‘It’s such a pleasure to meet you, Commander.’ The young officer had bounced to his feet so quickly when she entered the science lab that he might have had a spring under his chair. ‘I’ve heard a lot about you, and a lot about your work -‘
Leonov had barely taken in the sight of the Endeavour’s lab systems, little though they varied from her workspace aboard the Buran, and so an ebullient subordinate was not what she’d expected to deal with in the first half-second of her arrival. ‘Lieutenant. I’m just getting my bearings; stand down before you strain something.’
It was like she’d either cut the strings on a puppet, or kicked a puppy. ‘Right, of course, Commander, of course. You can – I mean, let me know if you need anything…’
She’d only arrived aboard within the last hours, reporting to the captain and tossing her bags into her quarters, and this was her first stop now she was getting down to business. Nevertheless, it did not take long to familiarise herself with a space near-identical to where she had worked for the last year, even with Endeavour’s upgrades. After a mere few minutes she turned to the baby-faced lieutenant. ‘Right. You’re Miller, correct?’
‘Ah, yes, Commander. Lieutenant Dan Miller.’ He’d sat down while she worked and now bounced up anew, hand extended eagerly. ‘I’d be happy to get you up to speed on our latest work; the new sensor array means we’ve got a bevy of more data from our last action and we’re still figuring out how to best integrate our findings with the next tactical appraisal.’
It wasn’t his fault. But she scowled anyway. ‘What’s your area, Miller?’
‘Oh – I’m an astrogeologist by training.’ He sounded surprised she’d asked. ‘But I’ve spent most of my time on Endeavour getting to grips with Romulan defence systems, mostly their hull protections and how they interact with their deflector systems. We’ve got to know how to get past them, after all.’
‘From geology to warfare.’ Leonov set her hands on her hips. ‘Do you enjoy that?’
Now he looked plainly like he didn’t understand. ‘I do what’s needed, I guess, Commander.’
‘Hmph.’ She looked him up and down, but decided to not press the issue. ‘Don’t we all.’
Once the cold overhead lights of the science lab had been softened by the glow of data feeds scrolling across screens, the gleam of the control panels. Now those were gone, leaving Leonov under the stark bulbs of the ship as she was shoved into a chair before the Orion Nytehr. The guards had not flexed their muscles at her yet, not needed to do more than frog-march her, but she was not eager to test how far they would go.
‘Your main computer remains locked out,’ said Nytehr, folding his arms across his chest. ‘Which means I’m going to be reliant on your cooperation to get through this. But we do know enough of your Starfleet for me to know you hold the rank of Commander, which makes you one of the most senior people on this ship. Certainly the most senior in that room.’
Leonov pursed her lips and thought. ‘It’s interesting. We have what some people on Earth think of as a tradition that under interrogation, military officers are supposed to only obligated to answer with their name, rank, and serial number.’
‘I would be delighted,’ said Nytehr, eyebrows raising a half-inch, ‘to know your name, Commander.’
‘It’s interesting because it’s not a tradition. It’s an obligation of the Geneva Convention, human laws that once dictated the rules of warfare. Soldiers were entitled to certain treatments and protection, but that meant they had to identify and confirm themselves as soldiers.’ She tilted her chin up. ‘But the Orion Syndicate aren’t signatories to the Geneva Convention, and as you’ve demonstrated by the state of my captain, there are absolutely no rules here. So you’ll forgive me if I don’t offer a courtesy you haven’t offered me.’
Nytehr sighed. ‘I regret the treatment of your captain. That was not my decision.’
‘Let me guess. You’re different.’
‘I am. I much prefer conversation to brutality. It tells you more about a person.’ He pulled up a chair. ‘As does observation. Which tells me you are not only a commander, but by the blue stripe on your uniform, you work in the scientific or medical services. Your doctor has already been identified, so, scientific it is. I’ll presume that you are not only the Chief Science Officer, but the first officer.’
‘You certainly think you know a lot about Earth Starfleet. If you think I’ll use my supposed powers as first officer to unlock the computer-’
‘I’m not interested in your computer. I’m interested in you, Commander.’ Nytehr pointed at her with a light flourish. ‘A highly-qualified and experienced scientist such as yourself is a very interesting piece of merchandise.’
Leonov raised an eyebrow. ‘If these are your conclusions, then why are we even talking?’
‘Because such potentially valuable goods as you needs fully appraising. I can hardly sell you as a scientist to someone who needs a biologist, when for all I know you’re an expert chemist.’
Now she hesitated. The longer Nytehr spent with her, the less time he would spend with anyone else. But getting herself into a condition like the captain’s wouldn’t help anyone. ‘That does sound like a problem,’ she conceded without an ounce of sympathy.
‘It does.’ Nytehr lifted a data tablet. ‘But you seem to like being coy, Commander. I’ll start with being direct: what is your name?’
‘That’s something you can’t learn from your vaunted skills in observation?’
He gave a faint sigh, but didn’t look up. ‘Something different, then: what is your area of expertise as a science officer?’
‘Starfleet rather likes us to have a well-rounded education.’
‘I see.’ Nytehr stood up, and tapped his tablet. ‘I anticipated something like this.’
At whatever signal he’d sent, the doors slid open for one of the burly guards to drag in the baby-faced figure of Lieutenant Dan Miller. A blow to the head had split his brow, and while the wound didn’t look severe, it had bled enough to leave him a mess.
His eyes widened at the sight of her. ‘Commander!’
‘Lieutenant Miller has been very polite since he was found here in this lab when we took the ship,’ Nytehr drawled. ‘I’m glad you two know each other.’ He rounded on Miller and cocked his head. ‘What’s her name?’
Miller’s gaze flickered to Leonov, but all she had time to do was tighten her jaw, mind racing. That hesitation alone was enough to make Nytehr look to the guard, who swung a fist into Miller’s gut.
Leonov’s chest tightened as Miller bent double with a pained, breathless sound. ‘My name is Commander Katya Leonov, Chief Science Officer and Executive Officer, Endeavour NX-06.’
‘I was talking to Lieutenant Miller,’ said Nytehr in a light voice. ‘But your cooperation is appreciated, Commander Katya Leonov. I’m glad you understand the situation you’re in.’ He turned back to her. ‘Because he is clearly a subordinate, and it’s an acceptable loss for him to decline in value – health issues, that sort of thing – if it results in a more successful appraisal of you, Commander.’ The Orion gave a broad, toothy smile that almost looked sincere. ‘After all, I think you might be the most valuable prize of the whole crew.’
As she froze, he clapped once. ‘I’ll let you consider that here, in Lieutenant Miller’s company, while I begin some other appraisals. We’ll speak soon, Commander.’
He left, the burly guard who’d dragged Miller in remaining, and with a groan Miller sank to the deck, his back to one of the deactivated consoles. And for a long time, all Leonov could do was sit in silence and regard this baby-faced young man who had been nothing but a puppy-like annoyance since she’d met him, and whose life and wellbeing now very clearly lay in her hands.