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Panicked, Tommy looked back down to the energy reserves and saw that only half was available, now. Too much of it bled off into the hull polarization subroutine the senior chief had enabled. His bulky fingers flew over the console, hoping he didn't make a mistake in the timing. "Computer," he said, without looking up, "stand by to depolarize the hull." The computer's familiar chime sounded within the suit's helmet. "Standing by." "Depolarize the hull, now!" He pushed on those sliders again, keeping his eyes on the transporter systems. The moment the hull depolarized, he saw the shuttle's hull start to break up as the small warp nacelles tore off and flew away from the shuttle at a brilliant speed. Just as the dematerialization effect began to take hold, he could see the forward viewport melt away and opened the cockpit to the dangers of vacuum.


ETERNAL MIDNIGHT by Michael D. Garcia & A. J. Gertner

Based on STAR TREK created by Gene Roddenberry TrekUnited Publishing

Content is only suitable for mature adults. May contain explicit language and adult themes.


To visit the authors' home page online go to www.stfsa.net To talk about this book join us on the TrekUnited forum at Trekunited.com To find more great Star Trek fan fiction go to our website at Tupub-books.blogspot.com.au First pdf online edition 01/01/2014

Published for TrekUnited by L'Stok ePress Lstok-epress.blogspot.com.au

This is a fan written work

The copyrights & trademarks of Star Trek are owned by Paramount Pictures, CBS Corporation and their licensee, Pocket Books. Any attempt to sell or rent this book should be reported to the copyright owners for their action


STAR TREK: FULL SPEED AHEAD is a member of the UNITED TREK FANFICTION UNIVERSE, along with eleven other Star Trek fanfic series, available at http://unitedtrek.org

COVER CREDITS Type-6 Starfleet Shuttle Mesh designed and produced by Star Trek Australia Shuttle Garrovick texture, ST:FSA Logo, and all Lettering by Michael D. Garcia

The original content of this work is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License


STAR TREK : FULL SPEED AHEAD

"Milk Run"

Starbase 310 Near the Cardassian Border Stardate 43239.47 Observation Deck

With its proximity to the Cardassian border, Starbase 310 served as the way station for civilian and military traffic to all the colony worlds within the sector. The Border Patrol ships operating nearby also used it as either their home port or a port of call. Out here on the frontier, folks were a little more apt to pull out their weapon than to ask questions. The type-two phaser sidearms of all the security officers patrolling the starbase made that absolutely clear to everyone visiting. 1


MICHAEL D. GARCIA & A. J. GERTNER

Commander Jesse Kincaid folded his arms as he stood on the large observation deck of the starbase, watching the ships dance in a traffic pattern around the station. Since his arrival nearly two weeks ago, he waited for the day that his ship would come in with patience and composure, in spite of the opposing feelings he felt bubbling up inside of him. How could a ship get lost like that? What the hell kind of captain lets something like that happen aboard her ship? He had not yet met Captain Leone, but he knew that she must be one hell of a captain to earn a captaincy in under fifteen years' service in Starfleet. He had only thirteen years' service and barely made commander less than a year ago, while serving aboard Valdemar. Scuttlebutt on Leone was she'd been born into Starfleet wearing admiral's pips on her collar. Her mother held the rank of vice admiral and considered most of the admiralty family, if not close friends. His appointment as Farragut's new executive officer would not be without its opportunities, but also a hell of a lot of pitfalls if he should run afoul of a well-connected captain like Krystine Leone. A soft, feminine tone brought him out of his thoughts. "Commander Kincaid?" "Yes?" he turned to look at a strikingly beautiful Starfleet officer wearing a tight, wine red jumpsuit 2


STAR TREK : FULL SPEED AHEAD

over a lithe, Commander...?"

but

curvy

form.

"Lieutenant

"Tricia Hargreaves," she replied with a smile. She offered a pale-skinned hand to him, which he accepted lightly to shake it twice before releasing it. "A pleasure to meet you, sir." "Likewise, I'm sure." Something about her did not sit well with him, in spite of her curled brown hair and deep blue eyes. "Is there something I can do for you?" Hargreaves shook her head. "No, sir. I just wanted to come down and introduce myself to you. I'm also waiting for Farragut to arrive." Strange. He didn't recall seeing the name Hargreaves on the list of senior officers serving aboard ship. Certainly, a lieutenant commander would warrant a division officer's position, if not at least a department head. "Forgive me, Commander, if I seem a little confused. Are you also part of the crew?" "No," she said strongly, almost blanching at the suggestion. "No, sir, I'll just be a passenger for a while." Kincaid offered no response to that, at first. He tried to read her and failed. She offered him nothing but a pleasant smile and eyes that hid her true 3


MICHAEL D. GARCIA & A. J. GERTNER

intentions from view. "I take it you wanted to introduce yourself to me, because...?" "I thought it was the kind thing to do, to meet my future beneficiary." That was a hell of a thing to say. "I beg your pardon?" She did not say anything to that. Instead, Hargreaves' gaze moved away from him and out toward the stars. "How well do you know Captain Leone, sir?" "Not very well," he said, honestly. "I was selected by subspace communication. And you, Commander?" "Oh, I know her very well, sir... very well." Kincaid decided to probe her for a little more information. "I hear she's quite an officer." Hargreaves' smile lessened only slightly, but enough for him to notice it. "If you say so, sir." "I take it from your tone, Commander, that you don't like her very much?" "Far be it for me to speak out of turn about a superior officer, sir." With a wave of his hand, he affected as magnanimous an air as he could muster, "Consider this permission to speak freely, then. You can start 4


STAR TREK : FULL SPEED AHEAD

by telling me what you meant by calling me your beneficiary." Hargreaves winced under his direct scrutiny. "I only meant, sir, that Captain Leone's days in command are numbered. You'll most likely assume command by the end of my trip." He chuckled. "Is that so? You planning on staging a mutiny while you're aboard?" She shook her head and continued to smile. In spite of that smile, she spoke to him seriously, "No, sir. I'm an investigator with the Inspector General's office. I suspect that the moment I file my report, Starfleet Command will have no choice but to relieve her of her command and take her into custody."

5


MICHAEL D. GARCIA & A. J. GERTNER

Act I

Lieutenant Wilson Nieves grinned. "Thirty-five." "Crap, I only had twenty," said Lieutenant (jg) Gregory Aspinall in disgust. "Forty-two," gleefully.

said

Lieutenant

Petra

Bartlet

"Forty-seven," added Doctor Sovera. "Sixty-one," Lieutenant Commander Elannis said proudly. "Pay up."

Ariel

Greg shook his head. "What about the captain?" Ariel frowned. "The captain doesn't count."

6


STAR TREK : FULL SPEED AHEAD

"I'm sure she'll think differently," replied Sovera. "After all, this is quite a considerable pool you've generated." Wilson agreed with a nod. Ariel considered this briefly, then replied with a pout on her lips. "Fine, but if she trumps sixty-one, then I'm going to scream foul." "She's going to trump that, guaranteed. She has all ours plus hers." "That's why I say she doesn't count." The doors to the observation lounge parted to admit Captain Krystine Leone, who took her customary seat on the side of the table, rather than at the head of it. "Good morning, everyone. We're all set for arrival, I trust?" With the exception of Sovera, all the other officers fixed a pointed glare at Ariel. Leone picked up on it instantly, choosing to join them in their scrutiny of her acting executive officer. "Ariel? Something going on?" Ariel scratched at her neck, looking away from the senior staff and muttering, "Not really." "Commander," said Wilson sharply. "All right," she hissed at him quickly. To Leone, she explained, "We've formed a little pool to find 7


MICHAEL D. GARCIA & A. J. GERTNER

out how many questions were transmitted by Starfleet Intelligence upon each of our mission reports." A slow smile spread on the captain's lips as Ariel spoke. Her tone casual, Leone asked, "Who won?" "Right now, Ariel has the lead," offered Wilson helpfully. "However, we were waiting on your arrival to determine if she is the winner or not." Leone arched her eyebrows in the Vulcan’s direction. "Sovera, I can't believe that you've consented to gamble." The doctor inclined her head. "I found the commander's proposition to be logical. Gambling is not without its merit." Greg snorted. Everyone turned to look at him. "What?" he asked with a shrug. "I just find it funny to hear that coming from a Vulcan." "If you got Sovera to gamble, it must be something worth gambling for," noted Leone. "What's the prize?" The officers all looked at one another, as though they shared an unspoken conversation. With a pointed glare from Wilson, Ariel relented, "The prize isn't money, per se... and I want to note that I 8


STAR TREK : FULL SPEED AHEAD

don't condone slavery, but the prize was a set number of hours of work in winner's respective department." As the Federation didn't pay Starfleet officers, Leone often found herself impressed by the modest economy did emerge on starships. In this case, it seems time was the commodity of choice. "I see," said the captain. "In that case, I believe that I'm the winner and you're all the losers. Since my department is this ship, you're all to give me those hours in the course of your duties." Wilson let out a held breath. "Oh, thank God! I didn't want to have to be at Ariel's beck and call for eight hours." "Indeed," said Sovera with a nod. "Although I would have greatly benefited from assistance in my laboratory." Greg's face contorted into an expression of distaste. "No offense, Doctor, but I'm glad you didn't win." "I'm sorry to spoil your fun," replied Leone, "but we're docking at Starbase 310 in a few moments and I wanted to get you all in the same room to discuss a few things before we take on the rest of our crew." The jovial atmosphere within the observation lounge vanished as the captain brought some official business to the table. 9


MICHAEL D. GARCIA & A. J. GERTNER

"First, I'm making a change to the senior staff. I've already sent word by subspace to Lieutenant Hunter that his services will no longer be required," said Leone as she settled her gaze upon their acting security chief. "Ariel's made it clear that I would be blind not to realize what an asset you were to us this last week, Wilson. If you want it, the job is yours." Wilson nodded as soon as she stopped speaking. "Absolutely, sir. Thank you!" "No, Wilson... thank you. You might not have been my first choice, but you are the correct one." Greg placed a hand on Wilson's back as he spoke with conviction, "I won't let you down, sir." Leone smiled. "I know you won't. Your transfer is made permanent, effective immediately." "Congratulations, Willie," Ariel said with a wink. Wilson chuckled. "Thank you, Commander." "Now that the good news is out of the way, here's some not-so-good news," said the captain. "As you're aware, the means of our return may have skirted a few violations of Starfleet regulations. Namely, the Prime Directive. As all of our official after-action reports required so many additional queries by Starfleet Intelligence, I have been informed that the Office of the Inspector General of 10


STAR TREK : FULL SPEED AHEAD

Starfleet has directed one of its officers to come aboard as soon as we dock." Ariel narrowed her eyes at the news. "You can count on us to protect you, sir." "No, that's not what I'm asking, Ariel. I want to make it clear to all of you that you are ordered to cooperate with the investigating officer completely," she said quietly. "If I find out that you lied to protect me, then you'll find yourself with a transfer order off my ship. And that'll be the last time we speak to each other." Everyone seemed surprised by the vehemence of the ultimatum, with the natural exception of Sovera. Leone continued, "If there are charges to bring against this crew, it needs to be clear that I will answer for them." "We followed your orders, Captain," said Greg as his hand came to lay flat against the table, almost reaching out for her. "You're not alone." The captain smiled softly at him. "Thank you, Greg, but the only thing I want to hear from you is acknowledgment of my order." She turned to look at everyone. "From everyone at this table, in fact." One by one, each officer complied with the order, albeit reluctantly. 11


MICHAEL D. GARCIA & A. J. GERTNER

Except Ariel. She sat within the chair, staring out at the stars rather than look at her friend. "Ariel?" prompted Leone. Ariel still said nothing. Her gaze never left the viewports. "Ariel," Leone tried again in a sterner tone. "Krys..." replied Ariel with a shake of her head. The captain frowned. "Commander Elannis, I require you to acknowledge my order." Ariel looked as though she'd be slapped by Leone's stern tone. "Captain," she said finally, "I cannot, in good conscience, obey your order." Leone sighed, defeated. Silence hung within the lounge for long moments as the assembled senior staff traded looks of awkwardness with one another. The captain rose from her seat, seeing the expression of sincerity upon Ariel's face, and did not try to press her order any further. Instead, she left the room with a single word. "Dismissed."

A "What're you working on?" asked Ensign Yvonne Colby, as she tried to read over the shoulder of Ensign Iris Wu. Yvonne finished her shift within the ship's armory, cataloguing the arsenal of 12


STAR TREK : FULL SPEED AHEAD

weapons for the now-permanent chief of security, Lieutenant Nieves. Farragut docked with Starbase 310 an hour ago and already new faces began to show up within the ship's lounge within the forward section of deck ten. Iris looked up from her table with a grin. "PostAcademy qualifications. I've already completed the first assignment." Yvonne wrinkled her nose as she took the seat to the left of her. "Qualifications? You know, when we graduated from Starfleet Academy, there was this slim hope that they would stop assigning me homework." "You can take up to two years to finish them." "And then what happens if you don't? You just remain an ensign forever?" "No, they take away your commission," said Iris with a smirk. "No way!" "Oh, yes. It's in the handbook. Didn't you read it?" Yvonne turned away from Iris, to hide her blush. "I was a little busy trying to figure out how to damage a ship made out of crystal." "I was there. I found time." 13


MICHAEL D. GARCIA & A. J. GERTNER

"Good for you." "All I'm saying is, if you don't pass all twelve of them within two years, you'll be calling me 'sir' for the rest of your career," Iris said, entering in her responses on the PADD. "If you pass them before that time, you earn your promotion." "Just like that?" "Sort of. The captain and the training officer still have to sign off, but unless you end up before the mast, it's nearly automatic." Yvonne tsked. "I'd better get on the ball, huh?" "Good morning, ladies," said engineering Ensign Tommy O'Day as he strode confidently toward them from the entrance. "I see we're finally filling in the ranks around here, eh?" Yvonne rolled her eyes, but Iris gave the young man a wide smile. The latter gestured toward one of the two open chairs surrounding the table. "Would you care to join us, Tommy?" "Don't mind if I do." "And how are things down in engineering?" "Busy. We had at least five new people report to engineering within the last fifteen minutes of my shift," replied Tommy. "I love meeting new people."

14


STAR TREK : FULL SPEED AHEAD

"Oh, yeah?" asked Yvonne slyly. "How many of your new people were women?" Iris stamped her foot. "Yvonne, be nice!" On the heels of her words, the lounge's ambient noise lessened noticeably as three new officers entered. One of the them was the captain, while the other was a male commander and a female lieutenant commander. All heads turned in their direction as they entered. The trio walked to an empty table in the corner and occupied it quickly. "Whoa," breathed Yvonne. "If the hunk is our new XO, I think I'm in love." Iris agreed with a quiet nod, appreciating the commander's form. Tommy sat back into his chair, folded his arms and frowned.

A Krystine Leone was in hell. Across from her, wearing a sweet expression she knew to be thin, was Tricia Hargreaves. "I have had the... uh, fortune... of knowing Tricia from a previous assignment," explained the captain as Jesse asked the question into their shared background. Hargreaves feigned failing to recollect. "Oh, yes... it was aboard... which ship was that?" 15


MICHAEL D. GARCIA & A. J. GERTNER

"The last one you served on," Leone reminded with a grin. "Victory." "Right," replied the lieutenant commander, through gritted teeth. "I remember now." Jesse watched the mental tennis match between the two officers with a thin smile on his lips. "Well, I would like to get to my duties, sir," he said to Leone. "Should I check in with your acting exec, Commander Elannis?" "That would be fine," said Leone with a nod. Her eyes never left Hargreaves, as they stared each other down. "She has the bridge, at present. Please let me know when you've caught up on our mission reports, and-" "Oh, I've already read through them, sir. At least, the parts that have been declassified by Starfleet Intelligence," said Jesse quickly. "If you'd like, I can relieve her right now." Leone broke off her eye contact with Hargreaves to shoot him an annoyed glance. It softened immediately as the focus of her eyes changed from someone of displeasure to someone who... wasn't. "Very well. Just try to keep in mind that she's been handling that position with outstanding work. I would appreciate it if you would handle her accordingly." "I'll keep that in mind, sir. By your leave?" 16


STAR TREK : FULL SPEED AHEAD

"Of course, Jesse." Jesse froze momentarily at being called by his given name. Then again, he knew Leone kept an informal relationship with her officers through some of the scuttlebutt he picked up. The problem was that his reaction to it left him annoyed more than anything else. "Thank you, sir," he nodded. To Hargreaves, "I'll see you later, Commander." "Commander," Hargreaves said with a slight inclination of her head. As soon as he left, Leone fixed her gaze on Hargreaves again. "Cut the shit, Trish. Why'd they send you?" Hargreaves' expression turned icy, as did her tone, "I prefer to be addressed by my rank, if it's all the same to you." "I asked you a question, Lieutenant Commander. Need I remind you of the difference in our rank?" "Not at all, Captain. A reminder is not necessary," she replied, every word laced with her menace. Leone folded her arms and leaned back against the padded bulkhead. "I'm waiting." "I am an investigator with the Inspector General's office, Captain. I am the officer assigned

17


MICHAEL D. GARCIA & A. J. GERTNER

to Starbase 310. I was ordered to conduct this investigation." "I would think, with your history, that you might consider recusing yourself from this assignment." "To recuse myself would be to deprive myself of giving you some payback with eleven years' interest." The captain lowered her voice. "I don't believe this." She sighed loudly. "The board of inquiry was pretty clear. You made a mistake. I corrected it." "And in doing so, you sunk my career as a starship officer. I had to transfer to a staff assignment in order to stay in the service and I ended up being passed over for promotion along with my classmates," hissed Hargreaves, though her tone matched Leone's. "Everyone in my class is either a captain or a commander. I'm the only one still holding a lieutenant commandership within Starfleet." Leone narrowed her eyes. "Sometimes, things work out for the best. You were a shitty starship officer." "Maybe so, Captain. But it's this shitty officer's hands in which your career now rests. And believe you me, you're in the deepest shit imaginable." Hargreaves shoved herself away from the table 18


STAR TREK : FULL SPEED AHEAD

forcefully. "If I were you, I'd start packing my things. By the time this ship returns to the Starbase, I will see to it personally that you're dragged off of it in disgrace." As she turned to leave, Leone called out, "Commander Hargreaves?" Hargreaves turned around, wearing a selfsatisfied smile. "You're going to beg me now?" "Not at all. I was merely going to point out that you did not request my leave before departing my presence," said Leone calmly. "As befits protocol." The lieutenant commander's expression changed from shock to one of quiet amusement. "Fine. Enjoy it while it lasts, Captain." She nearly curtsied as she asked, "May I have your permission to leave, now, pretty please?" Captain Leone stepped out from behind the table to stand toe-to-toe with the woman. She smiled for the benefit of the crew looking in their direction and issued her order through clenched teeth. "Get out of my sight, Commander."

19


MICHAEL D. GARCIA & A. J. GERTNER

Act II

Lieutenant Abigail A. Atherton stepped through the airlock leading into the USS Farragut from the Starbase, along with many others looking to board for one reason or another. Since the ship departed the Antares Ship Yards with a little over a hundred of its crew, over seven hundred people awaited its arrival. She looked down the long line and idly wondered if all seven hundred were now trying to board at the same time. "I don't think all of them are trying to get on board." The voice came from behind her, one she found to be soft and comforting. Abbie turned and found herself face to face with another lieutenant, also draped in the peacock blue Starfleet uniform. 20


STAR TREK : FULL SPEED AHEAD

The other lieutenant gave her a warm smile and stared at her with large, brown eyes beneath the feathery-looking black bangs of her hair. "I'm sorry, Lieutenant. It was just difficult to stand behind you and not hear your thoughts." "You're Betazoid?"Abbie asked the obvious. "Isira Otex, the new ship's counselor," replied the smiling woman. Abbie's eyes drifted down to take in the rest of her, and she noticed that unlike most other Betazoids she'd met in her short career, this one pushed the limits of Starfleet medical regulation. Although her face was lean-looking, her body was so generous as to be nearly out of shape. She accepted the counselor's proffered hand and shook it gingerly. "Pleasure to meet you. I'm Abigail Atherton, science officer." "But you prefer Abbie, right?" Having someone read your mind on a whim became unnerving in record time. With a wary tone, Abbie replied, "Yeah." Isira offered a guilty expression. "Sorry, it's hard to turn it off." "No, it's fine." "And lying doesn't help."

21


MICHAEL D. GARCIA & A. J. GERTNER

Abbie pressed her lips together and regarded Isira with a sidelong glance. "It's difficult to deal with telepaths." "Just say what's on your mind. And I'll try to filter out the rest." "So... are you a doctor?" Isira nodded. "Of Xenopsychology, yes." Abbie wondered, "Would you prefer to be called 'Doctor?'" "If you feel more comfortable with that, sure. But my friends call me 'Isira,'" the counselor said while she gave a wry grin. "Otherwise, 'Counselor' will do. I haven't been called 'Doctor' since I graduated from university." "You joined Starfleet right out of school?" "Of course. It was either that or set up private practice on Betazed, or teach, I guess." "I couldn't wait to join, either," admitted Abbie. "I nearly enlisted, but my father talked me into staying in school and getting my degree so I could become an officer." Isira smiled wistfully. "I'm sorry," she said, reaching out to grab Abbie's arm gently. "How long ago?"

22


STAR TREK : FULL SPEED AHEAD

"Almost a month, now," replied Abbie without thinking, shrugging off the woman's touch. "I was an only child and he was beginning to show signs of Forrester-Trent Syndrome. I've just come back from settling his affairs." Isira said nothing, but nodded understanding of the rest of the story.

her

Abbie recalled the bitter details in a flash, which is how she preferred to think of them. How her father opted to end of his own life, due to the onset of the debilitating disease and its lack of response to treatment. How he matter-of-factly announced his decision to do so and gave her a final list of errands to run. How her mother made sure she knew that she went to great lengths to attend the funeral in the middle of her busy schedule. "If you need to talk..." "I'll be sure to call on you," finished Abbie flatly. It was clear to both she had no intention of doing so. The line for entry began to move a little more briskly as more people were put on the airlock to process visitors to the ship. When Abbie reached the front of the line, she saw that everyone was presenting orders to one of the commissioned officers standing within the Farragut side of the airlock. 23


MICHAEL D. GARCIA & A. J. GERTNER

A security petty officer first class wearing her long blonde hair in a tight French braid nodded to her. "Welcome aboard, Lieutenant. Are you coming aboard to join?" "I am," replied Abbie, already digging through her personal items for the PADD containing her orders. "May I check your orders, please, sir?" As soon as the petty officer said it, Abbie found the PADD and pulled it from the duffel. "Here you are." The woman accepted it and scanned the display quickly. "Lieutenant Atherton, I have your name flagged by Commander Kincaid, the executive officer. He would like to see you as soon as possible." "Flagged, huh?" "Yes, sir." "I guess I shouldn't be surprised by that. Thank you, Petty Officer...?" "Master-at-Arms First, sir," woman. "My name is Laurence."

corrected

the

"Of course," replied Abbie with a grin. "Thank you." Time was of the essence for the both of them. As soon as the conversation deemed over, both women immediately turned back to their duty; the 24


STAR TREK : FULL SPEED AHEAD

petty officer to receiving the next person and Abbie to find the location of Commander Kincaid.

A The Nebula-class multi-mission heavy cruisers exhibited different color schemes. Every ship within Starfleet made use of the full spectrum of color available to the naked eye to give each ship a sense of identity. Farragut's navy blue carpets carried the standard Starfleet taupe trim that spread out over the curved corridors of the saucer section. Unlike his previous assignment, the Ambassador-class USS Valdemar, the smooth black interface panels ran the length of the corridors in between the upper and lower portions of the bulkhead access covers. He fought the temptation to play with the LCARS panel and continued on his way toward the turbolift. With all of the new personnel coming aboard, the wait for the turbolift seemed longer than normal. On any other day, the lift might have arrived much sooner than the minute and a half he spent standing before the doors. Once the doors parted, the lift's car presented a full house, though he managed to squeeze himself in amongst the nearly a dozen people standing inside. "Main Bridge," he ordered, adding his destination to the queue. He could have used his new authority to override the queue and have the lift take him to his destination first. The problem 25


MICHAEL D. GARCIA & A. J. GERTNER

with such selfishness, he decided, would be eleven sour opinions of the new executive officer spread out amongst a crew of eight hundred-fifty people. Even on a ship of this size, gossip traveled faster than warp speed. Instead, he exercised patience and smiled at the people coming off, giving the departing officers a respectful nod as they came abreast of him. He lost track of time when the doors finally parted to reveal the aft stations on the bridge. The crowd parted for him and he gave them his thanks for doing so before stepping out and leaving them behind. The design of the Nebula-class provided the sharing of modules with some of the other, newer classes of ship. The Galaxy-class explorers featured a bridge module similar to this, one he had personally seen aboard the starship USS Odyssey. Though, Odyssey's colors had been a deep sea green with beige trim. The standard watch while in port appeared to be maintained, he noted with approval. Three people at the key consoles, with the officer of the deck within earshot in case their attention was required. What was unusual was the chief warrant officer at the tactical station. There were not a whole lot of warrant officers serving within Starfleet, as many opted to attain commissions. He 26


STAR TREK : FULL SPEED AHEAD

decided to make himself known to that person, as warrants were highly sought-after experts in their designated fields. As he stepped down toward the trio of command chairs in the center of the bridge, he noticed a strikingly beautiful woman seated in the center seat. Her two-piece mustard Starfleet uniform managed to diminish a majority of her curves, but not by much. He doubted any garment she'd wear could hide her obvious sexuality from anyone with eyes. The two solid and one hollow pip on the right side of the neck told him that she might be the lieutenant commander he wanted. "Commander Elannis?" he asked, standing before her. Her heterochromatic eyes lifted up from the PADD in her hands to peer into his soul. "Yes?" He momentarily lost his mental balance as the weight of her attractiveness hit him in full force. He recovered himself as quickly as possible, even managing a charming smile of his own. "I'm Commander Jesse Kincaid." She knew that before he said; he could tell. Her eyes betrayed her recognition of his features before she returned them to her PADD as he introduced himself. "I assume you're here to relieve me of my acting duties?" 27


MICHAEL D. GARCIA & A. J. GERTNER

Though her tone suggested joviality, it was clear she held a little resentment at his presence. Their most recent incursion might have been classified, but it was clear that Elannis bonded with the position. Remembering the captain's words, he decided to take a gentle approach. "With your approval, of course," Jesse said with a grin. "I was hoping you could bring me up to speed, first." "I am aware that you accessed the declassified logs," she replied, rising from the captain's chair. "I'm sure you're as up to speed as you're going to get." No fooling her, he realized. "I suppose that's true." "Then I'm ready to be relieved, sir," she said, invoking the traditional phrase. "I relieve you, sir," he responded in kind. Ariel nodded. "I stand relieved. Computer," she called out, waiting for the acknowledgment sound, "note in the ship's log this stardate, Commander Kincaid has assumed his position as executive officer." The computer's soft feminine voice responded, "Acknowledged." She handed over her PADD. "Starbase Operations is fitting us with a tactical pod for our 28


STAR TREK : FULL SPEED AHEAD

upcoming mission. Petra's assigned an engineering team to oversee the installation." As he accepted the PADD, Jesse recalled the data from memory. "A tactical pod gives us eight torpedo tubes and an additional six phaser banks." His eyes drifted down to the latest ship's status report. "Yeah," she responded. He bristled at the lack of respect in her tone. There was no 'sir' or even a 'Commander' within her phrase. Captain Leone ran an informal ship, indeed. However, as the executive officer, he would be placed in charge with the overall discipline of the crew. He wouldn't chastise her in front of the other officers, but he made a mental note to bring this up at the next meeting of the senior staff. "All right. How long until they're finished?" "Three hours, and then another hour for the tactical systems test." "Four hours, give or take thirty minutes, I'm sure." The doors to the forward turbolift opened and out came Lieutenant Abbie Atherton. "I'm sorry I'm late, Commander," she said as soon as she saw him. "I had to wait ages for a turbolift that didn't already have a herd inside." Her eyes drifted over to Ariel in surprise. 29


MICHAEL D. GARCIA & A. J. GERTNER

Jesse's eyes lit up at the sight of the science officer and he even smiled. "No problem, Lieutenant. I'm glad that you made it at all." He gestured toward Ariel, "This is Lieutenant Commander Elannis, the ship's chief of operations." "Lieutenant Atherton, sir. A pleasure to be working with you," said Abbie, extending a hand. "Likewise," replied Ariel. They shook hands briefly. Abbie continued to look at her with some unreadable expression before Jesse caught her attention by clearing his throat. "When did you return to active duty, Lieutenant?" The chief warrant officer at the tactical station interrupted to report, "Incoming communication from Starbase Ops, sirs." Ariel automatically responded, "Thank you, Mister Reynolds. On screen." The visage of the Vulcan commanding officer of Starbase 310 appeared upon the screen. The sheer size of the screen made Rear Admiral T'Cirya loom over the bridge as she gave the barest nod and greeted, "Good morning, Commanders." "Good morning, sir," replied Jesse quickly, hoping to cut off any response from Ariel. He

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needed to assert himself quickly. "What can we do for you?" "Your mission to join the starship Phoenix on patrol of the border has been rescinded until further notice," T'Cirya informed them, in what was almost a barely perceived tone of apology. "Complete the installation of the tactical pod and stand by for a new assignment. Please be sure to inform Captain Leone of this change in orders." "Of course, sir," Kincaid started to say. Ariel’s question cut him off, abruptly. "Admiral, is something wrong?" Abbie blanched at the lieutenant commander's insertion of herself into the conversation. "I fear that the preliminary reports from your investigator have prevented any tactical assignments for the time being. I am attempting to find more information from Starfleet Command, but there is a subspace delay with which to contend." Jesse maintained his composure through his shock at the casual discussion being conducted before him. Admirals usually weren't given to entertaining questions from subordinate officers unless they were ranked captain or higher. Having a third-in-command lieutenant commander question the change in orders from such a senior officer was 31


MICHAEL D. GARCIA & A. J. GERTNER

unheard of from his perspective. "Uh, we've taken enough of the admiral's time, Commander," he tried to end the conversation quickly. T'Cirya stared at him. "It's all right, Commander Kincaid," she said in a colder tone. "Commander Elannis' question was valid." He blanched at the reprisal. "I apologize, sir. I meant no offense." Ariel again talked over him. "I’ll let Krys know, Admiral. Would you happen to know if we'll be utilized in any fashion, or are we to be content with cooling our heels in port?" "I will find a use for Farragut, Commander, rest assured." "Understood, sir." The admiral deemed the conversation completed with a simple nod. "T'Cirya, out." "I'll go let her know," said Ariel as she started for the turbolift. "Commander Elannis," called Kincaid quickly. When she turned to look at him, he pointed toward the observation lounge with two of his fingers. "A moment of your time, please." He shared a brief look with Abbie to show her that the situation with Ariel would soon be rectified.

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Act III

"Please state your name, rank, position and assignment for the log." "Nieves, Wilson. Lieutenant. Chief of Security, USS Farragut." Commander Hargreaves regarded the man seated across from her within the conference room allocated for her investigation. Nieves served as the chief of security on Potemkin under then-Captain T'Cirya. Leone also served aboard Potemkin, as the executive officer. Undoubtedly, Nieves' relationship with Leone would cloud his judgment, she determined after sizing him up.

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"Lieutenant," she began, "as you may or may not be aware, the Inspector General's office is investigating to determine what, if any, violations of Starfleet regulations occurred while Farragut operated within the territory of the Tristnor Hegemony." "I understand," replied Wilson with a nod. "I require direct answers to my questions." "Commander, should I have counsel present?" "These aren't formal proceedings, but if you feel counsel is warranted, you may request it and we can reconvene when your counsel has had some time to prepare," said Hargreaves. "However, it would be difficult to find counsel with high enough clearance to read the mission reports." Nieves' expression never wavered, to her dismay. "I take your meaning, sir. I do not require counsel. Please proceed." Hargreaves' PADD came into view. Her fingers touched it to access some information. "On Stardate 43222, you were listed as being on leave. Why were you aboard Farragut?" "I arrived at the Antares Ship Yards on Stardate 43220, along with Lieutenant Commander Ariel Elannis," answered Nieves evenly. "My purpose was

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to attend the change of command ceremony for Captain Leone, which I did on Stardate 43222." "Shortly after, however, the ship was scheduled to conduct warp trials and report for duty here at Starbase 310. Why were you carried on the ship's roster as part of the senior staff rather than as a passenger?" "As a gesture, Captain Leone asked me to stand in as the chief of security. Lieutenant Hunter, the appointed officer, was waiting here for Farragut to arrive and assume his duties." "Which he never did." There it was. The first crack in the hard shell. He showed a brief sign of discomfort with the question, but recovered quickly. "I regret that Lieutenant Hunter was reassigned, but with all due respect, we were competing for the same job. I do not regret wanting to be here for my colleagues, putting me in a position to usurp the position from him. All things being equal, had I been awarded this berth in the first place, I would not have waited for the ship at Starbase 310." That answered her next question; whether or not he felt it fair. She moved on. "On Stardate 43224.75, you made contact with the first Tristnor ship. You were ordered to surrender and prepare for boarding, according to the ship's log." 35


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"Yes, sir." "Captain Leone instead gave the order to fire." "Not immediately, Commander," replied Nieves with a raise of his hand. "She made several attempts to dissuade them. She stressed that our mission was one of peace. They were unconvinced and maintained their hostile position." "You exaggerate, Lieutenant. She informed them once prior to giving the order to fire, unless Captain Leone's own recollection is false. Is that what you're telling me?" Another crack. He sure didn't like the implication of calling his captain a liar, did he? "No, sir," he said, coldly. "I did not say anything of the sort. I respectfully submit that you're drawing your own conclusions instead of searching for fact." She ignored his barb. "Captain Leone ordered weapons fire upon first contact with a new species, is that correct?" "Only after they fired, first." "Their primary weapon had already been determined as useless against Federation technology. You believe that such a fruitless attack warranted a disproportionate response?" "Their primary weapon was useless, yes, but-"

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She interrupted him, hoping to throw him offbalance. "Thank you, Lieutenant." "With all due respect, sir, you're not allowing me to state all the facts." "You are here to answer my questions, Lieutenant. Your protest is noted." Hargreaves continued, "In your own report, a wide-band transmission detailed a kill-on-sight order from the Hegemony central command as a result of that action. In short, Captain Leone's actions plunged the Federation into a direct conflict with an alien race it knew very little about." "With all due respect, Commander, that's not how I see it." "Did you falsify your report then?" Nieves glowered. "Is this an investigation or a prosecution, sir?" "I beg your pardon?" "I'm a security officer, sir, so I've done my fair share of law enforcement," he replied. "I do not recall asking for your service record, Lieutenant. Kindly keep your responses to answering my questions directly and refrain from offering your own speculation." "If only you could do the same." 37


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She narrowed her eyes. "Consider it a direct order, Lieutenant." Wilson rose from his seat. "I have nothing more to say on this subject, Commander." Hargreaves did the same, putting her hands flat on the table's surface and leaning forward to address him. "I'll decide when this is over. Sit down." "If you have a problem with me, I suggest you take it up with my commanding officer." Wilson stopped short of the door and gave a parting shot, "Good luck with your investigation, Commander."

A As soon as they entered the observation lounge, Ariel raised her hand. "Before you begin, I want to apologize for shortchanging you like that on the bridge. It won't happen again." Taken aback by her sudden admission, Kincaid took a moment to rephrase his initial comment. “I appreciate you saying that." "T'Cirya, Krys, Wilson, and I all served together on Potemkin. We're very familiar with one another," she explained, running over anything else he might say. "I realize that might put you in a position of being on the outside looking in and I didn't help matters any by talking over you."

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"No, you didn't," he agreed, putting a hand on the back of one of the chairs as she spoke. "I'm very well aware that you and the captain have a long history of shared service, but my position was confirmed by the captain this morning. I intend on carrying out my duties, regardless of whether or not you have a close working relationship with the old lady." Ariel smirked. "I dare you to call her that to her face." It was a figure of speech used by many Starfleet officers. Referring to the captain as either the "old man" or the "old lady;" no disrespect was intended. In fact, to some it was a term of endearment under the right circumstances. In spite of the usage, he blushed at her words. "And that's another thing." "What?" "I don't know you. But you speak to me with such casual familiarity, I find it very disrespectful." "I'm Ariel Elannis, you're Jesse Kincaid." "Commander Jesse Kincaid," he emphasized his rank. "I would prefer to be addressed by my rank or title, until such time as we develop a close working relationship. Am I understood?" "The mating call of the candy-ass," she muttered. "Excuse me?" His tone was icy. 39


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"When an officer of superior rank underlines his request with 'am I understood' or some other variation, Krys calls that the 'mating call of the candy-ass.' As in a candy-assed officer." "I know what it means," he said, letting some of his temper flare. "Am I to understand that you're referring to me as such?" Ariel regarded him with unimpressed eyes. "Permission to speak freely?" "I think you've already been doing that. That's why we're having this conversation. But go ahead. I find myself curious to hear what you think you would need freedom to say." "I would say, then, that it remains to be seen. I've served in Starfleet for nearly twenty years, now, include four as enlisted before earning my commission at OCS. Around here, we don't have to rely on our rank to enforce authority. You may think I have contempt for you, but I think you might've forgotten the first rule of command at the Academy, Commander." Kincaid turned his head, but kept his eyes on her. "And what's that?" She stepped in close to him, letting her scent fill his nostrils and smirked as she saw him breath in and relax. With her voice barely above a whisper,

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Ariel leaned in and told him, "Attitude reflects leadership." He took in a deep breath to steady himself before responding. "You're determined to make this difficult, I see.� She looked down the front of his uniform, before looking back up at his face. "I'm definitely making it pretty hard, apparently." "Your... heritage..." he started to say, slowly, trying to remain in control of his emotional response. "Is one of my personal weapons, Commander," she finished for him. "I thought perhaps you needed a demonstration." Jesse worked hard to regain control of his senses after the blitzkrieg-like assault. "Stand down, Commander," he ordered. Ariel shrugged, taking a step back from him. "If you ever use a weapon, pheromonal or otherwise, against me again, Lieutenant Commander, I’ll have you brought up on charges." He straightened and stared at her directly. "If you disrespect me in front of others, I won't hesitate to snap you back in front of the crew. You'll use my rank or the appellation 'sir' when you address me. Maybe one day you'll earn the right to something 41


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else, but right now, I don't see that happening. Am I understood?” Ariel was rigid as she bit out the response, "Yes, sir." "Excellent. You’re dismissed."

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Act IV

"'Convoy duty,'" repeated Leone as she spoke to T'Cirya within her ready room. "You're pulling us off the border to escort freighters to Deep Space Four?" After the news of the reassignment made it to her ears, she had demanded an audience with her. The rear admiral, seated on the other side of the desk, merely nodded. "That is correct." "May I ask why?" "The Inspector General's office-" "I'm not about to go rogue with Starfleet hardware, sir. You, of all people, should know that."

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T'Cirya continued speaking, in spite of Leone's interruption, "-feels that due to the investigation, Farragut should be placed on low-priority assignments for the duration. My assessment of the situation is irrelevant. This order came from Starfleet Command, directly, Captain." The news of Command's involvement in this investigation put the whole matter into perspective for Leone. She would have to investigate things on her own, from her end, and without T'Cirya's help. She changed the subject, "Who will replace us on the border?" "I've ordered Majestic to take your place for the time being." Leone frowned, her brow furrowing. "I'll bet Ben Maxwell will be pleased by that." "He did express his annoyance at having to replace a heavy cruiser with a destroyer, yes. However, as you have your orders, he has his." "Very well. I will take my heavily-armed cruiser on the milk run, until the investigation is complete." "Those are your orders," said T'Cirya, matter-offactly. "I trust you will cooperate with the investigator." "I'll do my best, although she seems to have already determined my guilt." 44


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"I am aware of Commander Hargreaves' service record. I brought her record to the attention of Starfleet Command and they stressed that she be placed on the investigation team." Leone's eyes widened. "What?" "There was no room for interpretation in their response and I attempted to contact the Inspector General himself to no avail." That was T'Cirya's way of trying to help her out. Leone nodded, but did not smile. "I appreciate that, sir." "Unnecessary," replied the admiral as she stood from her seat. "I was merely attempting to assure you an impartial analysis of your wayward mission." Leone rose along with her. "Sir, I..." T'Cirya raised her hand and inclined her head. "You're welcome, Captain." The captain took in a deep breath and released it. "We'll leave in the morning, then, sir." "Very well. I will take my leave, then." "I appreciate you taking the time to see me, sir," said the captain as she escorted the admiral onto the bridge. Mister Reynolds still manned the tactical station, while Greg had the conn. 45


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T'Cirya's features remained unchanged, but the eyes betrayed their mirth. "I would not pass up the opportunity to tour your new command, Captain." Leone grinned. "Of course." "Hargreaves to Lieutenant Aspinall," called the investigator from below decks. Both the captain and the admiral turned their heads to Greg as he responded with a furtive sigh and slap of his commbadge. "Aspinall, here." "Please report Hargreaves, out."

to

conference

room

two.

Leone tilted her head toward the turbolift. "Go ahead, Greg. I'll take the conn."

A "One of the most difficult aspects of fitting in on a new ship is reaching out and making new friends," began Isira. "I'm very glad to see you have no difficulty in that respect, Lieutenant." "You can call me Abbie when we're not on duty, Counselor," Abbie responded. "Like I said, I didn't want to leave it like how it was in the receiving line. I'm not looking for any counseling, but I wouldn't mind getting to know you better."

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Isira smiled warmly. "Thank you, Abbie." She leaned in and in a voice barely above a whisper, she admitted, "It's even more difficult for counselors." "Yeah, I'll bet. Everyone's probably thinking you're taking mental notes about their reactions." Abbie scanned the dining area and pointed out a spot near the windows. "How about that table?" she suggested. "Lead on." After taking their seats, Isira glanced briefly at the exterior of the docking port before turning her attention to her dining companion. "And who's to say that I'm not taking mental notes about everyone. I mean, it's..." She cut herself off. "Incoming." One of the lounge's wait staff approached the table with an empty tray and a PADD. "Welcome to Ten-Forward, ladies. Can I get you something to drink?" "That's handy, knowing someone's coming without having to see," Abbie noted with a halfsmile of amusement. To the waiter, she smiled more fully. "While I'd love a real beer, I know that's not possible and I'd rather not sully my tastebuds with a fake. How about some unsweetened iced tea, not too cold and no ice cubes, please." Isira added quickly, "Altair water for me. At room temperature, thanks." 47


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When the waiter moved off, Abbie returned to the conversation as if they were not interrupted. "Everyone's always taking mental notes of each other. But few of us get to take as much direct action as you. Of course, they don't realize you're probably more likely to keep their confidences and not less." The counselor frowned deeply and then appeared completely distracted by her midsection; her hands rubbed at it briefly before she realized she was calling attention to herself. "Uh, yeah, right." Abbie looked at the counselor closely for a moment, then back at the waiter who was already approaching again. "Did he think you were fat?" she asked bluntly. Isira waved her hand back and forth to indicate she did not wish to discuss it right then. She looked up at the waiter and smiled sweetly as he laid out their drinks. "Thank you very much." Abbie waited until he left again before noting, "If he did, he's a jerk. I love to eat, honestly. If I didn't eat primarily replicated food, I'm pretty sure I'd be thirty kilos heavier." "No one can help their surface thoughts, Abbie. I try not to hold it against them too much," Isira said plainly. "And I try to workout when I can, but I love 48


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to eat, too. But I think your metabolism is treating you better than mine is." "If his first thought was about your weight, then yeah, you can hold it against him," Abbie disagreed. "And it took forever for my metabolism to do its job, trust me. When I turned eleven, I got the boobs and hips I have now and my stomach was trying desperately to keep up. Even now, it's harder for me than it might appear. Don't feel like you have to curb your appetite or anything like that around me. Believe me, I understand." Isira reached over to touch Abbie's hand. "Thank you. I skipped breakfast this morning and I'm starving!" "Let's chow down then," Abbie invited with a grin. She looked to find the waiter again to signal him back over to take their orders. Isira's eyes moved toward where the waiter returned, but stopped half-way when the doors opened to admit a new visitor to the lounge. "Speaking of surface impressions..." she let her words trail off. "Is that our new executive officer?" Abbie looked in that direction and chuckled. "To you, he's new," she confirmed before standing and waving to get his attention. "Come join us, sir," she called out.

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Her grin was pasted to her face as Abbie made the invitation, but Isira's eyes betrayed her panic when the two women made contact. Through her smile, she managed to get out a quick, "Holy crap." "He was raised by a single mother on a frontier colony world. Very deferential to women, very nice. Don't worry," Abbie reassured her, sotto voce. "Yeah, how many psych courses did you take?" Isira replied in kind before Kincaid approached earshot. "Hi, Commander. Welcome." "Jesse, this is Counselor Isira Otex. Isira, this is Commander Jesse Kincaid," Abbie made the introductions. "I was just telling her that you're like an older brother to me. You know, if I had to call my older brother 'sir'," she added jokingly. Kincaid nodded a silent greeting to Abbie, before turning his attention to Isira, "A pleasure to meet you, Counselor. I hope I'm not interrupting anything?" "Likewise," Isira said quietly, holding her smile. "If you don't have any plans, sir, you're more than welcome to join us." "'More than welcome?'" Kincaid laughed, then turned to Abbie. "Glad to see some people aboard are happy to see me. Thank you, I'll accept."

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"It's a new assignment. We're all still working the kinks out," Abbie replied sympathetically as she retook her seat. Kincaid waited for both women to sit down before he took his. "Funny you should mention 'kink,' Abbie. I'll tell you about it later." Isira pressed her lips together pensively, then shook her head. "Anyway, let's order some food, shall we?" After their food orders were taken down by their waiter, Kincaid asked Abbie, "I hope you don't mind me asking, but how did everything go? How are you doing?" He tilted his head away from Isira slightly, in case Abbie did not want to discuss it in front of her. "She knows," Abbie mentioned quickly, giving Isira a tight smile. "Oh, sorry," he amended. He offered Isira a sheepish grin. "I wasn't sure." "But it went fine, I guess. Everything's all wrapped up, the house is handed off. Thank you for the bouquet, by the way. The tulips were lovely." Kincaid leaned in slightly. "It was the least I could do." Abbie shrugged. "Honestly, like I told you, I don't think your presence would have helped. My 51


MICHAEL D. GARCIA & A. J. GERTNER

mother showed up and it was all I could do to handle her without her trying to impress my friends." She changed the subject slightly. "Abernathy sent me a bouquet too. Tiger lilies and regular ones. And later, he sent me a delivery order from the best burger place in town. Made me laugh." Kincaid gave her a grin. "Still giving you the full court press, huh?" "If we were ever in the same star system, I might give him a chance," Abbie replied with a chuckle. "Ugh, that's such a lie," she added. "But I like the attention," she revealed freely to Isira. "Who doesn't like to be wooed?" Isira agreed quickly with a shrug. "Forgive me for prying, but have you two served together someplace before now?" Kincaid wondered. "You seem unusually open with each other." Abbie shook her head. "No, but she got a good read on me in the line to get on the ship because I was thinking about those things, and so it seems silly to pretend she's not aware of them. She's the ship's counselor; she's not going to go and talk about it with anyone." "Oh, of course," Kincaid said. "Any telepathic friend of Abbie's..." 52


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Isira merely raised her water in a mock toast toward him and continued to listen to the conversation. Kincaid added, "And I might say that making friends so quickly after signing on is a trademark Atherton move. I'm just happy to be along for the ride." "Actually, I get it from the maternal side, so it's a Mercer move. Except there was no cleavage flashing or back-handed compliments," Abbie replied dryly. "I don't really get along with my mom," she added for Isira's benefit. Kincaid chuckled. "Now you've got the counselor's attention, talking about the parents like that." Isira blinked a few times before realizing that she was listening a bit harder than she intended. "Sorry. Occupational hazard. Parent-child relationships are like chocolate to us; completely irresistible." "Oh, here's a primer on my to wet your appetite," Abbie replied blithely. "Emotionally distant father, absent self-absorbed mother, no siblings," she ticked off and finished just as the waiter arrived with a tray of food. "Let's eat!"

A 53


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"That sounds like a hell of an interrogation to me." Later that evening, within the lounge on deck ten, four of the nine senior officers sat around a table in one of the dark corners of the dimly-lit room. Three of them looked toward Greg, who just finished recounting his experience with Commander Hargreaves within the conference room. The helmsman chuckled. "Yeah, I thought I did very well, but I'm sure I'm going to be called at any moment for round two." "As amusing a story as that is, I do not find anything illogical about this investigation," said Doctor Sovera, sipping at a glass of water while the other enjoyed something stronger. "The Inspector General's office is entitled to discover whether the captain acted improperly." Wilson looked at the doctor with an accusatory glare. "You think there's merit to their case?" "Not at all. I was merely pointing out that they are acting within their province. I found the captain's actions to be laudable under the mitigating circumstances of the predicament, though perhaps trending toward the unconventional."

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Ariel snorted. "Perhaps, yes. Anyway, I can't wait for her to get to me." "I'd love to sell tickets to that show," muttered Greg. "Maybe Wilson can make the popcorn or-" "Let's talk about something else. I don't want to think about the investigation anymore tonight," Wilson interrupted. "Anyone seen the new senior officers and had more than two minutes to speak to them?" he wondered. Ariel smirked, but said nothing. Greg mentioned, "I saw the new science officer. She has a nice-" Wilson sputtered, "Whoa!" "Voice, Wilson... I was going to say voice, thank you." "I'm just saying you need to take a look at people beyond what they look like. Scuttlebutt says that she's got a high decoration for valor during the Tzenkethi War. As a science officer." "I was going by what she sounds like, but I get what you're saying," Greg retorted. "She is pretty easy on the eyes, though." Sovera informed them, "I have spoken with the new counselor. She is highly qualified."

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"That's it?" asked Greg. He turned his head back toward Wilson, "By the way, she's another one who's easy on the eyes." Ariel scoffed. "Keep it in your pants, Greg." Greg was mid-sip as she spoke, and managed to point his finger at her incredulously before he finally swallowed. "Look who's talking!" "You're lucky your last name is Aspinall," Ariel riposted. "Otherwise, I'd have you scrubbing my toilet for a month." Greg grimaced. "In that case, my middle name is Aspinall, too." "The new XO seems to be pretty straight-laced, huh?" Wilson noted quickly. He looked at Ariel. "I heard from Andy Reynolds that you two had a little bit of a tiff on the bridge earlier." Ariel's jovial mood ended at the mention of the altercation, and she set her drink down on the table. "It's fine. We had a chat in private and cleared up some misunderstandings." "That is an unusual result for you, Commander," Sovera said, her tone very dry. "The typical outcome of such a conversation generally involves a visit to sickbay." It was clear that neither Wilson nor Greg were buying the explanation, as they peered at Ariel from their seats. 56


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In response, Ariel shrugged. "Kincaid's not your typical officer. Life in a new assignment isn't always smooth, at first." Wilson turned to Sovera and deadpanned, "Our little girl is growing up."

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Act V

As she stepped out from her ready room the next morning, Leone regarded the bridge with a smile as everyone manned their stations for the first time since the ship completed its refit. "Listen up," she announced. "We're escorting a convoy of three freighters from Starbase 310 to Deep Space Four. They're already in formation near the inner marker, where we'll join with them and provide protection. Jesse?" Commander Kincaid sat in the executive officer's position and visibly stiffened at the use of his first name. "Sir?" "Is that new pod attached to our hull for real or is it just decoration?" 58


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"It is online, sir," he replied as he stood to address Petra. "Mister Bartlet?" "I'm finishing up the last of the diagnostic cycles, now, sir," said Petra, from the engineering console. "It will be fully operational before we reach the outer marker." Wilson grunted, "It's too bad we won't be able to test it on something." "The pod's staying with us for a good long while, Willie. I'm sure we'll be able to find something to shoot at, eventually," noted Ariel as she turned around to face him. Leone moved toward the empty center seat and sat down. "Let's not get all trigger-happy, people. Jesse, would you please take us out of dock and into formation with the freighters?" He expelled a breath and then nodded. "Aye, sir. I have the conn. Mister Nieves, signal Starbase Operations for clearance to depart." "Aye, Commander," replied Wilson quickly. He began to speak quietly to his console. "Mister Elannis, signal all decks to make preparations for departure and clear the airlock for sealing."

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As Ariel acknowledged the order, Wilson announced, "Departure clearance granted, Commander." "Lieutenant Bartlet, bring all shipboard energy outputs to condition green status and stand by to switch us over to internal power." "Airlock cleared," reported Ariel. "Standing by to seal airlock and clear all mooring beams." Bartlet added, "Warp core and fusion reactor energy at normal levels, Commander." Kincaid nodded, relaxing slightly. "Seal the airlock and switch us over to internal power." "Airlock sealed," Ariel told him, immediately. The overhead illumination gave the barest of flickers before Petra announced that they had switched from the Starbase's power feed to the energy generated by the ship's fusion generators. "Clear all moorings." "Moorings cleared." "Helm, take us to one hundred meters from the port and then reverse thrust toward the spacedoors." Greg keyed in the commands as quickly as possible, since their new first officer had taken to putting his left foot on the base of his console and 60


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stood over him. "One hundred meters, aye, sir. Engaging reverse thrusters, now." "Rear angle on main viewer." The viewscreen flashed briefly to show the one of the sets of massive doors. They began to open as Farragut approached under its maneuvering thrusters rather than the impulse drive. By the time they reached the departure lane both doors slid open to rest flush against the outer hull of the base. "We're in the lane," reported Greg. "Thirty seconds to outer perimeter." Kincaid pushed away from the flight controller's station to return to his seat next to Captain Leone. "Stand by to engage impulse drive." "Standing by." "Mister Nieves, secure from condition blue and set condition green for cruising mode." Wilson nodded from above him. "Aye, sir." The alert status indicator on the main bridge ceased its cobalt flash and quieted. "Ship secured from condition blue, Commander." Open space greeted them as they passed through the doors. "Helm, come to relative bearing one-eight-zero Mark zero and take us to the outer marker at one-half impulse power."

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"Making my course one-eight-zero Mark zero relative, aye, sir," replied Greg. The screen showed the stars angling around as the ship's bow and stern traded places. "Speed is now one-half impulse power." The Starbase on the main view loomed for a moment before retreating as the ship sped away from it. "Forward angle on main viewer," ordered Kincaid. "The lead freighter is the SS Cat's Meow," Captain Leone informed them, "Captain Paul Longshore is the owner and operator." The scan readings on Ariel's console returned immediately. She noted, "Looks like three Pumaclass carriers." "Lead ship is hailing," reported Wilson. Kincaid nodded. "On screen." The trio of ships disappeared to give way to the view of a human male wearing civilian clothing. His shaggy mop of blonde hair covered the tops of his eyes and he had to tilt his head back slightly to get a good look at them. "Captain Leone, I presume?" Leone slipped from her chair and onto her feet as she replied with a smile, "You presume correctly. Is this Captain Longshore?" 62


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"In the flesh, ma'am," he replied with a nod. "Paul Manfield Longshore, owner and operator of the Crazy Eights Transport Company and master and commander of the Cat's Meow, at your service." Leone decided to forgo the correction of the honorific; he meant well by it. "Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Captain." "Likewise, ma'am," he grinned. "We've been contracted by the Federation for a shipment of hazardous materials to Deep Space Four. We're mighty glad you decided to join us." "Your HazMat code?" "Code X-Ray-One." With the exception of Captain Leone, everyone tensed at the mention of the worst kind of hazardous material the Federation classified. X-Ray level one indicated that whatever his cargo was, it was highly volatile and posed a dangerous threat to Federation citizens. Leone simply nodded; Admiral T'Cirya made her aware of the danger in the mission briefing, but she wanted her crew to know as well. Better they heard it from the horse's mouth directly. "All of your freighters are classified similarly?" she asked.

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"Correct, Captain. Due to the instability of our cargo, we recommend warp five for the convoy speed." Leone sighed, but gave her assent with a inclination of her head. "Agreed. As soon as we clear the Starbase's outer marker, we will proceed at warp five." She approached Ariel's seated position and declared, "Lieutenant Commander Elannis will be the convoy liaison officer. Please contact her should you require anything." Longshore's eyes drifted toward Ariel, then back up at the captain. "Will do. We'll await your signal to proceed." "You'll have it momentarily, Captain. Farragut, out." As soon as the viewscreen blinked to show the freighters, she turned around to return to her seat. "Jesse, let's get underway." "Aye, sir. Helm?" Greg nodded. "We're now in formation with the freighters, Commander." "Signal the convoy we're approaching the outer marker at full impulse power." Wilson reported, "Signal sent, sir." "The freighters are moving to maintain their distance." Ariel tapped in a few more commands.

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"Recommend diamond formation for maximum coverage." Kincaid stood from his seat again. "Agreed. Mister Nieves?" "Updating the convoy, sir." Wilson waited patiently for their response. "They're moving into position, now." "Confirmed," replied Ariel. Greg announced, "We're clearing the outer marker." "Stand by for warp speed, Mister Bartlet." Petra called from the rear of the bridge, "Aye, sir. Warp speed available on all modes." "Lay in a course for Deep Space Four at warp five." "Course laid in, sir." "Execute." Greg replied, "Engaging. Speed is now warp five, sir." Leone leaned over and smiled, "Well done, Jesse." Kincaid lowered his voice, but did not return the smile. "Thank you, sir. And might I ask a favor?"

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"What is it?" asked the captain, keeping her voice low. "I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't use my first name in front of the crew, sir." "Yeah..." replied Leone with a half-smirk. "We haven't really had The Talk, have we?" "No, sir." "Ariel, you have the bridge."

A Within the privacy of the ready room, Captain Leone had the service record of her new executive officer in front of her as he sat across from her with a expectant expression upon his face. As they moved into the room from the bridge, she said nothing to him. And as she suspected, he was a good enough of an officer not to speak out of turn, especially since his captain requested his presence in the first place. "Let's get the most pressing matter out of the way, first," Leone began. "You don't like being called by your first name? What would you prefer?" "I don't mean any disrespect, sir-" Leone interrupted, "Neither do I." "I just... I mean, no one's ever called me by that name since I left home for the Academy." 66


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"Do you prefer Miguel?" "My middle name? Uh, no, sir... I've always been referred to as my rank and last name." The captain tilted her head. "And your friends?" "They call me Jess." "So, you prefer me to call you Jess?" A brief look of consternation flashed on his features before he composed himself. "With all due respect, sir..." "Speak freely, Jess. You're my XO, so I'm going to expect some straightforwardness from you." "Thank you, sir. As I was saying... with all due respect, I would rather you refer to me as my rank and last name." "Am I not a friend to you, Jess?" "I didn't mean that, sir." "But you said that only friends call you by your first name and now you're telling me otherwise." Her executive officer's face seemed the definition of the word perplexed. "Sir, I don't mean to imply that you... I mean, I apologize if you read any impropriety into my statement, I just meant to say that I'm a little more formal than you might be used to."

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She said nothing, instead fixing her most severe glare upon him. He tried not to squirm under her scrutiny, but the long pause in the conversation eventually began to wear him thin. "Sir?" Enough was enough. Leone's lips broke into a smile. "I apologize, Commander. I was having a little fun at your expense." Kincaid let out a held breath and sighed. "I see." "I think the first thing you need to do is head down to the ship's stores and requisition yourself a sense of humor." "I'm not used to this type of command style, I guess." "No, you're not," she replied, dropping any pretense of humor. "I don't hide behind the trappings of titles. I may be the master and commander of this starship, but this crew operates as a team." "I agree, sir, wholeheartedly. However, I do observe standard Starfleet protocol when addressing my subordinates. Aboard Valdemar, I enforced the wishes of Captain Masterson, and he allowed me a wide latitude when it came to handling the crew," said Kincaid. "I'm used to that style of leadership." 68


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Leone nodded. "I'm a little more hands-on with the crew than your typical starship captain." He snorted, "I noticed." "That's more like it," she said with a grin. "You need to unclench a little. Sounds like Captain Masterson ran a tight ship." "Yes, sir. He sure did," he said with an edge to his tone. "I believe that I left a ship in excellent discipline. "Discipline can be maintained under many circumstances, Commander. I don't subscribe to the notion that it can only be achieved through distance and formality." "I will submit myself to your instruction, sir." "Don't do that." "Sir?" "Don't couch your responses in clichĂŠs. Don't fall back on the formality when you think you need to say something bluntly." He sighed. "Maybe you need someone else for the job, sir." Leone leaned forward. "You're going to run away, now?"

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"No, sir, but it seems to me that you'd prefer someone a little more..." he trailed off, searching for the right word to use. She helpfully filled in, "Loose?" "Liberal." "Liberal?" "Yes." "No," she replied with a short exhalation. "I don't think so." "Sir?" "I know I've made the right choice." She grinned. "Unless you're telling me that you're presuming to second guess my judgment." "No, sir, I wouldn't want to presume anything." "Good, then it's settled. Your presence here is serendipitous. It's a decree from on high." Kincaid chuckled, "Yes, sir." The chuckle settled into a wide smile. "I suppose it is." "Then given that we're both in the right place at the right time, do you think that perhaps you would let me call you 'Jess?'" He took his time in responding. His eyes fell down to the desk for a long time before he lifted them back up to her. Permitting her this one 70


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indulgence, he told her, "Actually, sir, I would prefer it if you called me Jesse." The ship shuddered underneath them and the red alert klaxon wailed. As the ship noticeably slowed to impulse speeds outside the forward viewport, Ariel's voice called out over the ship's public address. "Red alert. All senior officers report to the bridge." Within seconds, Leone and Kincaid had returned to the bridge. Ariel brought them up to speed, quickly. "One of the freighters has just been destroyed with all hands. There was no warning and no signs of trouble beforehand." Leone nodded as she returned to her seat, confirming the report from the small screen on the arm of her chair. "Greg, bring us to all stop. Wilson, contact Starbase 310 and update them on our status. We're not moving a damned inch until we find out what happened."

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"Eternal Midnight"

NCC-60597/02 (Shuttle Komarov) Holding position within designated debris zone Gamma. Stardate 43242 Cockpit

Senior Chief Petty Officer Tallan grimaced at the scattered remains of the freighter Shoeless Joe stretched out before them. "You would think they'd have the decency to blow up at impulse." Ensign Tommy O'Day stared at the Andorian non-commissioned officer, mouth agape. "I'm sorry?" "You heard me," he replied gruffly. Tommy gulped. "Yes, sir." 72


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Tallan narrowed his eyes, "Don't you dare call me 'sir,' you sniveling pink puppy. I work for a living." The ensign immediately nodded, forgetting that he technically outranked the salty, enlisted man. "Sorry, Senior Chief Tallan!" "Keep a respectful tongue in your head and you might live to see your lieutenancy. At which point, I may muster up the willingness to call you 'sir.'" Tommy hid his grin. In spite of the barb-like banter they shared, he had an inkling that Tallan liked him more than he let on. After all, he hardly balked at being volunteered to pair up with the ensign. "Yes, Senior Chief. What did you mean by having the decency to blow up at impulse?" "At impulse, the debris field would be contained to a relatively smaller area of space," explained Tallan. "At warp, the debris is likely to be scattered across parsecs of space, making this one hell of a mess." Tommy checked the sensor readings and found that the senior chief's assessment had merit. The fragments of debris ran the length of the range of the shuttle's sensors. "I see what you mean. Do you think we could try to boost the sensor range?" Tallan's right antenna twitched as Tommy asked his question. "Are you giving me an order, Ensign?" 73


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"Of course not. Merely a helpful suggestion, Senior Chief." "Good. I wouldn't want to think what would happen to you if you thought you had the size to issue me an order," grunted Tallan as he scowled. "Me either, Senior Chief." Tallan smirked, but it dropped just as soon as Tommy looked at him. "You eyeballin' me?" "No, Senior Chief!" "Uh huh. I'm going to reroute our reserve energy to the sensor array. Why don't you monitor and perhaps learn something." Tommy tried to defend himself. "You know, I did graduate with a degree in starship engineering." Tallan's blue hands stopped moving. "All right, college puppy. You boost the sensor range and I'll make sure you don't accidentally set a warp core breach in motion." He tapped in a new command and their consoles traded configurations. Tommy grinned, looking down at the shuttle's energy configuration. "I'm going to increase the energy output from the warp core and feed the energy into the sensor array." "Slowly," warned Tallan. "We're not on Farragut. The power node, and I stress the singular use of that noun, will not handle a lot of punishment." 74


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"Yes, Senior Chief. I'm increasing the output at a rate of one-tenth per thirty seconds." "Very good." Tallan continued to manipulate the shuttle's sensors, and nodded. "Resolution is now at one-hundred-ten percent and rising. I'm reading a field of gases and matter. Deuterium, tritanium alloy, and an unstable element the computer is working on identifying." "Well, the deuterium and the tritanium I can understand," said Tommy. "Maybe the unstable element was their cargo?" "Possibly. I'm raising shields, just to be on the safe side, so I need you to halt your energy increase so I can stabilize the-" He cut himself off, as an alarm caught his attention. "Brace yourself!" The shuttle rocked under a wave Tommy had never seen before. The shuttle's shields flared brightly under the strain of whatever it was. Sparks flew to the rear of him and he watched in horror as the power node he had been handling so gingerly began to show signs of failure. "Main energizer is out," he reported, his voice pitch rising with every word. "Primary power node failure. Shield emitters are offline and we're taking hull damage!" Tallan snarled, "I know! Get your damned EVA suit on!" 75


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"Warning," announced the computer, "matter stream destabilization in main warp core. Breach is imminent." Tommy didn't hesitate. He moved to the rear compartment and quickly did a pre-suit check, skipping a few steps along the way. The last time he did an emergency shuttle evacuation, it was in a simulator at Starfleet Academy. "Senior Chief!" he shouted to Tallan, as he remained seated at the console. He carried the other suit to him, handing him the specialized helmet for Andorians. "Thank you, Tommy. I've polarized the shuttle's hull to give us a little more time to get the hell out of here," said Tallan as he stepped into the legs of it and pulled the front of it closed over his chest. After fitting the helmet in place and feeling the suit pressurize under its own power, he opened the suit's intakes to exchange air with the shuttle's life support system until the last possible moment. He rushed to the cockpit to keep an eye on the hull status and found the sensors starting to show signs of disrepair. The lateral array decreased until the field was the only thing around them. He dumped emergency reserve power into the escape transporter and stood by to beam them both out. The coordinates were at the limits of the shuttle's transporter range; some three hundred76


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seventy five thousand kilometers away. "Senior Chief, you ready?" Tallan's helmet clicked into place and the eerie blue lighting draped his eyes and forehead in the shadow of the lower half of his face. He nodded and gave the go sign. Tommy slapped his arm console and locked off his intake valve to repressurize. With the other hand, he pushed up the three slider bars on the transporter console. "Energizing," he called into the intersuit communications system. But only Tallan disappeared. Panicked, Tommy looked back down to the energy reserves and saw that only half was available, now. Too much of it bled off into the hull polarization subroutine the senior chief had enabled. His bulky fingers flew over the console, hoping he didn't make a mistake in the timing. "Computer," he said, without looking up, "stand by to depolarize the hull." The computer's familiar chime sounded within the suit's helmet. "Standing by." "Depolarize the hull, now!" He pushed on those sliders again, keeping his eyes on the transporter systems. The moment the hull depolarized, he saw the shuttle's hull start to break up as the small warp 77


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nacelles tore off and flew away from the shuttle at a brilliant speed. Just as the dematerialization effect began to take hold, he could see the forward viewport melt away and opened the cockpit to the dangers of vacuum.

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Act I

Captain's Log Stardate 43242.1 With the destruction of the freighter Shoeless Joe less than a day's travel out of Starbase 310, I have ordered the immediate halt of the convoy to investigate the debris field for analysis. Unfortunately, the matter of the freighter's disintegration at moderate warp means that the debris field covers a large area of space in a long trail, forcing us to resort to deploying a fleet of long-range shuttlecraft to return pertinent portions of the hull to the ship. All of our best pilots, including Lieutenant Aspinall, have been dispatched 79


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to carry engineering personnel to designated parts of the debris field, in order to provide as much data as possible. I have tasked Commander Kincaid and Lieutenant Bartlet to lead the investigation, and I hope to see results, soon. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Commander Hargreaves remains on board to pursue her investigation of my conduct in the Beta Quadrant, though I fear her progress is hampered by the lessened availability of my senior staff. "Please state your name, rank, title, and present assignment for the log." "Sovera, Lieutenant Commander. Chief Medical Officer, USS Farragut." Tricia Hargreaves nodded as the doctor satisfied the protocol for recording the discussion. "Thank you for agreeing to meet with me." Sovera raised her left eyebrow. "I was ordered to, Commander." "Yes, er, well... you were carried on the ship's roster as the chief medical officer on Stardate 43222." "Correct. I reported in to my assignment at the Antares Ship Yards on Stardate 43220.78. The vessel

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was under the command of Commander Tennyson, at the time." "He had temporary command during the refit." "Correct." Hargreaves nodded. "When Captain Leone reported aboard ship, did she submit for a medical examination as required by Starfleet regulation?" Sovera pressed her lips together briefly before answering, "No, she did not." "And since then, has she done so?" "No, she has not. However, I do have an appointment with her tomorrow, which I believe is forty-eight hours before the deadline of reporting in." "Uh-huh. Do you think she will keep that appointment?" "It is not my place to speculate on what the captain will or will not do. Nor would I attempt to do so." The doctor said it with a sense of finality to her tone. Tricia did not necessarily dislike Vulcans, but questioning them always proved to be more difficult than any other race she had encountered in her time with the Inspector General's office. "Very well. You performed a complete examination on the two persons who were responsible for the creation 81


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of a, and I'm consulting Lieutenant Bartlet's report, here, "the creation of a field of quantum particles that superaccelerated the ship's velocity to beyond the highest rated speed of our fastest starship for a period of more than twenty-five minutes."" "Your question contained a lot of superfluous information, but the answer is yes. I did perform a full examination on the Tristnor and Kasui individuals. Those records were transmitted to Starfleet Intelligence and have been classified." "I'm aware of their classification, Doctor." She was denied access to them in the course of her study of the data made available to her. "The male Tristnor opted to remain in his Terran disguise." "Correct." "Did the captain allow this?" "I informed her that I found no reason to disallow it. The ship's internal sensors were aware of the new life signs and were able to track his movements throughout the ship. She came to a decision based on the information I supplied." "I'm sorry, Doctor, did you say the captain allowed it?" Sovera raised both brows. "Succinctly put, yes, she did."

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"Thank you," said Hargreaves, allowing a little of her frustration to show through in her tone. "Did the captain express any doubts as to the validity of the Tristnor's motives for taking the ship to the Beta Quadrant?" "At first, I believe her reaction was aggravation. However, over time and given the fact that the ship was placed on a wide-band kill-on-sight order from the Tristnor Hegemony, further passage within their declared territory would have proven problematic, at best." "Did you find her decision logical?" "Her pattern of thinking indicated to me that she found the most likeliest chance of survival to be in mounting a direct offensive against the Tristnor." "Did you agree with that decision?" "It is not my place to agree or disagree." "As the chief medical officer, you are responsible for the general health of the commanding officer." "I am responsible for the general health of all crew, including the commanding officer." "Did you find Captain Leone fit for duty prior to this little adventure?" "As I said before, I had not yet completed a full examination of the captain." 83


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Hargreaves grinned. "Since you had no information upon which to base your judgment, Doctor, how would you be able to determine whether or not Captain Leone was fit or unfit for command?" "Given enough basic evidence to prove her incapacity for command, I would have ordered an immediate examination to eliminate or discover data to base my judgment upon," replied Doctor Sovera. "At the time, however, her last examination was less than six month before she assumed command of Farragut and the data provided was more than sufficient." "That was aboard the starship Potemkin, was it not?" "It was." "And who was the attending physician?" "I conducted the examination, during my tour of duty aboard that ship." "How long have you known Captain Leone?" "We first met on Stardate 38172.85. She was reporting aboard Potemkin as the new executive officer under then-Captain T'Cirya. I was posted as the assistant chief medical officer." "How many years did you serve with Captain Leone?" 84


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"Five years." "In that time, I assume you came to know her very well?" "As with my service alongside other officers and crew, over time one becomes familiar with them." "Would you say that you feel a particular loyalty to the captain, though?" "Feel, Lieutenant Commander?" Sovera asked coldly. Hargreaves shifted uncomfortably. "Do you have a particularly loyalty to the captain?" she rephrased. "She has demonstrated exceptional skill in her career and I have not found reason to doubt her abilities." Hargreaves leaned forward. "Is that your professional opinion, Doctor?" "As a professional Starfleet officer, yes. However, my education lends itself toward medicine and not starship command." "So you don't speak as a line officer." "I'm not a line officer, therefore I cannot speak as one, Lieutenant Commander." "Have you considered applying to take the line officer's examination?" 85


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"My ambitions do not lean toward command. However, if I determine a need to expand my qualifications, I might consider obtaining a line officer's certification." Hargreaves grinned. "I'm sorry, we seem to have wandered off the point." "Was that not your intention, Commander?" "Uh, no, it wasn't." "Logically, such a line of questioning implies you are attempting to appeal to a friendlier side of my personality. I can save you the trouble of any further attempts by informing you that it will be fruitless." "Thank you for clearing that up. I don't believe I have any further questions for you, Doctor. But you have been exceedingly helpful." Sovera inclined her head in acknowledgement but said nothing as she moved out of the conference room, leaving the lieutenant commander alone.

A The shuttle's explosion flashed in the distance as Senior Chief Tallan floated against the void. "Tallan to O'Day," he transmitted, after not seeing any sign of Tommy. "Ensign, are you there?"

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He looked down at his arm and saw that his emergency transmitter pulsed once every thirty seconds. The tricorder built into the arm gave him very little information within its limited range, but it at least told him that the ensign was nowhere to be seen or sensed. The suit's communications transmitter, on the other hand, reached a little further than a commbadge would. "Ensign O'Day, this is Senior Chief Tallan. Please respond." Again, only silence answered his stern tone. His eyes again moved over the brightly lit display on his arm, informing him of his suit's environmental status. The suit provided enough breathable air for twenty-four Terran hours. He allowed his mind to wander briefly at the inane predilection for Starfleet equipment to be attuned to human time standards. Tallan reconfigured his suit's limited energy stores to boost the transmitter power a little further, hopefully reaching the ensign's suit. He refused to believe that Tommy would be so stupid as to sacrifice himself. Surely, there had to be another reason why he did not beam out with Tallan. Maybe the transporter's annular confinement beam had only enough energy to transport one at a time as the shuttle took substantial damage from the moment the shield emitters gave out. Perhaps, with the damage to the 87


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power node, the escape transporter's imaging scanner failed to provide a complete pattern for the system to process and activated the safety protocol to abort his transport beam. Tallan sighed, shaking his head. He could float there the entire time and speculate on what might have happened. He needed to ground himself in the present; he was alone in space and with no way to make contact with Tommy or Farragut, it might be more than a whole day to be recovered... dead or alive. The batteries included within the suit had to be rationed appropriately. Either he could lower the rate that the suit scrubbed the carbon dioxide and conserve it to continue to boost the suit's signal, or he could extend the life of the suit's environmental systems beyond it's standard rated limit. Of course, it would be easier if Tommy was there to assist him. "Ensign O'Day, I'm going to assume that you're still alive, because I know you're not dumb enough to get yourself killed on your first assignment out of the Academy. I'm lowering the rate of my suit's life support systems to conserve energy, but I'm going to record a message and have it retransmit at one minute intervals. Hopefully, you'll lock onto my signal and make contact." Tallan didn't know whether or not the ensign heard him. Maybe Tommy's suit's transmitter was damaged; he had no 88


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way to tell. But, talking aloud helped him feel a little better about the situation. The reconfiguration of the suit's emergency beacon completed quickly and the system was ready to accept his message. As long as the message was less than fifteen seconds long. When the green light flashed to begin recording, he spoke in a clear voice: "This is Senior Chief Tallan of the Federation starship Farragut to any vessel within range. I am transmitting a general distress call..."

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Act II

"Then the Ferengi says to the Vulcan, 'Sounds logical to me!'" Lieutenant Abigail Atherton did not laugh. Instead, she shook her head. "That's just not that funny." Lieutenant (jg) Gregory Aspinall frowned, as the chief science officer seemingly dismissed his attempt at humor. "Well, it was funny when I heard it." "Where was that?" "In the lounge. Tommy and I were having drinks with the new guys in stellar cartography."

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"Yeah. I think that joke was funnier in your head," she muttered. "Are we there yet?" Greg grinned, having heard her but also having decided that her comment was pretty amusing. "Five minutes until we reach the beginning of the debris field, sir." An alarm flashed on his console and he reacted quickly. He called for the shield emitters to activate. "Shit, hang on!" "What?" To answer her, the Type-7 craft rocked under the impacts. The shuttle's shields activated in time and Greg lifted the nose of the shuttle out of the edge of the field. The alarm ceased as soon as they cleared it. "What was that?" Abbie asked, releasing her hold upon the side of the cockpit. He sighed, letting out a held breath. "I don't know. Whatever it was, it was tagging the shields something fierce. The emitters were overloading; we nearly lost the power node." Abbie's fingers flew across the co-pilot's console and she called up the sensor data collected during the impacts. "The computer is not recognizing it, but let's try not to dive down into the field anymore, okay? I'd hate to get stuck out here with nothing to do but listen to your lame jokes."

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He winced. "And the lady scores a direct hit to my ego. Yes, sir, I can maintain our current distance. Will that be close enough for you to do what you need to do?" "You mean, use the shuttle's sensors and hope to hell I can find out what this 'unknown element' is? I hope so." Abbie continued to check her readings but frowned as the computer continued to give her limited data. "I'm running a level four diagnostic on the sensors," she noted. "They may have gotten damaged." When the diagnostic came back without noting a problem, she shook her head. "The computer is completely flummoxed. All I can tell is that it's unstable and obviously rather volatile. We need to contact the ship."

A "Incoming transmission from the shuttle Garrovick, Commander," reported Andrew Reynolds from the tactical station. Jesse Kincaid nodded. "Put it through, Mister Reynolds. On screen." "Aye, sir," replied the chief warrant officer. The viewscreen switched from the two freighters to the cockpit of the shuttle.

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Greg stared back at them wearing a concerned expression. "Commander." "Report, Lieutenant." "Actually, sir, Lieutenant Atherton wanted me to transmit some data to you that we picked up on the outskirts of the debris field. Also, I'd like to recommend that all shuttles maintain their distance from the field." Kincaid furrowed his brow. "Explain." Atherton's voice carried over the signal. "Sir, it's important that you issue that order, right away. Whatever it is, it nearly took out our shields. According to the sensor data, an unprotected hull has no chance of surviving a direct impact with it." "Mister Reynolds," called Kincaid sharply. "Pass that order along to all shuttles, now." As he did so, Kincaid nodded. "All right, we've transmitted the order. Did you want to send that data along, now? "Transmitting it, now, sir," said Greg with a nod. Farragut's executive officer walked up toward the tactical station and watched as the information floated over the display. "It's coming through, Lieutenants. Until we know more, maintain your distance." "Aye, sir."

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"XO," said Reynolds. "All but seven shuttles have reported acknowledgement of your order." "It's possible that this unknown element is interfering with communications, Commander," suggested Atherton. Kincaid eyed the screen briefly while his arms folded over his chest. "Keep sending the order, Mister Reynolds. And raise the captain. Hopefully, she's through the dessert course by now."

A Captain Krystine Leone smiled across the table at Captain Paul Longshore. "Well, you certainly know how to show a couple of girls a good time, Captain." Lieutenant Commander Ariel Elannis offered a smile of her own, which she noticed had a more desirable effect on the older man. "Absolutely. It's nice to be reminded how good real food tastes every once in a while." Longshore leaned over and said conspiratorially, "One of the benefits of being a freighter captain is that you always have first crack at the fresh stuff. It sure beats that replicated crap they force down your throats on those big Starfleet cruisers." "I happen to like the replicated crap," said Ariel, pushing out her lower lip in a small pout. 94


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"Oh, well, I didn't mean to suggest that it was crap, Commander," replied Longshore as he softened his tone. Leone brought her glass to her lips to obscure the smirk behind it. It never failed to amuse her when her best friend decided to use her skills to her advantage. Ariel's hand moved over Longshore's. "I'm sure you didn't, Paul. Like I said, it's nice to be reminded of the real thing." Longshore's mood brightened considerably. "Farragut to Leone," chirped her commbadge. Without hesitation, Leone touched her fingers to activate it. "Leone, here." "Sir," called her first officer, "there's been a development in the investigation. Are you in a secure location?" "One moment, Jesse," she replied. She wiped her mouth and excused herself from the table before moving into the corridor outside the captain's mess. She found a stowage compartment used by the galley staff located a meter away to be empty and entered it after making certain she was alone. "Go ahead." "Lieutenant Atherton transmitted information about an unknown element discovery that the 95


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shuttle's computer failed to identify. However, the computer would not release the information to her, because she lacked security clearance," he informed her. His tone grew dark with every word. "I had to use my alpha-two code to unlock the data." Leone's brow furrowed. "Spare me dramatics, please. What did you find out?"

the

"Sir, if we're reading this data correctly, and Lieutenant Bartlet believes we are, the debris field has bilitrium and trilithium resin scattered across five parsecs of space along our flight path." "Wonderful," she said, closing her eyes. Leone brought her hand to her brow and winced. "Order all shuttles to keep out of the field and have them collect as much data as possible." "Already done, sir." She nodded her approval to no one. "Good. Then upgrade our traffic advisory to the highest possible class. We're going to need to drop buoys to mark off the area." "We've launched all available craft to picket the debris field," replied Kincaid over the commlink. "None of them are equipped to deploy those buoys, sir."

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Leone grinned. "That's not entirely accurate, Jesse. We have one more auxiliary craft that we've not utilized, yet." "Sir?" "Prepare to beam me and Ariel back to the ship," she said, leaving the compartment and walking back toward Longshore's mess. "Load a full complement of buoys into my yacht and prepare it for immediate departure."

A Freefall happened to be Tommy's least favorite state of being. Since the Zero-G Operations certification required by the Academy, he hoped with all his might that he would never have to test that certification in the field. Of course, being assigned to a starship greatly increased the chances of having to operate in vacuum, but he figured that he might avoid it somehow. His eyes drifted down toward his feet as he stared into the starry abyss, unable to fix his eyes on anything before feeling a wave of vertigo begin to overtake him. Tommy immediately shut his eyes to prevent the sensation to overwhelm him. His situation being what it was, he could not allow any further obstacle to his survival, especially one that was of his own making.

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"Warning," intoned the "pressure suit is damaged."

suit's

computer,

"Run level-five diagnostic on all systems." His voice sounded hollow within the helmet. "Working..." He shivered within the tightness of the suit against his uniform, wondering what else could possibly go wrong. He thought his luck might have been used up as the shuttle's escape transporter ripped him away from the explosion in time to complete the dematerialization sequence. His fears were confirmed when the diagnostic was completed. The small display began to show problem areas within the suit. "Life support systems on backup unit. Primary system disengaged due to unit removal or possible unknown unit damage. Subspace transceiver assembly is damaged and offline." He winced. That was very bad news. "Uh, run a level-three diagnostic on the subspace transceiver assembly." "Working..." As the computer ran through the diagnostic, he touched the display to call up the inventory list of the suit. Without the ability to transmit a signal, his 98


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chances of being found were lessened pretty dramatically. He hoped that he was wrong, but waited patiently for the computer to complete its task. "Diagnostic complete. severely damaged."

Transmission

node

So, he can receive a subspace transmission, but not send one. "Computer, activate the receiver node and use short-range communications to send out broadband distress signal at one minute intervals." "Acknowledged; distress signal transmitting." "Ensign O'Day, I'm going to assume that you're still alive..." He nearly jumped within the suit as Tallan's voice called to him. "I am, Senior Chief," replied Tommy. "Can you hear me?" "Because I know you're not dumb enough to get yourself killed on your first assignment out of the Academy." Tommy could not help but curl the corners of his lips upward as her heard the Andorian's terse words over his helmet. "I'm lowering the rate of my suit's life support systems to conserve energy..."

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The ensign's eyes widened as he stared down at his suit's control panel. It was a great idea, and he made the same adjustment. "... but I'm going to record a message and have it retransmit at one minute intervals." He grinned. Great minds, he told himself. "Hopefully, you'll lock onto my signal and make contact." Could he try to locate him? No, it was a subspace transmission and he was unable to use the suit's computer to that extent. Much in the same way that they would most likely find the Senior Chief before him, since his subspace transceiver was undamaged. They were out of immediate sensor range of one another, it seemed, and without some sort of propulsion system, there was very little chance they would be able to at least pool their resources together in some fashion. Tommy set the computer to record his voice for the signal, and set it to cycle every sixty seconds. In as clear a voice as he could muster, he spoke, "This is Starfleet Ensign Thomas O'Day of the Federation starship Farragut to any vessel within range. I am transmitting a general distress call..."

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Act III

Aboard the captain's yacht, Ensign Yvonne Colby continued to tap on the tactical console as the probe/buoys were loaded aboard the craft's small cargo space. Within minutes, they would be packed to the gills with the devices, ready for offloading at command. "Who do you think will be in charge?" "Me," said Ensign Iris Wu with confidence. Yvonne wrinkled her nose. "You?" "Sure. Why not?" "Because you're just an ensign, that's why. And this is the captain's personal craft. I seriously doubt they would give you command of her gig." 101


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Iris grinned. "All right, then. Who's your guess?" Yvonne had thought about it. "Not a whole lot of the senior staff are aboard the ship, and we're running way low on pilots. Maybe Commander Elannis?" "That's what I was thinking," agreed Iris with a nod. She manned the mission operations console located near the aft section of the tiny bridge. Although it was technically referred to as the cockpit of the yacht, the layout belied the name by having a center seat for the yacht's officer-incommand. "Or Commander Kincaid." With a grin, Yvonne nodded out of sight of her cabinmate. "I would love to be locked up for a while with him." "Oh, wouldn't we all?" said the voice of Lieutenant Commander Elannis from the door leading out into the corridor. "He's quite attractive, isn't he?" Iris snickered and Yvonne blushed furiously as Ariel entered and slid into the seat behind the large and curved joint flight controller and operations console. Her fingers grazed the activation sequence and it came to life under her. "W-Welcome aboard, Commander," stammered Yvonne as she got to her feet. "Are you assuming command?" 102


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A scoff from the door carried into the cockpit. "She wishes." "Captain!" exclaimed Iris, as she jumped to her feet. Yvonne remained at attention. Leone smiled. "That's what they tell me. As you were, both of you." Iris and Yvonne relaxed and returned to their seats. The captain avoided moving to the command station and stood over Yvonne to peer down at her display. "Status of our buoys, Ensign...?" Yvonne leaned back to allow Leone a clear look at it. "Colby, sir. We're almost finishing loading a full complement, sir. I'd say another minute." Leone nodded her approval. "Good." She returned to an upright position. "Ariel, let's wait for our chief engineer to arrive, and then we'll start pre-flight." "You got it," replied Ariel. "We're still on external power." "I can see to that for you, Commander." A new voice spoke from the direction of the cockpit door. A small woman wearing the triple slashes of a crewman apprentice on her neck appeared, carrying a padd with her. "Engineer Striker Odessa McComas, reporting as ordered, Captain." 103


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Leone accepted the padd with a smirk. "Welcome aboard, Crewman. You're our chief engineer for this little pleasure cruise. Take your station." "Aye, sir." McComas nodded and moved to exit the cockpit. "I'll be in the engine compartment." "That's a little unorthodox, isn't it?" asked Ariel. "Having a non-rate work as an engineer?" "According to Senior Chief Tallan, she's a bright young woman with a promising enlisted career ahead of her," replied Leone quickly. "I trust his judgment." The Orion-Terran hybrid grinned at her friend. "Seems like we have ourselves a little Amazonian ship, though. Where's the beef?" Off of her turn of phrase, Leone held in her laugh for the sake of the junior officers within earshot. "Just a coincidence, I assure you. Next time, I'll do what I can to ensure you have eye candy." "Thank you, Captain, sir," Ariel replied, not looking back. Yvonne reported through her smile, "All buoys loaded, sir." "Bridge to Engineering," called Leone with an unabashed grin.

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McComas' voice called back, "Engineering, here, Captain." "Begin pre-flight, please." "Beginning my pre-flight checklist, aye, sir." Leone swiveled around in her chair to face mission operations. "Ensign Wu, signal the bridge we're departing in five minutes." Iris nodded. "Aye, sir." She activated a communications link with Farragut's bridge and called, "Farragut, this is the Lydia. Pre-flight checklist has begun. The captain is ordering departure in five minutes." The screen flickered to show the main bridge, sixteen decks up from their present location. Lieutenant Nieves' face appeared in the center with a smile. "Take care of the captain out there, Ensign. You're cleared for departure." She returned his smile and chuckled. "Will do, sir. Thanks." The display returned to its former state, showing her the yacht's systems and status. "Captain, the bridge has cleared us for departure." "Thank you," replied Leone. She moved to stand over Ariel. "Ready to take her out?" "I've been looking forward to this for a long time," admitted Ariel, lowering her tone to keep it out of earshot of the ensigns. She turned her head 105


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to glance at Leone. "All systems are go, Ranger One." Leone chuckled. "You're such a child. I suddenly regret letting you name this gig." "You promised." "Don't remind me." "So say the words." The captain's face betrayed her pain. "Do I have to?" "Yes." Leone sighed, resigned to her fate. "Okay, fine." She slumped into the command chair and raised her hand, with her index and middle finger extended. "'Rangers, away,'" said the captain, in a bored tone. The ensigns looked toward the captain. Iris' right eyebrow rose higher, while Yvonne's brow furrowed. "Sir?" Ariel huffed. "You could get into the spirit of it all, you know." The captain grumbled. "Just... please, launch the ship? Before I start to lose my mind?"

A

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Lieutenant Petra Bartlet stared hard at the data transmitted from Garrovick. Commander Kincaid stood over her, peering at the same display. "Forgive my inexperience," said Isira, "but as it is explosive, would detonating it resolve the problem?" Petra's eyes widened at the thought. "That would have catastrophic effects on space traffic within the lane, Counselor." "What do you mean?" Kincaid answered, "Trilithium has long-lasting effects on the subspace interfold layer. It's easier to clean-up in its current state, but to incite an explosion would force all ships to travel at sublight within this region." Lieutenant Nieves manned the tactical console and watched them move across the bridge. "That would put a serious dent in the freighter business between the two starbases," he told them. Kincaid turned his head. "Eavesdropping on conversations, now, Lieutenant?" "Rule of Acquisition number seven, sir. Always keep your ears open." Isira smiled as Petra chuckled. "Are you a Ferengi, now?"

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Wilson grinned. "I like to think of myself as a student of the universe." "Anyway," Kincaid interjected pointedly. "Tell me about the combination of bilitrium and trilithium." "I defer to the explosives expert," said Petra, folding her arms. Wilson cleared his throat. "Thank you. Bilitrium is a pretty powerful explosive on its own. It's also stable when stored for transport. It's given the XRay One classification because of its destructive nature. The unstable part of this equation is the trilithium resin, and I will pass this back to our engineering expert." "Trilithium resin," Petra began immediately, "is the highly toxic and incredibly explosive compound that's produced by the newer antimatter/matter reaction chambers all over the Federation. We store ours in a highly contained environment aboard ship, generally in very small quantities. When we dock at Starbases, it has to be offloaded with all the other waste we get rid of, or else it poses a hazard to the ship." Isira's brow furrowed. "Don't we have safety certifications for such hazardous duty?" "We certainly do," confirmed Wilson. "No freighter leaves port without a security and safety 108


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clearance from a certified Starfleet inspector. According to the information transmitted by Starbase 310, prior to departure, all three freighters were carrying inspection certifications that were completed just before undocking." "Assuming that everything checked out back at Three-Ten, what happened?" asked Kincaid. Petra shrugged. "The problem with transporting trilithium resin is the highly unstable nature of it. It's like... uh... help me out, Mister Nieves..." He smiled. "Nitro-glycerin." "Exactly! Thank you. It's like transporting metric tons of nitro. Even if you package it in the most carefully-constructed, super-shock-absorbent crates, there's always that outside chance that it'll still go up on you," she continued her thought. "You're saying this could've been an accident?" asked Isira. Petra nodded. "The data collected so far by the shuttles points that way. The biggest problem we're facing here is that the explosive neatly vaporized that freighter into particles. It's really hard to piece together the ship to try and analyze the accident and determine fault. I'm surprised the shuttles were able to collect as much as they have so far."

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Wilson tilted his head. "I'm not so sure we should write it off as an accident so quickly." Kincaid made eye contact with the chief of security. "I tend to agree." "Gentlemen, no matter how strong a containment field you might have set up on the resin, it only decreases the chance of detonation. It doesn't eliminate it. I think maybe our friends over there got a little too sloppy with their handling, in spite of the inspection, and this is the result." Petra sat on the bench next to Isira, crossing her legs at the knees and putting her hands flat against the plush seat. Isira looked at Kincaid with a smile. "She's very sure of herself, Commander." Petra beamed. "Thank you, Counselor." In the face of Betazoid certainty, Kincaid's resolve faltered briefly within his words. "I'm... reluctant to put the word 'accident' down on the report, just yet." "I'm putting it down on mine," replied the chief engineer. Kincaid told prerogative."

her,

sharply,

110

"That's

your


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Isira's brow furrowed at Kincaid, while Wilson blanched at the response from their new executive officer. "Commander..." "Mind your station, Mister Nieves." He settled into the center seat and nodded. "Thank you, Lieutenant Bartlet. You may return to your station." Petra rose from her seat, wearing a blank expression on her face. "Aye, aye, sir," she replied, before moving into the nearest turbolift and asking it to whisk her back to main engineering. "A moment of your time, please, Commander?" asked Isira, as she stood up and walked toward the ready room. "Counselor, I really don't have a lot of time to spare." She did not stop her progress as she replied, "I think you need to make the time, sir." The doors to the ready room parted and closed as soon as she moved inside. With a heavy sigh, Kincaid's eyes drifted over to Wilson. "You have the bridge, Lieutenant." "I have the bridge, aye, sir," noted Wilson. When he arrived within the ready room, Isira sat behind the captain's desk and gestured toward him to sit down. He was immediately annoyed by

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her presumption to sit there and not allow him the courtesy as the senior officer. "I sat here to make a point, Commander. In this conversation, you're not in charge," she told him evenly. "Sit down." "'Sir,'" he prompted her. "You say 'sir' when you talk to me, Lieutenant." "If I am to address you as 'sir' in an informal private conversation, then you will address me as 'Counselor,'" she replied. "But I don't think that will be conducive to what I want to convey to you." Kincaid narrowed his eyes at her. "Which is?" "I sense from you that your response to the Chief Engineer was not typical, that you snapped at her because you're upset about something else. Or was that not regret I sensed from you the moment the words left your mouth?" He bit back his first response and reformed it before saying, "I have the full confidence of the captain to handle my subordinates as I see fit and that is occasionally going to to entail snapping at them. Counselor." "No doubt but even you know that response on the bridge just now wasn't warranted. I agree, she seemed to rush to judgement, even if an accident is the most likely probability but I don't think it 112


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warranted a rebuke. So why don't we talk about what is actually bothering you so you can make a better impression on the folks you mean to lead?" Isira related this in a calm tone and gave him an expectant look. "Rage swirled within him, just as it had with Commander Elannis, the first time they'd met. He knew she sensed it with her Betazoid intuition and tried his best to calm down. Finally, he asked, "A better impression?" "Yes. I can assure you that you have definite room for improvement, though having Lieutenant Atherton's approval is helping your cause in the Science Department." "Abbie's good at convincing people of things," Kincaid allowed, relaxing slightly at the mention of a friend. "I don't have a lot of time right now, so is there some way to distill this into five or ten minutes?" Isira gave him a wide. "Sure, I'll get right to the point. I'd like to discuss why you've been perpetually angry since I've known you." "I'm not." "And I thought we were done with the pretense." "I'm angry, now, because you're wasting my time." 113


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"I'd rather waste your time than watch you throw hostility around when people are trying to do their jobs. Please, answer my question." He sighed, shaking his head, hoping that a quick admission to a woman who already knew what he was thinking would get him back to the bridge faster. "Ever since I got here, I've felt like I'm trespassing on someone else's lawn and the dog's barking his head off." "That's a start, I guess. Why do you feel that way?" "This was not the assignment I wanted."

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Act IV

When he felt his helmet tear away from his head, his hands flew around him with his eyes closed while he held his breath. It went against his training, he knew, but the panic within him overwhelmed his training without hesitation. In his panic, he neglected to realize that the freefall sensation no longer existed and someone else's hands were upon him. "It's okay, calm down," he heard a man's voice. Wait, he knew that voice. "Lieutenant?" he croaked out. He managed to open his eyes and saw the lighted interior of the shuttle around him. 115


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Greg smiled down at him. "Good to see you, Senior Chief. We've found your signal while we were on our way back to the ship." To his left, Lieutenant Atherton ran a medical tricorder over him. "For the most part, he's okay. His lungs are going to have to adjust, though." Tallan waved her off, not caring about the diagnosis. There were more important matters to attend to. "Did you find Ensign O'Day?" The two lieutenants shared a surprised expression. "He was with you?" asked Greg. "I'm not sure if he made it off the shuttle," admitted Tallan. "We were taking massive damage because of the field, and the shield emitters overloaded. He rigged the escape transporter while I polarized the hull to give us a little more time to get out of there." He stopped talking to cough as his lungs began to take in a thicker atmosphere than the one he was breathing. "Easy, Senior," said Atherton. She and Greg propped him up to lean against the couch as the Tallan hacked violently. "You were breathing more CO2 than air in that suit." Greg pushed for more information, trying to keep the urgency out of his voice. "When was the last time you saw Tommy?"

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His voice was ragged, but the coughing died down long enough to allow him to answer. "He beamed me out of the shuttle first. There wasn't enough power for both of us to go." Tallan resumed another coughing fit on the edge of his last word. "We found you floating quite some distance away from the debris field," admitted Greg worriedly. "If his distress beacon was active, it would have been picked up on our sensors as we found yours." "Don't you give up, Lieutenant," coughed Tallan. "Don't you dare." The Andorian pulled himself up from the floor of the shuttle and moved to sit at the co-pilot's console. "Maybe his transceiver was damaged in the transport. It's not outside the realm of possibility." Greg frowned. "I wasn't saying we give up. Just saying we couldn't find his beacon, is all. I'm not going to give up on Tommy." He sat in the seat next to the senior chief and programmed in a flight pattern. Atherton reached for the communications controls to the right side of Tallan and opened a channel to Farragut.

A Isira shook her head. "I don't understand. What makes this the wrong assignment?" 117


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Kincaid sighed. "This captain has a reputation. She's well-connected." "I know." "So, then you understand." "Not yet, but keep talking." He ran his hand along the edge of the desk. "I... want my own command, someday. Soon." "Surprise, surprise." "Are you going to let me talk, or what?" She raised her hand and bade him continue. "Sorry." "As I was saying, my intention is to seek a command of my own. I moved from ship to ship, to gain as much experience as I possibly could, and on each ship, I served under captains who recognized my potential and did what they could to give me every opportunity." "And Captain Leone won't?" "Well, I'm not sure. But I get the sense that I'm not wanted, here. I see how she and Commander Elannis work together, and I feel like I'm the jerk who took the commander's seat from her." Kincaid checked to see her expression. "At least, that's the impression I'm getting." "You got all that from two days of service?" 118


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"Actually, it took a lot less than that to figure it out. Plus, with Commander Hargreaves on board, my thinking is that there's more to this classified mission of theirs than they're letting on. I'm not sure I'd want my career to be tied to a captain that's about to be court-martialed." Isira narrowed her eyes toward the executive officer. "So the answer was to act like an ass? I'm sorry, but I don't follow. I'm not saying you're wrong, mind you. Your response just shouldn't be to act like the jerk they might think you are." Kincaid's head snapped up. "What?" He couldn't believe what he was hearing. "I don't usually use psychobabble on patients. I speak plainly because it gets my point across more effectively. Whatever your reasons are for having accepted this assignment, you're here for the long haul. Because you and I both know that you don't have it in you to seek a transfer so soon after reporting in," she replied calmly. He grudgingly agreed with a nod. "So why do you think that Captain Leone is about to be court-martialed?" "Because the IG officer told me so before I stepped aboard."

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"So it's not your impression of the captain, but hers," Isira noted pointedly. "Well, honestly, I haven't seen anything that would warrant a court-martial from her though I'm the one who's supposed to lead the teams out there while she's the one who's supposed to stay on the bridge. I'm not sure why she's acting like the XO but it can't be because she wants me here." Isira nodded in understanding. "You see a captain who is not used to being a captain, an officer who thought she was going to have your position but doesn't, and your response is not to talk to either officer but to snap at a fourth party. Do you see why I asked you to come in here?" Again, Kincaid agreed exhalation of breath. "Yeah."

with

a

resigned

. "But, I think this is something you and I can work on. In addition to my recommendation that you speak to the captain when time permits to address this issue, I also want to recommend that you begin to see a counselor. I can set you up with a schedule and I'd like you to agree to it as your duties permit." She didn't need her Betazoid abilities to see the look of surprise on his face. "What?" "You know, I'm the ship's executive officer. I'm not sure it's a good idea-" 120


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"Bridge to Commander Kincaid." He did not hesitate. His hand reached up to open the channel, immediately. "Kincaid, here." "Sir, incoming transmission from the shuttle Garrovick. Lieutenant Atherton is reporting the destruction of Komarov. They have Senior Chief Tallan aboard." "Patch them through to the ready room, Lieutenant." He reached for the captain's desktop terminal and swivelled it around to face him. The screen powered up to show the Starfleet insignia before switching to Abbie's face. "Report." "Sir, we found Senior Chief Tallan in an EVA suit floating away from the debris field. He's reported that his shuttle was destroyed by the combination of the bilitrium and trilithium resin. At this time, we do not have a location on Ensign O'Day, though the senior chief is unable to confirm whether or not the ensign made it out in time." Isira moved from around the desk to look at the terminal screen, but remained out of view of the visual pickups. Kincaid asked, "I assume you've begun search operations for the ensign?" "Yes, sir. Lieutenant Aspinall and the senior chief have come up with a flight path that will 121


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make sure of our limited sensor range," replied Abbie. Her eyes kept drifting off-screen as she spoke. "Something wrong, Lieutenant?" "No, sir. We're just coming really close to the edge of the field, now," she told him, though the last three words of her sentence contained interference. Kincaid's voice hardened. "Maintain a minimum safe distance from the field." As Abbie made her reply, the visual image on the screen showed severe interference until the signal was lost altogether. The display now exhibited the same insignia as before and a note saying that the transmission ended at the source. "Damn it," he spat. "Mister Nieves, I want to speak to Starbase 310."

A "'Starship Rangers?'" repeated Iris. "I remember that show. I used to watch it as a little kid." Yvonne nodded. "My parents wouldn't let me watch it. It was a little too violent for their liking, so I had to wait until I was older." "Well," said the captain as she relaxed in her seat, "Ariel grew up on Starship Rangers and is a

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huge fan of the show. She's actually been to conventions when she has leave." "I've been to fifty-two," Ariel said proudly. "I've met all the actors, and I have one of the original helmets with all of their autographs in storage back home." Leone chuckled. "She's a nutty fangirl. Anyway, when we were both serving on Victory, she predicted I would make captain someday, and made me promise that when that happened, she would get to name one of the auxiliary craft after the ship." Yvonne could not hold in her snort. "That's where you got the name Lydia? That's hilarious!" Ariel smiled, showing off her teeth. "I've always wanted to serve on a ship named Lydia. It's the reason I joined Starfleet." "No, it's not," retorted Leone. "Stop making shit up. She wanted Starfleet because she wanted to get away from her mother. She got denied an appointment to the Academy-" "Hey!" said Ariel defensively. "She got denied and joined as an enlisted, instead." "Are we just going to spill out my entire life's history?"

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Leone ignored her, "She got her degree by correspondence when she made third class petty officer and then applied to the officer candidate's school and got her commission." Iris and Yvonne now looked at Ariel with more respect. "Wow," said Iris. "I'm not sure if I would have had the tenacity." "You would if you had her mother." Ariel frowned. "I really wanted to be an officer. No offense, Crewman." McComas shook her head. "None taken, Commander. We in the enlisted ranks do not look down on the commissioned folk. We just know that they need a little more hand-holding than we do." All eyes were on the captain. She wore a smirk on her lips and levied a pointed glare at Ariel. "Some more than others." Everyone shared in a relaxed chuckle as a signal caught the attention of Ensign Colby. "Incoming transmission from Farragut, Captain," reported Yvonne. "On screen." The face of Commander Kincaid appeared. "Captain."

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She recognized the interior of her ready room, but decided not to say anything about it. "Jesse, what's up?" "Sir, Lieutenant Atherton is reporting the loss of the shuttle Komarov. They were able to retrieve Senior Chief Tallan, but Ensign O'Day is still missing." "And they're not equipped for a search and rescue. Contact Starbase 310-" "I already have, sir." Leone grinned. "Good. What did the admiral tell you?" "They're dispatching Excalibur and Sutherland to assist us. They will arrive shortly." "We've only finished deploying about a quarter of the hazard buoys, but we can lend a hand as soon as we're done," she said, adjusting her seated position. "Ensign Colby, deploy this next buoy." "Aye, sir. Buoy is away." Kincaid added, "I've ordered five of the other shuttles to converge on the Garrovick's present location to aid in the search. That should allow you to finish dropping buoys. Maybe we'll have found him by then." "I can only hope so, Jesse. Keep us apprised of their efforts, and let us know if they find him." 125


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"Aye, sir." "Thank you. Lydia, out." Ariel had the presence of mind to speak after the transmission ended. "Our new XO takes the initiative, doesn't he?" The captain grinned. "It's only fair. I left him in command of the ship, while we're out here sifting the debris. Let's get this done and then join the search." "Aye, Captain. Coming about."

A "Where could he be?" wondered Greg as he brought the shuttle's nose around for a third pass of the same search pattern. It had been over two hours since they brought the senior chief aboard. In that time, they covered the range a suit could make adrift without any thrust. "He couldn't have drifted off too far away from you." Tallan pushed his lips together with concern while his hands continued to work the console in front of him. "I've done what I can with the shuttle's sensors, sir. But, we might have to face the fact that he did not make it off the shuttle in time." Greg turn on him, and in a sharp tone, he told him, "You don't know that! His suit could have been damaged." 126


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"If that's true," said Abbie, "then it's possible he's already dead. It's also just as likely that he was beamed to a different location because the transporter was damaged mid-transport." She did not elaborate on all of the injuries such an issue could cause. Clearly, Greg did not want to admit that. The expression on his face betrayed the thin layer of composure he was struggling to maintain. "I'm not going to give up on him. Not until I see the body. I say we expand the search pattern a bit more." Tallan nodded. "Agreed." Greg's hand moved quickly to enter in the new ranges into the flight controls. "I'm expanding the range another fifty kilometers." Abbie asserted herself, "I'm the senior officer, here." Both men turned to look up at her in askance. "I am," she assured them. Tallan glanced over to Greg briefly before returning his gaze to her. "I don't doubt it, it's just... you're a science officer." "And a department head, Senior Chief." Greg blew a puff of air toward his forehead. "So, what're you saying? We give up?" 127


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"No, I didn't say that. I just mean, there's a protocol to carrying out orders." "Fine," Greg replied, throwing his hands up. "What are your orders, Lieutenant, sir?" "We need to do more than just expand the size of the search parameters, we need to change the search pattern to focus on the most likely transport areas." Abbie tapped a new pattern into the console in front of her. "This one is going allow us to cover more area in a shorter amount of time while also..." Tallan interrupted her. "We have some incoming ships showing up on long-range sensors, sir." "Identify them," said Abbie. "One moment, Lieutenant," replied the senior chief. "Ah, they're ours. I'm reading the shuttles Pythagoras and Scobee on approach." Greg sighed with relief. "The more, the merrier." Even Abbie managed a smile. "Assign each shuttle a piece of the pattern and let's get to work. First person to find Ensign O'Day gets a cornedbeef sandwich." Tallan wrinkled his nose. "A what?" Greg chuckled. "It's an expression. A small prize for completing the task. It gives you incentive."

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"Yes, but couldn't you just get one from the replicator?" "I suppose, yes, you could... but..." Greg's voice trailed off as gazed back at Abbie for assistance. When she offered none, he shrugged. "To be honest, it's from before my time. " When the senior chief shot a glance at Abbie, she offered no help, either. "Don't look at me; it's something my father used to say all the time." Tallan scoffed. With a shake of his head, he addressed the console, "Stupid Terran expressions. If you're going to offer me some incentive, get me a date with the dabo girl on Starbase 310."

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Act V

Captain's Log Supplemental The arrival of Excalibur and Sutherland within the sector has made it easier to ward off traffic until the volatile nature of the field has time to dissipate and prove less of a major hazard to ships passing between Starbase 310 and Deep Space Four. Unfortunately, this will cause a major delay to many shipping and passenger liners that operate this close to the Cardassian border.

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"Please state your name, rank, title, and present assignment for the log." "My name is Ariel Ivanda Etsuko Katayama Elannis. My rank is Lieutenant Commander. My title is chief of operations. My present assignment is the starship USS Farragut." Tricia Hargreaves smiled at Ariel. "Thank you for appearing, Commander." "Oh, it's your pleasure, I'm sure," replied Ariel mockingly. "I assume, for the record, that you don't want to be here?" "You assume correctly. For the record, I think this investigation is a complete waste of everyone's time." Tricia's pleasure at Ariel's disdain for the investigation was clear by her smile. "You were carried on the crew roster as the ship's chief of operations as of Stardate 4322-" "I was carried as the ship's chief of operations and the acting executive officer," corrected Ariel quickly. "I also supported Captain Leone's actions completely. Are we done, now?" "No, Commander, I'm afraid we're not," Hargreaves said with a satisfied smirk. Her fingers tapped against the surface of the padd, but nothing 131


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changed on the PADD's display. She merely tapped in a refresh command over and over to give the appearance of recalling information. "On Stardate 43224.3, Captain Leone gave the order to alter the ship's heading to rendezvous with the Kasui fortress. According to the reports gathered from the logs and reports, you were in conference with the captain prior to her order." "So?" "Were you included in the discussion regarding that change?" "Yes, I was." "Could you tell me about it?" "Sure." They sat in silence for a moment, before Hargreaves sighed. "What did you and the captain discuss in her ready room, prior to her issuing the order to alter course?" "The captain was intent on withdrawing the ship from Tristnor space at the best possible speed." Hargreaves' jaw dropped. "Excuse me?" "The captain," she repeated, as though she were speaking to a person of lesser intelligence, "was intent on withdrawing the ship from Tristnor space at the best possible speed." 132


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"Thank you," came the very dry reply. "What I meant to ask was, why was this information not included in the official report?" "Because the conversation was conducted in private, and Captain Leone stands by her orders. She is a woman of conviction and great passion." Ariel leaned forward and a smirk appeared on her lips. "As you well know." Tricia cleared her throat. "What did you and the captain discuss prior to the change in her orders?" "A lot of things." "Be specific." "I don't think investigation."

that's

relevant

to

your

"I determine what's relevant and what's not. Answer the question." Ariel rolled her eyes as Tricia postured. She folded her arms and looked up at the bulkhead as though she were trying to recall the salient details of the conversation. "We discussed the situation and how the Prime Directive applied. She was certain that the Prime Directive did apply in this situation, and I played devil's advocate. We often do that when we're trying to dissect the circumstances."

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"I'm sure that you do. In this case, it seems that your advocacy of an evil agenda worked on the captain." "I dare say that it did." "Pardon me?" "You heard me. I was the one who convinced the captain to change her mind. If there's any blame to be laid, I think I should be the one to-" "Hold it right there, Commander. The captain ultimately made the decision to alter course and join the conflict with clear disregard toward Federation law." "Then I'm an accessory. I supported her orders and I never questioned them once." "That's nice, but-" "Furthermore, I led the assault on the facility and was the principal liaison officer coordinating the joint efforts between-" "Commander, that much is a matter of record, and I have to caution you that by admitting your guilt, you may open yourself up to charges-" Ariel scoffed, "Where you're concerned, Trish, I'm fucking counting on charges being brought."

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"Lieutenant Commander Hargreaves, please. I don't recall giving you permission to refer to me by my first-" "Oh, shove it up your ass, Trish. We go way back, you and I. All the way back to Victory, remember? I was there, and I know what happened when Krys found out about your little problem." Hargreaves shut off the log and fumed. "I would have fixed it, until she went and blabbed to Captain Wainwright-" "As her duty entailed..." "God damn you!" thundered Hargreaves, feeling her emotional control vanish. "Both of you! You both think you're so smug, sitting here on your very own ship, handed to you-" "To me?" "To her!" "That's what this is about, isn't it?" asked Ariel, leaning back with her voice level. "You're here for revenge." Trish slammed her fist onto the table. "I'm here for justice! That slimy bitch weaseled her way up the ranks and managed to use her mommy's influence to gain a starship command she had no business in accepting in the first place!"

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Ariel got to her feet so quickly, the chair jumped out from under her and skidded on its wheels until the momentum carried it too far and it toppled to the ground. By the time it did, Ariel had already risen to lean menacingly over the conference table. "Because we go way back," she said, softly but furiously, "I'm going to give you a few seconds to revise your statement." Seeing her move as quickly as she did caused a tsunami of fear to well up inside of Hargreaves. "AAre you threatening me?" "Not at all," said Ariel with a Cheshire grin on her face. "I'm stating fact. And your time is nearly up, Trish. What's it going to be?" Hargreaves swallowed visibly. "I believe I have everything I need from you, Commander. You may leave." Ariel stood upright with a self-satisfied smirk. "Coward to the last."

A The field of stars beneath his feet reminded him of the story his father used to tell him about walking in the Land of Eternal Midnight. As the story went, a guard that lived on a moon in orbit of a world that had a single occupant; a princess for whom he was to watch over and protect from any harm that space might bring. One day, after years 136


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of maintaining his vigilant watch over her, he decides to abandon his post to meet her. In order to make the journey from the moon to the planet, he walks within the Land of Eternal Midnight and has many adventures among the stars. Of course, he felt like the guard, but no adventure other than the obvious one of survival met him as he floated with his limbs outstretched. Vertigo claimed him long ago, as he lost his sense of up and down or left and right. For a moment, he almost reveled in the feeling of being within the hold of nothing, but that moment flew away from him just as soon as it had come. He looked down at the panel on his arm to check the status of the suit's life support system. The numbers on the display reinforced the notion of keeping his breathing as steady as possible to prevent the hoards of panic waiting to bust down his training-instilled control. He knew that his short-range radio call was not likely to reach anyone. He knew that there was a real possibility of dying of asphyxiation before any other demise he could think of. At least, the other kinds would require a ship to drop in, and he hoped that they would have the presence of mind to save him rather than shoot at him. No matter how hard he tried, sleep did not seem to come to him. The tight fist of freefall clenched at 137


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his stomach, preventing the natural desire to blissfully carry him off so that he could at least let the time pass by faster than simply waiting in the void for a rescue that may or may not come. He wished he could sleep. His eyelids felt heavy, so he closed them, trying to imagine floating on his back in a pool of warm water and it began to work. That's right, he thought. That's where I am. I'm in the pool at the Academy, just floating on my back when the days got really rough and I couldn't deal with it anymore. Well, this is one of the rougher days of your life and you could surely use that pool right now, couldn't you? As Tommy O'Day floated in the Land of Eternal Midnight, he spoke aloud to himself with a slow nod: "Yes, I sure could."

A

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“A Great Perhaps�

Captain's Log Stardate 43243.1 With the trilithium resin field left behind by the destruction of the freighter Shoeless Joe scattered in one of the major commercial spacelanes between Starbase 310 and Starbase Deep Space Four, a search and rescue operation for our missing ensign, Thomas O'Day, has become increasingly difficult. While we have no conclusive proof that Ensign O'Day survived the destruction of his shuttle, we are proceeding under the assumption that he made it to his EVA suit and is awaiting rescue. To that end,

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I've summoned my officers to the ready room to discuss our options. The ship remains stationary amid the two remaining freighters within the convoy while the starships Sutherland and Excalibur have arrived to provide assistance. Captain Andrew Estrada of Excalibur is the senior captain on the scene, but he has deferred to me for the time being. Senior Chief Petty Officer Tallan stared out of the ready room's floor-to-ceiling viewport with his arms folded across his chest. His blue antennae twitched slightly as he replied to the open question. "A standard EVA escape suit carries approximately twenty-four hours of life support, sir, but if I know the ensign as well as I think I do, he would have rigged his suit for low power usage." Captain Krystine Leone shared a look with Lieutenant Petra Bartlet, Farragut's chief engineering officer. "How long would that extend his suit's power for?" "Hard to say, because it's not an exact science," replied Petra. "Thirty-six to forty hours, on the outside depending on what exactly he modified the suit to do." Tallan turned to look back at his commanding officer as she was seated behind the desk. "Captain, it depends entirely on the condition of the suit. If 140


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it's damaged, then he would have much less time. If he made it out in pristine condition, it could be as much as forty-eight hours." Leone checked the chronometer on her desktop terminal. "By my guess, then, he either is beyond rescue, or he has roughly twenty-two hours left." The ship's chief science officer, Lieutenant Abigail "Abbie" Atherton, chimed in, "There's also the added problem of scanning through the trilithium out there. If Ensign O'Day has drifted near enough to the field then his rescue beacon's signal could be obscured by the interference." Commander Jesse Kincaid sat in the lone chair in front of the desk, but listened carefully before making a comment.. "I think that we should proceed with the assumption of the best possible outcome, Captain." "I concur," Leone replied. She turned her chair back toward Petra and Kincaid, then crossed her legs and leaned forward with her fingers interlaced. "Let's get a plan together." Abbie started with her idea. "We should back out with a concentrated search in the known position of Komarov. I'd like to lead away mission, with Lieutenant Aspinall as pilot."

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Kincaid placed a flat hand atop the surface of the captain's desk. "I'd agree to that, but how would you cut through the interference of the field?" Petra said, "We could outfit the shuttles with an augmented sensor package to help cut through the interference. I would say that it will also extend the range enough to help us locate the ensign." Abbie nodded. "I think Lieutenant Bartlet's suggestion will work. If she can provide the hardware, I can handle the software en route." "I can also lend a hand in configuring the sensors, if needed," offered Tallan. "It seems we have a consensus, then," Leone rose from her seat, leading Kincaid to do the same. "The clock's ticking and the ensign is counting on us. Let's get to work." The chorus of affirmatives preceded the exodus of officers back toward the bridge. Kincaid lingered after a quick, but pointed look from his captain. Once they were alone, he wondered, "Sir?" Leone leaned forward in her seat and rested on her elbows. "What's the latest on the probable cause analysis on the explosion?" She added with an edge to her tone, "Since it may have cost me one of my crew?"

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"The investigation is still ongoing, so I don't have any conclusions, yet." Off her displeased expression, he quickly continued, "However, there's a high probability that this was simply an accident. We're continuing to analyze the remains of the ship as we find them to determine if there's anything else that could be the culprit. I have, though, reassigned some key personnel to the search for Ensign O'Day. It's obviously the top priority, sir." She nodded slowly. "Thank you. Contact Sutherland and Excalibur; see if they can provide assistance with the incident investigation, if you need it. Use my name, if you have to. If I have to write a letter of condolence to his parents, I damn well want to be able to tell them why their son is no longer with us." "We still have time to find him, sir. I have every confidence that Lieutenants Barlet and Atherton will be able to cut through the interference." "As do I." Leone turned her chair away from Kincaid to gaze out the port. "And if we don't find him alive, then the least we can do is return him to his family."

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Act I

The interior of the shuttle Garrovick felt cramped as Greg stepped aboard. The access panels along the deck had been removed, exposing the vessel's critical circuitry beneath it. Abbie, Tallan, Petra, and two other engineering crew worked at each panel with tools in hand; the staccato sounds from each person played out a soft but rather discordant symphony to his ears. Abbie brought her uniform sleeve up to wipe at her brow. She made brief eye contact with Greg before returning to her work. Without looking at him, she ordered, "Be ready to depart in five minutes."

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"Two minutes," corrected Petra. "We're about done here. The rest you can do en route." "Two minutes, Mister Aspinall," Abbie called out as he moved into the shuttle's cockpit. Tallan replaced the panel and locked it into its former position. "The upgraded sensor palette package is in place, Lieutenant." Greg settled into the pilot's chair and began the pre-flight as Petra replied to Tallan. The engineering team began to pack up their equipment to disembark, while Tallan took the station opposite Greg. "Good luck," was all Petra said before tapping the control to close the hatch. "Shuttle pre-flight completed, and we're cleared to depart," Greg announced. "Hold on to something." The nose of the shuttle lifted up off the deck suddenly and with little notice, the starfield to the rear of the saucer section filled the forward viewport. "We're free and clear to navigate." Abbie shared a glance with Tallan at the suddenness of their departure, but chose to say nothing. "I'm almost finished with the programming. Take us to our last coordinates. By the time we're there, we should be ready to scan with the enhanced sensors."

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Garrovick banked around Farragut's tactical pod strut under Greg's control. The shuttle straightened out its trajectory and the impulse engines glowed brightly. "En route. ETA is fifteen minutes, give or take," Greg reported.

A Lieutenant Commander Tricia Hargreaves stepped off of the turbolift to the rear of the main bridge. She carried her PADD in her right hand while activating it with her left, opting to use a stylus rather than her fingertips. She drifted toward the tactical station behind Lieutenant Wilson Nieves and glanced at the console's display. The display showed the tracking of a single shuttle moving at a high rate of speed toward the debris field. According to the identification number, the shuttle's name was Garrovick. Hargreaves tapped a few notes into her PADD, which made the customary noises as she did so. Unfortunately, the tones brought her presence to the attention of the ship's tactical officer. Nieves asked, "Is there something I can do for you, Commander Hargreaves?" He stressed her name and raised his voice slightly when he did so. Hargreaves felt the blood rush to her cheeks. "No, thank you, Lieutenant."

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Commander Kincaid rose from the center seat and turned around to frown at her. "Commander, I need the bridge cleared of all non-essential personnel." She stood her ground. "I'm not nearly finished with my investigation, sir. And if this incident has any bearing on Starfleet's question into Captain Leone's conduct, then I should be here to document it." Hargreaves' attention moved back to her PADD, as though the issue were resolved. "Now, may I ask why the captain isn't present on the bridge during this crisis?" "No, you may not," Kincaid replied coldly. "Lieutenant Commander Hargreaves, you are in danger of being reported for insubordination. Your assignment has nothing to do with the current investigation; in fact, this is not yet a matter for the Inspector General's office. You have no jurisdiction here, but you are in getting in the way of our investigation and rescue efforts. Do I have to repeat myself?" She quietly deactivated her PADD and shook her head. "No, sir." "Dismissed." Kincaid did not wait for her to clear the bridge before continuing, "Lieutenant, make sure that we're forwarding the sensor readings from the search crews to Commander Elannis and her team. There may be data there that will help them 147


MICHAEL D. GARCIA & A. J. GERTNER

determine if there was more than a simple accident." As the turbolift doors closed, Nieves shot Kincaid a quick grin. "Thanks, sir." "Don't mention it," Kincaid replied, already turning back to check on the status of one of the search teams. Judging by the approving expressions on the faces of the bridge crew, Nieves knew that the exchange would be mentioned many times over by the end of the day.

A Rear Admiral Joseph F. Aybar, the Inspector General of Starfleet, stared at Lieutenant Commander Hargreaves over the subspace communications link. His dark hair and eyes always seemed to look right through her whenever they spoke. In his baritone voice, he told her to "Report." "Sir, I have found sufficient evidence to bring charges against Captain Leone and Commander Elannis," she told him without hesitation. "With your permission, I would like to relieve them of duty and take them into custody for transfer back to Earth for court-martial." "Permission denied."

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She made no secret of her confusion and displeasure. "Excuse me, sir?" Admiral Aybar leaned forward in his seat and raised his voice, as though she could not hear him. "I said, permission is denied. You will not take either officer into custody, nor will you attempt to relieve them of duty." Trish sputtered, "B-But why, sir? The evidence points to gross violations of the Prime Directive, and furthermore, I think that Starfleet has a serious case to permanently transfer them both to a penal colony for the rest of their lives." "The evidence also contains information that has been recently classified by Starfleet Command. In fact, all mission data collected by your investigation has been sealed at the request of the heads of Starfleet Intelligence and Starfleet Tactical," replied the admiral, in a resigned tone. Although she smiled, her tone dripped with barely-concealed anger, "I must protest strongly, sir. This is a grave miscarriage of justice." "Be that as it may," he said with a shrug, "I have been informed that the data contained within your report touches on too many sensitive topics and cannot be admitted in a court of law under present conditions. Perhaps, with time, those orders might change, but for now..." He allowed his voice to trail 149


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off, indicating the unsaid portion of his statement with a wave of his hand. She could not believe how nonchalant he was acting about the case. Just a week ago, he told her not to leave any stone unturned. "Sir, you realize that this is simply Captain Leone's family manipulating the system on her behalf, don't you?" Aybar frowned at her. "The decisions of the admiralty are not subject to your review. And I would caution you further about meddling in affairs far above your paygrade." Her frustration threatened to boil over; it took all of her composure to keep herself from exploding before her commanding officer. She took in a deep breath to calm down and tried and different tack. "I understand, sir. Currently, Farragut is investigating the cause of a civilian freighter explosion. I think my skills would be helpful if I was assigned to assist and review, sir," she suggested carefully. "That incident has not yet been referred to our offices, Commander. There's no indication that it will be, either, but that determination has yet to be made. Your orders are to return to Starbase 310 and undertake another investigation," Aybar said, happy to be returning the conversation to something less uncomfortable. "I will transmit the case to you as soon as you arrive." 150


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Defeated, she stood before the admiral and nodded. "Aye, sir." Once the viewscreen powered off, Hargreaves reached for the nearest chair and threw it against the bulkhead with all her might. She watched as it bounced off and fell to the deck in one piece, though the back of it appeared to have been bent by the impact. It wasn't enough to satisfy her rage. She decided to make use of the ship's holodecks for a while. On her way there, she wondered if it was against Starfleet protocol to create an image of the person you hated most, for the sole purpose of beating the shit out of it. As far as she was concerned, Krystine Leone may have won this battle, but the war was far from over.

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Act II

Lieutenant Commander Ariel Elannis walked along the corridor shoulder-to-shoulder with Petra as they approached the primary engineering lab. The doors parted to reveal a quartet of enlisted members, all wearing the same mustard yellow colors as Ariel and Petra; three humans and a Tellarite. "Hello, everyone," began Ariel. She waved off their sudden stance to attention. "I apologize for inviting you late to the party, but we're going to need your collective analysis on the current situation using the sensor data we've gathered so far with the shuttles out there. While the senior staff is tasked with the search and rescue of Ensign 152


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O'Day, the decision has been made to call in the ATeam on this one." The oldest human wore the rank insignia of a chief petty officer on his collar as well as an amused smile. "It's about time, Commander," he chuckled. "Right, Lieutenant?" Lieutenant (jg) Harold Vestry was at least fifteen years younger than Chief Wendell Brown. Though he obviously shared in his amusement, it was brief. "Anything we can do to help, sir," Vestry said plainly, "though, I will probably ask why Crewman McComas is here?" The youngest human turned her head in askance toward Vestry before looking at Petra. "Lieutenant Bartlet ordered me to report here for duty." Petra explained quickly, "The crewman is striking for our division, Lieutenant Vestry. Senior Chief Tallan has already vouched for her and this is part of her training, so you'll please indulge me." Vestry snapped back to attention as though he were an Academy midshipman again. "Of course, sir." The Tellarite, Operations Specialist Second Class Skav snorted. "Just what we need, another sniveling human mewling for attention around here."

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Ariel did nothing to hide her smile when Skav spoke. Most everyone forgave Skav's employment of what Tellarites called "civil conversation." Though it was "civil" to them, it was nothing short of abrasive, rude, and condescending to most other species. Clearly, McComas had not had too much experience with Skav or any other members of his race, for she shot an angry glance toward him before returning her attention toward the two senior officers. "Now that we're all friends, surely we can move forward with this pressing matter?" asked Petra. Her tone grew an edge as her frustration seeped through. "Mister Vestry, you're obviously point." "Yes, sir," said the lieutenant. He turned his head, "Chief Brown, Skav, start compiling the data gathered and segment it for proper analysis in two hours." The chief moved off with Skav to the lab computer and got to work without saying anything in acknowledgement. "I don't suppose I could seek Senior Chief Tallan's assistance, sirs?" asked Vestry. "His expertise would be missed." Ariel responded, "I'm afraid the Senior Chief is presently assigned to the SAR mission underway." "Utilize the crewman's expertise for now," ordered Petra as she made her way toward the exit. 154


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She paused and added, "I would prefer that you use the crewman to stand in for the Senior Chief until his return but let me know if you require any further resources." Vestry shared a brief look with McComas, then nodded to Petra. "Aye, sir."

A Greg entered in the new search pattern as they approached the coordinates specified by Abbie, who continued to work within the access panel but switched out her tools for a PADD. She set up a second display to directly access the control computer for the shuttle's new sensor configuration and monitored it closely. Tallan watched as the lieutenant's fingers flew over the PADD's inputs. "Ever consider a career in engineering, Lieutenant Atherton?" She did not respond right away, instead completing her task and then compiling the new interface with a decisive tap of her right index finger against the screen. "I always thought of engineering as a science, Senior. I just went macro rather than specialize." She gave him a quick grin when he snorted in reply. "We're in position," whenever you are." 155

Greg

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Abbie tapped the PADD once more and replied, "Scanning now." Tallan immediately turned his attention to the output on the co-pilot's console. The sensor's proximity alarm began to sound not along after the first pass was completed. "Excellent job, Lieutenant. We've got much better resolution." Abbie moved into the cockpit and asked, "What are we seeing?" "I'm seeing some overlapping debris fields." He pointed out the new readings from the sensors on his console, while Abbie leaned in over his shoulder within the cockpit. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but this field over here is showing non-Starfleet hull materials," Abbie pointed her finger as she spoke. "Which would mean that we need to move over to this side of the field." Greg tapped in new commands into the shuttle's helm and displayed his new course on the console. The line traced around the edges of the trilithium field to prevent the shuttle from coming into contact "Repositioning now. ETA: twelve minutes at full impulse power." Again, he did not wait for an order; Garrovick surged forward toward the indicated destination.

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Less than two hours from Harold Vestry's order to Chief Brown and Petty Officer Skav, the data retrieved from Farragut's contingent of shuttles appeared in a highly organized format on the lab's master display. "Problem number one," began Vestry, "is to determine the most probable cause of the explosion. We need to work the problem backward, so let's begin with the analysis of the debris field and the patterns we're seeing. "Problem number two is whether this was sabotage or chance." Brown, Skav, and McComas each regarded the display's information. Skav's skill at processing raw data seemed to be unmatched aboard the ship, so far. He devised a system to quickly review and determine the relevant information to pare down their workset to maximize their efficiency. But, McComas decided that the Tellarite would not likely accept a compliment from her. "Some new information is being delivered," Skav said. "Garrrovick is showing the debris fields with higher resolution than the other reports. I'm putting them up on the main display, now." When the screen shifted, McComas left the trio to sit in at the nearest lab station. The raw information from Garrovick duplicated on the 157


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smaller screen in front of her, but she began to filter the data to look for specific markers. Chief Brown commented, "Metallurgy suggests that the debris in the lower part of the scan field is our shuttle. Lieutenant Atherton has already marked off that section for their search, and she noted that the larger field is our civilian freighter." McComas continued to work, using Abbie's notations on the uploaded data as a guide. "Computer," she began, "using the most recent information, extrapolate the debris marked off by Lieutenant Atherton against the rest of the datasets and cross-reference into a result list." "Working," replied the computer. "Please stand by." As she spoke, the other three moved their attention to her station. Vestry strode in behind McComas and peered down at the display. "You're narrowing it down further for us," he said. "The search became more difficult when the shuttle broke up within the field, creating additional variables to contend with," replied McComas. "We have to make sure that we're not wasting time in analyzing the wrong field." "Task completed," announced the computer. The new index of results appeared as the computer spoke. 158


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McComas immediately siphoned the information into a new project, and ran through the list. "There's a lot of data here." Vestry asked, "Can you split that up into four chunks?" McComas nodded and did so in lieu of a verbal reply. He addressed the other two. "Let's each of us take a data chunk and review it. Shout if you need anything."

A The console on the shuttle began to blur before Greg's eyes. He closed them tightly, then opened them to try and assuage the fatigue he felt creeping over him in the most recent hours of fruitless searching. "Keep an eye on the helm for me, Senior," Greg said to Tallan. "I have the helm, Lieutenant," the Andorian replied. Greg cleared his throat and rose from the console to order a raktajino from the replicator and then took a long quaff from the mug in spite of the heat. From her seat in the passenger compartment, Abbie looked up from the sensor readouts on her PADD to glare at Greg. "That's your sixth mug." 159


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Greg took a labored breath and replied tersely, "I'm glad you're keeping count." "There aren't many benefits after the third cup. And one huge disadvantage." He ignored her at first, choosing to drink further. Greg sat down behind the helm once more and placed the mug on the small ledge on the starboard bulkhead next to his seat. He nodded toward her, "Anything on the sensors, yet?" "I would have said so if there were," Abbie replied, glancing at the Senior Chief and then the chronometer. "Greg..." she began, only to be interrupted by the chime of an incoming transmission. She activated the viewscreen and gazed back at the image of Commander Kincaid. "Report, ceremony.

Lieutenant?"

he

began

without

"Nothing new, sir. We're still going through the search grid." "You've been out there for sixteen hours. I'm sending Babbage out to your current position to take over that search grid. Give them your findings up to now and come back to Farragut. Garrovick needs a change of crew." Greg keyed in a break-in to the communication from his console and addressed Kincaid directly. 160


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"Sir, with all due respect, I think too much time is wasted in rotating out the crew. We should remain on station and continue the search until we find Tommy." Kincaid opened his mouth to reply, but Greg continued before the executive officer could say a word. "None of us are tired and we're willing to continue." The helmsman looked up at Tallan and then at Abbie. "Right?" Abbie shook her head, returning the transmission to her own console. "Acknowledged, sir. I'll handle the lieutenant. Garrovick out." She gave the Senior Chief a meaningful look as she cut the transmission, as if daring him to disagree. Tallan raised his hands in surrender, saying nothing to either officer before returning to tend to the co-pilot's console. Greg, on the other hand, visibly fumed at Abbie. "He's still out there, damn it!" Turning her seat to face the pilot, she began quickly, "Greg, we can barely see straight. We stopped doing any good about an hour ago. We need clear-headed people out here if we're going to find him. Plot a course for the ship, or I'll lock you out of the computer. Now." Greg felt the sting of her words and the finality of the situation at once, causing his throat to 161


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constrict slightly. Not wanting to look at her any longer, he turned back around to touch his console and entered in the course back to Farragut. Through clenched teeth, he replied, "Aye, sir."

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Act III

Abbie sat the science station on the bridge, fingers rapidly flying over the interface as she tried to comb through the data of the various shuttles. Kincaid hovered over her shoulder while Greg paced behind her, unable to watch. Nothing could be heard except the soft response tones of the computer. Leone watched the chronometer in her armrest with a sinking heart as forty-eight hours from the ensign's disappearance elapsed. She closed her eyes briefly, taking a breath and then announced, "That's time. Anything out there?" Abbie shook her head, her shoulders slumping. "No, sir. Nothing to indicate where Ensign O'Day 163


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might be." Kincaid put a hand on her shoulder to comfort her. The announcement of the deadline by the captain caused Greg to let out a held breath loudly. His eyes watered and he felt his legs weaken. He reached up to place his hand against the bulkhead, but missed its location by nearly a half-meter. As he threw his entire weight against his hand, his body fell to the deck with a loud thud. Before anyone could move to assist him, he informed them, "I'm all right. I'm fine." Leone rose from her seat immediately at the sound of Greg's voice. Though he gave her a sheepish grin at the misstep, she was not buying his assurances. "How long have you been up?" Greg shook his head in a denial but Abbie spoke before he could, "Closing in on forty hours, sir." She ignored Greg's glare in reply. "Lieutenant Aspinall, you're relieved. Report to sickbay and check in with a doctor. Until they clear you for duty, you're not to set foot on my bridge," Leone said sharply. In spite of his bloodshot eyes and his apparent inability to stay upright without leaning on the nearest bulkhead, Greg protested, "Sir, I'm fine. We should keep on this search for as long as we have

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to." Unfortunately for him, every third or fourth word was slurred. "No one's calling off the search, Lieutenant," Kincaid answered, stepping forward to reach out and steady the younger man. Greg slapped away the proffered support from the executive officer and lurched forward slightly toward Leone. His fatigued-laced anger caused a sudden redness to his expression. He opened his mouth to raise his voice, "Krys-" Once again, Abbie interrupted. "Captain, with your permission, I'd like to go to sickbay with the lieutenant. I only got a couple hours myself and I'm feeling somewhat lightheaded," she explained, moving quickly to Greg's side and taking one of his arms to pull him towards the turbolift. Leone narrowed her eyes toward Greg briefly, then shared a look with Kincaid. "I think that's a very good idea. For the both of you. Commander Kincaid, will you call for replacements, please?" Kincaid nodded. "Aye, Captain." He gave Abbie a thin smile as he tapped his commbadge to pass the word over the intercom. Abbie had Greg practically in the turbolift before he could formulate a coherent reply, if one wanted to generous. "I'm not...bla..tired," he insisted as the doors closed. 165


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Leone looked at her XO and noted, "She's a good officer." Kincaid nodded his agreement. "The best, sir. I'm going to have her replacement continue to go over the data but otherwise, start calling in the shuttles out there whose crews have been on for more than nine hours. We should try to avoid that hyperfatigue situation in others." "Very well," Leone replied with a succinct nod. "See to it, Jesse."

A Sovera reviewed the findings on the medical tricorder as she angled the scanner over Greg. He had flat out refused to lie down and so was seated on the edge of a biobed. He would list to one side every so often, but Abbie stood nearby to help him steady himself. "Your muscles are undergoing microspasms," began the doctor. "I also see that you are partially dehydrated. Combined with your vertigo and slurred speech, you are experiencing extreme fatigue, Lieutenant. You should eat food, drink some water and sleep for at least twelve hours." She set down the scanner and added, "I will prepare a sedative for you, to help you get to sleep faster once you are in your quarters."

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"I..I'm not.. We have to find him, I gotta find him. I'm not...sleep," Greg retorted firmly. "Lieutenant, you may rest assured that there is nothing further that you can do for your friend. You should not push yourself into exhaustion in order to recover his remains." "He's not dead!" he screamed at Sovera. His vocal tone dropped significantly due to the combination of fatigue and anxiety. Greg's arm pushed Abbie away as he got to his feet. He wagged his finger at the doctor, "You give me whatever you need to give me so I can go back out there and find him!" Abbie rushed to put herself between the doctor and patient. "Greg, she's not going to do that, and you know it. You need to get some sleep because you couldn't find a battlecruiser if it was in front of a viewport right now." To focus his attention on her, she pushed his face with her hand to make sure he was looking at her and not the Vulcan. "You know we're still looking for him, no one's given up. But if you want to help him, you gotta get some sleep first." He gave no signs of listening to anything Abbie told him. His tirade appeared to exhaust the last remaining bit of energy left within him, and without warning leaned forward sharply toward her. 167


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With a quick motion, Abbie caught him and kept him upright as he leaned against her. "I don't think that sedative's going to be necessary, Doctor," she mentioned. "Let me get him back to his quarters so he can get that sleep," she continued, already starting to lead him away. He offered no resistance. "Do you require any assistance, Lieutenant?" "I think I'll be okay. He's still mobile, more or less." Abbie paused before adding, "You know how exhaustion can play with the mind of any species, Doctor. I'm sure you'll be discrete about any sideeffects of his condition." "Indeed. If you do require anything further, please notify sickbay and we will assist you presently." "Thanks, Doctor," Abbie acknowledged without bothering to smile as she guided Greg towards the doors.

A "Chicken broth, lukewarm, in a mug, please," Abbie ordered from the replicator inside of Greg's quarters. They were the first words he understood as he roused himself somewhat. He found himself in a chair at the small table and he blinked blearily. "Where's the doctor?" he asked, somewhat clearly.

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"In sickbay," Abbie replied as she set the cup in front of him and then took the other seat. "I want you to drink that and then you're going to bed, Greg." "I'm not..." "Cut the crap. You're dead on your feet and you just blew up at the doctor, not that you probably remember, your brain is so fried." Greg sat sullenly for a moment, then reached out to wrap his hand around the mug slowly. It felt like moving through water. "I'm a little tired," he finally acknowledged. Abbie nodded shallowly and slumped back in the chair, her arms coming up to lay on the armrests. "You can't do that again, Greg. I know you're upset about Tommy, that you're beyond tired, but you can't blow up at people. Hell, you almost disobeyed a direct order from the captain." "Used to babysit me," Greg defended himself in a mumble as he focused his attention on bringing the mug up to his mouth. "I don't care if she wiped the poop from your ass once upon a time, you're a Starfleet officer now. We cannot allow our grief to take over that like that," she insisted. "Tommy thinks you've got a nice ass," Greg added, seizing upon only a few words. 169


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"Well, I'm glad he got a kick out of it, I guess," Abbie replied, expelling a breath afterwards. "Didn't they teach you at the Academy about dealing with loss in the line of the duty?" she tried a gentler tack. "They've got that Kobayashi Maru scenario everyone takes part in?" Greg sighed heavily and took another sip from the mug. "That scenario is not the end-all be-all of loss. It's... more about how you deal with maintaining a balance between the loss of civilian life over the protection of governmental policy. Hardly a test of dealing with personal loss, I think." He took some more of the broth into his mouth and swallowed. "That's really good." "And you've never lost someone before?" she asked tentatively. "No. And I don't intend to, today or tomorrow." Abbie looked at one of the windows, tracking the path of one of the incoming shuttlecraft with her gaze. "It's a part of life in general, and Starfleet in particular, you know. I was in my third month of service when I lost friends on a ship. We give up the ability to rage publicly at death when we sign on. And one day.." She turned to face him again. "You will too, no matter what you do. And you can't react the way you did today and expect to keep wearing that uniform." 170


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Greg stopped drinking and put the nearlyempty mug down. "I'll make my apologies later," he promised, staring down at the remains of the broth rather than at her. "It's not about apologies, Greg. It's about facing bad circumstances like an adult and an officer. And I'll admit, you don't know really know you can until you're facing it." She appeared to struggle with herself for a moment, then nodded as if deciding something. "I'm not going to talk about this again, so hopefully you remember this. I had joined up during the Tzenkathi War. I'd been thinking about joining the reserves, to try to get into the exploratory service beforehand, but with the war, I thought it was the right time. "I was an ensign, fresh out of OCS, when I was assigned to Zhukov, one of the Ambassador class vessels. We were on the front line and most of what I was doing was scanning, analyzing sensor data, things like that. Once in awhile, I got bridge duty and I got a kick out of it. Made friends with this guy in Ops, and this girl from New Athens who was in security, Nika Halkiopoulos. Nika was just coming onto the bridge this one day, and Mendel was at the Ops station when we were engaged by a Tzenkathi vessel.

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"We had been in skirmishes before but I had never been in on the bridge when it happened. I was..scared out of my mind, honestly, but also...excited, really. And then we took a hit. A really bad one, practically straight at the bridge. One moment everyone's doing their job, calling out, and then there's this big flash and explosion and I'm pulling myself up from the deck. I'm looking through the haze and only one other person seems to be moving, and meanwhile the Tzenkathi cruiser is coming around for another pass and no one's at tactical and I just run over there while the other person runs to the helm. "The body of the person at security was slumped over the console and I had to move it to get to the controls. And I just half pick it up and let it drop, I don't have time to be gentle or anything. And I see that it's Nika. She was a full lieutenant, you know. Her eyes are open, and she looks surprised. There's a piece of the bulkhead sticking in her chest. And I don't have time to close her eyes or anything, I'm just frantically trying to remember what they said in school about targeting, and meanwhile she's just staring up at me the whole time. "Between the captain and me, we managed to return fire. We figured something out, and we took out the cruiser, avenged our dead, saved the ship 172


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and all that. But I only ever really remember Nika looking at me while I stood at her post. But if I had freaked out then like I freaked out later about that, how I still sometimes freak out about that, we wouldn't made it. So I get what you're feeling. And if you want to freak out about it, okay, but do it here, or do it in my quarters, or the holodeck. You can't do it on duty, you can't do it in public, all right, Greg?" When Abbie looked back at Greg for his response, he had his eyes closed. His posture was hunched over his legs as sleep returned to claimed him. She watched him for a moment, her mouth pulled to one side in thought, then levered herself out of the chair. After some effort and minimal assistance from Greg, she got him onto the bed. "Computer, dim the lights," she said right before she left his quarters to resume her shift.

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Act IV

Abbie stepped onto the bridge. When she caught the captain's eye, she reported, "He's asleep in his quarters, sir. The doctor thinks he'll be fine after some food and rest." At the captain's nod, she resumed her post, getting an update from the other officer there on the data review. Chief Warrant Officer Andrew Reynolds spoke from the tactical station, "Captain, incoming transmission from Starbase 310. Admiral T'Cirya is requesting to speak with you." Leone got to her feet and walked toward her ready room. "I'll take it in here, thank you." Once inside, she activated the desktop terminal to see the insignia of Starfleet Command awaiting her. 174


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The screen blinked and T'Cirya greeted her with a nod. "Captain." "Admiral," replied Leone. "How may I help you?" "I require an update on the current situation." She settled into the seat behind her desk and sighed. "I'm afraid that we've been unable to locate Ensign O'Day thus far, sir." "And the deadline has already passed at this point, has it not?" "Yes, sir, but that does not necessarily mean that all hope is lost. I'm confident that the Ensign will be found," Leone replied in earnest. "I'm not willing to write him off, yet." "Unfortunately, you will need to report back to port and hand off both the investigation and the search to Captains Estrada and Wilder. Farragut was originally expected to return from Deep Space Four in twelve hours from now." Leone looked at the small chronometer at the bottom of the transmission screen. "I understand, however, I would like to request some latitude in handling this situation. We have an enormous amount of data to hand off, and a large number of shuttles currently on search duty. If I could possibly receive some more time to make sure all is well in hand before leaving...?" 175


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T'Cirya glanced off-screen briefly. "Captain, out of... understanding, I am willing to grant you no more than eight hours' reprieve before getting underway. I will advise Captain Maxwell. Will that suffice?" "Could I ask for twelve?" "You may ask, but I will not grant it." Leone cleared her throat. "Eight hours it is, sir. Thank you." "T'Cirya, out." The screen blinked once more to show the logo before blanking entirely.

A Captain Andrew Estrada of the USS Excalibur patted Jesse Kincaid on the back. "Good to see you, again." They stood within the turbolift as it ascended toward deck one. "It's been what... four years since Valdemar?" Kincaid smiled. "A little under four, yes, sir." The lift came to a halt and the doors parted to admit them entry to the main bridge. He led the captain to the other side of the bridge and into the corridor leading to the observation lounge. The commanding officer of USS Sutherland, Captain Nathan Brotman, had already been seated to Leone's left and appeared to be mid-conversation when Kincaid and Estrada entered. Upon seeing 176


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Estrada, however, Leone excused herself to walk to Estrada and greet him. Kincaid said nothing as his captain leaned in to give Estrada a peck on the cheek. In response, Excalibur's captain half-smiled. "Andy, I'm glad you're one of the guys I'm handing over this mission to," Leone said warmly. She turned to Kincaid and explained, "We served together on Hood under Captain DeSoto for a couple of years before he won that XO spot on Valdemar." "Small universe," said Andy with a grin. "Jess took over for me as exec on Valdemar when I earned my fourth pip." Leone breathed, "No kidding." She gestured with an open hand to the seat that Kincaid normally occupied. "Andy, if you please. You've met Captain Brotman, I'm sure?" "Not in person, but we've had a lot of calls," Andy replied. Before sitting down, he offered his hand to Brotman, who accepted it. "Captain, good to finally meet you." Brotman flashed "Likewise, sir."

a

smile

toward

Andy.

"Jesse," Leone said, "why don't you call in Ariel, Abbie, Petra, and Isira?" As Kincaid turned to 177


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summon them, Leone turned her attention back to Andy. "So, I heard they've got you roaming the Black Cluster?" "Yes, but not for much longer," Andy said. "I'm being told that we'll be shifted to the Romulan border in the next six months as the command cruiser out of Deep Space Four." Abbie and Isira arrived together from the same door that Kincaid used, while Ariel and Petra used the opposite entrance near the turbolifts. Kincaid could not help but notice that both visiting captains immediately fixated on Ariel's presence. Leone made the quick introductions and then turned over the briefing to Kincaid and Abbie. "Sirs, as you know, we've collected quite a bit of data, all of which has been transmitted to your ships. We indicated where we left off in our analysis, as well as where our ships left off in the search grids of the debris field. So far, we still haven't found any evidence of anything other than an accident causing the initial explosion. Likewise, we have yet to find any evidence that Ensign Thomas O'Day managed to evacuate the shuttle prior to its destruction," Kincaid summed up succinctly before looking expectantly at Abbie. "We also forwarded to your Chief Engineers the enhanced sensor package we were using to cut 178


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through the distortions left by the freighter's cargo explosion," the lieutenant explained. "Lieutenant Bartlet has outlined the hardware modifications necessary, while I included the program modifications which you would simply be able to upload into your computers. We estimate that you can make the modifications in no more than twenty minutes per shuttle." Andy asked, "I presume that you were able to make these modifications to some or all of your shuttles?" Petra replied, "More or less, Captain. To be honest, we did not have enough stores to utilize across all forty-seven- er, forty-six of our shuttles, pardon me. We were only able to modify eleven shuttles before we began our recall." "And this was a project undertaken by your division, Mister Bartlet?" "In conjunction with Lieutenant Atherton, yes, sir," Petra turned her head to acknowledge Abbie. Andy grinned. "I had a sneaking suspicion." Leone tilted understand."

her

head

slightly.

"I

don't

"We served together on Valdemar, sir, for a little over a year," Abbie explained to Leone.

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"Had I an open berth for a chief science officer, I think I might've fought you over her," Andy said with a smirk. "Please continue with the briefing, Commander." Kincaid waited a beat, taking in Leone's slight nod of approval, before noting, "We also included two other search patterns for you to consider. These patterns were based on the analysis we completed and are designed to focus on areas we think are more likely to contain any trace of the ensign." Brotman leaned forward. "But, this is for recovery, right? It's been well over forty-eight hours, and those suits aren't really given to extending their ranges no matter what you do to them. Surely, you're not holding on to some hope that he's still alive." As Brotman was speaking to Kincaid, Leone bristled at the mention of the ensign's death. Isira noticeably picked up on that and cleared her throat to distract Leone before she could say anything. Kincaid gave the captain a bland look, though there was nothing mild about his tone. "Regardless of his possible survival, sir, I believe it is our duty to try and recover what we can for his family to mourn properly." Andy nodded. "I agree. Whether we rescue or recover the ensign, we should make every 180


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expedient effort to locate him." He set his eyes on Brotman as he spoke, "We do not leave our own behind." As he said it, he realized his mistake and added, "I meant no disrespect, Captain Leone. Your ship was ordered away." Leone stared at the long table. "Of course not, Andy." Though she said the words, Isira knew there was very little truth behind them. "Besides, we're all one fleet." Isira asked Leone and Kincaid to remain behind once the briefing concluded and the captains returned to their respective starships. "What can we do for you, Counselor?" asked Leone. "Sir, I'd like for you to strongly consider conducting a memorial service for Ensign O'Day." Off their uncomfortable expressions, Isira added, "Preferably while we're en route back to Starbase 310." She put up a hand to forestall any disagreement for the time being. "The crew is very upset. Very few people are ready to deal with this kind of loss when on this kind of mission. I think it is important to let people know that it is okay to begin to grieve even though we don't yet have his remains."

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From Kincaid, Isira could sense his reluctant acceptance of her argument. "Captain, I have to agree with the Counselor. It would give the crew some closure after the frantic search we just went through." Leone's uncertainty was replaced with discontent at their words. "A memorial service is also one way of saying to the crew that we've given up on the ensign. You don't think that would have an adverse impact on morale to know that their captain will throw in the towel if they were floating out there waiting for a rescue?" As she spoke, each word had more edge than the previous until its sharpness was unmistakable. "No one thinks so, sir. I can assure you of that," Isira answered forcefully. "Moreover, the ceremony I had in mind was truly in keeping with the sentiments of a memorial. We will remember him, keep our thoughts with him though we cannot keep searching. We will give the crew a safe space to talk about Ensign O'Day without the conversation crashing to an uncomfortable halt." The captain's jaw visibly flexed as she considered her response, though Isira could already tell that Leone's emotional state was in severe flux. Finally, after a few minutes of contemplation, she conceded. "Fine. Make the arrangements. Is there anything else?" 182


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"Sir, would you like to speak with me privately?" Isira questioned. "If not now, then a bit later would be fine." Before Leone could answer, Kincaid took that moment to lift himself from his seat. "By your leave, sir?" Leone's gaze drifted from Kincaid to Isira. "That will be all, Jesse." Once they were left alone within the observation lounge, she continued to stare at the Counselor. "Something on your mind? Or perhaps mine?" Isira let the joke pass with only a small smile. "I wanted to give you a chance to express what you're going through, sir, before you have to speak about Ensign O'Day publicly. I know this is a new situation for you." "I've lost subordinates on missions, before." "Not when you've been the captain of the ship." Leone sighed. "I've only been captain for all of fifteen minutes, Counselor." Isira said nothing, trying to prompt the captain to fill the silence herself. The captain took a deep breath and laid her right palm against the surface of the table to turn away from Isira and look out of the large viewports. "In those fifteen minutes, I've managed to lose one 183


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of my crew. You don't think that's a little strange for a new captain?" "There have been many captains who lose crewmembers the day they gain command, and not just in a time of war. Starfleet is hazardous duty; even routine missions contain dangers. That's why Starfleet is so careful in selecting its captains." "Yeah, well... I'm not the other captains, Counselor." "No, you are not. Why don't you tell me what you're thinking, sir?" Isira coaxed. Leone's flat palm curled up into a clenched fist. "That this wasn't supposed to happen, and certainly not to a kid like Tommy O'Day. He deserved better than this, and he deserves us going to every extent of making sure that he's back on board this ship with the crew where he belongs. And I think that a memorial service is a clear sign that we'd abandoned him, as though leaving him behind literally doesn't already do that!" "But for the Admiral's orders, we would still be a part of that search effort. Everyone is aware of that. And everyone is always aware of the near impossibility of the ensign's ability to survive in a suit for this length of time. Even though most of your crew won't say it, almost all of them believe he is gone. There are Vulcans, Tellarites and other 184


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members of your crew who are less hesitant who voice this sentiment right now. Everyone's just waiting for your permission to mourn." She drew in a deep breath through her nose and exhaled through her lips. "And I thought I said that was fine. It doesn't mean I have to like it, but I'll handle it like I do everything else." "If you don't speak honestly about that, sir, they won't see the memorial as anything but a formality." Leone rose from her seat, clearly finished with the conversation. "Then so be it, Counselor. I need to return to my ready room so I can stop talking to you. You understand, I'm sure." She did not wait for a response, instead leaving Isira alone within the lounge. Abbie walked down the corridor with Captain Estrada, his informal escort to the transporter room. "I meant what I said back there, Abbie. If I had the position open, you would have been my first choice," he said with a wide grin. As he did so, the laugh lines around his dark brown eyes formed. "All from the year I was the most junior lieutenant on the ship, sir?" Abbie questions dryly. "I suppose I should thank you."

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"As if I didn't keep tabs on my old ship. And as if Gleason wasn't campaigning on your behalf. I don't think you know half of what the Old Man does for you. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were related," he teased. "I always thanked him for his recommendations, but really, we didn't serve together for that long. I tell him he doesn't need to chat me up so much." "Jesus, I've never seen anyone so reluctant to acknowledge that they earned a Silver Star. At twenty, no less, and from someone who didn't go to the Academy. Listen, Abbie, in all seriousness, no one impresses the Old Man. I mean, no one. If he likes you, he calls you competent. The words he uses for you are, and I quote, 'knowledgeable, proactive, and excellent in all categories.' The Old Man. The Admiralty probably choked when they read that." "I just don't like to be known for being lucky enough to survive and quick enough to save my own behind as if that was something anyone else wouldn't do, sir. I want to stand on my own, be known for what I do in my own department," Abbie explained, visibly growing uncomfortable as she guessed at the turn of the conversation. "And about that. Abbie, you have to consider making a change to Ops down the line. If not Command directly. You have leadership potential 186


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all over you and I know that in time, you would make an excellent Captain. But you have to be in the right department for that." Andy grinned. "I see I'm not the first to make that suggestion. Gleason, huh?" "Yes, sir. And I will tell you what I told him. I am a scientist and I intend to remain one. Respectfully," Abbie added with a smile of her own. "Are you trying to replace my rabbi, sir?" she added, raising a brow. "I'm not senior enough to shove Gleason aside, but maybe I'm a bit more politic. Either way, we're both doing what we can for you." "Andy," she replied in exasperation. "Please, don't. It's just so..." "You don't want acknowledge it, but Starfleet is very political. You don't have the usual network that Academy graduates have, but what you do have is the ability to gain the respect of your commanding officers. Even if we're just helping you to better science positions, let us help you do that. You deserve it and you don't want to be edged out by someone with more strings to pull than you." "I get it," Abbie accepted resignedly. "Good," Andy responded triumphantly as they turned to walk through the open door of the transporter room. "So, are you seeing anyone?" 187


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Abbie ignored the sudden smirk of the transporter chief at overhearing the question. "No, sir." "Because my little brother is still available. I know he didn't graduate from the Vulcan Science Academy but MIT isn't a bad little institution. He'd be a great match for you." "Thank you, sir, but like I told you before, I'm partial to men in uniform," Abbie answered easily. Andy laughed as he shook her hand in farewell. "Good answer, Lieutenant. I'm sure you'll speak with Captain Gleason before I do, so please give him my regards. And forward my goodbye to Commander Kincaid as well." "I will, sir. Good luck on your mission," Abbie replied as he stepped onto the transporter pad. "Thank you, Lieutenant. See you around," Andy answered before giving the signal to the transporter chief to energize.

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Act V

Caryn Johnson ran a quick hand through her blonde hair as she pondered her reflection in the mirror within the small office adjacent to TenForward. She kept her medium-length hair in a tight bun, and her makeup light and natural-looking for the occasion. She opted for a white dress made of a threadbare cloth that wrapped around her body with a flare at the bottom. Her bare arms had a single white band on both sides, and she wore the necklace she put on for special events such as this. She moved out of the office and into the lounge area where many of the ship's crew were beginning to gather for the memorial service. Outside the large viewports displaying the space outside the 189


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bow of the ship were the warp-stretched stars as Farragut traveled beyond the speed of light for Starbase 310. Gone were the tables and chairs; in their place were rows of seats made of thinner material for temporary use. Some of those chairs were already occupied as her staff circulated within the crowds of people to offer drinks and snacks as the captain ordered earlier in the day. The double doors leading to port opened and admitted the ship's counselor, Isira Otex. She arrived with the ship's chief science officer, Abbie Atherton. Caryn had met them when she arrived on the ship not more than three days prior. They were together then, and it looked as though they had formed a fast friendship since. Both officers wore their dress uniforms, with the dual gold pips on the edge of the far right collar, just above the peacock blue color they wore on the body of the uniform. "Lieutenants, welcome to Ten-Forward," Caryn said, wearing her customary warm smile. "May I offer you something to drink before seating yourselves?" Isira smiled in response. "Thank you, Caryn. I'm fine, nothing for me." Abbie said nothing, but simply shook her head to the offer. Caryn placed her hands atop the bar. "If you should change your minds, please don't hesitate to see me or one of my people back here." 190


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"Thank you, again, Caryn," Isira said, as Abbie moved off to scan the room. "You look very nice, by the way." "Nice of you to notice, Lieutenant." The hostess gave Isira a quick once-over. "That dress uniform does wonders for your legs," she said, indicating the tights over the counselor's calves. Isira shook her head and chuckled silently before moving off to join Abbie who staring out one of the viewports. After a moment, she noted quietly, "If you ever want to talk about it, to someone as a friend and not a counselor, you can always come to me." Abbie gave her a half-smile and a nod, but Isira knew that the lieutenant had no intention of taking her up on the offer. "How's Greg doing?" Isira next questioned, after gazing about the room's occupants and noticing that the helmsman was not among them. "I'm surprised he is not already here." Abbie let out a breath. "He was pretty groggy when he woke up, I'm told. He wasn't cleared for duty by sickbay but he should be here." Commander Kincaid entered the lounge from the starboard side, along with the captain. Both officers were greeted as they moved along to the small platform with the clear podium. The ship's 191


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seal laid upon a small navy blue pennant that draped down from the edge. The ship's bell was near the podium, and Kincaid walked toward it to ring it six times, in pairs. "Attention to orders," he called out. Once the crew all turned toward him and stood at the prescribed parade stance, the exec continued, "At ease. Please take your seats." Captain Leone then took the podium, accompanied by a PADD. She set the device down to keep it within sight, and then began to speak to the crew, "Thank you all for coming..." As the captain spoke, Abbie reached for the back of a chair she intended to use. She paused to look about the lounge. She frowned when she realized that Greg was still absent, then looked meaningfully at Isira. With a start of surprise, the Betazed turned towards her and confirmed Greg's absence on her own before slowly nodding back. As people continued to move toward their seats, Abbie slipped out of the lounge. By the time Abbie reached Greg's quarters, he already had emptied half a bottle of Aldebaran whiskey. The clear glass used in this endeavor remained atop his dining table, tinged with green, and the smell of it permeated the small compartment. To his credit, however, Greg appeared only tipsy rather than fall down drunk. 192


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"What can I do for you?" he asked with a wide smile on his face when he answered the chime at the door. Greg looked at her from head to foot and noted, "You look good in that." "There's a memorial for your friend going on right now in Ten Forward and you should be there," Abbie answered, wrinkling her nose at the smell. "Or should have been. You.." She shook her head, her anger plain. "You'd dishonor him if you went like that." Greg stepped aside. "If we're going to have a discussion of this nature, maybe you should come in." He added, "Because I'm not leaving here to go anywhere unless it's back on duty." "Right," Abbie replied derisively as she strode into the room. "You were still dehydrated when you woke up and I'm sure your beverage of choice isn't helping matters. Even if you would be permitted to be on duty while drunk." She gazed over the dishevelment of his quarters and frowned. "What have you been doing?" she all but demanded. He walked toward the table and poured himself another glass of the green beverage as a demonstration, then took a long quaff to drain it half-way before returning it to the tabletop. "I'm just exercising my liver."

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"What you should be doing is honoring your friend. You're the one who was closest to him. You should be at the memorial service right now. I know you don't really care about your reputation but this out of character, even for you." Greg remained silent briefly. He placed his hands on his hips, then let out a belch. He muttered an apology, though it was unclear for what he was apologizing. "I don't want to go to any memorial service, thank you." He pointed at her dress uniform and said, "You look like you're ready to go, so why don't you head down there and give up on him like everyone else has on this ship?" The amiability of his tone disappeared on the last sentence he spoke, and his eyes glared at her. "Memorials aren't for the dead, they're for the living. If anyone on this ship needs a way to begin to get over Tommy's loss, it's you," Abbie retorted. "People are there now, remembering the man and you're losing yourself in a bottle of booze." "He's not dead!" Greg raised his voice as he spoke. His right hand lifted to point out of the viewport. "He's out there, somewhere. Waiting for us to find him!" In exasperation, he dropped his hands to his sides fast enough to cause them to slap against him. "I don't understand why we're not doing whatever we can to do that, but I'm not the one in charge, so it's not up to me. 194


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"If the captain and everyone else on board want to write him off so they can get on with their lives and turn Tommy into a sob story they can remember later, then let them." Greg pointed to the bottle, "That's Tommy's favorite drink." He pointed to the display, which held a frozen image upon it, "That's Tommy's favorite movie. And on a night like tonight, he liked nothing more than to come to my quarters, have a few drinks, watch a good movie and laugh his ass off, shoot the shit, and then go home. So, you, the captain, and all the crew down there in Ten-Forward can go through all the formalities you like in trying to remember him... with your bells, and your false words of whatever..." Greg stopped as his voice broke and his hand moved up to hide his face from her. His cheeks glowed red, whether from embarrassment, emotion, or drink. Abbie looked at him impassively. "You really think he's still alive out there." It was not a question. He could only nod at first. Greg sniffed loudly and grabbed a hand towel from the table to wipe at his face. "Yeah," he said hoarsely. "I do." "You can't go down to the memorial like that," Abbie acknowledged, shaking her head in defeat. "I once read a quotation about how death was really just a 'great perhaps', or something like that. I

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guess, you know, right now, that's all we really have, objectively speaking." Greg peered at her for just a moment. He then reached for a third glass and poured a finger of the whiskey within to pass it to Abbie. "You're doing it wrong. You're supposed to drink first and then get philosophical." "Well, I don't drink much," Abbie responded, eyeing the contents of the glass he handed her doubtfully. "If you don't want it, then hold on to it and be social." As he said it, Greg smiled to himself. "I never thought I would say that to anyone. Something my uncle told me when I told him I didn't drink." "I've heard that before," Abbie muttered. She motioned to the image frozen on the screen and asked, "What was his favorite movie?" Greg looked up and then back at Abbie. "It's called Caddyshack. It's almost four hundred years old, but it holds up." He ran a finger along the rim of his glass and hesitantly asked, "Would you like to stay... maybe watch it with me?" She shrugged a shoulder in acquiescence. "If only to make sure you don't pass out in your chair," she added, the worry in her tone clear.

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He cleared his throat and approached his replicator. "One glass of ice water," Greg ordered. When the glass materialized, he brought it to his lips and took a quick sip. "I'll take it easy on the booze," he promised. Abbie nodded her approval as she settled into a seat, the glass of whiskey still in her hand. "All right, let's watch this thing." Greg took the seat next to her. He placed his water glass and took up the whiskey once more. "To the 'great perhaps?'" he offered as a toast. Abbie inclined her head in response, lifting up her own glass. "To the great perhaps," she intoned, clinking her glass with his.

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Garcia FSA2 Eternal Midnight  

Trouble and ships named Farragut are never far apart! The adventures of the USS Farragut continue with a trio of stories cowritten by Michae...

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