait to lead them to her body, taunting them and warning them to stay in their own lanes?

His eyes squeezes shut, begging his hyper-active mind to simply stop.

"That's what I do, Commander, I randomly go places to deal with random things and random people. It's not exactly a noted affair when I leave." He glowered candidly, hanging his head, "I can leave as soon as tonight, but given the fact someone will know about this meeting, it's probably best we wait a few days and then head off... Come up with some other report to cover our asses with. Maybe some lead on weapons smuggling, I don't know. You figure it out and I'll do the rest."

And what was the rest? Dragging her back to the Vindicator? "Once we do this, there's no going back. We'll have to meet Ravnsson head on and with the elections coming up..." His head shook. Maybe now was the perfect time to do it. Power would be shifted one way or another and it didn't need to fall into the hands of the jackal by way of the horse he'd backed in the race.

Stacker and Parsuv exchanged a look. The former gave a nod, before turning back to his other guest. "I think we can come up with something credible." The way in which he said it suggested prior experience in the matter: there was an amused sort of tone behind his words. And the Kelpien let out a sound that suggested a suppressed laugh. The sound ended when Stacker continued. "As for Ravnsson ..." He made a sound and looked down at his nearly-empty mug. The look coming onto his face was almost thunderous, but it backed off almost as soon as it appeared. "I'm confident that he'll be dealt with."


Commander James Stacker
Executive Officer

Commander James Archer
Chief Intelligence Oficer

Rochelle Ivanov aka R2
Mirror Clone / Mercenary
Romulan Star Empire


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