Down the Rabbit Hole
Episode 4: Whispers In the Dark
Arnon sat at the table in the interview room and looked over his notes as Captain Nathan Hunter was brought in to the room in restraints. He gave no impression that he even noticed the four masters-at-arms bring in the alleged criminal. The masters-at-arms made like they were going to stay in the room, just as discussed. Also just as discussed, Arnon dismissed them.
"Are you sure, Doctor?" one of them said. "I'd feel more comfortable if---"
"Nonsense," Arnon said. "I need Captain Hunter to feel at ease. How is he going to feel at ease with four masters-at-arms who look like someone grew them in the basement at Starfleet Security Headquarters are looming over him. No, I'll be fine."
Feigning reluctance, the masters-at-arms all left.
"We'll be right outside if you need us," the Leading Petty Officer of the group said.
"Thank you," Arnon replied. He hadn't looked up from his notes the entire time. He still didn't as he proceeded. "Well, let's get started. Please state your name and rank for the record."
Nathan shuffled in his seat, smirking at the show the crew were putting on to make him feel all special. His hands, in their restraints, rested in his lap. "Nathan Hunter," he responded eventually. He'd play along, for now.
"Alright then," Arnon said. "Captain Nathan Hunter. You had an impressive career with Starfleet until the Consortium and your subsequent actions. What happened?"
"I don't answer to that rank anymore," Hunter scowled at the man. "You don't matter to me. The people on this ship don't matter to me. What makes you think I'll talk to you when I wont even talk to an old friend? No, I have nothing to say to a jumped up Starfleet shrink," he spat his words with contempt as he slouched back in the chair.
"Alright then, young man," Arnon said, pleasantly. "What would you like this jumped up Starfleet shrink to call you? Will Nathan suffice? Or would you prefer to be called 'Mister Hunter'? Or is there some other name you might prefer? Wee Willy Winkie, perhaps?"
Nathan sat forward on the edge of his chair and glared at the Counsellor. "How about you just return me to my cell and I'll happily sit there until your gracious Captain deems fit to hand me over to Starfleet Security? How about that, huh?"
Arnon looked up from his notes for the first time and held Nathan's gaze without flinching.
"Because I want to know where you went wrong," he said, calmly. "What turns a decorated Starfleet captain into a traitor and a criminal? Did we miss something evaluating you when you applied to Starfleet Academy? Did we miss something later? People have told me you were under stress. Was that it?"
Nathan sad forward again and grinned. "Wouldn't you like to know?" He then relaxed in his chair again and looked around the room and found the whole thing rather amusing. "You know, Starfleet has a lot to learn about extracting information from its prisoners. The Tal'Shiar or the Obsidian Order however, or even the Klingons or Jem'Hadar for that matter, they all know how to get what they want from a person," he smiled. "Three meals a day in solitary confinement on a comfortable bed in a safe, secure Starfleet brig doesn't exactly make people want to talk. Now, an ice cold prison planet or a mental probe - they'd do the trick. But that's the problem with Starfleet isn't it? Never prepared to go to the extremes to get stuff done."
"Oh!" Arnon said, still pleasant. "This isn't an interrogation! Did no one tell you? I'm so sorry. You see, I don't really care whether or not you confess to anything. That's for Security, JAG and Counterintelligence to deal with. No, I'm only interested in why you did what you did. I want to assess your mental state. So, with that in mind, let's talk more about your feelings regarding Starfleet. You were saying that you feel Starfleet isn't willing to go far enough to...to do what? What haven't they been willing to go far enough to do?"
Nathan lifted his bound hands and wagged a finger in the mans direction, making a 'tut, tut, tut' sound with his teeth and lips. "You almost had me for a second. You expect me to believe you're different from security? Intelligence? You're a Starfleet officer. You're all alike," he shook his head. He wasn't willing to give the man what he wanted, not unless it benefited him. "Spare me the psychobabble Doctor. I don't want to talk feelings. I have no interest in sharing with you my deepest, darkest thoughts," he declared sternly.
"I'm an old country doctor and shrink," Arnon said. "Not a spy or a policeman. The only effect the results of my evaluation will have on criminal proceedings against you is to help determine whether or not you are deemed mentally competent to stand trial, whether you will be tried, convicted, and sentenced to spend the rest of your life making big rocks into little rocks or be committed to a high security psychiatric institution for the criminally insane, where you would also likely spend the rest of your days, in this case drugged into near numbness and playing with fingerpaints. This is your chance to have a say in this process, and it's a chance to make yourself heard, to tell your side of things, and to someone who will really listen to what you have to say."
"Finger paints? How exciting!" he grinned with wide eyes and mock happiness before scowling at the Counsellor. "Do I look like I am criminally insane to you? Talk to your two pet Trill," he scoffed, "they'll tell you all you need to know."
"I don't keep pets," Arnon said. "And if I was keeping two attractive women as pets, I'd be too busy to spend time in here with you. Do you look criminally insane to me? I can't answer that. Do you look and sound and feel scared to me? Yes, you do. Your fear and accompanying physical reactions ticked up when I suggested that you might be insane. Is that what you're afraid of, Nathan? Having your efforts against Starfleet dismissed as the actions of a lunatic?"
"I couldn't give a shit," the former officer cursed, showing his frustration at last. "You may think I'm scared, but if that's what you think, you've clearly never feared for your life. You want to know what scared is, Commander? Scared is watching as a torpedo obliterates a friend. Scared is waiting to be captured by the Jem'Hadar. Scared is watching, helplessly, as the Borg rampage through the Corridor towards you. So you think I look scared, Commander? You don't know what scared is."
"Actually, Nathan," Arnon said. "I've served in the Cardassian Border Wars, the Federation-Klingon War, and the Dominion War, and I've seen action in every conflict since, including conflict with the Borg, most of that time as a medical officer or pressed into service as a medical officer. I've lost many friends. Among my other positions prior to joining Starfleet, first as a civilian contractor, then as an officer, was in Emergency Medicine. My last assignment was to a Starfleet PTSD ward. I've felt real fear, including that deep fear that comes when I realize that someone I care about, a friend, a colleague, a fellow officer, is going to die and no matter how good a physician I am, there isn't a damn thing I can do about it."
Most people made the same mistake about Arnon's history as Nathan just made. They either don't realize how old he is, or they don't realize how long he'd been associated with Starfleet. Most of the people who made this mistake had often seen less combat than Arnon had. He was used to it, he could deal with it, and he certainly wasn't going to let it get to him in a session with Nathan Hunter.
"You sound...proud of your Starfleet service, Nathan," Arnon said. "And yet you turned against Starfleet. Why?"
"Okay Doctor, I'll bite," he sat forward on his chair again, this time a sense of agitation about him. "I gave everything, EVERYTHING, to Starfleet and the precious Federation it serves. Time and again, I sent people I cared about to their deaths or risked my own life to defend some foolish, idealistic crusade. But did Starfleet ever learn from its mistakes? Did they ever learn from the casualty reports or the ship losses? Did they balls," he shook his head. "I did what I had to do; Do you know what the trouble is? The trouble is Earth. On Earth there is no poverty, no crime, no war. You look out the window of Starfleet Headquarters and you see paradise. It's easy to be a saint in paradise, but here in the Gamma Quadrant we do not live in paradise. Out here, all the problems haven't been solved yet. Out here, there are no saints, just people...angry, scared, determined people who are going to do whatever it takes to survive. Starfleet aren't going to protect us and make things right. Instead, they jump in to bed with an enemy that cost the lives of countless millions."
Arnon looked at Nathan curiously.
"I don't understand," Arnon said. "You believe that Starfleet isn't doing enough in the Gamma Quadrant, that they haven't devoted enough resources to keep the peace. Let's say that I understand your side of that argument, that I might even agree that Starfleet hasn't done enough here. Tell me then, how does creating a threat that further taxes those limited resources solve the problem?"
"If Starfleet wouldn't protect their people, someone had to step up and fight for what was right! Not even the fools at Starfleet Command can turn a blind eye when their own turn on them," the man countered.
"True," Arnon said. "But now Starfleet is spending resources dealing with you and your friends rather than solving the problems you want solved. But let's look at this a different way. When did you first start feeling betrayed by Starfleet and the Federation? Was it when you started serving in the Gamma Quadrant? Or was it before that?"
Nathan shook his head slowly. "We're done here," he declared, placing his hands in his lap and turning his gaze away from the Counsellor.
"I wonder why answering that question frightens you so?" he said. "Well, perhaps you don't the answer to that question. There was talk of the Consortium resorting to mental conditioning. Maybe you're nothing more than a tool in someone else's plans. Maybe the Consortium is just manipulating you. Maybe you're nothing more than a puppet. Rather sad, actually. Rather sad. Oh, well. I suppose if you don't want to talk to me, I'll just leave."
Arnon began packing up his things.
"Get me out of here before I do something I wont regret!" Nathan fumed as he rose from his seat and headed for the doorway, smashing his balled up fist on the locked entrance.
Tara flinched in her seat when Nathan started banging on the locked door. She was watching a secure feed of the interview from the safety of her office, but that made Nathan's reaction no less visceral to her, discomforting her so much that she could feel her symbiont squirming in her belly.
Tara reached out with a shaky hand to type into her console, sending a message to Arnon's PADD:
Regret? Like taking his own life?
Tara then nibbled on her thumb nail as she watched to see how Arnon would use the message she had sent, hoping somehow that if they could remind Nathan what regret felt like that maybe they could get through to him.
Arnon got Tara's message and reacted quickly, stopping what he was doing to look Nathan in the eyes.
"Before you do something you regret, Nathan?" he said. "Like taking your own life?"
Nathan's banging on the door ceased at the words of the Counsellor, his hand placed on the door and his read resting against it, slightly lowered as he listened. Slowly, he turned his head, his eyes narrowed and focused, bearing deep down into the soul of the Counsellor. It was as if a spark lit a fuse inside of him. If the Counsellor had wanted a reaction from him, he had succeeded, but probably not the reaction he had anticipated. Still with his hands bound, the former fleet Captain charged towards the Counsellor, ready to tackle him to the floor and smash his face in.
Arnon let Nathan charge him, bringing up his right foot. When Nathan collided with him, Arnon's foot hit Nathan's chest and Arnon, grabbing Nathan's jumpsuit, used the momentum to roll back onto the table while hoisting Nathan up with him. As his back rolled onto the surface of the table, Arnon's other foot came up to Nathan's chest and, still using Nathan's forward momentum, Arnon used his legs to lift Nathan up and toss the shackled man over the other side of the table with enough force that Nathan hit the walk and bounced off. Arnon completed his roll and was on his feet again, putting his uniform to rights. By that time, the masters-at-arms burst into the room, ready to pounce on Nathan.
"Stand down!" Arnon ordered. "But don't go anywhere. Are you ready to talk, Nathan? Or did you want to go a few more rounds with me?"
"You're a coward," the prisoner coughed and spluttered as he pushed himself to his feet as best he could. "You beat a man who has his hands tied and get all smart about it. You're a coward... like the rest of the people on this ship. And YOU are everything that is wrong with the Federation," the former Captain winced through the pain as he rose fully to his feet and stood as tall as he could. He started to walk forward towards the Masters-at-Arms. "I'm done here," he told.
The masters-at-arms moved to block Hunter's dramatic exit.
"Why am I what's wrong with the Federation, Nathan?" Arnon said. "I was attacked, I defended myself, and I'm happy that I won our little engagement. How is that what's wrong with the Federation?"
"Let me out, NOW!" he yelled in the face of one of the Masters-at-Arms.
The master-at-arms whose face Hunter was in scowled, but Arnon stopped him before he could give into the urge to pound Nathan into a thin paste.
"They don't decide when you leave this room, Nathan," Arnon said. "I do."
Arnon turned to the Leading Petty Officer.
"Escort Nathan back to his cell," Arnon said. "If you decide you want to talk again, Nathan, Security knows how to get in touch with me."
Nathan turned around to look at Arnon once again, this time a sadistic smile on his face as he looked the Counsellor in the face. Seconds later, the former Captain spat in the man’s face and with great delight, said just two words, rhyming with duck you. The guards manhandled Hunter out of the room and dragged him back to his secure cell.
On the way out, one of the masters-at-arms tripped Nathan and banged him against the wall, hard. Nathan was bounced off of walls, banged against the door frame of his cell, tripped again, and left to fall on his face in his cell. The cell was secured and the MAs went off to write up reports stating that the prisoner flung himself against the walls and the floor for reason or reasons unknown.
Arnon pulled out a handkerchief and wiped Nathan's spit off of his face.
"Well," Arnon said. "I honestly can't tell if he's crazy or not, but he's definitely less civilized than you'd expect even a former Starfleet captain to be. He's very resistant to discussing when his negative feelings towards Starfleet began, and he gets extremely emotional, even violent, when I challenge his belief system. I can't say for sure, but it's possible that these reactions are programmed, designed to keep him from remembering being mentally conditioned, but I'd need more time to prove that. I'm sorry, Tara. I did the best I could in one session."
In her office, Tara leaned back in her chair with a sigh. She knew Arnon had done his best, so Tara was starting to resign herself to the fact that her friend may be too far gone to reach.