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The Price of Freedom, Part Two
Eternal Vigilance

Captain's Quarters 900 <Deck 9> [Gibraltar Station]

These quarters are spacious and comfortable, and of fairly good size. The main room is a rectangle with the door centered across from a bank of tall, straight windows. A white sofa, large enough for three, is placed under the windows slightly to the left, facing the door. A small fern rests on the window ledge, and a bright bouquet of flowers sit upon a smoked glass coffee table in front of the sofa. Twin chairs of the same plush style as the sofa complete the seating arrangement. To the left is an archway leading to a separate dining area, smoked glass table ringed with four dark chairs. There is a replicator in that room, and a lamp hangs low above the table to provide a softer mood. To the right of the main doors is a maroon chair before a large panel that can display anything needed at will. Next to the panel is a painting of a nebula, swirling greens, golds, blues, and reds. Beyond this is the door leading to the bedroom. The bed is large enough for two, with maroon comforter and gray pillows. There is a closet and cupboards for the occupant's belongings, and a bathroom that boasts not only a shower but a full tub as well. The carpeting throughout the quarters is deep red trimmed with gray, the walls paneled in yellow. Soft lighting comes from panels in the ceiling, and there are twin vertical alert tracers on either side of the door.

Gwen Hawkins

Captain Hawkins sits on her couch, watching a pot of tea steep. She's just finished setting out cups for two when the door chimes. Without looking up she calls, "Enter."

Admiral Crawford steps in wearing civilian clothing. She eyes the tea set for a moment as she walks over toward the seating area, an eyebrow raised. "I'm always skeptical when you pull out the china, Gwendolyn."

Hawkins looks up with a smile. "Have a seat, Alison," she replies. "Going incognito today? And don't worry, it's Darjeeling, steeped just the right length of time. And there's sugar."

Crawford sits, letting out a sigh. "Thank goodness. Perhaps I've finally taught you to make a proper cup of tea." She takes the cup she's offered, puts in just a dash of sugar, and for a few moments is busy simply preparing her cup, sniffing its aroma, and then taking a sip. "Mmm. Perhaps so." She sits back, just a bit. It's difficult for the Admiral to ever really look "relaxed" but she's around one of the few people she can manage that with anymore. "So you had a report?"

Hawkins sighs, sipping her own tea. "After a fashion. This entire situation is fishy, Alison. Five Antareans get together--three Starfleet officers, two civilians--manage to formulate a plan that gets them around all our security checks and sensors, get their hands on Romulan explosives and ultranium, and then all of them conveniently die after we capture them, right when the two left alive are about to give up what's really going on? I don't buy that this is just thework of some Antarean political faction. It can't be."

Crawford sighs, nodding slowly. "I agree. Any word as to what caused their detahs?"

Hawkins shakes her head. "Omtala's still doing the autopsies."

Another nod from the Admiral, who sips her tea slowly. "I'm not really surprised." She holds up a hand. "Hear me out, Gwendolyn. It was a good opportunity, with a new command staff, myself just taking over the 12th Fleet, several other new senior officers. The confusion of the changeover would be the best time to pull off something like this. The real question, of course, is why." She pauses. "I have it on very good authority that our mutual... problem has interests in this sector."

Hawkins' eyebrows shoot up. "They do? Damn it. No wonder... Alison, why didn't you just tell me? I wouldn't have groused about leaving the Akagi half as much if I'd known why you wanted me here."

Crwford nods, looking at the Captain over her teacup. "Exactly. Your reaction had to be genuine. Anyone who knows you remotely will know you'd kick and scream before letting go of an exploratory command. You know there are still elements in Command who are a problem. No one, not even Solvek, can suspect, or word might get back to them. And I think those elements might be closer than you think." She makes a deliberate glance toward the bedroom.

Hawkins' eyes follow Crawford's gaze and then she shakes her head firmly. "You can't mean... Alison, Thomas couldn't be part of that. There's just no way. He's too... idealistic."

Crawford sighs. "Perhaps not him, but his mother meddles too much for my liking. I don't directly suspect her, either, but... word passes around in the Admiralty, and I wouldn't be surprised if she had contacts within our problem group." Ahh, euphemisms. Gotta love them. "Just be careful what you say, Gwendolyn. You should know well enough that people speak more freely with their head on a pillow."

Hawkins sighs. "I know, Alison. I know." There's a trace of bitterness, quickly gone. "I'm careful as I can be. If nothing else, I don't want to drag him down with me if we fail." She pauses, then says, "What about Solvek? Isn't it about time we brought him into this?"

Crawford frowns. "I am... reluctant to do so. Solvek is a good man, and a good friend, but I'm not certain he's ready for this. The death of his wife..."

"...was a year ago. More, now. He's recovered as well as he's going to manage for the time being, and he could use something to keep his mind off of it. Besides, don't you think he deserves to know? Don't you think he has as much reason to work against them as we do? More?" Hawkins takes a breath, sighs. "I'll keep it from him if you insist. But I'm not comfortable... and we could use a Vulcan, damn it."

Crawford's silent for a long moment, then nods. "Go ahead. And... if my suspicions are correct... we may need even more help. You may want to look into recruiting the rest of your senior staff, at least in a temporary manner." She pulls out a PADD, passes it over to Hawkins. "There is another operative on the station. I thought you ought to know."

Hawkins takes the PADD, reads it over, and then sputters so that she almost dorps her tea. "You... can't be serious, Alison. You can't be. Is this a joke?"

Crawford shakes her head, a faint smile upon her face. "Not at all. I think the operative will do quite well."

Hawkins sighs. "If you insist." She stands, turns to the window, cradling the teacup in her hands. "I thought it was all over, Alison. I thought... we could go back to normal, after the war. But it never ends, does it?"

Crawford, still in her chair, sighs. "No, it never really ends, Gwen. I wish I could say otherwise. I wish I could let you go back out there... but I need you here."

Hawkins keeps staring out the window. "I know. Who said a Captain's life was easy?" She chuckles softly. "I wonder if they thought the same things, back in the beginning. How hard we've fought to protect the Federation from the things that endanger it... and the worst danger may be within." She turns. "Do you think they faltered? Do you think he doubted what he had to do?"

Crawford peers into her cup a moment, then looks up. "I don't really know, Gwen. I know what they did, however. I know they protected what Starfleet is meant to be, and what the Federation is meant to be, until their last breaths. We must be ever vigilant. That is the price, and we are the ones that pay it. Someday, history may remember us. It may not. But we're doing good work... and what more can any of us ask for?"

Hawkins sighs softly, turns back to the windows. "What more indeed..."

(Roll credits!)

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