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Part of USS Challenger: New Beginnings

Accelerated Departure

Starfleet Command
Stardate 76796.3
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“Captain, I believe you know Doctor Matthias Bentley.”

That was something of an understatement, Tom thought, as he and Matt awkwardly shook hands, playing along with Commodore Vega’s apparent assumption that they hadn’t seen each other in years. “Yes,” he replied slowly, “we were at the Academy together.”

“It’s good to see you again, Captain.” A smile bordering on a smirk pulled at Matt’s lips and the amused glint in his eyes was unmistakable.

Commodore Vega instructed them to sit and quickly got down to business. “We’re moving the Challenger’s departure schedule up.” 

“To when?” Tom asked. 

He knew, when he was summoned to Vega’s office at short notice, that it wasn’t going to be for anything good. “Zero nine hundred tomorrow. Can the Challenger be made ready that soon?”

“Yes, ma’am.” With only days left before the refit was complete and the McKinley Station engineers handed over to Lieutenant Commander Jackson and his team, the tasks left to complete were relatively minor. “Most of the remaining work can be undertaken by my engineers in flight.” He glanced over at Matt, curious as to how he fit into all of this. “What are our orders?”

Vega leaned forward. “A planet in the Gamma Quadrant, Darox III, has requested Federation protectorate status. The Challenger is being sent to evaluate their request. Doctor Bentley will be the Federation Diplomatic Corps liaison on this mission.”

“Why not send a Diplomatic Corps official from New Bajor on a ship that’s much closer than the Challenger?” Tom asked.

His question wasn’t meant as a criticism of Matt’s abilities as a diplomat but rather a question of practicality. “Doctor Bentley has been asked for by name and the Federation Council believes that sending a Galaxy-class starship will show that we’re taking their request seriously..”

“Asked for by name.” Tom repeated as he glanced at Matt. “Someone’s popular.

Matt smiled. “Four years ago the Dominion pulled out of a number of planets in the Eden cluster, including Darox III. The Daroxi requested Federation assistance so teams of various disciplines were sent. I commanded  the diplomatic detachment. Our job was to support the Federation diplomats in their work and during the course of that I developed a relationship with the man who’s now Prime Minister.”

A relationship. Tom rolled the word around in his mind. Did that mean they were just friends? Lovers perhaps? He felt a pang of jealousy at the possibility of the latter. Tom’s smile dropped and his shoulders tensed. It was a completely irrational reaction and it took him by surprise. Why was the idea of Matt with someone else making him jealous? He quickly pushed the question away and returned his focus to the meeting at hand.

“Why the rush?” Tom asked, his tone more businesslike than before. He hoped the change in his demeanour had gone unnoticed by both Matt and Vega. Judging by the way her eyes flicked from Tom to Matt and back again, Vega had noticed. “Evaluating a planet for protectorate status is hardly an urgent task.

Matt beat Commodore Vega to the punch. “We’re not the only ones the Daroxi have been speaking to.” He replied.

“You’ll receive all the briefing materials prior to departure but for now, suffice to say that there’s we don’t have an abundance of time on this.” Vega told them, jumping in before the Captain could ask any more questions. “You have a lot of work ahead of you so I won’t keep you any longer.” She gave them a curt nod, silently dismissing them.

As they began making their way out of the office, Vega called out to Tom. “Captain, a moment.” He stopped and turned back to face the Captain, certain that he knew what this was going to be. Only once the door was closed did the Commodore speak again. “Is this going to be a problem?

For a split second, he considered playing stupid and trying to fake a look of confusion but the Commodore had already sussed out that they were more than old Academy buddies. Instead he shook his head. “No ma’am. No problem.”

“Very well.” Vega accepted the Captain’s word. “Good luck out there, Captain. Dismissed.”

As he’d expected, Matt was waiting for him when he emerged from Vega’s office. “Well that was awkward.” Matt said as he pushed himself off the wall he’d been leaning against, a smile playing on his lips.

“That’s one word for it.” Tom replied evenly, as they started down the corridor. The jealousy had continued to eat away at him and soured his mood.

Matt’s smile faltered and he reached out, placing a hand on Tom’s forearm. “You okay?”

Coming to a stop at Matt’s touch, he turned to face him. “I’ve just been told that I have less than eighteen hours to make the Challenger ready for departure.” He replied shortly. “I think it’s fair to say I have a few things on my mind.

“No.” Matt said with a shake of his head. “That’s not it. There’s something else going on. Are you pissed that I’ve been assigned to your ship?”

“Of course not.” Tom rolled his eyes as if that was the most ridiculous suggestion he’d ever heard. “Look, I need to get back to the Challenger and you need to get home and pack.” Ordinarily he would have said goodbye by giving Matt a kiss but he held himself back this time. “I’ll see you onboard.”

He knew he’d been a dick and was already mentally kicking himself for treating Matt like that but that pang of jealousy had settled in his heart and become something incredibly ugly. Of course Matt had a romantic history. They both did, though Tom’s wasn’t particularly long or successful. Giving himself a mental shake, Tom forced his thoughts of Matt into a box and locked them away for the moment. He had a job to do and couldn’t let his feelings get in the way of that.

Captain’s Log, Stardate 76798.3. Thanks to the herculean effort of my crew, particularly Lieutenant Commander Jackson and his team, the Challenger is ready to depart on time. While there is still much work ahead of us to complete the refit, we are ready to set sail on our first assignment. After a brief stop at Deep Space Nine, the Challenger will begin a six month deployment in the Gamma Quadrant. Like most of my crew, this will be my first trip through the  Bajoran Wormhole and I’m looking forward to the chance of exploring this still largely unknown corner of our galaxy. Before we leave, however, I have one last duty to attend to.

With a smile, Tom reached out and attached the third silver pin to her uniform. “I hereby promote you to the rank of Commander with all the associated rights and privileges.” He smiled and extended a hand. “Congratulations Gabrielle.”

“Thank you, sir.” Bennett replied with a beaming smile of her own as she accepted the offered hand. As soon as she released it, she turned to her husband who offered his own congratulations and a kiss. Tom had arranged for him to be there for his wife’s impromptu promotion ceremony, following the successful completion of her bridge officers exam.

“Christian, it was good to see you again.” The two men shook hands briefly. “Commander, why don’t you take a few minutes with your husband before escorting him to the transporter room.”

Tom exited the observation lounge to find Yeoman Ross waiting for him. “Commander Kailir is waiting in your ready room, sir.” He quietly thanked her and strode forward across the bridge, entering his private office seconds later.

“So how are you getting me my division heads and chief ops officer?” Tom asked as the door closed behind him. With the change in Challenger’s departure date, several key officers were not going to reach Earth in time so the XO had been tasked with finding a way for them to reach the Challenger.

The Bajoran placed a hand on the back of one of the visitors chairs and leaned against it. “Two of our division heads will be joining us when we rendezvous with the Malinche in a few days. Our chief ops officer and the remaining crew will be meeting us at DS9.”

“Good work, Commander.” Tom gave her a smile. “As soon as Doctor Bennett’s departed, we’ll be ready to go.”

Kailir nodded and stood up straight. “I’ll be on the bridge.”

The XO had no sooner left than the door chime sounded again. When Tom admitted his new visitor entry, AJ stepped into the room. “Aren’t you supposed to be on the bridge?” The Captain asked.

“We’re holding station until you give us the order to get underway.” AJ shot back. “My relief can handle that for a few minutes.”

His friend had a point. “What do you need?” Tom asked as he finally sat behind his desk and leaned back in the chair.

“What’ve you done?” AJ asked.

Tom’s brow furrowed in confusion. He had an idea what AJ was referring to but had no intention of having this discussion now so he played stupid. “What d’you mean?”

“You know what I’m talking about.” AJ shot back with a withering look. “You and Matt are both walking around with dark clouds hanging over you. What happened?”

I messed up and don’t know how to walk it back, was what Tom wanted to say but that would have opened a whole can of worms. “I’m not talking about this, AJ. We’re minutes away from departure. That’s where our focus should be.”

“C’mon. Just tal-” AJ stopped when Tom suddenly stood.

“You’re dismissed.” Tom had adopted a more formal tone, making it clear that he was definitely not talking about his personal life right at that moment.

AJ regarded his friend with an annoyed look and let out a sigh. “You love this new power dynamic, don’t you?”

“If you’re asking me if I love being able to order you to shut up, then yes. I do.” Tom replied with an amused smile. “Take your station.”

After letting out a harumph, AJ spoke once more. “We’re not done talking about this.”

“I didn’t think so.” Tom muttered after the doors closed behind AJ.

Tom moved to the window and watched as a travel pod flew slowly past. McKinley Station’s arms had been fully retracted, ready for the Challenger to leave. When he’d been given command of the Challenger, Tom hadn’t considered the possibility of getting involved with someone and certainly not that that person would end up working alongside him on the Challenger. It was a complication, exactly the kind of complication that he’d worked hard his entire career to avoid.

A little over ten minutes later, Tom was drawn from his thoughts at the news that Commander Bennett’s husband had departed. The moment had arrived. As Tom emerged from the ready room, Commander Kailir’s voice filled the room. “Captain on the bridge.”

Everyone who was seated quickly got to their feet. Tom took in the sight for a moment. Every set of eyes was upon him, each of the faces reflecting his own eagerness to finally get underway. Even Matt was on the bridge for this, occupying the seat to Tom’s left, though he was careful not to meet Matt’s gaze.

“As you were.” He moved towards the centre of the bridge as everyone took their seat. “That was a nice touch.” Tom muttered as he settled himself in the command chair.

Kailir smiled. “I thought you’d like it.” She replied quietly. When she spoke next, it was at her normal volume. “All departments report ready, Captain. Standing by for your order.”

“Very good, Commander.” Tom gave her a smile before turning his attention towards the front of the bridge. “Commander Mitchell, report.”

AJ tapped a few commands into his console. “Airlocks sealed. McKinley Station’s arms have retracted and umbilicals have been detached and cleared. Warp and impulse engines standing by. Thrusters at station keeping.”

“Let’s not outstay our welcome, then.” Tom said, sliding forward to the edge of his chair.

Finally he gave the order he’d waited just over a week to give. “Take us out.”