Homecoming | Chapter 29 of 32

Author: Christie Golden | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2320 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 18

LIBBY WAS FURIOUS.

Harry had been supposed to meet her outside of the Green Dragon well over an hour ago. It was one of the few restaurants still in business since the fiasco of the HoloStrike, as the wags were calling it, and she’d had to pull some strings to even get reservations.

She stood outside in the driving rain because she wouldn’t be able to see him coming if she waited inside, and she wanted a piece of him. Badly. She’d never been stood up before in her life and wasn’t taking it well at all.

Li Wu, a flesh-and-blood waiter and therefore as rare in San Francisco as a flying horse, cautiously stuck his head out.

“Miss Webber?” he called, looking apologetic. “Boss [224] says he’s going to have to open up your reservation in five minutes if Harry doesn’t come.”

Shivering, she turned and glared at him. Wu shrank back from her anger and she tried to compose herself, shoving back her sopping hair with one hand.

“Sorry, Li. It was awfully nice of Mr. Wang to hold it for me so long. Tell him that won’t be necessary. I don’t think Harry’s coming, so I’m just going to head on home.”

He looked embarrassed and sorry for her, but merely nodded. “Maybe sometime next month,” he offered.

Libby grimaced. It would take about that long to get a reservation, if the HoloStrike didn’t end soon. The Green Dragon had always employed humans as waiters, busboys, and cooks, a tradition that had always made it quaint and endearing in Chinatown and now made it one of the most popular places in the city. Wang’s vision, a gamble when he had started, had certainly paid off.

“Maybe,” she said.

“Wait!” exclaimed Li. He ducked back outside and reappeared a few moments later with a small, enclosed cup. “Got some egg drop soup for you to sip on the way home. Your favorite.”

Libby almost cried. She would have hugged Li had she not been soaking wet. Instead she gave him a big, runny-makeup smile, and waved good-bye.

Of course, she had to walk. In the rain. Finding a public transporter that actually had a human to operate it was difficult, and because of safety reasons, any that didn’t have an operator had been shut down. On a [225] balmy night it was a pleasant walk despite the hilliness of San Francisco’s terrain, but tonight Libby soaked her nicest pair of shoes splashing angrily through puddles. She paused occasionally to take cautious sips of the hot soup, which warmed her enough to continue.

At one point she turned a corner too fast and twisted her ankle on the rain-slicked pavement. The half-finished carton of egg drop soup went flying. She went down in an ungracious heap and landed hard on her knees. When she tried to rise, her foot behaved strangely, and for a dreadful second she thought she’d broken her leg and was not feeling anything due to shock. It took her a moment and a few steps to realize she’d merely snapped the heel off her shoe.

She wanted to shriek, but instead took a deep breath, removed both shoes, and walked to the transporter site in stocking feet.

Libby was shaking violently by the time she materialized in her small cabin in Maine. Rowena rubbed up against her and then stalked off, insulted by Libby’s soaking-wet leg. Indigo didn’t even bother. Libby stumbled over to the computer, expecting to see at least an apologetic message from Harry, but there was nothing. She muttered dark curses against Harry’s name and shed clothing on the way to the sonic shower.

Finally, wrapped in a thick robe, she replicated a mug of hot cocoa and took a few warm, soothing sips. She was hungry, but that could wait. She tried to contact Harry, but there was no response. She left a very curt message and leaned back in her chair.

For the first time, it occurred to her that something [226] might be wrong. She’d simply assumed Harry had gotten engrossed in something and lost track of the time, but she hadn’t seen his sheepish face on the screen when she tried to contact him.

She put a call through to the Green Dragon. Wang’s face appeared and he looked as if he were treading on eggshells.

“Hi, Mr. Wang. Harry didn’t show up there by any chance?”

Wang shook his graying head. “No, Miss Webber. No sign of him. You know I’d have let him contact you if he had been here.”

“Yes, of course you would, I should have thought of that. Well, if he does show, I’ll want to talk to him.”

Wang grinned. “I’m sure you will.”

Next, Libby tried Harry’s parents. Maybe one of them had taken ill. Harry was nothing if not a good son. As was their wont, both the Kims’ faces appeared. They always did things together.

“Libby, dear! What a surprise!” said Mrs. Kim.

“It is so good to see you!” enthused Mr. Kim, as if she and Harry hadn’t had dinner with them four nights ago.

“Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Kim. I’m so sorry to be bothering you so late, but I was wondering, is Harry with you?”

Immediately she knew she’d said the wrong thing. Their lined faces filled with concern.

“No, dear, we thought he was with you. Going out to the Green Dragon. It was so sweet of you to get [227] reservations in the midst of this dreadful strike, I can’t imagine that Harry would forget,” said Mr. Kim.

“Something’s wrong,” said Mrs. Kim with conviction. “Something terrible has happened. I know it.”

Anxious to calm them, Libby smacked her forehead with the heel of her hand and laughed. “Silly me! Tonight was when he was playing poker with his friends from Voyager,” she lied. “Tomorrow is when we were supposed to go to the Green Dragon. I can’t believe I got the dates confused.” She smiled radiantly. “I guess I was just so looking forward to dinner at the restaurant that I wanted it to be a day sooner than it was.”

Mr. Kim smiled indulgently. “Young people are just too eager,” he chastised gently. “Good things are worth waiting for, not rushing.”

“Harry plays poker?” said Mrs. Kim, frowning. “I’m not at all sure I approve of him gambling.”

Libby realized that she’d just gotten Harry into some hot water, but better that than panicking his parents.

“Well, it’s late,” she said, faking a yawn. “Sorry to have disturbed you.”

“Never a bother, my dear,” said Mr. Kim sweetly.

“You tell Harry that I’m going to talk to him about this bad habit of his,” Harry’s mother warned.

“I will. Good night.” She smiled broadly. The grin ebbed the minute their faces disappeared from the viewscreen.

Harry hadn’t shown up at the restaurant. He wasn’t home and his parents thought he was with her.

Although Mrs. Kim worried too much about her son, Libby was beginning to think she was right. Something [228] had happened to Harry. And she was going to find out what.

 

Director Covington seemed surprised and more than a trifle annoyed to receive Libby’s message.

“I’m two minutes away from a very important meeting, Agent Webber. Can this wait?”

“No,” said Libby firmly, startling them both with her determination. “Harry’s gone missing. I can’t contact him anywhere.”

Covington smiled slightly. “Sometimes men don’t want to be found by their girlfriends,” she said, gently.

Libby shook her dark head, and her curls bobbed vigorously with the movement.

“Not Harry. He’s not like that. I also tried to contact his friends, people like Tom Paris and Lyssa Campbell. No one knows where any of them is. I was wondering if something was going on.”

“Oh,” said Covington. Then, as her pale gold brows drew together, “Oh. Agent Webber, I want you to be able to view this meeting.” Her long fingers flew. “Admiral Montgomery is coming here in just a few moments, and I think you’d better be present, as it were. My little fly on the wall.”

“Do you think—Oh my God, Montgomery isn’t kidnapping people? Why? What does Harry have to do with Voyager’s technology? Do you think he and the others stumbled onto Montgomery’s negotiations with the Orions? Does this have anything to do with—”

Covington’s head came up and her pale eyes were fierce. For the first time, Libby saw the steel behind a [229] woman who had to be strong in order to be where she was. Covington had always struck her as friendly, but now Libby saw that she could be harsh when she needed to be.

“Agent Webber!” The words cracked like a whip, and Libby had to consciously refrain from flinching. “These wild suppositions will avail us nothing. I expect you to behave as befits your station.”

Libby knew she was right. “Yes, ma’am,” she said. She was starting to get hysterical, and that wouldn’t help anyone.

Covington softened. “I need you at the top of your game now more than ever, Libby,” she said, using her subordinate’s first name, something she rarely did. “Can I count on you?”

Libby nodded. “You can,” she said.

“Good.” Covington punched a few more buttons and Libby’s view of the scene pulled back so that she could see more of the room. There came a soft chime. “That’s him,” said Covington. “Watch him closely and we’ll discuss the conversation when it’s over. I won’t be able to see or hear you, but you can see and hear us. And of course, everything you witness here must be held in the strictest confidence. Understood?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Libby. She swallowed hard, tried to calm her racing heart, and leaned forward.

Libby had always respected Admiral Kenneth Montgomery, although he was a distant and chilly man, hard to truly like. He’d been a solid rock during the Dominion War, one of the real heroes to emerge from the conflict. But now, knowing what she did, Libby [230] couldn’t even give him the credit for what he’d done. He was a traitor, and worse, he might be responsible for hurting Harry. She looked at his broad shoulders and saw not strength, but brute force; at his brown, lined face and saw not the care of a compassionate man for countless lives, but only the marks of frowns and scowls.

He strode into Covington’s office as if he owned it, glancing about and grimacing in distaste.

“It’s a bit of a cliché for a Covert Operations director to keep her guests so in the dark, isn’t it?” he said without preamble. He did not reach out to shake her hand, and she didn’t rise.

“You light your office your way, I’ll light mine my way,” she said.

“You should get out more, Brenna. You’re getting pale sitting alone in the dark.”

Covington smiled icily, dislike plain in her eyes. “I’ll tell you what. You don’t talk about what the sun hasn’t done to my face, and I won’t talk about what it has done to yours.”

Libby snorted, even though she knew it was mean-spirited. Montgomery’s brown face was indeed more lined than it ought to be.

“Enough pleasantries,” Covington said. “What brings you here, Admiral? Thought you’d have your hands full with taking Voyager apart piece by technological piece.” She waved her hand absently in the direction of a chair and he took it.

“Wish I had time to do that,” he said, “but I seem to have my hands full with other problems. I was first [231] saddled with the holographic strike, and now I’ve got this damn Borg outbreak to try to keep quiet.”

Libby gasped, her hand flying to her throat. She was grateful the conversation only went one way. Borg? Here on Earth? What was going on? To her astonishment, Covington didn’t bat an eye. Either she was one cool customer or else she had already known about it.

“I’m not sure I understand—what does either of these things have to do with Voyager? Or have you been pulled off that project?”

“No, I’m still on the project.” Montgomery’s voice showed his irritation. “Didn’t you read the report I sent out?”

Covington smiled with false sweetness. “Quite a lot of reports cross my desk, Admiral. One such was the one written by one of my agents who brought the Borg virus to your attention in the first place and advised the Xakarian flu cover-up strategy you’re taking now. I perused your report but I didn’t have time to read it in depth.”

Montgomery sighed. “All right, let me recap for you. We’re pretty sure the Doctor was involved in rabble-rousing the holograms to strike, and we also think that the appearance of Borg around the globe has to do with Voyager’s return.”

Again, the Borg, here on Earth. Libby couldn’t believe what she was hearing. The Xakarian flu outbreak was merely a cover-up to hide a—a Borg virus? It seemed impossible. This couldn’t be—and yet she had no reason to doubt Montgomery or Covington.

Regarding the Doctor, though, she had no trouble knowing what to think. She’d met the Doctor. He was [232] acerbic, true, and a bit full of himself, but he was also charming and compassionate. He wouldn’t do such a thing.

Or would he? No one had been harmed. He cared passionately about holographic rights ... could the witty EMH really be behind the strike? And how could Voyager be involved with Borg suddenly appearing on Earth? It was all almost too much to comprehend.

They had continued speaking, and she realized she had been so busy digesting the information that she’d missed a large part of the conversation. What kind of a spy was she? Angrily, she calmed herself and strained to hear.

“... contain the scope,” Montgomery was saying.

“Naturally,” agreed Covington. “The panic that would ensue could possibly cause more damage than the virus itself.”

“I’m here for the SOP check-in with all department heads. Any covert operations taking place at any of these sites?” He handed her a padd.

Libby wished he’d just name the places, but trusted that if she needed to know anything Covington would tell her.

Covington held on to the padd for a moment before looking at it. “Believe me, if any of my agents spotted your well-meaning security guards mucking about, we’d know it before you did.” She scanned the list, then shook her fair head. “I don’t think so. If you’ll tell me your plans and what you know so far, I’ll tell you if I have anything that would conflict.”

Montgomery didn’t seem to like it, but obviously he [233] had no choice. Libby knew what damage could result if a covert operation was accidentally uncovered by well-meaning friendly troops. Years of work could be lost, a criminal could go free, and worse, people could die if their deep covers were exposed.

“Long-range sensors haven’t detected any Borg ships in the area. The threat isn’t from a cube; it’s from something right here on Earth. It’s not assimilation in the sense that we’re familiar with the term—no drones beaming down and sticking their tubes into people, then hauling them off and severing limbs and replacing eyes.”

Libby shuddered. She’d never met a Borg, thank God, but Harry had told her the stories, and that was enough for her to sense how utterly terrifying the creatures were.

“It appears to be a virus of some sort, and as with most viruses, it targets those who have the least well developed immune systems. Children, old people, the ill. Thus far, anyway.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“There’s every evidence that it’s only a matter of time before healthy adults who have contracted this—this disease will succumb. It’s taking longer because their immune systems can fight off what the body sees as an infection, but I fear these twenty-three cases are just the first small wave.”

“Twenty-three?” Covington seemed startled. “I had no idea it was that many. I’d heard reports of only about seven.”

Montgomery glowered. “We had seven confirmed outbreaks at the time I sent out the report. Now that we know what to look for, we’ve been able to isolate and [234] quarantine twenty-three cases and their immediate families in various places across the globe. Which is where you come in.”

Covington arched an eyebrow.

“All of this started when Voyager docked here on Earth. Not a minute before and only a month afterward. That ship is crammed to the gills with technology we don’t understand, including several Borg modifications.” Montgomery made a face. “To think that that Janeway woman collaborated with the Borg ... it’s enough to make your stomach turn. Especially now that they’re responsible for bringing the Borg to Earth. We’d kept the planet safe, until now.”

“Do you have direct evidence that this was caused by Voyager?”

“I’ve got enough to go on. We can track one infected child directly to Janeway. Besides, what else could it possibly be? Too bad the Borg Entreaty got shot down. We could use it now. I’ve got thirty people working on creating cover stories alone. The Xakarian flu story is still holding water, but it won’t for much longer.”

“Yes,” drawled Covington. “That pesky free press.”

“You can’t tell me the head of Sector 001 Covert Ops wouldn’t be glad of the Borg Entreaty along about now.”

“From what I hear, you don’t need the Borg Entreaty to haul people in and keep them imprisoned without charges.”

“Damn right. We’re at war with the Borg, and Starfleet deems these people enemy combatants until we know for sure they’re not.”

Libby knew her mouth was hanging open in [235] astonishment. Everyone knew about the failed Borg Entreaty of 2367. It had been one of the most passionate, heartbreaking speeches ever given in Federation history, hard on the heels of the Borg attack on Wolf 359. There had been a wave of panic and fear that had swept through the Federation following that disastrous incident, and when the widow of a Starfleet junior officer who had been killed there had spoken from her full and breaking heart, everyone had been inclined to sympathize.

Julie Elliot and her husband had been young, just recently married, and Julie had learned two days before her husband’s death that she was pregnant.

Her heartfelt plea, known as the Borg Entreaty, had been eloquent and poignant. At the core of it, it begged to enact a waiver of the rights due Federation citizens if any Borg involvement or influence was suspected. Anyone could be arrested and detained for the course of a full year without specific charges being filed if sufficient evidence could be provided that the individual was being manipulated by the Borg. It was odd, to have such a lyrical, famous speech plead not for freedoms, but for imprisonment and a waiving of inherent rights.

While Elliot’s tearful words had fallen on sympathetic ears, and the Borg were dreadful and terrifying, the motion had not passed. It was too much, even for that emotional time.

So this was what had happened to Harry, to Tom and to Lyssa and the other hundred and fifty or so people who had served loyally for seven years on Voyager. Her lover and friends had been hauled off to prison, just because this pompous Starfleet—

[236] “And of course, we’re going to need your agents to find out who they had contact with.”

“What?” cried Covington, starting up in her chair.

“You heard me. I need Covert Ops to start tracking down everyone every Voyager crew member had contact with from the minute they beamed on Earth.”

Libby had never seen Covington at a loss for words before. “You mean to tell me,” she said slowly, “that you want my agents assigned to finding out every single person that every single Voyager crew member made love to, had dinner with, met, shook hands with, or passed on the street over the last six weeks?”

“That’s exactly what I’m telling you.”

“You’re insane. That’s impossible. I haven’t the staff to spare. I’d have to call about half of them out of deep cover and remove them from operations that have been in place for years. Have your staff do the grunt work if you want it done so badly.”

Montgomery smiled, then handed her a padd. “These are your orders from the president,” he said. “You are to comply with everything I’ve asked of you. This is a Federation-wide threat, not a Starfleet internal problem. You find the civilians. My people will handle the Starfleet personnel.”

Judging by Covington’s expression as she perused the padd, the order was genuine.

“And by the way, you commandeered Trevor Blake some time ago. I want him back.”

Covington seemed to be having difficulty controlling her emotions. “Blake has been assigned to Covert Operations. He’s not completed his mission with me yet.”

[237] “Didn’t you hear what I said? You are to comply—”

“You’re in my realm now, Montgomery,” snarled Covington, looking like a tiger. “You want Blake? You get the president to order him off his assignment. You don’t get to do it. Blake’s needed here.”

“What the hell is a scientist needed for Covert Operations for over four years?” Montgomery exploded. “I need him on my team! Tell me why you need him so badly and maybe I’ll reconsider.”

Covington stiffened, her slim body as rigid as if it were made of metal.

“That’s classified information, on a need-to-know basis. And you, my old friend, don’t need to know.”

“Why all this secrecy? Why are you hiding this from me?”

She smiled, nastily. “That’s why it’s called Covert Operations, you—” With a huge effort, she got herself under control. For a long moment, they stood glaring at each other. Finally, Montgomery straightened to his full height.

“Start with the command crew first—Janeway, Chakotay, and so on.” He rose. “I look forward to reading your report as soon as you know anything.”

It was a dismissal, and both Libby and Covington knew it. Libby’s cheeks burned with embarrassment for her boss, but Covington’s pale face didn’t change color.

“If you’re trying to keep this quiet,” she said, “this is a pretty poor way to go about it.”

“We’re playing up the HoloStrike,” said Montgomery. “That’s enough to keep people’s attention focused. And I trust you and your agents to be discreet in [238] your assignments. Also, tell your people to be watchful for the symptoms. The Borg virus isn’t immediate; it can take a while before it manifests completely. They should watch for fever, lack of energy, and loss of appetite.”

Libby thought that the symptoms were vague enough to describe a few dozen harmless conditions and wondered how many people dealing with a simple bug were now going to be imprisoned for the bad luck of getting sick.

“Good-bye, Brenna.” He left.

Covington watched him go, her eyes boring holes in his back. Libby heard the hiss of the door closing. Covington took a deep breath and touched the controls on her desk.

“Did you get all that, Agent Webber?” she asked.

Libby had to clear her throat before she could speak. “Yes, ma’am. Indeed I did.”

“It answers the question of what happened to Mr. Kim. And it certainly temporarily removes many people who could stand in the way of someone trying to deliver Voyager’s technology to the Orion Syndicate. Hell, for all we know, the Syndicate could even be behind the virus.”

“Montgomery is growing increasingly powerful,” said Libby quietly. “There aren’t many who can stand in his way right now. All he has to do is point a finger and suddenly they’re in prison.”

“It’s an alarming thought,” agreed Covington.

“Ma’am ... are you really going to take your agents off deep-cover assignments?”

“I’ll do what I have to do, Agent Webber, as will you.”

[239] Libby nodded. “Shall I turn myself in, then?”

Covington considered. “No, not just yet. I know where I can find you. I want you to stick to Montgomery. Watch him. Of course, I can’t ask you to hinder the investigation.”

“Of course not,” Libby said dutifully. But the implication was there. “Do you—how long do you think they’ll hold the Voyager crew?”

“I don’t know. I’m guessing not long, especially if they want to keep this hush-hush. It’s probably just a matter of asking them questions and running tests. But we’ll have to see.”

Libby returned to perusing old reports with a renewed vigor. She now had a personal grudge against Admiral Kenneth Montgomery, the traitorous mole who had imprisoned her beloved, and she was going to see that the bastard was brought down.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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