The almost burning sensation touched his lips for a quick moment before the hot liquid travelled down his throat. Slowly the tea sent a warm and cosy sensation through his body. Captain Burton took another sip before putting the mug back down on his desk in his office. and returning to the work he was carrying out. After his decision yesterday afternoon to join the Andorian task force, along with the inability to make contact with Earth, he had focussed his energy on preparing the ship to provide support to their new allies. As such Burton had left quite a bit of his administrative tasks to one side, a matter of fact that his Crewmember Harris had reminded him before he called it a night and decided to go to bed. It was now early in the morning, just past oh-eight-hundred hours, and he had made the effort to get up and get on with what he had left to do the night before. He had been up for almost two hours now. In fact, he hadn’t slept well. All night he kept on waking up, wondering if he had made the right call to agree to join the Andorians. The loudest voice at the back of his mind was telling him that being with the Andorians was the best choice then leaving them to their own devices to deal with the unknown attacker and possibly plunging them all into war. His thoughts were interrupted by the sudden noise of the door chime going off.
“Come in.” He said quietly, keeping his focus on his computer screen for another few more seconds. At the corner of his eye he saw Levesque and Stanton enter, both of them with serious expressions plastered across their faces. “Good Morning.” He said to them as he reached for his mug of tea again.
“You weren’t at breakfast?” Levesque quizzed him straight away with.
Burton knew that the unusual change in their morning routine would make them both suspicious as to what he was up to. “Sorry, I had tons of reports to go through.” He answered, gesturing towards his work on his desk. In all honesty he didn’t want to engage with them both straight away this morning. Both of them had made it clear to him that they were unsure of his decision to join the Andorians. They hadn’t said it outright to him but the way they acted yesterday for the rest of the day made him suspect they felt that way. Along with that they had placed their concerns in writing to him. His gut feeling was confirmed earlier when he had read their joint message, reporting that they felt he should have waited to speak with Admiral Gardner over the issue. “I had chef bring me something up here.” Burton added.
The two commanders exchanged looks of worry between each other before looking back down at him from where they stood. “Have we upset you sir?” Stanton asked with concern.
Burton picked up the data-tablet with their message on it and waved it in the air. “It’s not like you two to submit an objection in writing.”
The two of them lowered their heads, like naughty children being told off by a teacher. Levesque nodded, understanding how disappointed Burton must have felt with their actions. “We’re sorry sir but we both stayed up last night talking about this and we know you feel we will do more good than harm by joining the Andorians; however we feel we should have waited to get approval from Command at least.” Levesque stated.
“I appreciate your candour,” Burton said as he placed the tablet down. “and I see where you both are going with this, however I did speak with Ambassador Agos over this and he may not have the same level of authorisation as Admiral Gardner does in ordering where we go, the Ambassador though is supporting us and has a lot of influence with those high up back home. On another note we can’t allow this new coalition to fail just because we are too scared to help our Andorian allies in seeing what has happened on Docana. We’re not following Andorian orders either.” He paused and looked at them both. “I’ll note your objections in my log, but I need you both to get on board with this now.”
Stanton nodded to Levesque. “You have it.” She said.
“Good because I don’t want to have to deal with a mutiny either.” Burton responded with a slight grin.
“That would never happen sir; both of us aren’t good at shooting compared to you, so we would fail before we had a chance to pull a phase pistol on you!” Stanton joked.
The three of them laughed lightly at that. “Good but remind me to give you both some more fire practice. I would hate to have you both with me and you can’t defend yourselves properly!” Burton said, still with the same sense of humour in his voice. He turned himself back to face the computer monitor on his desk. “Back to the issue at hand though. I’ve been looking at Kefira’s plan to use our cargo bays as lodgings if we have to accommodate any colonists. I think it’s a good idea, but I’m worried about the environmental controls-”
“Bridge to Captain Burton.” Spoke Sub Commander T’Plau after the intercom buzzed.
Burton paused himself as he answered after tapping the comm panel on his desk. “Go ahead T’Plau.”
“Sir, we are receiving a hail from the Intrepid. Captain Ramirez wishes to talk with you.” She announced.
Burton looked up at Levesque and Stanton, all three of them smiled at the news. “I’m on my way to the bridge.” He replied and quickly got up from his chair and led the other two out onto the bridge. “Put Captain Ramirez up.” Burton ordered the moment he stood in front of his chair.
The main screen changed from showing the rear view of the Andorian task force at warp to that of Carlos Ramirez, Intrepid’s skipper, sitting in his chair in the centre of his bridge. “Captain Burton, it’s good to finally hear from you.” He said with a warm welcome.
“Likewise, Captain Ramirez.” Burton replied courteously to his first skipper. It had been almost twelve years since the two of them had served together, back when Ramirez had just been made captain of the Intrepid. Burton had served under Ramirez for almost three years as an armoury officer, gaining new experience based on what he learnt from Starfleet Training Command. In fact, Ramirez owed Burton his life after he had saved him twice during those early days. As such Burton had a feeling what Ramirez was about to ask so he preempted it. “We haven’t been able to get a clear signal back to Earth.”
“That’s why we are here.” Ramirez explained, pleased that Burton was able to explain quickly what had happened to them. “Starfleet wanted us to find you and to confirm what is going on.”
“The Andorian colony on Docana has sent out a distress signal, part of the call stated they were attacked. As a result, the Andorians have assembled this task force to respond.” Burton summarised. “We were asked if we would join them to provide relief efforts, I wasn’t in a position to say no.”
Ramirez nodded in approval. “I understand the position you were placed in, captain, I’m sure I would have done the same thing.”
“Thank you, captain.” Burton said confidently, glad that he had support from a fellow Starfleet captain in his decision, particularly one of his role models. “I suspect Admiral Gardner is eager to find out what was happening and where we were?”
“Indeed.” Ramirez answered. “The entire Earth Commonwealth has been put on high alert after Intelligence intercepted an unconfirmed report of an attack on an Andorian world. At the time the Intrepid along with the Apollo, Drake and Akagi were finishing off joint fleet exercises with the Vulcans when we were sent to find out what happened to you.”
“Well we appreciate you coming out this far to make contact.” Burton responded as he slowly sat himself down in his chair. “What do you need to do now?”
Ramirez scratched the back of his head. “We’ll report back to Admiral Gardner that you’re fine and then head to Vega to help with defences there.”
“Could you postpone heading to Vega straight away captain? We don’t know what state the colony is going to be in once we arrive. The more hands we have to help, the better.” Burton pleaded, hoping his old skipper still had the heart to never turn down helping out someone who needed it.
“I can’t see why not. Docana is in the same direction as Vega, even if just the Intrepid and Apollo stay with you. Drake and Akagi could head straight to Vega to help out with defences there.” Ramirez suggested.
“I appreciate you and your task group joining us.” Burton said with a friendly smile.
“Actually, Captain Burton, if we join Challenger then officially the task group becomes yours. Starfleet directives clearly state that in a situation involving more than one ship, command falls to the captain with the superior ship.” Ramirez said.
Burton hadn’t even thought of that, especially as Ramirez had been a captain longer than him and the man was almost a decade older than him. He would be more than happy to defer command to the Spanish captain but the protocol stood and he had used it in their mission to save the Archer system from the Romulans a few weeks ago. “Let’s see what Admiral Gardner says first.” He replied with.
“Very well.” Ramirez said. “I’ll arrange a conference call with him with all the captains in the task group shortly.”
“Excellent.” Burton stated. “And again captain, thank you for turning up when you did.”
Ramirez smiled back at Burton. “Consider this part of the payback I owe you, Intrepid out.” He said before closing the channel.
Automatically Burton rose from his chair. “Commander Levesque the bridge is yours.” He said, making his way to his office. “Ensign Hennessey once the conference call comes in from Intrepid, pipe it through to my office.” He added before opening the door to the small corridor that connected the bridge to his office.
“Aye sir.” Hennessey replied, staring at the captain as he left them all on the bridge to carry on with their duties.
“That can go to the hydroponics bay and so can that.” Commander Stanton instructed as he pointed to two large chests in front of him. He looked at the two crewmembers that began to load the containers onto the trolley they would use to move them.
“Commander, where does this need to go?” spoke Crewmember Harris.
Stanton looked over to where the captain’s yeoman stood, studying a large cylindrical shaped container. He walked over to him and read the label before finding where it could be put on the data tablet he held. “Parts storage bay, C deck.” He answered.
“On it.” Harris replied as he loaded it into the trolley he was using.
“How’s the shuffle round going?” spoke a friendly female voice behind Stanton as Harris moved the container away from him.
Stanton turned on his heels to face Commander Levesque. “We’re getting there but we’re going to have to make sure we remember where we’ve put everything. Turning part of the cargo bay into an emergency triage centre isn’t as simple as I thought it would be.”
The first officer just nodded as she looked around the room at the various crewmembers helping with the work. “Will we be ready by the time we arrive at Docana?” She asked, looking back at the Chief Engineer.
“Oh, we will if the good Ro-fa has anything to say about it.” He answered, gesturing with the data-tablet in his hand to where Challenger’s chief medical officer was. Currently Ro-fa Ben-Ami was working with a few of the MACOs setting up beds and laying out essential medical kits that they would use.
“Excellent.” Levesque said after looking at where Stanton had pointed. She gazed back at him. “How are you doing?” She asked quietly.
Stanton had resumed his work trying to work out where various items needed to be moved to so they could make room in the cargo bay. He carried on working as he answered her question. “What since our little telling off this morning?” He asked, for a split second he looked at her. “Still feel terrible.” He answered truthfully. “I wished we had spoken to him directly instead of sending that message.” Stanton added, referring to their awkward moment with Captain Burton earlier that morning.
“Me too.” Levesque said, keeping her low voice as she leant against one of the containers and grasped her hands together. “Have you noticed since Intrepid’s arrival he’s distanced himself from us?”
Stopping what he was reading, Stanton looked over to where Levesque was. “It’s only been about seven hours since then Nicole.” He replied before looking back trying to read the label on the box before him. “But yeah I have noticed.”
“I know command is tough, but I didn’t think we would have this problem.” She whispered.
“Did you not have any run-ins with Captain Hernandez? Or disagreements?” Stanton asked as he pushed the box off the shelf it was on and lifted it over to a nearby cart that was labelled to be sent to the armoury.
“No.” Levesque answered honestly as she tugged on her left earlobe, hating the conversation they were having.
“Unfortunately, Nicole, the position we’re both in means we have to sometimes make tough choices that aren’t going to be popular with the crew.” He said after letting go of the box and turning to give her his full attention. “And on other occasions those choices aren’t going to be popular with Lloyd. But we’re here to be his sounding board and offer him the chance to reflect on alternatives.”
“You’re right.” She murmured. “I just didn’t see this happening so soon, especially as the three of us were getting on so well and becoming close.”
Giving her a genuine smile, Stanton stopped moving for a moment. “I know what you mean, I thought the same, but fate doesn’t want us to think that way obviously. Give it time, things will hopefully return to some normality.”
“I suppose this is new for Lloyd too. Before he was always the sounding board for his skipper, now the roles have swapped. He needs to get used to it.” Levesque remarked.
“Precisely.” Stanton said. “On some level he’ll understand where we were coming from and appreciate that we did it to help him.” The Chief Engineer extended his hand and warmly squeezed Levesque’s left shoulder for assurance. “Now are you going to stand there and help me or are you going to carry on moping around?”
Levesque smiled and playfully shoved his hand off her shoulder. “I suppose I can offer you some help!” She returned while deeply still thinking about how her relationship with the captain had changed. Deep down in her heart she was kicking herself as she found herself enjoying their relationship; she seriously hoped she hadn’t caused too much damage from it.
Entering the captain’s private dining hall, Montana Lawson held the tray in her hands tightly and moved over to where she could see Captain Burton in deep concentration as he read a data-tablet. “Sir, your lunch.” The Petty Officer said, grabbing his attention.
Burton looked up, almost in a startled way that he had been pulled from the depths of his work. Suddenly, he realised that Lawson couldn’t place the tray down for him as the table was littered with several other data-tablets. He quickly piled them all up neatly, giving room for her to place the tray down in front of him. “I have said before Montana that I can easily come to you to get my lunch.”
“You’re working hard sir, it’s the least I can do.” Challenger’s Chef said as she put the tray down and emptied it of its contents which included a plate, a set of cutlery wrapped up in a serviette and a glass of water.
Montana Lawson was of average height with a slim build which she carried with a positive attitude towards her work. Rarely did she ever not have a smile on her face. Her friendly, bubbly manner made her extremely approachable and she was always happy to help out. Her wavy light brown hair was almost the same colour as her eyes. When she wasn’t cooking or preparing food, she had let her curly hair hang down past her shoulders, but at the moment it was all tied up into a tight bun. She was from Louisiana in the United States, with a mother who was a famous country-western singer and a father who was the state’s governor, she came to her work with a balanced view on most things.
“Thank you.” Burton replied sincerely. “And I’m sorry that most of your stewards have been reassigned to helping out with preparing cargo bay one.”
She shook her head once. “It’s perfectly fine sir, you don’t need to apologise.”
Burton just smiled at her before looking down at what she had prepared for him. His stomach growled lightly the moment his eyes fixed on the plate. On it sat a chicken and bacon Caesar salad. “It looks perfect, thanks.” He remarked, sounding a bit deflated in his tone.
“Are you sure that’s all you want sir? I could always add a jacket potato if you want?” She offered.
Burton placed his hands up, “No this is fine, thank you.”
“Well bon appétit sir.” She said trying to make him happy after picking up on how the captain wasn’t his usual cheery self. There is something definitely bothering him. Before she gave him a chance to tuck into his food she quickly spoke up. “Sir, permission to speak freely?”
The captain just nodded after picking up his fork and placing it back down.
“Sir, I hope you don’t feel I’m being out of line with what I’m about to say and I want you to know I hold you in the highest of respect but this maybe my Louisianan mother coming out of me so I apologise if I come across too direct-”
“Get to your point Montana.” Burton said, interrupting her rambling.
“Sir, since our launch I have never known you to eat alone, in fact you are always accompanied by Commanders Levesque and Stanton for all three of your meals. I hope you don’t mind me asking, but is everything okay?” She asked carefully, trying not to upset the captain.
Burton answered her with a warm smile, showing his appreciation for caring for them. “I assure you everything is fine,” He partially lied. “Both of them are very busy right now and unfortunately what we are about to undertake with the Andorians means that our normal routine has been interrupted.” It wasn’t the complete truth. He was still distancing himself from them as he felt that they needed to understand he hadn’t appreciated the way they had gone about formally objecting to his decision, even though Admiral Gardner had reluctantly agreed to it after Prime Minister Samuels insisted that they help their Andorian allies (Gardner also wanted Burton to ensure they avoided a war at all costs).
“I understand that sir.” Lawson stated. “It’s just that many of the crew talk to me, I’m not too sure why as I’m not a counsellor, and they all say the same thing. They really do like how you three are close. It gives them confidence that being assigned to Challenger isn’t one of isolation and that this crew will evolve into an almost family unit.”
Burton liked what he was hearing. “Thank you Montana, I can tell you now that was Captain Karim’s vision when she took me on and it’s something I’ve tried to emulate since taking over from her.”
“As someone who has served with her, I can honestly say sir that she would be proud of your efforts.” Lawson said. “Your leadership styles are similar and you’re a very open and caring person, those are traits that the crew adore in you sir.”
Burton blushed at that last comment.
“Anyway, I’m sorry for taking up your time captain, please enjoy your meal and I will leave you in peace, though let me know if there is anything else you need.” Lawson said before leaving the captain alone as she had promised.
Before tucking into his food, Lloyd stared out at the view of the stars warping past the window as he considered what his head cook had just said to him.
In between mouthfuls of eating her pasta, Martha Habiba watched from where she sat in the mess hall to see Chef Lawson leave the captain’s private dining hall and head towards her galley. She pondered as to why Lawson had been in there for a long time, especially as she had only just entered in there with one tray. Deciding not to think about it anymore she turned to look at her friend Sakura who was in deep concentration of what she was reading on a tablet that rested on the table. “So, what are you reading?” Habiba enquired before taking another bite of her lunch.
Masuko paused her reading and looked up. “Commander Stanton wanted me to update myself on Andorian technology.”
“Anything interesting?” The science officer asked the engineer.
Digging into her plate of salad with her fork, Masuko nodded. “It’s interesting to see how similar newer Andorian technology is to Vulcan technology.”
That caught Habiba’s attention, “Really?” she remarked.
“Yes, see?” Masuko said as she turned the tablet round for Habiba to see. “I’m not surprised though. As being bitter enemies for some time now it was inevitable that they would steal each other’s technological breakthroughs and copy them for their own good.”
Habiba inclined her head slightly, “So I suppose we should thank the Vulcans for not giving us any technology and making us do all the research ourselves, that way we can only blame ourselves if it goes wrong!”
Chuckling at her friend’s comment, Masuko covered her mouth. “That’s one way of looking at it.” She said after swallowing what she had been eating.
Approaching them, both with trays in their hands was Ensign Stewart with Private Jenkins in tow. “Hey, do you mind if we join you?” spoke Stewart.
Habiba motioned for them to take the empty seats around the table. “Please do.” She said and watched the two men sit down and sort out their cutlery before tucking into their meals too. “So is our new trauma ward ready?” She asked them.
Being the ship’s nursing officer (and de-facto deputy medical officer), Stewart answered the question even though Jenkins had been one of the many MACOs helping out. “It’s almost done.” He said before pulling out a handheld data tablet and placing it on the table besides his tray.
“Looks like you’ve got some interesting reading to do like me.” Masuko stated looking at what Stewart had just put out.
Sighing, Stewart nodded. “Yeah I’ve got to read up on Andorian anatomy.”
“Ouch.” Masuko answered.
“I still have to read up on Andorian medical practices,” Stewart added, “all before tomorrow morning, I can see it being a long night for me.”
“Don’t worry Niall, I’ll help you.” Jenkins replied as he grabbed his partner’s hand in to his.
“Thanks Li.” Stewart returned with an affectionate smile.
“You two are just too adorable.” Habiba said, breaking the romantic moment which followed with Masuko chuckling at the science officer’s remark.
“Thanks Martha.” Stewart replied, pleased that his friends were happy for him and Jenkins.
“Oh, good god are you both being mushy over food?” Came the familiar voice of Crewmember Harris as he approached the table and sat down at the vacant seat next to Habiba without asking.
“You’re just jealous Jamie.” Habiba remarked in defence of the couple that sat opposite to Harris.
“How do you work that one out Martha?” Harris asked as he also sorted his cutlery out before digging into the same pasta dish that Masuko had in front of her.
“He’s probably jealous that Niall picked a younger, better looking person than him!” Jenkins quickly joked back with.
Harris gave out a small fake laugh. “I promise you Liam, there is no bad blood between us because you were picked.”
“So then why are you against them being all romantic with each other?” Masuko asked, pressurising the yeoman to answer the original question.
Before he could answer, Habiba added her idea into the conversation: “Maybe he’s more jealous of the fact he doesn’t have someone to be romantic with?” She hypothesised.
Still laughing at his friends’ remarks, Harris spoke up in his defence. “Martha I’ve told you before, all you have to do is say the word I would gladly take you out on a date!”
Martha shook her head in disbelief at how big Harris’ ego was. “Earth is more likely to make an alliance with the Klingon Empire than you and I go out on a date.” She replied with.
“Give or take two hundred years I reckon that’s possible.” Harris fired back with. “I’m willing to wait if you-”
Harris was quickly interrupted when the lights in the room dimmed and the calm voice of Sub Commander T’Plau followed over the intercom. “Tactical alert, all hands report to your stations. Captain Burton to the bridge.”
The young officers all gave out a silent sigh as they stood up, pushing their chairs out and quickly made their way towards the main entrance of the mess hall. As Habiba followed the others out she noticed that Harris had made his way over to where the captain had appeared from his dining area alone. She quickly saw the expression on Burton’s face and it was one of extreme concern. Butterflies suddenly appeared in her stomach as she hoped they weren’t about to go into battle again.
In the past few days Sub Commander T’Plau had found herself often being left in command on the bridge by Captain Burton. She did find the captain’s decision to be complementary to his view on her ability to lead in his (and the other most senior members of staff’s) absence. She found herself once again sitting in the centre chair while the captain was having his lunch and Commanders Levesque and Stanton were preparing the ship for what awaited them at Docana. During these moments she found the bridge to be quieter and a lot easier to manage as the crew were highly focussed on their jobs. While sitting in the captain’s chair she used the time to review the latest diagnostics the crew had undertaken on the ship’s weapons and defence systems. She was almost finished reading the report when Ensign Hennessey spoke up.
“Ma’am we’re being hailed by the Andorian flagship, they’re planning to drop to impulse and respond to a distress call from some freighters.”
“Thank you Ensign Hennessey, inform the other Starfleet ships too,” T’Plau said as she sat up straighter in the chair. “Ensign Conrad follow the Andorians.”
“Yes ma’am.” Conrad said at the helm.
She then hit the ship-wide intercom button, “Tactical alert, all hands report to your stations. Captain Burton to the bridge.” She commanded. The bridge darkened within a second of her giving the orders and the ship began preparing for what awaited them. T’Plau moved herself back to the armoury station by the time Captain Burton and the rest of the senior staff had reported to the bridge.
“What’s going on, Sub Commander?” Burton questioned within a nanosecond of him leaving the lift.
She looked over to her commanding officer, “The Andorians are responding to a distress call from a flotilla of freighters, we’re following them in.”
Burton sat quickly in his chair and automatically appeared in command of the situation. “Understood.” He said as he observed Conrad bring the ship out of warp and into sub-light speeds.
T’Plau began scanning for the freighters and automatically found them waiting for them. She counted four ships, all slowly moving at low speeds. Her initial scans indicated they were all damaged and the lead ship was the one transmitting the distress call.
“Looks like they took quite a beating.” Levesque remarked as she looked up from the scope. “They’re all Andorian freighters and I’m detecting a number of scorch marks along their hulls and breaches.” She added.
T’Plau found Levesque’s analysis and description crude, however she did not allow it to distract herself from trying to determine the attackers. She ran the scan twice before reporting her findings to the captain. “Sir scans indicate that there is more than one attacker responsible here.” She mentioned it after looking up at him.
Burton turned in his chair, concerned covering his expression. “More than one attacker? Who?” He asked as he stood up to join her over by the station to see the readouts.
Before he arrived, she brought up the results on her main monitor. “I am detecting Malurian and Nausicaan disruptor fire energy signatures.” T’Plau shared as the captain looked down at her data.
“We may have just found out who attacked the colony.” Conrad remarked from the helm.
“Possibly.” T’Plau said as she raised an eyebrow at the pilot’s deductive thought.
Stanton, who was sitting at the engineering station beside her, spoke up now. “I didn’t think the Malurians and Nausicaans were allies?”
“They are not.” T’Plau stated. “That is their governments have not signed a formal alliance treaty, however a number of Malurians and Nausicaans are engaged in criminal activity, including being mercenaries for hire.”
Burton had returned to his chair as he listened to what everyone was saying. “Are you saying someone has hired them to attack the Andorians?”
“It is a possibility both of their economies survive on black market operations, however there is the chance that those that attacked the freighters are just pirates looking to steal their cargo.” T’Plau countered back with.
Hennessey cleared his throat as he pressed his finger against his earpiece, “Sir,” He said, “The flagship is reporting that there are refugees on the freighters who were fleeing Docana. The freighter captains are reporting they were attacked by Malurian and Nausicaan ships as they fled Docana.”
T’Plau kept her eyebrows high as she considered the evidence before her. She found it perplexing why the Malurians and Nausicaans would join forces to attack the Andorians. There was definitely something more here to what they were seeing before them.
Hennessey continued reporting in. “The flagship states they are keeping two ships here to help the freighters while we resume our course to Docana. All ships are ordered to sustain warp four point five for the duration of the journey.”
Captain Burton didn’t appear happy with what was transpiring. “Confirm with the Andorians we shall be heading out with them again.”
T’Plau began bringing up all tactical data Challenger had on Malurian and Nausicaan ships. If they were to engage them then she wanted to know what they were facing before it happened.