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Part of USS Lakota: Episode 2: A Parting of Ways

1 – The Prodigal Daughter Returns

Observation Lounge
Stardate 24016.6
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“So far, we’ve lost fourteen people to Giarvar and the Hypatia. Linn is the most senior to go.”

A wordsmith would be forgiven for looking at Keziah Nazir in that particular moment and coming up with no other word than dejected. As she stood at the window of the observation lounge and looked out at the massive science vessel to port, there was no other way she could feel. And whilst it wasn’t entirely Giarvar’s fault, she couldn’t help but harbour some resentment towards her former XO for the choices he had made in the last twelve hours. Almost fifty names had been presented to her to fill vacancies on his new ship, with over half of those originally identified on her ship. When she’d accepted his request to talk with people, she’d been confident that the majority would have chosen to stay with her and demonstrate that same loyalty she had shown them. She’d been mistaken. And there were still some who hadn’t made their decisions. There was one choice that had hurt her the most.

“Peri,” she somberly corrected her XO. “Peri’s going. It was a choice between her and Or’uil, and I just…”

“No brainer Captain,” Noli confidently retorted, an expert lie designed to make her Captain feel better about the decision. It was, in fact, as far from being a ‘no brainer’ as it could be. An impossible choice; to choose between a colleague you had served with for some time, or the second officer who had become integral to your command in recent weeks was an unenviable task, and she was glad she hadn’t had to make the choice. Or’uil was like a brother to Noli, they had developed a strong bond in the last year, but she was XO now and had to make decisions for the good of the ship and crew. Peri was the more experienced officer, and well-decorated. She’d proven herself invaluable in recent weeks. On paper, she was perhaps the most logical choice to keep, but Nazir had made the call to keep Or’uil. The Trill was guilty of nothing more than surrendering to her feelings, but that was a luxury commanding officers could ill afford.

Sitting at the table, back to the door, Noli was quietly seething. Giarvar was an asshole for putting the Captain in this position in the first place, and that was coming from someone who liked him a great deal. He had his own command, and the Osiris to choose from, yet he opted to recruit so many from Lakota instead. Perhaps he would be the fantastic commanding officer Nazir hoped, he was certainly showing the ruthless determination one required in such a role, but did he have to do it at Nazir’s expense?

“It goes to show that we have built such a talented crew that we are the envy of other commanding officers,” she told brashly, “they only come for people they want because the people they want are the best. We assembled those people and should be proud of that fact,” Noli told the Captain, watching the elder woman very closely.

“Perhaps you are right,” Nazir frowned, her voice remaining low as if she didn’t believe her own words. “It still hurts,” that stung the Bajoran, and it was right from the Captain’s heart.

Pushing herself out of the seat using the table for leverage, the Bajoran joined her CO at the window. “Captain, look on the bright side. We’ve only lost two of our most experienced officers,” she smiled, trying to be reassuring for the Captain’s sake.

“I’d like to think I make up for at least one of those, if not both…”

Spinning on their heels upon hearing the voice from behind, the whole mood in the room shifted in an instant, as if all of their troubles had been forgotten thanks to the arrival of a more than familiar face. And in that moment, where all seemed to be forgotten, Noli let out a childlike squeal of glee, rounding the observation lounge table as quickly as she could to throw her arms around the owner of the voice. There was an audible ‘Ooof’ as the pair embraced, grins from both lighting up the room.

“Prida!” Keziah smiled joyously as she rounded the table herself and offered a hand to her friend.

As soon as Noli let the Bajassian go, Prida took Nazir’s hand and then pulled her in for a far more professional greeting than Noli had offered her. Once the physicalities were complete, Noli reached out and used three of her fingers to gently spin the hollow rank pip on her best friend’s collar.

“You kept that quiet!” she chastised her friend with a playful slap on the arm, before perching on the table behind her.

“Turns out, saving a ship and crew can bring great reward,” Prida smiled sheepishly, her own fingers toying with the recent addition to her collar. She then looked at Keziah, who was leaning on one of the chairs for support. “Captain Romaes sends his regards ma’am, and hopes that my new rank won’t be a problem in my return,” the black-haired beauty smiled hopefully.

“I’d have been more disappointed if you hadn’t got such a reward,” Nazir shook her head, pulling out the chair she was leaning on and gesturing for Prida to join her, and Noli, at the table. “I’m glad to have you back, Commander.” Her words were meaningful, and full of pride in her returning Chief Engineer.

The hairs on the back of Prida’s neck bristled as she heard her new rank title again, still far from being used to it. “So,” she reached forward, eager to move the conversation on from her, “where shall we begin?”

In the hours that passed, officers came and went whilst Nazir remained in her place at the head of the observation lounge table, engrossed in data PADDs, reports and situational dilemmas. One dilemma she was about to resolve, thankfully. She’d been waiting a little while now, but caught a glimpse of the approaching Or’uil out of the corner of her eye.

“Come in Lieutenant,” she waved the Ungeat into the chair beside her that was usually reserved for Number One, and relaxed into her own.

“Thank you Captain,” the Ungeat nodded, dutifully obeying her instruction and taking his seat beside her. “I understand today must have been tough, Captain. Whilst it is disappointing to see so many of our colleagues depart, it is pleasing to have Prida return, with a deserved rank increase if I may say so.”

Nazir watched the youngster cock his head, and bob and weave as he spoke, his unique body movements always piquing her curiosity. There was still so much to learn about him and his people, despite having known him for what felt like an age now. The honesty he exhibited and, supposedly shared by others of his kind, was always refreshing. He was, as always, right.

“It’s actually one of those departures I wanted to talk to you about,” Nazir smiled wearily, “if you have time?”

“Of course Captain,” his voice increased a few decibels in pitch, as it often did when he was happy or keen to engage in something. He was always happy to be at the Captain’s beck and call, eager to assist her in any way he could.

“I have a confession Or’uil,” the Captain began, with the Ungeat silently watching her every move, listening to her every word. “I fear I have been selfish, and prevented you from an exciting opportunity to advance your career,” she told him, to an almost childlike stare. “Captain Kauhn presented his shortlist of candidates for the tactical position aboard the Hypatia.”

“A very short list indeed, given the only names on it were that of Commander Peri and myself,” the Ungeat responded, a little perplexed as to the reason for the Captain’s subsequent laugh. “I can assure you, Captain, that I am quite content here on Lakota and have no desire to go anywhere else at present,” his words were designed to put the Captain at ease, and they seemed to have the desired effect.

“I’m grateful to hear you say that, Or’uil. I am,” the Captain smiled, then sat forward and looked at him with a more serious expression. “I’m known to value loyalty, Lieutenant. And as such, I want to promote you, permanently, to the role of Chief Tactical Operations Officer. No more shifting around, no more crawling through Jefferies tubes late at night. You are respected here, Or’uil, and more importantly, you care about your shipmates. I want someone like that in charge of our security. What do you say?” Her cautiousness wasn’t needed, as the reply was instant from the adolescent.

“I serve at your pleasure, Captain. Wherever you need me, I will go,” he responded with a nod, pleased to accept her offer.

Rising to her feet, the relief she felt was evident all over her tired face. Or’uil rose to meet her and both exchanged a brief handshake. But instead of releasing his grip at the end, the Ungeat’s grip grew tighter, causing the Captain to grimace in pain until the much stronger man let go. The relief from the pain was felt for only a mere moment as the realisation that something more sinister was afoot sunk in.

Or’uil collapsed to the floor, convulsing violently, entirely unresponsive to audible stimuli as the Captain fell to her knees beside him and tried to rouse him. Distraught at the sight of her young colleague in such pain, she turned her head towards the open door to the bridge and yelled at the top of her lungs.

“Someone help!”