48: Debriefings

October 22nd 2183

USS Vanguard

Deck 9


Sahen took long, measured steps as he moved to the front of the large briefing room and took his position at the central lectern. "After some consideration, the Captain and I have decided to hold a combined debriefing regarding the recent operations against the Black Talons organization." He paused even as he gritted his teeth at calling the former group of pirates as anything but scum and looked at the members of Hazard, Valkyrie flight and the bridge staff from the short space battle over Kransui Two who were all gathered in the security briefing room. While they could have held the meeting in one of the multiple large conference rooms/mess halls, the security complex was set up to allow imagery and data to be displayed on the wall behind Sahen and as such it made the ideal location for this, and any future similarly large, debriefing.

"We shall discuss openly the actions of all participants in the various actions over the last two days and recommendations for ways to improve their future actions in similar situations."

Once more he paused and looked to his left, where MacLeod sat. He was quietly glad to be given control of this debriefing for two reasons; to help shape the methods and priorities of the Starfleet crew while also being given a public forum to call out the Captain on his rash actions before and during the assault on Kransui Two.

He was especially displeased about the whole Cerberus debacle and that had infuriated him no-end as it was MacLeod's own failing that had led to the terrorist operatives being allowed to shadow Hazard during the assault.

He was seething at being deceived by the Human female, but he would admit to being impressed at her being able to mix her true intentions with fallacies to trick both him and MacLeod. While he did not know if he would get a chance to ever praise her for her abilities, he knew that if he did the outcome would be very different from Kransui.

Since no-one moved to ask any initial question – something that MacLeod had warned him might happen, but seemingly hadn't – he continued. "We shall begin with the initial orbital battle over Kransui Two, and as such, the Captain will carry out this stage of the debrief."

MacLeod stood, a slight frown on his face; one that had been almost permanent since Judal had managed to report her findings regarding the overheard thoughts of the now-confirmed Cerberus operatives: A report that had only been brought to him minutes after they had past Valkyrie flight and entered the Relay; taking them out of the Vanguard's reach.

As he moved behind the lectern, he slowly let his eyes take in everyone that was present. While he had expected the three groups to sit separately, he was pleased to find that they were all intermingled; save for Franks and two of the Valkyrie pilots who sat a few empty seats away from the rest of Valkyrie flight and the rest of the crew.

"After reviewing the reports and scans of these operations, I must admit to being once again impressed with the way that the crew of this fine ship have stepped but and carried out their orders to the best of their abilities. Especially since many of us lack the experience of being senior crewmembers or carrying out duties that we have had only minimal experience with." He paused as he smiled and looked at Khev, Havaris, Reiji and Varik, Franks and Glinka before glancing around at Sahen.

Turning back to the group, he continued. "Havaris, your timings and locations for targeting the enemy ships to disable them were efficient and decisive; well done. Khev, while the ship took no damage you have done an excellent job of jugging multiple roles as needed and I am impressed with the ease with which you have slotted into Starfleet's methods and am pleased to announce that, as of this morning, you are now listed as the Operations Manager of this ship." Khev gave a slight bow even as many of the Federation crew clapped quietly in agreement with MacLeod's decision.

Sahen sat stoically as the announcement was made, as was the Romulan way. He might have agreed with MacLeod's decision, but he knew that the Lieutenant – his new posting necessitated a more senior rank – was loyal to House D'Mora, and those loyalties would be forever linked to MacLeod in some way.

If no sign of the Empire was found, then a likely merging of Starfleet and the Imperial Navy would take place – a more formal one than what currently existed – but it still rankled him to have to work within the confines of Starfleet regulations.

MacLeod's unwillingness to allow him to properly question the Talon leadership, or use a Betazoid to scan them, was infuriating; indeed even Sienae D'Mora had expressed her displeasure with the Augment's apparent reluctance to 'take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of the ship and its crew'.

Both had privately expressed a hope that he would learn to see the need to doing what must be done for the good of the Empire and Starfleet as more of this Klingon-accursed galaxy was revealed to them; and more of it tried to harm this ship and crew.

"Varik, I know that we don't always see eye-to-eye." Said MacLeod as he continued, drawing a few quiet chuckles from the senior staff and Hazard, even as Sahen quietly stewed. "But your crews have done an exemplary job of getting this ship up and running with a staff that was essentially halved after our arrival." Varik bowed his head slightly and the compliment, but said nothing.

"Ensign Reiji," continued MacLeod as he looked now at the young Andorian woman. "I know that until recently you have not had any meaningful experience with piloting an Akira-class, but your skill, both over Kransui and during the Battle of the Citadel, was excellent." The Andorian's antennae dropped slightly in embarrassment at the praise even as her cheek flushed a subtler shade of blue. "As such, as of this morning, I have altered the ship's record to list you as the senior helm officer and list a promotion to full Lieutenant. Congratulations." The newly minted Lieutenant slouched further into her seat in awkwardness as she was not used to such public praise and support from her senior officers.

MacLeod felt his smile grow slightly at the young female's discomfort even as he turned to look at his XO. "Major, I must admit to being satisfied with your command of the ship during the orbital battle." The corner of his lips twitched even more as he spoke. "I honestly expected return to find nothing but the burnt out hulks of the Talon fleet."

Sahen allowed himself a slight smirk even as he heard a few quiet chuckles from the assembled crew. "I was tempted Captain, but I was reminded by Lieutenant Havaris that you might wish to talk to some of the Talon leadership afterwards." Though he obviously did not continue the point, MacLeod clearly heard the repeat of Sahen's earlier recommendation to torture those leaders.

"Well I'm glad to see you did." He replied. "Though, for now, I think we'll leave the questions to C-Sec and the relevant governments of the Citadel." Catching the warning/order, Sahen bowed his head slightly in acceptance, though he was pleased to hear that MacLeod did seem open to the possibility of change in the future.

MacLeod coughed slightly to regain everyone's attention, and he spoke once more. "Indeed, I found the actions and behaviour of all of you to be to the highest standards of either Starfleet or the Imperial Navy." He stopped as his smile dropped slightly. "That said, there is still room for improvement and each of you will receive detailed reports tomorrow from myself and the Major regarding all your actions during these operations."

He moved to step away from the lectern, only to stop and move back once more behind it. "I also know that there is much I could do to be a better Captain and CO for all of you, and I hope in future that I can meet the lofty standards set by Captain Willard and Commander Mirok." He made sure to use mention both former commanding officers since the Romulans had a different standard from the Starfleet crew, and he had found a few references to Mirok in Willard's personal files from the Dominion War; references that spoke of him being an excellent commander and tactician.

With a short nod, he stepped back from the lectern and returned to his seat even as Sahen stepped forward again.

"Now, regarding the ground operations." He turned and stared directly at Ratcliffe and the pair held each other's gaze as two strong wills clashed before Sahen allowed himself a very slight smile. ""Lieutenant Ratcliffe, your initial assault plan was sufficient in breaching the target base and it allowed your teams to gain the element of surprise even as the orbital battle died down." He paused and looked at each member of Hazard in turn before he continued. "Your initial assault plan was well constructed and organized, however you failed to allow for the unforeseen of the combat mechanoids and needed to be assisted by the Captain. I hope you will learn to expect more unknown variables and plan for them in future."

Ratcliffe kept his expression neutral as he replied. "Yes sir." Internally he was annoyed at himself over the mechanoid attack, but he wondered just how he was meant to prepare for something he had never experienced or remotely considered.

Sahen could easily read the confusion in the Human's eyes – being trained as a spy/intelligence officer did have its benefits – and knowing he was dealing with the different standard of Starfleet, offered a final word of advice on the matter. "The ability to do so will come with time and experience Lieutenant. I believe the expression is that experience is the worst teacher." Ratcliffe allowed himself a taut smile, and nodded at the Major's words.

Sahen looked once more at the members of Hazard. "While both teams were effective, it is not unanticipated to find that Alpha squad would show more unit cohesion than the new Beta squad. I will not make references here and now about Beta squad's mistakes, but I do hope that further training and missions allow Beta squad to improve to the level set by Hazard's former CO." The comment was clear to Ratcliffe in a challenge to both train his new squad and to maintain the high levels established by MacLeod with Alpha squad. "However, I do feel certain incidents from the mission should be mentioned."

He paused and took a quick glance over at MacLeod, who managed to keep his own expression neutral. "Chief Tronstad was fortunate to survive the initial mechanoid attack and I hope he, and all away team members, will now learn to check every object for potential threats."

Tronstad allowed himself a grunt of acknowledgment since he knew he should have done so anyway after many years in New Berlin's SWAT units. Thankfully, the advanced shielding of the Centurion armour had protected him, but his pride in his abilities had taken a painful, but necessary, dent.

"Also, I would expect Decurion Liun to remember that disruptors and phasers should be used to subdue a target instead on blunt force." While Sahen felt the Batarian had deserved the rather physical put down, and death penalty, Liun's lack of composure was unacceptable to him.

Liun gave a brief, but full, nod of understanding and acceptance of his superior's guidance. Even if he had taken some enjoyment in rendering the being unconscious with his hands, he knew that doing so was a mistake in judgement.

"Additionally, the Decurion and Specialist Enar must remember to always check for vitals when carrying out operations. We can never be too careful in case we fail to save someone we should or allow an enemy the chance to escape by feigning their own demise."

Sahen stopped there and took a look at the members of Hazard once more. "Beyond that, the actions of both Hazard squads were acceptable, for now." He paused as he internally grimaced at his next words. "However, I expect to see better unity and teamwork shown in future operations between the Starfleet and Imperial forces."

There were a few looks of shock from the Starfleet crew and Sahen could see that the Romulans present were also in shock at his choice of words. However given to their location and situation, Sahen was in no doubt that even if some kind of Romulan Empire existed in this universe, a better merger of their two forces was in the best interests of all of their combined crew.

He noticed MacLeod move to stand, thinking it was time to discuss the actions of Valkyrie flight, however Sahen was not done.

"With all that said, there are a few areas of the ground operation that need to be discussed openly." He paused and turned to face MacLeod. "Regardless of how you may feel about my actions and behaviour Captain, I believe that several of your decisions recently require evaluation." He took a breath as he turned back to the assembled crew, noticing their looks of shock from his earlier statement had not dissipated.

"Starting with the decision to allow the supposed Alliance operatives to accompany Hazard during the assault. A team that was later discovered to be working for a terrorist organization known as Cerberus; though only after they had escaped past Valkyrie flight and through the Relay."

MacLeod looked up at Sahen calmly; while he was annoyed – to put it mildly – at the Major's decision to air this in public, he was willing to allow it as he had been wrong in hindsight regarding Miss Lawson and he hoped it would prove to the crew that even with his abilities, he was not infallible.

The fact that Miss Lawson had pulled the wool over his eyes was infuriating no doubt, but what really bothered him, and was confirmed by Judal's own scans, was that Miss Lawson had been genetically created like a first generation Augment and had enhanced abilities similar to his own.

A part of him was actually hoping for a chance to discuss that with her, as until now he had not considered that there could be anyone close enough to qualify as Augmented in this universe. Yes, the Systems Alliance military gave all their soldiers an RNA injection but that only lifted their abilities – based on the scans of Shepard, her crew and the N7 unit that had been aboard – to around Vulcan/Romulan levels of strength and reflexes.

While he was not well versed in genetics, he knew enough about his own Augment DNA to use it as a base in comparison to the Cerberus operative. He had postulated, and Leonard had concurred when drawing from his access to Starfleet' medical databases, that Miss Lawson's own DNA showed the potential for a greater level of intelligence than his own, and a longer natural lifespan than even Alliance-altered Humans.

However, she had only Alliance-levels of strength increases, making her on par with a Vulcan, or Turian from the files that had been collected on the Citadel. While her agility would be greater than an Alliance female, such as Shepard, she was probably not quite at his own levels of flexibility. In addition, Leonard had spotted a flaw in her makeup that would limit her potential to have offspring; though MacLeod was frankly unconcerned with that piece of information beyond using it as possible leverage in their next encounter.

Sahen allowed his comment about the Cerberus team to settle in before he continued. While he could accept the fact that the true identities of the Human team was not discovered until it was too late to prevent their escape, the fact that MacLeod had allowed them to travel with Hazard was the point of contention that he had an issue with. "By allowing them to accompany Hazard, even when their true loyalties were unknown, was a security risk that I found and find unacceptable and hope is one that is not repeated in future."

A few of Hazard squirmed in their seats, as they had explained the basics of their technology to the now identified terrorists, and silently wondered just what kind of reprimand they would face for their mistakes; honest or not. Ensign Franks, until now quiet and uncaring near the back of the room, allowed himself a very slight smile at MacLeod proving himself fallible. He was less than happy though, that Sahen had made to fact known so freely as it diminished the usefulness of the Captain's failing when he used it to persuade others of the risks of the Vanguard's current command situation.

"Sir," started Fourier, drawing the attention of everyone in the room. "How much intel did they get?"

Sahen turned to look at MacLeod, curious how willing MacLeod would be to admitting his mistakes and what they had cost.

"Thankfully not much." Answered MacLeod as he sat calmly. "They didn't take any equipment but we believe that they did manage to take scans of our shuttles and several of the races that they encountered." He sighed softly before continuing. "Hopefully it won't allow them to use anything against us or the Alliance, but we will have to be more careful in future about who we allow around our technology." He glanced over a Sahen, his eyes boring a hole in the Major; who simply ignored the glance as he looked at the assembled crew.

"We have been lucky and managed to avoid a major incident regarding Cerberus, but we must all be more wary around the locals. While some are Human, they are not Federation or Starfleet Humans, and cannot be treated as such." Sahen hoped this message was sinking in, particularly with MacLeod and the security crewmembers present as if a Romulan commander had made such an error in judgement, they and their senior officers would have been harshly disciplined, if not expelled from the Imperial Navy in disgrace.

Some of the assembled crew turned and talked to themselves even as Sahen stood rigidly at the lectern. He allowed them to talk amongst themselves while he watched MacLeod sit equally as stoically as he stood; seemingly aware that Sahen was not finished.

"I am not done." Sahen said, bringing the murmur of conversations to stop. He allowed everyone's attention to return to him before he continued once more. "Captain while your actions regarding the Cerberus agents was an error in judgement, one I must also take some blame in for not convincing you against your actions, I cannot overlook your further failure of leadership and recklessness during the assault." He paused once more, and while he suspected that many listening believed he was taking pleasure in undermining the Captain, he was not. He simply knew that MacLeod lacked the training to lead and since he would not have the time or mentoring of an older Starfleet officer, Sahen felt that knocking the Captain down a few levels publically would have to do serve instead.

Oh, he did enjoy being able to mould a Starfleet officer, do not doubt that, but his primary purpose at this moment was to help MacLeod grow and learn.

"When Hazard became pinned down by the mechanoids you rushed to their aid." He raised his hand, cutting off MacLeod from replying until he could finish. "Now, I do not doubt your intentions were honourable or effective, however your reasoning for rushing in rashly was a risk. One I do not think you should have made."

"They were in trouble." Countered MacLeod surprised that Sahen was angered by his actions, since they had been successful. "Should I not have saved them?"

Sahen gave a gentle shake of his head, though it was aimed more at the Captain's reasoning than his actions. "Do you think so poorly of your own subordinates that you doubt their abilities to handle themselves?" MacLeod opened his mouth to retort only to stop, leaving him speechless in front of his crew even as Sahen continued. "I know that is not the case; we have both been impressed with Lieutenant Ratcliffe's recent planning and direction so I must admit to being worried by your recent rash actions."

"I do not think he actions were unwarranted Major." Said Ratcliffe, wishing to speak in defence of hid Co. "My teams were pinned down and the Captain's actions removed that threat."

"Are you saying you and your team would have been unable to handle the mechanoids without his assistance?"

Ratcliffe shook his head. "I didn't say that."

"Then I hope you can see why the Captain's actions, while honourable, were a risk that was unnecessary and one that almost cost us our commanding officer."

Ratcliffe shifted uneasily in his seat even as the other assembled crew watched him. "I guess." He did not like having his words twisted so, but he could find no flaw in the Major's logic; much as that galled him.

Sahen gave the young red-haired officer a grim nod and then turned to face MacLeod. "Captain, this ship needs you, not as some sort of rampaging trooper but as its leader." He stopped and extended his arm to indicate the assembled crew. "Everyone here has the training and or the potential to be more than an acceptable crewmember, however without a strong, but controlled leader, we may not survive this universe long enough to find a new purpose and direction."

Sahen turned fully to look at MacLeod, seemingly ignoring the others as he spoke to MacLeod. Not as an equal or fellow officer, but as one who knows how difficult it is to take the step back, and on who understands how to move the pieces on the board to gain the best results without risking his own life to do so.

"Captain, you have done excellent work taking on the reins of leadership and helping us to survive. "He paused and his neutral expression fell as he started at MacLeod intently. "But you cannot act rashly in future. We do not need you to die for us, we need you to live and lead us."

Sahen was not overly comfortable with his choice of words, but he had talked with Sienae about how to phrase this point and she had suggested using the far more subtle, and softer, language of the Senate than that of the Navy and now Sahen could see that she was right about the method.

MacLeod sat silently listening, thinking as Sahen spoke. Even after the Major stopped, and everyone waited quietly to hear his reply, he continued to sit quietly in silent contemplation.

Slowly, cautiously, MacLeod nodded. "Your point is well made Major." Sahen managed to avoid smiling, but his eyes twinkled at MacLeod's understanding. "And I will try to be more deliberate in my actions." He stood and allowed himself a taut smile as he looked at the crew whom were watching him carefully. "However, next time you want to berate me, can we not do so in front of people who already think I'm trouble?"

Several of the seated crew laughed softly as Sahen bowed his head fully. "I hope there is no need for a next time Captain." He turned back to the seated crew, who were now more relaxed after the tense moment of watching the Major call out the Captain. "There is nothing else from the assault that I feel requires discussion at this time."

MacLeod stood and moved to the lectern, with Sahen moving back cautiously, his training making wary that the Augment would attempt to retaliate for challenging his authority. Even if MacLeod did, he hoped that the Augment would learn the lesson needed, and before he committed another mistake. One that would result in a far more serious, and dangerous, outcome for the Vanguard.

"Moving on," said MacLeod, drawing a line under the Major's comments; though he did plan to speak with him and Sienae, as he suspected her hand at work in this as well. "The short battle that took place at the Relay is the next action that has come under review." He paused and looked directly at Franks. "Ensign, while your opinion of my ancestry and actions could have made many question my orders in assigning you to command Valkyrie flight, I am glad to see that you did not allow any of your concerns to interfere with your orders. Nor did it stop you or those under command for successfully disabling the small taskforce that tried to escape through the Relay.

"In addition, the Romulan you rescued is grateful, as is Senator D'Mora, and I must commend you on your bravery in facing off with the Turian leader so calmly and effectively." Franks nodded, happy with the praise, even as he was still unsure as to why he had been assigned command of the operation.

MacLeod smiled as he continued. "I must admit to enjoying your little tit-for-tat with Varunumis." Franks allowed himself a chuckle, since watching the Turian's bravado fall was fun. "Regarding the tactics used by Valkyrie flight; I have no issues or comments. You disabled your targets correctly without the loss of life so I must congratulate you all, and offer you my commendation. Well done."

He turned his attention from Franks to Ratcliffe, and continued. "Lieutenant, the second assault on the Talon asteroid base was well conducted. Even with only automated defences to deal with, your teams moved safety but quickly to secure the base. Though the Major is right that your teams require more training on truly working together," he paused and smirked, still a little shocked at Sahen encouraging the Empire to merge with Starfleet, though only really for Hazard operations for now. "Both teams did an adequate job securing the base and prepping them for destruction after we were finished with them."

Indeed, after the assault on Kransui Two, MacLeod had ordered all Talon resources that they were not going to take to be destroyed. For the crippled ships, that had meant – after removing as much Element Zero as possible – tractoring the ships into a close orbit of the system's star.

As for both bases, they had been reduced to nothing more than a pair of craters from a single torpedo strike each. Since neither world was inhabited or Class-M, MacLeod had decided that the usage of torpedoes against a ground target was acceptable; if a little bit of an overkill.

He stopped and looked at each person seated in front of him slowly, taking in the expressions on their faces, and smiled once more. "Unless anyone has anything they wish to add." He paused, and spotted a raised arm. "Ensign."

Everyone turned to look at Franks as he stood, ignoring the slightly aggressive glares coming from Hazard. "Captain, I must question the actions of yourself and the senior crew in simply taking equipment for study without deciding if such behaviour is acceptable."

He knew that more than few crewmembers had voiced concerns at how comfortable MacLeod had seemed with just taking leftover equipment – Sienae had also, once more, made a backhanded comment on the double-standards of Starfleet regarding who should have what technology. While he suspected he knew some of the reasons, he felt that such actions needed to be examined and challenged openly.

MacLeod only allowed the briefest or twitches to touch his lips before he answered. "Ensign, while it is not standard procedure for a command crew to justify their actions to those serving under them, in this case I understand your concerns and will do so." He paused and glanced slowly around the room, once more taking in everyone's face as he spoke. "To the best of our knowledge, the ability to harness and refine Element Zero is a slow and difficult process. Since the Black Talons would not be needing their ships, I felt that storing as much as we could would allow us to study the element at our leisure without having limits placed on us by the Council, or anyone else."

"And their technology and data?" Asked Franks with a slight frown as MacLeod's reasoning seemed solid; even if he did not think a Starfleet crew should resort to scavenging.

"Again, if we allowed the Council or others to control what we research, they could easily place limits or restrictions on that technology, and demand some of ours in return." He paused and sighed slightly. "I do not like just taking what we want, but if we allow the locals to determine what and how we learn their technology, we risk allowing them to control the narrative of our interactions. Since we do not have a fleet to support us, I feel – and the senior officers agree – that we need as strong a bargaining position as possible for future dealings."

Franks stood quietly before giving a slight nod. "Thank you sir, and I understand; though I must admit to be uncomfortable with just taking what we want."

MacLeod allowed himself a slight, sad smile. "As am I Ensign; which is why, once we return to the Citadel, I plan to open discussions with the Council and other governments, to ask them for their help in understanding all the new technology that we now have in storage." The smile shifted to one that held a small hint of menace. "At that point, it is up to them how they help."

"In addition," started Sahen, butting in on the conversation. "Having a copy of a QEC for ourselves will help us ensure that any the Council or others wish to install are not altered to allow them to track the Vanguard or attempt to allow remote access to our computers."

Franks frowned, more that Sahen was speaking than at what the Romulan was saying as he could see the benefits of the decisions taken by the Captain and the Major; even if he as not sure he would have done the same in their places. "Understood sirs. Again, thank you for answering."

MacLeod gave the Ensign a smile; glad that the young man was serving the role of questioning his actions. He knew that he was more 'aggressive' than other Starfleet officers and that with a Romulan XO and loyal crew, there was always a chance that he'd go too far in trying to get his way with the locals; and thus betray some of the ideals of Starfleet and the Federation: not that either organization existed outside of the Vanguard. For the time being.

"And thank you for asking." MacLeod replied, before looking once more around the room. "Any further issues? No, then this debriefing is concluded but I remind you that you shall all receive individual reports sometime tomorrow. Until then, return to your duty assignments, and good job. Dismissed."

As the group stood and started to shuffle out of the complex, MacLeod turned to stare at Sahen. The pair held each other's gaze until the last of their sub-ordinates had left. As the doors closed, MacLeod virtually smashed a button on the lectern and stared daggers at Sahen.

"Just what the hell was that?" He raged as force-fields appeared at each door; blocking entry to anyone else and preventing those outside from hearing his words.

Sahen stood ramrod straight, as a Romulan should, as he answered. "Captain, while I do not doubt your combat abilities your recklessness is simply unacceptable for a commanding officer; especially for one in our situation."

MacLeod's eyes flared with anger; both at Sahen and himself, before he gave a long, hard sigh. "I know. It's just that it's, difficult, to step back."

Sahen kept his face neutral, even if internally he was glad to see the opening he wanted. "That is something all commanders, Starfleet, Imperial Navy or Tal Shiar face Captain." He allowed his expression to soften slightly. "Having done so myself, I would be open to helping you make that change; if you wished the help."

MacLeod stared at Sahen silently for a moment. One part of him was grateful for the offer, but another wondered just what the scheming Romulan was planning. "I would be grateful for the advice Major; however I won't break Starfleet regulations to suit any kind of personal agenda you have." He hadn't meant it to sound like a threat, but his simmering anger had seeped into his words making it so.

Sahen gave a slight bow of his head before he answered. "I do not expect you to do so Captain." The corner of his lips turned upwards as a slight smile came to his face. "Though I must admit to be relieved that you see plots and threats even with your first officer."

MacLeod shook his head in annoyance and amusement at the Tal Shiar officer. "You're not going to let me take the easy way are you?"

"It is easy because it is often wrong." Was all Sahen said in reply, even as the pair came to a quiet understanding.

With another sigh and a shake of his head, MacLeod tapped the lectern; disabling the force-fields. "I believe we may need to discuss a few issues with the Senator regarding our ever-changing command structure and procedures."

Sahen gave a slight, tilted bow of his head. "I would concur."

Without another word, the two senior officers moved towards the doors to find the Senator.

Attican Traverse

Cerberus Base

Classified Location


Miranda stepped onto the slightly raised platform in the secure base that was actually a new model QEC; one that was not available to the general public in the Alliance, and one that was too expensive to be used on Alliance Navy vessels, save for the dreadnoughts; and then only for communications with Alliance Command on Arcturus Station.

This model QEC was combined with a compact holographic unit to allow the users to actually view the room on the other end; not just an image of a single person. While Cerberus only had a few such models at their most secure bases, The Illusive Man insisted that all briefings with him via QEC take place over such a QEC and Miranda could understand why as a more military-grade suite would negate any ability to detect subtle shifts in the other person's body language.

"You have something further to add to your report Miss Lawson?" She heard him say as the holographic suite activated and the room she was now standing in displayed The Illusive Man's own command post; a location that even after over a decade of working for him, Miranda had not been allowed to visit.

Like many in the organization, she suspected it was somewhere on Minuteman Station, but since like every other operative she knew, she did not have clearance for all parts of Cerberus' main base, she was not certain if the rumours were true. She also was more than smart enough to know not to openly discuss The Illusive Man's location with anyone inside or out of the organization, less she disappear like a few fellow operatives who had done so; and who were no great loss to the organization.

As always he sat calmly in his seat, the star around which Minuteman Station orbited illuminating the room, though Miranda was all but certain it was not a window as to place himself near such a large and expansive one would be a risk she could not see him taking.

"Yes sir." She replied, her voice crisp and clear. "Due to the fact that any of our systems outside of a QEC runs the risk of being intercepted I felt that some information regarding Captain MacLeod should be withheld until such time as I could speak directly with you."

Turning slightly in his chair, he accessed a console on the armrest and displayed a copy of the reports sent by her team. "I must admit not having seen any glaring omissions, but with you Miss Lawson that is not a surprise." His voice was calm, with not clear hint of emotion anyway at her failing to make her report complete.

Noticing he had finished his comment, Miranda continued. "The child, Teelah D'Mora, is his daughter."

She watched him for any outward sign of response, but beyond the most fractional of twitch from his brow, there was none. "That is interesting, though given to the rumours regarding the comfort level shown between the Captain and the late Sub-Commander, it is not totally unexpected." Once again he used the console interface on his armrest to display images of the three individuals in question. "There is a resemblance." He turned back to look at her. "What do you think we should do with this information?"

Miranda had expected him to ask her that, as he seemed to be grooming her to take a greater role in Cerberus' activities, and so she was able to answer quickly, yet concisely. "Nothing for now. I feel that there exists the possibility for some kind of quiet-alliance between us and the Captain." She paused, wanting to judge his response.

"Continue." He said as he pulled a cigarette from his breast pocket. Miranda knew the brand in question was made only in small quantities, though she had been unable to discover just who the customers of that brand were as their files were all kept off-network; something she suspected that he had recommended many years before.

"While many in our organization feel that we should push to replace the current galactic structure with one that is Human led, I do not feel that will be achievable within even my own, extended lifespan. Even if we achieved such a goal, we would only then ourselves be in the position of the Council, STG and other groups that now work to constantly maintain the status quo; a status quo that we both know is under constant threat from groups such as our own." Again she paused, allowing him to comment if he wished.

When no response came, she continued; unconcerned if he saw her comments as a challenge to his vision for Cerberus as she knew that he preferred her to speak her mind when talking with him in private.

"The Federation Humans suffered a similar situation in their past, though without the disastrous first contact that we did, wherein they were taken in as a client-state by the Vulcans. This action protected them from the other local races, just as the Asari have done for the Alliance, though the Vulcans ideals and reasons were based on logic and patience unlike the Asari goals of control and domination.

"Starfleet was able to break free of this yoke, one I believe that many of them chafed under as much as we do with the Asari, and within a few decades were able to persuade, manipulate and guide the other older local races as a combined fleet as a precursor to the Federation.

"While I do not doubt or question Cerberus' stated goals of replacing the current galactic governmental system with one more favourable to Humanity, I do find myself curious if there is potential in a modified version of this Federation concept; though obviously one that better suits our goals.

"As such, I would recommend that we establish some kind of channel to the Vanguard, and that doing anything but sitting on the information about the young D'Mora's relationship with Captain MacLeod would threaten this endeavour at such an early junction."

While she had spoken The Illusive Man had listened intently, even as he lit his cigarette and placed it to his lips. He sat quietly for a minute and Miranda waited patiently for his reply while displaying no outward concerns at his silence.

"And what of the Captain's unique parentage?" He asked in a slightly different tone which Miranda couldn't fully comprehend; an unusual occurrence for her.

Miranda was able to avoid flinching under his gaze as he spoke as ever since she had transmitted her team's reports – and received the classified Council report on the Vanguard and its crew – she had spent a not inconsiderable amount of time re-examining the mission and finding every news story and fact-file she could about MacLeod.

While others would have seen such actions as her developing a possible romantic fascination with the Captain, she was more interested in just what exactly his true abilities were as, outside of her sister, she did not know of any Human who was potentially as enhanced or augmented as herself.

To discover that not only was the Captain just such a person, but that he was at least a fourth or fifth generation Augment had been a slight blow to her pride in her belief that she was a pinnacle of Human evolution. Now her only genetic flaw, and one that her sister also shared, was of her inability to reproduce – not that she wished for children currently, but it seemed that MacLeod's ancestors had not had this problem and – if Starfleet's public files on Augments were true – had abilities beyond her own; something she found both intriguing and vexing in equal measure.

"The council report only confirmed my suspicions about his abilities, and while I admit to being fascinated by him it is in a purely scientific capacity. He represents a possible future for Humanity that, if understood and adapted, could allow us to achieve our goals for improving the Human race with abilities that mirror the other races own strengths."

The Illusive Man casually placed his cigarette down in a small ashtray on his chair before interlocking his fingers under his chin. "Yes, I had wondered if he could hold the key to that project as well." He paused, and Miranda again stood quietly while he thought to himself. "I wonder if we could acquire some genetic material for analysis." The only outward change in his appearance with the slight lifting of his brow as he stared at Miranda. "Though I suspect many will be after the same thing."

Miranda nodded. "Yes, so if we did nothing to actively acquire it, while warning him of any actions against him or his ship or crew, then we may be able to gain that, or other possible benefits, without the need to alienate him."

The Illusive Man leaned back into his chair and picked up the softly glowing cigarette. After taking a breath, he spoke. "Very well. Have your proposals drawn up and ready for my review by tomorrow; though leave out any mention of his daughter and Project X unless we speak in person once more."

Even as she gave a nod, he pressed a button on his armrest; ending the communication. As the QEC suite powered down, Miranda turned and walked out of the secure room, a slight smirk appearing on her face.