SIM:The Court of Inquiry

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[JP] Reynolds, Brunsig, Vess, Sevo & Freeman - The Court of Inquiry


((Conference Room, Diplomatic Suite, USS Gorkon: 0800 Hours, Three Days Post-Mission))

::There was the smell of brand new carpeting in the conference room, a powder blue that echoed the colours of the Federation flag. The usually soft lighting was set to an almost harsh glare which did little to complement the rustic furniture; a conference table and matching chairs that looked as though they had been freshly hewn that morning, crafted to bring out the natural knots and grain of the wood. Pictures and artwork from within and without the Federation tastefully decorated the room, with a very subtle pride of place for a Romulan sculpture. Though his illness had seen him on the lightest of duties, Jansen Orrey's fingerprints were all over the refurbishments. ::

::Grace sat in a chair at the conference table, on the right-hand side of a long edge, facing the officers conducting the inquiry; Fleet Captain Reynolds, Commander Brunsig, Commander Vess and a representative from JAG, a Ktarian woman who had been introduced as Lieutenant Commander Kora Damos. Brunsig, chairing the inquiry, was in the centre, Reynolds and Vess either side, while Damos perched on one of the short edges of the table, a recording device sat in front of her. On Grace's left, several feet away, sat Sevo. It was a very nice conference room, compared to some she'd had to spend time in - this wasn't the first inquiry into the 451st, although it was the first inquiry where she was the only surviving member.

::She had spent the last two days working on everything from mission reports to personal logs, and had finally managed to actually sleep the night before, for the first time in four or so days. Her ribs were still slightly stiff, although it had mostly worn off, fortunately. So far, she'd managed to avoid Colleen and really anyone else. She'd gotten notice of the Inquiry the day before, and so had actually bothered to eat both a real dinner and breakfast, and set an alarm to wake up on time.

::At 0630, her alarm had gone off, and she'd prepared herself to face the inquiry of the Starfleet Sector Command. Now here she sat at 0800, black uniform in place, PADD in front of her with her statements and other pieces of necessary information.::

:: Ayiana sat ramrod straight in the chair on the same side as Freeman, though on the other end of the table. Her uniform was crisp and clean. This wasn't Sevo's first inquiry by any stretch. Well, it was for *Ayiana*, but she had to participate in a few inquiries and court martials as Toran. Still, this was the first time she could recall that she was the *focus* of an investigation. It made her nervous, but she remained stoic and professional. She had detailed the events of Leutra IV and her encounter with Ensign Freeman in her log and report. But apparently The Powers That Be wanted a verbal recounting of the event. ::

:: And those Powers That Be were none other than Fleet Captain Reynolds, First Officer Vess, and Commander Brunsig, much to Ayiana's discomfort. She could almost feel the disappointment boring into her from Captain Reynolds. The last thing Ayiana wanted to do was disappoint her CO, especially since she got quite close to Reynolds, professionally. Ayiana had a stack of PADDs in front of her with various notes prepared. She had spent the last couple of days preparing for the inquiry. ::

Vess: ::Nodding to Damos.:: Yeh may begin.

Damos: This Court of Inquiry convenes in accordance with the written request of the Fleet Captain Quinn Reynolds. Present are Fleet Captain Quinn Reynolds, Commander Walter Brunsig, Commander Alucard Vess, Lieutenant Commander Kora Damos, Lieutenant Commander Ayiana Sevo and Ensign Grace Freeman. Commander Brunsig has been nominated President of the Court and is leading the inquiry. Lieutenant Commander Damos is present as legal counsel.

::She paused, tapping a few commands into her PADD, then turned to the senior of the two women opposite. Alucard glanced sidelong at Walter. It was like throwing two mackerel to a Great White.::

Damos: Lieutenant Commander Sevo, do you solemnly affirm that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, under pains and penalties of perjury?

::Ayiana stood up, and raised her hand.::

Sevo: I do.

::Damos nodded, her mane of red curls bouncing along with the movement. Another few taps on her PADD, and her yellow, feline eyes were cast toward Grace.::

Damos: Ensign Freeman, do you solemnly affirm that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, under pains and penalties of perjury?

::Grace raised her hand briefly.::

Freeman: Affirmative.

Damos: Commander Brunsig, you may begin.

::Ayiana was well aware of Brunsig's infamous temper and true to form, he was scowling -- even more so than usual -- as though this interruption to his routine had stoked the glowing embers of his typical foul mood. She sincerely hoped he wouldn't start with her! She returned her hand to the table and calmly locked fingers together over the desk, patiently waiting to speak. Eventually, he turned to the youngest and most junior of the two women.::

Brunsig: You. Freeman. Explain.

::Grace contemplated the senior officers for a moment before getting to her feet, gently tapping her pants until they sat correctly over her boots, and picked up the PADD before her, flicking to the statement she'd prepared.::

Freeman: With respect, Commander, explain from where? The beginning of the mission, the arrival of the Gorkon, the wreck?

Brunsig: Pick one.

::Grace snorted, ever so softly, earning herself a glare from Brunsig and the slightest narrowing of eyes from Reynolds. Vess kept a cool poker face. Damos made no response, quietly tapping away on her oversized PADD. Ayiana sat still. Freeman was *not* off to a good start with Brunsig. She felt a little pity for her.::

Freeman: As everybody in the room has clearance for this now… The 451st was dropped into the Leutra system eight days ago, and made a short warp jump to Leutra VI. Once it was determined that the planet was uninhabitable, we jumped to Leutra IV, which showed as supporting life, despite all evidence to the contrary. We were dropped in with the purpose of determining if there was any Orion Syndicate activity in the area, and if there was -- ::she paused:: -- to take care of it. We started making scans of the planet, and found a pair of Orion bases on it.

::Grace scrolled through her statement as she went. The thing about writing a statement when she was dead on her feet was that there were… some unnecessary details. And tangents. And other stuff. She was also keeping an eye on the reactions of the others in the room, especially Sevo, who would be hearing about this stuff for the first time.

::Ayiana remained quiet in her seat, giving Ensign Freeman the time to explain her side of the story. Ayiana showed no outside emotional responses to any of Freeman's revelations. Though never turning her head to face Freeman, Ayiana got the feeling she was watching her from time-to-time.::

Freeman: Over the next three days, we took out the bases and did intelligence gathering. Found a lot, actually, about their movements. They weren't expecting us, and less data was removed in time. Honestly, sir, it was an absolute cluster for them and a gold mine for us. Moving on… the next morning, the Gorkon jumped in. We did not know why the ship had arrived, so the squad went to ground and monitored their communications, until the ship and all three away teams went silent at the same time. As we were on the other side of the planet at the time, we continued to lay low and give them time, during which we continued to hunt for any remaining Syndicate traces. Finally, after far too long without any Starfleet communications, Lieutenant Diseth ordered the squad to the away teams, on the theory that they might need help -- I presume, anyway.

::Grace paused for another breath to observe the other's' reactions, and glanced down at her PADD, having maintained some form of eye contact with the panel through most of her talking so far. Brunsig was still scowling, Damos looked mildly distressed, and Reynolds' stoicism was impossible to read. Similarly, Ayiana remained quiet and stoic.

::Vess leaned back in his chair and quietly tapped at his temple. To the outside world it looked like he was in thought, but he'd really switched his ocular implant to thermal mode. He wanted a read on the two before him to gauge their emotional response to what was being said. Freeman's body temperature was slightly elevated, although fairly even. The same could be said for Sevo, with the exception of a slightly warmer Symbiont shaped patch in her abdomen. He switched back to normal mode and made a few notes on his PADD.::

::When Grace spoke again, her voice was flat and completely emotionless. She was doing everything she could to suppress the actual memories of the event at this point, and only read what she'd written, pared down for length. If she didn't look human, it would have been anyone's guess if she was a computer at this point.::

Freeman: We took the Kestrel towards where the nearest away team would have been. A couple kilometers from where they'd last transmitted from, our pilot, Banshee -- Marine Captain Severt -- reported odd sensor readings, and not ten seconds later, we lost power, to everything. Weapons, the ship, comms… everything. The Kestrel went down, slammed nose first into the ground. Lieutenant Diseth, Banshee, and Ensign th'Vrella were killed instantly on impact, as they were all in the cockpit. The rest of the ship broke free from the cockpit, and then one of the nacelles exploded, blowing a chunk of the ship apart. I managed to get out via the main corridor, exposed to the air, and Corporal K'Tula and I were moving away from the wreckage when the other nacelle went. The shrapnel killed K'Tula, and when I could see the ship again, it was a bunch of flaming wreckage, and the bodies of my team were… scattered over the area, with a few exceptions. This… all happened about 0100, 0200.

::So much life lost in an instant. Ayiana wanted to mourn for those people, but she kept her mind on the inquiry at hand.::

Brunsig: Where you encountered Sevo's team.

Freeman: They showed up after a bit. As our chronos were shot, I'm not sure when, but yes, that's when Sevo's team showed up.

::Ayiana simply nodded and let Freeman continue. Ayiana would get a chance to recall her statement soon enough. Her best estimate for when Ayiana's team headed to the crash site was somewhere in the vicinity of “after dark” and “before sunrise.”::

Vess: The exact time is not important, please continue.

Freeman: When they arrived, it was suggested that we move away from the wreckage, until Lieutenant Commander Sevo realized there were further bodies, at which point she pushed to move them. On the grounds of both the danger of attempting to go near the wreckage, and the fact that there was intelligence on the Kestrel that needed to be removed first, I made it clear that we needed to leave my team where they were for the time being. Eventually the away team and I headed back to the camp until morning, when we made our way back to the wreckage site. As I was the only remaining officer of the Kestrel and the 451st, I informed Lieutenant Commander Sevo that I would need to clear the wreck site before any other officers boarded the ship. At this point, the Lieutenant Commander pulled me aside and proceeded to argue with me about my job, both as intelligence officer and as the commanding officer of the squad and ship, being the only remaining officer. I informed the Lieutenant Commander that I would still need to clear the ship before her team, regardless of her attempt to pull rank, as the Rangers operate under autonomy on missions when not in contact with Command. Eventually, we reached a… compromise… and entered the ship. I went through and cleared all of the sensitive intelligence, with the exception of what was on the computer core, which I had to deal with separately.

::While Reynolds' hazel eyes fell mostly on Sevo, Brunsig's intense glacial blue gaze was fixed on Grace for the duration of her report. He spoke, and the question was fired like a bullet from a gun. Ayiana couldn't fathom what Captain Reynolds was thinking at the moment her eyes fell on Ayiana. Concern? Disappointment? It was like letting down your favorite teacher. ::

Brunsig: Meaning?

Freeman: ::Hesitating for a half a second:: I blew it up.

::Ayiana closed her eyes for a moment, and the vision of the fireball reaching for the sky filled her mind. She recalled the sudden surprise - and fury - that went through her as she saw the flames rise. After only a moment, her eyes snapped back open and returned to the present. Meanwhile, Vess's jaw dropped slightly on an otherwise passive face. That was all the reaction he displayed as he spoke.::

Vess: Fer what reason can yeh justify such an extreme act?

::Grace's voice stayed where it was, flat and toneless, even when she snarked about Sevo.::

Freeman: When unable to secure intelligence data pertaining to a highly classified mission, the next step is to destroy it. I did so via protocol, and had Lieutenant Commander Sevo let me do my job in the first place, the primary comms array would not have been destroyed in the process.

Sevo: oO Still sticking behind the whole “classified” crap. *And* pinning the fault on me, no less! Oo

::Damos was still tapping away at her PADD, taking notes, though her boned brow did raise somewhat at the comments. Brunsig snorted, but that was the extent of the opinion he offered at that particular juncture.::

Brunsig: Continue.

Freeman: Upon the realization that I had completed my job, Lieutenant Commander Sevo proceeded to attack me, slamming me into the side of what remained of the main body of the Kestrel. I defended myself and shortly thereafter, the ground below us collapsed into a cave of seemingly unnatural origin. That might have also been avoided if I'd been allowed to do my job without so much interference. Afterwards, the Lieutenant Commander… agreed… to put our little tiff on hold until we could ascertain our whereabouts and decide what to do from there. Not very long after, the Fleet Captain -- ::Grace nodded at Reynolds:: showed up with her team.

::Grace placed her PADD on the table and folded her hands behind her back, indicating completion of her report. She faced the sector command and Vess. As she did, her face was drawn and slightly pale. Despite her best attempts to suppress the memories, it wasn't working very well. She felt slightly sick, but ruthlessly tamped it down.

::Reynolds sat in silence, digesting the information provided, Vess typed a few more notes on his PADD. He was avoiding eye contact with Sevo, as it was difficult to sit on such a board when a friend sat opposite.. After a few moments, Brunsig cast a glance toward each of them in turn, then looked toward Sevo. As it was obvious he didn't want anymore from Grace, she sat down once more.::

Brunsig: I'm sure you've got plenty to say. Now's your chance.

::Oh boy, did she! Ayiana unclasped her hands and perused one of her PADDs. Now was the time to tell *her* side of the story. Ayiana calmly stood up, holding a PADD in her hand. As she addressed the officers across the table, she made sure her eyes scanned across all of them equally.::

Sevo: Thank you, sirs. As Ensign Freeman sufficiently explained the events pertaining to the day in question, I will not reiterate them here. I will simply provide my own explanations and point-of-view of the events.

::Ayiana tapped at her PADD, scrolling to notes of her first point of comment.::

Sevo: Ensign Freeman's estimated time of the crash is as correct as it can be, sirs. My team, consisting of Lt. Commander Millis, Ensign sh'Idrani, and Ensign MacFarlane had camped for the night. This was several hours after a massive radiation storm assaulted the planet, destroying our electronic equipment and effectively rendering us isolated from the Gorkon and the other away teams. Commander Millis was taking watch, while Ensigns MacFarlane and sh'Idrani were asleep. I was trying to sleep, but my mind kept wandering to the planet and it's miracles.

::Ayiana realized she was starting to go off on a tangent. She had a tendency to do that, and now was *not* the time for such things.::

Sevo: There was a loud explosion in the sky and a flash of orange light. Looking up, I saw what appeared to be a meteor streaking across the sky, crashing approximately five kilometers from our camp site. I immediately ordered the team to investigate the impact site.

::Ayiana paused for a moment, scrolling her PADD. As she did so, she took some glances at the officers across the table. Much like during Freeman's testimony, Reynolds was emoting as much as the average rock, Brunsig had a deep and irritated frown etched onto his blond brow and Vess clasped his hands before him and kept his gaze level and neutral. Damos seemed less interested in the content of the testimony as making sure it was all properly recorded and annotated. Grace sat with one elbow on the table, looking straight forward and ignoring most of what was going on around her, attempting to get a handle on her emotions, which were starting to spill over again.::

Sevo: As we climbed the lip of the crater, the object in question became apparent: a Starfleet Arrow-class runabout. I was curious why such a ship was even here, let alone crashed. The Gorkon has no complements of Arrows. I ordered my team to carefully approach the burning wreckage, searching for any survivors. I knew the odds were long, but I had to try. After a few minutes, a figure emerged from a couple hundred meters away, near the main hull of the ship - Ensign Grace Freeman. She introduced herself as a Federation Ranger of the 451st. After brief introductions, she nonchalantly mentioned there were other people on her team still inside the runabout, most likely dead. I immediately ordered my team to search the wreckage for bodies. My first duty - and instinct - was to retrieve them.

Sevo: It was then that Ensign Freeman brought up the point about the danger of entering a burning crash site, as well as her desire to keep certain objects and information contained within confidential. She went on at length about how we weren't even supposed to know they were there. Admittedly, understandable considering the Ranger's usual operandi modus. I stressed that I had no desire to see said information, but only retrieve the bodies of her comrades for later retrieval and burial. It seemed to me at the time that Ensign Freeman cared more for protecting the information inside the ship and her operational secrecy than retrieving her dead comrades. Commander Millis agreed with Ensign Freeman in that the crash site was currently too dangerous to enter. I decided to return to camp with Ensign Freeman until morning when, hopefully, the fires would have died down. My intention was to return to the ship and search it for supplies, or possibly use it as a shelter. We had no idea how long we might have been trapped on the planet. My first duty was the survival of my team.

::Ayiana paused again, advancing her notes. She once again surreptitiously took stock of the emotional level of the room.::

Sevo: Once morning arrived we set out for the crash site. I had explained to Ensign Freeman that my only intention was to scour the wreckage for usable supplies and, potentially, hardware that had not been destroyed by the crash or the stellar radiation blast. I was worried Ensign Freeman would bring up “operational security” once again at the crash site. As expected, once we arrived at the crater, Ensign Freeman explained that she wanted to enter the wreckage first to “clear sensitive information.” It is of my opinion that she did not request this, but made it effectively an order. She was very adamant about entering the ship first.

:: Ayiana risked a quick glance - with her peripheral vision only - at Freeman, who was still looking straight forward, as if ignoring Sevo entirely.::

Sevo: I ordered my team to clear the wreckage of any bodies already thrown clear of the ship while I pulled Ensign Freeman aside. We spent the next few minutes arguing.

Vess: Arguing? About what exactly?

Sevo: Freeman was persistent in maintaining operational security of items and information inside the ship. As Freeman explained in her testimony, yes, I did “pull rank” on her, but she did not mention that beforehand she had “pulled rank” herself, citing herself as the sole surviving commanding officer of her squadron, and as such, she had full rights to deny myself and my team access. I agree that certain regulations support her assessment, but my current priority was the survival of my team, not gathering classified information which, I repeatedly stipulated, I did not care to see.

::The Ktarian lawyer continued tapping away at her PADD throughout, not lifting her gaze to observe either of the two women providing their testimony.::

Sevo: It was my judgement that, considering the circumstances, my rank of Lieutenant Commander still overruled her's as Ensign, despite her being under a separate chain-of-command. I also reminded her that the Rangers were a division of Starfleet, and not an independent organization. In certain circumstances, they could be ordered by those not in their immediate CoC.

::Ayiana retrieved another PADD and scrolled to a bookmarked line.::

Sevo: I respectfully request sirs to recall Starfleet Regulation 3, Paragraph 17: “In hostile situations, and in the event of multiple chains-of-command overlapping, seniority is awarded to the officer with the highest rank and most experience.”

::She tried to take a glance at Freeman again. As Ayiana grabbed her note-PADD again, she casually passed her eyes over the officers.::

Sevo: The “compromise” Ensign Freeman mentioned was the agreement I made with her stipulating that no one on my team, including myself, would reveal the contents inside the Kestrel to anyone unless ordered to by Starfleet Command or an authorized Intelligence officer. I informed her that my decision was final and that I would take full responsibility.

Sevo: We spent the next hour or so scouring the wreckage for usable supplies and retrieving Freeman's comrades' bodies for later transport or burial. I was busy examining a rock from the soil of the crater when a massive explosion emanated from where the cockpit had crashed. A couple of people dropped to the ground in instinct. I immediately looked around the site and noticed everyone except Ensign Freeman surprised and confused. I concluded that she had somehow purposefully destroyed the cockpit - with a comm array I was confident my engineer, Ensign MacFarlane, could have repaired.

Sevo: I will admit, at this point, my emotions got the better of me for a moment. I approached Ensign Freeman and shoved her back to the runabout's hull, which she was already standing next to. I was attempting to hold her still and prevent her from doing any more damage. I had no intention of physically assaulting her; however I do confess that the thought had crossed my mind, and it may have appeared I did at the time.

Sevo: We then argued for the next few minutes. Freeman maintained she was preserving secrecy. I maintained that our survival and need to contact the Gorkon or other away teams precluded that. The comm array in the destroyed cockpit could have helped that cause. She then revealed there was a second, secret com array located in the intact secondary hull of the ship. Freeman demanded that if myself or my team attempted to detain or restrain her, she would not reveal the location of the secondary array.

Sevo: I did not agree to her demands. At my approval, Commander Millis placed her in “open arrest” as was his duty as Chief of Security of the Gorkon. It was my belief that Ensign Freeman endangered the lives of my team with her sabotage and I fully supported commander Millis' judgement. Further, she had disobeyed my prior orders that the discussion was closed. The rest was rendered moot as the ground gave way. I can only surmise that the explosion further weakened the floor of the crater, which turned out to be over a cave. Everything after that point proceeded as Ensign Freeman explained.

Sevo: As we returned to the ship, I advised Captain Reynolds to place Ensign Freeman under house arrest in guest quarters until everything that had transpired could be sorted out. And...here we are. :: Ayiana paused and looked each officer in the eyes. :: Thank you, sirs.

::Ayiana sat back down in her chair, and clasped her hands back together on the table. The whole time, she did not make direct eye contact with Freeman.::

::Grace let go a very soft breath she'd been holding and hadn't realized. She hadn't heard a third of what Sevo had said as she worked to control her head. The grief and stress from the mission was definitely getting through to her, and despite the counselor clearing her for the inquiry, she had known at the time that the clearance wouldn't exactly do any good. She was still a mess.::

::It was obvious that the broad-shouldered German man presiding over the court was deeply unimpressed; with both officers, the process, being involved it, or perhaps all of the above. Drumming his fingers against the varnished wood of the rugged table, he muttered something under his breath, then looked to the two officers either side of him.::

Brunsig: Go nuts.

::There was a pause, and then Reynolds took a breath, barely moving except to turn her gaze toward Freeman.::

Reynolds: Ensign Freeman, what reason did you have to assume that Lieutenant Commander Sevo and her team were incapable of following Starfleet regulations regarding confidentiality and information security?

::Grace steadied herself, rose to her feet once more, and raised an eyebrow at the Fleet Captain. She received a dead stare in return.::

Freeman: ::Tiredly:: Runabout goes down with no reason. I survive somehow, the only person. My entire team is dead, most of whom were friends and several of whom were good friends. Nobody can tell me what exactly happened, or why said runabout just went down. Shock, plus all of that, makes it hard to trust someone who just happened to be there moments after the wreck, Starfleet Officer or not, and given all of the above, plus what my team had just spent three days doing… Sudden wreckage after an op that went almost perfectly? Didn't add up.

::Reynolds glanced toward Sevo, her expression thoughtful, then back toward Freeman.::

Reynolds: You're saying that trauma and circumstance affected your judgement and assessment of the situation?

Freeman: There is a possibility.

Reynolds: ::Mildly,:: Is it still affecting your judgement? Because I'm wondering why else you would present with your current attitude and risk a charge of insubordination, in a hearing that may well determine the rest of your career.

::Grace opened her mouth for a moment, then closed it again, considering her next words.::

Freeman: Apologies, Captain. Not my intention to have an attitude here. Just trying to get all the pieces laid out.

::Reynolds nodded, looking toward Vess to see what he had to say to Freeman. He turned his gaze directly at the ensign, his dark eyes boring into hers.::

Vess: Ensign, when yeh blew up the runabout's cockpit, how far away were Lieutenant Commander Sevo and the members of her team?

Freman: Couple hundred meters, Commander.

Vess: And yeh were wearing yer standard issue armor?

Freeman: Standard for that mission, yes.

::Vess' voice lowered as he next spoke. His tone implied that Freeman was walking a narrow line.::

Vess: So yer telling this panel that yeh knowingly and willfully set off an explosive while unshielded individuals were close enough to need to hit the deck while yeh were yerself shielded from harm?

Freeman: No individuals were knocked down by the blast wave itself, Commander, nor did they have any real need to hit the deck. The blast filtered upward and away from the wreckage of the cockpit, away from the away team. I was much closer and even without armor, it would not have knocked me off my feet. If anybody fell down, it was because they responded to the noise. Maybe also a tiny bit of hearing loss. But I was keeping track of when it was going to explode - if anybody had been too close near the time, I would have called them clear. I was doing my job, Commander, not hurting anyone else in the process.

::Vess kept his hands clasped to keep the trembling of anger from showing. Such negligence! He turned back to Reynolds and nodded. He couldn't continue for a few moments, so it was best to let her take over. She sat quietly for a moment, then her eyes moved to Brunsig, and she indicated Freeman with a flick of her bony wrist. Without hesitation, he began to fire off a series of impatient questions.::

Brunsig: What demolitions and engineering qualifications do you have?

Freeman: Standard Academy Basic Engineering, Rangers extended training, multiple instances of field work.

Brunsig: What means were you using to monitor the detonation site?

Freeman: Mark One Eyeball, timer in my head. I may not be a demolitions expert like some members of my team were, but I knew enough to set a timer and keep track of it. Commander.

Brunsig: Where were the other officers, exactly?

Freeman: ::Pausing for just a moment:: Sir, forty five seconds before detonation, they were all clustered together a couple hundred meters from the cockpit, away from the site, and at ten seconds, they were still there. When the count hit zero, they were starting to break away, but none were within the blast radius, which was less than five meters, or even within one hundred eighty meters of it.

Brunsig: What were the results of the interior structural survey conducted prior to detonation?

Freeman: Ah…. well. There were no obvious fractures to the interior hull. Beyond that, I did not have the tools to do an extensive survey.

Brunsig: What was the pressure and temperature of the remaining electro-plasma in the EPS?

Freeman: The EPS conduits I could see near the core were bone dry.

Brunsig: Did you confirm where the missing electro-plasma was?

Freeman: Negative, Commander. This wasn't a perfect job.

Brunsig: That much is painfully obvious. What *isn't* obvious is why it was a *necessary* job. The shuttle had been left overnight, unattended and exposed. What was the sudden and immediate risk to the intelligence that required you to blow up the core on your return?

Freeman: The only reason I was willing to abandon the wreck the night before is because our team had spent an extensive amount of time scanning the planet for intelligence lifeforms. We didn't find any, and therefore I deemed it could be left overnight. If I could have taken care of it the night before, I would have, but it was too dangerous to approach the cockpit. After having let it sit too long, I deemed it necessary to finish the job then, as it didn't look like I'd have another chance, with Lieutenant Commander Sevo interfering with my operation and all.

Brunsig: You've just confirmed that you were operating under the belief there were no other intelligent lifeforms on the planet. The only people there were Starfleet officers. From a ship you knew was in orbit. I'll ask again; what sudden and immediate risk was there to the intelligence?

Freeman: I no longer knew that for sure, Commander, and based on the fact that there had been two Orion Syndicate bases on that planet, there was too high of a possibility for the Syndicate to send a ship. Lack of evidence of the Syndicate doesn't mean they aren't there, and right then, it was my job to secure that intelligence against them or any other hostiles that may have appeared overnight.

::Grace did her absolute best to keep her voice ever level, though not as flat and monotone as earlier, but Brunsig was beginning to drag on her emotions and the rest of her brain at this point. She was already overwhelmed from having to recount what had happened and then listening to Sevo, plus being questioned for her actions. She'd done her job, but she'd still managed to lose both her ship and her team -- she'd been rather attached to both. And, she'd spent two full days, almost every second of that time, questioning her own action on that planet, every movement and moment. She'd been in shock through a lot of what happened, and now she was fighting through waves of grief and pain just to get through the inquiry.::

Brunsig: Ensign, your defence sounds to me a whole lot like "because maybe". You detonated that computer core when you had no guarantee it would explode in the manner you expected, and when you had no guarantees that it wouldn't cause a plasma fire. ::She scowled at shot a sidelong glance at the woman beside him.:: I'm sure Fleet Captain Reynolds can plumb her engineering knowledge for a whole host of other potential catastrophes.

Freeman: Commander, I did my job and protected the data entrusted to me by the Federation. My methods weren't perfect, but I was operating under the best information I had at that moment, and my own knowledge of the Syndicate. I'm sure the good Fleet Captain could give dozens of scenarios for further catastrophes, but Commander, none of those scenarios happened. There was no plasma fire. There was minimal debris from the explosion, and none of it even came close to the other officers there.

::Brunsig scowled, opening his mouth to reply when Reynolds leaned forward. He shot the Fleet Captain a glance out of the corner of his eye, and clamped his jaw shut, biting back something he clearly wanted to say.::

Reynolds: There's an old engineering term that comes to mind: "normalisation of deviance". It refers to the inclination to ignore or downplay dangerous incidents if there's no immediate adverse outcome, often meaning that opportunities to prevent future harm are repeatedly missed. ::She paused.:: We're not denying that you were doing your job. The questions are regarding *how* you went about doing it: whether you were correct in your refusal to cooperate with Commander Sevo and her team, and whether the risks surrounding the detonation was adequately controlled and reasonable under the circumstances.

::Reynolds' voice was calm and even throughout, without a hint of accusation; she could have been at the academy, delivering a class on after-action investigations and inquiries.::

Reynolds: What you've said to this inquiry is that you had cleared the Syndicate bases, and spent an extensive amount of time scanning for other life sentient life forms, finding none. You knew about the arrival of the Gorkon, because your mission required you to conceal your presence from it. When communications from the Gorkon went quiet, your squad attempted to proceed to the location of the nearest away team. Those were the facts, that was the "best information", and it was established by no one else but yourself.

::Grace didn't have a decent response to what Reynolds first said. She was right, of course, and Grace had been defending against those truths for half this damn inquiry. At the time, she had known she was in the right, but at this point, she wondered how much of that had been the shock talking.::

Freeman: At the time, sure. That was what I had. Things change fast though, and I was on a planet with unknowns at that point in time. We only proceeded to find the away teams after a long time without contact from either the Starfleet side or Orions.

Reynolds: What I'm struggling to understand --and what seems to be the root cause of the whole situation -- is why you were so suspicious when you found an away team at the location you had been proceeding to, for the express purpose of finding an away team. You quite literally found what you had gone looking for.

::Grace just kind of stared at the Captain for a moment. Once more, she was right - they'd found what they'd been looking for. Then it'd gone all wrong.::

Freeman: Yes…. we did find what we were looking for. Sorta, sir. But… it's one thing to prepare yourself to die on the battlefield, against an Orion soldier who wants you dead in return, and entirely another to be on a mission of providing rescue, only to die in a freak accident, or something that could have been not-an-accident at all. At the time, I didn't know what was going on. I expected to be dead, and ended up the only one left.

::As she spoke, a strange expression crossed Brunsig's face, and Reynolds flicked a glance at him as though she knew it was about to present itself. His bright blue gaze faltered for just a moment, glazing over and drifting downward. While he cleared his throat, snapping his eyes back to Grace, and wrangled a scowl back into place, she paused to make sure she could keep control of her voice before going on.

Freeman: At the time, yeah, I was paranoid. It's been a long time since I've had a regular officer of the line watching my back, and everything felt… wrong. Couldn't process at the time, sir. Too much shock and grief.

Brunsig: And now looking back, you see where you went wrong?

::Grace placed both hands on the table to steady herself and cleared her throat.::

Freeman: Yes sir.

::The German man stared at her in silence for some time, eyes narrowed. After a short while, he nodded and one by one, the gaze of the senior officers fell on the Trill in the room while Grace took her seat once more. Ayiana could feel their gaze bore into her soul like phasers. The fact that one of them was from Captain Reynolds, whom Ayiana looked up to, only made it worse. ::

Reynolds: Commander Sevo. You said that it may have "appeared" that you assaulted Ensign Freeman. The reports from the rest of your away team describe a situation where you lost your temper, bodily threw her against the shuttle in violation of any restraint techniques, and proceeded to... how to put it. Scream in her face? Can you explain?

Sevo: Yes, sir. As I said, my main concern at the time was the survival of my team. I knew if Ensign MacFarlane could have repaired the comm array, I may have been able to contact the Gorkon or yourself. The reckless destruction of said equipment by Ensign Freeman put that in jeopardy.

Sevo: Almost from the moment we met, Ensign Freeman had been rude, abrasive, and willfully negligent with the chain-of-command. I had various emotions build up over time, and the destruction of the cockpit had put me over the edge. I am, however, fully aware that that does not excuse my actions of the time.

Brunsig: ::Gruffly,:: So you *did* assault her?

Sevo: I...I suppose I did, sir. I placed my arm horizontal to my chest and pushed against Freeman's armored neck, pushing her back a few steps until she slammed into the hull of the runabout. I held my arm against Freeman until she managed to push my arms away. My intention was only to prevent her from doing any more rash actions. I had no intention of escalating the conflict.

Reynolds: You've said that Ensign Freeman was adamant that she be allowed to clear the wreck first. Why was this a point of such contention?

Sevo: I felt that our survival trumped her need for secrecy, sir. I had no intention of looking for, let alone reading, any intelligence files that may have been in the ship, which I explained to Ensign Freeman. I simply wanted to enter the ship and look for supplies or equipment, or even use the runabout as shelter. In all honesty, sirs, Ensign Freeman's attitude and ordering was the most irritating.

Reynolds: That sounds like you're saying it was her attitude and not an immediate risk to your survival that made the request such an issue.

Sevo: Looking back, I believe it was a major factor; yes, sir.

::Brunsig gave Sevo a sour look, then glanced either side of him. Neither Vess nor Reynolds indicated that they had anything more to ask. There was a momentary expression of relief on his features, then his scowl returned and he looked toward the two women opposite.::

Brunsig: Do either of you have anything else you want to say?

::Grace looked at the panel, struggling to keep her face straight and fighting the numbness inside.::

Freeman: No, sir.

::Ayiana's face remained stoic. She had laid everything out from her perspective. Now it was time to let those people facing her decide her fate.::

Sevo: I do not, sirs.

Brunsig: What a relief. ::He looked anything but.:: We'll reconvene at thirteen-hundred. You're both dismissed. ::He eyed them, and added with just the right amount of irritated sarcasm.:: And try not to take a pop at each other in the meantime.

Fin

--
Fleet Captain Quinn Reynolds
Commanding Officer
USS Gorkon
T238401QR0

Commander Walter Brunsig
Commanding Officer
USS Triumphant
(simmed by Fleet Captain Quinn Reynolds)

Commander Alucard Vess
USS Gorkon
C238601TB0

Lieutenant Commander Ayiana Sevo
Chief Science Officer/Second Officer
USS Gorkon
V239109AS0

Ensign Grace Freeman
Intelligence and Weapons Specialist
451st Rangers Squad
USS Gorkon
(simmed by Ensign Colleen Bancroft G239404CB0)