At the conclusion of the Romulan War, all fingers point to Starfleet when a crime is committed in nearby Mill Valley.

Chapter 1

"It's good to see your face," Malcolm said, peering into the viewer. "It's been a few long, lonely months, my love."

"It's good to see you, too. I've missed you," Lili replied, from her home far away, on Lafa II. "Everyone here is so thrilled that the Romulan War is finally over."

"Yes," he smiled a little, "we're heading to Earth. It's a pity; I won't be swinging by your neck of the galaxy this time 'round."

"Maybe you could get away, or something," she said, "I have missed you in my dreams."

"Maybe." His eyes were far away as he briefly touched a metallic cuff on his left wrist – a conduit for shared dreaming that he had neglected for quite a while. An escape into fantasy had just seemed to be inappropriate when there had been so much suffering, his own included.

"Malcolm?"

"I, uh, I've been having my own dreams, actually. My regular, standard human dreams, unshared. And they have been far from pleasant. But I feel I somehow must have them. I don't know if that makes sense to you, Lili, but I cannot be escaping when so many others don't have such a luxury."

"What kinds of nightmares have you been having?"

"Oh, fires and such." He couldn't tell her what his nocturnal visions really were. It was a detailed replay of a true event, when he'd seen a crewman split in half by an explosion near the Armory. Over and over again, night after night, he heard the scream and saw the split and, perhaps, the worst part was that the scream had gone for a while after the split, as that crewman had been unlucky enough to not die immediately that day.

"I just asked you if you were you all right."

"It's just – this one felt a lot tougher than the Xindi War. I'm not so sure I can quite explain why. At the end of the Xindi War, I recall feeling rather triumphant."

"I remember. I was there, yanno," she reminded him.

"Right. But this time," he sighed, "it's just fatigue. I'm only pleased that the whole bloody business is over with."

"Well, Earth should be good for you. You could see your parents and your sister, or something."

"Perhaps. Lili, I –"

There was the sound of a door slamming on her end of the connection. "Joss!" she called out to her son. "Try not to slam the door all the time! Please!"

"Mo-om!"

"Just, please." There was the sound of a baby crying. "That just woke up Marie Patrice." She sighed. "I'm so sorry. Can I get a rain check, and have a nice long call with you soon?"

"By all means," Malcolm said, trying not to let her see just how disappointed he truly was. He needed her, but he didn't want to appear overly needy. "Some, some other time. I suppose this is what happens when you are in love with a mother."

"I guess so." The baby got louder. "Gotta go! I love you!" She cut the connection just as her son yelled out, "Mackum!" at the screen.

=/\=

The two shuttlepods touched down near Starfleet Headquarters. The entire senior staff emerged. This wasn't just Captain Jonathan Archer and his Bridge crew. It was also acting MACO CO Julie McKenzie, and three people who were the heads of their respective departments, even though two of them were the only people in those departments. They were Botanist Shelby Pike, Quartermaster Chandrasekar Khan – they both held a Crewman's rank – and Lili's former boss, Chef William Slocum, a Lieutenant Commander.

The eleven of them got out and the press were all over them. "Captain Archer! Captain Archer!" yelled one reporter, "We heard rumors of Romulan atrocities! Can you shed any light on that?"

"No comment," the captain said wearily as they pushed into HQ.

The debriefing consisted of them and Admiral Gardner and Admiral Black, with Ambassador Soval representing Vulcan interests. "I don't even know why I'm here," Shelby whispered to Sekar Khan. They were both fidgeting in their full-dress unis. Julie shushed them.

"Before you provide the final debriefing," Admiral Black said, "I have to tell you about attitudes here on Earth."

"Attitudes?" asked Chief Engineer Tripp Tucker. He was as weary as Malcolm was. They all were.

"There's a rather vocal minority that thinks there should have been a lot more efforts to negotiate with the Romulans and avoid the war entirely."

"Negotiate?" Malcolm was incredulous. "They very nearly destroyed the ship! And if they had, I dare say, they'd have run roughshod over Earth as well! Negotiate! It's preposterous to so much as think of such a thing!"

"Now, now, Lieutenant," Captain Archer said, shooting a glance at his Armory Officer, who quieted himself without further reproach.

"The news reports have been spotty," Admiral Gardner said, "and so people – some people – just filled in the blanks. You'll probably hear all sorts of things. Some are questioning our presence in space at all. Others are stoking the flames of xenophobia, and are, shall we say, displeased with our alliances with so many other species."

"I believe the expression is 'jump to conclusions'," Soval said, "It is an exercise that many of your fellow humans have engaged in lately. Most illogical."

T'Pol, the Vulcan Science Officer, raised an eyebrow in apparent agreement.

Captain Archer sighed. "It's not like after the Xindi War, eh?"

"No," said Admiral Gardner, "this crowd is a lot tougher. They are tired of wars, and of their space budgets going to fight them. They want exploration, not destruction. And that's the ones who want to stay out there. There are others who want us to just stay within our own system."

"There have been protests," Admiral Black explained. "A lot of them are about our being the initial aggressor. Most are peaceful, but some of them have become violent."

"Are our people in any danger?" T'Pol inquired.

"That's difficult to say," Soval stated, "However, caution is warranted."

"Our people are already pouring off the ship," Julie said, "and they're scattering. They want to see their families while we're here, that sort of thing. I can't make anyone – not even my MACOs – stay in San Francisco without pulling rank." She looked around a little nervously. The captain had field promoted her to Sergeant after her CO, Major Jay Hayes, had died defeating the Xindi. She had only had authority since then, and through the entire Romulan War. "Some of them are probably gone already and can only be brought back by communicator," she added.

"Recallin' 'em would kill morale, such as it is," Commander Tucker stated, "these people deserve a break."

"Not to mention the fact that there is very real trauma there in some cases," said Doctor Phlox, "additional pressure would not be good for most. There could even be retaliation by our own people."

"Well, isn't this their safety we're talking about?" asked Communications Ensign Hoshi Sato.

"Huh, well, if it's their safety we're talkin' 'bout, I just don't know," Tucker mused.

"The NX-02 is already here, as you know," stated Admiral Black, "and so far they have only reported minor incidents. But the Columbia isn't the flagship of the fleet. All we are saying is that your people may be targeted, and it may be unpleasant."

"Can't they just leave us alone?" Shelby asked, "Sorry, I don't normally get invited to these kinds of meetings. But all I know is that everybody here and everybody else on the ship, we all busted our asses. We lost some good people. We're tired. We don't want a damned tickertape parade. We just want a little peace."

"Unfortunately, I have no guarantees of that," said Admiral Gardner.

=/\=

The meeting dragged on for hours, as they recounted anything and everything they could think of from the war. There were logs, and there had been plenty of dispatches. But the debriefing was held in order to dig even more deeply.

By the time Malcolm got out, he was more tired than hungry. Chef Slocum was off to a new restaurant he had heard of. Shelby and Sekar were heading to quarters that were being made available at the compound for anyone who wanted or needed them.

Tucker and T'Pol were bickering about … something, and Malcolm didn't want to intrude. Hoshi and Doctor Phlox were heading to Madame Chang's Mandarin Café. Pilot Travis Mayweather was headed to the gym. Captain Archer and Julie McKenzie had more meetings.

So Malcolm was on his own. He checked the time on his PADD. In San Francisco, it was twenty three eighteen hours. On Lafa II, it was a good four hours earlier. He knew Lili would be busy. She'd have to bathe her children and put them to bed, and get supper on the table for herself and her husband, Doug. Malcolm was a part of her open marriage.

But she'd be swamped, and tired, and caught up in spending time with her family. A call would not be considerate. Malcolm knew when to back off.

Hence he found himself walking the streets of San Francisco, finally catching a transport to Mill Valley and ending up at the 602 Club. It was just a little hole in the wall, a place that served beer and whiskey and not much else and mainly catered to Starfleet personnel.

He knew the waitress-turned-proprietress, Ruby Brannagh. He knew her, perhaps, a little too well, for they had hooked up a few times, long before he had met Lili. He also knew he hadn't been the only one she'd hooked up with. He knew about Tucker and Mayweather, and he knew there had been others, but the particulars seemed lost to the ages.

Malcolm bellied up to the bar. "A Guinness, if you please."

"Hey!" Ruby smiled when she saw him. "How's my favorite Brit?" She wasn't looking bad. Everyone had been worried and aged a bit by the two recent wars, but her hair was still a fiery auburn shade.

"More than a little tired."

"Yeah. You guys all look like hell." She indicated where there was a table of MACOs and Security Crewmen from the NX-01. Another table held what seemed to be over half of the Columbia's engineering staff, all dressed in civvies. She was right – they all looked beat.

Malcolm stood to the side and sipped his beer. He's missed that. During the war, he'd been nearly perpetually on duty, it seemed. Alcohol had been out of the question.

=/\=

At Headquarters, the second meeting began. A huge fellow of about forty years of age arrived. Admiral Black said, "Sergeant McKenzie, Captain Archer, I'd like you to meet Major Strong Bear Dawson." The Major shook their hands.

"Sir, I'm glad to meet you," said Julie.

"The Major here will be the new MACO CO on the Enterprise," Admiral Black explained.

"I, uh, yes, sir," Julie said, disappointed, face falling.

"I'll need help in getting acclimated," said the Major, "I trust I can count on your assistance and your expertise, Sergeant. You did well when Hayes was killed, and kept things together for the end of the Xindi War and all of the Romulan War. Good going."

"Of course. Thank you, sir."

Julie found a way to get out of the meeting quickly, catching a transport of her own to Mill Valley and the 602 Club. She'd had no idea she was not going to be promoted.

=/\=

After Julie arrived, a group of civilians came in, a bit rowdy. They stopped when they saw the table of MACOs and Security Crewmen, all of whom were still in their unis, as were Malcolm and Julie. The civilians began to chant, "Hey hey, ho ho, these Starfleet types have got to go!"

Two of the Security crewmen – Brooks Haynem and Mario Lattimer – got up. "What?" bellowed Haynem. Tristan Curtis, who was sitting next to him, looked up in alarm.

"I said, 'you gotta go'," sneered a civilian who'd been chanting. He was a callow fellow, but seemed to be their leader.

"We were here first," Mario said. MACO Susie Money had been sitting with him. She put a cautioning hand on his arm.

"We've been here all along," responded the youth. "You weren't here when they fired on Florida and South America, either. All you guys did was shoot first, ask questions later with the Xindi, then, too."

"Xindi?" Brooks asked, "That's a war ago, in case you've forgotten. We fought the Romulans this time – a faceless, voiceless enemy! All they did was send unmanned drones to fire at us, over and over again. It was unrelenting. So don't tell me that we didn't get attacked or we didn't suffer loss. We did."

"That's just it," replied the youth, "it's all attack first with you people. You never even tried to reason with 'em. Maybe you wouldn't have suffered those losses you're wearing like a badge of honor there."

"They never responded to hails," Susie said. Her voice was rising, too, as she stood up.

"Oh, that's just a convenient excuse," said another youth, "you coulda tried harder. You eventually got through to the Xindi, right? So why the hell didn't ya get through to the Rommies? Earth might not've been attacked this time around, but we were still in danger. What were you doing to protect your mother planet?"

Tristan Curtis also rose as did Dan Chang and the rest of the MACOs and Security crew members. Julie stood with her people. "It's hardly one size fits all," Malcolm said, getting into it, despite himself, but also attempting to maintain at least a veneer of calm.

"Oh, an officer!" exclaimed the second youth. "Tell me, Fly Boy, how did you protect humans? What did you do to keep us from going to war for the second time in a decade?"

"That's the job of admirals and diplomats," Malcolm countered as the door opened and Major Dawson arrived. The new arrival said nothing but stood by the door.

"Nothin'. Just as I thought," sneered the first youth.

Ruby came over. "Jeff, since you and your guys aren't drinking and you're bothering my regular clientele, get out."

"What? You can't do that!" exclaimed the second youth. "Jeff, she can't do that to us, right?" he asked the first one.

"My grandmother's shotgun says I can. And I have no qualms about getting it out and using it." Ruby pointed at the door.

The youth was about to say something else when the first one – Jeff – just spat on the floor. "This place sucks anyway. They let in anyone." They departed, but not before kicking a few chairs out of their way and glaring at Dawson.

The rest of his beer forgotten, and feeling worse than he had before, Malcolm got out of there as quickly as he could, nearly bumping into a tall, unfamiliar MACO Major. But Malcolm found he had a second wind, and could not sleep that night, eventually making his way back to Starfleet Headquarters after the sun had come up.

=/\=

The bar got lively again, and all was forgotten, as the proprietress chatted up and flirted with all likely comers. She went home that evening, and saw someone she knew, but not too well. And that was the last thing she remembered.

Chapter 2

When Malcolm stumbled into HQ, it was about oh six thirty or so. His plastic key card opened the door and he fell into bed, not even bothering to strip out of his full dress uniform, he was so tired.

=/\=

He didn't know what time it was when there was a door chime. Disoriented, he answered it, feeling grimy and unshaven and otherwise unkempt. "Yes?"

"Lieutenant Malcolm Reed?" It was two men in military police unis who were asking.

"Yes, that's me."

"You're being detained. You are not to leave this building except under escort."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Lieutenant, the Judge Advocate General's Corps has been called, and they will provide representation."

"Representation? But why?"

"For the rape and attempted murder of Ruby Brannagh."

=/\=

Similar scenes were playing out all around Starfleet HQ, and even in the places where all of the male crew members from the NX-01 and the NX-02 had gone, if they were offsite.

Bruce Chalfont was located at his family's farm in Iowa. Rex Ryan was picked up from a transport station in Holland, where he had wanted to go sightseeing. Lloyd Ketchum and Kelsey Haber were in Vegas. Frank Todd was in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Gavin Prentice was playing golf in Atlanta. Tony Vittorio and Craig Willets were brought in from their parents' homes.

Everyone was told as much as Malcolm was and, after he'd been allowed to shower, shave and change into clean clothes, he was brought to the building's huge Mess Hall. Everyone else was there. The men of the NX-01 and NX-02 were on one side and the women were on another. Even Captain Archer was there.

There was a ding on Malcolm's PADD, a message. He noticed there was actually a pair of messages. He got a cup of tea and set Lili's aside for later, for private time. But first there was a note from the investigative team. There was only one question – Did you go to the 602 Club on August 15, 2160?

He answered in the affirmative and was immediately sent an automated response. Go to Room Six. He got up, and noticed other men getting up as well. They'd undoubtedly been given the same instruction.

It was Brooks Haynem, Daniel Chang, Tristan Curtis, Mario Lattimer and then he saw others he didn't remember seeing at the bar. They must have gotten in after he'd left – Mark Reilly, Connor Greer, Gary Hodgkins and Billy Dane from Security. There were MACOs who must have also arrived later – Victor Brown, Neil Kemper, Eddie Hamboyan, Brad Moreno, Eric Forbes, Walter Woods and Oscar Tiburón.

And that was just the Enterprise's complement. There were plenty of men from the Columbia. And there was a MACO Major who Malcolm did not know but he thought might have been the fellow he'd nearly collided with when leaving the 602 Club. They, too, walked to Room Six.

=/\=

A Sergeant took attendance at the front of the room. A large man came over to Malcolm as soon as Malcolm acknowledged that he was present. The man stuck his hand out. "I'm Dash Nolan, and I've been assigned by the Judge Advocate General's Corps to, if it comes to that, represent you in this matter."

"Dash?" Malcolm asked as they shook hands.

"Yeah," he replied, "My twin sister is Dorothy. Our parents thought they were pretty funny. Anyway, about your case – we can get some privacy by heading out and talking a walk. There's a courtyard. It's technically on building grounds so we aren't offsite. That good for you?"

"Certainly, but I haven't eaten anything this morning. Although now that I think of it, I'm not so sure I've got much of an appetite."

"Well, let's get you something to go, okay?"

Malcolm got himself a bowl of oatmeal and another tea as Dash grabbed a coffee. The lawyer led the way.

There was a bench and they sat down. Dash clicked on his PADD. "I'm sure you're wondering what the hell is going on."

"I am."

"All right, well, I can tell you some things, and then there are other things where I'll need to ask you questions. But before I go any further, I want to know if you have any sort of an alibi or a possible alibi, to cover yourself from, uh," he checked his notes, "it looks like oh two fifty to oh four twenty this morning."

"I was out walking."

"So that would be a no," said Dash, "It's okay. It's just a higher degree of difficulty is all. Now, let's start with you. Never mind what happened. I'll tell you that once I'm done getting from you exactly what happened from your perspective, from maybe twenty-three hundred hours last night to when they picked you up this morning at, I'm guessing, oh eight hundred or so. You're on, Lieutenant."

"Before I begin," Malcolm said cautiously, 'I must ask you – have I been arrested?"

"No. And no one else has, either – yet. See, Starfleet's got kind of an odd arrangement when it comes to the law. A JAG can work with either side of the aisle – defense or prosecution. That's always been the case. My name was picked at random to be your defense attorney," Malcolm frowned at Dash, who quickly added, "but that pool was of lawyers who have been around the block a bit. I am not some kid right outta Law School. Anyway, that's how you got me and not someone else. But you remember the PADD message about whether you'd gone to the 602 Club last night?"

"Of course."

"This is all a very preliminary investigation. But it was figured that guys who'd gone to the club would have a tougher time of it. Even just asking that question got a good chunk of police work done. For anyone who wasn't there, and has an alibi – that guy walks. For those who were there, but have alibis, or who weren't and don't have alibis, things are a bit more complicated. Then there's guys like you."

"Yes. It appears I have caught the short end of the stick in both instances."

"It doesn't mean you can't be exonerated. They still gotta prove things beyond a reasonable doubt and all. Hell, it doesn't even mean there's necessarily probable cause to arrest you. See, that's the gist of it. The JAG already has a petition in, looking to transfer jurisdiction over to a Starfleet court, instead of the First District, North American Subdistrict."

"First District, North American Subdistrict?"

"The Earth and its moon, Mars and its moons and Ceres are all First District. I guess if we ever colonize any other asteroids, they'll be in there, too. Second District is the Jovian moon system, et cetera, all the way out to the Sixth District in the Kuiper Belt. Other planets and their moons – like Andoria and Andor – are considered Allied District. And of course the North American Subdistrict refers to our fine continent."

"Right, yes."

"But between you and me, I think that petition's gonna fail. After all, the attack occurred outside of Starfleet property and the victim's a civilian. So it's likely that you're stuck in the First District, et cetera. But talk to me about last night. What did you do when you first got here?"

"I went to my assigned room and dropped off my bag and changed into a full dress uniform. Then I went to a debriefing."

"I have that," Dash said, checking his PADD, "and it looks like it broke up late, almost midnight."

"Right. I got onto a train to Mill Valley and headed straight for the 602 Club."

"Okay. Did you see Ruby Brannagh?"

"I did, and we exchanged pleasantries."

"Pleasantries. Lieutenant, the victim was known for having what they used to call round heels over a century ago. You know; lots of lovers. Were you one of them?"

"Yes," Malcolm admitted, "but it was years ago."

"I see. How long did that relationship go on for?"

"It wasn't a relationship in any sense of the word. It was two, perhaps three times, we went to her apartment and, well, I don't suppose I need to get specific about it."

"No, not about ancient history. Er, how ancient are we talking about?" asked Dash, sipping his coffee.

"I don't believe it was any later than 2149."

"Okay. And her place, do you remember it? I know it was over a decade ago, but would you be able to find your way back there?"

"It's all filtered through a bit of a boozy haze. I recall a red beaded curtain between two rooms. But that's all I remember about the furnishings. I don't recall the exterior at all, or the street name or that sort of thing. I don't even know which town she resides in."

"Got it. So you're at the bar. Do you drink?"

"I ordered a pint of Guinness. And I had, perhaps, a quarter to a third of it, but no more before I departed."

"Why didn't you finish your drink?"

"There were some, I suppose they could be referred to as protestors."

"How many?"

"I don't recall. Four? Five, perhaps? They were distasteful and it seemed a fight was imminent. Ruby threw them out."

"So a fight shouldn't have been imminent anymore."

"I suppose not. But it was still a bit upsetting, so I left, just the same."

"Do confrontations bother you, Lieutenant?"

"Excuse me?"

"Personal confrontations. Do they upset you?"

"I don't know what you're implying." Malcolm bristled a little.

"I want you to understand something. I am in fact-finding mode right now. But I am also in the process of starting your prep. Because they are gonna ask you things like that. So I ask you again – do personal confrontations bother you?"

"I – not particularly. Most of my dealings with people are pleasant ones."

"But this one was unpleasant, right? And so you fled. Where did you go?"

"I walked 'round Mill Valley," Malcolm stated.

"How long were you upset?"

"I don't know. I didn't check my bloody PADD for the time to find the precise moment when I felt better." Malcolm responded a bit forcefully.

"Listen," Dash said, "I don't ask these things to be a pain in the ass. I ask them in order to establish – or refute – motive, means and opportunity, as those are going to be on the prosecutor's mind when that office starts putting together whether they've got probable cause to arrest you. You've already got opportunity, seeing as you were in the area at the right time."

"Right," Malcolm said absently, "I apologize. I know you're only trying to help me. I just, I wish I knew the particulars of the matter."

"Never mind that for now. Let's just get through what you did. Then I'll tell you what I know. So you walked around. Then what?"

"There's a lot of golf courses and the like 'round there. Eventually I found a train station and returned to the Starfleet compound. I got to my assigned room and I went to sleep. The next thing I knew, the door was chiming."

"Okay. I can get your surveillance camera footage from the train stations and the HQ entrance. Maybe we can shave some time off, yank away some of your opportunity. It's not a get out of jail free card, but it's a start."

"Thank you."

"I'll tell you now what we know happened."

"Very well." Malcolm drained the last of his tea.

"Ruby Brannagh had a packed house for most of last night, but she closed as normal, at oh three hundred hours or so. We don't know yet whether anyone was with her when she closed the bar for the night. She then walked home. Somewhere in there, she either met someone or was followed home or, maybe, took someone home with her. In any event, she voluntarily let them into her apartment as there are no signs of forced entry."

"I see." Malcolm steeled himself for the rest.

"Now, reports are still coming in, and medicals aren't done yet, so bear with me on that, but," Dash paused for a second, "Ruby Brannagh was raped and beaten, and left for dead. A neighbor saw an open door at about oh four thirty hours and got suspicious, and called the authorities once he went in and found her."

"If it's a sexual assault," Malcolm said, "Wouldn't there be DNA evidence?"

"There isn't any," Dash said, "oh, there's plenty of genital trauma, so it's definitely a rape. But there's also some evidence of latex residue. That means a condom was used. Now, you know, and I know, that condoms are pretty much never used between humans anymore, although there are exceptions. But for most people, you just get the birth control shot, and you're good to go. And she had definitely gotten the shot."

"Now I understand why so many members of Starfleet stand accused," Malcolm said, "it's because we're issued condoms in the event of alien sexual encounters."

"Right. Part of that's the Tucker Rule – you know, don't get anybody on the other side of the galaxy pregnant. The other part is that God only knows whatever diseases are lurking out there. Our own venereal stuff is long cured, but who knows what Tellarites have?"

"Understood."

"The Starfleet issue are heavy duty, too, with a serious spermicide. That stuff'll kill anything. Actually, you ever use 'em?"

"That's a rather personal question, don't you think, Counselor?"

"Get used to personal questions. But it's not for my own prurient interests. It's a question of familiarity of usage, chain of custody and that sort of thing."

"Chain of custody?"

"Where the condoms were, who had them, and when. And I say plural because there is a slight chance that there's more than one perp. So?"

"Actually, I have used them." Veylo.

"It's a packet of five. How many did you use?"

"I don't know. Two or three, perhaps. It was 2153. That was the only packet I was given. I did not get a second one and did not request one."

"You have any girlfriends since then?"

"Hmm? I was always taught that a gentleman never kisses and tells."

"Motive, remember? Now spill."

"Two, really. I had some encounters, but there have been two major relationships – the current one and one previously."

"Got it."

"What are Ruby's injuries?" Malcolm asked, changing the subject although he wasn't so sure he really wanted to know.

"Genital trauma, like I said, cuts and abrasions and the like; fractured right orbital bone – that's right over the eye – separated right shoulder, bruised right kidney, broken jaw on the right side, severe concussion, fractured skull, and that's only what I've been told. She's in a coma, Reed."

Malcolm blanched. "Is she going to die?"

"I'm no doctor. But if she does, they are gonna move even more quickly, and that hammer is gonna come down hard. Now, it's obvious she was roughed up a lot, and by a guy who favored his left side but wasn't necessarily a leftie. But I still can't get over the fact that it seems to at least have started off as consensual. You were with her, back in the day. Did she like it rough?"

Malcolm sat there for a second, mouth agape. "I understand what you're doing, Counselor. Yet it remains offensive."

"Trust me, Reed; the prosecutor will get a lot more offensive."

Eddie Hamboyan and a woman who was clearly his assigned attorney entered the little courtyard area. "Here, let's move," Dash suggested.

But there didn't seem to be anywhere else to go, as there were so many men still under the detention order. Are there that many men without alibis? Malcolm thought to himself. He finally said, "We could go to my assigned room."

"Lead the way."

=/\=

They got in and Dash took the one chair in the room, which was for a small desk. "They gave you your own room, eh?"

"Yes, I suppose it's a small perk of being an officer."

"Armory, right?" Malcolm nodded. Dash continued, "So tell me, did Ruby Brannagh like it rough?"

"No," Malcolm said, "I'd have remembered that."

"Any other odd sexual play?"

"Like silk restraints, or that type of thing?"

"Yeah." Dash raised an eyebrow.

"Not that I recall."

"How do you know about that stuff?"

Malcolm bit his lower lip. "I had a girlfriend once who liked such things."

"Is that one of your more recent relationships?" There was another nod. "Well, they're gonna ask you about that. So you'd better come clean with me. Is this your current girlfriend?"

"No, this was in 2158."

"Got it. You know where this woman is?"

"Yes, she works on, huh, it's in the outer Solar System. It might be Charon."

"Okay, so she's way, way out of the First District. They won't subpoena her unless Brannagh dies."

"Is there a chance of Pamela being subpoenaed? I would much rather she wasn't. My parents know nothing of her. Frankly, they know nothing of any of my romances. It's just; I'd rather they didn't have to hear about that one in particular."

"There's always a chance that anyone you know, or mention, or have ever so much as have been seen with, can be subpoenaed. So you might want to tell them in private some time, if they arrest you. Now, when did you know her, and see her?"

"I dated her when she was on the ship."

"This Pamela was a member of the crew?"

"No, there was a medical program. She came with the rest of her small class."

"And people saw you together?"

"Most definitely."

"Would they remember her?"

Malcolm fiddled around with his PADD until he found a photograph of Pamela, who was a curvy blonde with bedroom eyes, wearing a low-cut cashmere sweater and a leather choker. "Oh," Dash said, taking a look, "She's hard to miss."

"Right that."

=/\=

They had talked for a while, including about Lili, and how Malcolm knew her, and the agreement among Malcolm, Lili and Doug, and even Doug's own paramour, Melissa.

"You've got a lot of loose ends, Mister Reed," said Dash, "lots of ways for a prosecutor to have a field day with you."

"I suppose my life is rather complex."

"There's an understatement. Now tell me," Dash said, "and I want to hear the truth – did you rape and assault Ruby Brannagh?"

Unflinchingly, and without hesitation, Malcolm looked Dash squarely in the eye and said, "Absolutely not."

Chapter 3

Many of the other men found themselves having similar conversations. Or secrets were revealed that people hadn't wanted to give up, or at least not under such circumstances. Susie Money vouched for Mario Lattimer – he'd been in her bed. Frank Todd was cleared when a gay bar in Provincetown was able to produce his paid bar tab. There was a time stamp on the receipt, proving that he had been on the other side of the continent during the assault.

Bruce Chalfont's frail elderly parents were contacted, and made to tell of his presence there, in their home, during the precise time that Ruby Brannagh was being battered.

Once names were cleared, men lost their escorts and lawyers and were free to go. But the others stayed on, unable to so readily shake suspicion.

=/\=

The day had very nearly ended when Dash's personal communicator chimed. "Nolan here."

"We've got more medical information," said the voice on the other end of the line, "Report back to Room Six in fifteen minutes."

"Okay, you heard that, Reed," he said, "I suggest you make good use of this time and tell that gal of yours, and your parents, what the hell's going on. Better that they hear it from you, than from the press."

=/\=

Malcolm was left alone. He opened his PADD and it flashed a bit – messages. He only read Lili's two. The first was chatty, but the gist of it was that she was apologetic about giving him the bum's rush and wanted to make it up to him somehow.

But the second one was more somber. It just said: There was a story on the viewer about Ruby Brannagh. I know you knew her. Do you want me to come and be with you?

He was about to answer with just a written message, but thought better of it. He turned on the room's small view screen. An operator came on the line. "Yes?" he asked.

"I'd like to speak with Lili Beckett, on Lafa II. Visual communications, if that's at all possible."

"Connecting you now."

"How are you holding up?" she asked immediately. She was in the middle of nursing the baby.

"Only average, I'd say. Lili, I've been detained."

"Detained? What the hell?"

"It's not an arrest. I have been assigned an attorney, and we are working on things. He is doing his level best to find a way to prevent an arrest in the first place."

"Do you want me to come? I talked to Doug already, and he said he's fine with it."

"No, please," Malcolm said, "I would like nothing more for you to come. But if you do, they will have you testify. And our entire situation will be splashed all 'cross the news. I want you to understand – I am not ashamed of us and our arrangement. But others might take it the wrong way. I fear it would hurt my cause."

"I see," she said, looking at him, but her expression was a bit pained; "l respect your wishes. But I want you to know that I will do anything to help you."

"I know. And I appreciate it a great deal. When this is all over," he swallowed, a little scared that that might take a long time, "I'd like to take you up on your offer of making things up to me. We'd go on a vacation, perhaps? I want to – I need to – get away."

She nodded. He glanced at the time on the front of his PADD. "I have to go. I'm so sorry."

"You aren't eating or sleeping; I can tell," She said, "I love you, Malcolm. Promise me you'll at least take care of your own health. And you'll tell me if there is anything I can do, anything at all."

"Of course. I love you so very much. Please, thank Douglas for me. I truly appreciate his generous offer."

After cutting the connection, he quickly got his parents, in Kota Bharu. "What's this?" asked Stuart Reed. "You haven't called in months."

"Father, there's been an incident."

"We heard," said Mary Reed, "There was a story on the viewer. A young girl was attacked, right?"

"Yes, that's right. It's all rather preliminary, but several of us are being detained as they hunt for the culprit."

His father peered into the viewer. "Do they have anything on you?"

"Only that I do not have an alibi."

"Do you want us to call Simon for you?" Mary asked, referring to their family's lawyer.

"No, not now, but thank you." There was a chime on Malcolm's PADD, warning him that he might be late to the meeting. "I have to go now."

"Be strong," Mary said.

=/\=

When Malcolm arrived, he noticed there were only seven more accused still left. He recognized Eddie Hamboyan, Daniel Chang and Tristan Curtis from the Enterprise. There were three men from the Columbia, but he only know Derek Kelby and the pilot, whose name he thought he remembered was Brady or Brody. And there was also that same tall fellow in a MACO uni with the rank of Major.

Malcolm found himself sitting next to the unfamiliar MACO Major. The man stuck his hand out and quietly said, "I'm Strong Bear Dawson, replacement for Jay Hayes."

"Malcolm Reed. I thought Sergeant McKenzie was to be promoted."

"HQ wanted more experience after the war. They would've assigned me earlier but I was getting off assignment with freighter defense and then the Rommie War broke out and they didn't want to change horses in the middle of the stream. Helluva way for me to meet my new troops, eh? I talked to Hamboyan and Chang briefly already. Curtis belongs to you, right?"

Malcolm was about to answer him when an Admiral at the front of the room called for quiet. "I'm Admiral John Kelly," he said, "and I am in charge of the Judge Advocate General's Corps here at Starfleet. I have a great deal of news, none of it good for the various defense teams."

The eight men and their lawyers all glanced around the room at each other.

"The first is a procedural note. Our petition to transfer jurisdiction to a Starfleet court has been denied. We are appealing it, but I'm not optimistic about our chances. In the meantime, we'll have to prepare for the First District, North American Subdistrict." He sighed. "The judge assigned to this matter is Judge Ladonna Shepherd. She has a well-deserved reputation of being tough but fair. Expect a lot of rather difficult questions from her throughout the process."

Malcolm swallowed hard. He looked around and noticed the other accused men were either scared or fidgety. Hamboyan was sweating as if he were in a sauna. Brody – or maybe the man's name was Brady – he was tugging at his collar. Chang was thrumming his fingers on the side of his chair. Kelby's leg was bouncing. Dawson cracked his knuckles. Curtis looked like he was about to become ill. The other fellow from the Columbia was biting his fingernails.

"The next bit of bad news is a finding from the lab works. Three independent tests have confirmed that the genital area and the sheets had traces of a spermicidal compound only used by Starfleet. Therefore, this is incontrovertible proof that a Starfleet-issued condom was used."

Kelly paused to collect his thoughts. "Now, some of you have mentioned protestors at the 602 Club last night. We have been attempting to locate them but so far we've come up empty-handed. I have little doubt that the civilian authorities are also looking."

Tristan Curtis coughed a few times, and then he couldn't stop, until Kelby pounded on his back.

"We also have the toxicology report," Kelly continued, "and it seems the victim had a .23 blood alcohol value, which is consistent with a woman of Brannagh's size having consumed six drinks in fairly short order. This likely means she was sharing a bottle or two with whoever did this. There's also a trace amount of methylqualone, which is often used to enhance sexual enjoyment. It's illegal of course. For those who don't know, the combo can and will make almost anyone pass out."

Dash nodded as he listened, and took notes on his PADD.

"Finally, there is a small amount of blood under two of the victim's fingernails. It's been degraded quite a bit and so it's doubtful that it'll have any DNA readable by any of our instruments. Still, we figure it might be possible to get the blood type. We're expecting to get those test results back in an hour or so. In the meantime, that means physical examinations for everyone. Doctors Phlox and Nguyen will perform them. Dismissed," he said wearily.

Malcolm turned to Dash, "A physical examination?"

"Yeah, I figure they'll want to determine if anyone's got a scratch on them. Of course, you've got other scratches from the wear and tear of everyday life. And even if Brannagh left any DNA on you or anyone else, that's likely gone by now. But they'll check just the same, and they'll take pictures and all."

"This nightmare doesn't seem to have an end," Malcolm said softly.

Dawson was close enough to hear him. "I imagine Brannagh's nightmare will go on a lot longer than ours will." He got up to join his lawyer, and they left together.

=/\=

Malcolm sat on a bio bed in the Starfleet Medical Training Facility's main testing room. With him were Phlox and Dash. "Lieutenant," Phlox said, "I'm afraid you'll have to strip down."

"Right," Malcolm said.

"All the way," said the Denobulan.

"I can wait outside," Dash offered. He departed.

Malcolm did as he was told and Doctor Phlox looked him over. "I've never seen the human justice system up close before," Phlox said.

"I never wanted to."

"Understood. Here, stand this way," he took a wide stance and Malcolm mimicked him, and then cringed as pictures were taken, "My apologies; I don't do this in order to humiliate you. And I'm sure no one else does. But this information is necessary." Malcolm reddened. No one – not even Pamela – had ever taken a photograph of that before. After a few minutes of poking and prodding, Phlox straightened up. "You're all set."

"I'd thank you, Doctor, but I feel so damned violated."

"Lieutenant, despite what are apparently advances in your justice system and certainly in biological testing, a rape trial and its lead up are, it seems, occasions for more than one kind of personal violation. Get dressed."

When Malcolm was dressed, Dash returned. "Well?"

"I gave the Lieutenant a thorough examination," said Phlox, "and I didn't find any scratches or other markings consistent with a puncture injury. But understand that any injuries within the mouth may have completely healed by now."

"Got it. What's his blood type? Uh, what's your blood type, Lieutenant?"

"B positive," said Malcolm.

=/\=

They were back in Room Six. Everyone was nodding off, and Malcolm found he was ravenous. It was twenty-two hundred hours, and he hadn't eaten since breakfast.

"We have the lab work," said Kelly, "and the blood under the fingernails is B."

"Positive or negative?" Dash asked.

"The Rh antigens are too degraded, so we can't tell," Kelly replied. He looked over notes on his PADD. "Given these findings, Private Hamboyan, Ensign Brody and Major Dawson, you are all free to go."

Dawson let out a breath as he and his lawyer left the room, with Brody and Hamboyan behaving similarly.

"This is where we separate the men from the boys," Kelly said, "Private Chang, Crewman Curtis, Crewman Kastle, Commander Kelby and Lieutenant Reed; we are still looking for those protestors. But I can't guarantee that finding them will clear anyone else. Get a meal in you and get some sleep tonight. Bright and early tomorrow; I'm sure your assigned counsel will want to get to work right away. Dismissed."

Everyone else walked out except for Malcolm and Dash. "What do we do now?" Malcolm asked.

Dash thought for a moment, and then he snapped his fingers. "Chain of custody! Chain of freakin' custody!"

"I beg your pardon?"

"It's like a paper trail. We need to know what happened to your Starfleet-issued condoms."

"I didn't take them with me to the surface."

"Are you absolutely certain, Lieutenant?"

"I'd wager my life on it."

"All right. Did you lock your cabin before you came to Earth?"

"I always do, but right now I'm questioning everything, so I'm uncertain . It's funny. I know I don't have the condoms with me, but that's more because I know I wouldn't need them. I don't want to sleep with anyone but Lili so I knew and know that I have no use for them. But when it comes to the lock on my bloody cabin door, I'm blanking."

"I bet you're a little tired, too. Let's do this. You get some dinner and turn in. I'll do the same. I bet you're sick of me so I'll head out. In the morning, I'll see about what happened with your cabin. Sit tight until then; I'll call you when I get in, okay?"

"Very well. And, and thank you, Mister Nolan."

"Don't thank me yet. We're not done here."

Chapter 4

It was a night filled with fitful, uneasy dreams. Once again, the same crewman was split in half, and then the protestors from the 602 Club were rent in two and then Dash Nolan and Captain Archer and all sorts of people. Malcolm sat up, bolt upright in the middle of the night, exhausted and troubled.

Malcolm knew he had the means to contact Lili if he wanted to. But it still felt odd. He didn't want to overly involve her and didn't want to worry her. He just sent a quick PADD message the following morning – I am not out of the woods yet, but my attorney has an idea.

Lili fretted, out there on Lafa II, but there was nothing she could do about it. She threw herself into caring for her children and tried not to think about things.

The morning was late and Malcolm finally got out of bed when sunlight crept into the window and crossed his face. He checked – it was after oh nine hundred hours. He didn't have a PADD message or anything, so he got himself to the Mess and hoped he'd have some sort of an appetite. He saw Chang, Curtis and Kastle, but they were all with their lawyers, so he didn't want to intrude.

=/\=

Dan Chang's lawyer, a woman, said to him quietly, "They're going to start going after reputations."

"Don't I get a trial?" asked the private.

"You haven't even been arrested yet," she said, "this is all preliminary. See, it's the nature of the weird beast that is Starfleet venue. We don't exactly help the police, but we also don't want them coming around and disrupting operations and just arresting anyone. That's why we've been going through this little dance. Essentially, we're thinning the herd for them."

"And then the finger will get pointed at just one guy, eh?"

"Not necessarily," she said, "we can and have gotten the finger pointing down to no one. But I need your help. You have got to work with me." She fiddled with her PADD in order to bring up his records. "It says here that you used to be a Corporal. But your current uni is for a Private."

"Yeah."

"And?"

"And there's not a lot to tell. The old Major, Hayes, he was a hothead. He busted me two grades. It was early in 2154, during the Xindi War."

"According to the records," she said, "that's not how it happened. According to your personnel record, you were AWOL and sexually harassing two of the women on the ship – sous-chef Ensign Lili O'Day and engineering Ensign Jennifer Crossman. And in the six years since then, you've gotten some commendations, but those were only for being a part of a team. You don't seem to have gotten any more individual contributor commendations."

"Does that make me guilty?"

"No," she said, "but it makes you suspicious. And you get suspicious enough; it magically converts into probable cause to arrest."

"It's ancient history, and the guy is dead anyway."

"That doesn't mean they won't bring it up," she replied.

=/\=

Curtis and Kastle also spoke with their attorneys, but their conversations weren't quite as urgent. Like most people, they had both positive and negative entries in their personnel files, but nothing as positive – or as negative – as Chang had.

Kelby was in his room, talking to his own lawyer. He also had a disciplinary action on his record. "Nothing is ever easy," his lawyer muttered, shaking his head.

=/\=

Fresh from court, Dash was beamed to the Enterprise. "I hate that thing," he said of the transporter as José Torres, the engineer in charge, greeted him.

"Sir?"

"Uh, nothing. I'd like to see the senior officer on board."

"That'd be Aidan MacKenzie. He's on the Bridge right now."

"Then I'd like to go there." José led the way.

=/\=

Aidan had some command experience, and had gotten more as the Romulan War had raged. There were other fill-ins on board – Cassandra Lester was piloting, Maryam Haroun was at Communications and the Science station was manned by Nyota Warren. Tactical was held by Tara Balcescu. They all looked up when the doors swished open.

"My name's Dash Nolan. You know about the legal goings-on in San Francisco, right?"

"Uh, yeah," said Aidan, getting up.

"I have here a subpoena duces tecum," Dash said, producing the document, which was printed on real paper with an actual legal blue back, "It authorizes me to get a very particular article from my client, Malcolm Reed's, quarters. I need two people to act as witnesses to my going into the room, looking in there and transferring the article. The Lieutenant also informs me that he believes he may have locked the door, so I'll also need someone with an override code."

Aidan looked at the subpoena. "This looks like it's in order, but let me contact the captain first."

"Of course," Dash replied.

"I have him, sir," Maryam said.

"Captain Archer," Aidan said, "Lieutenant Reed's lawyer is here. He's served me with a subpoena. It's to go get something out of the Lieutenant's quarters. I'll also need to give the override code if the door is locked. Is this okay, sir?"

"Yes," said the captain, "cooperate fully, and keep me informed. Archer out."

"Okay, uh, Tara, you have the Bridge. Maryam, get Gavin Prentice in here to run Tactical. And get me, um, Victoria Dietrich and ask her to meet us at the Lieutenant's quarters."

"Right away."

=/\=

When they got to Malcolm's quarters, they were, indeed, locked. "Before you give the override code," Dash said, "I need to make a recording."

"Okay," said Victoria.

Dash set his PADD to video camera mode. "It is August the seventeenth of 2160 and I am standing in front of my client, Malcolm Reed's, quarters on the Enterprise. With me are Acting Captain Ensign Aidan MacKenzie and Tactical Crewman Victoria Dietrich. Ensign, have you tried the door?"

"I have," Aidan confirmed, "and it's locked. I need to use the override code. But you can't record my hitting the key pad."

"Right," Dash said, turning away and instead focusing on Victoria as Aidan worked the controls. "How long have you known Lieutenant Reed?"

"Since we left space dock originally," she said.

The door slid open. "We're now proceeding into the room. According to my client, the article is in the shelving by the bed." There was a small drawer and Dash opened it, revealing a little box. "This is the article; it's the box of Starfleet-issued condoms. Crewman Dietrich, can you tell me whether the seal is intact?"

"It's broken, sir."

"Okay. And now I'm opening the box. Count for me how many opened or unopened condom packets there are inside."

Victoria peered in. "There's only one, and it hasn't been opened."

"Are you certain?"

"Yes."

"Thank you. I'm ready to go now, Ensign MacKenzie." Aidan locked up as Dash steeled himself for the return trip in that infernal machine known as the transporter.

=/\=

Still sitting in the huge Mess, Malcolm looked at PADD messages. There was one from his sister, Madeline – Let me know if there's anything I can do to help. He just replied with his thanks.

Another was from Captain Archer – We'll get through this. I have every confidence in you. Again, he responded with thanks only, but this time he wondered if an identical message had been sent to Curtis and Chang. Perhaps Kelby and Kastle had gotten similar notes from their captain, Erika Hernandez.

Another message was from Doug, Lili's husband. Malcolm could, perhaps, count on one hand the number of times that Doug Beckett had ever written to him. The message said: Jay Hayes had a sister, Laura. She's in practice on Andoria. If you need for me to call her, let me know. She's practically family and I'm sure she would take your case.

Stunned by the gesture, from a man who was essentially his romantic rival, Malcolm didn't know what to write. He finally responded with: I know my thanks are not enough but right now they're all I can manage. And so I am grateful to you.

The last note was from Lili herself. The note contained an attachment, which Malcolm opened first. It was a scanned picture of a drawing by Joss. Joss was not yet two years of age, so it was really just a multicolored scrawl. At the bottom, Lili had written in blue crayon, Come back soon, Mackum. He smiled a tiny bit at the dictation she had taken, as no one called him that except for Joss. Marie Patrice probably would too, eventually. It was a dubbing that had occurred because Joss could not quite pronounce the name Malcolm.

He then opened Lili's own note.

My dear Malcolm,

I want to do what I can to comfort you. I know you were staying away because of the war, and you felt strange. But I truly want to help you. I hope you will feel comfortable enough to reach out to me. Know that I love you and I am looking out for you, both when I am awake and in my dreams. You are my kind, strong champion. I know you will prevail.

Love, as always,

Lili-Flower

He couldn't merely write her a quick thank you and call it a day. And the use of the pet name he had for her – that really set him off, and he found himself clutching his handkerchief for just a moment, hoping his emotions, like a tidal wave, would not spill over and give him away. But he heard footsteps, and saw Dash coming over. He hastily tapped out his reply.

My dearest Lili-Flower,

You are the flower and I am naught but the supportive reed. And now you are the one who is supporting me. I am humbled and honored and love you more than ever. We'll talk soon.

"Well?" he asked Dash as soon as he'd hit send.

"Let's take a walk." They strolled along the hallway. When Dash was satisfied that they were alone, he asked, "Tell me about the condoms again."

"What's there to tell?"

"How many did you use? When? And with whom?"

"Like I think I mentioned previously, I used two or three from the five-pack. It was in January of 2153, mere weeks before the Xindi attack on Earth. I don't recall the precise date. The woman was a Vissian named Veylo."

"You know where she is?"

"No, I never talked to her afterwards, and we did not correspond. The first contact between our two species ended badly. It was, you see, they are a species with three genders. Their culture apparently doesn't treat the cogenitors that well. My colleague, Commander Charles Tucker, befriended the only cogenitor aboard their ship. Tucker overstepped his bounds and the Vissians departed quickly thereafter. Then we received a communiqué that said the cogenitor had committed suicide. That effectively ended all contact."

"Did you try any further contact? Anything?"

"I did not," Malcolm stated, "Perhaps I was not as gentlemanly as I should have been, but Veylo and I didn't exactly fall in love or anything like that. From the start, we both knew it was merely a brief hookup."

"And you're sure about only using two or three from the pack of five?"

"I was positive. But now you're making me doubt that."

Dash sighed. "Did you have any other occasions to use the Starfleet-issued condoms?"

Malcolm shook his head. "I was interested in an Andorian woman named Talas, but she was with another, so that never happened."

"And when did you meet, you said her name is Lili?

"2154. But we were not together until 2159."

"In those five years, between 2154 and 2159," Dash asked, "did you have any occasions to use any of the condoms?"

"No. All of the encounters I had, either hookups or when I was seeing Pamela, those were all human women."

"Since 2159 and starting things with Lili, have you had any occasions to use any of the condoms?"

"Absolutely not. I don't have relations with anyone but her."

"Really? Despite her being married?"

"To my mind," Malcolm said, "that doesn't factor into it. I simply do not."

"When you leave your quarters during the day, to go on shift, do you ever lock the door?"

"Of course I do, every time."

"You never make an exception to that?"

"No, Mister Nolan."

"Did you ever give any of the condoms away?" Malcolm shook his head. Dash continued, "Ever see anyone open the box, pick up the box, anything like that?"

"Never. Just what are you driving at?"

"Just answer this one last time," Dash said, "how many of the condoms have you used?"

"Like I told you, it was two or three."

"And the records say you only had the one box and never got a second one. So how many should be left in the box?"

"The same number, I'll wager. Two or three."

Dash sighed. "I don't know what we're gonna do. The box is supposed to have two or three in it. And you've just told me there doesn't seem to be any way that anyone would have taken any, borrowed any or whatever."

"So?"

"So how can you explain to me why there's only one left in the box?"

=/\=

Outside the Starfleet Headquarters complex, protests were heating up again. "These people just swoop in here, they fly in here, they beam in here, and it's like everything they touch, it turns to ashes," shouted a young girl using a voice amplifier and talking to a restless crowd of people who were massing outside. "What do we want?" she yelled.

"Justice!" The crowd roared back.

"When do we want it?"

"Now!"

=/\=

Kastle and Kelby were watching the protest with their lawyers. Kelby looked closely. "Joe," he said, "look over there, the guy in the paisley shirt?"

"Where?"

"Left of the podium, twenty or so people away."

"Holy cow," Josef Kastle said, "That's one of the guys from the 602 Club!"

They motioned for Dan Chang to come over. He looked over and said, "There are tons of cops there. Someone's bound to haul him in."

"Not if he heads onto Starfleet property," replied his attorney, "They aren't supposed to be here and have no right to arrest once they're on Starfleet property." She clicked open her communicator. "Yeah, Dash? My guy says one of those protestors is outside, just over the edge into San Francisco territory."

"Huh," Dash said from the other end of the call, "we'll need Security in there. If that guy steps over the line and over here, we can nab him."

"What's going on?" Malcolm asked. Dash closed the connection and explained the situation. "I know who to call," Malcolm said. He flipped open his own communicator. "Major Dawson, please."

"Call me Bud," said Dawson the moment he realized it was Malcolm.

"Uh," Malcolm was nonplussed for a second, "One of those protestors from the 602 Club is just over the edge into San Francisco territ'ry. According to my counselor, if he enters our property, he can be detained."

"I'm on it," said Dawson.

"Take the fastest runners from the MACOs. As I recall, they are Oscar Tiburón, Julie McKenzie and Eddie Hamboyan."

"Will do. Dawson out."

=/\=

Bud Dawson found them all working out in the gym. "How's about a different kind of a workout?" he asked. "One of those protestors is right outside. Get him on Starfleet property and bring him in."

"Yes, sir!" Julie enthused.

"Nothing more than detention," Bud cautioned, "I know what you were put through, Hamboyan, 'cause I had the same. But now's not the time for that." The four of them left immediately.

=/\=

"We know that Starfleet will claim that they are only protecting us," that same young girl was shouting into her voice amplifier, "and they'll say they create jobs and all of that, yeah, whatever. But the reality's far different! Our people get put on the line for aliens! Earth defense takes a back seat to Andorian defense, and Denobulan defense, and Lafa II defense! And don't get me started on the Vulcans! They're just here to squeeze us dry and keep their boots on our necks! Well, I say, no more of it! Are ya with me?"

"Yeah!" yelled back the restless, sympathetic crowd.

"I can't hear you!"

"YEAH!"

She spotted Dawson and the others. "Ah, Starfleet's here. Tell me, Starfleet, how many girls did your fellas rape today? How many, huh? It's an abuse of power is what it is! How many?"

"How many?! How many?!" the crowd began to clap and chant.

"Paisley shirt, paisley shirt," Julie muttered to herself. "There!"

Dawson strode over and addressed the youth directly. "Son, you wanna come with us?"

The youth turned and fled. He first tried Baker Beach and then turned to Crissy Field, Oscar and Eddie in hot pursuit. Crossing Doyle Drive, he cut across to Mason Street, and then to Baker Street. He turned right, to Marina Green Park, and attempted to blend into a small street market.

Oscar and Eddie split up as Julie breathlessly ran up behind them, with Bud right behind her. "There," Bud said, pointing, "let's push back along Chestnut to Lombard. We've gotta get him back to Starfleet HQ."

Oscar followed along, keeping the youth in his sights. The youth saw him and blanched, and made a calculated error, running back toward Chestnut Street. Bud and Julie picked up the chase. Eddie fell in with them once they got to hilly Lombard Street.

The going was tough on Lombard. The hills were steep and Julie found she was tiring, but at least that meant the youth was tiring as well. Breathless, she clicked open her communicator. "We need help. He's on Lombard where it turns into Richardson Avenue. Herd him back to Starfleet HQ. He's got on a paisley shirt."

"Right," Mark Reilly said. He motioned to Connor Greer, Gary Hodgkins and Billy Dane and they followed him out. The four of them ran out to Presidio Boulevard from Doyle Drive, their heavy boots making the going very tiring very quickly.

"There he is!" yelled Hodgkins. The four of them fanned out and followed Oscar and Eddie. Bud, trailing, caught up with them and then Julie did.

The chase had slowed to almost a walk. It was just too tiring, and the hills of Lombard Street had taken a lot out of everyone. The Starfleeters pushed along, herding the youth out along Presidio Boulevard and back to Doyle Drive.

"Just get to Lincoln, you son of a bitch," Bud whispered as they followed along.

Finally, Lincoln Boulevard was in sight. The youth had a burst of speed and tried to make his way to Baker Beach but he didn't count on Oscar. Tiburón had always been the fastest man on the Enterprise and that training showed. Running along with him, Oscar circled around and placed himself between the youth and the beach. Panicking, the kid ran right onto Starfleet property.

Bud jogged up, despite how he was feeling. "You, kid! You're being detained!" he gasped.

The girl with the voice amplifier saw this. "What the hell's going on? You got no jurisdiction here!"

"Sure I do!" yelled Dawson, "This fella's on Starfleet property! The line runs along the edge of this building, straight on down, and he's clearly on the Starfleet side of it!" He pointed in emphasis.

The rest of the Starfleeters came over, with Billy Dane and Gary Hodgkins grabbing the youth's arms. "Hey!" the kid yelled, "You can't arrest me!"

"You're a person of interest!" Dawson declared.

"In what?"

"In the rape and attempted murder of Ruby Brannagh. If you got a lawyer, kid, you'd better call him or her right now."

"Name?" Oscar asked.

The youth spat at him. Julie said, "Man oh man, you've got no manners. There's no right to remain silent when it comes to self-identity, so spill it!"

Fit to be tied, the kid looked at them all and said, "Jefferson Davis Paxton. Terra Prime forever."

Chapter 5

On September the twenty-first, a preliminary hearing was held in the North American Subdistrict Court in the First District, San Francisco Division. "All rise," said the bailiff as Judge Shepherd entered.

The courtroom was packed with mostly press and Starfleeters. It was everyone who had gone through the most extensive part of the investigation, their erstwhile attorneys and the two captains, Jonathan Archer and Erika Hernandez. There was even a smattering of protestors present. They were seated and the process began.

"The people of the North American Subdistrict will show beyond a reasonable doubt, your honor, that the accused, Jefferson Davis Paxton, held a grudge against Starfleet and attempted to implicate them in the crime of rape," said the prosecuting attorney, a middle-aged woman.

"I have looked over the proof in this matter," said Judge Shepherd, "and it has been thorough. There were originally several suspects, all of whom, I understand, are here in this courtroom. They are," she consulted a PADD, "Marcus Brody, Victor Brown, Daniel Chang, Tristan Curtis, William Dane, Strong Bear Dawson, Eric Forbes, Connor Greer, Edmund Hamboyan, Brooks Haynem, Gary Hodgkins, Josef Kastle, Derek Kelby, Neil Kemper, Brad Moreno, Malcolm Reed, Mark Reilly, Oscar Tiburón and Walter Woods." She took a breath.

"Eventually the number was cut down to five – Daniel Chang, Tristan Curtis, Josef Kastle, Derek Kelby and Malcolm Reed. Starfleet," she glared at the protestors in the courtroom, including the young girl from the rally, "provided unprecedented cooperation. I cannot force anyone to enjoy or accept their presence here in California, but I can tell you that they were far more helpful than most organizations would be."

"May it please the court," said the prosecuting attorney, "but the people would like to present testimony now, in support of a finding of probable cause to bring Paxton to trial. We are offering this testimony now due to the delicate health of the witness."

"It is irregular, but I'll allow it," said the judge.

The prosecutor handed a PADD to the bailiff, who read off, "The North American Subdistrict calls Ruby Brannagh."

She moved oh, so slowly. She had a metal cane, and a cast on her right arm and her head was bandaged up. She was clearly in pain but determined to walk to the stand on her own, giving a look to anyone who tried to help her. All eyes followed as she made her way and was sworn in.

"Name," said the prosecutor.

"My name is Ruby Brannagh."

"Tell us what you remember happening on August the fifteenth, 2160."

"I ran the bar as I always do. People from the Enterprise and the Columbia came in. I welcomed them like I always do. And some local people came in, including Paxton, over there."

"You know him?" asked the prosecutor.

"Yes," said Ruby, "during the Romulan War, business was pretty bad, so when locals began to come over, I didn't turn them away."

"Did you have a relationship with Jefferson Davis Paxton?"

"Not what you'd call a relationship," she said, "we hooked up a few times."

"Did you hook up on August the fifteenth of 2160?"

"Yes."

"And then what happened?"

"We split a tablet of methylqualone, and began drinking from a bottle. At least, I thought he had had a half of the methylqualone, but maybe he didn't."

"And then?"

"And we started to fool around. He's, you see, he's a lefty, so he would grab me on my right side more than my left, and I joked with him that he should even things out."

"And?"

"And he cracked me across the jaw, and I passed out."

"What's the next thing you remember, Miss Brannagh?"

"Waking up in the hospital."

"Do you know what day that was?"

"They tell me it was August the twenty-ninth."

=/\=

The questioning continued until finally Paxton stood up. His lawyer grabbed at his arm but the young man jerked himself out of reach. "I wanna say something."

"Your turn will come," said the judge.

"No, now," said Paxton, "because this is where I enter my plea, right? And I wanna plead guilty. So her testimony stops, right?"

"It does," said the judge, "You may step down, Miss Brannagh, and thank you."

Ruby slowly hobbled past Paxton, carefully putting one foot in front of the other and not looking at him.

Paxton was sworn in. "Do you wish to enter a plea at this time?" asked the judge.

"I do."

"In the matter of the rape of Ruby Brannagh, how do you plead?"

"Guilty."

"In the matter of the battering of Ruby Brannagh, how do you plead?"

"Guilty."

"In the matter of the obstruction of justice and the falsification of evidence, how do you plead?"

"Guilty."

"Have you anything to say, Mister Paxton?"

"Starfleet is responsible for the death of my father, John Frederick Paxton, in prison. They are all guilty, so far as I'm concerned. All I wanted was to get some of them to get a taste of that medicine, and fear for their freedom. I wanted them and their families to know what it's like to think you might be going to jail. I wanted them to feel what it's like when what you want, and your whole way of life, are all threatened. And that point has been made. But I've got another one."

He took a breath. "We never asked to get into this war. And we never would have, except we got involved with all of these alien races. All of these inferior races, they led us into war and made us fight their battles for them. And Starfleet went eagerly! See, this is what Terra Prime is all about! Interspecies unity is a total fake. They're out to use us, and you idiots can't see that, you're too busy kissing up to the pointy ears!"

"What about Ruby Brannagh?" asked Judge Shepherd.

"Yeah, what about me?" she asked. She was in the back, near the door, leaning against the wall for support and refusing the offer of a seat.

"You're just a convenient means to an end," said Paxton, "You honestly think I ever liked you? See, it goes like this – you do what you always do," he snorted in derision, "and I get Starfleet blamed. It woulda worked like a charm, except for that stupid rally." The girl who'd led the rally glared at him.

"And the matter of the Starfleet-issued condom?" asked the judge.

"That was the icing on the cake," said Paxton, "See I knew if I used one, you'd all figure the only people who could possibly be involved would be Starfleet. And I was right, you know. I bet you all ran around in circles for a while on that. But you see, there's a factory that manufactures them. And it's not exactly the world's most secure facility. It's an easy thing, to get a box or two or twelve." So the matter of the condom that Malcolm couldn't account for – it proved to be immaterial, he realized.

"I've heard enough," said the prosecutor.

"I'm not finished."

"It's enough," said Paxton's own lawyer, who turned to the judge, "I have done my best, as is required under the Code of Professional Responsibility, to represent this man. But I am not here to suborn perjury, plant evidence or otherwise obstruct justice."

"Understood," said Judge Shepherd, "Mister Paxton, your grandstanding is over. This is a courtroom, not a soapbox. The sentencing will be in a week."

The bailiff motioned as two strapping court officers came forward. They cuffed Paxton and escorted him out. "All rise," said the bailiff as the judge returned to a back room.

=/\=

Malcolm found himself finally letting out a breath, as if he'd been holding it for the past month. "I don't know what to say," he finally squeaked out.

"The good guys won," said Captain Archer, "and we'll be heading out again soon. Space is beautiful, but I don't imagine it'll look any more beautiful than it will when we leave this time." He got up to talk to Erika Hernandez.

Dash was sitting on the other side of Malcolm. "So, whaddaya think of our justice system?"

"I think the next time, I'd rather not see it quite so up close and personal."

"That's a fair assessment. Look, let's take a walk. For old time's sake, okay?"

They got up and walked out of the court house and sat together on the huge set of front steps. The press were nearby, but they were preoccupied with trying to talk to Paxton's lawyer.

"Can I make a suggestion to you?" Dash asked.

"Oh?"

"Yeah. See, I've been watching your behavior for a good month now. And while I don't really know you – and I imagine you don't let a lot of people get to know you – you seem more troubled and stressed than maybe you should be."

"Is there some degree of stress I should have been under?"

"No, it's not that," said Nolan, "it's more, well, I have seen Starfleeters with post-traumatic stress disorder before. And while I don't think you've got a really bad case, I can't say that it's completely absent, either."

"Are you now a doctor, in addition to being an attorney?"

"'Course not. What I'm really trying to be is a friend. I bet your lady's noticed things about you. Just, man, talk to someone. The war, and all of this, it's bound to affect you."

"I don't know."

"They used to call it shell shock," Dash said, "it was and is quite a heavy psychological blow. And it can hit you when you least expect it. You're a Tactical guy. You can't be flying out there and thinking that every Klingon or whatever is really Paxton in disguise. You can't be fantasizing about wreaking vengeance on him or anything of the sort. You should talk to somebody. Just think about it, okay?"

"Maybe." Malcolm stood up as the press was all coming over and they had gotten rather loud again. And then he noticed why. It was Ruby, descending the steps and moving tentatively. He came over to her and stuck his arm out. "I'm here to escort you, Miss Brannagh."

"I'm afraid I'm not going anywhere that exciting, just back to the rehab center. I live there these days. I probably will for a while."

She took his arm and they carefully stepped down the stairs and Malcolm glared at all of the members of the press who could tell he meant business. When they had gotten to the bottom of the steps, she said, "I can handle it from here. There's a ride coming, and I can see them."

"Good," he said, "I might be heading in for a spot of medical care of my own."

"Oh?"

"Yes," he admitted, "Post-traumatic, oh, bloody hell, call it what it is – shell shock."

"I predict a full recovery," she said as she got into her ride.

"And I predict the same for you," he said as he shut the door for her and the car sped away.

He straightened up and fiddled a bit with his PADD. He wrote three notes.

Dear Lili,

I am going to get some psychological treatment. I fear this has affected me more than I had thought, and I desire a professional's care until you and I can be together. I fear that I have shell shock and I have not been treated for it at all. And I need to be treated, before I can see you again, and before I can truly be among civilized people again. I am certain that Doctor Phlox can help.

All my love,

Your supportive Reed

And the second note –

Dear Mother and Father,

I have met someone and have fallen in love. I know that I have never spoken with you about such things, and you and Madeline have never met any of my girlfriends. But I want very, very much for you to meet her. Her name is Lili Beckett. Let's talk soon, and arrange a date and a place.

Love,

Malcolm

And the last note –

Dear Doctor Phlox,

I wish to discuss the recent events, both the war and the Brannagh matter, and I hope you can find time in your schedule, so that I may receive some treatment.

I need to process all of this. I need to stop dreaming of crewmen being slashed in twain. I need to know that Starfleet is not universally hated, and there aren't enemies around every corner and behind every gas giant. I need to know, again, that the Earth is mainly a hospitable place, and most people are kind. I need to believe those things again. I have every confidence that you can help with that.

Very Truly Yours,

Malcolm Reed