Playing With Fire

These posts lead up to the explosion on the Anarasi Maru, as described in ‘Through a Glass, Darkly’


"The beginnings of all things are small."
Marcus Tullius Cicero

Offices Startfleet Judge Advocate General
San Francisco, Earth
June 21, 2379

“Welcome back.”

Lieutenant Harry Finn walked in to see Seth Anderson already seated in front of the desk, tapping a PADD on his lap.

“Thanks,” though he’d not gone far… just a quick trip to New Hope and then spent the rest of the time in San Francisco… “How’s Jen?”

“Great, mostly. Seems she’s been getting in trouble at school for some interesting language…” he fixed his CO with a look.

“Really?” Harry would have to remind the fourteen year old about the usefulness of discretion. “What’s that?” indicating the PADD while tactfully changing the subject.

Seth raised the new orders, “We have an assignment,” he announced, “and it’s a doozy.”

“A doozy?”

“DIA got a tip…”

Ten minutes later Finn was staring at the PADD… “and how did we get this?”

Seth shrugged, “We were on leave…”

He need say no more… undesirable assignments were often foisted on those unavailable to refuse. Still, “Ashton is toast,” Harry promised, trying to digest the headache being displayed before him. “So if DIA got the tip, why isn’t DIA pursuing it?”

“Because Spec Ops thinks the mole is in DIA…”

“You’re kidding.”

“Nope, and DIA thinks the mole is in Spec Ops and R&D doesn’t care who it is, as long as someone digs him up and plays wack-a-mole on his ass…”

Harry, pacing and reading, grunted a reply before, “Wait… what’s this?” he held up the PADD, to the last page of the file.

Seth rose and looked over Harry’s shoulder, “Ah yes, that’s the best part… looks like you have yourself a task force.”

“I don’t need a task force, I have you.” At Seth’s short bark of a laugh, “Besides, I’m not good with people.”

Anderson smirked, “Everyone knows that but, thing is, since every department suspects every other department, there was no way JAG was going to be handed the reigns on the case without some input from…”

Finn looked back at the PADD, “Carson in DIA, Willet from Spec Ops and…” he frowned over the last name, Laslow, Sara, Ensign “Intelligence?”

“Know any of them?”

“Nope.”

“Well, they’re waiting in Conference A…”

“You could have said that ten minutes ago.” Harry started for the corridor.

Seth grinned, “Could have…”

The two made their quietly companionable way to the conference room, where, upon their entrance, three nervous faces looked up from their own collections of PADD’s and coffee. Finn tossed his file onto the table, “So,” he said to his unexpected and, more to the point, unwanted crew, “looks like we’re going on a wabbit hunt.”

Surprisingly, one of them laughed… the ensign… Laslow.

Well, at least someone got his sense of humor.


November 5, 2380
San Francisco
Starfleet Bureau of Information

Lt. Commander Shaun Ryan Acker sat back from his terminal, which was currently displaying the relative merits of Ice Bore hunting vs. HALO jumping on Andoria. Letting the system run the risk/adrenaline rush ratio (Childhood’s End, indeed) he pondered the disquiet that nudged at his hind-brain, working at the unease the way one might massage a newly acquired bruise and with about the same results…just that much more pain.

Scanning recent events he came up empty: the last payment from his silent - no, make that Sphynxian - partner, had arrived intact to its destination; the fallout from a major sale last April had finally settled (biotoxins were always dicey) and for weeks the replicator chatter in the Bureau had been no more than the normal holo-vid and sports gossip. There was nothing external to indicate the rocking of Acker’s very carefully-maintained boat, and yet…

“Commander Acker?”

“Yeah?” immediately dropping into the easy-speak of his Starfleet persona, Shaun looked up, and a little further up, into the eyes of another member of the ‘Fleet who stood at comfortable ease in the entrance to Acker’s workspace. Tall, cool, assessing… cop… “How can I help you, Lieutenant….?”

“Finn,” the Security officer filled in the dots, as expected, “From Material Supply Command.”

“If you’re looking for a hot vacation spot,” Shaun said with a chummy nod towards his terminal, “I’d say skip Andoria. Can’t figure why anyone would want to spend valuable leave freezing their balls off.”

A small quirk of the lips was all the response he got, “Takes all kinds, sir,” the Lieutenant replied. “But I’m hoping you can help me,” with a long-suffering sigh, Finn crossed his arms over his chest and gave a quick shake of the head, “It seems there’s a small issue with some of the non-secure databases: Material Supply, Shipyards, Personnel and…” he jerked his chin at Acker’s desk, “… Information.”

Cue curiously raised eyebrows and the amused grin, “You’re saying someone’s hacking into Starfleet’s garbage data? For what? All I’ve got is ‘Best Places to Visit on Risa’ and ‘Who’s Who in the Gamma Quadrant.” He inserted a bland chuckle before allowing his eyes to widen in surprise. “Seriously?” he dropped his voice to a whisper, “Someone’s hacking Command?”

A single-shoulder shrug, “We’ve only seen ripples, sir, and only in the most public areas,” the icy blue eyes cut back to Acker’s vague gaze, “Higher up’s are getting antsy though, so now I get to play ‘hunt the geek’ until they’re satisfied it’s just some bored cadet… again.”

This time the tall man’s smile grew and the two shared a companionable memory of the good old days in the Academy before he continued, with a hint of embarrassment, “This is just a formality and you’re free to say no, but I’d be obliged if I could take a look at your desktop, see if the mystery geek left any fingerprints in the data… I’ve already hit half the consoles in the Bureau, if it makes you feel any better…”

In response Acker gave a small puff of air before saving his current project and rising from his seat. He was immaturely annoyed by the 12-plus centimeters in height that Finn had on him, and berated himself for the emotional response. In the war of physical stature vs. mental, intellect always won out over braun.

“If you’re giving me the afternoon off,” Acker said, holding out the chair for Finn, “please, call me Shaun.”

Another tight smile, but no bite. A professional. Perfect.

Lt. Finn merely nodded his acceptance and slid behind the desk. “This won’t take long, sir,” he said, keeping to protocol, “but you probably have time for an extended coffee break,” and then stood by the seat, waiting.

Fortunately, Acker could take a hint the size and shape of your average brick. “So, I’ll just do that,” he replied, edging away in milque-toast uncertainty, “maybe take in a vid?”

“That should do it, Commander.”

Shaun tossed one last, forgettable, wave over his shoulder as he left the room. Once in the corridor he made a beeline for the turbolift and thence out of the building.

He’d been made. Worse, he’d been made by some over-aged Boy Scout in Security.

Shaun had spent eleven years building the subtlest, most profitable intelligence-mining op in the Alpha Quadrant, and it was clear that this Lt. Finn was planning to knock it over like a house of cards.

“Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow,” the slim man whispered to himself.

The words of The Hollow Men served to soothe the rage which had threatened to envelop his judgment and left no doubt, in his own mind, at least, as to who’s shadow would be falling between Finn’s idea and his reality.

Pausing on the chilled November street, as if trying to decide what to do with himself, Acker continued to process this disturbing turn of events. Obviously, he was being watched so he had to go through the motions of the PR guy with some unexpected free time. Heading for the cafe which serviced the tower, he began to make his plans for the very near future; first and foremost among them would be learning everything… everything… there was to know about one Lt. insert name here Finn of Starfleet Security.

Harry Finn waited until the Lt. Commander had been out of the room for a full two minutes, then sat down and studied the desk before him. He didn't bother to search Acker's files. He knew he'd find nothing on the Starfleet terminal. After a moment of contemplating his current course of action, Finn tapped his commbadge. =^=Anderson, Finn… Prufrock is on the move.=^=

=^=Willet’s waiting outside.=^= CPO Seth Anderson’s voice came back. =^=Are you sure this is the way to go, Harry? This guy’s gonna be watching you, now.=^=

Harry looked at the bland desk, filled with vanilla knickknacks and generic office supplies and knew it for the stage upon which Shaun Ryan Acker had performed his long, long deception. =^=I’d rather have him watching me than watching his back,=^= he replied somewhat coldly. Then, =^=See you back a the shop. Finn out.=^=


Quarters of Lieutenant Commander Shaun Ryan Acker
San Francisco - Earth
December 23, 2380

Remember remember the 5th of November….

Well, Shaun certainly would remember that date, though not due to any antiquated observations on the nature of the equally antiquated concept of treason.

No, for Acker, it was the day one Lieutenant Harry Finn had quietly entered his office and made it known that he, Shaun Ryan Acker, was under the eye.

Oh, he hadn’t used those words or anything like them but, in the comedy of manners which followed, both men had known [i]exactly[/i] what was being said.

Finn was watching Acker and it thereby followed that Acker was watching Finn, who was, of course, expecting it. Shaun knew this because, after only a small amount of digging, he knew Harry Michael Finn - probably better than Harry Michael Finn knew himself.

One thing he knew that would be of no help… any direct action taken against the man leading the investigation into Shaun’s specialized enterprise would only fan the flames of inquisition and place himself, Acker, directly in the fire.

But that wouldn’t be a problem. Shaun rose from the terminal where he’d been linked into the city’s sensor sweeps… interesting viewing if you knew where to look… and crossed to the bar he’d set up by the picture window in his living area. Pouring himself a cognac, the real deal, he stared out over the lights of San Francisco, considering the night and the many acts it camouflaged.

Out there, in the darkness, Finn was hiding something… or someone, rather… and at this thought Shaun’s reflection in the window smiled, an expression as hard and chill as the glass upon which it lay.

“… what she gives, gives with such supple confusions,
That the giving famishes the craving,” he toasted himself and the night and the lady.

The lady being Ensign Sara Laslow, Finn’s direct subordinate and, even Shaun had to admit, a lovely work of nature. Lovely, young, intelligent and, most importantly, desperately in love with Harry Finn.

A fact which could prove useful, should the JAG/DIA investigation begin to prove meddlesome.

After one last look at the shrouded city, Shaun returned to his terminal… his associate was waiting for a contact and now, thanks to the weakness of a woman’s heart, Acker had something useful to deliver.


This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
TS Eliot, The Hollow Men

Earth
San Francisco
Personal Quarters, Lt. Harry Finn
March 15, 2381

This was it, then. Harry leaned against the window, staring blindly at the San Francisco skyline while he waited for Sara to finish another seemingly endless (and scalding) shower.

It had been three weeks since she’d returned from whatever subterranean assignment had pulled her off of the surveillance of Lt. Commander Shaun Ryan Acker (And what kind of dick feels the need to use all three names? It’d be like having your mother on your shoulder, permanently scolding you through life.) In the time since her reappearance, she’d been distant, tired, unable to concentrate and, well, less than herself.

Harry hoped to find out where the rest of her had gone because, and oh, how he hated what a suspicious bastard this made him, he was beginning to wonder, of late, if the better part of Sara had gone over to the other side.

He had no foundation for his suspicions. Nothing beyond a sense of disquiet in her presence and the tension on the job. That was something new: relaxed, good-humored Ensign Laslow almost snapping Willet’s head off when he tried to help her write the search program which had sniffed out a significant number of bank accounts throughout the Alpha Quadrant, all under aliases pulled from the poetry of TS Eliot.

It had been, she’d said, a bitch to write, but when she’d implemented the search, it had worked like a dream…

Unfortunately, in the week and a half since Harry had closed all but one account, Acker had made nary a move. He’d just gone on about his clerkly way as if he weren’t so bent you could use him as the world’s biggest paper clip and the money stashed in the last account, under the name of Albert Porter, remained untouched.

Something wasn’t right.

And now it was down to Harry Finn, staring out a window and praying that he was wrong in his instincts and that the only thing about Sara Laslow that had changed were her feelings for him. If that were all…

“Harry?”

He turned away from the unseen view to take in Sara, wrapped in a towel and pink from the heat of the water.

She looked… haunted. “Are you okay?” she asked, though from a distance. She hadn’t voluntarily come close to him since she’d come back.

This is it, he was thinking. Ask. Just ask.

Ask what? ‘Are you a traitor?’ That’d go well.

And the other? ‘Hey, just wondering if you were sick of me…’

Okay, yes. He should. He should get it out in the open, right?

“I just… needed to know… “ he began before something inside him shut down. He [i]needed[/i] to know the truth and everything he knew about people told him he wasn’t going to get it, here, no matter what question he asked.

“Need to know, what?” she wasn’t looking at him, now, but fingering the uniform she’d laid out on the bed.

“Did you want eggs for breakfast?”

If there was a puzzle to be solved, here, he’d have to look for the pieces somewhere else.


Earth
San Francisco
Starfleet Material Supply Command Headquarters
March 16, 2381
0220 Hours

Lt.jg Tim Willet made his way to the workspace by rote. He’d accepted, with this assignment, that he’d be working to the job, not the clock but, dammit, hadn’t he already put in a full 18, today… well, yesterday? What was Finn thinking?

He strode into the team’s assigned area, hidden in the bowels of Material Supply’s storage basement and headed straight for the replicator.

“Your coffee’s by the terminal.”

“Gaaah!” Tim did a leaping 180, landing with one hand reaching for his holdout even as he saw that it was Finn, himself, who’d just scared the bejeesuz out of him. “What, are you [i]trying[/i] to give me a heart attack?”

Lt. Finn didn’t answer, just stayed in the shadows near Tim’s console where there was, indeed, a cup of joe waiting for him.

Exhaling a small breath, Tim made for the desk, sat down, picked up the cup and took a scalding swallow before looking at Harry. “What’s happened?”

Harry leaned forward, tapping the the terminal, “Nothing, and that’s the problem. He should have bitten by now.” Before his 2IC could comment, he continued, “I want you to go through the program. I think,” there was a pause and Willet felt that there might be some sort of internal edit happening between Finn’s brain and what he said next, “I think we missed something, maybe the search parameters were too narrow… maybe he’s got another poet in his repertoire,” though from his tone, Harry didn’t believe that, “just, go through the codes, tell me what’s not there.”

Harry felt the eyes of the younger man, startlingly green in his deep brown face, searching for more while pointedly [i]not[/i] asking why now, in the middle of the night, and without the rest of the team.

Which was good because, if Harry told Willet what he was really thinking, he’d be dragging Sara’s professional reputation into the muck and without probable cause.

No, best to just re-run the search and then…

______

It felt like forever, but in fact only a bit over two hours had passed when Willet looked up to where Harry was pacing another hole into the carpet.

“We missed Eliot,” he said.

Harry stopped moving and stared at the younger man, “What?”

Tim pointed to the computer, the lines of code streaming across the screen, “TS Eliot, we missed him.” He could see the protest in his superior’s eyes and inserted, quickly, “We got a bunch of names from the [i]poems[/i] yes, but what about him? His name is Thomas Stearns Eliot and Sara… we… didn’t include any variations on the name in the search.”

Willet felt compelled to turn back to the cold logic of his console, which was still a degree warmer than the expression on his team leader’s face. “Anyway, there is one last account,” he continued in perfect ‘report’ mode. “Under the name of Thomas Stearns….”

In two steps Harry was standing next to Tim, leaning forward as if the gobbledy-gook on screen made sense to him. “Status?”

“Five withdrawals over the past two weeks. Over three-quarters of the funds have been siphoned to new accounts…”

“Follow it,” came the terse order but, of course, Willet had already begun the arduous task of tracing the financials.

Finn tapped his combadge: =^=DIA Control, this is Lt. Harry Finn, request vocal ident: Service code Foxtrot Sierra two-two-niner Echo zero-zero-one, over. =^=

=^=Finn, Control, we are running… ident confirmed Lt. Finn. =^=

Now for the fun part. =^= Control, request you run query on operation Echo-Echo- six-four-eight-Victor, I will stand by.=^=

There was a pause, which he fully expected. His ID and the operation designation were guaranteed to roust some people out of bed.

A new voice came back in less time than he’d have thought.

=^=Lt. Finn, Commander Shia, DIA/SpecOps liaison - what is your status?=^=

[i]Up shit creek and lacking an oar[/i], =^=I need a location, ASAP, of Lt. Commander Shaun Ryan Acker, Starfleet Bureau of Information, on or off planet.=^=

=^=Searching.=^=

He ignored the startled glance that earned from Willet - Acker had been seen going to work that morning and entering his quarters that evening. Surveillance hadn’t popped any unusual activities or energy readings from the apartment. And yet…

While he waited for a response, Harry put a hand on Tim’s shoulder, “Get the rest of the team up. Have ‘em site to site, this location.”

“Not Acker’s house?”

“He’s not at home,” was Harry’s prediction.

As Tim contacted Anderson, Laslow and Carson, his voice pitched low, Harry’s own communication continued.

=^=Finn, Shia: we have no readable location on Commander Acker either planetside or on any docked or nearby registered vessels.=^=

No there wouldn’t be. Because, when you got right down to it, the man really was a ghost.

Harry responded immediately. =^=Commander, my team needs a ship. Nothing fancy, just fast and armed. And I need it five minutes ago.=^=

A pause. Maybe another call being made.

=^=Acknowledged, Lieutenant. We are checking what’s docked, I’ll contact you presently, Shia out.=^=

To Tim, “He’s in the wind. How fast can you tell me which way it’s blowing.”

“Working,” was the initial, short, reply. Then, “The moneys are shifting through different banks, names are changing…but” his eyes cut briefly up to Finn’s, “They’re all routing to Bajor.”

Bajor, which included DS9.

And the wormhole.

“He’s planning to erase himself,” Finn said, “start over in the Gamma Quadrant.” He ignored the fingers of panic, the growing mistrust at the back of his brain. For now, he had an objective. He’d worry about the other problem once they had the rabbit in the cage.

He kept telling himself that as the telltale shimmer of multiple transports filled the darkened room.


Harry Finn - A History of Violence

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