Part of Challenger: Birds Of A Feather


Challenger NX-03, in orbit of Denobula
Friday, February 28th, 2155
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Sweat dripped from the captain’s face and covered most of his blue t-shirt as he pushed himself further and further. There was no way he was going to allow Michael to beat him in their daily morning jog, which most recently had turned into a competition to see who could outpace the other. Today he felt he was winning, as the chief engineer seemed to be having difficulty keeping his focus.

“Not slowing down on me are you Michael?” Burton mocked in between breaths.

Stanton gave out a short laugh at the captain’s question. “Not one bit sir, I just don’t want to embarrass you again!”

“Ha!” Burton blurted out and pushed himself to engage in a sprint along the last part of their route down the corridors of E deck. He began moving ahead of the engineer with some ease.

Stanton on the other hand was not having any of it and began to catch up with his superior officer with a lot more ease. He may have been having difficulty focussing but he had noticed he wasn’t sweating as much as the captain. This may be given to the fact he only wore a black vest and matching shorts while the captain had opted for a t-shirt and jogging bottoms that were a lot thicker and slightly heavier to run in. The chief engineer was now matching his captain and was running by his side. They both went around the final corner and saw their finish line ahead: the doors to the mess hall. Standing by them with a stopwatch in her hands was Commander Levesque. 

“Last one there has to get the first round of drinks in for tonight’s game.” Burton shouted as he once again pushed harder and began moving away from Stanton. Soon enough he defeated the engineer at their finish location by a second. 

“Impressive.” Levesque said to both men after they stopped and were getting their breaths back. She handed them both a towel each and showed them their times.

“You almost had me.” Burton admitted to the engineer as they followed Levesque into the mess hall. 

“You cheated by distracting me!” Stanton protested as he wiped his forehead with the towel.

“Captain’s prerogative!” Burton countered back as all three senior officers approached the counter with what Chef Lawson had prepared for the breakfast buffet. Normally at meal times they would have been served in the captain’s mess together but since Burton and Stanton had begun their morning run they had told Challenger’s meal provider not to worry and just to leave enough for them at the counters. “But you do have to get the first round in tonight!” He added.

Stanton just threw his hands up in surrender and nodded to the agreement.

The three senior officers had been sharing their evening meals together (another ritual they all seemed to have started since Challenger’s launch) and would be watching the latest recording of the San Francisco Giants sent to Commander Levesque from her sister. In the past couple of weeks Levesque had persuaded both male officers to join her in watching the sport. Burton had never enjoyed baseball prior, but he did enjoy the time spent getting to know his two senior most officers.

As they grabbed their breakfast the captain paused to look around the busy mess hall. Most of the alpha shift was here getting a bite to eat before their day started. Some were in deep conversations with each other while others were watching what was being projected on the furthest wall. A couple of weeks ago Second Engineer Masuko had supported Nurse Stewart’s proposal of having a weekly movie night. Levesque had agreed to it and Stanton’s people had rigged up a large screen. While they had been in orbit of Denobula, Ensign Hennessey had organised for the ship to receive local media coverage and right now a morning news show was being televised. Burton looked at what they were watching and the programme was recalling the latest headlines involving the Coalition talks. He paused to take in what the female Denobulan news anchor was saying.

“Yesterday Premier Nerlox and key members from all sides of the political spectrum met with Secretary Campbell’s group to discuss Denobula’s return to the negotiation table when talks surrounding the finalisation of the Coalition of Planets’ Compact resume on Earth in a few days’ time. Here’s what the Earth Foreign Secretary had to say about the talks.” She stopped to look off screen as a video clip of Madilyn Campbell appeared as she exited from the Denobulan Chambers of Congress with Andorian Ambassador Magerit at her side. 

Secretary Campbell, Ambassador Magerit, how did today’s talks go?” A reporter among several dozen asked in a hasty tone before shoving what must have been a microphone in their direction.

Campbell spoke up to answer. “Very well thank you. Meeting the Denobulan people and their elected representatives has been extremely productive. I truly hope that they all can see the benefits of joining us in the talks on Earth.

Margerit added her opinion too. “I’m confident that the Denobulan people will see that by taking the next step in developing their relationships with their galactic friends we can ensure the shared belief of peaceful collaboration is a worthy goal for all spacefaring civilisations to aspire to.” 

The image quickly returned back to the female news anchor and Lloyd was about to turn around and suggest to his companions they retreat to his private dining hall when he caught the end of what the news anchor was saying in his peripheral vision. As such he turned back to look at it. He would later regret doing that.

No matter how big of a profile this visit has been for the various representatives, nothing compares to the attention that has been put on legendary starship captain, Lloyd Burton of the Earth ship Challenger.”

A round of cheers soon erupted around the room and Burton groaned inwards to hear what she just said. Legendary? He thought. He had barely commanded the Challenger for a month and they were describing him as legendary! He stood in disbelief and amazement as everyone quietened down to hear what the news reporter was saying as an image of him appeared to the side of her. He didn’t think it was a flattering one. The photographer had caught him with Levesque and Stanton either side of him, arriving at one of many state dinners they had been invited to. All of them were in their dress uniforms.

Captain Burton, seen here attending last night’s state dinner, has achieved celebrity status among many in the population. Captain Burton, who only recently assumed command of Earth’s third warp five capable starship, was the leader of the Earth teams that helped in the search and rescue after the terrible seismic-quakes that afflicted the colony on Pherflex at the end of last year. The other day Captain Burton, along with other members of his crew, visited the colony to see how they were progressing with the rebuilding effort. Governor Feelox awarded Captain Burton and his MACO commander, who had also been part of the rescue teams, with the Compassion Star Medal in gratitude for their efforts. The Governor went on to ask Captain Burton to share the award with those from his previous ship that had helped out too; this also included sharing the medal with the family of the Starfleet officer who had died while helping trapped children.

Another round of applause filled the mess hall and Burton felt his cheeks go red. He had hoped that Major Yu’s and his visit to the colony wouldn’t have been made a big deal, especially as returning to the place where Ros, his fiancée, had died. Nevertheless Secretary Campbell insisted on Burton undertaking the trip as a gesture of goodwill in helping with the talks. Now he looked towards Levesque and Stanton who both wore smirks on their faces. Stanton gave him a cheeky wink of approval.

Not only is the Captain a hero to the Pherflex colonists but since his arrival on Denobula he has been out and about visiting various community groups across the homeworld and engaging with them. Many have said his visits have started a craze, with many of his followers coming being teenagers and young adults. Numerous of his fans have been declaring that he is quite a heartthrob for a non-Denobulan. They either want to be him by joining Starfleet or want to marry him. Captain Burton you certainly rock-

At that point Burton stopped listening, rolled his eyes and quickly made his way towards the entrance of his private dining hall as more cheers and applause filled the room. His crew were all in support of his efforts. He was completely embarrassed by the entire media hype.  Seconds later, Levesque and Stanton had followed him in and were now sitting down at the table in the centre of the room. The captain sat at the head of the table and could feel his unease plastered across his face. Neither Levesque nor Stanton said anything at first as the three of them settled down to eat their breakfasts. Nevertheless both commanders had grins they were trying to hide.

“Well at least if the Secretary’s mission doesn’t go well we can count on the captain’s groupies to help persuade the Denobulan government to join the Coalition. You’re just as famous like that huge British boy band from the early twenty-first century…oh what were they called?” Stanton inquired after the silence became too much for him to not say anything. He leant over to pick up the glass jug of orange juice that sat in the middle and began filling up three glasses. He looked at Levesque as he finished his remark and passed her the glass he had made for her. Gratefully she took it and her smirk grew, knowing that their captain was slightly mortified by what had just been said. Burton by this time had dropped the fork of bacon he was about to chew on and glared at Michael with a look that could kill. Attempting to act innocently, Stanton looked at his captain as he passed him his glass of orange juice and simply said; “What?” as to say he didn’t know what he had done wrong. “They were huge back then as well, won lots of awards and released billions of albums and were considered heartthrobs too!”

Levesque chuckled at the engineer’s teasing and leant over to place an assuring hand on Burton’s hand that had just held his fork. “Captain I think it’s a good thing that you’re having a positive influence on the Denobulan public. This is a big step for their civilisation to be joining a wider family and as you know they’re big on family values. They need to know they can truly trust us beyond us being trading partners and sharing scientific information. Your work here is contributing to the success of those talks that Secretary Campbell is leading.”

For the second time that day Burton rolled his eyes and looked to his first officer after almost burning a hole into his chief engineer from the glare he had given him. “Thank you Commander, I didn’t know these intercultural visits would become…” He paused not knowing what to call it. “this!” He said, gesturing with his hands in no particular direction. 

Secretary Campbell had requested for him and the crew to do a lot of publicity visits to various events, from touring schools, hospitals, research laboratories, manufacturing warehouses, museums, shops and art galleries. That was on top of attending meetings with various politicians and community groups. She had hoped it would broaden the message they were trying to share with the Denobulans. An “on the ground approach was needed”, she had said, she wanted them speaking with the regular population and not just the politicians.

Burton then looked back at Stanton; being British he had gone through the British education system and knew his history well, including knowing which boy band he was referring to. “And Commander, don’t you ever compare me to any boy band from the twenty-first century unless you want to be spending a week scrubbing the plasma exhausts with a toothbrush!”

Stanton chuckled and simply responded with, “Aye sir!” before sipping on his orange juice, still smirking at the fact he may not have won this morning’s jog but he had won another round of winding his new captain up.

Ben-Ami placed her hand on the crewman’s shoulder as she guided him from sickbay; she had just spent the last hour in a therapy session talking through how he was taken by the Orions. She had spent the last few weeks using her listening and therapeutic skills to help the crew, for the most part the traumas were short lived, the crew were resilient, a compliment to the training they undertook with Starfleet – but at the end of the day they were still Human, and still fallible and intrinsically affected by problems they took great pains to hide from the outside world. 

“Thank you Ro’fa” said the crewman as he crossed the threshold of sickbay, he wiped away the last tear and smiled bravely at her, “Thank you so much” he hugged her.

She returned the hug; sometimes professional and clinical detachment had to be pushed aside when a person needed that human contact, that reassurance that could only be conveyed via a hug.

“Evan, you’re doing well. It’ll take time, but you’ll get there.” she let him go, and watched him walk away. Once he was gone she stepped back into sickbay and locked the door behind her, walking over to the main table she lifted a data-slate and pressed the record button.

“Therapy Session Eleven – Crewman Evan Davies. – Ro’fa Ben-Ami. Penultimate session of cognitive behavioural therapy. Final goal setting has been set, Evan has learnt the coping mechanisms and strata-based interventions from our sessions. He is no longer plagued with recurring nightmares of Orion slavers, although he does still have issues regarding the kidnapping; he has learnt that focusing on the past is not beneficial to his future development. Mood diary completed, and shows labile mood with poor affect.”

“Mental State Examination- Appearance- Well-dressed man of twenty-four, excellent personal hygiene and dress. Appropriate for time, location and intent. No signs of inappropriate dressing indicative of formal thought or mood disorder. No overt signs of substance misuse. Rapport- Fully cooperative, easily established rapport. No attempt to reserve congruence.”

“Behaviour- Congruence easily established and maintained throughout session. Rapid eye-movement when discussing matters of emotional intelligence and awareness. Mild non-clinical dyskinesia is evident by two issues of choreoathetosis, as mentioned in previous therapy records. Prescribed procyclodine-decanoate previously was reduced from 20 in the last session. Query psychomotor retardation? Parkinsonian facial akinesia? Mood- Previous alexithymic presentation no longer present. Evan presents as euthymic. Affect- Congruence established and maintained throughout. Non-verbal communication in-keeping with expressed thoughts and feelings. Previous blunted effects are no longer present. Full emotional responsive range apparent and utilised appropriately.  

“Subjectively- ‘Feeling on a pretty even keel. Objectively- Signs of liability of mood. No indication of formal mood disorder.  Speech- Spontaneous and appropriate. Staggered word choice and some substitution are evident, although minor and due to linguistic background. Thought Process- Normal; quantity, tempo, flow and form. No signs of flight of ideas or pressure of speech. No abnormality in thought formation and implementation.  Thought Content- No delusions, phobias or preoccupations. Slightly overvalued ideas relating to relationships with fellow crewmembers. No sign of formal thought disorder.”

“Perceptions- No sign of hallucinations, pseudo-hallucinations, illusions. Cognition- No issues with alertness, orientation, attention, memory, visuospatial functioning, language and executive functions. No signs of cognitive impairment.” 

“Conclusion- Remaining CBT session shall bring to an end previous discussions and lead to Evan having the coping mechanisms to deal with his issues without relying on professional intervention. Diagnosis – Adjustment Disorder F-three-two-one-point-x.”

Kefira set down the data-slate and ran her fingers through her hair, she then pressed the communication panel on the desk, “Bridge, this is Ro’fa Ben-Ami. Could you ask the Captain to pop-down to sickbay?”

Yes ma’am, however the captain isn’t on duty for another half an hour.” Came the response from a female officer.

“When he is available then.” Ben-Ami said. “Sickbay out.”

Burton had been told of his Chief Medical Officer’s request to see him when he had turned up on the bridge after finishing breakfast. Before visiting the bridge he had returned to his quarters so he could have a shower and get changed into a fresh clean uniform. He was surprised to hear that Ben-Ami was up so early. Approaching the double doors of sickbay, he tapped the side button to open them. He walked in and found the good doctor sitting at one of the side stations, typing up a report of some type.

“Morning Kefira, you wanted to see me?” He wondered as he stopped less than a meter away from her.

Kefira smiled at the ship’s commander, “Yom tov Captain” she gestured for him to come in, “I thought you’d want to know I have completed my full after-action psych reports”

“That’s good to hear.” He responded. “What are the results?” 

She looked at the data-tablet, “Everyone who was abducted has gone through a full psychological debrief, and the effects of the assault will have far reaching effects on Challenger, but there is one person I am quite concerned about, this crewmember is probably more affected by the assault than any other, but feels he cannot come to me and talk about it.”

“Who?” Burton asked concerned about this matter as he crossed his arms and frowned slightly. Already he was going through the list of those that had been kidnapped and he was pretty certain they had all gone to see her.

Be-Ami looked solemnly at her superior officer, “That would be you Captain.”

Burton was quite taken back by the remark. “M-me?” He stuttered out. “What…where…why…you’ve lost me Kefira.” He said perplexed at trying to understand where she was coming from.

“Yes you” she looked at him, “My remit is not only the physical and mental health of the crew, but also of the most vital member of the crew…the Captain.” she stood up and lent against the edge of a work-surface, “You are the Captain of one of the first Warp five starships, you were selected from many candidates to serve as the embodiment of Earth and our societies, it’s a lot of pressure to put on anyone’s shoulders, and then on your first mission to have your ship attacked and some of your crew abducted and brutalised…well it’s not just something you can take in your stride and chalk down to experience” she leant forward slightly, “Captain, I am the only person on this ship to whom you can talk about this type of thing without fearing you are revealing too much of your true self to your subordinates, I am in and out of your chain of command at the same time. I am concerned that this attack has affected you more than you realise.”

“Well when you put it like that…” Burton started off with. In all honesty he hadn’t taken time to sit down and reflect on what had happened and the implications it had on him. “In all honesty I was more focussed on getting our crew back and completing this mission.”

She nodded, “I can understand that Captain, but by not allowing yourself time to come to terms with what has happened.” she placed her hand on his arm, “You are under more pressure than any member of this crew can understand, but you can always talk to me” she smiled at him and added with a laugh, “After all I’m the only one on the ship who can overrule you”

“Thank you Kefira, I’ll take your words on board and take some to think about it all.” He said with a reassuring smile. He noted the gentle hand gesture on his arm and he wasn’t too sure how to take it. “Is there anything else?” He asked. 

The two officers went on to talk about a few other matters regarding those that had been kidnapped and when the captain was satisfied with everything he needed to know he left sickbay and returned to the bridge to resume his morning duties.

Earth Embassy, Denobula

“Again Premier Nerlox this is great news! One I know many of my colleagues will be happy to hear about.” Campbell said as she looked at the large screen before her.

The success of persuading Congress to hold a referendum is down to you and your team Madam Secretary. I’ve never seen Speaker of the House Groznik being persuaded by someone outside of his party, let alone a non-Denobulan.” The Denobulan leader spoke from the cosy confines of his office in the Denobulan capital city. “In the meantime I will instruct Ambassador Vesneki to attend the talks and await confirmation from the referendum if the Denobulan people wish to join the Coalition.

Currently Secretary Campbell was leaning against the edge of the sofa within the room that the Earth Embassy had assigned to her to use as an office and meeting room during her stay on Denobula. The plush and elegant styles of furniture in the room were of the similar style used in Prime Minister Samuels’ office back on Earth. 

Delighted to hear that Vesneki, the Denobulan ambassador to Earth, would be returning to the negotiation table, Campbell carried on her conversation with the Denobulan Premier, whom she knew so well. “It’s a start Norlox; we still have several meetings scheduled for the rest of today and tomorrow that I wish for us to keep. Are you happy for us to carry on?”

Of course Madilyn, I enjoy having you back on Denobula. In fact, Marlisa and I are having a family dinner tonight, why don’t you all join us tonight to celebrate what we’ve achieved so far?” 

“That sounds wonderful Norlox, I’ll tell the others.” Campbell said, still smiling.

And invite Captain Burton and his senior staff too. His efforts with engaging with the Denobulan people have been received in the highest of esteem.” Nerlox added between breaths. “I must go; I have a meeting with the cabinet shortly. I’ll have my office send details over to the Embassy about tonight. Good day Madam Secretary.”

“And to you Mister Premier.” Campbell said with a slight bow of her head before the screen went blank. As soon as it did she turned round to see her husband and the rest of her staff standing to one side, all with similar big grins on their faces too.

 “Congratulations Madam Secretary.” Jane Hennessey, her deputy chief of staff, said first.

 “Thank you,” Campbell replied in her direction before looking at them all. “To you all, we couldn’t have achieved this big landmark victory without your hard work too. Let’s make sure we pass on the good news to Captain Burton and his crew too.”

There was a slight grunt from her husband and when she looked at him her expression changed from one of delight to one of pure irritation. 

“You’re really going to consult with Starfleet’s latest pinup boy?” He said.

Madilyn looked at the rest of her staff. “Guys we need a minute.”

Jane Hennessey replied with a simple, “Of course,” and ushered everyone else out of the room before closing the door behind her. 

Madilyn watched as they filed out of the room and then looked at her husband; who was now wearing a similar expression to hers: one of annoyance. She crossed her arms against her chest as she walked over to him. “You can’t talk to me like that.” Madilyn told him in a firm voice as she moved to stand face to face with him.

Robert had his hands originally in his trouser pockets; he pulled out his left one and waved it slightly in defence to his side as he spoke. “What? I can’t tell you the truth?”

“That was inappropriate and it makes the staff uncomfortable.” She argued back.

He huffed. “Oh come on, I didn’t say anything none of them were thinking-”

Madilyn didn’t let him finish as she began talking over the top of him in a more raised voice, forcing him to stop talking. “It’s not just what you said; it’s also how you said it.”

“Oh, so how I speak to my wife is now a problem?” He threw back. “Listen I’m your husband and if I can’t-”

Again she interrupted him. “Yes that’s right Robert, you’re my husband. That’s the problem. It’s always been the problem Robert.”

There was a moment of silence as both took in what she had verbally punched at him. Robert now had placed his hands on his hips and then pointed his left hand towards her. “I have supported you,” He started in a lower tone of voice, “I have worked for you, I have backed you up your entire political career.” He said, now raising his voice at her. “And I did it because I know how important-”

 “And this can’t be seen as an extension of our marriage Rob.” She snapped back. “That comment there about Burton was out of line and unprofessional. What the hell do you think that looks like to everyone else when the Foreign Secretary’s husband, who is also her chief of staff, is making comments like that? The lines are getting blurred, Rob. In here you’re my chief of staff first, remember that!”

“Madilyn do you hear yourself?” Robert said after another moment of silence between them. “Starfleet is taking away the hard work you and I have put in to this administration. You’ve been attending meetings non-stop to persuade these lazy politicians to join us in something that will be far greater than anyone thought possible while Burton is lapping up all the media hype and attention from the real work. This Coalition has no recourse yet Madilyn; we have no allies, no infrastructure. I mean we can’t do anything to keep the likes of Margerit and anyone else inline.” 

“That’s the idea Robert.” Madilyn countered with. “You just said it yourself, we need allies. Putting this coalition together is going to be hard work, but once the rules are in place we will have a better chance at making things run smoother. In the meantime we need the likes of Captains Burton, Archer and Hernandez going out there and proving to the others that we are serious, and by we I mean Earth. We need to show them all that Earth means business and that Humanity has a lot to offer the intergalactic stage. So don’t belittle whatever Burton is doing, it’s helping. Are we clear?”

“Is that Madilyn my wife speaking or the Foreign Secretary speaking?” Robert asked.

“Both.” She snapped firmly.

“Fine.” He said and soon left the room with a temper. 

Madilyn turned on her heels and walked over to the large bay windows, annoyed with herself and how her husband had just been. So much for ensuring peace with other nations if she couldn’t keep the peace at home she mused. 

Challenger NX-03

Pouring the last glass with amaretto, Burton placed three ice cubes in it and passed it over to Callahan who was seated around the rectangle-shaped table in the captain’s private dining mess.

Along with Commanders Levesque and Stanton, the four most senior officers on board Challenger had retreated to the small hall for a nightcap. They, along with other members of the senior staff had spent the evening on the planet below joining Secretary Campbell and others at Premier Nerlox’s official residence for a celebratory meal to commemorate the Denobulan Congress’ agreement to hold a referendum over the planet’s admission to the Coalition of Planets. Admiral Gardner had already praised their efforts earlier on in the day. The entire evening had sailed smoothly and now they were able to rest a bit. The rest of their day had been busy with further interaction with the Denobulans. Secretary Campbell had worked them all hard all day and all evening. 

After their return to Challenger the captain had invited those who had joined him for a drink before they went to bed. Yu, Kefira and Alcott had declined the offer, all citing they wanted an early night while Ensign Hennessey had not joined them on the surface. The Chief Communications Officer had requested to stay on board and finish off the latest diagnostic on the communication array. It was a poor excuse as Burton had heard that Ned’s former wife was Secretary Campbell’s deputy chief of staff. Burton had agreed to the ensign’s request on the grounds he would also assume command in his absence. The captain thought the shove into the centre chair might do him some good too.      

“Cheers!” Burton said, raising his glass. The four of them all slightly knocked their glasses together, making a clinking noise, before taking a sip.

The four of them were quiet for a moment before the captain spoke up again. “Have any of you heard from anyone back at home?” He inquired as he leant back in his chair and got comfortable in it. Deep down the captain knew that everyone would have heard something from Earth in the last few weeks. However, the captain wanted to think something else was going on besides what they were currently engaged with. So trying to think of something besides the talks would be a welcome change for the captain. 

Callahan replied. “I spoke with the wife last night sir.” He said as he placed his own glass down on the table. 

Since Challenger’s launch, Burton had found he shared a number of traits with this man, besides the armoury attribute, they both enjoyed a lot of sport. On occasions they would share meals to discuss the latest sports news coming from Earth. This had led to them sharing personal information about their home life. Pleased at the news, Burton turned his attention to Callahan. “How are Laura and the children?” He asked.

“Well thank you sir.” He replied with a sincere smile and not offering any more information than that. 

With an expression like that, Burton had summarised that Callahan had ended his conversation with his wife negatively. She had been against him returning to Starfleet and was quite bitter at the way he left her. Burton turned to the other two officers before making it any more uncomfortable for the armoury officer. “And what about you two?” He inquired and he looked to Stanton first. “Have you heard from Alex?” He asked, referring to Stanton’s other-half.

The young engineer smiled for a moment, before answering. “We’ve spoken several times on subspace. He’s good, he’s got himself a dog. He’s been… well… um… frustrated that I’ve told him not to rush out here, after the… incident with the Orions,” he said, rubbing his neck a little. “Maybe during Ezrah’s absence we might have a use for another pilot, though. You managed to get one senior officer from the Discovery, so you might as well make it a pair.”

Burton chuckled slightly at the engineer’s remarks. Ensign Alcott had requested a leave of absence in the near future. His father had recently been diagnosed with Clark’s Syndrome. Alcott’s father wouldn’t be showing any signs of his condition yet, but the young pilot had placed a request to return to Earth. He wanted to spend some time with his father and the rest of his family before his condition got any worse. 

Burton scratched the back of his head, a trait he did when he was thinking as he pondered Stanton’s question. “I suppose there’s no harm in putting the request in.” He finally said. He knew that Stanton’s partner was a skilled pilot. “The only issue I think Starfleet will have with it is having a large number of experienced officers on one ship.”

“There’s no harm in asking though.” Callahan remarked.

“True.” Burton said in agreement. “I’ll send the request to Starfleet in the morning.”

“I’m sure he’d be happy to take the job, if Starfleet is willing to part with him,” Stanton replied, with a small smile, as he thought about that possibility. While in most cases wanting a loved one aboard the ship wouldn’t have worked out, one of the perquisites of dating another officer was sometimes getting to share a duty assignment; this almost made up for the vast majority of instances where they hadn’t been allowed to serve together. Little did anyone there know, though, that Alex had not been one of Ezrah’s instructors, but had been assigned to investigate a possibly-illicit relationship between the cadet and his actual instructor: Commander Carlisle. If he would end up replacing Ezrah at the helm, it would certainly be an irony.

“Nicole, have you spoken to any of your family?” Burton asked next as he turned his attention to his first officer.

“Hmm? Oh no, not really…just my siblings Claudia and Elijah. I’m the black sheep of the family.” She quickly explained to the perplexed faces before her. Actually black sheep wasn’t the most accurate description. The bain of their existence on the other hand seemed more appropriate at least the way her mother regarded her. They hadn’t always had an adversarial relationship but after her brother-in-law Cooper had become a Starfleet consultant (at Nicole’s encouragement) her mother’s wrath fell on her. Needless to say, after that, she no longer felt completely welcome at home. “But they are both doing well; Elijah was complaining about fatherhood. And Claudia well, she is continuing to spread her red wine empire across the planet.”

Burton showed interest with her last comments. “Well make sure when we’re back home you get us some to try out. We could help her extend her business to the galactic stage!” 

“What about yourself sir?” asked Callahan in between sips of his drink.

“I’ve spoken to my brothers. Roman is with Columbia on its mission to Rigel while my other brother, Seth, his ship the Republic, is heading to meet my sister’s ship at Archer Four to help out with the colonisation process.” Burton explained. “Both the Republic and Voyager are supporting the construction of the first settlements as well as doing some extra research on the planet.”

The public address announcer beeped, indicating someone was being paged.

Captain Burton to the bridge. Emergency. Captain Burton to the bridge. Emergency.” It was the voice of Ensign Hennessy, he sounded tense.

Burton sighed inwards and rose from his seat. He approached the nearest communications panel and tapped it. “Burton here. What is it Ned?”

We’re picking up a distress call from a convoy of colony ships. Most of the message is garbled, but from the context it sounds like they’re under attack.”

Automatically everyone around the table stood up and began heading for the door. They know what their captain would expect of them. “Lay in a course and prepare to leave orbit Ensign. I’m on my way up and get me Secretary Campbell by the time I’m on the bridge. Burton out.” He replied and hit the communications panel to swiftly leave. Leaving the dining hall, he followed the others on to the nearest lift. 

Once more unto the breach.