The next afternoon, Annabeth stood outside of the Pershing's wardroom wringing her hands. Suddenly, the doors parted and Phil stepped out. As soon as the doors closed, Phil let out a deep breath and looked her in the face.
"How is it in there?" she asked. Phil just shook his head.
"Good luck, Ma'am," he said. She nodded and then he headed back towards the bridge. The visitors to the ship had spent the entire day squatting in her meeting space and taking statements from the entire senior staff. Annabeth was the last to face them.
Finally, she worked up the courage to press the chime.
"Enter," the voice of an Ardanan woman said. Annabeth stepped inside. All the chairs save one had been pushed against the wall. The last seat was in the middle of the floor facing a long table where three civilians sat glaring at her: The Ardanan, her Rigellian assistant, and a Tellarite male. All were dressed in crisp suits. Mountains of PADDs were stacked in front of them.
"Captain Geist," the Ardanan said perking up. "Thank you again for meeting with us."
"Of course, Councilor Vanna," Annabeth replied. "I hope you find the facilities on board to your liking."
"Oh much more than that," Vanna replied. "Your crew has been excellent and very forthcoming. We truly do appreciate it as we want to have the most accurate inquiry possible."
"I'm glad to hear it," Annabeth said.
"Please," Vanna said gesturing to the lone chair. "Have a seat and place your hand on the authenticator pad. This shouldn't take long. I know how busy you must be."
Annabeth smiled uncomfortably and complied. As soon as she placed her right hand on the white and silver pad next to the chair, it lit up and the computer began speaking.
"Verified: Geist, Annabeth Marie. Service Number: 4831945-18 Service Rank: Captain. Position: Starship Command. Current Assignment: USS Pershing. Commendations: Christopher Pike Medal of Valor, Grankite Order of Tactics: First Class, Starfleet Advanced Tactical Training with Honors, Starfleet Commendation Medal with Four Palm Leaves…"
"Computer," Vanna said. "Thank you, we are aware of Captain Geist's excellent service record."
"Now, Captain, Mr. Horasku here is going to place you under oath," Vanna said indicating the Tellarite seated to her left. "Don't be alarmed. It's completely standard procedure for an inquiry such as this one and does not mean we suspect you of any wrongdoing."
"I understand," Annabeth nodded.
"Do you swear that the testimony you are about to give this committee is the whole truth, nothing but the truth, and will accurately reflect your knowledge of the events in question under penalty of perjury?" Horasku snorted at her.
"I do," Annabeth replied.
"Ok," Vanna said with a sickeningly sweet, politician's smile. "Like I said, this shouldn't take long. Gentlemen?" she said looking to her left and right.
"Have you had any contact with Daniel or Laria Tigranian since the events on Cardassia Prime on Stardate 54510.1?" Horasku asked.
"No," Annabeth said shaking her head. "On the advice of my chain of command, I blocked both their transmissions pending the outcome of this investigation."
"A prudent measure," Vanna muttered making noting of it.
"On Stardate 53226.0, youaccompanied Daniel Tigranian to the Klingon Homeworld and appeared before the Klingon High Council. Could you please provide us the details of that visit?" the Rigellian asked curtly.
"Sir, with respect, those events were well documented in both my and Captain Tigranian's reports. We debriefed Admiral Paris and Admiral Murphy upon our return," she said.
"Captain Geist," Vanna said firmly. "I believe what Mr. Guzka is asking is if you could please give us your personal recollections of those experiences. We need to know everything that happened. Even things you may not have thought to include in your original reports."
Annabeth sighed again. The memories surrounding those days were extremely painful and she did not enjoy reliving them.
"Captain Tigranian had just made a public apology before the Romulan Senate urging the release of Doctor Alexandra Hunter from captivity on Remus…"
"Computer," Guzka rudely interjected. "Please reflect that the Doctor Alexandra Hunter referred to by Captain Geist is now her wife."
"Reflected in Record."
"Continue please," Guzka said.
"As a result, Captain Tigranian had been summoned to appear before the Klingon High Council to face charges of cowardice," Annabeth said.
"But why did you accompany him?" Horasku asked. "Did he order you too?"
"No, I requested, Sir," Annabeth said.
"Why?" Vanna said. "Was it a feeling of personal obligation?"
"I don't believe that's the most accurate why of phrasing it, Ma'am," Annabeth said.
"Then Captain," Vanna replied. "Phrase it accurately."
"Captain Tigranian had placed his personal honor at risk for the woman I loved and was facing possible execution by the Klingons as a result." Annabeth paused. "If he was going to die for it, I didn't want him to die alone."
"Die alone?" Guzka asked. "Did he not have his Klingon family present?"
"He did Sir," Annabeth responded. "But a person can have more than one family."
"Is this why you volunteered for the position of cha'Dich during the ceremony?" Horasku asked while scribbling notes on her testimony.
"cha'Dich?" Vanna asked while looking through her notes for a Klingon translation.
"An honorary second that stands with the accused in the event of combat," Guzka explained.
"It didn't seem very honorary at the time…" Annabeth muttered.
"After Tigranian was acquitted by the high council, did you observe any subsequent interactions between him and other members of the Klingon government?" Vannna asked.
"Not with Chancellor Martok or the High Council, but we returned to Lord Torlek's estate."
"What was the nature of the interaction between Tigranian and Lord Torlek?" Horasku asked.
"Nothing out of the ordinary. We had dinner at his home, spent the night, and then left the Empire in the morning. We both had a wedding to make it to," she said with a smirk.
"Captain Geist," Vanna said firmly. "You were his first officer for over three years. Did you ever suspect at any time that Daniel Tigranian was ever officially or unofficially employed by the Klingon Government?"
"No," Annabeth replied equally firmly.
"Really?" Vanna asked skeptically. "Even when he relinquished command on Stardate 53108.6 to protect the Martok government against Lord Morjod? Your logs reflected a bit of skepticism at the time"
"You've seen my logs?" Annabeth asked surprised.
"Of course," Vanna replied. "Any officer's log is subject to official inspection at any time. That is why they exist."
Annabeth sighed and continued.
"He publicly took a leave of absence to serve in the KDF. He never used any Starfleet resources to support the Martok government," Annabeth said. The tone of their questions was growing noticeably more hostile.
"But you did," Vanna said. "You took the Pershing under your authority to fight on behalf of the Klingon Government? Was it because Tigranian requested it?"
"No!" Annabeth said.
"Then why?" Guzka said. "Why did you put the property of the United Federation of Planets at risk along with a crew of almost 200 people to fight against Klingon rebels?"
"It wasn't to fight Klingon rebels. They were conducting active smuggling operations in illegal biogenic compounds," Annabeth said. "I was merely enforcing the provisions of the Treaty of Bajor which was this ship's mission at the time."
The three civilians exchanged skeptical looks back and forth and made more notes on their PADDs.
"How convenient that it also allowed you to come to Captain Tigranian's aide then…" Horuska snorted under his breath. Annabeth balled her fist a few times trying to suppress her indignation.
"One final question, Captain Geist," Vanna said looking straight at Annabeth's face. "Who is the father of your child?"
Annabeth clenched her jaw and stared right back.
"Daniel Tigranian, Ma'am. However, my wife and I conceived through artificial insemination. He was our donor. We never had any kind of sexual relationship if that is what you are implying, Councilor," Annabeth said.
"So Daniel Tigranian's contribution to Max's life is merely biological then?" Horasku asked.
Annabeth looked down at the carpet as Paris' words of warning came rushing back.
"Daniel Tigranian did have a role in raising my son."
"Did?" Vanna said. "Past tense implies that you have severed that relationship, Captain. Are you saying that you no longer consider your son connected to Daniel Tigranian or the House of Torlek?"
Annabeth took in a deep breath.
"Captain," Vanna spoke up. "May I remind you that you are under oath? Please answer the question."
Annabeth briefly shut her eyes and then opened them again. Then she began to speak…
It was nearly midnight onboard the Pershing. Vanna and her entourage had left the ship. Annabeth sat on her bed and stared at the subspace transmission on her PADD.
"He's so beautiful," she whispered as Alex held her device to capture an image of Max sleeping in his crib. Alex then tiptoed back into the living room of their Munich apartment to continue the rather serious conversation. "I'm so sorry, Babe," Annabeth continued. "I should have talked to you first. What I told the committee could have consequences for us both."
"What's done is done," Alex nodded back at her. "You did what you felt was right." She paused but then continued speaking. "But if it makes you feel better, I think you did the right thing."
"Really?" Annabeth said skeptically. "Because it could cause us both to removed from Starfleet…" she shook her head. "I just couldn't do it. I couldn't turn my back on Dan and Laria. They deserve better than that…" she said glancing down at the book on the blanket beside her.
"The Federation has no right to tell us who in our lives is good or bad. That is up to us. Dan is Max's godfather. He promised to be there for our son when needed. Therefore, we have to be there for him and Laria as well. They saved me, they saved you, and they gave us Max. They're good people who are innocent of any crime. The government may have forgotten that in a sea of fear and confusion, but we won't."
Alex turned to look at Max's bat'leth hanging on the wall besides her. Her eye caught the inscription on the blade and she remembered Tigranian explaining its meaning:
"vam voq laH SoH"
"This, you can trust"
Alex then felt the scar on her palm where she contributed her own blood to the blade's forging back on Qo'noS.
"No matter what," she said to Annabeth, "we swore to be in this for the long haul."
"And if we both end up unemployed and labeled as possible spies?" Annabeth said only half joking.
"Then, we do what we've always done and move forward together. Who knows? Earth isn't the only place in the galaxy. I'm sure we can find some planet that will take us in." Alex replied back with a smile. "We can move to Ferenginar and not have to worry about buying clothes."
Annabeth actually laughed.
"Can I see him?" she asked. "Just one more time."
Alex nodded. She quietly stepped back into Max's nursery and held the PADD up to the crib. Annabeth put her hand over her mouth as she gazed at the image of her son gently sleeping. The words Torlek spoke at his christening passed through her mind:
"Maximilian George…from this day forward: Conquer! Conquer your fears, conquer your enemies, and conquer death. For, from this day forward, you are Klingon."
"Ok Beth," Alex whispered into the screen. "I've got to call it a night. The little man and I got to make the 0700 shuttle to Canada tomorrow morning so I can drop him before work."
"I love you," Annabeth whispered back. "Goodnight, and kiss him hard for me when he wakes up."
"Goodnight," Alex replied. "I will and I love you too."
Alex kissed her fingers and touched them to the screen. Annabeth did the same before the transmission disconnected. Annabeth placed the PADD back on the bed and then picked up the copy of qeS'a' Torlek had given her. She mindlessly opened to a page and began to read:
Dictum: The Broken Cage
Warriors must hate above all the cages that constrain them. Imprisoned, a warrior finds everything precious taken from him, his will thwarted. And without the power to do one's will, one cannot be free. Captivity is a shameful state that must be resisted, for imprisonment is a twilight existence wherein all needs go unmet, all desires unfulfilled. The captive lives at another's pleasure and never his own. A prisoner does not hold the deed to his own life. Though some cages are constructed by circumstance and not by masons and smiths, and though they exist only within the mind, these too must be broken. Anything that would confine your will must not remain.
Annabeth pondered those words for a few quiet moments. Then, she put the book down, walked to the terminal on her desk, and opened her subspace contacts. She scrolled down to Daniel and Laria Tigranian. Without hesitation, she immediately selected: