Once word had gotten out about the Tholian attack at Rator, the atmosphere on the ship had appeared to have shifted to one that brought a sense of hope. Fleet Captain Burton had noticed it almost instantly from the moment he left the command centre and headed to the conference room on E deck. He had sent his yeoman to meet and escort Commander T’Plau and Lieutenant Hennessey from the port docking port while his first officer was greeting Commander Anthi at the starboard docking port.
Walking alone to his meeting gave the fleet captain time to think to himself. This whole situation with the Tholians had significantly changed the course of the war. Had the Tholians declared war against the Romulans? Would they be willing to join the Coalition? Earth’s interactions with the Tholians was insignificant compared to their run-ins with other galactic powers like the Romulans, Klingons and Xindi. There were too many unanswered questions, but what Burton did know was time was against him. Did he use his power to launch another attack against the Romulans, like Anthi suggested? If he did, could it bring a crippling blow to the Romulan Star Empire and give them some much needed breathing space to rebuild and plan their next moves? Or did he retreat to a safe place and reconsider his options first? Could there be a bigger picture here that he was not quite seeing? If he did the former he knew he may be walking into more questions from the admiralty back home, especially if something went wrong.
Stepping into the conference room, he turned the lights on and went straight over to the drink dispenser. Taking out a mug, stacked within its holding column next to it, he asked for his usual hot beverage. Walking to the head of the table, he placed his mug of steaming tea down and sat down in his usual chair.
Moments later and his guests were now sitting around the table. To his right, his first officer with Anthi next to him. To his left, Commander T’Plau and Hennssey beside her. After catching T’Plau about the Tholian attack on Rator, Burton hoped that she and his communications officer would have some good news.
“Fascinating.” was the first thing the Vulcan woman said as she listened intently to the briefing she received from her ally. “The Tholian presence in the area is something we should inform all of our governments about. They highly xenophobic and territorial, for as long as they have been known to the Confederacy of Vulcan, they have not engaged in such a large scale hostile act against another government. The V’Shar assessed them as being isolationists.”
“It’s the same for the Andorian Empire, we’ve never known them to take such unilateral action, without a reason.” Anthi commented. “We can only assume that the Romulans have carried out something against the Tholians to receive such a beating from them.”
“Pearl Harbour.” muttered Rodham.
Anthi and T’Plau looked at Challenger’s first officer perplexed at his statement while both Burton and Hennessey recognised the connection already.
“Care to explain Commander Rodham?” Anthi quizzed.
Breathing in, Rodham explained his remark and the connection he was making. “Pearl Habour was a decisive battle during Earth’s second world war, which led to the United States of America declaring war against Japan and joining the Allies in their fight against the Axis powers. We know that the Romulans wish to dominate this area of space, perhaps they thought the Tholians were a threat and were concerned they would join the war effort against them if they didn’t strike first.”
“Obviously the Romulan intelligence network didn’t inform its military of the might and resolve of their Tholian counterparts.” Burton stated. “For all we know they’ve used their telepresence capturing device against the Tholians and this is their revenge for the Romulans using it against them.”
“It would be wise for our governments to attempt to open diplomatic relations with the Tholians to determine if they would join the war effort. Another strong ally would most likely secure us a victory.” T’Plau suggested.
“Either way, there are too many unanswered questions revolving around the Tholians.” Burton said, he took a sip from his mug of tea as he looked over to his communications officer. “Keeping up with the idea of trying to find answers, how did your expedition to Vulcan go, Ned?”
Glancing to T’Plau, who remained still in her composure, Hennssey looked at his superior officer. “My expedition didn’t reveal the answers I was hoping to find. Access to the vast Vulcan linguistic database didn’t get me any further.” He took in a breath himself and after exhaling he apologised. “Sorry, sir. I was hoping that from the countless years of Vulcans exploring space they may have encountered something that may have pointed me in the right direction. Instead, all I found was more foggy answers.”
Deflating in his seat, somewhat, Burton sighed at hearing that response. “That’s disappointing to hear. How long will it take for us to completely translate the Romulan database that the Discovery found then?”
“Without any further assistance, a complete translation of this magnitude along with a full decryption, my best guess is almost a century long.” Hennessey answered. “Even with our best linguists and cryptologists working around the clock, this database is so vast and complex.”
“A hundred years, really?” Anthi checked, the surprise in her tone evident. “That’s hard to believe.”
“This is truly an extension of the secretive nature of the Romulan people. How dense they make their database so secure and language so difficult to comprehend is testimony to their resolve in not being identified to their enemies.” T’Plau remarked. “By remaining secluded in this way, it gives them an upperhand to us.”
“The element of surprise will always remain.” Burton stated.
“Until they slip up.” Rodham added. “Hopefully that won’t take a century.”
Silence fell on the room before Anthi broke it. “Fleet Captain Burton, have you made up your mind whether we attack another possible Romulan target?”
Considering the question for a second, Burton was almost certain on his gut instinct. “Not right now.” He replied. “We need to make our way home, back to our respective governments and with what we know. The Tholians have given us the upper hand for now, let’s use the time wisely. As I said earlier, let’s plan our next move, I don’t want to rush into something, yet.”
“Agreed.” T’Plau said in support.
Anthi nodded her head. “Agreed.”
Picking the crust of the apple pie with the end of his spoon, Commander Walker was certainly not in any rush in eating the dessert anytime soon. Sitting at one of the round tables in the ship’s mess hall, the chief science officer was taking a brief break from his duty on the bridge while the ship held its position since its rendezvous with the Jarok.
“Are you going to eat it or continue to play with it?” Lieutenant Commander Sandoval questioned from the seat besides the chief science officer. Taking a sip from her mug of coffee, the gamma shift officer of the watch shook her head in the direction of her company’s lack of appetite and spoiling of such a nice thing to eat.
“I’m not sure.” Walker answered as he poked at the ice cream that sat next to it. “Seeing how brutal the battle between the Romulans and Tholians was made me realise just how serious this war can get. I think it’s turned my stomach off from wanting nice things.”
Chuckling somewhat at his response, the Hispanic commander placed her mug down on the table. “Don’t let it do that.” She stated as the door to the mess hall opened, allowing Rodham to enter.
Walker sat up at the sight of the pilot and first officer and called him over. “How’d the meeting go?”
Rodham just nodded, “Fine.” He said before stopping at the drink dispenser to grab a mug of a coffee. As the drink loaded up, he looked back to his fellow commanders. “We’re heading home.”
Both Sandoval and Walker sighed somewhat. The sense of relief was clear in their expressions.
“I take it the captain is eager to return to friendly territory?” Sandoval quizzed.
“Yeah, but the whole Tholian fiasco is leaving too many unanswered questions.” Rodham said as he took his coffee and joined his comrades at their table.
“Their arrival and involvement against the Romulans was certainly unexpected.” Walker stated as he pushed his spoon into the ice cream. “I’m surprised the captain doesn’t want us to hunt down some more Romulan targets.”
“Either way, I think it gives us some more breathing room.” Rodham said in between sips of his drink.
Sandoval picked up her mug and appeared unsure what Rodham meant by that comment. “What are you getting at Alex?”
Placing his mug down, Rodham shared his thoughts. “I was reading one of Michael’s log entries earlier,” Pausing at mentioning his late husband’s name, he took a breath, “and one thing came clear to me about this crew.”
“And what’s that?” Cooper wondered with a mouthful of ice cream and apple pie.
“Captain Karim picked a very young and almost inexperienced crew. Most of them were straight out of Starfleet Training Command, some have Challenger as their second assignment.” Rodham stated. “Besides the original senior staff, Karim was planning to use Challenger as a way of empowering the next generation of Starfleet officers. Obviously, Burton inherited that and in the past year he and the others have had to deal with that while dealing with a war.”
“I’m going to say it again,” Sandoval said. “What are you getting at Alex?”
“I think the Tholians saved us from our doom.” Rodham said. “If there’s anything I’ve noticed about what Michael said in his logs, was that if it wasn’t for the wide experience of the senior staff then Challenger may have not survived what it has encountered so much so far this year. My worry is, if we had gone into that battle just how much could we have survived with the lack of experience we have around us?”
“Do you think the senior staff lacks experience?” Walker asked, with a concerned expression.
“Between us three, Kefira and Ned to some degree, the majority of our crew are very young. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing and that the likes of Rachele, Masuko and Luis haven’t earned their recent promotions…it’s just…” Rodham paused.
“We’ve lost other key players like Levesque, Yu and…” Sandoval started.
“And Michael.” Rodham added, glumily. “I’m not saying we can’t do it, but we are now going to find ourselves more on the frontlines. Are we certain this crew is ready for constant engagements? I don’t mean just the physical readiness, but the mental readiness. For that I’m not certain.”
“You make a valid point Alex., so what do you suggest we do then?” Walker asked. “We can’t go to the captain with this without a solution. His focus needs to be on the war effort.”
“Indeed, so I think it needs to be down to us to deal with this.” Rodham said. “The meeting I’ve just come from proves that he needs to be thinking about the war and not worried that his crew isn’t ready to go when he issues orders. What I’m suggesting is we take people under our wings, a sort of buddy-mentor.”
“Almost like what Starfleet Training Command does with second year cadets and first year cadets. You’ll always have someone ahead of you that can watch your back.” Sandoval said, understanding Rodham’s plan. “Those of us who are experienced could divide up those on the senior staff who are new to the job as well as their deputies. Then if we get them to pick up on those junior to them, almost everyone on the ship would have someone.”
Nodding with what she said, Rodham agreed with her suggestion. “Exactly my thoughts as well.” He looked at Walker. “What do you say Cooper?”
“I’m in.” The science officer said. “Having someone else from a different department would certainly bring the crew a lot closer, just as the captain wanted.”
“Let’s get back together later tonight and put a list together. In the meantime, I’ll speak to the likes of Kefira and Ned about it.” Rodham said, he picked up his mug and finished the contents very quickly.
Standing in the MACO barracks, informing his squads that the plans to attack the Romulans was no longer happening, Captain Trommler was handing out the last of assignments as he stood the MACO unit down from being combat ready. “Are there any questions?” He asked from behind the lectern.
“Are we expecting that another offensive will take place?” asked Staff Sergeant Iyer. “It seems like a waste that everything we had planned to do at Rator couldn’t be used against a different, but similar target.”
“Sergeant, either way, we would have to adjust our tactics if another attack is planned.” commented First Lieutenant Alder. The MACO deputy lead stood beside Trommler with her hands behind her back. “Our next battle may not be like the Rator system.”
“Either way, we remain ready.” Trommler added. “If anything, our prep work shows just how ready this unit was. We’ll do it again, but I want better from everyone. So we will carry on with daily training for everyone.”
There were a few groans and grumblings with that announcement.
“Anyone else?” Trommler asked his fellow comrades.
Private Rafterty held his hand up and was encouraged by his superior to speak up. “Will the task force remain together?”
Shaking his head, Trommler explained why it wasn’t. “The Andorian and Vulcan elements have returned to their respective territories for now and Fleet Captain Burton isn’t sure yet what Starfleet Command will decide. That’s why we are all heading back to Earth.” Seeing that no-one else had questions, the captain dismissed everyone and looked to his deputy. “Sheridan, can I leave it down to you to begin work on adjusting our training sessions. I want everyone to have the chance to work with one another, not just their usual teams.” Trommler commanded as he handed her a tablet with his proposed ideas on it.
Taking the computer device, Adler just nodded. “Absolutely, sir.” She noticed someone appearing behind Trommler and smirked at him. “I’ll put this together and share my plans, once you’re free.” She indicated with her chin towards their visitor behind him.
Spinning almost on his heels to see who Adler was going on about, Trommler was caught off guard with the arrival of Ensign Avery. “Ensign, this is a surprise visit.”
Looking around the room, to ensure she was safe to speak, Avery stepped forward closer to him. “Well now that we are out of danger, for the time being, I was wondering if I could take you up on that offer of weapon’s training?”
Smirking at her, Trommler just nodded like an excited puppy. “Yeah, sure, that’s fine.”
“Great,” She said, “perhaps we could get dinner afterwards?”
“Absolutely.” Trommler agreed. “Weapons training can become hungry work.”
“I bet.” Avery said as she started to turn away. “I get off from duty at eighteen hundred hours, shall I see you in the firing range then?”
“It’s a date.” Trommler said confidently, showing off his boyish charm.
“See you then.” She finished as she walked away, having Trommler watch her as she did so. Knowing that he was staring, she flicked her hair behind her shoulder as she turned to him and gave him a wink before leaving the barracks.
For the first time in days, Lieutenant Stewart felt calm. It kind of helped that he was in the arms of his husband as they laid in their bed. He could feel Liam’s gentle breathing against his neck with his strong right arm across his chest, fingers intertwined with Niall’s right hand while his right leg was draped over Niall’s. Stewart was certainly comfortable from his husband’s body warmth. Who needed environmental controls when his husband was like a walking heater? However he couldn’t quite fall asleep. Instead he laid there in the darkness with his eyes wide open. Though they had missed the battle with the Romulans, their near-miss had become a topic of conversation among many on the crew that evening.
Turning his head, he looked at his husband’s almost lifeless body while he remained in his deep sleep. The MACO soldier looked almost innocent in the way he was. It made Stewart love him even more and a smirk crept across his face.
“What’s wrong Niall?” Jenkins mumbled under his breath.
“Nothing, go back to sleep.” Stewart whispered, annoyed at himself for waking him up.
“I can’t when I know you’re staring at me.” Jenkins groaned as he pulled his husband closer to him. Their bare chests touching one another. “What’s on your mind?”
“Just what everyone else was saying tonight over dinner.” Stewart admitted. “About how lucky we’ve been, this round.”
Eyes opening slightly, Jenkins raised his head off his pillow somewhat. “Are you worrying about what could have been?”
“What could have been! What could be!” Stewart stated, still keeping his voice low. “I just don’t want to lose what we have here. You’re my whole world Liam.”
“Right back at ya.” Jenkins said in his typical south-English accent. “But we still have what we have right now, so can we just enjoy it and sleep?”
Chuckling at his husband’s request, Stewart agreed and leant in to place a kiss on Jenkins’ lips. “Thank you.”
Kissing him in return, Jenkins smirked afterwards. “For what?”
“Being you.” Stewart said as he got comfortable in the arms of his husband. “And for being a great source of heat.”
“Anytime.” Jenkins replied as he pulled himself closer to his other half. “Anytime.”
“Burning the midnight oil, Ned?” Chef Lawson asked as she entered the almost empty crew lounge and recognised the chief communications officer sitting by himself with a pot of coffee and a mug on the table before him. Dotted around the table were numerous tablets while he worked on and reached for the mug.
“I didn’t think anyone else stayed up this late.” He responded back to the enlisted officer.
“Now, I can’t have you having coffee by yourself.” Lawson said, grabbing a mug from a nearby shelf and approaching the communications officer.
“Have a seat.” Hennssey offered after placing his mug down and picking up the pot to pour into hers.
“Still hunting for buried treasure?” Lawson said, gesturing at the mess before them.
“A new treasure chest in fact.” Hennessey clarified. “Tanisha has picked the lock of the Tholian upload we received, I’m just trying to get up to speed with what we have so we can catalogue our fortune.”
“You’ve given up on the Romulan database?” Lawson inquired as she sipped on her hot beverage.
“For now, yes.” Hennessey replied. “I’m going to hand it over to someone at Starfleet to deal with. It’s too valuable to have just on Challenger.”
“Anything interesting from the Tholian datastream?” Lawson asked.
“I’ve got over fifty decryption algorithms working simultaneously right now.” He gestured towards his work. “I think the captain would appreciate some answers.”
“This whole situation does seem bittersweet if we don’t know the Tholians’ intentions.” Lawson added.
He was about to agree with her when one of the tablets beeped making him pick it up. Hennessey’s eyes opened wide as he read its contents. “I think I may have something for the captain.”
“That soon?” Lawson asked.
“You must be my lucky charm, chef.” Hennessey said as he stood up. “Excuse me.” He added before quickly departing from the crew lounge.
“And you’re certain about its authenticity?” Burton checked as he looked up at his chief communications officer.
After being woken up by his door chime going off several times, Burton had pulled one of his black hoodies over his chest before allowing his midnight visitor in. Hennessey had almost shoved the tablet he had into his captain’s hands.
Hennessey nodded. “I ran the checks on my way here.”
Looking back at the message on the monitor that sat on his desk, Burton considered its content one more time. He had shared the information on the tablet to his desktop console so he didn’t have to strain his eyes on the smaller screen. “It would appear my hunch from earlier was correct. The Romulans did try to use the telepresence against the Tholians, but failed miserably.”
“Indeed, the only downside is the Tholians won’t participate in the war.” Hennessey said, sounding almost deflated since his find.
“Nevertheless they’ve sent the message they wanted to send to the Romulans.” Burton said, looking back up at the communication officer. “Don’t mess with us or we’ll give you a bloody nose. This Admiral Jaimsekn was intent on not letting the Romulans think his people were a walkover.”
“What shall I do with the message sir?” Hennessey asked.
“Send it on a secure channel to Commanders Anthi and T’Plau, they can share it with their governments as they deem best fit. Once we reach Earth, I’ll hand it over to Starfleet as well as the Tellarite Embassy. I’m sure Ambassador Gouth would be interested.” Stifling a yawn, Burton covered his mouth with his right hand. “Nevertheless, the treasure they’ve given us will certainly help us.”
“At least some good has come out of this adventure.” Hennessey remarked.
“Indeed, Ned.” Burton smirked. “Thanks for letting me know. Now go get some sleep, we can pick this up in the morning.”
“Thank you, sir.” Hennessey replied before leaving the captain’s quarters.
After he was left alone with his own thoughts in his room, Burton turned to look out of the large window. He could see Voyager travelling alongside them at warp three as they headed home. “Thank you Admiral Jaimsekn, whoever you were and wherever you are now.” He muttered before he got back into bed.