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Part of USS Challenger: Mortal Temples

Mortal Temples – 6

USS Challenger NCC-92421
July 2401
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“Sir, I’d like to talk to you about my quarters.”

Tarven looked up at his First Officer. He was sure the exasperation he felt was written clearly on his features. PADDs with various legal precedents were strewn across his desk, and the Starfleet manual on asylum hearings was on his main display. He was roughly twelve hours from the beginning of said hearing, and Captain Axelrod’s most pressing issue was his quarters.

“Is this really the time?”

Axelrod was undeterred. “With all due respect, you’ve ignored the messages I’ve sent on this topic, so you’ve left me with little choice.”

“What’s your problem?” Tarven asked with a resigned sigh. “The VIP quarters we have you in not fancy enough for you?”

Tarven watched Axelrod fold his arms. “This isn’t about comfort. This is about-”

“You wanting to evict Commander Bentley from the quarters he shares with Captain Forrester,” Tarven quickly intervened.

Axelrod rolled his eyes. “Sir, Captain Forrester is dead.”

“According to you.” Tarven shot back.

The sharpness of Tarven’s tone didn’t seem to faze Axelrod. “Not just me. Commodore Wyatt, the Fourth Fleet and Starfleet Command all concur; he’s dead. For the crew and Commander Bentley, to move on, you need to accept that.”

“Oh, I see,” Tarven replied. “You want to evict Commander Bentley from his home to help him move on. How selfless of you.”

Timing is everything and the perfectly timed sound of the door chime cut across Axelrod’s reply. Tarven quickly ushered the new arrival inside. As if he could sense they were talking about him, Commander Matthais Bentley strode into the room.

Tarven wasn’t proud of taking pleasure in the way the colour drained from Axelrod’s face, but take pleasure, he did. “I’ve set the Antallan Lord Chancellor up in the VIP quarters on the port side.”

“Looks like you have a new neighbour, Mister Axelrod,” Tarven sat back in his chair. “Though maybe not for much longer if you have your way.”

Bentley smirked. “Still trying to get me evicted?”

“Those quarters are reserved for the CO or their Exec,” Axelrod replied. “You are neither.”

Tarven tried hard not to roll his eyes. “That’s for the Commanding Officer to decide,” Bentley pointed out, “which you are not.” His shoulders slumped, and he sighed loudly before announcing, “You can have them.”

“What?”

“What?”

Both men’s simultaneous reaction elicited a satisfied smile from Bentley, but it quickly disappeared. “Are you sure?” Tarven asked.

“They say home is where the heart is,” Bentely replied with a shrug. He rubbed his forehead before dragging his hand down his face. “Those quarters haven’t felt like home since Tom disappeared. If Captain Axelrod wants them so badly, he can have them. I’ll speak to the Quartermaster to arrange new quarters and move my stuff.”

The smug, satisfied smile on Axelrod’s face was unbearable. “Well, it looks like you’ve won, Captain,” Tarven announced. “Enjoy your new quarters. I hope they make you happy.” He wondered how a man who had led such a sad little life could have risen so high. “Is there anything else?”

“There is,” Axelrod said, placing his hands on the back of one of the visitors’ chairs. He leaned forward and continued, “I think this asylum hearing is a mistake. We should return Neema to her people. These negotiations are too important to have them derailed by one person.”

It would certainly make life easier to hand Neema over, but she accused King Deo of being involved in the murder of his predecessor. Meanwhile, they were levelling the same accusations at her. That crime would carry the death penalty on Antalla, and Tarven wasn’t willing to hand a person over to a certain death without attempting to get to the truth.

“Is this you talking or Commodore Wyatt?” Bentely asked.

Axelrod rounded on him. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“When you spoke, you sounded a lot like Wyatt,” Bentley replied. “I thought maybe she was trying out her new hobby by throwing her voice while she has her hand up your-”

“That’s enough, Commander,” Tarven quickly interjected.

In two long steps, Axelrod closed the distance between him and Bentley. “It must be nice for you, wearing the red of command without any of the responsibilities or burdens that entails. You just sit at the Captain’s shoulder, giving him advice but never being the one to put your neck on the line, to stand front and centre and make the tough calls. It must be real nice.”

“Big words from a man who spent his career as a staff officer, advising others while they stood front and centre and made the tough calls.” Bentely snarled. “You puff yourself up all you want, Captain, but I see you for the empty shirt you are.”

While Tarven enjoyed watching Bentley lay into Axelrod, he couldn’t let them tear strips off each other like this. He jumped to his feet and slammed the palm of his hand on the surface of his desk. “That’s enough, both of you.” He roared, ignoring the pain shooting through his hand. “Captain Axelrod, I understand your concerns, but the decision is mine. If these negotiations fail, it’s on me. I’ll face the repercussions. Now, if there’s nothing else, you’re dismissed.”

Axelrod and Bentley hadn’t moved. Both men were standing nose to nose, staring each other out. A cold fire burned in Bentley’s ice-blue eyes. From what he knew of Matthais Bentely, he wasn’t prone to violence. But at that moment, Tarven believed the Diplomatic Officer was seconds from lashing out.

“I said you’re dismissed, Captain,” Axelrod snapped out of his starting match with Bentley. He briefly glared at Tarven before turning his heel and storming out of the ready room. When he was gone and the door closed firmly behind him, Tarven warned, “You don’t wanna make an enemy of him.”

Bentley snorted as he stepped around a chair and flopped down in it. “I think that ship’s sailed,” he said.

“Yeah,” Tarven rubbed his sore hand as he sat back down. “Are you sure you’re okay giving up your quarters?”

Tarven was glad Axelrod wouldn’t be hounding him about this issue anymore, but letting his First Office win and force Bentely out of the home he shared with his missing boyfriend didn’t sit right with him.

“It doesn’t matter where I’m living,” Bentely replied. “It won’t be home, just where I lay my head at night.” He let out a long sigh. “Y’know, I hate to admit it, but the Axe has a point.”

Tarven grinned. “The crew better hope that Axelrod never finds out that you guys call him that.”

“He’d probably like it,” Bentley replied.

Probably, Tarven silently agreed. The throbbing in Tarven’s hand wasn’t going away, signalling that a visit to Sickbay was perhaps in his future. “You think we should?”

“No,” Bentley replied emphatically. “These negotiations are important, but just because it’s the easy thing to do doesn’t mean it’s the right one. If she even got a trial, it would only be for show. We’d be condemning her to death.” 

Tarven motioned to the PADDs around him. “I should get back to brushing up on my hearing procedures.”

“Right,” Bentely pushed himself to his feet. “Oh, I almost forgot. The King has requested we broadcast the hearings to his people.”

That’s just great, Tarven thought with a groan. “Why?”

“Something about wanting a transparent process, not hiding the facts from his people, blah blah blah.”

Tarven looked up questioningly at Bentley. “You don’t trust his reasons?”

“I don’t trust him,” Bentley replied. “I think he’s going to use this hearing to establish Neema’s guilt in front of his people and box you in.”

Pain shot through Tarven’s hand when he slammed it down on his desk again, and his wince did not go unnoticed, judging by the look on Bentely’s face. Moving to the command track had seemed like a good idea at the time, but more and more, Tarven longed for the simplicity of working with warp engines. They didn’t play games, lie, obfuscate, or mislead. He envied Captain Rosetti. “And if we deny his request, he’ll accuse us of hiding something.”

“And that we’re in league with Neema,” Bentley added.

Tarven took a long breath. “Fine, allow him to broadcast the hearing.”

“And hope it doesn’t blow up in our face.”