In the observation lounge, Chief Miles O’Brien stood dumbstruck, his confusion obvious. He had been summoned to the meeting and had just heard his own voice requesting a second transport to the Mok’tagh. “I don’t understand,” he said to Picard. “That wasn’t me, sir.” His gaze swept the assembled senior staff and the Klingons. “I swear it. I never said that.”
“And yet that is your voice,” said Captain B’rul. “How do you explain this?”
“I can’t,” said O’Brien. “There was only one transport. A full pad. An engineering crew of five, and Lieutenant Barclay.”
“Yes, yes…and then a Vulcan, alone,” said B’rul, scowling. It was clear he was losing patience.
“No, sir. There were no Vulcans,” O’Brien said. He looked at Barclay for confirmation. Barclay shook his head. “But you don’t have to take my word for it, Captain,” O’Brien continued. “We can check the transporter logs easily enough.” O’Brien looked at Picard. “With your permission, sir?”
“Granted,” Picard said. O’Brien moved to the wall panel and tapped a few buttons. “According to the records, Dr. Selar was the last Vulcan to use a transporter aboard the Enterprise. She was returning from the medical conference on Starbase 67.”
“That was two weeks ago,” said LaForge.
“Transporter logs can be faked!” shouted Gr’val, apparently forgetting he wasn’t supposed to speak. “Your man lies!”
O’Brien’s face hardened. “Now, wait just a bloody minute–“
Picard raised his hand and O’Brien fell silent. “I have never known Mr. O’Brien to lie, Gr’val. I trust him implicitly.”
B’rul wasn’t the only one losing patience. “Why would we seek the destruction of the Mok’tagh?,” Riker snapped. “Why would we risk our alliance with the Klingon Empire for no good reason simply to destroy one single Bird-of-Prey? What sense does that make?”
“None,” said Dresa. All eyes turned to the tall Klingon woman. It was the first time she had spoken. “It doesn’t make sense. In fact, it makes no sense at all.”
“What?!” Gr’val stared at her in disbelief. “The reason does not matter! You require more evidence? Look there!” Gr’val pointed at Worf. “We sit at the same table as a traitor to the Empire! What does that say about them, that they would dishonor us so?” Worf set his jaw and bore the insult stoically, staring straight ahead.
“For once in your life, try not to be an idiot, Gr’val.” Dresa said calmly. She turned slightly in her chair to address B’rul, leaving the adjutant sputtering in rage. “Captain, this is a waste of time. It’s obvious they didn’t do this.”
B’rul stared at Lieutenant Barclay. The engineer was fidgeting nervously. He certainly didn’t look like a saboteur. His gaze shifted to Picard. Although he would never say so, B’rul admired the Federation captain. He had heard that when Picard served as Arbiter of Succession, he performed his duties in strict accordance with Klingon law. He would not be swayed by Gowron or Duras; though reportedly both tried to influence him. In some ways, although not a Klingon himself, Picard had more regard for honor than those who served on the Klingon High Council. B’rul did not believe Picard would be a party to treachery, nor would he knowingly shield one who was. As for Worf, the so-called “traitor”, there were still too many unanswered questions about his discommendation for B’rul’s liking.
B’rul let out a long breath. “Very well,” he said, smiling grimly. “I tend to agree with my second. Dresa is usually wiser than me.” Gr’val looked like he was about to speak, but B’rul silenced him with a look. “Still,” he continued, “the fact remains that a Vulcan saboteur beamed aboard the Mok’tagh and was likely responsible for its destruction. If he didn’t come from Enterprise, where did he come from?”
“I believe there is a Klingon research station on Varuna Three,” said Data, “roughly thirty-nine thousand kilometers from our present position. That would appear to be the most likely point of origin.”
““Your intelligence is out of date,” snorted Gr’val. “It’s been abandoned for decades.”
“Are you certain?” Data asked.
“Thirty-nine thousand kilometers is almost at the limit of transporter range,” said LaForge, before Gr’val could answer. “What do you think, Chief?”
“Why should his opinion matter? asked Gr’val.
“Because Chief O’Brien here has forgotten more about transporter technology than most of us will ever know,” said LaForge, smiling. “Except me, of course.”
“At that range, you’d have to be very sure of your coordinates, sir,” said O’Brien. “I wouldn’t try it. Not if there was another way.”
“Something closer, then,” Picard said. “What else is nearby?”
Data shrugged. “Nothing that I know of, Captain.” B’rul shook his head. “Nothing,” he agreed.
“Perhaps a cloaked ship,” Worf said.
An uncomfortable silence fell upon the observation lounge. Uneasy glances were exchanged. Suddenly, Dresa laughed; a short bark of amusement. “Fine,” she said. “I’ll say what we’re all thinking: Romulans.”
Data appeared to consider it. “The Romulans would likely possess the technology necessary to fake the Chief’s voice, and to beam someone aboard the Mok’tagh and make it appear as if they came from the Enterprise.”
“Then they might still be out there!” B’rul exclaimed, standing.
“If it is the Romulans, it’s more likely they took off soon after the Mok’tagh’s destruction,” said Riker. “Why would they stick around and risk getting caught? They’ve got a decent head start now.”
Picard stood up and straightened his uniform. “Mr. LaForge, scan for the quantum singularities indicative of Romulan warp signatures and coordinate our findings with the Klingons. Captain B’rul, I assume you will wish to return to your ship.” B’rul nodded.
The other two Klingons stood. “Captain,” Gr’val addressed B’rul, “this will not be acceptable to the High Council!”
B’rul sighed. “He is right, Captain Picard. A Klingon vessel was destroyed, and although I do not believe you or your crew had anything to do with it, the Council expects we take action. I must insist Lieutenant Barclay come with us for now. As a gesture of good faith.”
“But he doesn’t know anything!” Troi protested. “You know that!”
“Perhaps not,” said B’rul. “But we must have something to show. We will hold him only until this matter is resolved. I give you my word.”
Picard looked about to refuse, but Barclay spoke. “It’s all right, Captain. I’ll go with them, if it will help.”
“Where are you taking him?” Riker asked.
B’rul shrugged. “I see no reason to bring him all the way back to the Empire. The outpost on Varuna Three is as good a place as any. Although abandoned, it should still be serviceable. Lieutenant Barclay will be our guest there for the time being, until our investigation is concluded. Gr’val, see to it.”
Picard walked up to Gr’val, locking eyes with the taller Klingon. “I expect that my officer will be treated with respect, adjutant.”
Gr’val sneered. “He is a prisoner, Picard. His comfort is hardly our concern.” He caught sight of B’rul. The Klingon captain was glaring at him. “But,” he conceded quickly, “though he may not be as comfortable as he would be in a Federation prison cell, neither will he be mistreated.”
Picard turned to Barclay. “Are you certain of this, lieutenant? I will not order you to go.”
Barclay nodded. “Yes, sir. But…uh…the quicker the better, sir. If it’s not too much trouble, maybe tell everyone to work fast.”