The soldiers suddenly stopped their attack frozen in mid-motion, held there by a seemingly invisible force. Then they faded away as a group of Starfleet officers materialized from inside a transporter beam.
They split up and started to revive Ethan’s team. As they assemble before a Vulcan wearing the four pips of a captain he spoke bluntly, “Commander your entire team was wiped out. You and Lieutenant MacDonald are dead, and Commander Kyo and Dr. Sandoval are prisoners of the Dominion.”
Ethan stiffened, “Yes sir. I failed to identify the ambush, and to plan the assault accordingly.”
“That much is obvious,” the Vulcan replied. “Return to your ship. We will have your evaluation by the end of the day.”
Ethan nodded, “Yes sir.”
The Vulcan and his team disappeared into a transporter beam. Ethan sighed and tapped his combadge. “Talon to Zebulon Pike. Four to beam up.”
“One moment sir,” came the chief engineer’s voice. And then they were all in the cramped compartment that served as their transporter room.
Noticing Jolie was clutching her arm, “Report to sickbay and let Dr. Sandoval take a look at you. If you are up to it,” he added looking at Aimee who, compared to the whole team, looked a little less worse for wear. Getting “killed” in these training sessions was supposed to be painful and uncomfortable. “I suppose the EMH can handle it.”
“No, I’m good,” Aimee lied. “Come on Commander,” Aimee said heading down the corridor.
“Ms. Kyo, when you’re done meet me in my quarters will you?
Jolie looked at Aimee after acknowledging the Commander.
-25 minutes later, Captain’s Quarters-
Ethan sat at the tiny desk that had been provided to him to use filling out his after-action report. He had changed out of his uniform and was wearing a pair of blue jeans, cowboy boots, and a button-up teal shirt.
He had just poured an ample amount of Scotch into his glass when the door chimed. “Enter.”
Ethan didn’t look up from his reports when Jolie entered. After a tense moment or two, he spoke without turning to her. His voice was conversational and even friendly,” How’s your shoulder? They don’t pull any punches in these simulations. They’ll do everything up to killing you. I had a rookie lose an entire leg once. He quit, which is just as well. He chose the New Zealand penal colony over us.”
“I’ll live,” she said as she rotated her newly mended shoulder. She stood there, her back against the wall, waiting for the shoe to drop, however, before it did she spoke up, “Commander I appreciate that you took the entire blame, as any commanding officer should, but I made the mistake and charged in. I am a big girl and can take the lumps along with the bruises,” she stated as she continued to look down at the floor before her feet.
Ethan chuckled and picked up a clean glass and filled it with whiskey before handing it to Jolie. “Well, I very well couldn’t tell them the truth. I’d look like a bad leader without unit discipline; with you acting on your own.”
Jolie continued to stand there, against the wall, as she held the glass of whiskey and looked at its amber hues. She knew he was correct, “I see your point,” she stated as the liquid swirled in the glass.
“Look, these training missions are here for us to make mistakes so in the field we don’t repeat them,” Ethan said. His tone was conversational still. “Here the consequences are short-term. So, what did you learn today?”
Jolie walked over placed the glass down and took a seat. “Too much to list.”
A sigh then left her lips as she rested her head on the back of the chair and looked up at the ceiling, “One if you have an edge keep it to yourself unless it benefits the unit as a whole, and second I should have been looking at the ruins when I was sliding down that dune on my back,” she stated. She would never admit that her action to jump down, or rather slide down, that dune before her fellow members, let alone Ethan had given the order, was reckless.
Tilting her head back to look Ethan in the eyes, “If I might be so bold,” she stated, “If you have advanced knowledge about how the sims are run, Commander, might I suggest keeping out the parts of how they may be built. Such as holos or androids.”
“They only tell me the objective, and who the enemy is. I inferred that they were holograms because of the cloaking abilities. They usually run holograms, but holo emitters are a limiting factor.”
He drained his cup and refilled it, “And you missed two very big points. Don’t jump into the middle of a situation like that,” he started. His voice remained conversational, but there was an edge to his tone that indicated he meant business. “I was leading that mission, not you. It was reckless and foolish. That was your first mistake.”
Jolie felt the bite from his tone and knew that even though his voice was deceptive he was giving her an ass chewing for her mistakes in training.
His tone relaxed again, “And secondly; you failed to know your enemy. ” He shuffled through his desk and pulled out a sketch pad and a pencil. He flipped the book open to a blank page and drew a quick map of the outpost with a soldier’s eye for the lay of the land. “The Jem’hadar’s greatest strength is also their greatest weakness. The use of their shrouds makes them predictable.” He handed her the pad, “Mark where you think they were.”
Jolie took the pad from Ethan and placed down on the rough outline of the outpost exactly where each Jem’Hadar soldier had been prior to her accent down the dune.
“With all due respect Commander, if anyone on this ship knows the Jem’Hadar, it is me, and you would know that if you read my file,” she stated as she set the now rendered outpost back on the desk. It even showed a few places that he had actually not accounted for, where three enemy soldiers had been, one of which had been the one that had struck him down. “Also Commander, there were two Vorta in the central building,” she stated as she leaned back into the chair and returned her attention to the amber-hued whiskey that still sat on Ethan’s desk.
He pulled down a PADD, and his fingers danced over the controls. Bringing up a map of the exercise in question which showed the actual locations of the Jem’Hadar. She was off on one or two, but as a whole, they both had been correct.
He sighed and shook his head. “So you walked into an ambush with your eyes wide open? We didn’t need to defeat all of them. We just needed water.” He tapped his index and middle finger at the two Jem’Hadar Dougal taken out at the rear of the outpost. “Eliminate them without setting off the alarm and we had a free path to the well. You’re a hammer I get it, but not every problem is a nail that needs to be pounded into submission. On this team, we don’t generally operate in overwhelming force. Stealth and guile are our allies.”
Jolie understood where he was coming from. After all from what she understood about ‘covert units’ is that they were small units that has skillsets that were unique to each person.
“Stealth and guile,” she repeated as she continued to focus on the whiskey that sat still remained on Ethan’s desk, “I do not know how to be stealthy. Guile well I did get your attention just now, knowing the locations of the Jem’Hadar.”
“That you did, and there’s a place for a hammer in every toolbox, but let’s see if we can add a multi-tool to yours.”
“What do you have in mind?” she asked, her focus was still on the amber-hued whiskey that sat on Ethan’s desk.
“Nothing in particular,” he said. “But, you have enough zeal to lead your own team someday. Go get cleaned up. We’ll discuss this more later. Tomorrow we head for Terra Alpha to drop Trinity off. She’s going to be our new handler.”
Jolie nodded and stood up. As she turned to leave she paused for a moment and gazed back at the Whiskey that Ethan had poured her when she had arrived. Reaching down she picked up the now room temperature liquor and brought it up to her nose. Taking a single sniff she placed the glass back on his desk.
“Commander,” she said in a sobering tone, “when I have earned that drink pour me another until then keep this very glass and its contents on your back shelf as a reminder of this occasion,” she stated, “And when I have earned it then I will take this from you,” she finished as she carefully slid the glass toward him as she about-faced and headed for the door to his office.
Ethan stared at the glass with regret. It was a shame to waste good whiskey, and it was a very good whiskey. Sighing he opened a cupboard above the desk and slid it between a Louis L’Amour novel and an original copy of “Where the Red Fern Grows”. He slammed the cupboard closed with a thunk of finality.