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Part of Challenger: The Romulan War: A Shot In The Dark


Challenger NX-03, docked in Obama Repair Facility
Thursday, October 24th, 2155
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Returning to the ship, Captain Burton found the entire trek quick and simple via the use of the new shuttlepod that Starfleet had given them. Instead of two shuttlepods, they now had four shuttlepods assigned to the ship. Newly promoted Lieutenant junior grade Jack Conrad had picked him up from Starfleet Command after collecting Shuttlepod Four from Starship Design & Construction Bureau (also known as the SDCB) in Sydney, Australia. 

“How does she fly?” Burton had asked his pilot where he sat in the rear of the cockpit. He was reviewing his orders again on the tablet that Hathaway had given him. He was trying to concentrate on what he was reading, hold a conversation with Conrad without being distracted by the possibility that his brother was now dead. 

Smiling in response, Conrad had kept his focus on piloting the ship through the Earth’s atmosphere. “Extremely well actually sir. The newer shuttlepods have been enhanced to deal with the war effort, they’re quicker, more manoeuvrable and have a stronger hull.”

Worried that he may ever find himself stuck in one of the smaller ships during a battle, Burton looked up and quickly laughed off his worry. “Well let’s hope we never have to find out how strong these hulls are.”

Eventually they docked with the ship and Burton was greeted by his yeoman in the launch bay. Harris stood in an almost attention posture as Burton approached him. “Welcome back sir.” He greeted his captain and instantly he noticed the additional fifth pip. 

Waving any remarks from Harris off with his hand, Burton indicated for them to leave the launch bay as soon as possible. He wasn’t in any mood to talk about that. He just wanted the mission to start as soon as possible. “Don’t ask about that.” Burton said as they, along with Conrad, entered the nearest lift. Conrad hadn’t noticed Burton’s fifth pip until Harris had pointed it out. 

“Do we get to celebrate whatever it represents, sir?” Conrad asked opposite Burton in the little cart they took them towards the ship’s bridge. 

Burton shook his head; he had looked back down at the tablet still in hands the moment he had got into the lift. He still focussed on reading everything that Starfleet knew. “No, we’ve had enough of partying recently, Jack. With marriages and promotions, I’m sure Starfleet would appreciate it if we got on with our jobs now.”

“Understood sir.” Conrad said with a slight disappointed expression.

Harris had been holding a tablet in his hands when he had met the captain in the launch bay. As the lift made its upwards journey, he handed the device over to Burton. “Commander Stanton wanted me to hand this over to you the moment you were here sir. The ship is ready to go.”

Burton stopped looking at his and smiled at that news before he looked over the tablet that showed a report on the ship’s ready status. Everything was in the green. “Glad to hear it.” He answered. Hearing Stanton’s name made him realise he would not be the only one dealing with the possibility of losing someone from this mission. He would have to tell his chief engineer and new first officer the bad news about Discovery, the ship that Stanton’s husband was the first officer and pilot to. They had only recently got married and now Stanton may have to face the prospect of being a widow at such an early stage in their marriage.  This war was already destroying families and would destroy even more before it was over. Just like every other conflict. 

Finally the lift came to its destination and Burton allowed for Conrad to depart first with Harris behind him. Looking out at the scene before him as he approached his chair, Burton found it odd to see how different everything now seemed with the bridge crew. With the loss of T’Plau and Levesque, the changes were more of a reality now more than ever. Replacing their Vulcan armoury officer was Lieutenant junior grade Rachele Cortez. She had been Burton’s second armoury officer when he first joined Challenger and had stayed on to be Callahan’s then T’Plau’s. She had shown since the ship’s launch that she was ready for the position, she was an excellent leader in the armoury department (everyone rated her) and she was quick with tactics. Something that Burton had recognised in her shortly after they launched. She was the right person for the job, his gut and brain told him that. Her sharp eye and quick reflexes in arming and aiming the weapon’s array was second to none.

Then after T’Plau’s replacement there was Levesque’s, or lack thereof. Burton had yet come to a decision on who he wanted to be in that position. His current second science officer, Ensign Martha Habiba, lacked what he was looking for in someone. She didn’t have the experience or even the leadership experience to lead such a large department on an NX-class ship. That said none of the candidates that he had looked through felt any better. As a result he had decided to wait on making a decision and would let Habiba act up for a short while with Stanton closely watching over her.

Walking over from his engineering station, Stanton made his way to meet the captain halfway. “Can I ask about that-” Stanton didn’t get a chance to finish his question off as he pointed to the captain’s fifth pip.

“Admiral Hathaway has promoted me to the rank of fleet captain, that’s it and we are not celebrating it. We have jobs to do.” Burton hastily said, almost repeating what he had just said to Conrad and Harris. He felt guilty for almost snapping at Stanton. Taking a breath, he calmed down and asked his next question, “I hear we are ready to go Commander Stanton?”

Stanton, a bit shocked at the captain’s quick response in shutting down his question, nodded in reply. “Yes sir, we are all good to go.”

“Good, then I think it’s time to set sail and weigh anchor.” Burton ordered as he took his chair and Stanton returned to his engineering station. “Hail the dockmaster Lieutenant Hennessey and request permission for us to get underway.”

Hennessey acknowledged his orders and opened the channel to the dockmaster. He turned to look over at his boss and spoke up using the captain’s new rank to get attention. “Fleet Captain Burton, we have permission to leave.” 

“Lieutenant Conrad, aft thrusters at one half until we clear drydock. Then take us to warp.” Burton commanded. 

Conrad nodded in answer and slowly took the ship out of the Obama Repair Facility. The ship looked brand new, as brand new as it did on the day it first launched under Burton’s command. Moving away gracefully, the ship’s impulse engines came to life as it broke free from the tithers and soon was in open space.

“Heading sir?” Conrad requested.

“Set a course for the Deneva colony, warp four.” Burton commanded.

After tapping in a few commands into the navigation computer, Conrad said he was ready. 

“Engage!” Burton ordered and held on tightly as the ship lurched into high warp and out of the Sol System.

Hours later, Burton had retreated to his ready room to go over everything they would need to know about their mission. Once he was done he had called in his first officer to see him. 

Stanton was standing on the other side of the door when he touched the door chime and entered the room once the captain had told him to come in. 

“Michael, take a seat please.” Burton said from where he sat at his desk under the small window. 

The First Officer and Chief Engineer did as he was ordered. “So sir, what are our orders? Are we off to defend Devena?” He asked. It was rare for Burton to keep his crew in the dark about such things, so he was eager to know. 

Burton could read Stanton quite easily, it’s what made their professional relationship work so well in the last few months. It was another reason why Stanton made the best replacement for Levesque as First Officer. “Michael, we’ve been ordered to search for two missing ships near Deneva.”

“Oh right, which ones?” Stanton wondered. 

Armstrong,” Burton said and paused. “and Discovery.”

The colour in Stanton’s face just vanished as he took in the news about his husband’s ship. “What happened?” He asked.

Burton pulled his chair closer to Stanton’s as he explained what Hathaway had told him regarding the Romulan attack. “The admiral is interested to know why Müller went off and chased that final Romulan ship. So we need to find them, in one piece.”

“Agreed,” Stanton said, “From what I saw of Captain Müller and the crew of Discovery they’re not ones who give up easily or are easily beaten. I’m sure they’ve survived this battle.”

Pleased to hear his first officer’s sense of hope, Burton smiled. “Knowing Frank Müller as well as your other half and my brother, I am sure they are out there up to something with an interesting story to share with us.”

“Then let’s find them and the Armstrong.” Stanton said, his colour starting to slowly return as well as his confidence and motivation. “Where were their last reported locations?”

Burton turned around and pulled a tablet off his desk. “Here,” He said, pointing to the device’s screen that showed a set of marked coordinators on a star chart. “Just outside of the Deneva system. Armstrong was sent to warn Starfleet of the attack, so we will start there. I want to use some of our new probes to assist with the search pattern. Can you coordinate with Habiba to do so?”

“Of course.” Stanton answered.

“I want the probes set up to look for the power signatures of both ships, so hopefully we will pick up something. We’ll need our long- and short-range scanners adjusted and let’s have Ned listening to the subspace frequencies too. We never know what type of calls we may pick up.” Burton added.

“Sounds like a plan captain.” Stanton said as he rose from his seat. “Anything else?”

Burton shook his head and stood up too. “No,” He placed his hand on Stanton’s left shoulder, “We will find Alex, Roman and the others.”

Smiling with gratitude, Stanton nodded. “We better as this was not what I had in mind with my vowels when I said for better or worse!”

Burton sniggered at that, glad that Stanton could keep a positive mind about the news. 

The intercom went off and Burton went over to his desk. “Burton here.”

“Sorry to interrupt sir, but you have an incoming call from the assistant commissioner of the Earth Cargo Services. She wishes to speak to you sir.” Spoke Lieutenant Hennessey in a serious tone. 

“Understood Ned, transfer her to my desk at once.” He looked to Stanton, “Can you inform the troops of what we are doing and issue out assignments?”

Stanton nodded and then Burton dismissed him as he waited for the call to come through.

Sitting alone in the mess hall with only a mug of coffee, Jack Conrad had not heard his friend approach him. When Luis Trommler eventually caught his friend’s attention, he knew straight away something was up. Placing the tray of hot food down on the table, Trommler perched forward as he sat down before talking.

“Jacky, are you okay? You look awfully grey.” He remarked. The MACO soldier had become close with the ship’s pilot in the last few months. The two had spent their recent R&R together, mainly surfing off the Gold Coast, Australia. As a result, Trommler knew the signs when his friend wasn’t his normal cheerful self. 

Conrad had been staring at his cold mug of coffee and instantly shook his head to stop his daydreaming to focus on his friend. “Sorry Trommo,” he said, “I got some bad news earlier today.”

The moment he heard those two fatal words, Trommler moved from the seat opposite to Conrad to the one beside him. “What do you mean Jack?” He asked with a concerned look.

“The Raven, she’s been destroyed.” Conrad explained and went on to share the news the captain had informed him of the former cargo ship that he had been a member of (for a long period of time) had been attacked by the Romulans. It had turned out that they and another civilian freighter had been targeted by a small attack force that had penetrated the Inner Core Territory of the Commonwealth and had struck several targets. Their demise came about when an allied task group had defeated the Romulans, but not in time to prevent the loss of all hands on the freighters. Conrad now felt empty, numb, lifeless. The loss of Captain Montague and his former shipmates made him sick to the stomach to think of. He couldn’t even think about the children who were also on the Raven when she was destroyed. Burton had shared that the government had issued an order to all civilian freighters to ensure all children were no longer on board because of the war. In fact President Littlejohn was preparing an executive order that would ban all children from being on long haul freighters, unless they had gained special dispensation from Starfleet. The order would cause chaos for families on those freighters but Conrad hoped that they understood the president’s reasons for it. He certainly agreed with it. 

Trommler got out of his chair and pulled his friend into a close hug. “I’m so sorry Jack.” He replied into his ear before pulling away. “My brother told me the other day that his husband has been on patrols in the inner core territory and has had to rescue a number of freighters from being attacked. The Romulans seem not to understand the difference between civilian or military targets.”

Pushing more tears away, Conrad smiled in appreciation for his friend’s sentiments. “When I agreed to join Challenger earlier this year, I didn’t expect to be joining to fight. I only wanted to make a difference and see the rest of the galaxy.”

Nodding in agreement, Trommler understood Conrad’s remark. “I’m sure none of us, even Captain Burton, knew that this was on the horizon with the Romulans. However, I genuinely believe we will make a difference by standing up for the one value humanity has always fought so hard for.”

Wondering what his friend meant, Conrad gave him a puzzled look.

“Freedom.” Trommler clarified with. “We should be able to travel this vast galaxy, in fact this entire universe and no-one should ever feel afraid that they will be prosecuted. What happened to the Raven was wrong and we will show those faceless scum that they will regret the day they attacked us and started this war. We’ve got to fight for the future.”

“I think I’d prefer just to go for pure simple revenge.” Conrad countered with.

Smirking at his friend’s attitude, Trommler nodded in agreement. “That works too.”

Slowly, carefully, gradually, Major Yu reached the door access button and tapped it to open the entrance to sickbay. Still holding her left shoulder with her right hand, she did her best not to move it too much to avoid any more agony. Stepping over the threshold, immediately she was confronted with the sight of Ro-fa Ben-Ami and Nurse Stewart putting up a collapsible bed.

“Are you planning to open a dormitory? The major asked sarcastically. 

Ben-Ami, who was holding to one end of the bed, looked over to the MACO leader and smirked at her friend. “Don’t worry Viktoria, you can join my sorority and help me recruit some members!”

Smirking back at the doctor’s witty response, “As long as we don’t end up sharing make-up tips, then I am all in!”

The three officers laughed more over their exchange before Ben-Ami told Stewart to go and get the pillows and blankets. Dotted around sickbay were at least eight put-up beds alongside the other beds that already existed. Yu could see that once again Ben-Ami was preparing for the worse with their current assignment. Once Stewart had left their company, Ben-Ami returned her attention back to the MACO soldier. “What have you done to your shoulder?” She asked as she grabbed her medical scanner from a nearby tray.

Yu went on to explain how during training with First Lieutenant al-Fayyad that her MACO deputy had ended up kicking Yu to the ground, which resulted in her landing awkwardly on the safety-mat. “I’m sure I’ve pulled something.” Yu added.

Nodding in agreement, Ben-Ami confirmed her diagnosis. “You’ve pulled a few muscles, nothing a simple relaxing agent wouldn’t cure to calm it down. Take a seat on one of the beds over there.” She instructed as she pointed over to the main ward area of sickbay. 

Walking over to the middle bed, Yu sat down and pulled her MACO jacket off, so the doctor (who was collecting the medication she would administer) could have easy access to her arm. Wearing only her brown vest, her tattoos running along her left bicep were on show. She had a series of coloured strips that encircled the width of the arm in the following scheme: white, yellow, green, blue, purple, red, brown, and black, each one acquired after acquiring the corresponding coloured belt level in Shito-ryu Karat. Above that on her shoulder, was a tattoo of a red maple leaf, representing her heritage, especially her former service in the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Mountain Police. 

“Here you go.” Ben-Ami said as she walked back with a hypospray in her hands. She rubbed the major’s arm before injecting the relaxing agent into the affected area. 

Automatically Yu felt the difference and rolled her shoulder backwards and forwards to knock off the pain she originally felt. “Thanks Kefira.” She said with gratitude. 

“How are things down in MACO land?” Ben-Ami asked as she took one more scan of Yu’s arm. 

“Fine, thank you. We’ve got a few new recruits that we’re trying to break in. I’m fortunate enough that we didn’t lose anyone after we got home.” Yu admitted.

Ben-Ami nodded, “It’s a shame that almost every department on the ship, besides mine and yours, has been affected by sudden crew changes. I heard that Sergeant Iyer remained with us, what happened to Roburn and Edro?” 

The mention of the two Ardanan boys that they rescued was a welcome change in topic of conversation. Most people on the ship spoke about the war and how it was affecting people they knew. “Both of them are living with Iyer’s parents in Lahore. I think they’ve got some more legal issues to deal with via the Foreign Office, but they’ve appeared to settle well especially with what they’ve gone through.”

Happy to hear that news, Ben-Ami smiled. “I had expected Rupesh to remain on Earth, what happened?”

“You’re not the only one, but before we left he spoke to me and said he felt he needed to return to active starship assignment as needed to fight for what he would be protecting for the boys to have.” Yu answered. “I get what he is saying, on top of that from what Khawla tells me, Rupesh’s parents are extremely wealthy and connected from their work so are able to access a range of resources to assist the boys in their transition to their new lives.”

“Let’s hope so.” Ben-Ami said and finished her scan. “You’re all good to go!”

Pulling her jacket back on, Yu smiled again in gratitude. “Thanks Kefira.” As he placed her arm into her sleeve she spoke up further, “Have you heard that the captain wants all of the senior staff and eventually the rest of the crew to begin further tactical training with the MACOs?”

Shaking her head, Ben-Ami groaned at the news. “No? Really?” She asked. 

“Yup,” Yu said, popping the ‘p’ at the end, “So shall I put some time aside for you tomorrow to join me in the training room?”

Rolling her eyes, Ben-Ami crossed her arms and nodded. Before she spoke, Nurse Stewart returned to the main area with a pile of blankets and pillows in his arms. “Can I bring my wonderful assistant too?”

Confused as to what she was referring to, Lieutenant junior grade Niall Stewart looked back and forth between the two superior officers. “Bring me to what?” he enquired. 

Chuckling as she made her way towards the exit, Yu answered Ben-Ami. “Don’t worry about him Kefira, his husband has him training already. You’d be right to follow his lead and join me tomorrow afternoon!”

Groaning at that, Ben-Ami agreed to it as Yu left with a wave and smile.

Stepping over to his superior, Ensign Theo Metaxas gave out a sigh as he held a tablet. “Lieutenant, do you have a moment please?”

Lying with her back on the floor of the main engineer, recently promoted Lieutenant Sakura Masuko was reconfiguring several power relays near to the main warp drive assembly. With a spanner in her mouth as she fiddled with the relays, she looked over towards Metaxas and took the tool out and placed it on the deck beside her. “Sure,” she answered as she pushed herself up and took the tablet from the young ensign. There was something about Metaxas that she could never say no to him when he came to her for help or guidance. His charming personality reminded her of her husband, Adam who served on the Lexington in the same position as she held. “What is it Theo?”

Indicating towards the tablet, now in his superior’s hands, Metaxas went on to explain the issue he was having. “I’ve been working on that faulty set of transfer conduits, seven of them are back online. The eighth is still giving me some trouble.”

“Did you run a phase diagnostic?” Masuko suggested as she began to walk down the side of the warp drive towards one of the engineering computer consoles to bring up the information that Metaxas was sharing with her so she could see the problem for herself. 

Nodding and uttering the words that the test came back negative; Metaxas shared his frustration with her and she could understand why. 

Switching on the computer and loading up the correct display, Masuko reviewed the problem to see if a fresh pair of eyes would help the young third engineer. Not able to see what the issue was, she turned to her subordinate and shared the only possible solution she could suggest. “Take the eighth conduit offline and work up a bypass. I don’t think the captain would appreciate a ship-wide power loss during battle.” She handed him the tablet back.

His shoulders slumped, “That’s what I thought, it’s just so frustrating. I thought all of our repairs were completed at the Obama facility.”

“Unfortunately our repairs had to be rushed to assist other ships in the war effort. It’s no surprise we’re going to find a few issues.” Masuko remarked. She looked at him and saw he seemed quite deflated; the notion of war was starting to hit her engineering staff. “On top of that, if they completely repaired the ship then what would keep us entertained?”

Metaxas sniggered, “I’ll get on that by-pass straight away before Commander Stanton finds out.”

“Find out what?” spoke a familiar voice from across the room.

Turning towards the direction, both engineers smiled at the arrival of their department head and the ship’s new first officer. 

“Speak of the devil,” Masuko commented and she approached Commander Stanton with Metaxas. “We’re just dusting off the few bits and pieces that the team at the repair station missed.”

Stanton, who had barely set a foot in engineering since his promotion and their departure from the Obama Repair Facility, looked around the room. “Nothing too serious I hope?”

Shaking her head, “Nothing we can’t handle sir.” She answered and looked to Metaxas, “Theo please get to work on that by-pass while I catch up with the boss.”

“Aye ma’am.” Metaxas said in a happier tone and cordially nodded to his other superior officer. “It’s good to see you sir.”

Stanton smirked at Metaxas’ chirpier manner and watched as the young engineer went off to get on with his work before returning to his right-hand woman. “I was popping down to see how things are done here, but it seems you’ve got it all under control.”

Looking around the room at the work being undertaken, Masuko was pretty proud of how well the engineering staff had adjusted to the recent staff changes. “We’ve got it in hand, but I could use a second pair of eyes on the field matrix. The pattern’s bothering me, and I can’t figure out why.”

“I’ll take a look at it.” Said the chief engineer as he followed Masuko back to where she was originally working before Metaxas had bothered her. 

“Thanks,” Masuko replied as they approached another screen that had the issue she had been working on. 

Studying the readout, Stanton nodded as he saw the same problem that Masuko was seeing. “I see what you mean, let me try something.” He said and started tapping away on the keyboard under the screen. 

“How’s life on the bridge treating you then?” Masuko asked as she observed the work Stanton was doing.

Smirking at her question, Stanton answered her. “It’s not as fun as I thought it would be, but the captain’s got us busy getting us ready for this search for the Armstrong and Discovery.

“I was sorry to hear that it was your husband’s ship that we’re going to be looking for.” Masuko said with compassion. “I’m sure the Discovery is keeping a low profile to avoid detection from the Romulans until it’s safe to let us know how they are.”

“There you go, all sorted.” He said and turned to look at the Japanese engineer. “Thanks Sakura, you’re right about the Discovery. I just know he’s still out there and alive. We’ll find him and work out what happened.”

Nodding in agreement, Masuko smiled at her boss. “I know what you mean as I feel the same about Adam. I’m certain he is safe wherever the Lexington is right now.” 

“I’m sure many of us are starting to develop a fifth sense about the status of our loved ones since this war started.” Stanton said as he came away from the station. “Keep up the great work Sakura.”

“We will sir, we’ll keep the ship intact so we can find Commander Rodham and bring him and his crew home safely.” Masuko said in a positive way. 

“I appreciate that lieutenant.” He started to walk away and told her to carry on with her duties.

The sound of the door chime going off did not disturb Fleet Captain Burton as he read over the contents on his screen. Ordering the person who was on the other side to enter his ready room, he took a sip from the mug that sat on his desk next to where his elbows were perched on. His chin had been resting in his palms as he read intently over the last communications from the Armstrong. He had not met its commanding officer, Captain Saina Charan, but he knew of her. She had previously commanded the Nova Scotia, which their chief of the boat (Senior Chief Petty Officer Dubois) had served on for some time.  From what Dubois had shared with the captain, she spoke very highly of Charan. Dubois had once said that she owed her career to Charan. The contents of his mug was still warm and he quickly finished as the door opened, allowing Ensign Martha Habiba to walk in. 

“Ensign, please take a seat.” He offered as he placed his mug down and turned his monitor off. He now gave his visitor his full attention. 

Smiling at the motion, Habiba thanked her captain and placed her hands on her lap as she sat down in the armchair that forced Burton to spin in his chair almost one-hundred-eighty degrees to face her. “Thank you sir.”

Copying her grin, Burton quickly composed himself as he knew he had to have this conversation with her. “Ensign, first off I wanted to thank you for stepping up to look after the science department since Commander Levesque’s departure.”

Bowing her head in a short gesture to show her gratitude for him recognising her work, Habiba thanked him again. “It’s been a whirlwind so far sir, but I appreciate Commander Stanton’s supervision and support.”

“Good, I’m glad to hear that Martha.” Burton said. “Ensign, I’m going to be upfront and honest with you. Commanding such a large department on an NX-class ship is quite the task, especially for someone who has not had any other experience based on a starship. However, I know that Captain Karim was eager to have you on board the ship based on your excellent recommendations from your instructors at Starfleet Training Command and your impressive test scores. For someone who took the intensive fast-track course and to get what you got was the reason why you were given the role of Second Science Officer on the third warp five ship.”

“I’m very proud of my accomplishments so far sir.” Habiba said in a tone that showed her trying to be humble. 

Nodding in agreement, “And I don’t want to ever belittle them either Martha. However with the war on, your current role of acting chief science officer can only be temporary and I hope you can appreciate why.”

Nodding in agreement, “I do sir, and I also understand sir that what happened on Delta between Commander Levesque and I has not helped with my career.”

Appreciating her candour, Burton spoke up with similar frankness. “And as I told you in this room several weeks ago, I would not pursue any disciplinary action against you based on recommendations from Commander Levesque. I also told you that the difference in being a Starfleet Officer is being able to remain focussed on the task ahead and keeping your head cool as best as we can.” He paused, “So with all of that in mind, I have been reviewing your record and from what I can tell, I think I have been too hard on you.”

“Sir?” Habiba asked, confused as to what he meant. 

Burton relaxed in his chair a bit, “Before the disagreement you had on Delta, your service to this ship was exemplary. I think back to the time when Commander Levesque was kidnapped by the Orions, you stepped up to lead the science department in our first mission. You did that with modesty and got the work done, in fact I gave you a commendation for it. Then after that you continued to work hard, in fact Commander Levesque had sung your praises on a number of occasions to me and except for one blip you’ve worked damn hard.” Stopping again as he considered his words carefully. “Your situation reminds me of my early career back on the Intrepid and the Charlton. Both of my captains took a chance on me then to develop me as an officer. If it wasn’t for them doing that then I don’t think I’d be here sitting you today as Challenger’s captain. So I want to take a chance with you Martha. I think the outcomes from Delta have impacted you hard enough and since then I think you’ve realised where things went wrong. Plus I cannot deny that you all were in a possible hopeless situation and as Sub Commander T’Plau would have pointed out – we are human. And being human means realising when we make a mistake, holding up our hands, taking responsibility and being able to move forward from there and taking what we learnt from it with us. I hope I am seeing that with you and I firmly believe now I will continue to see that in you. I also don’t think how unfair this has been on you with your relationships with your fellow crewmates. I hate to think that anyone under my command feels isolated.”

Tears started to form around her eyes, Habiba pushed them away and smiled in gratefulness for the captain’s words. “Thank you for saying that sir.”

Offering her a tissue from a small box he had on top of one of his cabinets, Burton continued with his little prep-speech. “Martha, I cannot offer you the full time position of chief science officer as it is a command level position. But I can help you take that next step in your career and get you on your way, if you’re up for it.”

Dabbing the tissue around her eyes and cheeks, she nodded to her superior officer.

Smiling at her response, Burton finished his speech to her. “Then Miss Martha Habiba, I hereby grant you field promotion to lieutenant junior grade, with all the commensurate responsibilities and privileges of that rank. I am officially making you our Acting Chief Science Officer until I am able to fulfil that role with an appropriate candidate. I will also be instructing Commander Stanton to add you to the group of other officers who have recently been promoted and for you to undertake the junior officer’s leadership qualification.”

“Again thank you sir, so much.” Habiba said with more tears and more smiling. “I really do appreciate this second chance you’re giving me and I promise to do my best.”

“That’s all I ask Martha.” He turned his chair back around and pulled a small box off his table and opened it before handing it over to the science officer. In it was a small black and silver rectangle pip. 

She smiled at the small object, she was overcome with a range of emotions as Burton took it out of the box and placed it on her right shoulder next to her single pip. “Congratulations Lieutenant Habiba.” He said as he shook her hand. “I’ll have the commander share the news with the rest of the crew shortly. Now return to your station on the bridge and let’s see if we can find those missing ships.”

“Aye sir.” She said standing up and thanked the captain one more time before leaving his office. 

Her departure was soon followed by the intercom going off. “Bridge to Fleet Captain Burton.”

Hearing his own new rank being used was still something Burton was not getting used to. Recognising the voice of his communications officer, Burton immediately tapped the nearby communications panel installed in his desk. “Go ahead Ned.”

“Sir, you’ve got an incoming secured call from Earth. It’s the Deputy Director of Starfleet Science.”

Further smiling at that, Burton ordered Hennessey to transfer the call to his ready room so he could talk to his former first officer and the mother of his unborn children. He hoped that the mention of it being a secured channel meant she was calling to deal with official business and it wasn’t anything to do with her pregnancy. 

Once the niceties had been exchanged and Levesque told Burton not to get himself worried about their unborn children, Levesque went on to share why she was calling him. “I heard about the mission that you’re on and when I found out which ships you’re looking for, I needed to call you Lloyd.”

That made Lloyd worry more. 

Elaborating further, Levesque clarified what she meant. “The Armstrong is my brother-in-law’s ship. His Captain Charan’s chief science officer and second officer. He joined the ship shortly after its recent stopover here on Earth. Originally they had been sent to do reconnaissance of the Barrens but those orders were changed to join the task group for Deneva.” 

“The Barrens?” Burton quizzed. 

“It’s a region of space just outside of Commonwealth territory constituting a subspace node, where no stars or celestial bodies exist. Starfleet Intelligence had Starfleet Science look into it recently to see if it could be used as a tactical advantage against the Romulans. The Armstrong was undertaking the preliminary survey for us.”

“Understood, which of your brother-in-laws should I be looking out for?” Burton quizzed. Levesque was one of four and her other siblings were all married. He had not met everyone in her family, except for her parents and older sister. 

“Cooper,” She answered, “Lieutenant Commander Cooper Walker, his Claudia’s husband. She is worried sick now.”

Understanding that once again there was someone else he now knew who would be affected by this mission, he told Nicole that he would find Cooper for her and let her know as soon as possible. Nicole thanked him and closed the channel. 

Pushing himself away from his desk, still in his chair, Burton wondered just how many people would sacrifice themselves for the good of all to defeat the Romulans.