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The Romulan War: The Tholian Stratagem

It's time to hit the Romulans again, this time harder for those who gave their lives so far in the war. The crew of the Challenger are determined.

PROLOGUE

Vintaak Asteroid Star Outpost 1, Vintaak System
21st Period, 47th Cycle, 21559th Rotation

Clicking furiously in response to what he had just witnessed, Admiral Jaimsekn was almost close to shattering into pieces at the uttermost revulsion that his people were seen as an easy target. 

That was far from the truth. 

As the supreme leader of the Tholian forces in the Vintaak system (along with its surrounding systems) he had just led his people to a victory over the aggressive overtures made by the Romulan Star Empire. His own flagship, the Cobel, had led the charge against the Romulan invasion force, that said though it was not much of a force. Several Birds-of-Prey and a handful of their unmanned drones attempted to make a statement but failed miserably at the loss of every one of their ships – bar one. Still seething that the Romulans thought they could do what they did and get away from it, the admiral had removed himself from the command centre for now and was in his own personal chambers. The higher temperatures that were above normal compared to the rest of the ship, soothed his anger slightly, but only so slightly. 

Tholian rooms like his were shaped out in an octagon-prism like form, it allowed him the space to conduct official business as well as a place to rest and relax (when he was able to do that). His door chime went off and he authorised his adjutant, one Commander Lenrist, to enter. As she scurried across the room the commander shared with the admiral an interesting report from their communications division. 

*Are we certain?* he clicked at her through their native ability to communicate with one another. Unlike their humanoid counterparts, Tholians did not speak in the same vocal tone. 

Confirming, Lenrist added additional information to the report. *Absolutely admiral. The Romulans attempted to use their advanced subspace radio to take control of our vessels. If it weren’t for certain radiations that are naturally present in our ships then they may have succeeded with their plans. I have ordered all departments to begin working on counter measures.*

*Excellent, once these are complete we will ensure the Romulans realise twice before they try to manipulate the Tholian Assembly again.*

Admiral Jaimsekn calmed himself down as he returned to his work, he had to contact his superiors on Tholia with what had happened. He knew there would be one question he would be ask: why did the Romulans do what they did? For that answer he had nothing substantive to share, instead he would bombard his suggestions with a move he knew his superiors would agree with. 

The Romulans will regret what they tried to do; he would see this plan of his through right to the last moment. He would make them pay for their actions today. His plans may take time to put into play, especially as the Romulans were far from the Tholian Assembly, nevertheless the admiral’s conviction was resolved. He would move his armada against them and send a clear message back to the Romulan people that would put chills in their bodies for generations to come. 


Wednesday, November 5th, 2155

Starfleet Training Command, San Francisco, California, United States of America, Earth

Casually strolling through the large common room area, minding her own business, Professor Erika St. Claire had her head down as she was focussing on reading the latest faculty bulletin. The Canadian civilian professor had her long black hair tied up into a tight bun with a bubble pin. Pushing her glasses up her nose, she continued to be focussed on what she was reading and had not taken any notice of what was being shown on the large projected screens based around the room. It took for everywhere to go silent for her to realise something was going on. Stopping in her tracks, the extinguished engineer and well-known scientist, turned to see what everyone else was looking at. The common room was probably one of the biggest areas on the main campus of STC. It held the main canteen and was a place where groups of Starfleet cadets would gather in study groups, or private tuition between professors and students would take place. Noticing a couple of cadets that were part of her engineering class, she calmly made her way over and asked through a whispered tone what was happening. When she was informed that the President of Earth was making an announcement, she had been intrigued to stop and watch the broadcast.

The view of the press room in the Palace of Hope in London always impressed Erika. Since the start of the war, it had become the symbol of where President Littlejohn would come on a weekly basis to address Earth and the Commonwealth regarding where they were at with the war effort. Littlejohn’s podium was set up ready for Earth’s Head of State to address them all. Surprised that the administration was making an unscheduled presidential statement, Erika focussed on what was happening. Littlejohn’s press secretary first came to the podium, announced the arrival of the President of Earth and scenes from inside the press room were shown as the reporters along with their camera operators all stood up at the sight of the impressive presence of Lydia Littlejohn. 

The tall, African American woman wore a dark purple-burgundy dress suit with a matching blouse underneath. The customary jewellery that she wore was apparent too, a simple silver chain necklace with a pearl droplet hung while she wore similar designed earrings. When Littlejohn spoke, the nation heard her. She was a no-nonsense type of politician. This made her quite popular and her leadership during the war so far had yet to receive any harsh criticism from the media, fellow politicians and the general population – even though it rarely felt like Earth was winning the war. 

Good evening,” she said as she stared down the middle of the room at the cameras that were recording her every word and expression. Behind her stood Vice President Elisabeth Reynolds, Prime Minister Nathan Samuels, Defence Secretary Thomas Vanderbilt and Fleet Admiral Moira Hathaway of Starfleet. Littlejohn continued, “I have just come from a briefing with Starfleet Command and I am thrilled to inform the people of the Commonwealth of some good news in our fight against the Romulan Star Empire. A successful joint mission which was led by two of our finest crews has secured Earth an impressive victory in this war. For security reasons I cannot disclose specific details of what the target was, however, I am at liberty to inform the public that the crews of Challenger and Discovery, two of our most recently launched NX-class ships, brought home this victory for us. Their actions have ensured that the current threat we face from the Romulans being able to manipulate and take over our ships and those of our allies has been severely dampened. As many of you are aware of the recent attacks against our civilian ships, including the tragic loss of the ECS Raven and ECS Polaris, has been extremely distressing for the Commonwealth and it has placed high amounts of pressure on Starfleet to ensure that our civilian crafts are well defended. That said, now that the Romulans have been dealt this critical blow to their operations it does not mean we can let down our guard. It is vital we remain firm in our conviction to win this war.” Littlejohn paused for the first time since she started her announcement. It was obvious the next part she was about to say was not good news as her body language instantly changed to appear some sort of deflation. “Sadly this victory came with a price. The crew of Challenger lost three fine officers. I have already reached out to their next of kin to share my condolences and gratitude for their honourable sacrifice. Those who died in the line of duty, including Commander Michael Stanton, Lieutenant junior grade John Conrad and Major Viktoria Yu.

The mention of the first name created ripples of shock among the faculty members standing around, Stanton was a former deputy department head at STC but it was the last name that made Erika drop the tablet that had been in her hands to the floor. 

Viktoria

Tears began to well in her eyes at the news of her ex-wife, her true love, had gone. She couldn’t believe it. The two of them had separated years ago, but somewhere down the road, Erika had wondered if they would ever reconnect. The shock overwhelmed her and she hurried off from the common room and went straight to the private confines of her office. Ever since the Xindi attack, she had made the decision to help out and join as a civilian professor at STC. It made her feel like she was making a difference, however now after hearing the death of her former spouse made her reconsider. Was she doing enough to make a difference? How could she compare what she did against the brave sacrifice made by Viktoria? She wasn’t on the frontline saving lives, being heroic in action to defend the honour of Earth and its mighty Commonwealth. 

Staring out of the small window in her office, Erika realised she needed some fresh air to comprehend what had just happened. The tears continued to drip down her cheeks as years of regret started to wash over her. If she had not been stupid enough not to tell Viktoria sooner that they left things too late, then who knows what they could have recovered. Now she knew she would never have the chance to find out. As a result of that, more teardrops appeared as she made her way out and onto the campus courtyard. She felt like she was suffocating and then suddenly she caught her breath before the guilt pummelled down on her heart.

ONE

Challenger NX-03, en route to Earth
Thursday, November 6th, 2155

The silence of the conference room had become familiar. In fact silence had filled the rooms and corridors on board the third NX-class ship for the past few days now. It was becoming a sad and normal sight. 

Using the conference room to review ship business, instead of using his own office, Fleet Captain Burton had found that he could concentrate more here than anywhere else on the ship. There was something about his office that had made him feel a bit confined that he couldn’t focus on what he needed to do. 

Reading the same report regarding the tragic loss of Major Yu through the use of the transporter, Burton wondered if he had made the right order to use it in such dangerous waters. He knew that the MACO leader’s death had greatly affected Lieutenant Masuko. She had been the one that was leading the rescue team to pull Yu and the others out from the Romulan drone ship. The engineer had blamed herself for not doing more to save the MACO leader, but everything said it was not her fault – it came down to the point it was a technical issue. A simple one based on science and maths. An issue that would take their scientists years, probably decades (if not centuries) to ensure that the transporters could operate under such circumstances.  Nevertheless, it appeared that wasn’t enough to convince Masuko otherwise. That made Burton’s job difficult, as he wanted her to become his new chief engineer. Every time he read this report, he wondered if there was another angle he could use to convince the engineer that she had done her absolute best. He just couldn’t find it right now. 

The main entrance to the room opened, allowing the bright light from the corridor to flood through. Burton had kept the main lights off, only using the side lights ever so slightly and the ones in the main table to illuminate the room. Squinting in reaction, Burton turned around to see who was coming in. Surprised at the silhouette he saw, the fleet captain ushered for the officer to come in. “Ned, this is unexpected. What can I do for you?”

Lieutenant Ned Hennessey stepped over the threshold, allowing for the door to close and block out the light from the corridor. The chief communications and protocol officer walked over to his captain, tightly holding on to a tablet in his left hand. “I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news sir, however we’ve just received a number of communiques from Starfleet Command. All of them are marked private and come from the Judge Advocate General’s Office. I’ve already opened mine sir; it seems they want an investigation into our recent mission.”

After Hennessey passed him the tablet, Burton made an inward groan noise. He had wondered if something like this would happen. Opening the message there and then, he skimmed over the contents and Hennessey was right. The Command Council had asked the JAG office to ensure that all details that led to the deaths of Stanton, Conrad and Yu were completely investigated. Alongside that they wanted to know what happened to the Armstrong. “Just great.” Burton mumbled. “I take it that a debrief isn’t good enough anymore?”

Hennessey didn’t respond to the captain’s rhetorical question. 

Placing the tablet down on the table before him, Burton pulled over the mug of hot tea that he had been sipping on for the past five minutes or so. Considering his options as the hot beverage was gulped down, he closed his eyes for a moment and then opened them. While placing the silver mug down, he looked up at Hennessey. “What’s the latest with the translation of the Romulan database?”

“To be honest sir, it’s frustratingly slow work.” Hennessey said openly. 

Burton indicated for the communication officer to sit down next to him. “How come?” He enquired. 

Hennessey accepted the gesture and went on to explain what they had come across so far. “Whereas the crew of Discovery were lucky to find the base in the Bassen Rift due to the coordinates being in the most recent navigation and communications logs, the rest of the database is more complicated. We barely know anything about Romulan language, what we do know is what our own translators have been able to work out from the limited interactions we have had with them over audio channels.” 

“I see, it’s like finding buried treasure but unable to pick the lock.” Burton stated.

Nodding to confirm the comparison, Hennessey clarified further what they were coming up against. “Every time we piece together a sentence then, ten more new words come unravelled that we need to understand to work out what the database is showing us.”

Drumming his fingers on the table as he listened to Hennessey’s explanation, Burton wondered how they could break into their treasure chest. “You mentioned how Discovery was able to only access the navigation logs from the Prowler to work out the location of the base. I want you to go back into them and see what else you can find.”

Confused as to what the captain wanted him to find, Hennessey simply said “Captain?” indicating he needed to understand further the captain’s train of thought. 

“We need another target.” Burton enlightened Hennessey with. “Something we can take to the Command Council to bring them another victory. The news of our victory in the Bassen Rift is only going to keep morale up for a bit longer, another one will consolidate it and perhaps avoid the Command Council grounding us during this investigation.”

“Understood sir, I have got a working theory on how we might be able to gain more insight into the Romulan language that I would like to explore further. It might give us the pick we need.” Hennessey stated. “But it will require some significant research.”

“Do whatever it takes, Ned.” Burton ordered. “I want a new target to take to the admiralty soon. Whatever progress you can make in breaking through that database will make what we’ve had to sacrifice worth it.”

“Absolutely sir.” 

Burton looked at his communication officer, glad that he understood what he was thinking. He wanted to prove that their recent losses were not meaningless. Knowing he could trust Hennessey to deliver, Burton gave him carte blanche to get the job done.  “Use whoever you need to help you and get Jamie to hand those messages out. I know it’s normal for you to do it but he can easily carry private messages while you work on the database.”

“Aye sir.” Hennessey said as he stood up. “Is there anything else you need, captain?”

Shaking his head, “No thank you Ned. Dismissed.”

As Hennessey walked out of the room, Burton picked up the tablet and looked at it one more time. In his own thoughts he was cursing what he would have to go through when they got home. 

“Let’s face the music.” He muttered as he resumed on with the rest of his work.


Following on from getting his new assignment, Crewmember Harris found himself moving around the ship trying to hand out the private messages calling certain members of the crew to the hearing set up by Starfleet JAG. Surprised that he had been called upon as well, Harris couldn’t quite work out what he would be asked. He wondered if he was being dragged in due to his relationship with Fleet Captain Burton. Approaching sickbay, Harris organised the two messages he had to deliver there so they were on the top of the stack of tablets he was carrying. 

Once he gained access to the medical centre for the ship, he saw Nurse Stewart first. Walking over to his friend, he looked around the room noticing it was completely empty. “Hey Niall!”

Looking away from the computer console he had been working on, Lieutenant Stewart returned the welcome to Harris. “Hey Jay,” He said referring to the shortened name some of the younger crew used. “What brings you down to my neck of the woods?”

Glancing around the room again to ensure he had not missed anything, Harris eventually answered. “I’m trying to find your boss and Doctor Payne. Any idea on where they are?”

“Yeah, they’re in the medical lab. How come?” Stewart wondered.

Showing the pile of tablets he had in his hands, Harris answered. “I’ve got some important messages for them. I’ll go round and find them. Thanks mate.”

As Harris approached the door, Stewart called out. “Jay, I forgot to say that after the memorial services on Earth a group of us are going to properly welcome the newcomers to the crew. We’re going to organise a quiz night with Chef Lawson. Are you in?”

Turning back around to answer, the yeoman just nodded. “Sure, count me in.” As he went to turn back to open the door to exit sickbay the doors automatically opened up to allow the two women he was searching for.

Being the senior most officer, Ro-fa Ben-Ami smiled instantly at the appearance of Harris in her sickbay. “Crewmember Harris, this is a nice visit. Nothing wrong I hope?” She enquired.

“No ma’am.” Harris said with a smile. “I’m delivering some important messages to certain individuals on the ship.”

“Oh, nothing too serious I hope?” Ben-Ami poked as she and Payne walked further into sickbay to allow the doors to close behind them.

“I don’t know what they are but they are all marked private and for your eyes only.” Harris said as he handed Ben-Ami her tablet. He looked at Payne, “There’s one for you as well, Doctor Payne.”

Payne just smiled warmly as she received her tablet and started to unlock what was there.

“I’ve got a few more deliveries to do.” Harris said as he excused himself from their presence.

Looking at both of the doctors, Stewart was worried about what they were both reading. “As long as I’m not out of line in saying this, but from the looks on your faces those messages appear to have some bad news.” He remarked.

Sitting on the edge of the nearest bed, Ben-Ami held up the tablet to show the logo that belonged to Starfleet’s Judge Advocate General’s Office. “It’s not bad, but it isn’t great.”

“Far from it.” Payne added as she showed the same logo on her tablet. “A summons to share what happened with the Armstrong.”

“And an official investigation into what led to the deaths of three of our crew.” Ben-Ami included. “Starfleet must be taking this quite seriously if they’ve involved the JAG team.”

“Indeed.” Payne concurred. 

Confused as to why both officers seemed so concerned, Stewart piped. “Why is that such a bad thing? Isn’t it Starfleet protocol to investigate the loss of a ship and what happened that resulted in the death of crewmembers while in the line of duty?”

“It is Niall, but normally a full hearing is rarely called unless Starfleet believes there’s something more that has happened.” Ben-Ami explained. “I reckon someone wants to find out why the captain launched the attack without approval by Starfleet.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me that some admiral on the Command Council isn’t happy.” Payne stated. “They need to give Fleet Captain Burton a break and instead pin a medal on him for taking the initiative to stop the Romulans in their tracks.”

“Well, we will see how they play this one out soon enough.” Ben-Ami commented. “Hillary, why don’t you take the rest of the day to prepare for what they’ll probably ask you about the Armstrong. Niall and I can cover your shifts here.”

Payne nodded in gratitude. “Thank you ma’am.” She bowed her head and made her way out of sickbay, thanking Stewart on her way out. 

Once the door closed behind her, Stewart turned to Ben-Ami with a puzzled expression. “Am I missing something here ma’am?” He asked. “Why are you both dreading this hearing?”

“Any hearing that I’ve been a part of has always resulted in someone trying to fish for something to make something out to be untrue.” She answered. “I cannot truly explain it Niall, but my gut instinct is telling me there’s something more going on here then what we truly know. I don’t like it!”


The mess hall was empty, for a change. Masuko appreciated the loneliness that the room brought. Standing before the wide wall that sat parallel to the bay windows, the acting chief engineer took out the lighter she had in her pocket and leant forward to light the candles that sat on a nearby small shelf. Ever since their departure from the Bassen Rift and having to deal with the death of Stanton, Yu and Conrad, the crew had entered a very sombre mood. She had assisted with the installation of what was now hanging from this wall. On the left-hand side was a list of the Armstrong’s crew who had been lost, then beside that a row of three pictures had been put up. The first one of Lieutenant Conrad, then Commander Stanton followed by Major Yu. Underneath them, encased in glass, were their names and their rank pips. These memorial plaques were the crew’s way of remembering their fallen comrades. Since the captain had postponed their memorial services until they reached Earth, this had been the one gesture he had approved and it had helped (slightly) with everyone’s way of dealing with their losses. 

Masuko had placed the shelf underneath them so candles could be placed on top. Every day she would find a perfect time to come in without anyone else around and would light them. She would follow this by saying a short prayer for them all. Placing the lighter away, she took one more glance at the pictures and started to make her way towards the exit when the door opened up. Stepping in was Lieutenant Commander Cooper Walker, the ship’s new chief science officer and at the moment he was also the acting first officer. Until they arrived at Earth, Commander Rodham, who would be joining them as the first officer, would remain on Discovery. Starfleet wanted both ships to return to Earth as soon as possible, so dropping out of warp for a simple crew transfer had been decided against. 

“Sakura, I’m sorry I didn’t think anyone else was here.” Walker said softly. “I hope I wasn’t disturbing anything?”

Shaking her head, the engineer just passed right by the science officer. “Not at all sir.” She added in a curt tone, departing in a hastily manner. 

Confused as to why she left so swiftly, Walker looked around the empty room and then saw the lit candles. He got it. Since joining Challenger, he had appreciated how much he and the other survivors from the Armstrong had been welcomed into the crew. The memorial plaque for their fallen comrades was a nice touch, he was grateful for the effort. However one thing he had noticed was how closely knit this crew had become in such a short amount of time. What had happened to them in a matter of months appeared like they had been together for a smattering of years now. He wasn’t jealous of it, but it was something he had experienced before on any other ship he had served on. 

Making his way over to the drink dispenser he ordered for a mug of English white tea to be poured in the mug he had picked out. A break in between shifts was definitely needed. Since the death of Commander Stanton, the position of acting first officer had defaulted to him. He knew it wouldn’t last for long, however it was a full-time job and overseeing a science department as huge as Challenger’s was a skill in itself let alone the whole ship. 

The doors to the mess hall opened again and stepping in was Doctor Hillary Payne. Pleased she had found him, Payne smiled at Walker the moment she locked her eyes on him. “Sorry to disturb you commander, but do you have a moment?” She pondered aloud. 

“Of course Hillary, I’m off duty and please, I’ve told you before to call me Cooper.” He replied as he took his mug out and gestured for them to take a seat each at the nearby circular shaped table. “What’s on your mind?”

“Thank you sir.” She said as she took a seat and placed the tablet that had been in her hand on the table. Flinching a second later after realising she had called him ‘sir’, the medical officer instantly ignored it as she made herself comfortable.  

Walker copied her actions with a tablet he had been carrying. “Let me guess, you got a summons as well?” The chief science officer asked, looking at the computer devices before them.

“Yes, I just got it from Yeoman Harris.” Payne answered. 

“Snap.” Walker remarked. “So what’s on your mind Hillary?”

She took a second to answer, as if to think carefully about the words she would choose. “It’s obvious that you, Colleen and I are going to be called to testify about what happened on the Armstrong before she was lost. We are the highest-ranking officers left.”

“That’s right.” Walker acknowledged as he took a sip from his tea. “Is that a problem?”

“No, it’s just I’ve never gone before a Starfleet JAG hearing panel before.” Payne stated. “I’m anxious.”

“That’s understandable,” Walker replied. “I’ve never appeared in one either, but I promise you Hillary that it will be painless. They’re going to know the events that led to the destruction of our former ship. They’ve got most of the data already, so it will be just a process of us sharing from our point of view a recount of what happened.”

 “It’s just I was talking with Ro-fa Ben Ami and we both agreed that it feels like there’s going to be more asked of us, especially in regard to the attack we undertook against the Romulans in the Bassen Rift.” Payne stated. “I’m just worried that anything they ask could be twisted against our colleagues, especially Fleet Captain Burton. I like this ship; I can’t afford to lose it.”

Smiling at her reaction, Walker agreed with her sentiments. “I get it Hillary, but if they do ask us then it is our job to simply answer the questions to the best of our knowledge. The captain has done nothing wrong here.”

“I know and I think that the brass should give him a break and as I said earlier in sickbay, he needs a medal, but I just worry if anything we say places a divide between us and the other non-Armstrong crewmembers.” Payne said. She was genuinely concerned about the ramifications of her testimony. “This crew seems to have lost so much already; I would hate to cause any more heartache. Am I making any sense at all?”

Understanding her thoughts so well, Walker couldn’t agree anymore with her. “You are.” He said, assuring her. “It’s a fine ship and crew, however those who are at home who have lost loved ones deserve to know the full truth. There’s nothing here that needs to be covered up, I genuinely imagine it will be a simple proceeding that none of us will remember in ten years’ time.” Walker paused for a moment before continuing. “I hear they’re doing a quiz night to help with morale tonight. We should get as many people to attend. It just seems right that everyone needs one another right now. What do you say?”

“Sounds like a plan. Thank you comman-” Payne paused as she corrected herself. “I mean thank you Cooper. I appreciate the words of wisdom.”

“Anytime.” He said and then offered to get her a mug of tea. It was apparent the young doctor needed time to just relax for a moment. That said, the war was not going to wait for anyone. 


“That’s the last of it.” 

Sat on the edge of the tiny two-seater black leather sofa that took up one wall in the major’s office (if you could call it that), Second Lieutenant Trommler was staring at the desk. It was pretty much empty, besides the computer terminal, and it no longer felt like anyone belonged there. Helping him pack away Major Yu’s belongings had been Staff Sergeant Iyer and Corporal Jenkins. The latter had just closed the lid on the cuboid shaped container they had used to place the many knick-knacks and photographs that Yu had placed around her place of work. Jenkins had made his comment in quite an emotionless tone. Anyone who didn’t know him better would have thought he was a Vulcan disguised as a human.

“This feels wrong.” Iyer remarked as he leant against the wall to Trommler’s right. “Surely we should have done this after the memorial?” 

The first sergeant had made the same remark more than once during their packing, neither Trommler nor Jenkins had commented back until now. Clearing his throat, the young MACO officer answered Iyer back. “Unfortunately Rupesh, we need to get our unit ready for our new leader. I’m sure General Casey or someone else at MACO Headquarters has someone lined up to take over from the major. I wouldn’t want to come in and take over to find my predecessor’s valued items still out.”

“Technically speaking,” Jenkins spoke up, “with Yu gone and al-Fayyad resigned that makes you the acting unit commander. As such this office is rightly yours Luis.”

Shaking his head to disagree with his friend’s assessment, Trommler shot that idea down. “No, this place belongs to the next major. I’ll keep the unit together until we get home but whatever soul takes over the reins gets to sit in that chair.” He pointed at the tall grey chair that was currently vacant. Leaning back and placing his hands down on the sofa, he stopped as he felt something. Pushing between the cushion he was on, Trommler pulled out a small dark blue velvet box. It was definitely a jewellery box. He hesitated to open and when he noticed that Iyer and Jenkins were glaring at him to open it up, he did so. The light hit the silver ring almost instantly, like a small bright white flash in the room. 

“Is that what I think it is?” Iyer asked out.

Nodding to confirm, Trommler felt guilty for opening the box. “It’s her wedding ring. She wore it every so often.”

“Should we put it with the rest of her personal effects?” Jenkins enquired. 

Looking at the ring one more time, Trommler shook his head and told them not yet. Getting up, he told them to finish off while he went to visit someone. Closing the box as he did, the MACO officer left the office and went down the corridor. Heading towards one of the smallest quarters on the ship, he tapped the door chime. The soft but stern feminine voice replied and told him to come in.

Making his way into the private quarters of former First Lieutenant al-Fayyad, Trommler smiled to greet his old superior. “Sorry to disturb you ma’am but the boys and I were just packing up the major’s gear and I found something. I think you’re the person she would want to look after before it went back to its rightful owner.”

Al-Fayyad, who was wearing dull coloured civilian clothing with her blonde hair hanging loosely instead of its normal tied up self, appeared intrigued at what Trommler was getting to. “What do you mean Luis?” She asked as she got up from her single bed and closed the book she had been reading. Standing up, she walked across the room to approach him.

Trommler handed her the small cubed box he had just found. Instantly the former MACO deputy recognised what was in it and just nodded with his assessment. Instantly she recalled the last time that she had seen Yu playing with what was sitting inside it. 

Monday, April 21st, 2155
Challenger NX-03

Iyer grinned at her and stood up from the sofa, leaving the major’s office swiftly. As he left Yu spun herself in her chair to be in line with her desk, she placed her coffee mug down on it and looked at her computer screen and sighed. She now had to think of a plan on how to persuade T’Plau to cut back on the heavy guns she wanted to assign to the captain’s protection.

Leaning across her desk she picked up the small felt box that took pride and place, centre stage on the tablet top. Opening it, she took out the silver loop and placed it on her wedding ring. It had been ages since she had worn it. Looking at it on her hand, sitting comfortably within the small permanent indent that it had left behind, the picture made Yu smile. She was so engrossed with it that she had noticed that her Egyptian deputy was standing in the doorway grinning at the image she had caught.

“You’re too sentimental.” Al-Fayyad said, breaking the major’s focus.

Yu closed her fist and looked straight at the first lieutenant. “Khawla, what can I do for you?”

Smirking at how quickly Yu would change the subject away from anything to do with her private life, al-Fayyad spoke up. “I overheard you talking to Rupesh. Are you both really serious about Jenkins going with Captain Burton down to the Andorian capital?”

“Absolutely.” Yu said with strong conviction. As she spoke she took the ring off and placed it back in its rightful place. “We can’t sit around here doing nothing Khawla, I don’t plan to keep the troops entertained by having them always on standby while you and I have all of the fun!”

“Understood ma’am.” Al-Fayyad replied. She looked at the box, she knew what it meant to the major. “Have you heard from Erika since we left Earth?”

Yu just shook her head. “No.” She whispered. “But why should I? We’ve both moved on.”

“Really?” Al-Fayyad questioned.

Understanding that al-Fayyad was the only one who truly knew her background, Yu winced a bit. “Well, she knows where I am when she is ready.” Tapping the box twice for luck, the major stood up and made her way towards the door. “Come on now Khawla, let’s go get the troops ready to dance with our blue-skinned friends!”

Thursday, November 6th, 2155

Challenger NX-03, en route to Earth

Opening it, al-Fayyad smiled at what he had given her. “Thank you Luis.” She paused as she took one more glance at it. She knew the significance of it to their fallen leader. Yu was known for her sentimental approaches, her wedding ring to her wife Erika was one of her most significant possessions. “I promise to deliver this to its rightful owner.” She added.

Grinning at the response he got, Trommler excused himself as he left the room. 

Once he was gone, the former MACO deputy leader went over to her desk and started to write a letter to the one woman she had forgotten to get in touch with and one she wondered if she would hear back from.  Yu’s death had become an awakening for al-Fayyad. Her fast, rash decision to leave the service had been unexpected however knowing that she may not see her family made her stop and rethink everything. She couldn’t be the one leaving behind her loved ones anytime soon, so when she wrote her letter to the one person that Yu had found it difficult to get in contact with al-Fayyad was determined to complete something that Yu had not been able to do for years. 

 

Dear Erika,

By now you may have been informed of what has happened with Vik. I wish to meet with you to give you something that I think you would appreciate having.

All my love,

K-a-H

Following on from leaving al-Fayyad’s quarters, Trommler returned to Major Yu’s office and watched as Jenkins and Iyer carried out the final box. Taking one more glance in the room, Trommler looked at the empty seat at the desk. “Ruhe in Frieden.” He whispered in his German accent as he stretched over to flick the light switch off. The whole office went black and the light from the corridor disappeared as the door closed behind him.

“Hey Luis, are you coming to the quiz later?” Jenkins asked as the three men made their way from the office.

“No, I’m going to give it a miss tonight guys.” He answered honestly. “I want to get an early night before we get back to Earth.”

Concerned that the man that was normally up for a social event wasn’t interested, Jenkins looked to Iyer and back to Trommler. Hesitating to say anything straight away, the corporal just nodded to show he understood. 

“I’ll catch you guys in the morning. Have a good evening.” Trommler remarked as he moved away from them and made his way towards his own quarters. 

After his stroll through the ship, the MACO soldier found the confines of a familiar room a welcome change. These weren’t his quarters, but the quarters of his other fallen comrade and best friend: Jack Conrad.

Since Conrad’s death days ago, he had found it difficult to not be in this room. Compared to his own quarters, which he had to share with Iyer, Conrad’s quarters were just a little bit bigger and it had a small window. He had spent a lot of his off time in this room during his off duty, just hanging out with Challenger’s former chief pilot. The two men had become best friends almost instantly the day they met. They shared some interests, one of them being poker. Spending late nights playing it while drinking whatever they could get their hands on had become their regular thing.

Sitting on the edge of Conrad’s bed, he looked around the room and smiled at the many great memories. Unlike Yu’s office, Trommler found it difficult to consider the notion of packing up Conrad’s quarters. On his bedside cabinet was a photograph that Trommler was fond of. It was of the two of them when they had gone surfing after Challenger had returned home to Earth after taking its beating from the Carreons. The two of them were sitting on their boards in the middle of a calm spot on the Pacific Ocean, just off the Gold Coast in Australia. Trommler had taken Conrad there to help forget his breakup with Martha Habiba. 

Thursday, September 26th, 2155

Gold Coast, Australia, Earth

“Say cheese!” Trommler said as he held the camera in one hand and pulled Conrad close to him with the other.

Conrad pushed his wet hair back and looked up at the camera that Trommler was holding up in the air. Grinning next to his best friend, the pilot kept his pose as the MACO soldier took several shots of them sitting on their surfboards in what felt like the middle of no-where. Well in fact it was somewhere. They were just a few miles out from the beach of the Australian Gold Coast and for the first time that day the waves had calmed down. It gave them a moment to be still and just enjoy the natural silence of the waves just bobbing around. 

After finishing capturing the moment, Trommler put the camera away in his waterproof satchel. “This is great.” He said as he splashed his feet in the sea further. The act of balancing on a surfboard had been one he had mastered as a teenager, so it came natural to him. 

 Agreeing with his friend’s assessment, Conrad spoke up. “You’re right Trommo.” The sun was hot enough to be tenderly prickling against their wet skin. It was just comfortable. “We should think about heading back.”

“We’ve got all the time in the world Jacky Bear!” Trommler threw back. The extra addition of ‘bear’ to Conrad’s nickname had only happened since they touched down in Australia earlier that day. Earlier on in their trip, Trommler had implied that Conrad acted like a koala bear.  “Why are you in a rush?”

Conrad was about to answer and then stopped himself. He couldn’t give him an answer. “I suppose you’re right again.”

“It rarely happens twice in row, but when it does it can be known as a miracle!” Trommler countered back with. “Seriously though Jack, you need to relax man. Enjoy what we have here. Who knows when we’ll be back here again?”

“True,” Conrad admitted again. “And when will I ever get the chance again to knock you off your board?” He asked.

Trommler was confused at the remark, but before he could do anything Conrad had launched himself from his board and towards Trommler. It resulted in the soldier being knocked into the sea with the pilot on top of him. As they swam to the top of the sea, Trommler growled at what had happened but smiled that Conrad could start to show his fun side again. He needed to if he was to ever get over Martha. The two of them had an awful break-up and Conrad desperately required time away from it all. 

“You better watch yourself next time, Ensign Conrad!” Trommler stated as he pulled himself back on his board.

“Aye, Second Lieutenant Trommler!” Conrad mockingly said back as he climbed onto his surfboard. “Seriously though, we should have this place as somewhere we come back often too. It’s amazing!”

Agreeing with his friend’s idea, Trommler liked it a lot. “It’s a deal.”

Thursday, November 6th, 2155

Challenger NX-03, en route to Earth

Disappointed at the fact that he won’t be able to return to the Gold Coast with his friend ever again, Trommler put the photograph back down. Kneeling down onto the deck plating, Trommler stretched across to the small fridge that Conrad had installed into his quarters. Opening it up he took out the last bottle of beer that was left. Twisting and pulling its top off, the bitter taste from the cold beverage was a welcomed one. Looking back at the bed, Trommler smiled at the small cuddly toy that sat on the end. A Koala teddy-bear with a yellow t-shirt that had the words ‘Gold Coast’ stitched on it and above it in marker pen the words ‘Jacky Bear’ inscribed on it. Trommler raised his bottle towards the bear. He had won it at a carnival fair he and Conrad had visited on their second night. Trommler had given it to the pilot as a keepsake of their adventure. 

“Prost, mein Freund.” He muttered in his German accent as he took another sip after toasting the teddy bear. A slight tear rolled down his cheek, he pushed it away but found it hard to remove the others that soon followed.

TWO

Boston, United States of American, Earth
Saturday, November 8th, 2155

It was a testimony to Commander Stanton’s legacy that so many people had turned up for his memorial service in his home city of Boston. Turning up with Nicole on his arm, Lloyd had led the contingent from Challenger into the large church. Michael’s parents had organised for the service to take place at the church they had visited as a family during his childhood. When Nicole had got into contact and suggested they arrive together, Lloyd was pleased to accept her offer. He had found the last few days a true struggle. After docking the ship, next to Discovery, in the San Francisco Shipyards, Burton had led the ship with their own memorial. Shortly after that the crew were granted four days of leave. It would give everyone an opportunity to see any loved ones that were on Earth and if they wanted to attend any of the personal memorial services taking place for Stanton, Yu and Conrad they could. Today it was Stanton’s, tomorrow Yu’s and then on Tuesday on Luna would be Conrad’s. 

The church for Stanton had been packed with his entire family and close colleagues, as well as pretty much a majority of the crew from Challenger. The swath of Starfleet dress uniforms was almost blinding. At the front of the church, Burton’s parents had set up pictures of their son from his early years and there were a few recent ones from his time on Challenger. Both of his parents had approached Burton and shook his and Nicole’s hand outside the church before the service had started. His mother, a doctor and the Hospital Chief of Staff for Boston General, while his father was Faculty Head for Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Professor Stanton was an imposing man with his genius level, it was obvious that Michael had got his talents and skills from his parents. Then there was his sister, the artist, who appeared more down to Earth then either of her parents. Her kindness and politeness was definitely something she had shared in common with her brother. 

“Captain Burton, I just want to say thank you.” Rachel Stanton had said as she shook his hand and then went to shake Levesque. “In fact, I want to thank you both. Michael wrote to me often and when he mentioned either one of you, you could see how much he appreciated your friendship during his time with you.”

Smiling at each other and then back at Michael’s sister, Levesque spoke up for them both. “It was our honour getting to know Michael. He was an amazing individual.”

“I am absolutely devastated that we didn’t get a chance to serve more time with him.” Burton added. 

Holding back the tears, Rachel smiled in appreciation for the kind words they had offered. “I know he loved being your chief engineer and he saw us shortly after you made him your first officer. Along with him getting married to Alex, he was in a good place. I don’t think there was anything else that would have made him happier.” She paused and behind his shoulders caught the eye of an approaching individual. “Talking of which, my brother-in-law has just arrived. I must say hello to him before his parents arrive and make a scene.”

Confused by what she meant by that last statement, Burton and Levesque had walked up the steps towards the church entrance. Both of them were wearing their dress uniforms. Instead of wearing the all-in-one variant that was a lighter blue than their normal duty jumpsuit uniform, they had opted to wear the two-piece jacket and trouser version that was slightly darker than the former. On top of this, they wore a dark charcoal overcoat. It was more appropriate to wear at a solemn occasion. 

Pulling his overcoat closer to him, Burton had looked at Levesque. He couldn’t stop smiling at how much of a bump she had developed since he had last seen her. Their sons were certainly growing! “Nicole, what did she mean by that about Alex’s parents?”

Levesque was confused at the question, “Lloyd, don’t you know who Alex’s mother is?”

“Should I?” Burton asked. “What have I missed?”

Chuckling a bit, she tugged on him and stopped him from walking any further and got him to turn around. As predicted by Rachel Stanton, a scene had started to form. Photographers and journalists had started to form up as a space was cleared by the road as a string of cars appeared. Two huge black limousines were in the centre of the convoy, with each member of it sporting small flags that fluttered in the Boston air as they approached the church. Looking at Alex, where he stood with Rachel, Burton noticed a look of regret had appeared on his new first officer’s face. Immediately it hit Burton as to who Alex’s mother was.

Getting out of the car had been a number of suit wearing bodyguards, most of them were wearing earpieces. They appeared to dot themselves around the vehicles before one of them opened the door that was nearest to the path. Stepping out gracefully, wearing a chequered black coat with a black pants suit underneath was Alex’s mother, Diane Rodham, President of the United States of America. “How did I never know about that?” Burton whispered to Levesque. 

“It’s not as if Alex goes around declaring he is part of America’s first family, it’s not as if she’s President Littlejohn, but from what I hear she is planning to run for that office when Littlejohn’s term comes to an end.” Levesque quietly gossiped back. 

Diane Rodham had a sense of elegance, sophistication and humility as she greeted her son. By-passers on the other side of the street all started to clap for her. After hugging Alex, she turned towards the crowd, smiled and waved. She gestured with her hands in a friendly manner to stop as a sign of respect as to the reason why she was here. The reporters nearby were talking in low tones as they reported about the whereabouts of the American President. With Alex on one side of her and her husband (who was Alex’s stepfather) the other side of her, she approached Michael’s parents with both arms open. She pulled Doctor Stanton into a hug first and could be heard sharing her condolences with Elizabeth Stanton. It was clear that the four parents of Michael and Alex knew one another well as they were familiar in each other’s presence as they shared hugs, kisses on the cheeks and handshakes. 

“Shall we go in?” Nicole had asked and Lloyd just nodded as they entered the large church. Stepping across the threshold he was reminded of father’s own memorial service back home in Portsmouth. Just like his father’s, there would be no coffin as there was no body to bury. 


Standing in the courtyard alone, looking at the numerous gravestones that littered it, Burton was waiting for Levesque to finish her goodbyes with everyone. The two had agreed that after Stanton’s service they would get dinner together, somewhere in Boston. He wasn’t paying any particular attention, so when he was approached by Commander Rodham, he almost jumped out of his skin when his name was called.

“Fleet Captain Burton?” Rodham said, trying his best not to startle his new superior officer so much.

Burton turned around and faced his new first officer and chief helm officer. “Alex, please call me Lloyd when it’s just us. You’re about to join me as my right hand, we can drop the formalities…especially here.”

Smiling in appreciation for Burton’s sentiments. “Thank you…Lloyd.” He said almost sounding uncomfortable as he tried saying his superior’s first name for the first time. “I just wanted to thank you for speaking today and for ensuring those on the crew who wanted to attend, could attend. I can’t believe how many people turned up.”

“I’m pretty certain, everyone who knew Michael wanted to turn up. Besides those who were from the Armstrong, I’m sure you can appreciate that they obviously wanted to see their loved ones after what they experienced.” Burton said. 

“Obviously, but I do appreciate it.” Rodham stated. “I think it shocked Michael’s parents to see how popular he was.”

“Hearing today who he had been before he joined us on Challenger has given me a completely new insight and further appreciation for what he did for us all.” Burton took in a breath. “I’m so sorry Alex that he didn’t come home. He should have.”

Smiling slightly at the sentiment, Rodham nodded in agreement. It was obvious he was holding back the tears. “I keep racing through my head everything we did in that mission. Could we have arrived sooner to help Michael, Lieutenant Conrad and Major Yu survive the mission? I have to be honest, thinking about absolutely every variable makes my head hurt and I can’t see what else we could have done.”

“And that’s the hardest thing out of all of this.” Burton agreed. “The only thing I keep going back to is my decision to proceed with the attack. If I had called it into Starfleet, then maybe things might have been different. We may not have gone ahead with it.”

“Please don’t question yourself Lloyd.” Rodham interjected without haste. “It was the right thing to do and I stand by it. We stopped the Romulans from having an upper hand, if we had waited any longer than we may have lost the opportunity that had presented itself to us.”

“You may be right Alex, but the outcome was not what we expected.” Burton said with a wince. 

“No not entirely,” Rodham said, “but we need to move on and honour their memories by ensuring their sacrifices were for the greater good.” Lowering his voice, so no-one else could hear it, Rodham spoke with so much conviction in his voice next. “We need to hit the Romulans again and much harder while we have the momentum.”

“I agree, but at the moment until the hearings are complete there’s not much more we can do.” Burton stated. He looked at the man before him, he could see how much Alex was broken from the loss of his husband. That said there was a sense of determination in his demeanour now. “Alex, if you’re going to become my first officer I need to know you’re not going to be seeking just revenge. I need to know I will have a first officer that I can trust with an open-minded approach in all that we encounter.”

Surprised at Burton’s words, Rodham couldn’t deny that there was some truth in them though. “I won’t lie to you sir; I want to be on Challenger as I want to get back at the Romulans for taking Michael from us. That said, I am committed to honouring Michael by being the best first officer I can be for you and the crew. I need to be where he was.”

Satisfied that Rodham was being upfront and honest with him, Burton extended his hand out towards his new first officer. “Then I look forward to having you as my first officer and us showing the Romulans that we are a force to be reckoned with.”

Shaking the captain’s hand, Rodham beamed with fulfilment. “That we will be.”

“That said, what you shared in your tribute to Michael was some pretty heavy things.” Burton described. “Did you mean it all?”

“The part about wearing the uniform and realising there was much more to life than just our careers?” Rodham asked for clarity.

“Yeah.” Burton said with a single nod.

“I did,” Rodham said, “For too long now, both of us put our careers first before our own lives and it got us nowhere. It took for us both to realise that we wanted something more, needed something more than just our jobs.” Rodham paused. “Don’t get me wrong, I love being part of Starfleet as much as Michael did. It just didn’t complete our lives; I just wish we had realised it sooner. Do you get what I mean?”

 “I think so.” Burton said before noticing an entourage of secret service bodyguards were approaching them, with Alex’s mother in the middle of them all. Burton gave his new right-hand man an indication that he should turn around. 

“Alex, my darling, we must be going.” President Rodham declared as she approached him and the secret service agents all took up guarded positions around them. Diane Rodham smiled at her son with an expression of regret as well as concern for him. It was obvious she and her husband had thought highly of Michael as well.

Before she could say anything else, Alex turned and introduced Burton to her. “Mother, I want you to meet Michael’s former commanding officer, who will be my new commanding officer in a few days’ time, Fleet Captain Lloyd Burton.” He paused as he gestured towards his mother, “Fleet Captain Burton please meet my mother, Diane Rodham, President of the United States of America.”

Smirking at the moment he found himself in, Burton extended his hand towards the woman. Her bobbed short blonde hair showed some signs of silver and grey while her piercing blue eyes were just like Alex’s. Lloyd wondered if Nicole would be sad she missed the chance to meet the woman before him. “Madam President, it is a pleasure to meet you.”

“The pleasure is all mine captain.” She said, shaking his hand. “I hear you’re quite the rising star in Starfleet, I believe the Washington Post described you as Starfleet’s poster boy!”

Flinching slightly at hearing that name he had received from his first mission when he took command of Challenger and successfully completed his diplomatic mission with the Denobulans, Burton just smirked before responding. “I’m just happy to serve for the greater good of the Commonwealth ma’am.”

“Well make sure you look after my boy,” the president said, “both of my sons have decided to make me worry since they joined Starfleet. Now my youngest is an ensign on the flagship, I worry about them both.”

“My mother would agree with you there,” Burton said. “My siblings and I are all Starfleet officers.”

Smiling at him in response to show she could understand Burton’s mother, President Rodham then looked at her son. “Alex, I must make a move as I have a meeting with the Speaker of the House later this evening. Will you walk me to my motorcade?” She looked back at Burton. “It was lovely to meet you, Fleet Captain Burton.”

Alex agreed with his mother’s request and bid farewell to Burton. As the two Rodhams walked away the secret service agents followed on. Burton was not left alone for too long as Levesque soon approached him, watching the scene that had just happened before making her way over. 

“Damn I hate being so slow and having to use the bathroom so much.” She stated with a level of distaste for being pregnant. “Anything interesting from America’s first family?” She pondered quietly as they both watched Rodham say goodbye to his mother and stepfather as they got into their motorcade. 

Shaking his head, “No, nothing really.” Burton said as he looked down at Levesque. “Still up for dinner?”

“I thought you would never ask.” She replied as she linked her arm into his and the two walked away from the church, saying their final goodbyes to Michael’s family and towards the man they had called a close comrade and friend for almost a year now. Rest in peace wherever you are Michael, Burton thought to himself one final time as he looked up at the church.


The small bistro they had found that was situated in Back Bay, which ran along the bank of the River Charles, had been perfect for their evening meal. Sat with Levesque opposite to him, Burton was surprised that the restaurant itself wasn’t that busy. The area they had was pretty much theirs unless the waiter brought their meals out or checked in on them. 

After enjoying their starter, the couple were now digging into their main meal. Levesque had been describing to Burton about her work with Starfleet Science and that she had been asked to guest lecture at Starfleet Training Command.

“That sounds amazing, are you going to have enough time to do it?” He had asked her in between a mouthful of his carbonara pasta. 

Nodding and saying a simple yes as she swallowed her own dish of lasagne, Levesque picked up her glass of water and took a few sips before explaining how she had planned to work her two jobs. “Thankfully it will be teaching just one day a week, but the most exciting rumour that is coming out of S-T-C is them wanting to revamp the entire training process for Starfleet.”

Surprised at that piece of gossip, Burton was inclined to know more. “Why would they want to do that?”

“From what I’ve heard since the Xindi attack there’s been an increase in applications every year to S-T-C, as a result the main campus can barely manage. They’ve brought in civilian consultants, teachers and instructors to help with the workload. From what my sources tell me there’s a big push from the Command Council for a sort of academy to be built to replace the entire institute. I’m hoping that I can get in on helping with writing the curriculum for the science specialist areas.” Levesque stated. “You should consider a career in teaching when you’ve had enough time running a starship!”

Chuckling at that notion, Burton finished what he was chewing and picked up his glass of white wine. “Don’t tempt me.” He went on to take two sips from his drink. “Talking of being closer to home. How are you doing with the pregnancy?”

Rubbing her stomach slightly, Levesque nodded to assure him everything was fine. “These three are keeping me awake at night but nothing I cannot handle.” She leant backwards in her chair as she took a break from her eating. “Why do you ask?”

“It’s just I feel completely horrible that I’ve not been around enough to support you.” He answered back. 

Leaning across the table she took his hand in hers and squeezed it. “Lloyd, you’re here and that’s what counts right now. You and I just need to work out what we plan to do once they’ve arrived.” She smiled sweetly at him.

Taking another swig from his glass for some extra courage, Burton took a breath and spoke what was on his heart. “That’s the thing, where do ‘we’ stand with ‘things’?”

Confused by his question, Levesque asked for him to be clearer with his question.

“By ‘us’, I mean ‘us’.” He repeated. “What are we? Two friends who share children?”

Placing her cutlery down and picking up her napkin, she continued to smile sweetly. “Well, do we need anything more?”

“I don’t know,” Burton said. “It’s just with Michael’s death as well as the others, it’s just made me think a lot more about life and my priorities.”

“And what conclusions have you come to?” She persisted with her quizzing.

Taking another breath, Burton blurted out his answer. “Well, the boys and you.”

Shocked a bit at what he had just come out with, Levesque appreciated his honesty. “Do you want something more?”

“Maybe, you?”

“Maybe.” Levesque squeezed his hand a bit more. “Are we really doing this?”

Burton looked around their empty room, “It’s not as if we have a whole starship watching us anymore?”

“That’s true, and technically speaking we wouldn’t be breaking any rules as we are not in the same chain of command anymore.” Levesque smirked, “I’m interested to see where things can go. You?”

“Absolutely.” Burton said in a low voice and he leaned across the table and kissed her gently on her lips for the first time. The touch was soft but intimate. Placing her hands on his cheeks, Levesque kept Burton there just for a little bit longer than he was expecting. As soon as they stopped, they both smiled at one another. 

“I’ve been waiting for you to do that for almost a year.” Levesque admitted.

“I’m sure you’re not the only one who has been waiting for us to divulge our feelings.” Burton smirked back as he took another sip from his glass. “Let’s not share it with anyone from Challenger for the moment though.”

“Agreed, but I’m sure there’s a certain chief engineer looking down at us with a huge grin on his face right now.” Levesque said with a smile. She raised her glass, “To Michael!”

“To Michael!” Burton repeated as he clinked his glass against hers. “and to Viktoria and Jack.”


After saying goodbye to Michael’s parents and leaving their family town house that had been their home for a long time, Alex had decided he would walk to the nearest shuttle-bus stop. He wanted some time alone, the first since he had left Discovery. He was thankful that Fleet Captain Burton had agreed to his transfer prior to the memorial service as it meant he could wear his new mission patch on his uniform. He was eager to remove the Discovery one and replace it with Challenger’s. It wasn’t that he didn’t like working on his former ship, the crew were great, but he just could no longer work underneath Captain Müller. The fact he returned from the mission and Michael didn’t…well there was just something in the back of his mind that resented the captain for it.

Walking down the cold streets of Boston, Alex was used to it after being raised in New York. The bitter cold air was out in full force tonight and he was grateful that Michael’s sister had insisted that he take one of Michael’s old scarves to help him keep warm. Rachel shared Michael’s kind spirit. He understood why Michael was so close with her, they were so alike in so many ways and then different in so many other ways as well. 

Approaching the bus stop, Alex paused as he caught the sight of a bar that was open in the corner of his eye. It was one he could remember Michael taking him too when he first introduced Alex to his parents. Deciding to go in, Alex flew down its stairs and pushed the door open. Going in he found it to be slightly busier than he expected. In one corner it appeared that lots of people were enjoying themselves as they were all singing to songs he barely knew or had heard of. When the bartender came up to him, Alex ordered a beer. As soon as he got his bottle, the bartender explained that it was karaoke night, and their theme was old love songs. The woman who was performing at that point in time was quite deep into her performance. Only hearing some of the lyrics above the crowd, Alex worked out a few lyrics that included her singing that she would take bittersweet memories with her as she said goodbye and begged them not to cry. Shaking his head, Alex thanked the barkeep and made his way over to an empty booth. Once he sat down, he took a swig from his bottle and the bitterness of the beer engulfed his taste buds at warp speed. From where he sat, he could hear the performance a lot better. He carefully unzipped his overcoat and made sure no-one could see his Starfleet dress uniform underneath. He wasn’t keen on hearing anyone tell him tonight that he was either doing a great job with the war or the total opposite of that. 

The female singer then went into holding her note for a long time which caused the whole bar to erupt into cheers and applause. Joining in with clapping her, Alex was impressed that she wasn’t that bad. Sitting there watching her finish her performance, Alex knew that Michael would have enjoyed this intimate setting for them two. He may not have been the life and soul of a party, but he enjoyed having a good time with those he trusted. 

The next person up was another woman. She appeared a lot older than her predecessor, almost in her late forties. Talking to the DJ who was overseeing the karaoke evening, she told him which song she wanted to sing. Telling the crowd she was going to do a country western song, Alex relaxed back into the booth and listened as she sang the song to her partner. A man of similar age sat almost at the front by the stage and he smiled back at her as she started her song. Singing about looking at how far they had come, that others hadn’t expected it and that they were still going strong together. It was a lot slower than the previous song and she continued to express her love for the man before her, that he was the one she would run to, the one she belonged to, the one she wanted for life. Pushing back tears he hadn’t originally noticed; Alex finished his beer. The whole song was making him think of Michael too much. It was too painful. Getting up as he moved across the bar, which had become a lot quieter since the song had started, Alex caught the last lyric as he approached the door to leave. The woman sang about how her love was the only one she dreamt of and the one she got to kiss at night. Alex didn’t want to hear anymore as he knew that now that Michael was gone, he would never be able to kiss him again, to hold him again and the only thing he had left would be seeing him in dreams. Pushing more tears back, he made his way to the nearest bus stop so he could make his way home. Tonight he had decided he would indulge himself. For the first time since she had become president, Alex would stay with his parents at the White House.


After saying goodbye to Michael’s parents and leaving their family town house that had been their home for a long time, Alex had decided he would walk to the nearest shuttle-bus stop. He wanted some time alone, the first since he had left Discovery. He was thankful that Fleet Captain Burton had agreed to his transfer prior to the memorial service as it meant he could wear his new mission patch on his uniform. He was eager to remove the Discovery one and replace it with Challenger’s. It wasn’t that he didn’t like working on his former ship, the crew were great, but he just could no longer work underneath Captain Müller. The fact he returned from the mission and Michael didn’t…well there was just something in the back of his mind that resented the captain for it.

Walking down the cold streets of Boston, Alex was used to it after being raised in New York. The bitter cold air was out in full force tonight and he was grateful that Michael’s sister had insisted that he take one of Michael’s old scarves to help him keep warm. Rachel shared Michael’s kind spirit. He understood why Michael was so close with her, they were so alike in so many ways and then different in so many other ways as well. 

Approaching the bus stop, Alex paused as he caught the sight of a bar that was open in the corner of his eye. It was one he could remember Michael taking him too when he first introduced Alex to his parents. Deciding to go in, Alex flew down its stairs and pushed the door open. Going in he found it to be slightly busier than he expected. In one corner it appeared that lots of people were enjoying themselves as they were all singing to songs he barely knew or had heard of. When the bartender came up to him, Alex ordered a beer. As soon as he got his bottle, the bartender explained that it was karaoke night, and their theme was old love songs. The woman who was performing at that point in time was quite deep into her performance. Only hearing some of the lyrics above the crowd, Alex worked out a few lyrics that included her singing that she would take bittersweet memories with her as she said goodbye and begged them not to cry. Shaking his head, Alex thanked the barkeep and made his way over to an empty booth. Once he sat down, he took a swig from his bottle and the bitterness of the beer engulfed his taste buds at warp speed. From where he sat, he could hear the performance a lot better. He carefully unzipped his overcoat and made sure no-one could see his Starfleet dress uniform underneath. He wasn’t keen on hearing anyone tell him tonight that he was either doing a great job with the war or the total opposite of that. 

The female singer then went into holding her note for a long time which caused the whole bar to erupt into cheers and applause. Joining in with clapping her, Alex was impressed that she wasn’t that bad. Sitting there watching her finish her performance, Alex knew that Michael would have enjoyed this intimate setting for them two. He may not have been the life and soul of a party, but he enjoyed having a good time with those he trusted. 

The next person up was another woman. She appeared a lot older than her predecessor, almost in her late forties. Talking to the DJ who was overseeing the karaoke evening, she told him which song she wanted to sing. Telling the crowd she was going to do a country western song, Alex relaxed back into the booth and listened as she sang the song to her partner. A man of similar age sat almost at the front by the stage and he smiled back at her as she started her song. Singing about looking at how far they had come, that others hadn’t expected it and that they were still going strong together. It was a lot slower than the previous song and she continued to express her love for the man before her, that he was the one she would run to, the one she belonged to, the one she wanted for life. Pushing back tears he hadn’t originally noticed; Alex finished his beer. The whole song was making him think of Michael too much. It was too painful. Getting up as he moved across the bar, which had become a lot quieter since the song had started, Alex caught the last lyric as he approached the door to leave. The woman sang about how her love was the only one she dreamt of and the one she got to kiss at night. Alex didn’t want to hear anymore as he knew that now that Michael was gone, he would never be able to kiss him again, to hold him again and the only thing he had left would be seeing him in dreams. Pushing more tears back, he made his way to the nearest bus stop so he could make his way home. Tonight he had decided he would indulge himself. For the first time since she had become president, Alex would stay with his parents at the White House. 


The decision for a few of them to stay in Boston that evening had been suggested by Stewart. The small group of officers had all booked into a five-star hotel that was close to the church where Commander Stanton’s memorial service had taken place. Now that the service was over and after checking into their rooms, the group of friends had met in the lobby together so they could all go get dinner together. 

Wearing more appropriate civilian clothing, so none of them were recognised as Starfleet officers, the group had booked the large circular table where they would gather around to have their meal. After the waitress had taken their orders and poured them all a glass of wine, the server had shared her name and said she would be back with their meals shortly. 

Thanking her, as the natural de facto leader, Stewart raised his glass to everyone around him. “To absent friends.” He spoke with some sombre in his voice. The young nurse had insisted that they all stayed together over the next few days as they said their goodbyes to their fallen comrades. Commander Stanton’s service earlier hadn’t been easier for any of them. There were many tears when Fleet Captain Burton had spoken, but most people had found it difficult to listen to Commander Stanton’s husband’s eulogy. Their new first officer had spoken deeply about the love he had for Stanton and the many traits of the former engineer that he adored. His words had been moving.  

Everyone around the table copied his words and actions with their own glasses. 

“And to family.” added Cortez. The chief armoury officer was sat on the other side of the table to where Stewart was sat.

Again, everyone repeated her sentiments and took a sip from their glasses. 

“It was a fine send off for the commander.” Metaxas stated from where he sat next to Cortez.

Cortez agreed with the younger engineer. “Indeed it was.” She remarked. “I never knew that Commander Rodham was related to President Rodham though.”

“I think I had heard Commander Stanton mention it as an off the cuff remark.” Dalton said from the other side of the table. The science officer that had enjoyed a brief stint in engineering during their mission involving the Deltans and Carreons in recent weeks had started to be more involved with the others. Stewart had been the one to bring him more into their little clan after getting to know him more from their time stuck on Delta. The chief physicist was quite a sociable person and had fitted right in with them. 

“Should we expect the American Secret Service to be posted to Challenger now that Commander Rodham is moving in?” remarked Ensign Hathaway. The Scottish pilot took another sip from her glass of wine. “I mean, isn’t he the first son of the United States?”

“I don’t think the captain would be pleased if we had to have extra security on the ship just for one person.” Cortez stated. “That said, I think he will fit in nicely.”

Concurring with her, Masuko spoke up for the first time since they had arrived at the hotel. “Without a doubt. He seems approachable and fair.”

In no time the group were provided with their meals and they all started soon thereafter. In between mouthfuls, Harris spoke up to ask a question. “Will Major Yu’s service be a full military send off?”

Jenkins replied to the answer after noticing that Trommler wasn’t paying attention as he had been staring at the same painting that hung on one of the walls. The more senior MACO had barely touched anything on his plate and his right hand was gently fiddling with his glass of beer. Clearing his throat, the young corporal confirmed what they would witness at the service for their fallen MACO leader. “We heard that General Casey will be leading the service. I believe at some point in her MACO career, Major Yu was trained by him. I think she was sort of a protégé of his, so he is pulling all of the stops out for her.” Jenkins paused as he tried to grab the attention of Trommler. “Isn’t that right Luis?”

Shaking his head as he looked back at the rest of the group. “Yeah,” He confirmed, still not completely focussed on their topic of conversation. It took him a second or two to realise what they were sharing. “I believe the major’s parents will be there to be presented with the folded Earth flag.”

“Have you guys been asked to be part of the honour guard?” Habiba asked Jenkins and Trommler after taking a bite from her meal. The second science officer had slowly returned to this group. She had been the only one to return alive from the mission that had taken the lives of their former comrade. Barely holding it together, the science officer had welcomed the support from those around her.  

“Yeah,” Jenkins answered after noticing that Trommler’s attention had trailed off again. “The entire unit will do it. I believe General Casey has given special dispensation to First Lieutenant al-Fayyad to be in uniform to lead us for the last time.”

“I can’t believe she’s just resigned like that and walked away from her career.” Cortez commented. “I never saw that one coming.”

Trommler spoke up for the former detachment deputy. “The major’s death affected her greatly, it made her rethink her life choices and she decided that her family here were more important than the uniform.” He took his napkin off his lap and placed it on the table. “I’m sorry everyone, but I’m not feeling great. I think I will turn in early and see you all in the morning.”

As the German MACO stood up, he received a round of quiet support and well wishes from his friends. He soon left their company and was out of earshot.

“I’m really worried about him.” Jenkins said as he reached across the table for his glass of wine. “Luis hasn’t been himself since…” Pausing as he couldn’t finish his sentence, everyone else knew what he was going to say. 

“Since Jack’s death.” Habiba said though. “I know that feeling.” She added as she pushed the contents of her dinner around on her plate. “I suppose it’s been like a double whammy for Luis. Having to deal with Yu’s loss and Jack’s.”

  “I know that feeling.” Masuko stated, using Habiba’s exact words from a moment ago. She was the only other person around the table that had to deal with the loss of a mentor and their dear friend. “It won’t be the same without any of them around.” She added as she dabbed the edge of her lips with her own napkin. “I may call it an early night too, I’m up early in the morning to see Adam. I could do with a good night’s sleep.” As she pushed herself up, everyone wished her good night.

Once the acting chief engineer had also left, the group had quietly returned to their meals. Looking at his husband, Stewart smiled sweetly at him and held out his hand to take his. Jenkins responded and firmly took hold of the gesture. He interlinked their fingers, knowing how lucky they were to have one another right now. “Do you think she will actually come to Yu’s service?” the nurse asked his husband.

Shrugging his shoulders, Jenkins didn’t have an answer. They all knew that Masuko kept blaming herself for Yu’s death, so they only hoped that by seeing her husband Adam that somehow that would help her. 

Tomorrow’s service was going to be harder.


Challenger NX-03, docked at San Francisco Shipyards, Earth orbit

Returning to Challenger felt like a natural thing to do, even though Kefira had offered for him to stay with her in her guest room at her flat in Tel Aviv, so when he was walking down the corridor the chief communication officer was surprised to see his new deputy coming down in the opposite direction. 

Holding in her hands what appeared to be a steaming flask of coffee, a mug and a silver foiled bag, Ensign Tanisha Avery smiled sweetly the moment she saw Hennessey. Picking up her pace she met him halfway. “Welcome back boss!” She affectionately greeted him with. “I didn’t think you’d be back before we left the yard?”

Shaking his head as she undid his overcoat to reveal his dress uniform underneath (where he had undone the top collar), Hennessey explained his presence to her. “I wanted to spend my evening trying to crack the Romulan database and Major Yu’s memorial isn’t until later on tomorrow afternoon, so I’ve got some time to spare.”

“Well I’m glad you’re here as I was planning to make a night of it myself doing the same thing.” Avery said and she gestured at the items in her arms. “Don’t tell Chef Lawson but I raided her snack cupboard and found these cookies!” She indicated towards the foil packet. “I was headed to the command centre with these goodies!”

Hennessey smirked at how energetic Avery was. She was twenty years younger than him and her Texas energy was infectious and she brought with it the same level of academia that Hennessey had experienced. She had a range of degrees and had only graduated from Starfleet Training Command earlier on in the year. Armstrong had been her first posting, unlike her fellow comrades from their fallen ship, she had appeared to bounce back a lot better than they did when Fleet Captain Burton had brought them into the Challenger fold. “Let me go get changed out of this uncomfortable dress uniform and I’ll join you shortly.”

Sometime later the two communications officers were sitting in the command centre while every monitor had some element of the Romulan database on display. On the main large screen showed the progress of the translation matrix. It currently had completed two percent and a half. 

“You know there’s something familiar with this that I can’t seem to put my finger on.” Avery said as she studied one of the monitors.

Hennessey, who sat in the middle of the room with his feet up on the centre table and several tablets dotted around him, looked up from the device he had been reading. “What do you mean Tanisha?”

“It’s just…” She paused as she looked at the screen one more time before transferring what she was looking at onto the main screen. “It’s just that some of these glyphs look familiar to a code I used when we created the Watchtower Protocol.” She loaded the protocol that she spoke of to place it by the side of the coding she was trying to crack. There were a few similarities, not many but some which she highlighted. The protocol had been used to create their network to connect the ship’s communication and sensory arrays with a certain number of probes to find the Discovery in the Barrens. “There,” she said, pointing to those who are similar. “I’m not going crazy, they are similar.”

Agreeing with her finding, Hennessey had to acknowledge that there was something about the Romulan coding and language he had felt he had recognised earlier on but had ignored it down to the fact he knew a number of languages now. “I have to admit, there were some words I thought I knew and it made me think of the first alien monograph I translated.”

“What was it about?” Avery enquired. 

“Sexual dysfunction,” He answered flatly, “and it was Vulcan.”

Surprised at what he said, Avery crossed her arms as she looked back at the screen. “The code I used was an old Vulcan one. Isn’t that a bit odd?”

Shaking his head slightly, Hennessey wasn’t about to completely dismiss her thought either. “Yes and no. Many languages, especially Earth ones, have a root language from an ancient language. Take Latin for example, it heavily influenced a number of European languages. Vulcan language is older and more diverse than ours, plus they’ve been out in the stars for a lot longer. Along the way, their language may have somehow influenced the Romulan language. It wouldn’t surprise me that a culture as deep and rich like the Vulcan one is admired by so many others. I mean look at how much Earth has tried to persuade them in sharing their technology that it pushed the Andorians and Tellarites to work hard at getting their hands-on Vulcan technology in a covert way so they were able to almost reverse engineer it. Maybe…somehow and somewhere in time this happened to the Vulcan language. Perhaps elements of it were taken to be used by the Romulans?”

“Then why don’t we use the Vulcan language to attempt to translate some of these data-blocks?” Avery suggested.

Hennessey nodded in agreement. “It wouldn’t harm our efforts.”

Getting straight on to it, Avery brought up the Vulcan linguistic database and installed it into their decoding matrix. In a few seconds one of the data-blocks was recovered and quickly translated so they could understand it.

“That appeared too easy.” Avery remarked. “Looks like we’ve got further into what was the Prowler’s navigation logs.” She pressed a few buttons and a star chart appeared with numerous coordinates and a red line indicating a journey. “I’m no cartographer but have we just found the one thing that the captain wanted? A map of Romulan space?”

“A partial map, yes, but something we can definitely give to him to use.” Hennessey said. “We need to patch this into our own star charts and see if we can work out what it is showing us. Let’s see if we can find out where the Prowler went before it left the Bassen Rift to attack our forces near Deneva.”

The revelation was one that Hennessey knew that their superior would be pleased to hear about, but at the back of his mind he was concerned at how quickly using the Vulcan language had helped them. He hoped what he had speculated about their language was not right, however the evidence before them was pointing to it being a possibility.

THREE

MACO Headquarters, Lian Yu, North China Sea, Earth
Sunday, November 9th, 2155

The gun salute followed by the single bugler sounding the Last Post filled the air around the onlookers as the United Earth Commonwealth flag that was draped over the empty casket was taken off by the honour guard and folded neatly. Marching softly towards Yu’s parents who sat on the front row of the white seats, al-Fayyad presented the white flag with the UEC emblem on it to them. Either side of the former MACO, in their dress uniforms were Second Lieutenant Trommler and Staff Sergeant Iyer. As the three most senior ranking members of the MACO unit that had served under Yu, they were selected to undertake the task. After they had finished, General George Casey, the Chief of the General Staff that led the MACOs approached Yu’s parents. Offering his private condolence to them both, the old general was short but sincere with his sentiments. Once he was finished he turned to everyone else in the parade, saluted to them all and then dismissed them. The service was now over. 

Wearing his Starfleet dress uniform for the second day in a row, Burton was pleased that he was able to get it washed and pressed again in time for Yu’s memorial service. Standing in the large cemetery garden within the grounds of MACO Headquarters was a first for Challenger’s skipper. He hadn’t stepped on the large island before. The transport ride over from the main Chinese land hadn’t taken long but when they approached the island he had been impressed at how well the small number of islands in the Lian Yu chain were protected. They were completely fortified and the place was known to be one of the most well-armed areas on Earth. The weapons that defended MACO headquarters put what defences were in place to protect Starfleet Headquarters to shame. Only the offices of the President and Prime Minister for Earth and the Tour des Unis (where Earth’s parliament met) could rival Lian Yu. Looking at his companion who had been holding his hand discreetly, Burton had on some level felt like a teenager who was sneaking around with his latest love interest. He and Levesque had spent the night together in Boston before making their way to Hong Kong to catch their transport to their final destination. 

“Another suitable and great send off.” Levesque said with sincerity as she looked up at Burton. It was a very sunny day on the island, so most of the funeral goers who were not MACOs, wore sunglasses. Levesque and Burton wore theirs but still had squinted at the brightness of the sun. 

Nodding in agreement with her words, Burton looked around at the faces of those he recognised. “It was nice to hear why her call-sign was Spectre.” He spoke. “I always assumed it was something to do with her being so good at being covert, nothing to do with her previous career as an inspector with the Royal Canadian Mountain Police.”

“I always thought Yu had that knack for surprising us with some hidden skill or talent she possessed.” Levesque stated. “By the way, good speech.”

“Thanks.” Burton relented, not that he didn’t appreciate the praise – he just didn’t want to take the focus away from the major and on to him.

“I couldn’t agree anymore.” A gruff and solid voice said behind them.

Turning around, partly startled at the interjection, Burton and Levesque were surprised to have General Casey standing before them. 

An impressive man with a long military history, Casey was someone that you didn’t want to mess with. On the other hand he was known for his cool, charismatic and collected approach that made him a respectable leader. “Fleet Captain Burton,” He said, extending his hand towards the younger man before shaking Levesque’s hand and acknowledging her too. 

“General Casey, it is an honour to meet you.” Levesque said with a friendly smile.

Grinning back, he bowed his head in a respectful manner and returned the gesture. “Likewise.” He looked at Burton. “Captain, I was hoping we could have a moment to discuss a matter?”

Looking at Levesque and then back to the general, Burton agreed with the request. “Of course sir.”

Moments later, Casey had led Burton away from where the memorial service had taken place and towards a secluded area that had a number of lone pillars standing in rows. All of them had names on them of fallen MACO soldiers. 

“I wanted to speak to you about the future of the MACO detachment on Challenger.” Casey said as he indicated for them both to sit on a backless bench in front of the remembrance area. “I’m afraid that finding Yu’s replacement has not been an easy task.”

“Oh?” Burton said curiously. “Is there an issue?”

Giving out a huge sigh, Casey nodded. “With the war going on, we’ve had to place a majority of our forces on Starfleet ships and installations so the list of experienced majors who are free to take over is limited.” He paused as to show he was finding it difficult to admit there was a shortage in the MACO ranks. “I’d prefer you keep this quiet, but in such circumstances I do have the authority to promote those within the unit to lead it under special circumstances.”

Still unsure where the general was going with this, Burton sought further clarity. “I take it that from your expression with al-Fayyad leaving the unit assigned to Challenger that your choices are limited?”

“Indeed.” Casey answered. “However I am certain my choice is the right one.” Placing his hand into his dress uniform jacket’s pocket, the general took out a communicator and asked whoever was on the other end to send ‘him over’ to where they were. Moments later in the distance, walking up the same gravel path he had taken with the general to where they were sitting now was a figure that Burton recognised almost instantly. 

Marching towards the general and coming to a halt just before him, Second Lieutenant Trommler saluted his superior and stood to attention. 

“At ease lieutenant.” Casey instructed through his rough tones. He and Burton then stood up. “Second Lieutenant Trommler, I believe you know Fleet Captain Burton well enough?”

“Yes sir, very well sir.” Trommler said in a strong respectful tone. 

Nodding to show he was pleased with the younger man’s reply, Casey continued. “And you are happy to follow his leadership?”

“Yes sir!” Trommler almost shouted. 

Burton was starting to get confused as to where Casey was going with this, so he continued to watch, listen and learn without interruptions. 

“Excellent,” Casey said. “As you know lieutenant, I trained Major Yu myself and I knew how passionate she was as a soldier and as a leader. The values she used are ones I follow and keep close to my heart.”

“And let me say sir they are very good ones too sir.” Trommler added.

“I’m glad to hear that as you will need them with your next assignment.” Casey stated. “Luis Trommler, after reviewing your records, and numerous reports of your conduct, I hereby give you the battlefield promotion to ‘captain’ and order you to take on the role of Detachment Commander for the unit assigned to Fleet Captain Burton’s ship.”

Gobsmacked at the news and his promotion, Trommler was taken back by it. “I’m sorry sir?”

“You heard me, Captain Trommler. Major Yu thought very highly of you and in her last evaluation of you had requested that you were promoted. I am only granting her request but extending it slightly.” Casey explained. “Congratulations.” He offered his hand towards Trommler. “I cannot think of anyone else more suited to follow in Yu’s footsteps in leading the unit on Challenger.”

Trommler shook his superior’s hand. “Thank you sir, I promise not to let you or the major down in my new duties.”

“I know you will do us proud kiddo.” Casey said in a more informal tone as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box.  Asking Burton to hold it after he opened it, Casey took out the two-joined silver strips and replaced Trommler’s golden separate ones on the ends of his collar with his new rank. “Congratulations Captain Trommler.”

Saluting his superior as a way of saying thank you, Trommler smiled at Casey and then at Burton. 

“Congratulations Luis, it’s well deserved but I do hope you remember there is only one captain in command of Challenger and that privilege remains with me.” Burton said as he shook Trommler’s hand.

“Understood completely sir.” Trommler replied with.

Casey took one more look at the newly promoted MACO. “It won’t be easy bringing your unit back together, but I believe you can do it, Captain Trommler. Now dismissed so I can talk with Fleet Captain Burton further.”

Trommler saluted one more time, raising his gloved hand to both of his superiors before marching away from them. 

Smiling at what had just transpired, Casey started slowly walking back with Burton by his side. “Trommler is a good soldier, like Yu. I may have bent some protocols here with his promotion but this war has made me do that on too many occasions recently. One more won’t hurt the soul of the MACOs.”

“Trommler is a fine man, I know he will command the respect of the unit.” Burton stated with confidence as he walked beside the general. “I promise to support him with that general.”

“Good, as I am assigning more MACOs to you.” Casey stated. “The more manpower you have in dealing with the Romulans may come into some use. Alongside that some new fresh blood is what Trommler needs to set his own mark on the unit. He has a few people to train up, but he will have them eating out of the palm of his hands in no-time.”

“I am sure he will.” Burton said in agreement as they returned to where everyone else was. 

Before they reached the crowd, which was slowly dispersing, Casey looked at Burton one more time. “Final thing captain,” He said in a much lower tone. The gruffness of his voice coming through thicker than ever before. “This hearing regarding your last mission, I will be in attendance but I want you to know that I supported your decision. You and Captain Müller’s plan to destroy that Romulan base was spot on. You may have given Earth and its allies the breathing space we’ve been wanting since this damn war started.”

Appreciating the general’s words, Burton smiled in response and thanked him with a simple bow of his head.


Stood by the small gravestone that had been erected for Yu, Kefira Ben-Ami knelt down as she touched the white marble and stroked where her fallen friend’s name was inscribed. Closing her eyes, behind the sunglasses she decided to wear, she said a short prayer for Viktoria before standing up. Turning around she saw Hennessey standing there, he too wore sunglasses with his long black overcoat on. All of those from Starfleet wore them over their dress uniforms. Linking her arm into his, the two colleagues said their final goodbyes and stepped away from the memorial as others paid their respects.

“Do you think she was in pain?” Hennessey asked in a low tone as they stopped and turned around to face the others.

“We’ll never know.” Ben-Ami answered honestly. “I hope not Ned.”

“Me too.” He breathed out. 

The two of them fell quiet for a bit more until Ben-Ami broke the silence. “How’s the translation going?”

“I’ve got something for the captain, something that may provide a useful target that Viktoria would have loved to have been a part of in attacking.” Hennessey stated. “I plan to tell the captain later.” He gestured with his head the direction of the captain’s presence.

Looking to where her friend was pointing towards, Ben-Ami noted their commanding officer walking back with General Casey. “Good, I think the sooner we can leave Earth and get back to this goddamn war the better.”

“That doesn’t sound like the normal Ro-fa.” Hennessey commented. “What’s changed?”

Looking at her friend, Ben-Ami replied. “Having to attend these funerals, I think.” She paused to take a breath. “I think I understand why the captain did what he did in going along with approving Müller’s plan. The Romulans have a lot to answer for.”

“That they do,” Hennessey agreed. “That they do.”


Standing around with Commander Levesque, the younger members of Challenger’s crew were catching up with their former first officer. Pleased to see them all, Levesque had commented on the fact she had wished their catch-up was under better terms. As they had not been able to see one another properly at Stanton’s funeral.

Like a proud mother hen, Levesque couldn’t help but smile at them all. It had been almost a year since they had boarded Challenger together. She couldn’t believe how quickly they had all changed in such a short amount of time. Eventually re-joining the group with a small smile on his face was Trommler. 

“What did the general and captain say to you Luis?” Levesque enquired and then quickly saw what was on his collar. “Mister Trommler, is that a new rank insignia I see there?”

Nodding with pride, Trommler confirmed. “The general has just given me a battlefield promotion and ordered me to take command of Challenger’s unit.”

A round of “congratulations” and praise were shared by everyone. Then the one voice that Trommler had been worrying to hear spoke up from behind him. “She’d be proud of you Luis.”

Turning around to face his former deputy, Trommler thanked al-Fayyad before she hugged him tightly. “It won’t be the same without you ma’am.” He whispered into her ear.

“You’ll do a grand job.” She quietly said back. As she let go of him she looked around the gathered crowd. “It was great to see you all one more time.”

“Are you coming to Jack’s memorial?” Jenkins asked from the other side of the circle. He too was in his dress uniform and was holding his husband’s hand. Now the service was over the formality had changed between them all. 

al-Fayyad nodded, “Of course, I wouldn’t miss it for the world but I won’t be staying for the reception afterwards. I need to get back in time to pick up my children from school.”

Jenkins’ husband then spoke up. “How is the transition to civilian life going?” 

Smiling at not feeling guilty that she loved it, the former MACO shared how much she was enjoying it so far. She was considering returning to college at some point to become a teacher. “But that’s a long way to go, I just want to be with my family for now.”

“I totally get that.” Levesque said in support. The deputy director of Starfleet Science soon saw Burton approaching the group after saying goodbye to General Casey. “Watch out all, here comes the boss.”

“Former boss to you.” Burton remarked back. He looked at everyone assembled and smiled at them all. “While I’ve got most of you here, I just want to say how grateful I am at how well you are all holding up and honouring our fallen comrades. It hasn’t been easier. So thank you.”

Harris soon replied to the captain’s comments. Being his yeoman, he was able to get away with being a bit informal. “Sir, I think Major Yu would appreciate it if we all celebrated her achievements one more time by getting off this island and find a decent bar to raise a toast to her .”

“Sounds like a great idea Jamie.” Burton agreed. “Any ideas on where we can go?” He then looked over to his new MACO commander. “Luis, any suggestions?”

Thinking about it for a second as everyone looked at him, he eventually nodded. “One place springs to mind, as long as you don’t mind taking a longer trip home then there’s a bar in Ontario that the major took all of us MACOs to after Challenger returned from Delta.”

“Well if no one has any objections, I suggest we make our way.” Burton suggested. 

The group agreed to the move and informed the rest of the crew that were around about their decision to head to Canada for their unexpected trip.


Monday, November 10th, 2155

Judge Advocate General’s Main Office, Helsinki, Finland

“Thank you Commander Walker, unless there is anything you wish to share with this committee?”

Cooper Walker considered the admiral’s question for a second, hesitating was something he rarely did, as a result he paused himself from getting up from his chair. “Actually Admiral Nivola, there is. Permission to speak freely?”

In one of the large meeting rooms, Walker was attending the hearing that had been put together to fully understand the events that led to the loss of the Armstrong and the attack in the Bassen Rift. The room followed similar décor themes that were found in most Starfleet offices. The tablet in the centre of the room was wooden, a varnished pine in fact that had the spotlights in the ceiling reflecting in its shiny surface. Sat in the middle of the long table before the science officer were three admirals. The committee was led by the Chief Judge Advocate General herself, Vice Admiral Nancy Nivola. To her left was Rear Admiral Sam Gardner, the director for Starfleet Operations and to her right was Rear Admiral Imran Kaur, the director of Starfleet Science. 

Nivola, who was one of the highly respected admirals who sat on the Command Council, was in her late sixties. Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland in the USA, the admiral had become a military lawyer at a young age. She had originally joined the United States Navy before joining the Earth Global Defence Force. Eventually she was transferred to Starfleet and rose to the position of Chief JAG. Nivola was a quiet woman, however when she spoke she was eloquent and sophisticated with her choice of words. She knew the law inside and out. Thankfully in her time as Starfleet’s Chief JAG, she hadn’t been involved in too many cases that received media attention. Besides a few lines under brown eyes, the African American president maintained a professional in her appearance and demeanour. Many had believed that after her Italian husband had died during the Xindi attack a few years ago she would have retired, but it would appear that losing her beloved made her more determined to carry on with the work she had started. 

“Please speak.” Nivola instructed the commander.

Blinking once, then twice, Walker took a breath before he spoke. “It’s just an observation and I don’t mean any disrespect by my comment, however I can’t help but feel you asked me more questions about the mission that Challenger and Discovery undertook then what happened which resulted in the loss of the Armstrong.” He looked at Gardner. “Admiral Gardner, you asked me more questions on my opinions and observations of Fleet Captain Burton’s decision making in regard to the planning for the attack on the Romulan base.” Walker then looked at Kaur, “Admiral Kaur, as a fellow astrophysicist I am surprised that you only asked me two questions about theories behind how we were going to collapse the singularity.”

Gardner then interjected. “Commander, we are very aware of what happened to the Armstrong and your thoughts on the attack, as the lead scientific mind advising Fleet Captain Burton is important to us.” The director of Starfleet Operations had appeared hostile and confrontational in everyone’s sessions so far. Even though the sessions were closed to the general public, it did not prevent Starfleet officers from attending the hearings. Since they had started with most of the crew of Discovery being questioned, today had been the day when Challenger’s crew would be called to testify and answer the questions the committee had for them. 

“You say you’re aware of what happened to the Armstrong, but you only asked four questions to Doctor Payne yesterday. After me she is the highest-ranking survivor from the Armstrong, I find it hard to understand why you didn’t ask others for more. In fact none of you have asked me about my opinion or observations on Captain Charan’s decision making during our battle with the Romulans.”

“Your point commander?” Gardner asked, now sounding annoyed. Walker couldn’t determine if Gardner was either frustrated with having to attend the hearings or was digging for something more that no one had revealed so far. 

“I just don’t understand why you’re asking so many questions about Fleet Captain Burton.” Walker countered back with. 

Smiling at the commander, Nivola stopped Gardner from talking any more as she answered him. “As we have access to the black box from the Armstrong so we are more aware of what happened to her, however with Challenger and Discovery entering radio silence for a mission that was not sanctioned by Starfleet Command we need to be aware of every detail from all available sources.” Her balanced response was exactly that. Balanced and well thought out before anyone else could say anything. Vice Admiral Nivola’s presence was strong but her neutral stance in not appearing involved in the questioning was well played to avoid anyone from saying she was biased. 

“Plus we do not want anyone feeling that because the outcome of that mission was a huge victory for us that we will allow our officers to go off and do anything they like.” Gardner added. “That includes promoting officers and offering them highly sought after positions.”

Snapping a glare at Gardner, Walker did not like the director’s tone. “Admiral, if you have something to say please come out with it.”

Rear Admiral Kaur, who Walker had worked with before, leaned across the table and looked at Gardner. “Yes please do follow in your convictions admiral.” The two male flag officers glared at one another as Kaur finished his remarks. “I would love to know what you’re implying here.” Imran Kaur, who was one of the youngest rear admirals to serve on the Starfleet Command Council, was calm like Nivola for most of the hearing but his fiery side could rival that Gardner owned. Hailing from Northern India, Kaur had spent a majority of his career working for the United Earth Space Probe Agency as its lead scientific advisor. Six years ago he transferred over to Starfleet as its deputy director for Starfleet Science. When his mentor and superior, Admiral Garcetti, had suffered from an aneurysm it had been decided to promote Kaur to the top position. His green eyes complimented his thick black hair, which had several streaks of silver hair coming through. 

“Come off it Imran, you and I both know that we may not get the whole truth from those who Burton has promoted recently. He bought their silence with new positions on one of our top-of-the-line ships.” Gardner replied. “It’s not hard to see that.”

“Admiral Nivola as I have the right to defend myself from any accusation that has not been proven to be true, as stated in the uniform code of justice, I would like to object to Admiral Gardner’s insinuations.” Walker said with confidence. “I would like the record to state that I have not made a so-called deal with Fleet Captain Burton for my silence in covering up anything from the most recent mission we were involved with in return for a promotion and a new posting.”

“You’re not telling me that with him only promoting you prior to your arrival home to Earth and you accepting the position of Challenger’s new second officer and chief science officer, you are not in any way compromised in presenting the whole truth to us Commander Walker?” Gardner questioned. 

“No I am not.” Walker answered back, he was trying to keep his anger at bay. “I would like you to take a look at my records and you will see that prior to the destruction of the Armstrong, I had completed the advanced bridge exam that qualified me to become a commander. Alongside that, Challenger’s chief science officer was recently transferred to Admiral Kaur as his new deputy director. The position was open.”

“Yes, your sister-in-law was your predecessor and I believe she is also carrying the captain’s unborn children too.” Gardner added.

“Okay Admiral Gardner, I think we’ve heard enough. We are not here to make assumptions, just the facts.” Kaur remarked back. The fact that Gardner was going after his deputy had caused Kaur to object seriously. 

“But those are facts.” Gardner argued back. 

“Enough.” Admiral Nivolla commanded in a stern manner. “Unless there is proof that Commander Walker and Fleet Captain Burton, along with others, are withholding evidence of a quid pro quo taking place we are finished here.”

Gardner stopped and Kaur took a deep breath.

Looking to see that both men had calmed down, the Chief JAG looked at Commander Walker. “Commander, you are right that our line of questioning was focussed more on the latter part of your recent mission. I do not want you to leave here thinking that we were forgetting the brave men and women who gave their lives when the Armstrong was lost. As we already had a majority of the data, we determined we had enough evidence to understand that the ship was lost because of the Romulans attacking them. I do not want to diminish your service to that ship or those you served with, especially Captain Charan. She was a personal friend of mine and her sacrifice is a grave loss to Starfleet and the Commonwealth. Your insights on that and everything else have been helpful for this committee. You are dismissed.”

Realising that was it, Walker got up from the chair and left the meeting room while those who watched, including those who had transferred to Challenger, all got up and left to follow him.


“I can’t believe Admiral Gardner’s accusations in there.” Doctor Payne remarked as they all stood in one of the corridors in the JAG central office. The small crowd that had come to support both Payne and Commander Walker were all huddled together. 

“Why would he think that Fleet Captain Burton has bought us all out with promotions and new positions?” Lieutenant Malone asked. “What would he gain from such a move?”

“I don’t know.” Walker remarked to the others. “But we need to leave here and find Fleet Captain Burton sooner. I think he is testifying the day after tomorrow and before him the rest of the senior staff will be questioned.”

Ensign Reddick then spoke up, “You think Admiral Gardner is out to do some long-term damage sir?” 

Looking at the young armoury officer, Walker just shrugged his shoulders. “I want to say I know for certain. Does anyone know where Fleet Captain Burton is right now?”

“Starfleet Command Headquarters,” Ensign Avery answered. “I’m sure that’s where Lieutenant Hennessey said they were visiting today.”

 “Are you certain Tanisha?” Walker asked. 

“Absolutely, since we translated more of the Prowler’s navigational logs the captain appeared quite happy with what we found. I believe he is presenting the data to Fleet Admiral Hathaway.” Avery remarked. 

“Looking around and realising that they needed to leave Finland soon rather than late, Walker suggested that they all leave separately and pre-warn the rest of the senior staff while he travelled to America to find a way to speak to Burton without raising too much suspicion. 

“You think someone’s watching us?” Payne asked. 

“Can you blame me for thinking that?” Walker threw back. “I’ll suggest we get back together after Lieutenant Conrad’s service.”

With one more look around the corridor they were in, the former Armstrong officers left quickly and quietly.


 Challenger NX-03, docked at San Francisco Shipyards, Earth orbit

 

“And this is main engineering.” 

Pushing the large hatch door open with one hand, Lieutenant Masuko entered her domain with her husband, Lieutenant (junior grade) Adam Smith, in tow. Surprised to find it busy with numerous repair crews, Masuko was taken back by the scene before her. 

Smiling at how his wife was so proud to show him her engineering room, Smith smiled hugely at the site before him. Used to serving on a smaller Daedalus-class, his ship (the Lexington) wasn’t as advanced compared to Challenger. “Wow, it is huge and impressive.” He said to his wife as he looked above him. “Do you normally have such a large staff?” He asked over the noise of people talking and working simultaneously. 

 Frustrated at how busy it was, Masuko shook her head before answering. “No, the schedule said the repair teams wouldn’t be here until later this afternoon.”

“They must have finished their work on Discovery ahead of what they planned.” Smith suggested. 

Looking at her husband, she smiled at his optimism. Adam Smith was the same age as her and the two of them had fallen madly in love while serving together at Starfleet Training Command. His blonde hair was getting darker as he aged, but he kept it in its normal curtain style, all brushed forward. Nevertheless he still kept the boyish charm that made her fall in love with him. 

 Looking around at the work being carried out, Masuko started to find herself becoming frustrated at the sloppy work that was being carried out. The yard engineers were cutting corners in their efforts. From one display she could see the new plasma injectors hadn’t been aligned tightly enough, she knew if they weren’t then the ship would not achieve any speeds beyond warp three point five. The intermix ratio was not set to the correct one. On another screen a diagnosis was showing that a number of power relays had been by-passed to avoid replacements being put in. Again, she knew that if they were not replaced several systems would not work. 

“What the hell?” She muttered as she walked over to the small command workstation that she used to work from.  

“Problem?” Smith asked. Not knowing the systems he didn’t know what his wife was getting annoyed with. 

“Several in fact.” She answered with an annoyed tone. “Stay here.” She added and got into the lift that took her to the upper level. As the lift took her up, she could hear Ensign Metaxas whistling to himself while he was lying on the ground working under the coolant monitoring station. “Theo, what the hell is going on here?”

Dropping the tools he had in his hands and pulling the one he had between his teeth, the young engineer sat up. “Sorry ma’am?”

“This!” She gestured towards the chaos in engineering. “How come we have so many technicians and engineers working on the repairs not being properly supervised?”

“They are being supervised ma’am.” Metaxas said as he got up and wiped his brow with the back of his right hand. He ended up giving himself a dirty mark. The young engineer did look exhausted. His jumpsuit was unzipped to half-way, his sleeves were rolled up to his elbows and his collar was completely undone – revealing his blonde chest hair slightly.  “I’m supervising them!”

Flabbergasted by his response, Masuko’s eyes widened as she looked back at the mess. “Theo, after the captain promoted me to chief engineer, I came directly to you and said that you would be in the running for second engineer. You promised me that I could trust you to get the job done right and asked for me to give you a chance to prove it. I gave you the simple job of overseeing the repairs and instead of returning to a well organised repair programme taking place I am met with absolute chaos!”

“Sorry ma’am, I don’t understand what you mean? The repair teams are doing the repairs as instructed.” Metaxas stated.

Screaming from more frustration at his naivety, Masuko lost her cool. “No Theo this is not how it is meant to go! You have watched me and…” She took a breath as she said his name. “Commander Stanton led on repairs with the drydock teams countless times. You know that certain repairs have to be carried out in a certain way so that certain systems operate efficiently. You have not noticed half of the issues I have seen. It took me less than two minutes to see the repairs teams have had no direction or clarity shared with them on how our systems need to be handled. Instead they have been left to get on with it by themselves and the repairs that are being completed are the bog-standard issue ones. That’s not what we need for Challenger!” Masuko paused, “God damn it Theo, could you be any more stupid?”

“I d-d-didn’t see what the issue was. I thought that if-” Metaxas started to answer back but was shot-down again by his superior.

“NO THEO!” She screamed at him which made everyone in engineering stop and look at them, “THAT’S THE PROBLEM YOU DIDN’T THINK AND YOU CAN’T SEE THE PROBLEM!” 

The moment she saw tears starting to well-up in his eyes, Masuko looked away. Ashamed with her own behaviour she thumped her way down the stairs and shouted at everyone to get out.

Moving across from the command workstation, her husband approached her. “Sakura,” He said in his calming tone, “you need to calm down! This is fixable!”

Snapping at him too, Masuko told him that it wasn’t fixable. She yelled out that it would take ages to get it back to the way it should be done. “The way he would have done it!” She added as tears fell down her cheeks as she stormed out of main engineering.


 

Packing her bag, quietly, in her quarters, Lieutenant Cortez was folding up her dress uniform. She wanted to get everything sorted before she took the transport later that evening. A group of them would be taking an earlier trip to the Luna colonies in preparation for Lieutenant Conrad’s funeral. The door chime went off and she told the person on the other side to come in.

As soon as the entrance was clear, Cortez was surprised to find Masuko rushing in with tears rolling down her cheeks. Reacting straight away to her friend’s distress state, Cortez pulled her in for a hug. “Sakura, what’s happened?”

Crying into her shoulder, Masuko explained what had happened in engineering and how she had lost her cool with everyone there, especially with Metaxas. “I feel like such a fool.” She added.

“Okay, calm yourself and sit down here.” Cortez insisted as she gestured towards her bed.

The two women sat down and Cortez kept holding Masuko’s hand. “Start from the beginning.”

“That’s the problem Rachele, I don’t know where to start.” Masuko admitted. “The captain asked me to take over as chief engineer, I jumped at it straight away and thought how amazing it would be. However, it’s my first day at it and I’ve already lost cool with the one person I wanted to be my right hand down there.”

Smiling at her friend’s plight, Rachele could completely relate to the situation. It was only a few weeks ago he asked her to take over from T’Plau. So much had changed on the ship, Fleet Captain Burton had to ask so many of them to step up to new challenges. “Right slow down. First off, and don’t hate me for saying this, but are you truly serious about wanting Theo as second engineer? He’s still a boy!”

Rolling her eyes as she tried to dry them at the same time, Masuko could see the point Cortez was trying to make. “I just thought as Stanton had trained us all up that he would be the right engineer for this.”

“And he is the right engineer but not the right leader.” Cortez explained. “Theo is a gifted engineer, a really nice guy and a hard worker but he has barely any leadership experience. There was no way he could have organised those repair teams like you or Commander Stanton would. He probably never saw you two sat in the mess hall in the early hours of the morning writing such detailed plans after we came back from our mission with the Deltans.”

“We should have included him more.” Masuko said. 

“Maybe, but at the time he was doing other jobs. The jobs expected for the third engineer in charge.” Cortez said. “Now you’re lucky that you have Theo and you have a good relationship with him, but you need to realise he isn’t the right person to be your right-hand.”

“Then who do I ask?” Masuko asked. “The captain wants me to keep the promotion in-house as he believes there won’t be many who outside we can ask to join us.”

“What about your husband?” Cortez offered.

“Adam?” Masuko said. “No, he couldn’t deal with me being his boss…” She paused, “Oh my god I left him in engineering by himself.”

Chuckling at that image, Cortez calmed her friend down. “Don’t worry, he’s an engineer, he will find his way out.” She paused, “Well if you won’t bring anyone from outside then take a page out of my book?”

“What do you mean?” Masuko inquired as she pushed back the tears. 

“I was lucky enough that when the captain transferred the Armstrong crew over to us that I got Ensign Reddick. He was their second armoury officer, so he knew most of the role already. Don’t we have their second engineer with us?”

“You mean Colleen?” Masuko asked. 

Nodded to confirm, Cortez encouraged the idea further. “How about it? I know she agreed to run engineering on the night shift, but why not pull her from it? She’s older than Theo by almost six years, she’s a talented engineer and leader. She’s done the role before and will pick up on all of the tiny details that she needs to know to keep this ship together.”

Masuko liked the idea, she hadn’t considered it as she knew that Malone had only just settled in. “I’ll think about it, but I need to apologise to Adam and Theo.” She leant forward and placed her head into both hands as she realised how much of a fool she made herself in front of the yard team. “Oh my god, I need to get those engineers back on track or the captain will kill me.”

“Then take a few deep breaths, remain calm and in command. I’m sure Adam won’t mind hanging around a bit longer to help you.” Cortez assumed.

“Thanks Rachele.” Cortez said as she brought the chief armoury officer in for a hug.

“Any time Sakura.” She said as she returned the gesture.


Starfleet Command Headquarters, San Francisco, United States of America, Earth

 

“Gentlemen,” spoke the soft feminine tones of Commander Jane Astley. “The admiral has asked me to let you know that her current meeting is running late and she will be with you all shortly. In the meantime can I offer any of you a beverage?”

After hearing the familiar voice of Commander Astley, Fleet Captain Burton politely turned down the offer on behalf of the group. Astley smiled and left Burton along with his new first officer and chief communications officer alone while they sat in the lobby area of Starfleet Command Headquarters.

“Should we be worried that the admiral is late?” Hennessey questioned. He was sitting in an armchair across from where Burton and Rodham were.

Instantly Burton shook his head. “No, I’ve waited a lot longer to see members of the admiralty.”

“She is the Starfleet Commander-in-Chief, it’s to be expected.” Rodham added. 

The three men had been waiting for thirty minutes so far. Burton had requested the meeting with Fleet Admiral Hathaway as a priority instead of speaking to someone else on the Command Council. As Starfleet JAG were investigating his recent orders and their outcomes, he felt that going around the system for once wouldn’t harm him and if it did then he would remind Fleet Admiral Hathaway about his recent discoveries on Mars. He was certain that the push for the investigation was being forced by Captain Karim and her supporters within Command as a message to him that they could find ways to keep him quiet. He had debated the idea in head for some time but the notion that Karim and her secret organisation would be quite happy with what he did in the Bassen Rift to keep Earth and its commonwealth secure. He had reached the conclusion that he couldn’t be bothered to think about it any further. Riding the storm seemed easier to manage. 

“Sir, before I left Discovery, I didn’t get a chance to wish your brother all the best before he left as well.” Rodham piped up, breaking the silence that had now appeared between the three men since Astley’s departure. 

Confused as to what he meant by that, Burton asked for clarity. “What do you mean Alex? Where was Roman going?”

Realising that his new boss was not aware of what had happened, Rodham felt like a fool as he winced along with his response. “He left Discovery to help take care of Lieutenant Commander Wallis.”

Once again in a matter of days, Burton was surprised to hear such things. He had originally offered the position of Chief Engineer to Roman, but Roman had turned down the offer. His younger brother had said it would be weird for the two of them to serve together so closely. “Where did they go?”

“I believe Doctor Reyburn suggested to Starfleet Medical about a private clinic in New Zealand that may be able to help Nathan be more comfortable.” Rodham explained. 

“Damn, I didn’t know how serious his condition got.” Burton said. He made a mental note that he needed to speak to Roman soon. 

Several more minutes passed without a single word said between them. Hennessey was the first to speak up after reading his tablet one more time. “Do you really think the admiral will go ahead with the plan?”

“Which one?” Burton asked. “The attack on that Romulan shipyard you found or you going off to discover more about the Romulan language on Vulcan?”

“Both.” Hennessey answered.  

“We’ve got two solid plans that could help us win the war in our favour. Sure it can’t harm to ask?” Rodham remarked. 

“Exactly.” Burton said.

“Well you better hold your horses gentlemen!” A familiar voice said from behind them. 

All three men turned around to see Commander Levesque walking in. She was wearing her maternity wear uniform. It was similar to the outfits worn by those who worked in Headquarters, a variation of the jumpsuit in the sense of it was almost a tailored pantsuit. The two versions of it came with either a skirt or trousers. Levesque had opted for the latter while her actual jacket was pleated around the edges to allow for more room during her pregnancy. 

“Commander Levesque, this is a pleasant surprise.” Hennessey said with a smile.

“Absolutely,” Burton said, smiling at her. They had continued with their relationship, keeping it quiet between them so he kept his tone professional. “It’s good to see you commander. What brings you here?”

Rolling his eyes at how obvious they were with their body language, Rodham smiled at the new arrival instead of vocally greeting her. He would ask the question at a later stage when he knew it would be more appropriate to do so. 

“I’ve just spoken with my brother-in-law.” Levesque said and gave a look indicating she needed to speak to them outside. “He sends his regards.”

“Shall we take a walk outside?” Burton suggested to the other two, which they agreed to.

Once they were away from the front door, Levesque didn’t waste any time relying on what Commander Walker and the others had experienced in their recent hearing with the Starfleet JAG. “It seems Admiral Gardner thinks you’ve used a quid pro quo to keep everyone from revealing something you’ve not shared in any official reports.”

“What?! That’s crazy! That’s-” Burton paused as he realised what was going on. Hathaway had never truly said much to him after the incident on Mars involving his father and Captain Karim, but she did slip up one clue that there were others in Starfleet that she would need to keep a close eye on. Was Gardner one of them? Could this be another warning from Section Thirty-One to ensure he keeps away and remains a by-the-book type of officer. He couldn’t dwell on it right now. He would speak to Hathaway about it when the opportunity arose. Realising he needed to avoid Levesque, Rodham and Hennessey asking too many questions, he moved the conversation on. “That’s just rubbish. Anything else?”

“The hearing is definitely focussed on wanting to know what happened in the Bassen Rift. Cooper said he had been asked a barrage of questions around the science behind the mission and your command decisions.” Levesque answered. 

At that point the three men were called back into the building by Astley. The commander had returned and shouted out for them from the main entrance. Realising they had to go, Burton thanked Levesque and told the other two to keep what she shared to themselves for now. He would present the battle plan that he and Rodham had put together based on the research discovered by Hennessey.

FOUR

Tycho City, Luna Colonies, Luna
Monday, November 10th, 2155

“Without a doubt he was one of the finest pilots in the fleet and I know Fleet Captain Burton won’t mind me saying that he would have gone out to become a fine officer.” First Lieutenant Trommler spoke with sincerity as he delivered his remarks. “I know from first-hand experience that he had the true Starfleet spirit of being an explorer. The fact we are celebrating his life here at the Mare Tranquilities Museum of Human Exploration is a true testimony for his passion. He spoke fondly of this place. In fact that passion of his came to the forefront when we were stranded on an alien world. He led a group I was in and he ensured we did our best not only to survive but to live. That’s one thing I learnt from him the most, along with his bad habits when he tried to teach me his surfing tricks earlier on this year!” That last comment caused a few to snigger. “Seriously though, Mister and Misses Conrad on behalf of everyone on Challenger, for the short amount of time we had Jack in our lives we loved having him being part of our team. I will miss him tremendously.”

Smiling and bowing his head slightly, the newly promoted MACO officer walked away from the lectern where he had just delivered his speech about their departed friend. As he walked past Jack’s parents his mother hugged him and his father shook his hand. Taking his seat back with the rest of the Challenger crew, the minister that was leading the service called for a few minutes of peaceful reflection on the former pilot’s life. Fleet Captain Burton was sitting directly behind Trommler and he placed one hand on the MACO’s shoulder and gave it a tight squeeze. Turning to look at his superior, Burton nodded and gave a wink with a smile. It was his way of saying well done with the speech on behalf of everyone on the ship. 

Almost half an hour later and the memorial was over. Everyone on the crew followed in the captain’s footsteps to praise Trommler with his words. The usual gang of younger crew all gathered together in one end of the gallery that had been privately cornered for Conrad’s service. Conrad’s parents had planned a small finger buffet reception for those who joined them. The former pilot’s mother was the museum’s curator/assistant director, so being able to host his memorial service in the one place he adored the most as a child was fitting. 

“Those were great words Luis.” Habiba said as everyone gathered. All of them with a drink in one hand and a small plate of food in the other. Conrad’s mother had insisted that the crew stayed to help them celebrate their fallen comrade’s life with them. 

“Absolutely,” Metaxas added. “Jack would have gushed at them.”

Trommler smiled in appreciation. “Dank.” He spoke softly. 

“I can’t believe how far Jack’s mother went to host it here.” Commented Lieutenant Stewart. Looking around them the large exhibition gallery was focussed on the Apollo missions from the late twentieth century. “I remember Jack saying he was related to one of the astronauts.”

“Was it Apollo Twelve or Thirteen?” Jenkins asked his husband.

“Twelve.” Stewart answered. “Thirteen was Jim Lovell, where Twelve was where Jack’s ancestor, Charles Conrad Junior commanded the mission and was the third person to walk on the Moon.”

“Didn’t Jack get kicked out of STC for attempting to recreate the Apollo missions?!” Ensign Hathaway asked the group. “I’m sure he said that was the reason why we found him on the Raven.” Laughing at recalling the first time they all got to know Jack properly, the group all smiled at the famous speech he shared with them all during his first week on Challenger. “I have to admit, I was glad when Fleet Captain Burton brought him on. After spending so many double shifts on the bridge, I was certain I was going to have my own warp core breach.”

“You did amazingly well during that mission at Archer Four.” Crewmember Harris said, assuring his friend. “In fact didn’t Jack get introduced to you when Commander Levesque found you napping in the mess hall?!”

More chuckles were shared among them all. Hathaway nodded to confirm the story. Her thick Scottish accent came out. “Indeed and after she left he got me the strongest coffee I’ve ever tasted in my life. One of my favourite moments with Jack would be trying Chef Lawson’s blends of coffee while writing our weekly helm reports.”

“My favourite memory of Jack is a classic.” Metaxas remarked with a grin plastered across his face. “It happened just after we abandoned Challenger and before we landed on Ardana. I woke up in the middle of the night on Shuttlepod One and found him spooning Luis.” 

The moment he recalled that memory, Jenkins burst out laughing and Trommler just shook his head in disbelief. 

“Didn’t Jack try to defend his actions of cuddling up with you by saying he was getting cold?” Jenkins added.

The new MACO leader glared at the Greek engineer for sharing that story and then one at his subordinate. “Two months.” He said between his teeth. “We almost went two months without anyone else finding out about that and Jack’s justification.”

“Always knew there was something going on between you two!” Habiba joked. 

“It was a true bromance.” Trommler admitted. He took his glass and raised it. “To Jack, my lost spoon.”

“To Jack.” Everyone repeated as they raised their glasses.


Hearing the others call their fallen comrade’s name, Burton and Levesque looked in the direction to see the younger officers celebrating Conrad’s memory.

Smiling at the scene, Levesque looked back at Burton. “It’s nice to see that none of them have lost one another from this all.”

“Yeah, they’re a good bunch.” Burton agreed as he took a swig of the glass of wine he had. 

Sipping on her flavoured water, Levesque looked at the future father of her unborn children. Since they had decided to become a couple they had kept public displays of affection to a minimum to avoid raising suspicions. Nevertheless she couldn’t stop smiling at him. “You didn’t tell me why when I mentioned Admiral Gardner’s name yesterday you reacted the way you did.”

Looking back at her, Burton put on his poker face. “What do you mean?”

“It was your ‘I know there could be a reason for that but I have to keep it quiet for now’ look.” Levesque explained. 

Trying to swipe the notion away, Burton made a pfft noise with his mouth and shook his head. “I was just caught off guard to hear it, that was all. The entire investigation seems pointless. They’ve interviewed almost everyone, except me yet.”

“When do you have to travel to Helsinki?” Not quite believing him, Levesque decided to move the subject on. After asking her question they decided to move away from the table they were standing at for some cushioned chairs that were near to a glass cabinet that housed a replica of the space suits used by the Apollo astronauts. “I can come with you if you want some moral support?”

Shaking his head to stop her, Burton told her there was no need. “I’m sure they will be long and boring. I’m taking Jamie with me anyway.”

“Shame, I’d like the opportunity to see you take on Gardner.” Levesque said disappointedly. 

“I never had any issues with the admiral before. He seemed like a reasonable man back when he promoted me to captain.” Burton paused and wondered again if Gardner was truly involved in the whole Section Thirty-One mess. Gardner had been the one to promote him after Captain Karim’s apparent death. “Maybe he doesn’t like the idea of Hathaway giving me such free reign and perhaps I did take the privileges my new rank brings a bit too far. Maybe I do need a bit of a slap on the wrist so it makes me stop and think further about what I’m about to order. Maybe it’ll help stop us from having to attend so many memorials like this one.”

“Lloyd, you can’t think like that. We are at war, there’s no two ways of looking at it. You made a tactical and sound decision in the moment.” Levesque said, reassuring her boyfriend. “Did Hathaway give you any inclination of which way she was thinking? I could speak with Rear Admiral Kaur for you?”

“No,” Burton said quickly. “Please don’t. I wouldn’t want your career put on the line for me.”

“Okay, but just give me a shout if you change your mind.” Levesque said. “Anyway, did Hathaway approve of your battle plan?”

“She said she was going to let me know later today.” Burton answered. He took another sip of his wine. He was glad that Levesque hadn’t asked him about the other plan, the one that involved him sending Hennessey to Vulcan to find out more about the Romulan language. Hathaway had approved that idea and suggested they undertake it in a quieter fashion. Burton had already set the wheels in motion on how they would get their chief communication officer to Vulcan without too much hassle. He had called in a favour with another former crewmember for her help. She had been quick to respond and agree to it. Hennessey would depart from the ship tomorrow morning for the Vulcan homeworld with Commander T’Plau.


“So how was your inquisition?”

Finishing the small piece of carrot stick she had just picked up, Ben-Ami used the napkin she had to wipe her mouth as she answered the question from Hennessey. “It wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be Ned.” Keeping her voice low so only he heard her she added more detail. “The questions were bizarre, not only where they were based around us dealing with treating the crews from Armstrong and Discovery, but also around my professional opinion on whether Captains Müller and Burton were fit for duty during the attack against the Romulans. To top it off, Gardner asked me if I was bothered by Burton bringing in Rodham and Walker above me. He also asked if I thought it was bizarre for the chief medical officer to be so high up in the chain of command.”

“Is it?” Hennessey asked as he picked up a chicken drumstick from the buffet table which they were standing next to. “I mean I suppose beforehand we had Levesque, Stanton and T’Plau in the top positions.”

“I suppose it is unusual, normally you would have someone else who is a bridge officer but then the captain is…” She paused as he considered her words carefully, “well limited on choice. I wouldn’t mind if I didn’t know what I was doing because my experience in the Israeli Defence Force and serving on the Yorktown, apparently in the admiral’s eyes, isn’t good enough.”

Swallowing the bit of meat he had just chewed on, Hennessey indicated for them to move away from the table. “Did he really say that?”

Shaking her head as she sipped on her peach flavoured water, the doctor shared more. “Not in so many words. It was just the way he was saying it and inferring through his questions. He’s certainly gunning after the captain.”

“Any reason why?” Hennessey questioned.

Shrugging her shoulders, Ben-Ami couldn’t answer that question. “I can’t see what he is trying to get at.” She looked around the room. “How’d the meeting go with Fleet Admiral Hathaway?”

“Yeah fine, she spoke with Ambassador Soran there and then got me sorted to travel to Vulcan to carry on with my research.” Hennessey said. “I leave tomorrow via the Jarok.”

“That’s T’Plau’s ship.” Ben-Ami stated. “Did the admiral or ambassador pull a few favours for her to be your ferry ride?”

“The admiral insisted that it was T’Plau who took me and seeing as the Jarok is one of the few ships still in the area the ambassador agreed with the request. It was a logical response.” Hennessey said. 

“Good, make sure you give the commander my regards.” Ben-Ami said as she finished her drink. “Do you think you’ll be successful in finding more answers?”

“I would hope so. The Vulcans have the largest linguistic library that we’re aware of. If we can find similarities from the cultures they’ve discovered and encountered we may find a better way to access the Romulan database.” Hennessey said with a sense of positivity. “I just hope it doesn’t take me too long and that it actually helps with the war effort.”


Malibu, United States of America, Earth 

 

“Coming!” 

Rushing through his beach-house, wearing just a pair of black swimming shorts and his sunglasses on top of his hair, Fynn Trommler approached the front door and could see a familiar figure standing on the other side thanks to the large window. Standing wearing his MACO dress uniform was his older brother. 

“Lui!” Fynn shouted with joy as he opened the door and pulled his brother in for a hug. 

Returning the gesture, Luis hugged his brother back. “Fynn! I hope you don’t mind me bursting in on you and Ollie!”

Pulling away from his brother, Fynn looked at his brother. “Ollie isn’t here. The Poseidon is out somewhere in the Alpha Centauri system.” He indicated for Luis to come in and then closed the door behind him. “What are you all doing dressed up?”

Luis gave him a look that made his younger brother stop and think for a moment. 

“Oh jeez, I’m sorry – you said in your letter about your friend’s memorial.” Fynn said apologetically. “How did you do with your speech?”

“It went fine, thanks.” Luis remarked. “I was thinking about staying with our dads in Germany, but then I remembered you and Ollie bought this amazing place. I hope you don’t mind gate-crashing for one night?”

“Absolutely not. As I said, Ollie isn’t here so it’d be great to have some company.” Fynn said as he led his older brother further into his home. “If you head on upstairs, the two bedrooms on the left-hand side are guest rooms. Help yourself to either one. While you’re getting settled and changed, I’ll grab us some beers to catch up.”

Luis smiled in appreciation for his brother’s hospitality. Fynn was two years younger than him. They slightly resembled one another with similar coloured eyes however that was where the similarities stopped. Fynn was a few inches smaller than Luis but slightly broader in the shoulders. Both had brown hair, but Fynn kept his shorter hair while Luis had longer hair that he kept slicked back. Unlike his older brother, Fynn didn’t keep much facial hair either. 

Making his way up the wooden floor steps, Luis was impressed with how well his younger brother was doing. The whole beach house was decorated in a very modern way. A huge open planned living room looked out onto Malibu beach that had a dining room and kitchen connecting to it. Upstairs impressive views could be seen of the coast too. A few pictures were hanging up on the wall with the staircase of family members, most of them were taken from Fynn’s wedding. 

Almost ten minutes later and Luis had got himself out of his dress uniform into a pair of comfortable grey shorts and a plain white vest. He had picked up his sunglasses too and had put them on too. As he headed back downstairs to find his brother lying on a sunchair by the outside pool wearing his sunglasses.  

“I definitely went into the wrong career.” Luis said playfully.

Fynn got up from his chair and reacted to his brother’s words with a smirk. He handed Luis a bottle of beer as promised. “How come you’re staying Earth-side? Isn’t your ship ready?”

“Not quite.” Luis answered after taking a sip. “I just wanted some time away from it all. It’s been pretty intense recently.” 

 “That bad huh?” Fynn inquired with sympathy. “That’s another reason why I hate having Ollie out there, not knowing what’s going on.”

“How are things with you guys?” Luis inquired as he sat on the edge of the sunbed that ran parallel against the one that Fynn was on. “Last time I saw you both, everything seemed okay. I am sensing something more?”

Giving out a groan, Fynn took a breath before he admitted something to his older brother. “You know you’re the only one I can share this with.” 

Concerned that his brother was about to let out a massive secret, Luis sat at. “Of course, what’s up Fynn? Tell ya big brother!”

Scratching the top of his left lobe, a sign that he was nervous, Fynn explained what was going on. “Well I told Ollie that I wanted a divorce as I couldn’t deal with being a possible Starfleet widow.”

“Jesus Christ, Fynn!” Luis replied. “I wasn’t expecting that!”

Raising his hands in defence, Fynn went on to share more. “I know, I know before you say it that I was acting irrationally and rushing into a decision. It’s just with him out there and me here, there’s been no us for a long time. I can’t bear it.”

“So is that why you’ve not been on the starting squad for your last four matches?” Luis countered back with. His brother, being a professional soccer player for the LA Galaxy team, was a sort of celebrity in the sports world. Fynn was skilful, especially with football and had played for the German national squad on more than one occasion. Luis always kept up to date with what his brother was doing so had been surprised recently that he hadn’t seen his brother on the starting line for his team’s latest matches. In fact he hadn’t even been on the bench with sports commentators stating he was not around. 

“That’s not the only reason.” Fynn admitted. 

“No it isn’t.” Luis said. “Look Fynn, I don’t want to tell you how to live your life or get involved in your marital problems with Ollie, but you need to sort out what you’re going to do because joining the MACO reserve list isn’t the answer.”

Surprised, shocked, confused, Fynn wasn’t expecting his brother to come out with that. Nervously, he tried to brush off the final remark. “I don’t know what you mean?”

Rolling his eyes at how his baby brother was trying to play stupid with him, Luis came clean to the other reason why he was visiting his brother. “I’ve just been promoted and given command of the MACO detachment on Endeavour. While I was reviewing possible new members to my unit, I was reviewing the reserve list of those currently being trained and surprise, surprise I came across one name I was never expecting to see. Yours.”

Falling backwards onto the sunbed, realising he had been caught red-handed, Fynn pushed his sunglasses up and rubbed his eyes. “Are you mad at me?”

“No,” Luis answered honestly, “I’m proud that you want to serve but give me a reason why you’ve done it? Is it because of what’s happening between you and Ollie?”

“Sort of.” Fynn said as he got up. “I can’t explain it entirely, but I am envious of what you and he get up to.”

“I hope you don’t think this is easy to do, Fynn?” Luis questioned. “It’s an entirely different world from what you’re used to.”

“I know, I know.” Fynn said defending his choice. “It’s just don’t get me wrong I love my job and the amazing opportunities it has brought me but my life is empty when it’s just me here alone without anyone else to share it with. Since enlisting and doing my initial training, I’ve felt more alive than I’ve felt before.”

“Have you spoken to Ollie about it?” Luis probed next. 

Shaking his head to say no, Fynn told him the reason why not. “I don’t want to worry him right now, plus as I said things between us haven’t been that great since my tantrum earlier in the year. He has worked hard to keep things going between us, but it just doesn’t feel like enough. I want to eventually settle down with a family but he doesn’t want to consider it.”

“So running off and enlisting with the MACOs is the best answer?” Luis countered back with, trying to understand his brother’s logic.”

Sighing out in despair, Fynn knew his brother wouldn’t understand. “Please Luis, I know it doesn’t make sense. My contract with LA Galaxy ends in December and I’ve got a few more training sessions with the MACOs. My training officer thinks I should apply for the office entrance exam too. I’ve got a really good chance at doing well with this.” Pausing to take a breath, Fynn got up from where he was sitting and sat by his big brother. “I thought you’d be proud of me.”

Realising he will probably regret saying what he was about to say, but Luis gave in. “I am proud of you Fynn, anything you do. It’s just I think you need to speak to Ollie more about this and I want you to be certain you want to be a MACO. This war is costly, you’re going to see people you become close to die around you and you may find yourself killing another soul. Are you fine with that?”

“Lui don’t give me the lecture or the psycho-mental-health-assessment. I’ve already gone through that.”  Fynn said. He placed his hand on his heart. “I want to do this so badly.”

“Alright, just make me a promise you’ll find time to tell Ollie…plus I don’t want to get a mouthful from the führers, you know dad and pops are going to blame me for this.” Luis said with a smile of support.

“I promise, thank Lui.” Fynn said as he leant in and gave his big brother a bear hug. 

After letting go of his little brother, Luis looked out and saw the waves were pretty high. He could see his old friend Jack in the wind telling him to get up and go surfing. “Fynn, do you and Ollie still have your surfing gear?”

“I think so. How come?” Fynn asked.

“Something a friend of mine taught me about being on the waves helps you figure things out. You need to clear your head and I could do with thinking about the ocean instead of deep space. What do you say? Shall we go and hit some of those waves?” Luis suggested.

“Sounds like a plan, Lui.” Fynn said as he finished his beer and went to find their gear.


Challenger NX-03, docked at San Francisco Shipyards, Earth orbit

 

The ship appeared to increase in population size since the afternoon transport had arrived. As such Commander Rodham found himself saying hello to anyone he passed in the corridor. Getting used to the new ship wasn’t that hard, for some reason he was finding it easy to transition from Discovery to Challenger. Having the benefit of visiting the ship often and coming from one NX-class ship to another did help him out quite a bit. The only thing he was finding the most difficult to do was getting to know everyone. After spending the morning and most of the afternoon reviewing the latest repair reports while on duty on the bridge, he had made his way to E deck to grab something to eat from the mess hall before he had a meeting with the captain. 

Seeing that he was right that the crew had mostly returned since attending Lieutenant Conrad’s memorial in Tycho City, Rodham had to squeeze past a few people after entering the mess hall. Taking a tray he walked up to one of the counters to see that what was left over from lunch was almost gone. Opting to grab a BLT sandwich along with a mug of tea, the new first officer said hello to everyone he met. Trying to remember their names was a challenge in itself, he felt like he was getting every one of them wrong every time he tried. Once he had his meal he looked around to see if there was an empty table anywhere. Seeing only one that others appeared to be avoiding, he walked over and asked its singular occupier if he could join him.

Looking up from his computer tablet, Commander Cooper Walker gestured for Rodham to join him. Finishing off what was left of a cheese panini, the new chief science officer smiled at Rodham. “How are you settling in, commander?”

Realising how formal that sounded, Rodham shook his hand to stop Walker from doing that. “Please, call me Alex. We’re the same rank.”

“Then I insist on the same back…” Walker paused before adding the commander’s name at the end. “…Alex.”

Sorting himself out with his meal, Rodham went back to the question that Walker had asked. “I thought joining Challenger would be easier than when I joined Discovery, but at the moment I’m feeling a bit…”

“…ostracised?” Walker asked, finishing Rodham’s sentence. 

“Yes,” Rodham said in a quiet tone. “I thought it was just me.”

Shaking his head, Cooper went on to share his own experience. “I’m feeling it too. I think we’re going to have it for some time.”

“I think you’re right,” Rodham remarked as he picked up his sandwich. “It’s just frustrating as it isn’t what I expected.”

A feminine voice then spoke up, “Gentlemen, do you mind if I join you?”

Looking up to see Ben-Ami with a mug of coffee in one hand and what looked like a plate of chocolate cake in the other, both men welcomed her to join them. 

“I didn’t expect the mess hall to be this busy at this time of the day.” Ben-Ami remarked as she took her seat and got herself comfortable. “I suppose everyone must have returned to Challenger together on the same transport from the Moon.” 

“How was the service?” Rodham asked as he finished a mouthful of his sandwich.

“Different from what I expected.” The doctor replied as she cut off the end of her cake with the side of her fork. She went onto place the smaller slice onto her utensil. “Jack’s parents had it in a space exploration museum. I hadn’t realised how much he was into the early space exploration programme. Our new MACO leader delivered a lovely speech in Jack’s memory. The two of them had formed a close friendship.” Picking up the slice of cake and bringing it up to her lips, she looked at both men. “So how are you both settling in?”

Rodham and Walker looked at each other and smirked. 

“We were just talking about that.” Walker answered. “I think we’re both realising that the changes the ship has undergone in leadership hasn’t been received well by the crew.”

Finishing her mouthful, the doctor wiped her mouth with her napkin and as she lifted her mug of coffee she asked them to explain further. “What are you encountering from everyone?”

Taking a sip from his tea, Rodham explained his experiences. “It’s not that no-one isn’t friendly but it’s like a certain look I’m getting from everyone for who I am and who I’ve replaced.”

“I’m having the same reactions too. My honeymoon period with the crew seems to be over and it feels like I’m being judged for not being anything like Nicole or Commander T’Plau.” Walker shared. “I know I shouldn’t be bothered…”

“…but a good leader works hard to develop a relationship with those they command. It’s hard to get over that wall when the crew are used to one way of how things can be done.” Rodham added which Walker agreed with. “I do get where they’re coming from, one-hundred percent, I mean I was married to the man I’ve replaced as first officer but then earlier today when I was checking something in the launch bay I was told by a crewmember that Ensign Hathaway liked the maintenance reports done differently compared to what is the standard template laid out by Starfleet.” Pausing for a moment, Rodham tried to rationalise why that got to him. “It was like they were saying to me ‘don’t change that’ or ‘we do it a certain way here’.”

“I had a similar situation with the science team and it needed Martha to remind them that I was in charge now.” Walker said. 

Smirking at their plight, Ben-Ami placed her mug down as she gave them her own counsel on the situation. “You’re both bright men so I won’t bore you with all of the psychological mumbo jumbo about the impact significant change and death has on a tightly-knit community. I will say though that this is expected. The sudden departures of Commander Levesque and Sub Commander T’Plau was a blow to morale, then when things look like they are settling down we lose three more significant members of our crew but instead of having a chance to say a proper goodbye, we had to grieve for their sacrifice instead. Mix that all in with a war happening and I’m surprised you both have not had a crewmember snap at you yet. I’ve already got myself and the medical team on standby for this. The mental toll recent events have had on the crew is high. I know you’re both coming at this with the best of intentions but for now if you want to get everyone on your side, just continue to get to know them. Encourage them and make sure they know you’re both here to do the jobs the captain has given you. In time they will quickly adjust to you both and accept that neither of you are Levesque, or Stanton or Conrad.”

“Thanks doc.” Rodham said with a smile.

“Ro-fa.” Ben-Ami corrected him. “It’s Ro-fa, not doctor or doc!”

Walker chuckled a bit as Rodham got told off by Ben-Ami. Quickly he apologised for his faux pas.

Taking another slice of her cake, she shook her head. “I’ll let you off as long as you both promise me something.”

Smirking with a sense of relief from not offending the chief medical officer, Rodham agreed as did Walker. “Sure, what are your terms?” Rodham asked.

“The captain,” She said as she picked up her fork. “He’s used to having his first officer and second officer available to give their honest opinion on a range of things. That said, I certainly believe right now he needs that and more. As you know Commander Rodham, he’s just had to deliver eulogies to three members of his former senior staff, that is a heavy burden for a captain to have to carry alongside him about to become a father. I believe the captain will depend on you two more in the coming days.”

“I think we can do that.” Walker said with a smile. 

“Absolutely, I know how much he appreciated Michael’s counsel. I want to do the same thing.” Rodham added. Mentioning his husband’s name felt good for the first time. 

“Good, I’ll be available but I know you will make a difference there.” Picking up her cake and mug, Ben-Ami continued. “I’m going to take this and grab myself another one on my way-out gentlemen, but before I go there is one tradition on this ship I’d be happy to have you both a part of.”

“Oh?” Rodham inquired, intrigued at the doctor’s words.

“If you’re not dining with the captain then please know that you’re always welcomed to join Lieutenant Hennessey and me. Since Viktoria’s death us oldies on the ship are a bit outnumbered by these young ones,” She gestured towards the younger crew around them. “Commander Sandoval has just started to join us, so I promise you both you’ll be in good company.”

“Thanks Ro-fa.” Rodham said, smiling at her.

She winked at them as she got up with her cake and coffee, leaving them to consider her advice and offer.


Heading into main engineering, Lieutenant Masuko took one big breath in and pushed the hatch open. Immediately she could see that the room was busy, but productive busy not chaotic busy. Smiling towards her new deputy, Lieutenant junior grade Colleen Maloney, Masuko was thankful for her agreeing to take on the role. It was a lot calmer in the room. Looking around, before she gave her big speech to everyone, she found the person she needed to talk to the most. 

Lying on his back, tweaking the plasma injectors, was Ensign Theo Metaxas. The young engineer was grumbling to himself, more than likely the injectors were not cooperating with the diagnostic he was trying to perform on them. Kneeling down to be at his level, Masuko called his name to grab his attention. “Theo, have you got a moment please.”

Instantly he got up and stood to attention. “Yes ma’am.” He said formally.

Waving the formalities away, Masuko told him to stand easy. “First off I owe you a huge apology for the way I acted. I was wrong, unprofessional and unfair.”

Metaxas smiled in appreciation for the apology. “It’s fine lieutenant, I know taking over from Commander Stanton hasn’t been the easiest of jobs and I should have done better with what you left me in charge of.”

“I appreciate that Theo and if we can make forward together, then I’d like you to remain in your position so I can teach you the ropes clearly, properly and fairly. If there was one mistake I learnt from Commander Stanton as his deputy that I should have rectified sooner was not including everyone in how we organised things. I plan to change that from today.” She said sincerely. “Theo, you are a great engineer and I’d like the opportunity to make it up to you by teaching you everything I learnt from Commander Stanton, so that one day you’ll make an excellent chief engineer.”

Now grinning, Metaxas nodded. “What happened ma’am, I’ve already forgotten and I know on reflection that I wasn’t ready to be a deputy. I’ve still got so much to learn, so if you’re willing to share some of that wisdom then I’d appreciate it.”

“Thank you Theo and I hope that appointing Malone won’t be too difficult for you?” Masuko asked with care and concern.

“Not one bit.” He said, shaking his head. “She’s a far better engineer and more organised than I am. She should be your number one.”

“I still need a number two, so I don’t plan on changing your responsibilities that you had before.” Masuko stated. “However, I do want to give you a few more. If you’re up for it?”

“Name it.” Metaxas said.

“Take on the night shift supervisor every so often. Have the opportunity to take responsibility without either one of us watching over your shoulder all the time. It’s where I started my leadership development back on the Lexington.” Masuko suggested. 

“I’d be happy to do that ma’am.” Metaxas agreed.

“Good.” She smiled at him and pulled him into a hug. “Thank you.”

“No thank you.” He replied in their hug before letting go.

Turning around, she was pleased their brief hug didn’t bring too much attention. Clearing her throat she called out to everyone. “Please, can you just stop for a moment and gather around.” It took a few seconds for everyone to put their tools down and put their jobs on hold and gather around in a large semi-circle between the warp drive and the primary workstation. Once she knew she had everyone’s attention, Masuko spoke up. “Okay, so today is my first official day as your chief engineer.” There was a round of applause by everyone along with a few cheers. Smiling in appreciation for the support, Masuko put her hands up for everyone to quiet down. “Thank you, that means a lot to me. I’ve asked Lieutenant Malone to become our second engineer, this is a role she has already fulfilled on the Armstrong and one I am confident she will be able to do here on Challenger.” There was more applause for the appointment and Malone thanked everyone with a smile and a slight bow of gratitude. Masuko continued. “For most of us we have one thing in common and that’s the fact we learnt a lot from Commander Stanton. He set a standard for us all to achieve on a daily basis. He encouraged us to be better engines and ran this engineering room in a way that empowered us to be true problem solvers and to share our expertise. I plan to continue that approach here; I think we all work best when we know we can share our ideas and come up with solutions together. We pull in our expertise, that’s a strength of ours but it can also limit us. One thing I plan to change and to implement from today is the need for us all to become more versatile and expand our skill sets. If anything, this war has taught us that life is too precious and this engineering department needs to be able to carry on working, even when one of us isn’t here. So by the end of today I want from you all to put in writing one more area of the ship’s systems that you plan to become more familiar with. Call it a backup specialism. Before this year is out, I want you all to have worked not only on your own areas but in your new one. Lieutenant Malone and I will work out duty assignments so that this is feasible. Nevertheless I do not want this extra piece of work to become a burden for you. We still have a ship to run and to maintain. Is that clear, everyone?”

A round of “yes ma’am”, “yes lieutenant” or variants of those came from her staff.

“Good, now let’s get to work and have this ship ready to leave the moment the captain gives the word for us to set sail. Dismissed.” Masuko ordered and watched with pride as everyone moved off.

Approaching her with a smile, Malone stood next to Masuko almost shoulder to shoulder and crossed her arms. “Great speech.” She added. “We’ll get this department ship-shape in no time!”

“Good, because all I want from now on is perfection from everyone!” Masuko remarked. “Myself too.”

“Well why don’t we start with an update on repairs?” Malone offered. 

Agreeing to the idea, Masuko gestured for Malone to go in front of her and head towards the primary workstation to review the data. In the corner, hanging on the bulkhead in a black frame, she saw the picture that Commander Stanton took of them all a few months ago before the Delta IV mission all stood in front of the warp core. She smiled at it and hoped she was doing Stanton proud before she got on with reading what her deputy was sharing with her.


Stood looking out of the large viewport that showed Earth below the ship, Fleet Captain Burton was so mesmerised by the sight of the large green, blue and white marble before him that he didn’t hear the conference room door open. Stepping over the threshold his visitor kept themselves quiet until the door closed behind them and they spoke up.

“It takes my breath away every time.” Fleet Admiral Hathaway said with sincerity.

Instantly, the captain came to life when he heard the Starfleet Commander-in-Chief’s voice. “Fleet Admiral Hathaway, this is an unexpected visit.” Burton claimed as he stood to almost attention.

Gesturing for him to be at ease, Hathaway walked around the large conference table to be standing almost parallel to Burton. “It’s best sometimes I don’t make my whereabouts public knowledge.” She remarked as she handed him a tablet. “The Command Council has approved your battle plan. Operation: Citadel Raid has the green light.”

Taking the tablet from her, Burton read the memo that had the approval seal on it. “Wow, I wasn’t expecting them to go with it.”

Taking a seat near to her, Hathaway made herself comfortable and leant across the table to grab herself a mug and pulled the flask of tea that sat nearby towards her. Pouring herself one, she pulled the drink to her lips. She knew that her and Burton drank similar hot beverages. “Neither was I,” Hathaway said, “and Admiral Nivola is ending the investigation inquiry.”

Amazed to hear that, Burton took the seat next to Hathaway. “How come?”

“Officially, she and Admiral Kaur believe the evidence that was submitted is enough to prove that everything that happened to the Armstrong could not have been prevented, along with that everything you all submitted about your extra joyride into the Bassen Rift was enough to close the case.” Hathaway answered. 

“So that’s the official line, what’s the unofficial line? I take it Admiral Gardner wasn’t onboard with the idea?” Burton enquired. 

Taking a sip of the tea, Hathaway nodded her head. “Unfortunately not Lloyd. He is one of theirs.”

Disappointment engulfed Burton. “As in Section Thirty-One?”

“Yes.” Hathaway remarked. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you sooner but I’ve had to play a careful game of chess with him and the others.”

“Others?” Burton questioned.

“Him and Black at least.” Hathaway said, placing her mug down. “I’ve known since your little trip to Mars. I’ve had Agent Minerva confirm how involved they are with this little rogue element and sadly it turns out to be quite deep. My hands were tied even further, I couldn’t remove them from the Command Council without raising too much suspicion.”

“So that’s why you reassigned Black to be the Starfleet liaison to the president and prime minister and why you took a more direct involvement in issuing our orders.” Burton said as he started to place the puzzle pieces together.

“Indeed.” She said, pleased that Burton was still the gifted detective he was when he led the investigation into his father’s apparent death a few weeks ago. “Eventually I will remove them further but when you returned from the Rift both of them insisted that a full inquiry to what happened was needed. Both of them opposed your promotion and cited this time round that giving you free reign may have been a step too far. Thankfully I was able to divert some of the pressure off from you by agreeing to the investigation but I made sure that it was led by Starfleet JAG and not Starfleet Operations. I trust Nancy explicitly.”

“You didn’t say what the unofficial line is?” Burton probed.

Grinning slightly, the older woman shared what had happened. “Well by presenting your attack plan in a more traditional, standard way instead of jumping the gun and doing it without consulting any of us it helped your case out further. Nancy believed it proved that while out in the field you took decisions for the greater good of Earth but you also knew when to share things with Command when it is safe to do so. Admirals Kaur, Jacques and Nwakanma all agreed with her assessment and agreed to have the case closed before you were interviewed. Don’t get me wrong, it annoyed the hell out of Gardner and Black. Nevertheless you have your approval to go ahead with the attack.”

“Good, thank you ma’am.” Burton said in an appreciative tone. “I do value the vote of confidence from you all. I just wish I could get Admirals Gardner and Black to get off my back.”

“That is one thing where you will need a miracle to take place.” Hathaway said. “They’re pretty annoyed about what you did on Mars.”

“With your backing.” Burton countered hastily. 

“Unofficially.” She said just as quickly back. “That said, I’m not sure when you will be able to go ahead with your plan. Our forces are spread pretty thin. It may be a few days, if not weeks before we can mount the ships needed.”

Disappointed to hear that, Burton leant back into his chair and then a thought came to his head. “Ma’am, if you don’t mind me annoying the admirals one more time then I have a suggestion on how we can keep the fleet where it is and still go ahead with the attack against the Romulans.”

“I’m all ears captain.” Hathaway said as she took another sip.

“The fleet I found at Utopia. Let me take those ships along with Discovery and those others who are in dry-dock that are undergoing repairs and that haven’t been assigned new orders yet.” Burton proposed. 

For a moment she thought about it and then came to a decision. “Fine, but those new ships don’t have a full crew yet. You’ll need to find their command crews at least.”

“I like a challenge.” Burton said with a grin.

“Then all I can say is…” Hathaway picked up her mug before saying, “Godspeed!”


Tuesday, November 11th, 2155

D.F.C. Jarok, en route to Vulcan

 

Unpacking his bags gave Lieutenant Hennessey some free time to think carefully about his plan of action over the coming days. Now safely in his cabin on the Vulcan cruiser Jarok, he was wondering if Commander T’Plau had put him in the correct room. It was pretty huge, a lot bigger than his quarters on Challenger and he was pretty certain he read the door sign correctly where it said VIP guest quarters on them. He had access to a bedroom with an en-suite, but it also had a connecting living room space which also included an area where he could work. 

The door chime went off and he automatically told his visitor to come in.

Stepping through the dark maroon coloured doorway, Commander T’Plau turned to find Hennessey in his room. “Lieutenant Hennessey, I hope your quarter are satisfactory?”

“Completely above satisfactory. Thank you commander.” Hennessey said he stopped putting his items away and joined his former shipmate in the living room area. Still wearing his Starfleet uniform, he offered for her to take a seat. “Are you sure I’m allowed a set of quarters so luxurious?”

Raising one eyebrow, like she did normally, T’Plau answered in her cool Vulcan logical way. “Due to the nature of your work, I thought you would prefer to have the room to do so in a more comfortable setting. Along with that my crew only believe we are transporting a former shipmate of mine to Vulcan. So as my guest, it is my prerogative as ship’s captain to decide on what type of room you have.”

“Well I appreciate the thought behind it.” Hennessey said as he took one of the armchairs. “I will do my best not to disturb your crew.”

“That would be appreciated.” T’Plau remarked. “When I spoke with Fleet Captain Burton he explained to me your research. I hope you do not mind but I went ahead and checked the Vulcan linguistic database for any matches to what you have discovered so far.”

“Oh my, that’s great. Thank you, did you find anything?” Hennessey asked, eagerly wanting to know.

Pulling out a Vulcan tablet, T’Plau shared her findings. “Indeed, a number of the syntaxes in the Romulan database matches with an ancient Vulcan language. It would appear your hypothesis is surprisingly correct.”

“Seriously?” Hennessey said as he looked at the tablet. “I thought it was a long-shot, even just studying some languages that the Vulcans have encountered may have helped slightly. What’s the language?”

“A language called Rihan.” T’Plau explained. “It has not been used in Vulcan society for centuries.”

“Well somehow commander it is very similar to the Romulan language. I’d appreciate knowing more about Rihan to see if we could crack this database. Where do we start?” Hennessey wondered.

“My brother works for the Ministry of Information; I suggest we speak to him first when we arrive. He may be able to advise us on where to look first.” T’Plau advised. “I will join you on your…quest. That is what I believe Fleet Captain Burton called it.”

Smiling at her, Hennessey appreciated the back-up. “Sounds like a good place for me to start and I’m grateful for you joining my quest.”

“Indeed.” T’Plau said in a flat, but Vulcan way. 

“Do you have any idea as to how an ancient Vulcan language has been assimilated into Romulan culture?” Hennessey asked. 

“I can only speculate that before the creation of our non-interference directive, my ancestors when they started to explore shared their language, one of which may have been Rihan.” T’Plau contemplated. 

“Interesting conjecture,” Hennessey said as he scratched his chin. “Perhaps we should expand our quest to include historic records.”

“That is certainly a logical course of action.” T’Plau said as she stood up. “I must return to the bridge, if there is anything you need before we arrival please speak to my executive officer.”

Standing up as a sign of respect and gratitude, Hennessey bowed his head. “Thank you, Commander.”

FIVE

Challenger NX-03, docked at San Francisco Shipyards, Earth orbit
Wednesday, November 12th, 2155

Comfortably sitting in his office, Lloyd Burton was leaning against his desk with his chin resting in his palms while reviewing a number of candidates on who could crew the fleet he was preparing to launch. The door chime went off and he looked up from the screen towards the door. “Come.” He answered. 

Stepping through the entry, the moment the door slid to one side, Commander Rodham smiled at his captain before speaking. “Good Morning sir.”

“Morning Alex,” Burton returned before extending his right arm to grab his mug of tea. “And Alex, I’ve said it before, I’m happy for us to be on a first name basis when it’s just us.”

Grinning and nodding in response, Rodham undertook his new boss’ request. “Understood…Lloyd.” He said, trying to make using Burton’s first name seem normal. Pulling out a computer tablet, the commander handed it towards the captain. “Ship-wide status report. We are good to leave the dockyards very soon. The last of the crew will be back on board within the hour”

Taking the tablet from his first officer, Burton had a look at the summary report. “Good, once everyone is back on board, I want us to depart and head to Mars.”

 “Mars?” Rodham questioned. 

Nodding to confirm, Burton explained what was happening. “I was going to brief everyone later, but we are going to be leading another attack against the Romulans.”

“Oh wow.” Rodham said, sounding slightly startled. “When did Starfleet give you the green light?”

“Fleet Admiral Hathaway signed off on it the other day and it’s even got backing from the Defence Secretary Vanderbilt.” Burton answered. “We’re going to head to Mars to rendezvous with the fleet we will be leading, however I need to find able bodies to crew these ships.” The captain pointed to the fleet that he would be leading that needed his attention. The manifests gently scrolled on the screen on his desk. “Know anyone who could either be reassigned or reactivated into service?”

Shaking his head after taking a glance at the monitor, Rodham crossed his arms. “Not off the top of my head.” Thinking for less than a second, Burton’s first officer came up with an idea. “Do you want me to chat with Cooper to see if he knows anyone?”

 “That’d be a great start, thanks.” Burton responded.

Looking back at the list, Rodham squinted at the screen. “Victory, Serendipity, Artemis, Henrietta… are these new ships in the fleet? I don’t recognise any of those names.” He paused and took a double take at the list. “In fact, I don’t recognise any of those names Lloyd.”

“They are new.” Burton confirmed. “Fleet Admiral Hathaway will be announcing within the hour of a new ship construction yard on Mars.”

“And they’ve already constructed these ships?” Rodham checked.

“Indeed. The whole project has been kept under wraps for now, but with the way the war is going it felt these ships were needed to be pressed into service sooner rather than later.” Burton said. “A majority of them that they’ve built are Daedalus-class and they’re using a majority of technology created for the NX Program.”

“Makes sense, they are quicker to build. I’m sure Michael once told me that in the time it took to build an NX-class, you could construct two Intrepid-classes or three Daedalus ships.” Rodham stated. “So these new ships, will this attack be their first set of orders since being launched?”

“Yeah, and I’ve called in favours from several other captains as well. Those that have not been assigned new orders yet and are finishing up on either getting repairs or re-supplies.” Burton shared. Leaning across his desk the captain picked up his empty mug of tea and got up to walk over to where he kept a small kettle and teapot. He gestured to Rodham if he wanted one by holding up the spare, clean mug nearby. Rodham nodded to answer. “This attack needs to be quick and it needs to be another victory for us.”

“Well isn’t that the hope of every battle we engage in?” Rodham asked rhetorically as he continued to study the tablet and sat down in the armchair in the corner. Realising how that sounded, Rodham quickly added more to his comment. “Not that you’ll have any disagreement with me on it, but has Starfleet said something more since we presented the battle plan to the admiral?”

As he poured the hot water into the mugs and stirred the tea while adding milk, Burton shook his head. “Not quite, but with the investigation into our last adventure with the Discovery now closed, I get the impression that I need…” He paused as he considered his words carefully. 

“…to prove yourself?” Rodham finished. 

“I hate to admit it Alex, but yes.” Burton confessed. “And it’s not only to prove that my promotion was the right choice but also to prove those we’ve lost were not taken from us in vain.” 

As the captain passed the mug over to Rodham, the young commander took the hot beverage into his hands. “You’ll get no argument from me on that point.” As he brought the mug to his lips he thanked his captain for it. “How do you think the crew will take the new orders?”

Sitting back down at his desk with his own drink, Burton considered the question before answering it. “Like you and me, I think they’re eager to get back out there; however I’m certain these three memorials have had a bigger impact on them than we’ve realised.”

“Again, I get that.” Rodham said, appearing solemn in his tone as he remembered his late husband. “Nevertheless, I think they realise we have a job to get done. Can I be honest with you Lloyd?”

“Of course.” Burton said. “As long as it stays in these four walls.”

“Always, however, what I’m going to say wouldn’t be popular if the rest of the crew heard it.” Rodham took a sip and then shared his thoughts. “Unfortunately, we don’t have time for a honeymoon with the crew. Both Cooper and I have noticed how different they are with just us two and we were going to give them some breathing space to make the adjustment; however we need them to be battle ready so worrying about their feelings is not something you need to be stressing yourself about.”

“You may be right Alex, but that’s not my command style.” Burton countered with.  

“Maybe it should be.” Rodham replied, still bluntly. “We don’t need any resistance from the crew or uncertainty that we are at war and sadly in war we have to be involved in things that we may not like doing. This is not a ship of exploration anymore. Challenger needs to pick itself up and become a well-oiled warship. A majority of the crew here have served under you for almost a year now. They knew you; they knew what you expect of them. Now they’re being asked to adjust to a new way of doing things, as they all joined Starfleet to be explorers and they’re uncertain how to react.”

“I see your point. This all could be very unsettling to them.” Burton said.

Rodham continued with sharing his thoughts. “And to you. The Romulans aren’t going to make it easy for us, and this won’t be our only battle to be involved with. The chances are some of us won’t be coming back from this battle. You want this ship ready for action and we don’t have time to give anyone else a chance to do it in their own time . And forgive me for being blunt, but Challenger needs her captain to be looking at the endgame or we won’t survive if your focus is elsewhere.”

“And does that mean I shouldn’t be thinking about the birth of my sons?” Lloyd asked back, just as forthright as his new first officer was being.

“Of course not, but if anything Lloyd you have more to fight for now and those three little souls that you and Commander Levesque are about to bring into this universe deserve to know that their father fought for them and the freedoms they will enjoy later in life.” Rodham answered. 

Smiling at his new first officer, Burton could see why his friend Frank Müller liked having Rodham as his right-hand. “Thank you Alex, I appreciate your input. You’ve given me a lot to consider.”

“Anytime Lloyd and I hope I wasn’t too brutal.” Rodham said. “Michael always spoke about how good of a tactician and leader you are, from what I saw during our last battle with the Romulans he was right. Michael’s, Jack’s and Viktoria’s sacrifices will be worthwhile if you continue to lead with a clear head as you know what the end result needs to be for Earth.” Rodham finished his mug and stood up. “Is there anything else you would like me to do, captain? Besides assembling the troops, getting us out of drydock and looking for new crews for those ships?”

Shaking his head, Burton thanked Rodham again and dismissed him.


Making her way down towards the conference room on E deck, Lieutenant Commander Rosa Sandoval was studying the tablet she had in her hands and as a result didn’t see that she almost bumped into Crewmember Harris. Stopping before they collided, Sandoval raised her hand up and apologised to the younger man. “Jamie, I’m so sorry! I wasn’t paying attention at all.” She added.

Smiling at what nearly happened, Harris shook his head as he spoke. “Think nothing of it ma’am. I wasn’t looking where I was going either. I’m off to the conference room.”

“Me too. Shall we walk together?” Sandoval suggested.

“That’d be nice, thank you ma’am.” Harris said and the two of them continued on their journey.

“How are you doing anyway Jamie?” Sandoval enquired with a caring tone in her voice. She knew that the recent deaths had affected everyone, especially the younger members of their crew. “I’ve not seen you since Commander Stanton’s memorial.”

“I’m well thank you.” Harris offered, sounding not completely convincing though. “Your words at the commander’s service were great. I didn’t realise how close you two were.”

Smirking at him, she appreciated the compliment but knew he was trying his best to keep it together. “Michael and I met through Commander Rodham actually. I know of Michael from our time at Starfleet Training Command back when we were cadets, but it wasn’t until we taught together that we got to know one another. I owe him for landing me this gig here on Challenger.”

“Well I’m glad he was able to get you to join us.” Harris said back. “We’re lucky to have Commander Rodham too.”

“Don’t tell everyone, but I like to think that I paid my debt to Michael by convincing Alex to leave Discovery to join us.” Sandoval admitted. “I just gave him a gentle nudge in our direction.”

“Should we expect you to be giving us all a gentle nudge when the time comes?” Harris asked with a short grin. 

“Only if you need it.” She answered with a similar expression. “Anyway, do you have any idea why we’ve all been assembled? I don’t usually attend senior staff meetings and I’m pretty certain the captain’s yeoman is not normally there either.”

Shrugging his shoulders, Harris answered. “I have no idea either ma’am. The captain just ordered for me to attend.”

“Well since we’ve left dry-dock I noticed we’re not speeding off at high warp anywhere. I did check our logs and noticed our flight path is towards Mars.” Sandoval stated.

“Mars? What’s waiting for us there?” Harris wondered as they turned down the last junction and the door to the conference room was in sight. 

“Besides Martians and red rocks, not much else that I’m aware of.” Sandoval said and noticed the arrival of several other officers coming from the other end of the corridor. Walking towards them were Ben-Ami, Masuko and Cortez. The three women all smiled when they noticed Sandoval and Harris. 

“Either of you two know what this meeting is about?” The Israeli doctor asked her colleagues as they stopped just before the door. 

Sandoval shook her head. “No, I was going to ask you the same thing.”

“My money is on a mission briefing.” Cortez remarked.

“Makes sense.” Masuko said. “I take it no-one has any clues what our orders will be? Jamie?”

Raising his hands in surrender, the yeoman confirmed he didn’t know anything. “I’ve not been privy to anything since we got back on the ship.”

Behind them arrived Ensign Avery with Commander Walker and Captain Trommler. Walker looked at the assembled group called after them. “What’s with all of you loitering outside the conference room?”

“Just trying to work out what this is all about.” Ben-Ami stated. “Do any of you have any idea?”

“None.” Avery said. “In fact I was surprised to be called to this.”

“Well I know Ned is off the ship undertaking other duties, so the captain might be making you acting chief communications officer in Ned’s absence.” Ben-Ami said. “However, I can’t see why he would assemble all of us just for that!”

“Shouldn’t we just go in and find out?” Trommler asked the group from where he stood. 

“Luis is right.” Cortez agreed with the new MACO leader and pressed the button to open the door. 

The group all filed into the conference room, one behind another, and as they entered they found Fleet Captain Burton and Commander Rodham already present. Standing at one end where the main consoles were, both men turned around and looked at those who were arriving. 

“Take a seat everyone.” Rodham suggested as he moved from the captain and took his chair at the end of the table where the captain would eventually sit. 

Everyone complied with the first officer and within a few seconds were all sitting around the rectangular table. Burton remained standing but had moved himself to be behind his chair. He held onto the top as he spoke. “What I’m about to share with you is deemed highly classified and is not to be shared with anyone else. Do I make myself clear?”

A round of nods and agreements were shared, the captain continued. 

“For the purpose of our upcoming mission, I am extending temporary senior staff privileges to Ensign Avery, Lieutenant Commander Sandoval and Crewmember Harris.” Burton stated. He knew that everyone would want to know why non-senior staff members were present, so now that he had dealt with that matter he got on with what he needed to brief his crew with. “Starfleet Command has given us new orders to launch an attack against the Romulans.”

“About time.” Trommler remarked from the seat he had in the middle of the table. “Do we have a target in mind, sir?”

Not surprised at the young MACO’s eagerness, Burton answered the question. “We do. The Rator system.” Burton then picked up the tablet that rested on the table before him. Activating its contents, he shared its screen with the other consoles in the room so everyone else could see what he had prepared as part of the briefing. The trio of screens in the middle of the conference table switched on and showed a star chart. “Thanks to their tireless efforts of cracking the database we stole from the Romulan drone ship, Lieutenant Hennessey and Ensign Avery were able to locate several systems that the drone had visited. One of them included a system that contains a base, the Romulans identify it as the Rator system.” Pressing another button he switched the image to show a map of a star system. “A binary star system with seventeen planets in orbit, most of them are gas giants besides two that are Minshara-class.”

“Is there a colony there?” Walker asked as he studied the data on the screen before him.

“We believe so.” Burton said as he finally took his seat and described Rator further. “From what we have found out about the system, Rator Four is home to a small colony, they’ve not settled on the third planet yet and they’ve established stations in orbit. All of them are designed to support and maintain ships.”

Cortez, sitting up, looked at the information as well. “A shipyard of sorts?” She conjectured. 

“Possibly, we know the Prowler visited there before going to the Bassen Rift and attacking Denver. Our orders are to remove the entire Romulan presence from the system.” Burton shared. 

“One ship against an enemy beachhead seems a bit farfetched sir. I’m assuming Starfleet isn’t sending us on our own?” Ben-Ami inquired.

“Your right Ro-fa, this isn’t a mission just for us.” Burton explained. “We are on our way to Mars to rendezvous with one part of the fleet we will lead while the other elements will meet us on the edge of the Proxima Centauri system. In total there will be twenty-one ships.”

“Twenty-one?” Cortez said, sounding surprised at the number. “Starfleet is truly committed to this.”

“Absolutely.” Rodham answered for the captain. “This will be our first major fleet offensive against the Romulans.”

“One that if successful would hopefully cause a massive blow to the Romulans advancing against us.” Burton added. “The plan is a simple one, we will do our best to mask our approach towards Rator and then engage the Romulans. The priority is the destruction of the Romulan stations in orbit and our secondary goal is the removal of the colony too.”

“At what cost?” Ben-Ami asked. “Are we expecting to take prisoners?”

“No.” Burton was fast to answer and in a blunt response. “President Littlejohn and Defence Secretary Vanderbilt have authorised the use of thermo-nuclear warheads for this mission.”

“Oh my god, we’re going to wipe them completely off the face of their world?” Masuko said, looking surprised and shocked at what the captain was telling them.

Knowing that fact would cause some unease amongst his crew, Burton cleared his throat and remained serious as he spoke. “I don’t think I need to remind any of you that this is the same tactic the Romulans have employed against us and other members of the coalition.” 

“So we’re resulting in carrying out an eye for an eye in our tactics?” Ben-Ami said, sounding almost annoyed at what they would be involved with. “What’s next? Inter arma enim silent lēgēs?”

“In times of war, the law falls silent.” Trommler translated into English. He appeared almost confused for a second as he considered what the doctor was insinuating. 

Avery cleared her throat, “The actual translation is for among arms, the laws are silent.” The acting chief communication officer then went back to being quiet, realising her showing off was not needed right there and then. 

“I don’t think things will ever get that drastic Ro-fa.” Rodham countered back to Ben-Ami. “What’s the issue of us using those weapons?”

“Oh, I don’t know the fact that in Earth’s last world war those weapons were responsible for the deaths of over six hundred million people.” Ben-Ami argued back to the first officer. She looked at the captain. “Sir, please do not tell me we are being armed with those weapons from the Cold Stations?”

“I’m sorry to disappoint you Kefira but we are.” Burton answered. “I’m not debating this with any of you. Our orders stand. Once we’ve met up with the fleet we will head to Cold Station Four where we will pick up our new arsenal.”

Shaking her head in disbelief, Ben-Ami was having a real bad time accepting what she was being told. “You know we are going to have to inoculate the entire crew to prevent any radiation sickness if one of those warheads leak out?”

“I do and I want you and the entire sickbay staff to get it done before we arrive in orbit.” Burton said sternly. “I will share with you all further battle plans closer to the time, but in the meantime this ship needs to be battle ready.” Noticing the small grin from Rodham, which he quickly covered up with one of his hands, Burton carried on. “Rachele, I want you to make modifications to the armoury to receive those warheads. They will need to be loaded into spatial torpedoes; photonic torpedoes aren’t designed to carry them.”

The armoury officer nodded. She remained quieter than normal as she responded with a simple “Yes sir.” It was clear she was not keen on what she had heard either. 

“I also want you to install a by-pass between the phase cannons and the secondary generators. I want us to be able to overload the phase cannons if needs-be during the battle. The recoil from the overload needs to be set up so that energy can be shunted towards structural integrity. You will need to repolarise the gravity plating to absorb the recoil.”

“I’ll get a team on it straight away.” Cortez said as she took note of her orders.

Looking at his chief science officer, Burton handed out more orders. “Cooper, I want you to oversee making the situation room and the science station on the bridge devoted to damage control and weapons status from now on. See that they’re manned at all times.”

“Of course captain.” Walker replied.

“This ship, once it leaves the Sol system, will be under a twenty-four-hour tactical alert. During each shift, until we arrive at our destination, Commander Rodham will schedule battle drills. He will run a series of simulated attacks from a Romulan squadron.” Burton informed his crew before looking at Sandoval. “Rosa, I want you to conduct the exercises personally with Alex for gamma and delta shifts.”

“Delta shift sir?” Sandoval asked. “Sir, we only operate three shifts on Challenger.”

“I’d like to change that to four starting tonight. Rosa, I want you and Jamie to see to that.” Burton said. 

“Sir, I can assure you it’s going to cause us significant personnel problems if we move from three shifts to four.” Sandoval remarked. 

“I don’t want to talk about it. Get it done. Now that means delta shift will be due to come on duty in six hours. I expect you and Jamie to have it fully manned and ready when it does. Is that clear?” Burton threw back.

Sandoval looked over to Harris who just nodded to her and then she looked at the captain. “It will be ready sir.”

“Good.” Burton looked at his tablet. “Next business is engineering, Sakura.”

The new chief engineer looked up towards her commanding officer. “Yes sir?” The concern of what he wanted from her was apparent in her tone as it sounded somewhat nervous.

“Power transfer levels need to be upgraded by fifteen percent. The efficiency of our warp coils is also unsatisfactory.” Burton said after placing his tablet back on the table.

Looking at everyone else around the room before back at her captain, the chief engineer cleared her throat. “Sir, coil efficiency is well within specifications.”

“I’m not interested in the specs, Sakura. The efficiency needs to be raised by at least fifteen percent.” Burton said. “I noticed that our efficiency wasn’t as high as Discovery is. I need the ship at its best for this battle.”

“It will require realigning the warp coil and taking the secondary distribution grid offline.” Masuko stated. 

“Get it done.” Burton said curtly. 

Realising what that meant, Commander Walker spoke up. “Captain, if she takes the grid offline, we’re going to have to shut down exobiology, the astrophysics lab and geological research.”

“We’re at war Cooper, we’re not exploring Rator.” Burton said, dismissing his science officer’s concerns. “I want all personnel armed from now on too. Security must be deployed on every deck and I want MACOs teams two, three, four and five positioned on the bridge, sickbay, the armoury and engineering while team one should be on standby to be deployed.”

Trommler now spoke up for clarity. “Are you expecting us to be deployed on enemy territory sir?”

“No, but you never know if we need to beam you over to help rescue an allied ship or if we have to sabotage one of the enemy ships, you’ll need to be ready to blow something up.” Burton said as he looked back at his tablet one more time.

Not giving him a chance to say another thing, Ben-Ami spoke up. “Sir, I must object to having a MACO squad assigned to sickbay. If we are boarded then I don’t need to have a bunch of privates and corporals having a fire fight in my doorway.”

“Sorry Kefira, none of this is open for objections. Plus I want you and your team to train everyone up before we arrive in basic first aid.” Burton said as he realised he had missed something.

“That’s a mammoth task.” She responded with.

“I know, but I’m not prepared to have people die as no-one knows how to help them when they are lying on the deck injured.” He then looked at Walker. “Cooper, I want those from the science department who have a biology background to be assigned to sickbay. They’ll become our new field medics and those with any sort of engineering background, I want them assigned to engineering to assist with repairs once the battle begins.”

“Understood sir, but that won’t leave me with much of a department left.” Walker answered back. “And I get it we are not researching anything, but what would those who are left are meant to do?”

“Man the department with the minimal amount of people, just in case we need them while everyone else should report to the armoury and assist with security.” Burton answered. He then stood up. “Ladies and gentlemen, we need to make sure we are good to go by the time our fleet is assembled. Ensign Avery, I want you to begin working on new security encryptions so we can communicate with the rest of the fleet without anyone listening in. I want those protocols ready to go by tomorrow night.”

“Understood sir.” The young woman said.

“Sir, may I ask a question?” questioned Harris quietly. The captain’s loyal yeoman had barely said anything so far and it was unlike him to raise his hand and speak in almost whispers. 

Burton nodded at the young Welshman, “Go ahead Jamie.”

“Sir, I’m sure I speak for everyone around this table that we’re not afraid to place our lives on the line of duty, but I wondered if we should suggest to the crew they prepare letters to loved ones. Just in case.”

Looking at his first officer, Burton noticed that Rodham nodded in agreement with the idea. “Good idea Jamie.” Burton said back to his admin assistant. “Commander Rodham will advise everyone of that.” The captain paused before he spoke his final word. “Dismissed.” He made his way towards the door, gesturing for Rodham to follow him out.

The senior staff all started to get up and none of them knew what to say about how the captain had behaved. It was Trommler who broke the silence.

“Ladies and gents, you’ve just witnessed our captain getting ready to take us to war.” He glumly remarked. “And he is ready for the upcoming fight already.”

“But at what cost?” Ben-Ami said as she picked up her belongings and headed out herself.


D.F.C. Jarok, en route to Vulcan

 

Enjoying what the Jarok offered its guests was certainly something that Hennessey was enjoying. Compared to Challenger where crew quarters were cramped, corridors were confined and the décor normally followed a metallic shade of something, he was currently living in luxury. He felt like he was on vacation in one of the finest five-star hotels. He had tried to work out the logic in why the Jarok was so luxurious and why Vulcans thought it was appropriate. Unable to work it out himself, he did enjoy how calm and peaceful the ship appeared. Even the slight vibrations from the warp core were more like gentle purrs. He hadn’t slept so well in space before. 

Working on his project, at the large desk space he had in his VIP guest quarters, he was able to carry on with his research while they made their way to Vulcan. Having a number of data tablets and his personal desktop computer on the desk, he was able to try and find more about this old language that came from Vulcan. It appeared to come from a certain region, similar to the languages that came from Earth, but was from a time back when Surak was around. 

The doorbell went off, it sounded like wood chimes being gently caressed by a tender breeze, making Hennessey stop reading. Looking around at the door he wondered who it could be.  T’Plau had made it clear she would let him know once they had arrived, until then he hadn’t expected to be disturbed by anyone else. “Come in.”

A tall, young Vulcan man stood in the doorway as the panels parted from one another. Wearing the uniform of a sub lieutenant from the science division was someone who Hennessey had been introduced to by T’Plau. Lukret was T’Plau’s deputy science officer and had shown an interest in the work he was doing, that said T’Plau had shared with her crew that Hennessey was visiting Vulcan to expand his knowledge on Vulcan language as part of the officer-exchange program that was established under the Coalition Compact. 

“Sub Lieutenant Lukret, this is an unexpected visit.” Hennessey said, placing his tablet down on the table. 

“I apologise if my presence disturbs your work sir.” Lukret apologised with a slight bow of his head.

Smiling to assure the man he was far from interfering, Hennessey signalled for him to come in so the doors could close. “Not at all, please come on in. I needed to take a break anyway.” Hennessey got up and headed over to the side where the appliances to make a fresh mug of Vulcan spice tea. Turning to his guest, Hennessey offered him a beverage. “Can I get you anything Lukret?”

 “No thank you sir.” Lukret said as he entered Hennessey’s cabin. 

Boiling the kettle, Hennessey looked back at his visitor. “So what can I do for you?” The moment he turned to look at Lukret, he noticed something different about him. He seemed to be shaking in the arms and then Ned realised that the man had a Vulcan plasma pistol strapped to his leg. Looking back at the science officer, he wondered what the hell was going on. “Lukret, why are you armed?”

Lukret’s speech wasn’t calm like Hennesey had heard it before, but he responded. “Orders from Vulcan High Command that all officers should be armed.”

“I didn’t realise we were joining any part of the war effort right now?” Hennessy questioned, realising that something was not right and he needed to find a way to get himself out of this situation. 

“It is a precaution, just in case we have to engage an enemy.” Lukret remarked and then seemed to take a huge breath in. 

The kettle then finished boiling and Hennessey remained frozen. “Lukret, you’re making me nervous. What’s going on?”

Placing his hand just over his weapon, Lukret appeared ready to explain everything. “I am sorry sir but you will not be reaching Vulcan anytime soon.”

“Why?” Hennessey said, he placed himself just in front of the kettle. “What’s going on?”

“You seem really gifted, for a human, but Vulcan must remain Vulcan.” Lukret shared.

“Vulcan must remain Vulcan? What sort of statement is that?” Hennessey questioned. “I’m not planning to stay on your homeworld, I am only visiting.”

“Yes sir, but you do not understand the wider picture and the impact your work may have on my people.” Lukret answered. “I have my orders to stop you.”

“Orders? Who’s orders?” Hennessey continued to buy himself time. He knew that if Lukret attacked him that there was no way he could take on a fit Vulcan male in his prime. “Commander T’Plau’s orders? The High Command’s?”

Shaking his head, “No. I serve a much higher order and we cannot allow for any more external pressures to affect our people anymore. It is bad enough that the first officer of this ship is Andorian, but to have humans on it is too much.” He then went to his weapon and lifted it out before pointing it straight at Hennessey. 

“You don’t want to do this Lukret. You’re an accomplished officer, one who T’Plau thinks highly of.” Hennessey said, almost pleading for his life. “Put the weapon away and leave here while you still can. If you kill me then you won’t get anywhere else. They will eventually work out what happened.”

“The consequences of my actions are insignificant in my life if it means I save my people from the path you could take them down.” Lukret raised the pistol. “I am truly sorry lieutenant.”

“As am I.” Hennessey countered back as he picked up the kettle and threw it across the room before hitting the deck. The hot water flew across the distance between him and Lukret, smacking the Vulcan almost a second later. The hot liquid scorned his face as he screamed out in agony. The distraction was enough for Hennessey to lunge at Lukret, knocking him to the deck with one punch. Able to take the pistol out of his hand, the communications officer switched the mode back to stun and took the Vulcan officer out with one blast. Lukret fell to the ground with a great big thud. 

Taking a few breaths to calm himself down, he then ran over to the nearest intercom. “Hennessey to Commander T’Plau, security alert in my quarters. Also bring your doctor!” 

 

Almost ten minutes later, Hennessey was standing in the Jarok’s infirmary watching through the transparent aluminium window from the Jarok’s chief medical officer at the scene unfolding in the surgical area. Commander T’Plau was conferring with her doctor and first officer. Her doctor, a Vulcan woman who had short bobbed brown hair nodded to her superior before returning to treat Lukret. T’Plau left the area, followed by Lieutenant Thom. The Andorian first officer was coming to the end of his time on the Jarok. His term was only going to be a short one, two months before he returned to the Imperial Guard. That said, Hennessey couldn’t help but agree that both T’Plau and Thom made an excellent team together. 

Entering the office, T’Plau apologised again for what had transpired. “Lieutenant Hennessey, I cannot express my dissatisfaction on what has occurred.”

“It would seem that none of our races are able to convince everyone that the coalition is worth it.” Thom remarked, sounding disappointed. 

“He seemed like something more than that.” Hennessey remarked. “It was almost as if he had been forced to do it or something bad would happen. He appeared agitated.”

Thom looked to T’Plau, “Can Vulcans appear agitated?”

“With Vulcans who are not logical in their actions,” T’Plau said back quickly, “most likely.”

“Did he share why he did what he did?” Hennessey wondered as he looked back at Lukret who was lying on the surgical bed while being watched by several armed guards as the doctor continued to help him recover from the burns that Hennessey had inflicted on him. 

“Thankfully he cooperated and answered my questions.” T’Plau shared. “He is part of a movement known as the logic extremists.”

“Logic extremists?” Thom repeated in amazement. “How extreme can one go with logic?”

“Far.” T’Plau said in a deadpan remark. “They are fanatics, extreme patriots who are highly xenophobic.”

“Sounds like Vulcan’s own version of Terra Prime.” Hennessey said with a shudder as he looked back at his host. “How did one of them get on to your ship?”

“Not much is known about the movement, besides that when they believe the sanctity of Vulcan purity is at risk they act.” T’Plau shared. “When Commodore Archer discovered the Kir’Shara, some logic extremists placed propaganda around Vulcan stating that it was Earth’s attempt to control the Vulcan people.”

“Quite a radical point of view to take.” Hennessey returned. “So why did Lukret attack me?”

“He has not disclosed that, but it simply may be down to the idea of stopping you from learning about the Vulcan languages you are trying to study.” T’Plau answered. 

Shaking his head to disagree with her assessment, Hennessey argued back. “No, I don’t think it’s only just that commander. It felt more personal. He was truly motivated to want to kill me to stop me from finding out something.”

“You have to admit, it does seem quite illogical for these extremists to attack Hennessey here on the ship. Why not wait until he is on Vulcan?” Thom added. 

“I would be watching your back as well, lieutenant.” Hennessey stated. “Remember, he didn’t like the idea of you being the commander’s first officer either.”

“But why hasn’t he attacked me? By attacking you, I believe his motives were far greater than we know.” Thom stated. He looked to T’Plau, “You need more answers here ma’am or something else is going to go wrong.”

“Indeed.” T’Plau said. She took a breath and then knocked her right knuckles on the glass. The noise caught the attention of her doctor, who she ushered over into the office. As soon as she was inside, T’Plau turned to the doctor. “Kel’ta, is Lukret strong enough to go through a mind-meld?”

Doctor Kel’ta was surprised to hear such a question but answered her superior. “His burns are not significant, but he is currently under sedation to help him recover.”

“We need more answers for his actions.” T’Plau said flatly. “Do you object to me performing the meld doctor?”

“There are some ethical issues here to consider ma’am.” Kel’ta answered. “He is unconscious and does not have the ability to give his consent to such a procedure.”

“He just attacked an ally, threatened to have him killed and was prepared to do it without caring for the consequences.” Thom said sternly back. “I think he may have lost some rights to what he gives his consent to.”

Kel’ta looked to the first officer and back to her commanding officer. “This is a Vulcan vessel; protocol must be adhered to.”

“Indeed and as its commanding officer I have the prerogative to deal with such matters as I deem fit.” T’Plau said bluntly. “Doctor Kel’ta, prepare Sublieutenant Lukret so I can perform a mind-meld on him in one hour. We will have our answers.”

“Is that an order ma’am?” Kel’ta inquired.

“It is.” T’Plau said in a firmer tone.

“Very well ma’am.” The doctor said and left her office to prepare for the procedure.

Looking at her first officer and guest, T’Plau took in a breath. “I will need one hour to prepare myself for the meld, Lieutenant Thom please escort Mister Hennessey back to his quarters and ensure proper security procedures are in place.”

Hennessey looked from T’Plau to Thom as the Andorian replied with a simple nod in acknowledgement. He wondered if he would be able to watch T’Plau meld with her subordinate. Thom then gestured for them to leave the infirmary which he was happy to do, knowing the Andorian guardsman was with him.


Challenger NX-03, in orbit of Mars

 

Slowing the ships down so its momentum carried itself as it made orbit around the red planet, Commander Rodham flicked a few more switches on the helm to bring the ship into a high orbit above the colony on Utopia. Within moments his controls indicated the arrival of elements of the fleet that they were about to play flagship to. 

“Captain, we are now in orbit of Mars and the first batch of our forces are arriving.” He announced over his left shoulder.

Fleet Captain Burton stood in the aft section of the bridge, in the situation room, where he was discussing matters with Lieutenant Cortez in a quiet tone. The moment that Rodham had interrupted that chat, he excused himself to make his way back to the centre of his bridge. “Thanks Alex. Put the fleet up on the main screen.” He ordered as he stood behind his chair, both hands gripping on the top of it. 

The viewscreen changed to show the image of the Starfleet flotilla. A majority of them were Daedalus-class ships, while the rest were Intrepid-class with two Poseidon-classes and the only other NX-class was the Discovery. Among the armada was his sister’s ship, Voyager along with the new ships that Fleet Admiral Hathaway had promised him. He had been able to find enough people to call in to take command of them. A few of them were current first officers who were being assigned for temporary basis while others had officers that were either pulled from teaching at Starfleet Training Command or were on the active reserve list. By the evening they would all have arrived to assume command. 

“Ensign Avery, open a channel to the fleet.” Burton commanded Hennessey’s deputy who was acting up in his absence. 

Avery complied and nodded once the channel was open. 

“This is Fleet Captain Burton; I am officially assuming command of the fleet. All ships shall prepare for departure in three hours’ time. All ships will submit a status report to the flagship. Burton out.” He gave Avery the gesture to close the channel. “Tanisha, inform me the moment the last of the crews have reported on board their vessels. I want to move out as soon as we can.”

Avery nodded before an alarm went off on her panel. Looking down at her, she was intrigued by what she was seeing. “Um, sir?” She said as she raised her captain’s attention. “We are being hailed by the Avenkerev. Commander Anthi is requesting permission to enter the Sol system and approach us.”

“Open a channel.” Burton insisted. He shared the same expression that Rodham shot him. Why would the Andorian captain be so close to Earth and wanting to speak to them? 

The viewscreen flicked to show the image of the Andorian zhen (Burton was still getting used to understanding the four genders within Andorian society) sitting in her chair. “Fleet Captain Burton, I bring you greetings from your allies in the Andorian Empire.”

“It’s a pleasure to see you again so soon Anthi. I didn’t think we would see you for a while.” Burton said, remaining standing behind his chair. “I give you permission to enter our system, but if you don’t mind me asking, what are you doing here?”

“We have come to fight alongside our pink-skin partners!” Anthi replied with a huge smile. 

Intrigued at what she meant by that; Burton moved himself so he was now in front of his chair. As he sat down, he asked for clarity from her. “Commander, not that I would turn away help from our friends in the Andorian Empire, but shall we meet in person to discuss what you mean by that?”

Smiling, as she knew what he meant, the Andorian command agreed to meet with him at once. 

 

After being escorted to the conference room by his first officer, Commander Anthi greeted Burton with a friendly smile. “It’s good to see you Lloyd.”

“Likewise Anthi.” Burton said as he shook her head and offered her a seat. He indicated for Rodham to join them. “So what do we owe the pleasure of you coming to fight alongside us?”

As Anthi took her seat next to Burton, she answered him. “The Imperial Guard has given me command of a small task group. With our forces stretched thin in protecting our borders from Romulan attacks and the slow refit our fleet is undertaken to defend ourselves against the telepresence capturing device, well let’s just there are a lot of generals back in Laikan city that are not happy we are having to take a back seat to the war.”

“I can tell you now Anthi, there’s a lot of admirals in San Francisco that wished you weren’t forced to do so.” Burton remarked. 

“Well that’s why we are here.” Anthi stated. “The Avenkerev along with those in our group have been refitted with the latest counter measures to combat the Romulans telepresence capturing units. Chancellor Margerit gave me one order – to find you and support you in whatever you were planning next.” Anthi shared. “So I see a battle group being formed here, what’s your next move?”

Burton just smirked and looked at his first officer who copied him. Looking back at the Andorian, he went on to share the mission that she would be joining them on.

SIX

Challenger NX-03, Mars orbit
Wednesday, November 12th, 2155

“Dear Mum 

So the entire crew is being encouraged to write these letters to their loved ones as we are about to engage in one of the biggest battles since the start of this war. I know this may seem dramatic, especially as we’ve only just seen you but I never got the chance to tell you how grateful I was for everything you put into the wedding. I know it was very last minute, but I do appreciate everything you’ve done for me over the years. It’s not been easy with dad not being around and I do hope you don’t receive this letter, but in case I don’t come back I want you to know how much I love you and grateful I am for everything you’ve done for me. 

I know having both of your sons in Starfleet right now hasn’t been easy, but I need you to know that my time has been worth every moment. I wouldn’t give up the past year for anything, especially at the fact I met Liam through it all. One thing you told me a dad’s funeral was how much you loved every moment you spent with him, that he was your best friend first and he was your whole world before you had me and later adopted Craig. I didn’t get it back then, but I’m starting to get it now with Liam. I truly love him and he is my best friend. So in case he survives me, please can you make sure you check in on him. Make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid and that he goes on to have an incredible life knowing how proud he made me when he married me. 

Tell Craig he still owes me that drink he promised me at my wedding. I’m still waiting on it!

Stay safe and strong. I promise to find dad and make sure he is behaving himself!

Love

 

Niall”

Niall sat there looking at the typed message ready to be saved. It was quite surreal to be doing, but the captain had insisted that before the ship left Mars orbit that the crew made sure that in case the worst happen that everyone had a chance to write a letter or two to loved ones. He didn’t want to be pessimistic about their chances, but they had been quite lucky not to lose anyone, yet.

Saving the message, the young nurse placed it on standby and went on to write a letter for his brother and record a message for his husband. 


“Hi Mack, 

I know right now you’re probably feeling upset and I want you to know that’s okay. You have been so amazing and I am so proud to be your dad. Right now you’re not going to be sure of where to go with how to deal with everything, again that’s fine but know you are loved by so many, especially mum. I promise in time you’ll smile again and you’re going to do great things!

I need you to be the man of the house, help out with what you can and especially in keeping your bedroom tidy. Work hard at school, go find something you enjoy doing and is worth doing then find someone to settle down to enjoy it all with. 

I promise to be smiling with you through all the important moments in your life. Hang on to those good memories and tell everyone you love them as often as you can. Enjoy life and live each day as if it is your last because none of us know if today will be the last.  

And most of all remember that I love you more than you will ever know! 

Dad”

Taking a moment and reading his letter to his son one more time, Commander Walker wondered if his son would ever understand his reasons for going away. Nevertheless the new chief science officer hoped that his son Mack would be proud of him. Hitting the save button, he opened a new document and started to record his message to his wife. 

“Hey darling, 

I’m not sure where to start with this as I know you’ll be annoyed at me for saying sorry. My heartaches for not being there with you, to hug you, to kiss you, to say everything is going be alright. I love you and Mack so much that you both have made me the man I am today. My gratitude to you will be forever endless. 

When we first met, I never thought that I would fall so madly in love. Our time together has been filled with laughter so much that even just thinking about every moment with you makes me smile. Please don’t let what has happened stop you from smiling.  

I will never forget our first dance at our wedding, you picking that track where we put a whole tango routine together was amazing. You looked so damn sexy and if there was one lyric I want you to remember is that I will always want your extra time and your kisses.

Please find the time, when you’re ready, to move on and find someone who will love you as much as I have and someone who will be there for you and Mack. 

Just remember, after all of this time you’re still the one I love. Forever and always.

Love

Cooper”

Looking over the words one more time, Walker hoped that he had covered everything. He knew Claudia would appreciate a shorter and straight to the point letter. It was the first time in his career he had actually written one for her. He feared it wouldn’t be the last.


“Dear Fynn

I hope this message finds you well and safe. I know that sounds stupid to say that, but I truly mean it. 

First off, you need to know I lived my life doing the thing I loved the most. Being a MACO has been the best thing that happened to me and if you plan to follow in my footsteps then all I ask is that you make sure you are certain about it, that you have found a way to resolve things between you and Olly. You both deserve one another and both are meant to be together, I am sure of it. 

I know as your big brother I’m meant to be looking out for you, but that’s not always possible in the line of work we do. Nevertheless don’t think you’ll be alone; I plan to haunt you forever! I will be the one that moves something and hides it from you just for my own amusement and your annoyance!

Fynn, I am extremely proud to be your big brother. Watching you have such a great life and career with your talents has been one of the highlights of being your big brother. However if you feel the time is to place your gifts and talents elsewhere, then go for it while you’re still can. Don’t leave it so when you’re old and wrinkly you have any regrets!

I can’t say being in the service is ever easy, it’s not but it is worth it. 

Stay safe bro.

Love Lu”

Contemplating whether or not his letter to his brother was too sappy, Captain Trommler sat back in his chair in his office and gazed at it one more time. He knew what he wanted to say to his brother as he knew that right now that Fynn was at a crossroads with everything and if anything happened to him, then he wouldn’t want Fynn to feel like he had nothing. 


“Dear dearest Tamara,

If you’re reading this then you know I am finally with our brother and I finally get to see Avram and Zivah. I’m sorry to leave you to deal with our parents in their retirement years, but I know Joud will be there for you to get through everything. 

It only seems like yesterday we enjoying that bottle of sauvignon on the balcony of your penthouse suit. I have to say that day was really enjoyable just to catch up with my sister. It felt like ages since we last did it, but I just want to thank you for being the wonderful sister you’ve been. 

I know you’ve never understood my reason to remain in service after we lost Ezra and then when Avram and Zivah were taken from me. I just hope you understand that the work I do is one where I feel I should be doing it. Helping others brings me so much joy. Before you say it, yes I know I could have left Starfleet years ago and opened a safe private practice in Tel Aviv, but this is difference. 

Frontier Medicine, that’s what they’re now calling what we Ro’fas do out here in deep space. I’m certain you’re laughing at how ludicrous it sounds, every time I hear it then it makes me think of those old western films that mum loved to make us watch when we were growing up. 

Tell mother and father that I love them and I am grateful for everything they did for us all. I promise to give Ezra a hug from them when I see him. 

Stay safe, all my love

Kefira xx”

Challenger’s chief medical officer paused as she looked at the words she had just written to her sister. Tamara, who lived in Eilat with her husband Joud, was an architecture. Only three years younger than Kefira, the two sisters were close and it had been Tamara who had helped Kefira come to terms in dealing with Zivah’s death and later supported her when she separated from Avram. In fact it was Tamara who had informed her of Avram’s death when he died during the Terra Prime incident on the Orpheus Mining Colony. When Challenger had returned home after its disastrous mission involving the Deltans and the Carreons, Kefira had immediately visited her sister. The two had always caught up over a few bottles of wine, it was something that Joud had come to accept from his wife family. Smiling at that memory, Kefira told the computer to save her message and to deliver to her sister in case she didn’t survive their upcoming battle with the Romulans.


“Dear Mama and Papa, 

I know this isn’t the letter you want to read and I am certain if you knew what the mission had been before we left then you would have moved the heavens and the Earth to stop from me going.

In part, I wish you did and had. Trying to find the courage to put this letter together has taken me some time. I’d be honest, I’m scared for the first time since the war started. We’ve endured tough missions, but as you both know we recently lost three fine officers. I’m petrified that I’d be the next one and that I’d never get to say a proper goodbye to you both. This wasn’t how I planned to go, so I am sorry now for the arguments I caused with my decisions to leave Alpha Centauri. That said I am grateful for everything you both provided for me while I grew up and the continued love and support ever since. 

I know chatting to my comrades that many have expressed to their loved ones that they either enjoy what we do in Starfleet or have no regrets. Again, I’m not sure I share their sentiments. Without a doubt my time on Challenger and Windsor was worth every second as I loved what I got to experience. My time in Starfleet has changed me but dying for a war against a faceless enemy just seems…well I can’t put a word to it. It’s not pointless however I don’t feel its heroic either. I’m not sure what the middle ground would be, but that’s where I am with it. 

Going to battle isn’t what I signed up for, nevertheless the need to remain in Starfleet and especially with this crew seems like the right idea to do instead of abandoning it all. My feelings and thoughts about the whole thing is too mixed to take a side. I know that’s not the son you raised, but I want you both to know that for some time I’ve struggled with morals and the ethics of this war. I just can’t follow either path, so for now I’ve found myself trying to find a third alternative for now. 

Take care of yourselves and I will see you both soon.

All my love

Seb”

Pushing the tears to one side, Ensign Dalton proofread his letter one more time. He hoped that it didn’t come across as whiny or pathetic in his parents’ eyes. Just informing them of what he was thinking felt important to him right now. Wishing that they never had the chance in seeing it, he saved it into the database ready to be sent to them in case this was his last mission. 


“Salutations mon amour,

Antoine, I know the May is off fighting in corner of this war and you’ve shared with me your doubts and concerns but I need you to know that I’ve never felt so proud of us to get through everything. Marrying you, mon meilleur ami, mon mari, is a decision I do not regret. Being together for all of this time, during so much is single best decision I’ve made and I have no regrets. When you smile, the whole universe in my eyes stops. How you do that to me all of the time I will never know. Antoine, you are amazing. 

There is not a thing I would change from our shared life. To our time as teenagers to us developing the châteaux in Wissant, I have loved every second. Our jump to Starfleet hasn’t stopped us either and I cannot thank you so much for being with me every step of the way. I just wish you were here with me on Challenger

Stay safe my love, always. 

Je t’aime beaucoup.

Je t’aime pour toujours.

Mon cœur est à toi pour toujours

Ghislaine xxx ”

Looking at her brief goodbye, Senior Chief Petty Officer Dubois did not know if she had said enough but she knew in her heart that Antoine would not want a lengthy message. They had spent too much time together, too many good memories that she couldn’t afford to ruin by creating such a long and winding letter from beyond the grave. She couldn’t do that to him. Hitting the save button, the quartermaster took a breath and smiled that she had got to say one more thank you to her husband, her best friend, the man that had her heart forever. 

SEVEN

Challenger NX-03
Friday, November 14th, 2155

Dimmed lighting appeared across the entire ship as Challenger moved across space with its armada surrounding it. Travelling at a respectable speed of warp three point five, the flotilla was planned to reach its target soon, but in the meantime it was decided that they would reduce the amount of power each ship would be giving out to prevent the Romulans from picking them up. Alongside that to reduce the subspace distortion created by the fleet, each ship travelled in pairs with some distance between those pairs. Again, another strategy to ensure their attack against the Romulans was a surprise. 

Working quietly in the ship’s gym, Rosa Sandoval was undertaking her daily yoga training. This was something she did every day to keep herself calm and relaxed. With her eyes closed, she controlled her breathing and allowed her body to remain still as much as she could. Eventually she moved from one position to another which resulted in her companion groaning inwards thus making her roll her eyes at his impatience before closing them again. 

“Alex,” She said, still keeping her eyes closed, “breathe before you strain something. Move gently into it.”

Gritting his teeth, Alex Rodham copied the warrior pose that Sandoval now did with one leg bent forward, the other backwards and her arms both stretched high. “I feel and look stupid.” He moaned through a whisper.

Suppressing a smile, the gamma shift officer remained still in her position. “Close your eyes so that you can remove any outside influence.”

“I can’t see why we couldn’t do a workout together.” He groaned back to his friend. 

The two of them had been close friends and with the ship operating under what Fleet Captain Burton had entitled ‘grey mode’, the crew had some time to compose themselves before the upcoming battle. As such Sandoval had offered to help Rodham calm himself since he had not been able to sleep for the last few days. She had suggested there was some level of anxiety coming from the first officer and pilot since the last battle they went into he had lost his husband from it all. So having him join in her daily yoga exercise seemed like a good idea. He agreed to give it a go and where they both stood now in the middle of the gym, he didn’t appear to be able to take it seriously. 

Wearing just a black vest and shorts, Rodham gave up and closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing as he held his pose. It was obvious that Sandoval ignored his last comment.

The doors to the gym, which Rodham and Sandoval had the luxury of having to themselves so far, parted open allowing for the ship’s chief science officer to walk in. Walker stopped in mid-stroll as he took in what he encountered in the middle of the gym. Clearing his throat at seeing both Rodham and Sandoval in such positions made him smirk a bit. He cleared his throat before speaking. “Is it okay to come in?” 

Both officers opened their eyes and instantly Rodham dropped his arms and stood up straight. “Yeah of course Cooper.” Rodham said, appearing somewhat embarrassed.

Shaking her head at him, Sandoval once again rolled her eyes at him. “Why don’t you join us Cooper?” She offered.

Looking at them both, Walker who wore similar gym apparel (all grey though) like Rodham considered the suggestion and eventually agreed. “I gotta admit, I’ve never done yoga before.”

“Neither has Alex, so just follow my lead.” Sandoval said as she gestured for him to take up a position on the other side of her. 

Relieved slightly that Walker was joining in and not mocking it all, Rodham closed his eyes again and went back to copying Sandoval’s next yoga move. “So anything on long range sensors yet?” He whispered towards Walker. 

Walker, who had also copied Sandoval’s posture, opened one eye as he answered in a low tone. “Nothing.” He answered.

“I can’t believe the Romulans haven’t seen us yet.” Rodham remarked back in between breaths, still muttering under his breath. 

“For now, the captain’s plan of being undetected appears to be working.” Walker stated.

“Will you both be silent please?” Sandoval said, sounding annoyed in her low voice. “Any louder and the Romulans will pick us up from your chattering alone.”

Both men apologised. A few seconds later, Rodham opened his eyes. “Cooper, do you feel stupid like me and want to go punch the bags at the back?”

Quickly opening his eyes and standing up straight, the science officer sounded relieved in his response. “I thought you’d never ask!”

“Sorry Rosa.” Rodham said as he got off his mat and picked up his trainers. The two men walked over to the other side of the gym towards the hanging punching bags, leaving Sandoval to shake her head in disbelief at them both for not having the commitment to see the yoga through. 


Lying on the deck plating of engineering with a coil spanner between her teeth, Masuko was adjusting a plasma injector when footsteps approached her. Sitting up from where she laid she smiled at the arrival of the ship’s senior nurse.

“Niall, to what do I owe the pleasure?” The chief engineer asked.

Smirking back at her, Stewart answered quickly. “I’m here to take you and several others for your first aid teaching.”

Grumbling at the remark, the chief engineer shook her head. “Niall, I appreciate you’ve got a job to do but so do I. These modifications the captain has asked me to undertake are taking longer to do and the more time I spend on it the more I worry he is going to find someone else to be the chief engineer.”

“I understand it lieutenant but-” Stewart started before Masuko snapped at him.

“But nothing else Niall! I’ve got strict orders from the captain to get these modifications done. I would have completed them sooner if it wasn’t for the high number of battle drills we’ve had to do as well  So if you would kindly go back to the good Ro-fa and tell her that I will need to skip today’s lesson unless she is able to spare me anyone from sickbay who can perform micro-surgery on a warp nacelle.”

Realising he had arrived at an awkward time, Stewart stepped back a bit from his superior. “So shall I just say I couldn’t find you and I’ll take those who are left in engineering who need their training?”

“You do that and I promise I will shut down power in sickbay.” Masuko returned. “Now get out of my engineering room and if anyone asks, just say the door was locked and no-one was answering your call. Dismissed lieutenant.” 

Taking the hint, Stewart left engineering at a quicker pace than the one he had arrived in with. Entering the corridors of D deck, the senior nurse moved out of the area quicker than a flash of lightning and back towards sickbay. 

As he returned to sickbay he bumped into Doctor Payne, Challenger’s new second medical officer. “I take it your lesson wasn’t successful either?” He asked her. 

Payne just shook her head, “The armoury team wasn’t having any of it.”

“Snap with engineering.” Stewart said as they turned down a corridor. Before they had a chance to arrive at sickbay, they heard a commotion coming from the nearest lift. Turning around in a snap, both medical officers saw a number of MACOs charging down the corridor carrying Rafferty in their arms. Instantly Stewart recognised one of the MACOs as his husband and the other two were Trommler and Iyer. 

“What happened to him?” Stewart asked as he approached the group and joined them in their rush towards the medical wing of the ship. Payne fell beside them as well.

“Training accident.” Jenkins answered. 

Looking down at the injured young MACO soldier, Stewart and Payne saw a long black pole in the right leg of Rafferty as he tried to remain awake.

“Is that an arrow in his leg?” Payne quizzed.

“It might be.” Iyer said, wincing slightly as he kept hold of the young soldier. 

“What do you mean, it might be?” Stewart inquired as they came down the long corridor towards sickbay. “Is it, or isn’t it?”

“It is!” Trommler answered as they approached the sickbay doors and Payne slapped the door controls to open allowing them to enter straight away.

“What on Earth has happened?” Ro-fa Ben-Ami asked the moment she heard and saw the group entering sickbay in their hastily manner. 

The three MACO men placed Rafferty carefully down onto the main surgery bed.

“We were training and Rafferty was caught by friendly fire.” Iyer reported to the doctor as she examined her patient. 

As she looked at the injury both Stewart and Payne got on their gloves and gowns. 

“It looks like the arrow has gone only through tissue; no bone appears broken.” Ben-Ami reported as she used her medical scanner over Rafferty. “Let’s get him out of his gear so we can carefully remove the arrow.”

Stewart grabbed the nearby scissors that would cut through Rafferty’s trousers so they could get to the injury a little bit easier. “Hold still Harvey.” He instructed the young MACO as he started cutting from the base of his right trouser leg.

Rafferty just mumbled something as Payne placed an oxygen mask over him and injected him with some pain relief with a hypospray into his neck. 

After getting herself into her surgery gear, Ro-fa Ben-Ami took out her scanner again. “The blade of the arrow has entered quite far; I think I may have to operate to get it out.” She looked up at the MACOs that stood by the door. “What training was this?”

Looking over to his husband and his comrades, wondering if they could answer the question, Stewart could see a sense of shame and horror across their faces. None of them replied. Trommler then spoke up.

“Will he live?” The MACO leader asked.

“He will, but he won’t be running on this leg for some time.” Ben-Ami answered bluntly. “I’ll ask again, what training was this? I’ve not seen any of you with bows and arrows before!”

“Alternative combat measurers.” Trommler blurted out. “The captain wanted us to try something different in case our normal weapons wouldn’t work.”

Rolling her eyes and shaking her head at the remark, the doctor went on with treating her patient. “Very well, please can you all leave here so we can do our work.”

Watching the MACOs leave, Stewart couldn’t help but feel there was something they weren’t sharing with Ben-Ami. 

Stepping into the hallway, running his hands through his hair from stress, Trommler was sweating from everything that was happening. He couldn’t believe how stupid he had been.

“Take it easy Luis.” Iyer reminded him. “Harvey is in the best hands.”

Nodding to the words from his first sergeant, Trommler appreciated the comments from him. “I know Rupesh, but if I hadn’t insisted on us doing that exercise then…”

“…our unit wouldn’t be ready.” Jenkins finished with.

“That’s not the point Liam.” Trommler snapped back. “I’m the commander for the detachment, I shouldn’t be so reckless in what I get the unit to do.”

At that point heavier footsteps could be heard coming down the corridor from where the three men had just rushed from. Looking over they saw the arrival of more MACOs. 

 “We heard what happened.” Spoke First Lieutenant Sheridan Alder, Trommler’s new deputy. She stood only a few inches smaller than the German captain. Her short pixie cut of her dark brown hair was flattered by her sky-blue eyes. Overall Alder had a somewhat boyish look to her features but she was quite fierce when engaged in combat, as recently seen in the last training session. Born and raised on Mars, the woman was a year younger than Trommler and had come highly recommended by General Casey. 

Besides her was Trommler’s assistant commander, Second Lieutenant Alizeh Javini. The Iranian soldier had served with Sheridan in her previous unit. Both were excellent additions to the Challenger’s MACO detachment. “Will Raftery live?”

“I hope so.” Trommler replied, as he kicked the nearby bulkhead and walked away from the scene to compose himself in private.


Working quietly in the port armoury room, Cortez was working on the last set of spatial torpedoes that were being modified to carry their new payloads. The thermo-nuclear warheads had been picked up from Cold Station Four without a hitch and it had been her job to ensure the ship was able to fire them. Adjusting the casing on the torpedo she was on, Cortez checked her readings on the warhead, it remained calm for now. Once it was secure in its casing then it would be safe. With the help of a few others, she finished the last modification and locked the casing.

Leaning back on the stall she was on, she gave out a huge sigh of relief. “Thank god,” She looked at her team and thanked them all. “Go grab yourselves some coffee and a well earned break. We’ll get back together in half an hour to run final checks on the targeting scanners.”

Appreciating the time away from their work, the team began to file out of the room just as Ensign Reddick stepped in. Looking just as exhausted as she was, the young deputy made his way over to his superior with a tablet in his hand. “Modifications complete to the phase cannons ma’am.”

Sagging her shoulders down and closing her eyes as she took the device from him, she was wondering just how many changes the captain wanted to make to the ship’s arsenal before they engaged the Romulans at Rator. “Thanks Adrian, how many shots will we get?”

“Three at best, but I’ve not modified the pulse cannons. I thought we may need them more, but I can’t be certain the by-pass we installed to avoid damaging the entire tactical array will actually prevent us losing all of our weapons.” Reddick answered as he took a seat on the edge of a nearby crate. “But it won’t take long for us to switch the overload on.”

“I’m sure the captain will appreciate it.” Cortez remarked as she dropped the tablet onto the floor. “I noticed in the last drill or response time was a lot quicker.”

“Yeah, the drills seem to be actually working.” Reddick agreed. “I know we’re at war, but everything just seems tense.”

“It’s the nature of the beast, ensign.” Cortez said as she looked up. “Fancy grabbing a cup of coffee before the next drill?”

Nodding as he got up, Reddick liked the sound of it. “If we get to the mess hall in time, I heard that Chef Lawson has made some apple pie and ice cream, if there’s any left I’ll treat you to a slice!”

As they began to walk out, Cortez looked up at him, “I may need a whole pie to get me through the rest of this day.”

“Now that sounds like a plan.” Reddick said as they crossed the threshold and left the armoury suite. 


Alpha shift was about to come off duty, so when Commander Rodham noticed the proximity alarm had picked up something coming behind them at high speeds he let out a quiet curse before reporting it in. “Captain, long range sensors are picking up multiple warp signatures. Four point nine light years distant, and closing from behind at warp five.”

 Instantly Burton looked up from the tablet he was reading to his helm officer. “Romulans?”

Glaring at the readings, Rodham struggled to determine who they were at first but then the moment the computer ran a comparative scan using the various warp signatures on record, the first officer and pilot was surprised by its results. “No, Tholian!” He answered as he turned to look at Burton as he said his last word. “And they are spreading themselves outwards, they’re trying to surround our fleet.”

“Ensign Avery, inform the fleet to drop out of warp, to form up together  and begin evasive manoeuvres. We’ll make a stand together if we have to.” Burton ordered his acting chief communications officer before tapping the intercom panel built into the arms of his chair. “All hands to battlestations!” His voice echoed through the corridors and decks of his ship. 

Challenger and its battle group all came to a gradual halt from its faster than light speeds and began preparing the onslaught from the Tholians. Burton had read the reports about how vicious and hostile the Tholians could be, he wasn’t going to let them stop them from their attack. Whatever it took. 

Commander Walker had activated his scope to bring up the visual scanners to determine just how large the incoming force was. “I’m reading two Tholians vessels.” He paused as he squinted. “Make that three. Four. No, five.” Walker then looked up from his scope and at the captain as he spoke. “Seventeen Tholians vessels. Distance one point two light years and closing.”

“Hull plating to maximum, standby all weapons.” Burton commanded as he gripped the ends of his chair. 

“They’re in visual range.” Cortez announced from the armoury station. 

“Onscreen.” Burton ordered. 

The seventeen Tholian vessels all dropped out of warp and appeared to have paused in their movement. None of them did anything for a few seconds. Then the tips of their vessels began to shine a bright white and blue cobalt colour. Dashes of energy were then released and all of them hit multiple targets belonging to the joint Earth-Andorian task group.

On the bridge, Burton ordered for them to return fire which Cortez followed it up by announcing that all of their weapons were down. The Tholians had used some sort of energy-dampening weapon against them all. Forced to not do anything, Burton wondered if this was it, would this be the Challenger’s last stand? Rodham announced that the warp drive was also disabled, he had impulse and that was it. Unable to work out why the Tholians were so specific with their targets, Burton looked over to Walker.  “Cooper, what about the rest of the fleet? Are they in the same situation?”

A brief look at his sensor readings and he was able to determine that everyone was in the same predicament. No warp engines and no warp drive. “Yes sir, but I can’t work out how the Tholians did it, sir.”

Looking at the viewscreen, Burton considered his next options when the surprise image of the Tholian fleet moving away from them at high impulse occurred. Within a few seconds all of them jumped into high warp. 

“That was strange.” Rodham said, a sense of relief was present in his tone though. 

“Agreed.” Burton took a breath, trying to understand the sudden arrival of the Tholians felt like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Why would such a large force of their ships be so far from their territory and so close to the Romulan border? “Alex, did we sustain any damage? Besides the loss of power to the weapons and warp drive.”

Rodham looked down at his controls and shook his head. “No. Hull plating held. Warp engines will be back online within an hour or so, same with the weapons. Every other system is stable.”

With a finger on her earpiece, Ensign Avery spoke up from her station. “The rest of the fleet is reporting similar statements.”

Starting to pace around the bridge with his hands on his hips, Burton tried to work out his next move. He paused as he stopped by in front of the helm and looked over to Cortez. “Stand down from battlestations, Rachele but I want you to maintain a long range sensor lock on that Tholian task force.”

Cortez nodded and got straight to work. “Aye, sir. They’re heading did place them back on the same course we were on for the Romulan border. Within an hour or so, if they maintain their current speed, they’ll cross into Romulan territory and be at Rator.”

Agreeing with her assessment, Burton walked around the helm and towards the tactical station to look at what Cortez was seeing on her readings. “They did appear to be in quite a hurry, didn’t they? I’d like to know what they’re up to so close to Romulan space.”

“Maybe they’re joining forces with the Romulans.” suggested Avery.

“I disagree, if they were about to join the war on the Romulans’ side then why not destroy us here and now.” Walker countered as he looked at the sensor readings belonging to the Tholian force. “They took out the two things we could use to stop them, our warp engines and weapons. I think they were trying to slow us down or prevent us from fighting with them. Either way, it’s a good near-miss for us.”  

“There’s too many unknowns to have hope that their intentions are more peaceful with us then the Romulans.” Burton said, disagreeing with his science officer’s idea. “I’m heading down to engineering to get more answers about what their weapon did to our systems. I suggest we use this time to concentrate on getting the ship up and ready as soon as possible.” The captain then stepped across the bridge and towards the lift. “Alex, you have the bridge.” He stated as he got into the cart with his yeoman closeby. This encounter with the Tholians could change everything he had planned. 


Middle of the month of T’ke’Tas, Year of ShiKahr 8764
Naweeth City, Vulcan

The shuttle from the Jarok lifted off behind them and Commander T’Plau looked at Hennessey with her usual cool and collected Vulcan expression. They had just been dropped off on the outskirts of a city that the human had never heard of during his time of learning the Vulcan language. 

“Naweeth City is the home to the Vulcan Ministry of Information, my brother and his wife all reside here with their children.” T’Plau shared. “We shall visit them first and see if we can gain access to the ministry with my brother’s assistance.”

T’Plau started walking ahead and Hennessey ran a few steps to get in line next to her. Vulcan was a very warm place, so he was pleased to have put on his excursion gear as he was certain his jumpsuit would be covered in sweat by the high humidity. “Did you not call ahead to inform your brother of our arrival?” 

“I am an open guest in my brother’s house, as he and his family are in mine.” T’Plau replied. Her all white catsuit was covered by the long white hooded robe she wore over the top of it. “I am certain he will not object to my presence or you being a guest of mine. He is a reasonable man.”

“Well I hope we don’t irritate or disturb him with our arrival.” Hennessey stated. As they took a few more steps, Hennessey looked at his companion. “Commander, you never told me how the mind-meld with Lukret went.”

T’Plau appeared to give out a sigh, or what sounded like a quiet one before answering the question. “I completed my mind-meld with Sub Lieutenant Lukret without any issues, however it did not reveal any desired answers that would clarify why he attacked you..” 

“What will happen to him now?” Hennessey asked.

“He is in the process of being handed over to the Vulcan authorities for further questioning and to be processed to answer for the crimes he has committed.” T’Plau explained as they turned down a path along a barely busy street. “My brother’s residence is at the bottom of this path to our left.”

Nodding as a sign of confirmation that he heard her, Hennessey wondered just how T’Plau was dealing with being in the big centre chair now. “So, do you prefer being in the captain’s chair or being the armoury officer?”

Raising her eyebrows at the illogical question spoken by the lieutenant, T’Plau took in another breath as she replied. “I am not sitting in Fleet Captain Burton’s chair nor is there an armoury position on the Jarok, however I believe you are not speaking in literal terms but instead trying to engage in small talk regarding my assessment of which position, commanding officer or tactical officer, do I favour?”

Realising that she was taking the long way to understand him, Hennessey just nodded. “Yeah, that.” He simply answered with. 

“The job of commanding officer is challenging, but rewarding. I prefer it to my previous posting managing the security  and tactical department.” She answered as blunt as ever.

They then entered the courtyard of her brother’s home and T’Plau indicated for Hennessey to show further respect and cordial demeanour as she approached the main foyer. A tall Vulcan man, with short brown hair walked out. Raising her hand to salute in the typical V sign made by Vulcans, she greeted the man.

“Solpak, it is agreeable to see you brother.” She said in an extremely calm tone.

Raising his hand to copy her gesture, Solpak bowed his head. “Sister, it is agreeable to see you as well, even if your visit is unexpected.” He looked at Hennessey, with a similar calm expression and then back to T’Plau. The family resemblance was uncanny. “You didn’t tell me you were bringing a guest.”

“Brother, this is my colleague, Lieutenant Ned Hennessey. He is a linguistic expert and is currently with my ship as part of the officer-exchange program. He is undertaking further research into Vulcan languages.” T’Plau explained.

“Welcome to Vulcan.” Solpak said to his other guest before looking back to his sister. “This is the first time you’ve brought a colleague home with you.”

“My position within the High Command has changed.” T’Plau shot back at her brother.

“Indeed, your promotion and new assignment was shared with us.” Solpak said, still not a flicker of emotion creaking through his voice. “You appear well.”

“As do you.” T’Plau replied, she looked over her brother’s shoulders. “Is T’Kath not home?” She asked, referring to her sister-in-law. “Or the children?”

“No, she is currently supervising a school outing to Mount Tar’hana of which your nephew and niece are in attendance.” Solpak answered. “Today is my day of rest and I was using my time to meditate.”

“I apologise for us intruding and disturbing your meditation, but I am in need of your assistance.” T’Plau said. 

“Why do we not continue this conversation inside, perhaps a cup of tea would assist?” Solpak suggested as he gestured for them to enter his house. “Mister Hennessey, do you like spice tea?”

“Indeed I do.” Hennessey replied in a courteous fashion.

“Then join us, I have some of the best spice tea in the city.” Solpak insisted as he led them inside and towards the main living area. As they made their way across the living area, he turned to his sister. “What type of assistance do you need?”

Following him in, T’Plau explained further to him that Hennessey is interested in finding out about the Rhian language. “I know you have a high level of clearance, so I can tell you that we believe by understanding the Rhian language further, we may be able to decrypt a database that was stolen from the Romulans.”

Appearing somewhat surprised at the mention of the Romulans, Solpak looked at his sister after he placed the kettle on to boil. “T’Plau, why are you supporting a matter that is not related to Vulcan security?”

“Solpak, I did not come here to debate with you Vulcan foreign policy. Can you assist us in gaining access to more information around the Rhian language or not?” T’Plau asked, sounding annoyed with her brother’s words. 

Pausing, he took a breath and then answered her. “As you said, I have a high level of clearance. I am able to assist. I suggest we visit the Central Library in ShiKahr first.” Picking up a nearby cup, he looked at Hennessey. “Lieutenant Hennessey, do you like anything else in your tea?”

“No, just hot and wet is fine.” Hennessey answered, feeling a bit awkward about the low level sibling conflict he just witnessed. “I do appreciate any information you can find for us on the Rhian language.”

Adding the hot water to the tea, Solpak looked deadpanned at his guest. “It is my job to assist others in finding information, so it is of no trouble, lieutenant. If it means my sister is able to visit her family then it would be worth the work.”

If T’Plau could give her brother a scorned look, she would and Hennessey was certain her brother would be dead from it. Instead of speaking any further the communications officer just took the tea that was offered to him and sat in silence as he joined T’Plau and Solpak in the armchairs in the living room as they drank their tea. Looking at the Vulcan man, he wasn’t sure if he would call him reasonable, but then Hennessey had always known that he could not read Vulcan body language like he could with other races. They truly were an enigma sometimes, Solpak certainly was an interesting man. Hennessey only hoped though that he could lead them to the answers they truly needed to decrypt the Romulan database.

EIGHT

Challenger NX-03, en route to Rator System
Saturday, November 15th, 2155

Though the damage to the joint Starfleet-Andorian task force had immobilised them it had not left considerable damage. As a result the fleet was back up and running within twenty-four hours and were back on the road towards Rator. 

Lying on his bunk bed, with his right leg elevated and wearing a pair of jogging grey shorts and a black vest, Private Raftery was reading quietly to himself when his peace was disturbed by the arrival of his MACO detachment commander. 

“Harvey, how are you?” Trommler asked as he walked across the MACO barrack. The room was one of the largest on the ship that was purely inhabited by the MACO detachment as most of the MACOs rested and lived here. Only a few others lived elsewhere on the ship. Trommler had his own quarters, as detachment commander while the deputy and assistant detachment commanders shared quarters. The only other person to have their own quarters was Corporal Jenkins, who shared with his husband. The MACO barrack looked like one of the ship’s cargo bays, but the various bunk beds were set up so that everyone had some form of privacy with their bunk ‘mate’. Major Yu had set up the barracks so that in the middle of the room was a sort of common area where there were several sofas and armchairs for people to relax together. Captain Trommler had not changed the layout since he had assumed command of the detachment. That said, it was rare for people to spend most time in the barracks. It was pretty much a place for them to sleep, rest, get a shower and change. 

Looking at his superior, Raftery tried to get up but stopped when Trommler gestured for him not to bother. “Feeling a lot better, thank you, sir.”

“I’m pleased to hear that.” The MACO leader said. “I am so sorry again for what happened Harvey.”

“Sir, please stop apologising. It was a training accident, I’m alive and I will be back to duty in no time.” Raftery said with a smile. “In the meantime, I’ll just sit here and protect the barracks.”

Smirking at his good spirit and humour, Trommler was pleased to see the young MACO soldier was okay and on the mend. “Just make sure you rest and if you need anything that you ask for it.”

“I’ve got everything I need, sir.” Raftery replied as he pointed to everything that was around him. Several books laid either side of his legs, a set of headphones connected to a tablet and what looked like broken wrappers for chocolate bars. Trommler could see that Raftery was indeed okay. 

Rubbing his shoulder and smiling, Trommler told Raftery to take care before he got up from where he was sitting on the edge of the private’s bed and made his way across the barracks towards the exit. 

Entering the corridor, the MACO leader unzipped his uniform jacket and made his way towards his office. Throwing the jacket over his shoulder, he was surprised to find Ensign Avery stood outside his office. “Ensign, can I help you?” He asked the beautiful woman. Her long silky straight black hair made her dark brown eyes look like they could pierce anyone’s heart instantly. Without realising it, he started to smile at her. 

Avery pushed her stray lock of hair behind her shoulder and smiled back at the MACO leader. “Captain Trommler, I was just coming down to see you and to upload the new anti-virus protection software into your computer controls.” She waved a small chip in her hand.

“I didn’t realise they needed to be updated.” Trommler said as he stood only a few centimeters away from her. He couldn’t stop thinking about how beautiful she was. “Couldn’t Lieutenant Masuko send down one of her own engineers to do the work? Sure the captain has you busy doing other tasks while you’re acting up for Lieutenant Hennessey”

Smirking at his question, Avery appeared to blush. “ I’m helping out where I can. These updates are needed since the repairs to the ship are almost complete.”

“Then please enter.” Trommler said after unlocking his door and gesturing for her to enter.

“Thank you.” She said as the door slid open and she went in. The automatic detection system for the lights picked up her entering and illuminated the small office. Briskly she made her way over to the computer terminal and activated it then installed the chip. “This shouldn’t take too long.”

“Sure, take your time.” Trommler remarked, trying to appear calm and cool as he attempted to lean up against the doorway but failed miserably as he missed it and landed with a thud on the deck plating.

“Oh my god, captain, are you okay?” Avery asked as she turned swiftly and made her way back to him to help him up.

“Ja, I’m fine.” His German accent coming through from his annoyance and embarrassment. Pushing himself up, Trommler just smiled. “Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.”

She appeared to almost giggle at his stupidity as she helped him to his feet by grabbing him by his hand. “I heard your call sign was Streak.” After letting go she headed back into his office to complete her work. “Is there a story behind that?”

“I’m quite quick on my feet.” He replied, still embarrassed at what had just taken place.

Suppressing her smirk, Avery began the upload and turned to look at him. “I hope that’s quick on the battlefield and not within the ship? I would hate for you to injure yourself elsewhere.”

“Yeah.” He replied as he scratched the back of his hair and gave up with his routine of trying to appear cool and charming. “How are you settling into life on Challenger?”

Looking back at her work, she answered him as she multi-tasked. “I love it. Serving on a NX-class was always on my bucket list when I joined the service.”

“What else is on your list?” Trommler wondered as he took a seat in the only armchair in the room.

“Visiting several planets, Vulcan is one of them, but also learning how to fire a phase pistol on target. My reflexes aren’t that great, they were good enough to get me to pass the tests but I suck at firing a weapon.”

“Well maybe, I can help with that?” Trommler said, his charm returning to the forefront of his approach. “I’ll be happy to give you private lessons?”

“Seriously?” Avery said, looking at him. 

“Absolutely.” Trommler assured her with a boyish smile. 

“Sounds like a date.” Avery remarked as she finished off. “There, all done.” She pulled the chip out. “And thanks for the offer for the private session.”

“Anytime, just give me a call.” Trommler said as he watched her approach the exit of his office.

“I may just take you up on that offer.” Avery said before flashing him a wide smile and leaving his office. 

As the door closed behind her, Trommler couldn’t believe he had just flirted with the acting communications officer while also making a fool of himself in front of her. He really did need to work on his approach. 


“Your call sounded urgent?” Fleet Captain Burton said the moment he entered main engineering with his first officer behind him as they approached their chief engineer.

Climbing down from the central warp core controls, Lieutenant Masuko confirmed that her request to see the captain and commander was needed. “We’ve been running the last of the diagnosis since repairing the ship and we’ve found something hidden within our systems that was not there before.” She explained and indicated for them to follow her over to what was deemed the command pit. From here the chief engineer could work on a variety of jobs, one of them controlling the primary command systems if needed. On one of the monitors, she brought up a computer programme and indicated it to her guests. “It’s a new program that appears to give someone the chance to upload anything to our database. Thankfully our new anti-telepresence systems picked it up. The countermeasures picked it up the moment we rebooted them.”

“Who put it there?” asked Commander Rodham. 

“The Tholians.” Masuko answered. “The script used has Tholian characters within it, based on what our linguistic database tells me.”

“So, what are we saying here? That they had plans to upload a virus to our systems in the future?” Burton questioned.   

Wincing slightly as she crossed her arms and leant against her desk, Masuko shook her head. “I’ve seen a lot of harmful computer programs before captain, this one doesn’t appear to be that. I just genuinely think they wanted a way to share content with us.”

“But why?” Burton queried. 

Shrugging her shoulders, Masuko couldn’t give the answers the captain wanted as she replied. “I don’t know, but speaking to my counterparts on other ships they all found the same application in their systems. Just sitting there in a dormant state.”

“Can we remove it?” Rodham posed. 

“We can, but the deletion of it will take up a lot of computer usage. Something we can’t afford to do if we’re about to go into battle.” The engineer shared. “In the meantime, I’ve created an update to our systems. I’ve shared the specs with the rest of the fleet and I’ve got Tanisha and several others going around and ensuring that every computer terminal has been updated with the new anti-Tholian virus program. We should be able to contain it.”

 Not pleased to hear that, Burton nodded and thanked his chief engineer before leaving her company. Entering the nearest lift with his first officer, Burton looked at Rodham. “Do we slow down and deal with this ‘upload’?”

 “If we do and the Romulans catch up, then I’d hate to be sitting still with our pants around our ankles, sir. If Sakura thinks we can contain it, then I say let’s wait until after the battle and we deal with it then.” Rodham answered.

Burton crossed his arms against chest as he ordered for the lift to take them to the bridge. He wasn’t keen with the idea but he didn’t have anything else that was better to suggest right now. They were only a few hours away from Rator and they had to complete their mission.


Middle of the month of T’ke’Tas, Year of ShiKahr 8764
ShiKahr, Vulcan

Hennessey had expected the Vulcan Central Library to resemble some of their ancient monasteries, filled with dust, old relics and plenty of books. Instead he was surprised by how modern it was. The building itself followed traditional Vulcan architecture on the outside, but within it was where the surprise came. It was almost domed shaped where various sections were split up into different areas that all led into the middle of the circle. The shelves of books were high however everything appeared to have been maintained and kept tidy. No cobwebs or dust in sight. Among the bookshelves were various study areas, these were built within the ground and appeared almost like small bubbles. Solpak had explained that the study areas were designed for a small group to use without disturbing other users of the library. Not that there was much noise in the library. It was deadly quiet, nonetheless the study bubbles did their job. They reminded him of spherical shaped glass greenhouses that were used on Earth to grow various plants. Instead of nurturing organic matter, the Vulcans nurtured their knowledge instead. T’Plau had added that the bubbles were a common sight in Vulcan schools. They appeared somewhat isolating, but Hennessey couldn’t complain. 

Within one of the many bubbles, T’Plau had explained that Hennessey couldn’t be left to randomly wander around the library and asked that he remain within the bubble to avoid any complications with the librarians or other users. Setting up shop in the languages area, Hennessey was eager to get to work on understanding the Rhian language. Several hours into their investigation, he discovered something that peaked his interest.

“I know this has no relevance to our work, however I have discovered something of interest.” Hennessey shared with the other two. He was pleased that the bubble they were in was sound proof as he was certain that his statement there would have annoyed one of the Vulcans nearby. 

T’Plau, who was sitting at her own work area, turned around in her chair and looked at her human companion. Solpak did a similar gesture, leaving it down to his sister to respond to Hennessey. “If it carries no relevance to our work; I do not see why it is important to share, lieutenant.” She remarked with a raised eyebrow. 

Not sure if there was a sense of irritation coming from the commander, Hennessey ignored it. “It does not relate to complying with the Rhian language matrix, but from what I have read so far there appears to be a distinct pattern of when the Rhian language was no longer used on Vulcan.”

“I would not be amazed if it was during the period when Surak’s teachings became popular among those who had survived the various conflicts that inflected our world.” T’Plau stated and turned herself back to her work desk. 

“Well, I’m no Vulcan historian but I keep finding references to an era called The Sundering.” Hennessey stated, a bit annoyed that T’Plau had dismissed his remarks by turning her back to him.

Solpak’s eyebrows rose in curiosity when Hennessey mentioned that particular era. “Fascinating.” He said. 

“Is that a significant period in Vulcan history?” The human linguist asked Solpak. 

Nodding twice,  Solpak explained what happened. “This particular piece of history was, as T’Plau stated, shortly after the Vulcan people began to follow the ways of Surak. But as the word means a separation, a split or a breakaway this is exactly what happened to a good number of our people.”

“Another civil war?” Hennessey guessed.

“Not quite.” Solpak corrected. “A large proportion of our people who rejected Surak’s teachings left Vulcan to distant parts of the galaxy. I believe it was over eighty-thousand people that had registered to depart, but historical records from that period of time have been lost over the ages and many historians believe it was a much larger number.”

Surprised to hear such an account about their Vulcan allies, Hennessey sat there quietly for a bit. “It must have been quite a traumatic period of time for Vulcan society. The Vulcan people were undergoing a radical change to prevent the destruction of your civilisation and at the same time a good proportion left the homeworld.”

“Indeed.” Solpak agreed. 

Their conversation was interrupted by T’Plau. “I believe I have completed the matrix and from what I can determine, there are a number of similarities between the Romulan language and Rhian.”

“How could that be?” Solpak questioned as he got up and walked over to where his sister was sitting. 

“That is very unusual among spacefaring civilisations.” Hennessey remarked, he copied Solpak’s move and joined T’Plau. Within a few seconds he could see she was right. “Without knowing your history in more detail, I can only assume that those that left during the Sundering have influenced the language used by others, including the Romulans.”

“An interesting hypothesis, without concrete evidence to prove it we cannot be sure for certain how so many similarities have come about.” Solpak stated.

“In the interest of national security as well as diplomatic ties with others in the coalition, I suggest we keep the assumptions to a bare minimum to prevent any unnecessary tension for Vulcan and its neighbours.” T’Plau stated. 

“You want to cover this information up?” Hennessey questioned. 

Looking up at the human, T’Plau raised her left eyebrow. “Lieutenant, if it becomes public knowledge that there may be some sort of historic connection between my people and the Romulans, it may fracture the relations between Vulcan and its allies.”

“And after that recent attack on me on your ship, I can see your logic in keeping this between us.” Hennessey agreed.

“Indeed.” Solpak remarked. “It would be a further disaster for the Coalition. One I do not believe it could survive.”

“Unfortunately, I think you’re right.” Hennessey said glumly. “If the Andorians found out, I am certain they would walk away from the alliance, the Tellarites would argue with your diplomats for years to come and I am sure President Littlejohn would reconsider Earth’s position with Vulcan. It would open a can of worms that none of us could step back from.”

“Can of worms?” Solpak questioned.

T’Plau informed her brother of the idiom’s meaning and the three went on they would keep this information to them and only use it to decrypt the Romulan database that Discovery had got its hands on recently. 

Eventually T’Plau and Hennessey left Vulcan to return to her vessel. It was important they rendezvoused with Challenger to share the news they would be able to decrypt the rest of the Romulan database.


21st Period, 69th Cycle, 21559th Rotation  

Cobel, Tholian Flagship

Admiral Jaimsekn was extremely pleased with what he was witnessing from the command deck of the Cobel. His force had caught the Romulans completely off guard. Their defence force, a small group consisting of eight ships, were now burning debris that were stuck in orbit of the planet the Romulans named Rator. 

The Tholian armada of seventeen ships, most of which were carriers for their smaller one pilot attack fighters, were now engaging the orbital stations the Romulans had built. Their beachhead would be easily destroyed but their shipyards were protected by a large powerful shielding system. 

*Admiral we have determined where the Romulans are emitting their shielding system* clicked Commander Lenrist from the secondary tactical station behind him.

Spinning on his axis, the Tholian leader faced his adjutant. *Where?* he questioned.

*On the fourth planet from their star.* Lenrist stated.

*Coordinate an orbital bombardment at once.* Jaimesekn ordered. 

Adjusting their attack patterns, the Tholian force began to move away from their current targets and instead began firing all of their weapons against Rator IV. The fourth planet appeared almost like Earth from above. Lush green forests, plenty of clear blue oceans surrounding various landmasses. As soon as the Tholians’ weapons began their blitz, these beautiful areas were being devastated. 

An alarm went off on Lenrist’s station. Looking at the readings, the adjutant spoke up. His tone almost sounding like high pitched screeches *Admiral, a Romulan task force has just entered the system. Twenty-one vessels in total.*

*Excellent!* The admiral clicked, sounding excited at the prospect of engaging such a huge force. *Inform all vessels to engage at will. In the meantime we will continue to remove that shielding.*

The Tholian fleet stopped its planetary assault as it twisted around to engage in the incoming Romulan fleet. Within seconds they opened fire on the Romulan forces, the smaller Tholian fighters smacking a hard punch against the dark emerald green ships. Tholian cruisers began to fire with their power draining weapons. Romulan ships were beginning to fail, while others continued to press on with the fight to defend their territory. One bird of prey rammed a Tholian cruiser while others were firing as many shots from their plasma cannons towards the Tholian lines. Eventually the Tholians began releasing their other devastating weapon, their tractor web technology. Capturing the Romulan ships within their nets meant they could easily destroy them. 

The battle of Rator continued to rage on. 

NINE

Challenger NX-03, entering Rator System, Beta Quadrant
Sunday, November 16th, 2155

The gradual deceleration of the task force was carefully planned so every ship was reducing its speed prior to entering the Rator system. The idea was to reduce just how large the subspace distortion wave they would create together. Though the fleet was separated, the idea was in a vain hope that the Romulans would not pick them up too soon. 

The strategy appeared to have worked, the fleet arrived just behind one of the moons of the eighth planet, a large gas giant that looked like Andor. It’s huge icy rings generated magnetic distortions, thus almost making them invisible for a moment. 

With his fleet now assembled and in formation, Fleet Captain Burton was sitting in his command chair as he got a round of updates from everyone on his bridge. They were ready. “Any signs of the Tholian armada we encountered earlier?”

Commander Walker was spending extra time looking into the scope at the science station and didn’t respond to Burton straight away. Instead the chief science officer turned away from the visual scanner and pulled his chair into the main science station as he reviewed the sensors again. “I’m not sure I quite believe this, sir.” He commented. “However, I think we owe the Tholians.”

Baffled by Walker’s comment, Burton turned his chair to face the science station. “Explain, commander.” He instructed. 

“I’ve re-aligned our sensor array three times now, but I am detecting what appears to be the remains of a battle between the Tholian armada and the Romulan forces in the system.” Walker shared.

“I’m picking it up too, sir.” stated Cortez from the armoury console. “I’m starting to pick up two distinct weapon signatures, one Romulan and the other Tholian.”

Looking up from the communications station, Ensign Avery announced that she was getting several hails from the other ships in the task force, confirming similar readings. 

“Can we get a visual?” Commander Rodham asked from the helm. The first officer and pilot almost sounded frustrated in his tone about what they had encountered. His fingertips were itching over the flight controls to take the ship into battle. 

“Not at this range.” Walker answered. “We’ll need to break orbit from Rator Eight to get a better look.”

Standing up from his chair and walking down to the side of his first officer, Burton placed his hand on the back of Rodham’s chair before looking down at the pilot. “If I decide to move in closer, I assume my First Officer would concur.”

“You assume correctly.” Rodham replied.

Pushing the ship forward, Rodham flew the ship out of its close orbit of the gas giant with its companions all flying closeby. As they moved away at high impulse, the entire task force got closer to the inner planets. Rodham was counting down their proximity to their original target before he was interrupted by Walker. 

“I’ve got a visual.” The science officer, anticipating the captain’s order, placed the image on the large viewscreen at the centre of the forward section of the bridge. 

Everyone paused for a few moments to take in the imagery of destroyed ships, all of them adrift. Plasma fire erupted across most of them. Their broken hulls were torn into pieces. Several alarms went off at the armoury station and Cortez instinctively reacted to it. 

“There’s one Tholian ship remaining, sir.” She shared before switching the visual to show the lone Tholian web-spinner. It was heavily damaged and was taking a beating from a nearby station that almost looked like a dark green version of the repair yards that orbited Earth. The Romulan shipyard that they were here to deal with. It was firing a very low-yield plasma cannon, the Tholian ship appeared to just take the hits. Seconds later, the Tholian vessel launched what appeared to be a missile from its undercarriage. The missile was aimed at the planet below. Walker turned the ship’s visual sensors to show the planet of Rator Four. Astonished to see the planet in a dire state. Everything that Burton had planned to do as part of the attack had already happened. The Tholians had launched a planetary assault and devastated the Minshara-class world. It looked almost dead and as the missile from the last remaining ship entered the atmosphere smoke could be seen coming from its tail end before it plummeted into the ground, creating a massive mushroom cloud upwards. 

“Sir, we’re being hailed by the Tholian ship.” Avery announced, with her right hand covering over her earpiece. 

“Put it through.” Burton ordered. 

Switching on the bridge speakers, Avery had not prepared for the loud screeching noises that followed, causing everyone to place their hands over their ears. The message was short but the noise it created sounded like someone was pure agony. The channel closed and then on the viewscreen the Tholian ship spun around on its axis and increased its speed to its maximum, it then brought its warp drive online and slammed head first into the shipyard. The collusion tore almost through the middle, separating the entire superstructure apart. Explosions then erupted seconds later and the shipyard was no more. 

More shock, more surprise, more uncertainty to what had just happened filled the thoughts of Fleet Captain Burton. What had happened between the Romulans and Tholians for them to fight to the end like this? Were the Tholians now joining the war effort? Had Earth just found the ally it craved? 

“Cooper, begin full sensor sweeps. Let’s see if there’s anything else out there that could give us the answers to what has happened here. Scan for lifesigns too.” Burton commanded as he took himself back to his chair. 

“There’s a few lifesigns, but they’re faint. Most of them are exposed to the vacuum of space or high levels of thermo nuclear radiation. I’d advise keeping away from the debris, sir.” Walker announced after making some preliminary scans. “The Tholians truly smashed the Romulans into a million pieces here.”

“Someone more powerful than the Romulans? It’s hard to imagine.” Burton said, staring at the viewscreen with a sense of mixed emotions. The Tholians appeared to have been absolutely ruthless in their tactics. The Romulans didn’t stand a chance. But what prompted the Tholians to attack? There was no logic. 

“But they did it. An entire Romulan fleet and their support stations! We might’ve just found our ticket to winning this war. An ally.” Cortez remarked, sounding almost hopeful in their discovery. 

“Let’s not jump to conclusions.” Rodham advised.

“I’d agree with the commander,” Avery said as she took her earpiece out and looked over to the captain and commander. “That hail from the Tholians was not just a message but it also contained a huge datastream that they uploaded into our receiver. We’ll need time to decrypt it but I’m translating their final broadcast.”

“What was their message?” Burton asked. 

Looking at the communication console and then back to him, Avery just repeated what she saw. “You’re welcome.”

Still surprised at what was unfolding before them, Burton’s gut instinct was telling him to get out of the system as quickly as possible. Something was wrong, something was off about what had taken place and he didn’t want to stick around to encounter any Romulan relief flotilla. “Alex, reverse course, maximum warp. Take us five light years out of Romulan territory and hold position. Tanisha, tell the fleet to follow suit.” 

“Aye, captain.” Rodham and Avery said in almost unison. 

Just like the last surviving Tholian ship had done only moments ago, Challenger turned around and within a few seconds jumped into high warp out of the Rator system. It’s fleet copying the exact move left in a similarly hurried manner. 


Almost an hour later and Burton was standing in the ship’s command centre, watching as his chief engineer and acting chief communication’s officer finished deciphering the Tholian datastream. With him were also his first and second officers and patched in via their subspace radio the other captains of the joint Starfleet-Imperial Guard task force. The faces of the men and women that led these ships were also in the private domains of their own offices or quarters without anyone else nearby. For now Burton wanted to keep the revelation of the contents between those working on it from his crew and those captains now present. 

“I think that’s it.” Masuko announced from where she was sitting at the main controls.

“I agree.” Avery said, backing the chief engineer’s assessment. 

“Load up the data then.” Burton instructed them.

With a flick of a few switches the large wall console came to life as multiple computer windows popped up, showing various forms of data. Trying to work out what it was, everyone for a moment appeared even more confused to what it was. 

“If it hadn’t been for what the Tholians had downloaded into our systems beforehand, I don’t think we could have decrypted all of this so quickly.” Masuko mentioned. 

“What is it though?” Avery wondered aloud. 

“Star charts.” Rodham said after pointing out one set of files that was open. He was right, it was an unusual format but there were clear indications that the Tholians had sent them numerous starcharts. 

“It’s more than that,” Walker stated as he crossed the room to stand behind Masuko. “That data block contains planetary surveys.”

“And those are ship schematics.” Masuko pointed out another lot. “Sir, the outline of those crafts appear to be Romulan.”

“Did the Tholians just share with us a treasure chest of intelligence on the Romulans?” Captain Frank Müller asked from the small screen he was currently using to talk to the others from the personal confines of his ready room on the Discovery

“It certainly looks like it.” answered Captain Madison Burton. Burton’s own sister looked just as surprised as her brother did at what they had just uncovered. “The question is, why did they share it with us before they collided with that station?”

“Whatever their reasons, we owe them a sense of gratitude for doing the job we intended to carry out.” spoke Commander Anthi of the Andorian contingent. Her antennas were both stood up straight, showing how serious she took this all. “The next question we should be asking ourselves, is what next? Do we return to allied space or do we press on with the war effort? It would seem like a waste of resources while we have this fleet here so close to other potential targets. Fleet Captain Burton, what do you say?”

Noticing everyone’s eyes on him, Burton was silent for a moment as he considered his options. “We’ve got a war to win people, so I say we take this time to take a breather so we can reconsider our options before doing anything else.”

Before anyone else could react, the intercom went off and Lieutenant Cortez spoke over the intercom. “Sir, the Vulcan combat cruiser, Jarok is entering range. Commander T’Plau is requesting to dock so she and Lieutenant Hennessey could meet with you.” 

Tapping the nearest communication panel, Burton acknowledged the call and gave permission for the Jarok to dock. Deciding to end his conference call, Burton told everyone to standby for orders while he met with his former armoury officer. “Commander Anthi, you may wish to join me in meeting with Commander T’Plau as well.” He offered to the Andorian leader. 

“I’ll be over shortly.” She replied before closing her channel. 

The sudden arrival of the Jarok distracted Burton’s train of thought over the entire Tholian-Romulan conflict. Maybe T’Plau and Hennessey had been lucky in decrypting the Romulan database. Maybe they had news of a new target they could attack to help with the war effort or had discovered a weakness in Romulan ship design they could use in their favour. Burton was certain on one thing though, whatever the reasons behind the Tholians fighting the Romulans at Rator, Earth and its allies certainly owed them a debt of gratitude. He just hoped one day they would be able to repay the favour back to them.

TEN

Challenger NX-03
Sunday, November 16th, 2155

Once word had gotten out about the Tholian attack at Rator, the atmosphere on the ship had appeared to have shifted to one that brought a sense of hope. Fleet Captain Burton had noticed it almost instantly from the moment he left the command centre and headed to the conference room on E deck. He had sent his yeoman to meet and escort Commander T’Plau and Lieutenant Hennessey from the port docking port while his first officer was greeting Commander Anthi at the starboard docking port. 

Walking alone to his meeting gave the fleet captain time to think to himself. This whole situation with the Tholians had significantly changed the course of the war. Had the Tholians declared war against the Romulans? Would they be willing to join the Coalition? Earth’s interactions with the Tholians was insignificant compared to their run-ins with other galactic powers like the Romulans, Klingons and Xindi. There were too many unanswered questions, but what Burton did know was time was against him. Did he use his power to launch another attack against the Romulans, like Anthi suggested? If he did, could it bring a crippling blow to the Romulan Star Empire and give them some much needed breathing space to rebuild and plan their next moves? Or did he retreat to a safe place and reconsider his options first? Could there be a bigger picture here that he was not quite seeing? If he did the former he knew he may be walking into more questions from the admiralty back home, especially if something went wrong. 

Stepping into the conference room, he turned the lights on and went straight over to the drink dispenser. Taking out a mug, stacked within its holding column next to it, he asked for his usual hot beverage. Walking to the head of the table, he placed his mug of steaming tea down and sat down in his usual chair. 

Moments later and his guests were now sitting around the table. To his right, his first officer with Anthi next to him. To his left, Commander T’Plau and Hennssey beside her. After catching T’Plau about the Tholian attack on Rator, Burton hoped that she and his communications officer would have some good news. 

“Fascinating.” was the first thing the Vulcan woman said as she listened intently to the briefing she received from her ally. “The Tholian presence in the area is something we should inform all of our governments about. They highly xenophobic and territorial, for as long as they have been known to the Confederacy of Vulcan, they have not engaged in such a large scale hostile act against another government. The V’Shar assessed them as being isolationists.”

“It’s the same for the Andorian Empire, we’ve never known them to take such unilateral action, without a reason.” Anthi commented. “We can only assume that the Romulans have carried out something against the Tholians to receive such a beating from them.”

“Pearl Harbour.” muttered Rodham. 

Anthi and T’Plau looked at Challenger’s  first officer perplexed at his statement while both Burton and Hennessey recognised the connection already. 

“Care to explain Commander Rodham?” Anthi quizzed.

Breathing in, Rodham explained his remark and the connection he was making. “Pearl Habour was a decisive battle during Earth’s second world war, which led to the United States of America declaring war against Japan and joining the Allies in their fight against the Axis powers. We know that the Romulans wish to dominate this area of space, perhaps they thought the Tholians were a threat and were concerned they would join the war effort against them if they didn’t strike first.”

“Obviously the Romulan intelligence network didn’t inform its military of the might and resolve of their Tholian counterparts.” Burton stated. “For all we know they’ve used their telepresence capturing device against the Tholians and this is their revenge for the Romulans using it against them.”

 “It would be wise for our governments to attempt to open diplomatic relations with the Tholians to determine if they would join the war effort. Another strong ally would most likely secure us a victory.” T’Plau suggested. 

“Either way, there are too many unanswered questions revolving around the Tholians.” Burton said, he took a sip from his mug of tea as he looked over to his communications officer. “Keeping up with the idea of trying to find answers, how did your expedition to Vulcan go, Ned?”

 Glancing to T’Plau, who remained still in her composure, Hennssey looked at his superior officer. “My expedition didn’t reveal the answers I was hoping to find. Access to the vast Vulcan linguistic database didn’t get me any further.” He took in a breath himself and after exhaling he apologised. “Sorry, sir. I was hoping that from the countless years of Vulcans exploring space they may have encountered something that may have pointed me in the right direction. Instead, all I found was more foggy answers.”

 Deflating in his seat, somewhat, Burton sighed at hearing that response. “That’s disappointing to hear. How long will it take for us to completely translate the Romulan database that the Discovery found then?”

“Without any further assistance, a complete translation of this magnitude along with a full decryption, my best guess is almost a century long.” Hennessey answered. “Even with our best linguists and cryptologists working around the clock, this database is so vast and complex.”

“A hundred years, really?” Anthi checked, the surprise in her tone evident. “That’s hard to believe.”

“This is truly an extension of the secretive nature of the Romulan people. How dense they make their database so secure and language so difficult to comprehend is testimony to their resolve in not being identified to their enemies.” T’Plau remarked. “By remaining secluded in this way, it gives them an upperhand to us.”

“The element of surprise will always remain.” Burton stated.

“Indeed.”

“Until they slip up.” Rodham added. “Hopefully that won’t take a century.” 

Silence fell on the room before Anthi broke it. “Fleet Captain Burton, have you made up your mind whether we attack another possible Romulan target?”

Considering the question for a second, Burton was almost certain on his gut instinct. “Not right now.” He replied. “We need to make our way home, back to our respective governments and with what we know. The Tholians have given us the upper hand for now, let’s use the time wisely. As I said earlier, let’s plan our next move, I don’t want to rush into something, yet.”

“Agreed.” T’Plau said in support.

Anthi nodded her head. “Agreed.”


Picking the crust of the apple pie with the end of his spoon, Commander Walker was certainly not in any rush in eating the dessert anytime soon. Sitting at one of the round tables in the ship’s mess hall, the chief science officer was taking a brief break from his duty on the bridge while the ship held its position since its rendezvous with the Jarok

“Are you going to eat it or continue to play with it?” Lieutenant Commander Sandoval questioned from the seat besides the chief science officer. Taking a sip from her mug of coffee, the gamma shift officer of the watch shook her head in the direction of her company’s lack of appetite and spoiling of such a nice thing to eat. 

“I’m not sure.” Walker answered as he poked at the ice cream that sat next to it. “Seeing how brutal the battle between the Romulans and Tholians was made me realise just how serious this war can get. I think it’s turned my stomach off from wanting nice things.”

Chuckling somewhat at his response, the Hispanic commander placed her mug down on the table. “Don’t let it do that.” She stated as the door to the mess hall opened, allowing Rodham to enter. 

Walker sat up at the sight of the pilot and first officer and called him over. “How’d the meeting go?”

Rodham just nodded, “Fine.” He said before stopping at the drink dispenser to grab a mug of a coffee. As the drink loaded up, he looked back to his fellow commanders. “We’re heading home.”

Both Sandoval and Walker sighed somewhat.  The sense of relief was clear in their expressions. 

“I take it the captain is eager to return to friendly territory?” Sandoval quizzed.

“Yeah, but the whole Tholian fiasco is leaving too many unanswered questions.” Rodham said as he took his coffee and joined his comrades at their table. 

“Their arrival and involvement against the Romulans  was certainly unexpected.” Walker stated as he pushed his spoon into the ice cream. “I’m surprised the captain doesn’t want us to hunt down some more Romulan targets.”

“Either way, I think it gives us some more breathing room.” Rodham said in between sips of his drink.

Sandoval picked up her mug and appeared unsure what Rodham meant by that comment. “What are you getting at Alex?”

Placing his mug down, Rodham shared his thoughts. “I was reading one of Michael’s log entries earlier,” Pausing at mentioning his late husband’s name, he took a breath, “and one thing came clear to me about this crew.”

“And what’s that?” Cooper wondered with a mouthful of ice cream and apple pie. 

“Captain Karim picked a very young and almost inexperienced crew. Most of them were straight out of Starfleet Training Command, some have Challenger as their second assignment.” Rodham stated. “Besides the original senior staff, Karim was planning to use Challenger as a way of empowering the next generation of Starfleet officers. Obviously, Burton inherited that and in the past year he and the others have had to deal with that while dealing with a war.”

“I’m going to say it again,” Sandoval said. “What are you getting at Alex?” 

“I think the Tholians saved us from our doom.” Rodham said. “If there’s anything I’ve noticed about what Michael said in his logs, was that if it wasn’t for the wide experience of the senior staff then Challenger may have not survived what it has encountered so much so far this year. My worry is, if we had gone into that battle just how much could we have survived with the lack of experience we have around us?”

“Do you think the senior staff lacks experience?” Walker asked, with a concerned expression. 

“Between us three, Kefira and Ned to some degree, the majority of our crew are very young. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing and that the likes of Rachele, Masuko and Luis haven’t earned their recent promotions…it’s just…” Rodham paused. 

“We’ve lost other key players like Levesque, Yu and…” Sandoval started.

“And Michael.” Rodham added, glumily. “I’m not saying we can’t do it, but we are now going to find ourselves more on the frontlines. Are we certain this crew is ready for constant engagements? I don’t mean just the physical readiness, but the mental readiness. For that I’m not certain.”

“You make a valid point Alex., so what do you suggest we do then?” Walker asked. “We can’t go to the captain with this without a solution. His focus needs to be on the war effort.”

“Indeed, so I think it needs to be down to us to deal with this.” Rodham said. “The meeting I’ve just come from proves that he needs to be thinking about the war and not worried that his crew isn’t ready to go when he issues orders. What I’m suggesting is we take people under our wings, a sort of buddy-mentor.”

“Almost like what Starfleet Training Command does with second year cadets and first year cadets. You’ll always have someone ahead of you that can watch your back.” Sandoval said, understanding Rodham’s plan. “Those of us who are experienced could divide up those on the senior staff who are new to the job as well as their deputies. Then if we get them to pick up on those junior to them, almost everyone on the ship would have someone.”

Nodding with what she said, Rodham agreed with her suggestion. “Exactly my thoughts as well.” He looked at Walker. “What do you say Cooper?”

“I’m in.” The science officer said. “Having someone else from a different department would certainly bring the crew a lot closer, just as the captain wanted.”

“Let’s get back together later tonight and put a list together. In the meantime, I’ll speak to the likes of Kefira and Ned about it.” Rodham said, he picked up his mug and finished the contents very quickly.  


Standing in the MACO barracks, informing his squads that the plans to attack the Romulans was no longer happening, Captain Trommler was handing out the last of assignments as he stood the MACO unit down from being combat ready. “Are there any questions?” He asked from behind the lectern. 

“Are we expecting that another offensive will take place?” asked Staff Sergeant Iyer. “It seems like a waste that everything we had planned to do at Rator couldn’t be used against a different, but similar target.”

“Sergeant, either way, we would have to adjust our tactics if another attack is planned.” commented First Lieutenant Alder. The MACO deputy lead stood beside Trommler with her hands behind her back. “Our next battle may not be like the Rator system.”

“Either way, we remain ready.” Trommler added. “If anything, our prep work shows just how ready this unit was. We’ll do it again, but I want better from everyone. So we will carry on with daily training for everyone.”

 There were a few groans and grumblings with that announcement.

“Anyone else?” Trommler asked his fellow comrades. 

Private Rafterty held his hand up and was encouraged by his superior to speak up. “Will the task force remain together?”

Shaking his head, Trommler explained why it wasn’t. “The Andorian and Vulcan elements have returned to their respective territories for now and Fleet Captain Burton isn’t sure yet what Starfleet Command will decide. That’s why we are all heading back to Earth.” Seeing that no-one else had questions, the captain dismissed everyone and looked to his deputy. “Sheridan, can I leave it down to you to begin work on adjusting our training sessions. I want everyone to have the chance to work with one another, not just their usual teams.” Trommler commanded as he handed her a tablet with his proposed ideas on it. 

 Taking the computer device, Adler just nodded. “Absolutely, sir.” She noticed someone appearing behind Trommler and smirked at him. “I’ll put this together and share my plans, once you’re free.” She indicated with her chin towards their visitor behind him.

Spinning almost on his heels to see who Adler was going on about, Trommler was caught off guard with the arrival of Ensign Avery. “Ensign, this is a surprise visit.”

Looking around the room, to ensure she was safe to speak, Avery stepped forward closer to him. “Well now that we are out of danger, for the time being, I was wondering if I could take you up on that offer of weapon’s training?”

Smirking at her, Trommler just nodded like an excited puppy. “Yeah, sure, that’s fine.”

“Great,” She said, “perhaps we could get dinner afterwards?”

“Absolutely.” Trommler agreed. “Weapons training can become hungry work.”

 “I bet.” Avery said as she started to turn away. “I get off from duty at eighteen hundred hours, shall I see you in the firing range then?”

“It’s a date.” Trommler said confidently, showing off his boyish charm. 

“See you then.” She finished as she walked away, having Trommler watch her as she did so. Knowing that he was staring, she flicked her hair behind her shoulder as she turned to him and gave him a wink before leaving the barracks.


For the first time in days, Lieutenant Stewart felt calm. It kind of helped that he was in the arms of his husband as they laid in their bed. He could feel Liam’s gentle breathing against his neck with his strong right arm across his chest, fingers intertwined with Niall’s right hand while his right leg was draped over Niall’s. Stewart was certainly comfortable from his husband’s body warmth. Who needed environmental controls when his husband was like a walking heater? However he couldn’t quite fall asleep. Instead he laid there in the darkness with his eyes wide open. Though they had missed the battle with the Romulans, their near-miss had become a topic of conversation among many on the crew that evening. 

Turning his head, he looked at his husband’s almost lifeless body while he remained in his deep sleep. The MACO soldier looked almost innocent in the way he was. It made Stewart love him even more and a smirk crept across his face.

“What’s wrong Niall?” Jenkins mumbled under his breath.

“Nothing, go back to sleep.” Stewart whispered, annoyed at himself for waking him up.

“I can’t when I know you’re staring at me.” Jenkins groaned as he pulled his husband closer to him. Their bare chests touching one another. “What’s on your mind?”

“Just what everyone else was saying tonight over dinner.” Stewart admitted. “About how lucky we’ve been, this round.”

Eyes opening slightly, Jenkins raised his head off his pillow somewhat. “Are you worrying about what could have been?”

“What could have been! What could be!” Stewart stated, still keeping his voice low. “I just don’t want to lose what we have here. You’re my whole world Liam.”

 “Right back at ya.” Jenkins said in his typical south-English accent. “But we still have what we have right now, so can we just enjoy it and sleep?”

Chuckling at his husband’s request, Stewart agreed and leant in to place a kiss on Jenkins’ lips. “Thank you.”

Kissing him in return, Jenkins smirked afterwards. “For what?”

“Being you.” Stewart said as he got comfortable in the arms of his husband. “And for being a great source of heat.”

“Anytime.” Jenkins replied as he pulled himself closer to his other half. “Anytime.”


“Burning the midnight oil, Ned?” Chef Lawson asked as she entered the almost empty crew lounge and recognised the chief communications officer sitting by himself with a pot of coffee and a mug on the table before him. Dotted around the table were numerous tablets while he worked on and reached for the mug.

“I didn’t think anyone else stayed up this late.” He responded back to the enlisted officer. 

“Now, I can’t have you having coffee by yourself.” Lawson said, grabbing a mug from a nearby shelf and approaching the communications officer.

“Have a seat.” Hennssey offered after placing his mug down and picking up the pot to pour into hers.

“Still hunting for buried treasure?” Lawson said, gesturing at the mess before them. 

“A new treasure chest in fact.” Hennessey clarified. “Tanisha has picked the lock of the Tholian upload we received, I’m just trying to get up to speed with what we have so we can catalogue our fortune.” 

“You’ve given up on the Romulan database?” Lawson inquired as she sipped on her hot beverage. 

“For now, yes.” Hennessey replied. “I’m going to hand it over to someone at Starfleet to deal with. It’s too valuable to have just on Challenger.” 

“Anything interesting from the Tholian datastream?” Lawson asked. 

 “I’ve got over fifty decryption algorithms working simultaneously right now.” He gestured towards his work. “I think the captain would appreciate some answers.”

“This whole situation does seem bittersweet if we don’t know the Tholians’ intentions.” Lawson added.

 He was about to agree with her when one of the tablets beeped making him pick it up. Hennessey’s eyes opened wide as he read its contents. “I think I may have something for the captain.”

“That soon?” Lawson asked.

“You must be my lucky charm, chef.” Hennessey said as he stood up. “Excuse me.” He added before quickly departing from the crew lounge. 


“And you’re certain about its authenticity?” Burton checked as he looked up at his chief communications officer. 

After being woken up by his door chime going off several times, Burton had pulled one of his black hoodies over his chest before allowing his midnight visitor in. Hennessey had almost shoved the tablet he had into his captain’s hands. 

Hennessey nodded. “I ran the checks on my way here.” 

Looking back at the message on the monitor that sat on his desk, Burton considered its content one more time. He had shared the information on the tablet to his desktop console so he didn’t have to strain his eyes on the smaller screen. “It would appear my hunch from earlier was correct. The Romulans did try to use the telepresence against the Tholians, but failed miserably.”

“Indeed, the only downside is the Tholians won’t participate in the war.” Hennessey said, sounding almost deflated since his find. 

“Nevertheless they’ve sent the message they wanted to send to the Romulans.” Burton said, looking back up at the communication officer. “Don’t mess with us or we’ll give you a bloody nose. This Admiral Jaimsekn was intent on not letting the Romulans think his people were a walkover.”

“What shall I do with the message sir?” Hennessey asked.

“Send it on a secure channel to Commanders Anthi and T’Plau, they can share it with their governments as they deem best fit. Once we reach Earth, I’ll hand it over to Starfleet as well as the Tellarite Embassy. I’m sure Ambassador Gouth would be interested.” Stifling a yawn, Burton covered his mouth with his right hand. “Nevertheless, the treasure they’ve given us will certainly help us.”

“At least some good has come out of this adventure.” Hennessey remarked.

“Indeed, Ned.” Burton smirked. “Thanks for letting me know. Now go get some sleep, we can pick this up in the morning.”

“Thank you, sir.” Hennessey replied before leaving the captain’s quarters.

After he was left alone with his own thoughts in his room, Burton turned to look out of the large window. He could see Voyager travelling alongside them at warp three as they headed home. “Thank you Admiral Jaimsekn, whoever you were and wherever you are now.” He muttered before he got back into bed. 

EPILOGUE

SGS-01 Kamala
Twelfth Session of Valtama, Third Season of the Regal Kaitaama Era

Knowing that his only chance of survival was to carry on fighting, First Prince Consort Kalluum looked around the command deck of the flagship of the Sovereign Guard and could see the brave soldiers fighting for the Sovereign Dynasty of Krios Prime. Their feud with the Klingon Empire was getting out of hand. What started out with simple raids was now bringing his people into full war. A war he knew that would devastate them entirely. His wife, the First Monarch, was worried that there was no way to avoid the conflict. 

While currently engaged with a pair of Klingon birds of prey, the Kamala was fighting back hard. The Klingons had originally been part of a small task group, all of whom had intercepted the flagship and its escorts out of nowhere. Knowing he shouldn’t have left the safety of his homeworld, Kalluum knew that his attempt in finding allies on behalf of his wife to help defend their people against the naked aggression of the Klingon Empire was crucial. 

The command deck of the Kamala was filled with smoke and several fires were dotted around the room. Those that were surviving and trying to keep the ship in one piece were being valiant with their efforts. All of them remaining at their posts. Being a former member of their armed services, Kalluum knew how important it was for them to uphold their pledge to defend the Sovereign Dynasty. For Queen and Empire!

When he noticed that the captain of the Kamala was lying dead on the deck plating, Kalluum attempted to ascertain who was in command. No one was left. Sighing heavily as he pushed a fallen bulkhead out of the way, the tall, muscular man made his way across as the ship rocked heavily after being hit by an external explosive shockwave. 

“What was that?” He asked anyone. 

“Your Royal Highness, it was the last Klingon ship being destroyed.” announced Kamala’s tracking officer. “Scanners indicate we are free from being pursued.”

Appreciating the good news that their attackers were gone and hopefully on their way to that godforsaken after life they believed in, Kalluum looked over to the young man who appeared to be the only surviving senior officer left on the command deck. “Any indication of that ship Her Majesty wishes for us to find?” 

“Scanners are not working at their best, Your Royal Highness.” came the response that Kalluum was not expecting. 

“That’s not the answer I want to hear.” Kalluum said as he moved across the command deck towards where the tracking officer stood. Seeing he wore the uniform of a midshipman, the First Prince Consort sighed. “Boost the sensors by connecting them into the main deflector.” 

“Yes, sir.”

“What’s your name?” Kalluum asked.

“Midshipman Fraanka, Your Royal Highness.” 

“A pleasure to meet you.” Kalluum said, trying to restore some regal decorum. The console that Fraanka was working beeped back at them. 

“Scanners have picked up what appears to be a similar warp signature of the ship Her Majesty wishes for us to find!” Fraanka announced. “It is surrounded by several other ships of a similar configuration.” 

“Is it the one she wanted us to find?” Kalluum checked.

Shaking his head, Fraanka explained he couldn’t determine at this range. 

“It will have to do.” Kalluum said as he went over to the pilot seat. Carefully taking the dead occupier out of the way. He programmed the ship’s navigation controls to take the ship out to faster-than-light speeds towards their target.

“I hope this Enterprise is everything Her Majesty desires.” Kalluum said, as he pressed the button that took the Kamala to high warp.