There being no more required evidence the court, after due consideration, reports the following facts:
That the USS Enterprise-D was lost in orbit about Veridian 3 on stardate 48650.1 after a brief battle with a renegade Klingon Bird of Prey. The Warp Core breached due to loss of coolant and, because it could not be ejected, exploded destroying the Engineering Hull. The Saucer section suffered irreparable damage when it crash-landed on the surface of the planet after successfully separating from the Engineering Hull with the full ships crew evacuated or accounted for.
That we fully and entirely exculpate from blame all on board said vessel at the time of the catastrophe there being no possible chance under the circumstances shown in the testimony of saving the vessel or preventing her from crashing.
That Commander William T. Riker breached General Order 15 but because of the extraordinary circumstances of the situation, no conviction be recorded.
N. Nechayev, Fleet Admiral
O. Paris, Vice Admiral
P. Louvois, Fleet Captain
The cheer that went up was allowed to continue for a matter of seconds until the Master at Arms ordered for all to rise whilst the members of the bench retired.
In the antechambers to the courtroom, the four members of the Board showed their relief that the ordeal of the inquiry was over for them as well. Nechayev made straight for the desk and logged on to start clearing the backlog of her regular work. Owen Paris got a mug of coffee from the replicator and slumped onto the lounge, whilst Louvois and Solok bustled about gathering their personal belongings. Solok was the first to leave, followed by Louvois after some polite small-talk with Admiral Paris. Owen Paris sat rolling his coffee around in it's mug until Nechayev finally looked up from her terminal ...
“Come on Owen, spit it out.”
He looked up from the cooling coffee, suppressed anger boiling in his eyes.
"Off the record?”
Nechayev snorted. “You know as well as I do, nothing is ever off the record.”
“I need to know. Riker admitted in court that he had broken a Starfleet General Order by letting his commanding officer put himself in danger. It was your vote that saved his skin, Alynna, why?"
"It is not for us to lay blame and deliver judgement. Our task was to collect facts, draw conclusions from those facts and make recommendations for further action. In this case the majority conclusion was that a breach of regulations had occurred but that Commander Riker had been right in doing so.’ She pinched the bridge of her nose to banish the fatigue that was fighting for release within her. “We went through all this. If he had followed regulations, the mission would have been a failure and a whole planet would have been wiped out."
The grizzled old man opposite here rose from the lounge and slammed the coffee cup down on the table before her anger written in his face.
"Isn't this sending the message that in certain circumstances, rules can be broken? Was this what the Enterprise died for?"
Nechayev was surprised although she could not allow it to show. She had known all along that Owen Paris had not wanted to have anything to do with this Inquiry, but she had wanted his opinion as a counterpoint to her own. Perhaps the memories of his own son's court martial were just too painful for him? Surely not! Owen Paris was many things but he was neither weak nor a fool. She felt inclined to give him some leeway on this and overlook the breach of protocol.
"Come now Owen, you know the old saying from Academy as well as I do: rules are for the guidance of wise men and the obedience of fools. No one is suggesting that obedience to regulations be construed as optional I would not like to think that Starfleet is made up of fools. Any Starfleet officer can break General Orders if he believes he can convince a Court Martial that it is justified." The steely-eyed woman smiled grimly. "I have known it to happen three times in my career."
She made as if to go back to her paperwork "As to the Enterprise dying, The Enterprise-D was probably the most technologically advanced starship of its age but it was as sentient as the Tricorder on this desk."
But Paris wouldn't be swayed from his point. His voice went up a notch as he planted both hands on her desk and hovered over her.
"Don't play games with me, Alynna. I'm talking about discipline, knowing what your crews will do in battle, being confident that they'll follow orders and you're talking semantics."
Nechayev looked up from her work, her face carefully devoid of any emotion, her voice only holding the barest hint of emphasis
Her eyes carried her message across, twin hooded blue diamonds that bored into him as if he were a junior lieutenant who was way out of line. She paused to let the impact of her change back to formality sink in. Nothing was ever off the record for an admiral.
"Since you obviously know your General orders, you will no doubt be aware of General Order 17. 'The commanding officers of Starfleet vessels and installations are to consider the lives of their crew members and/or civilian population as sacred. In any potentially hostile situation, the captain will place the lives of civilians and crew above the fate of his ship.' If the crew of the Enterprise had not hazarded everything to save that planet, I would have had them drummed out of the service."
It was Paris who broke eye contact first as he stood and turned abruptly to storm back to his briefcase, which he started angrily stuffing with papers. Without looking up he grated out "Starfleet lost her flagship on Veridian 3 and you are letting the men responsible walk away."
Even as he said it he marvelled that it was he who wanted to see someone's career suffer for the loss of a vessel.
Alynna Nechayev left her desk and walked around to stand before her old comrade. "But before she was destroyed her crew accomplished their mission, the salvation of a planet, and were able to save themselves. She served her purpose and went down fighting."
"In my years of command I have seen countless ships vaporised in the blink of an eye and I tell you now …" Owen Paris looked up in surprise at the angry growl of pent-up emotion that came from the small woman before him. " … it worries me not one ... tiny ... bit."
Her expression did not flinch but the eyes ...
"No. It's the memory of the officers and crews who died in them that haunts me at night."
Just for a fleeting moment they shared a rapport they had not had since the loss of the Potemkin over thirty years ago. He started to say something but she turned quickly to return to her desk. Reaching it she turned to him and the moment was gone. Once again she was Starfleet's senior admiral
"The Enterprise did not 'die'." She went on. "Her captain and crew, her mind and spirit if you want to be poetic, have survived and will make up the core of the next starship that will be named Enterprise."
"Starfleet is not simply a collection of starships, Deep Space stations and spacedocks. It is an organisation made up of the finest that the United Federation of Planets have to offer. You thought this inquiry was simply to investigate the loss of the Enterprise-D? The last Enterprise is gone."
She walked behind the desk, slumped back in her chair and steepled her fingers before her
"This inquiry was to examine the real essence of the Enterprise, her crew. Who were they and how had they been affected by the destruction of their home of the last seven years. There will always be an Enterprise in Starfleet, a new one is reaching completion as we speak. However without a good crew she would not be able to live up to the high expectations that go with the name. In this case I'm confident she has a crew just waiting for a new home."
"Yes ..." she said, her mind already on the intricacies of creating the next Enterprise, "This inquiry is over."