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Randal Shayne: The Serpentis Machination

Randal Shayne

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   The courtroom was a taciturn affair, bland and uninteresting. Indeed, it was room modified by necessity; its purpose had been to hold spare deuterium tanks and spent parts, not to house the practice of law. And yet, the addition of several pennants on the walls- sigils representing Starfleet, the Federation and the starship Quin’lat added a sense of propriety and nobility to the otherwise dingy affair.
   For all its patriotic imagery, the room was taut.
The seating was packed with people. Beings from across space had packed themselves into the cramped accommodations, rejecting the admiralty’s strategy of limiting the audience by moving the hearing to the Quin’lat from the nearby Starbase 773- the place from which this entire debacle had begun. Merchants, scholars, and- somewhat concerningly- a small contingent of purple-bedecked prylars, had taken up a vigil near the front. It was clear from Admiral T’Lara’s unusually pursed lips that this was already a poor start to what would likely be at best a grueling day, and at worst… one that might well live in infamy.
Before her and to the left sat the prosecution. Commander Snow carefully addressed his already immaculate work space, smiling peacefully, but all the while bearing heavy eyes. Several feet away, the defense stewed. One of the men, identified by his four-pipped collar of red and his stolid, terrifyingly calm features, was Captain Dolame Reager, commanding officer of the Quin’lat. The other man, similarly human and composed of a softer disposition, was Lieutenant Argyle Mallon. His hands were folded before him, and he bore the confidence of a guaranteed victor.
   The gentle tapping of a bell, three tones of two, brought the quiet rumble of hushed conversations to an end. Admiral T’Lara cast her eyes about the room, and spoke in a clear, melodious voice.
   “This hearing, convened on Stardate 239601.23, is now in session. Commander Snow, you may proceed”.
   Snow stood slowly, spreading a dignified hand over his already smooth uniform. “I would like to call Lieutenant Mallon to the stand”.
   On cue, as though nothing else could have been said, Mallon stood, and airly made his way to the witness stand. He sat comfortably, and eyed Snow with vague curiosity as he extended his hand toward the verifier. A warble of electronic noise heralded the arrival of a man’s condensed accomplishments.
   “Verified. Lieutenant Argyle Mallon” The computer asserted. “Current assignment; USS  Quin’lat. Starfleet Command decoration for valor and gallantry. Beta Serpentis Expedition Medal, Daystrom Institute Commendation for Scientific Advancement…”
   The list continued for some time, each success seemingly more relevant and vast than the others before it. When it concluded some seventy seconds later, Commander Snow smiled.
   “An impressive career, made more extraordinary by your age and experience, lieutenant. A career based in honor and intelligence, but more than that… choices. Would you agree, lieutenant?”
   Mallon considered Snow for a long moment before smiling. “It is… a valid perspective, Commander.”
   “I’m pleased you feel that way, lieutenant”. Snow genuinely did sound glad. There was an unconventional sort of openness about him, well away from the dogged determination that many prosecutors elsewhere might display. “We are, after all, products of choices. Indeed, we are here now as a result of a choice- another fair characterization, lieutenant?”
   This time, Mallon was slower to respond. “Perhaps, sir. The topic of whose choice is still up for much debate.”
   Snow puckered his lips and nodded thoughtfully. “Well stated. Allow me, then, to clarify- and do feel free to interrupt me if I make an error here. On stardate 329512.02, the entire crew of the starship Quin’lat, yourself included, received certain orders from Starfleet Command. These orders, dispatched from Starfleet Medical, included instructions for a new round of inoculating medications to be administered to all hands.”     Snow drew himself out, and tilted his head in confusion. “Mr. Argyle, as I understand it, you refused those orders”.
   Argyle nodded. “Yes, sir. That is correct.”
   “Hmm. And… your reasoning for this action was spiritual in nature, was it not?”
   Argyle again paused. “Technically, sir, yes. My spirituality, however, is far more present in my life than that of most other humanoids. My roots stem from the Ty’bek mountains of Terra Nova.”
   T’Lara was listening intently to the peaceful discourse before her, but out of the corner of her eye, she could not help but notice the expression of quiet fury on the face of Captain Reager.
   “Yes- most present, I gather. Of particular note is your aversion, shall we say, to certain plants and medications?”
   “Yes, sir”.
   “Plants and medications that were present in the new vaccine Starfleet Medical ordered for all hands aboard the Quin’lat?”
   “Yes, sir- precisely.”
   Snow wrapped his hands around his back and began to pace before the witness chair.
   “Are you familiar, Lieutenant Argyle, with the circumstances regarding this order to innoculate?”
   Argyle nodded slowly. “Yes, I believe it was an outbreak of Rigelian Fever”.
   “Rigelian Fever- damned nasty”. Snow paused, swallowed slightly, and continued. “What would you, in your expert opinion, deem as the most dangerous feature of this particular illness?”
   Argyle perked up. “The rapidity with which it reaches the terminal stage. Those with Rigelian Fever either improve drastically or perish approximately twenty-four hours after infection.”
   “Damned nasty indeed.” Snow’s hands were clenched. “And yet… you refused the inoculation all the same”.
   “Yes, sir, I did”. Argyle was placid. Saved. But the upper hand was enjoyable to indulge. “Ingesting those ingredients would certainly see me denied entry to the Holy Resplendence after my death. I chose not to contaminate my body with such pollution. A choice, I might add, granted by the Federation Charter-”.
   “I would advise that you leave the intricacies of Federation law to me, Lieutenant”. Admiral T’Lara’s tone was icy but impartial. Argyle nodded towards her deferentially and returned his gaze to Snow. “That was my reasoning, and my choice.”
   “Then what?”
   Argyle sighed after a moment’s pause. “The situation was brought to the captain’s attention. Soon after, I was charged with disobeying the order of a superior, and sent to the brig. When not here, I am confined there, as I have been for approximately one standard week.”
   “An… unfortunate turn of events, to be sure”, said Snow, his voice filled with regret. “You then decided to challenge the charge?”
   “Yes, sir- and I should like to point out that, in defense of this attempt, I am enjoying the counsel of Captain Reager himself.” Argyle extended a hand to his captain and bowed his head. Reager’s eyes were intensely focused ahead of him.”
   “Most noble of the captain.” Snow nodded respectfully toward the glowering superior. “He protects his own. He has been doing that since he took command. It’s his job. You understand that? You understand that diseases like this kill in days? You understand that if he did anything but lock you away, and insist that everyone take the vaccine, he would be endangering everyone aboard? And everyone the Quin’lat came into contact with?”
   “To a degree.” Mallon leaned forward conversationally. “I’ve researched this disease and many others. Most are completely treatable with our technology today. Yes, a few may die of complications, but we are not immortal, nor are we designed to be. Plants and herbs and things overrule my feelings, my beliefs, all for what you say is the common good. Even if I don’t take it, the rest of the crew will. They will be protected! I don’t interact with many other people besides. Call me whatever you wish- delusional, irresponsible- but I do not deserve to lose my commission, and I do not deserve to be discriminated against in this way!”
   His voice was now high, angry, strained. The sudden attack was as close to real as it needed to be. The prylars near him kept a quiet gaze on Mallon, but murmurings from the crowd again began.
   “The gallery will return to order”, Admiral T’Lara confidently declared, and quickly, it was so. Snow moved toward Mallon suddenly, and the lieutenant nearly recoiled.
   “Argyle. I know you. I’ve known you since the Serpentis Expedition. You are brilliant. You don’t deserve to lose your commission, but least of all over something like this! You must accept that vaccine, for the good of us all! One more sacrifice to be made, but you and your life and those around you are worth it- please, Argyle! A personal favor if nothing else!”
   The tone was strong, and somber. Captain Reager was now standing, his impressive size and aura placing a blanket over any mutterings that may have resumed from behind. “The defense is influencing the witness”.
   “Sustained”, ruled the admiral, raising an eyebrow at the unusual statement. Snow, for his part, looked at Mallon with a genuine sadness before turning to address the audience, and Admiral T’Lara. He opened his hands and spread them to the audience, before lowering them and smiling ruefully.
   “I tried. I really tried. I rest, your honor.”
   Snow returned to his seat, now more disheveled and weakened by his performance. Admiral T’Lara looked to Reager. “Your witness, Captain.”
   Reager stood, and the rage in his eyes was suddenly directed precisely at Mallon. He wasted no time.
   “I declare that Mr. Mallon ought to be allowed to stay in Stafleet without taking the medication. Allow me to explain. Lieutenant. You were a part of the Serpentis Expedition?”
   “Yes, captain, that is correct.”
   “Describe it”. Reager’s reply nearly clipped the end of Mallon’s statement. Mallon, for his part, was ready.
   “Beta Serpentis was a medicinal research colony under the flag of Starfleet. Though the colony was designed to be remote in its construction, over the centuries it became larger and more general, transitioning to an active hospital facility as Federation civilians began to move there.”
   “And what happened there?”
   Here Mallon hesitated slightly, but spoke clearly. “Five years ago- in fact, on this very day- an act of terrorism partially destroyed the Beta Serpentis Medical Complex.”
   “Cost?” Reager’s business-like tone and apparent callousness stirred ire in the crowd behind him. Admiral T’Lara’s gavel again silenced it.
   “One hundred and thirteen dead, three hundred others wounded.”
   “Would you agree that it was a tragedy?”
   Mallon nodded somberly. “Yes, very much so”.
   “I wouldn’t.”
   Now the rage from behind the hearing stage swelled powerfully. The security officers flanking both sets of doors placed hands on their phasers. Admiral T’Lara stood, and gazed at the assembled masses with such insistent vigor that those that noticed advised their more irate comrades to calm themselves.
   “This will stop, or I will hold the next disruptor in contempt”. A muffled cough was the only response. Reager continued unabated.
   “Hundreds dead, yes? A sad thing to be sure. But- and this is merely my opinion on the subject- the casualties that followed were the real tragedy. Would you care to enlighten us to your experiences there?”
    Mallon’s eyes had gone from righteous, to startled, to utterly confused. He shook his head. Reager grinned.
   “Well, allow me. Beta Serpentis is a thriving world, a world with every sort of microbe and bacteria and animal. Thousands of disease samples from across the Federation and beyond were kept in cold storage and studied there, and thanks to the technology designed to maintain it, when the attack struck the hospital, the hazardous material was harmlessly destroyed. But… the illnesses on Beta Serpentis, native to that world and partly responsible for shaping it into the cruel vision of greenery it is today… change. They change quicker than most.”
   Reager moved toward his desk, and picked up a PADD. “In the words of the Head of Starfleet Medical at the time, ‘it is my opinion that the loss of these disease samples and equipment with which to synthesize effective antidotes to that year’s particularly egregious viral season contributed to the otherwise preventable deaths that occurred during that time- a number approaching nearly two million people.’”
   Reager wasn’t even bothering to hide his intensity, and Mallon continued to implore his captain for answers with his eyes.
   “Now… with that all said and done, answer me this, Lieutenant; In your professional opinion, why might someone keep such lethal materials so close at hand?”
   Mallon considered, and then responded. “To study, of course. There exist… certain occasions where maintaining a dangerous item, in order to learn from it and defeat it, is wise.”
   Reager allowed himself another small smile before turning toward Admiral T’Lara, who’s expression told of a dawning understanding.
   “I rest my case, your honor.”


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