Episode 4: Whispers In the Dark
Location: Counseling Offices
Arnon walked into the Counseling Center and directly up to Chief Markos Ileos, the Hospital Corpsman who had been his assistant for some time now. Markos had developed the ability over time to anticipate Arnon's needs and when he saw his boss walk in, he immediately knew that something serious was a foot.
"What's up, Doc?" Markos said, a half eaten carrot in his hand. He'd been having a snack.
"Markos," Arnon said. "Captain Azulas and Commander Neprem are coming here to brief me on a subject they need me to evaluate. When they arrive, show them right in, then make sure we're not disturbed. Have the other counselors cover any emergencies until I'm done with the Captain and the Commander."
"Of course, Doctor," Markos said, setting down the carrot and typing instructions to all of the other counselors to cover for the doctor. His next step would be rescheduling anyone that had an appointment with Arnon this afternoon.
"Excellent, Markos," Arnon said. He left the reception desk and went straight to his office. He made sure he had some of the butter tea Tara liked and then settled down to wait.
The Counsellor didn't have to wait long as within minutes, the Captain and her fellow Trill companion entered the counselling office and took seats opposite the Counsellor. "Welcome back Commander," the Captain acknowledged in reference to the man's return from the planets surface.
"Captain," Arnon replied. "Commander. Please, sit. Tara, please feel free to help yourself to a cup of that butter tea you so enjoy. You know where it is."
Arnon indicated that the two officers should sit in the chairs in front of his desk. Normally, Arnon preferred to sit across from counseling clients in comfortable chairs with no desk between them. This was not a counseling session, however, and despite being possessed of an excellent memory, he wanted to be able to access his console directly, instead of through his PaDD. Fortunately for the backsides of his two visitors, the chairs were only slightly less comfortable.
"So," Nilani began somewhat nervously, "I guess you've been briefed on my request?" she asked, making reference to her request for him to complete a review of the prisoner's state of mind.
"Yes," Arnon said. "I have. And I have the requisite level of security clearance to do it in my own right. But before I sit down with this man, I'm going to need you to tell me everything you know about him. Both of you. I need you to pretend like I've never seen his file, like I've never heard of the Consortium, like I know nothing about him or what he's done. You may begin whenever you're ready."
Tara had retrieved the offered tea and sipped at it as she listened to Arnon. "That is quite a bit, Doctor. Where would you like for us to start?" Tara asked.
"At the beginning," Arnon said. "I believe the file says that you know Nathan Hunter personally. When did you meet him?"
"I met him on the USS Venture; I was replacing his XO who fell ill. Not long after, he was transferred to Deep Space 10 where he asked me to join him as his new XO," Tara replied. "At first our relationship was purely professional, but after a while we became close friends, which made what I had to do so much harder..." Then she sighed. "And you know my part in this tale, about my joining and how I had to leave; I really did feel like I was letting him down."
"Yes," Arnon said. "But it's highly unlikely that your having to leave was the cause of Captain Hunter's behavior. It may have played a part in his flawed decision making process, but that's not an excuse for what he's done. Were there any other events going on in Captain Hunter's life at the time you knew him that might have contributed to his fall from grace?"
"I know I'm not the cause, but... I still feel responsible," Tara replied. "Hunter was under a lot of strain when I left; he had just reunited with his ex and found out he had a daughter, he was courting our Chief of Operations and then having his ex around made things more complicated with his girlfriend... And then there was the matter of Commodore Kate Walsh; it turned out that Commodore Walsh had been replaced by an impostor, and the damage that impostor did was tragic. The destruction of a refugee colony ship shook all of us, but Nathan, I mean Hunter, he took it a bit personally; it wasn't just an attack on our station, it was an attack on Starfleet and everything it stood for. After that, he just wasn't the same, and he relied on me to help him keep the crew in order, but morale was so low and I was not able to be the Executive Officer that he needed."
"Alright, then," Arnon said. "Captain Hunter was experiencing extreme stress. At what point did his behavior become...abnormal?"
"Well, he became emotional, maybe a little erratic before I went on medical leave, but I wouldn't consider his behavior abnormal," Tara said, then looked to Nilani. "I could recite what I read in his file, but it might be best if the rest comes from you since you had a first-hand encounter with him," she suggested.
"Hunter first came on to my radar over a year ago. Nogura had gone through quite a few incidents and Starfleet felt a change of command would be suitable," the Captain began through gritted teeth as she recalled the incident that brought him into her life, "According to the information made available to me at the time, Hunter was fine. He just needed a change of scenery after stuff on D-S-Ten so the Nogura came at the right time for him. I had only been in command for a few months myself at the time and was demoted back to my old job as Chief Engineer. Tensions were high from the get go. I'd been through a lot with the crew so they had trouble accepting his command which inevitably resulted in him bringing some people aboard that he trusted."
"What I am about to tell you both is classified at the highest level," she warned sternly before continuing. "Sometime in to his first mission in command, we received a transmission from an unknown source; it simply said Pity is Treason," she revealed as she closed her eyes, images of the mutiny that took place springing to mind as if it were only yesterday. "It was like a switch had been flipped. As soon as he heard that message, Hunter and his cronies changed. They pulled weapons on the crew, confined the senior staff to the brig, put countless more under house arrest. It was like a mutiny, except the mutineers were already in control of the ship. Starfleet believes that some conditioning happened at some point in the not so distant past that made all of these followers susceptible to suggestion and 'trigger' them. But beyond that, we have plenty of evidence to suggest that everything done by any individual is their choice. We're not talking about brainwashing here... Hunter knew exactly what he was doing," she told clearly. "Eventually, Commander Kane and I were able to escape from the brig with the help of some loyalist forces not confined to their quarters. There was a showdown... some people, some incredibly loyal, honest people lost their lives and Hunter, like a coward, ran."
"What? Conditioning? That wasn't in any of the reports I read," Tara remarked. Then she sighed. "Although, it was classified, and it was probably for the best I not know anyway, that knowledge might have affected the pursuit..." she then admitted reluctantly.
"Well," Arnon said. "When it comes to brainwashing, you're either brainwashed or you're not. Everything else is just commentary. So, how do you know it wasn't brainwashing? If it was, Captain Hunter could still have known exactly what he was doing. Same with the others. If the mental conditioning he received was meant to change who he was on a signal, once that signal was triggered, this new person he'd been made into would be perfectly aware of what he was doing. He would just assume it was the right thing to do according to whatever private logic had been conditioned into his head."
"Goodness, the implications of this could be problematic," Tara said, leaning back in her chair with an exasperated sigh. "Although in retrospect, it does make a sort of sense, because the Hunter I talked to on the planet was not the Hunter I served with. Mind you, I'm not saying he doesn't deserve to be punished, justice must be served, but... It does make a bit more sense to me now."
"Maybe brainwashing and conditioning aren't the right words..." the Captain shrugged, "my science is rudimentary at best. All I know is, from that moment on, he has been public enemy number one on this ship. We had another run in several weeks later, on Bopak. He reckons he let me 'escape' from him there. But his cronies very nearly had me banged to rights there. We have evidence linking him to kidnapping, explosives, biological weapons, murder. There is no salvation for this guy," the Captain concluded with folded arms.
"That, Captain," Arnon said. "Isn't your call to make. Has he told anyone why he kidnapped Admiral Hanson and Chief Carter's child?"
"I was present when he revealed his intentions to Admiral Hanson," Tara spoke up. "Apparently, Admiral Hanson had helped keep Hunter's daughter from him; Hunter wanted revenge, wanted Admiral Hanson to know what it was like to have his child taken from him. I knew he was angry, bitter even, but I never thought he had it in him to do something like that."
"Everyone has a breaking point," Arnon said. "Maybe Captain Hunter had reached his. Let's move on. Has Captain Hunter expressed any desire to self-harm? During or after his capture, did he perhaps try to goad one or both of you into harming or killing him?"
"Oh, well..." Tara said uncomfortably. She set aside her bowl of tea and folded her hands in her lap. "He was a good Captain while I served with him, no signs of instability that would make me concerned about his well-being in that sense. But I did learn that he had tried to take his life many years prior," she admitted. "He discovered his fiance at the time was, uhm, engaged in an intimate relationship... with another man... and Hunter snapped. And this was the same woman who would later show up with his daughter. Now, I don't know the details of this attempt on his own life, but I did later learn that Admiral Hanson was involved in his rehabilitation."
"Alright," he said. "As I understand things, you'd like me to evaluate Captain Hunter's mental state? I assume you mean for me to attempt to determine if he's sane or not? If he was mentally culpable of committing the crimes he committed? I can do that, but remember that, regardless of my findings, my report becomes evidence in legal proceedings against Captain Hunter and that it must be made available without delay to both the prosecution and the defense? I will give the captain a fair and impartial evaluation and deliver an honest and fair report. We're all clear on this, yes?"
"The man deserves to rot in prison for the rest of his life," the Captain thought to herself before nodding and smiling to the Counsellor. "Of course Commander. Do what you must," she confirmed even though she hated the very idea of a trial for the man. He was guilty, there were so many witnesses. He just needed to go to prison and stay there for the rest of his days.
"Doctor Barak, would it be possible for me to observe your sessions with Hunter? Even from a separate room or off a recording? Or would that be a violations of his rights?" Tara asked. "I ask simply because I am familiar with him and his 'normal' behavior, I could possibly give you insights and feedback based on what I know of him."
Arnon thought about that.
"You can observe, Commander," Arnon said. "It's highly irregular, but there are issues of national security to consider, regarding Captain Hunter's involvement in the Consortium affair. I think I have a little latitude within which to work."
"Of course; I wouldn't want to do anything that could compromise any case against Hunter," Tara replied. this was so hard for her, but it needed to be discussed. "And we know you are a Counselor, not an interrogator, but he has thus far resisted attempts to interrogate him, so if you can learn anything at all about further Consortium operations, that would be a great help to the investigation."
"That, I can do," Arnon said. "I was just trying to decide if I wanted you in the room with me, but not only would that be highly irregular, but I think it would cause Hunter to behave differently. But you can definitely observe. I'm guessing Captain Hunter will assume that our session is being observed, just maybe not by who."
"Oh no, I definitely wouldn't want to be in the room, it would affect his responses," Tara replied with a shake of her head. "But I do appreciate the consideration."
"Of course," Arnon said. "Well, if there's nothing else, I'll have Markos arrange with Security for me to see Captain Hunter right away."
"Keep me updated on your findings Counsellor," the Captain requested as she rose from her seat and began to walk for the door, but then she stopped in her tracks and turned back briefly. "Oh and Counsellor? Don't call him Captain. He lost that honor when he became a traitorous murderer," she instructed in a stern tone before leaving the room and heading for the bridge.
Arnon was glad that Nilani had left without waiting for an answer. It saved him the trouble of lying to her. He turned his attention to Tara.
"Captain Azulas seems to be taking Captain Hunter's crimes personally," Arnon said. "Is there something to that?"
"Well as she said, he displaced her from command of the Nogura, wrecked the ship, killed a number of the crew before escaping... If I was in her position, I would take it rather personally, too," Tara said.
"Hmmm...yes," Arnon said. He hit the comm on his desk. "Markos?"
"Yes, Doctor?" Chief Markos Ileos replied. "What can I do for you?"
"I need to meet with the individual the Captain was just discussing with me in a secure place," he said. "Some place other than here. I need to do this right away. Can you make the arrangements?"
"Of course, Doctor," Markos replied. "I'll have everything arranged soon."
"Thank you," Arnon said. He killed the comm and turned his attention back to Tara. "So, how are you? We haven't talked in awhile, and as you mentioned, apprehending Captain Hunter wasn't easy for you."
"I'll let you know once I figure that out," Tara replied, then rose from her chair. "I'll come in for a session later, I'm just not sure I'm ready to talk about it yet," she added, her feet pointed towards the door.
"Tara," Arnon said. He was usually a bit more formal with officers, but he wanted to make sure that he reached her. He could tell just by sensing her surface emotions that she was troubled and just the perfunctory scan that his mind did of her internal physical state confirmed that. "It's alright to be conflicted. It's alright to be confused. It's alright to be angry. It's alright to be relieved. It's even okay to not have any idea how you feel. In this room, there's no emotion that isn't okay to feel and even express. Bottling things up, though, that causes harm in the long run. If you want to talk right now, I have a bit of time. If you want to wait, that's fine. But do come back and let's talk awhile. Maybe talking about things will help you find some clarity."
"I know, Doctor, and thank you," Tara said with a small smile. "I promise, I'll return later, I just need some time to myself for a little while. You know, I'll just go knock out some paperwork, I'll be fine."
"Alright," Arnon said. "I'll have Markos notify you when we're ready for you to observe. It won't be more than an hour from now, but it might be less."
"I will wait for your call," Tara replied with a nod, then headed out. Their next session was likely to be a doozy!