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Cassie Granger

Situation Normal...

Situation Normal - AFU


As soon as they got the word the dynamics in CMTAC* shifted from global to mission specific. A bank of monitoring personnel lined one wall under the main monitors, each tapping into several feeds, all pertaining to travel to and from one foreboding system on the edge of the Romulan Neutral Zone and the investigation of one Class M planet nestled precariously among eight gas giants and a nondescript chunk of rock.


In general, the RNZ wasn't such a bad place. On the list of "most dangerous assignments" it was close to the bottom because agents In Zone (sometimes called IZzies) usually did little more than watch and listen. The listening was, frankly, boring, and the Romulans knew they were listening, so they played along and threw out as many juicy tidbits as they could. Some of the more creative agents would throw out a few of their own, and the game was on. Whoever said the Romulans didn’t have a sense of humor was way off base.


But the posturing? That could get real interesting, especially when the opposition got bored and decided to play Romulan Roulette along the lines of, "let's see how close we can get to the Feddies before they freak" or "let's cloak the bird up to the line then decloak to see what they do." Yeah, that was always good for a laugh.


But this trip was different. This trip wouldn’t be just anywhere IZ . Along the RNZ there were sharp lines, fuzzy lines, and downright blurry lines, and Challenger was deploying as deep into blurry category as you could get with both the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire seriously claiming the area for its rich mineral deposits. To Cass, it smacked of having a colony far enough outside the wire to be called a Forward Operating Base, or FOB. There’d be no joking there.


Backpedaling a bit, the term “outside the wire” was used long ago when combatants used barbed wire to separate the good guys (us) from the bad guys (them). By the 23rd century the term was still in use, but very loosely. Outside the wire was where Challenger would be. Inside the wire was where command would be directing the operation, making decisions from data they gathered and information they’d get back from whoever was outside the wire - meaning Challenger and whoever had the guts (or misfortune) to get their boots on the ground.


Challenger’s mission - and therefore the mission of the future colonists, and the mission of the future agents and their protection detail - was in a hotly contested area of space. The blurred border had already caused several skirmishes. To top it all off, the Federation didn’t seem to care about the Romulan claim. They thumbed their noses at the Romulans and wanted to plant a colony smack dab on the one Class M hunk of rock in the system that really mattered.


Now, depending on who was calling the shots, Challenger’s mission could go smoothly or it could get dicey. There were good mission commanders and there were bad mission commanders. The good ones, even though they were safely away from the action, had experience outside the wire, knew and respected their subordinates’ capabilities, stayed with the program, focused on the mission, and generally kept in mind that whoever was outside the wire put their lives on the line. The bad ones… well, let’s just say they could be a problem.


All too often somewhere in a head shed far, far away, a group of scrambled egg-heads* could lose sight of the real situation as they made decisions from their cushy leather chairs behind their shiny mahogany desks completely removed from the cluster frags the boots on the ground would have to deal with and possibly die in. They’d watch their nice shiny new monitors, smoke their cigars, drink their coffee with a shot of cognac and order Châteaubriand while they gave the order to go in and “get ‘er done,” all the while ignoring the fact that the boots were probably undermanned, outgunned, and short on equipment in one of the hottest areas in the sector. Yeah, Cass had seen egg-heads a few times, and unfortunately one of them was Marine Sector Commandant Jeorsey at Starbase 184.


Thank the universe for Admiral Hawley, Jeorsey’s counterbalance.


But despite what went on at command, the “boots” - in this case the agents who would be deployed to that future colony along with their protection detail - were very well trained. They knew that what the situation looked like from the outside and what they would actually find were probably two totally different things. They knew they were in for a ride, and they knew better than anyone what was at stake. For whatever reason, they’d signed on the mission and were determined to see it through. They improvised, pulled together what meager resources they had and they went in, all the while knowing that who lived and died would depend on training, teamwork, and fate, and most of the time they’d be on their own. Sometimes they survived, sometimes they didn’t.


The good thing was that the colony wasn’t established yet. The bad thing was that Challenger was being sent in to see if the Romulans were interested in the planet’s large caches of precious minerals, ores and metals (as if they wouldn’t be). The assumption was that there would be a colony - if the Romulans didn’t seem to mind - but that assumption didn’t take into account that the Romulans might be temporarily distracted. They might not notice the colony being established, and when they did notice a colony growing up around their resources inside their territory, they would probably attack and obliterate the whole damn thing. Hell, most anyone would.


But Challenger was going to go in and poke around the planet to see what might happen. Test the waters. It had all the markings of a classic SNAFU that could, unless handled delicately, draw the Federation and the RSE into all-out war. Or maybe just get us all killed - take your pick. That’s why Counterintelligence agent (CA) MCpt Cassidy Granger had formally voiced her concern during the command briefing.


No, she wasn’t an alarmist, just a realist and a practical thinker. Plus, she had made a solemn promise to bring everyone home. Alive.


“What’s on the line, Jackson?” Cass strode into the monitor room after a secure conference with Admiral Hawley, Director of Counterintel for Sector 8.


Jackson kept his trademark elbow-leaning hunched-over position and jerked one earbud out. “Nothing. Lliu. Not in standard, not in vernacular, not in High Romulan, not even on the street in slang. And not a word on the normal official channels. Command chatter is ordinary - go here, do that, forget this.” He looked up. “They don’t seem to be interested in our presence at all.”


Cass nodded. “Setkewich?”


Gen was worn, but she had that classic adrenaline rush that came with being on mission. Her eyes expertly scanned several small monitors while she simultaneously listened to news feeds with the occasional commentary thrown in. She shook her head without missing a beat. “Nothing, ma’am. Their news channels are crammed with some babe shacking up with a high government official and their failed attempt to cover it up. In other words, it’s a slow news day.”


“What babe?” Cass leaned a hand on the back of the lieutenant’s chair.


An expert skim through the data found, “Anarhai t’Sahe.”


“And the official?”


“Councilman tr’Rhai’hlan.”


Tr’Rhai’hlan was known for his radical views, but he wasn’t exactly known for womanizing. And Anarhai t’Sahe, literally “Dawn Emotion,” sure sounded like a cheap call girl or a code name. Cass was betting on the code name knowing the councilman never did anything cheap. He was a spender, not a miser, and he always flew first class.


“Send it to the main board,” said Cass with a pat on Gen’s shoulder, “and anything else you get on their affair, especially anything about tr’Rhia’hlan. Meetings. Meeting places. Accusations and who’s trying to take him down. Anything.”


At Gen’s clipped acknowledgement, Cass moved on down the line, occasionally glancing up at the main board as its configuration constantly changed while it analyzed the data stream. One name kept popping up, prominent in the center. One incident took precedence. Why? And did it mean anything or was it just flack? Unfortunately they still didn’t have any reliable ears on the street in Romulan territory, so they had to rely on pretty much anything that leaked across the border, and they could never be sure of the source, whether it had any truth, or if it was flat-out disinformation and they were playing their games.


But it was all they had to go on.


*CMTAC - Counterintelligence Multiple Threat Alert Center

*scrambled egg-heads - a not so nice term for brass whose cover (head gear) insignia resemble scrambled eggs.

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