The ready room door chime’s buzz was an annoying irritation.
Lloyd Burton sighed heavily as he tossed the tablet he’d been reading in his hands towards the top of his desk. Landing on top of the other tablets that were scattered across the desk, it was another one that he had completed that morning. Trying to get through all of the reports that required his attention was no easy option when he was constantly being interrupted. Looking at the mess on his desk, he did sigh. Not only were there reports he was trying to get through, but a few empty dirty mugs that he accumulated in the past twenty-four hours and had not sent them down to the galley to be washed. Behind them was a picture of him and his siblings. The photograph made him smile, it was nice now that Madison and Seth were so close for once. Their ships had been assigned to the task group he currently commanded. Realising before anyone could come in, he needed to clean the surface of his desk, he quickly stacked the tablets one on top of each other. He then proceeded to pick up the mugs and shove them behind the picture. Though he wasn’t keen to see anyone at the moment, he was content to postpone his attempts at finishing off all of these reports.
“Come in.” He said after tapping the button associated with the desktop intercom with his right thumb. The door proceeded to open a few seconds later with its usual faint hiss.
Lieutenant junior grade Hennessey stepped across the raised threshold, his sturdy features somewhat played down by the presence of his spectacles. It was rare to see the communications officer wear them during his shift. Hennessey had learnt at the start of Challenger’s mission that his glasses may not always survive the adventures undertaken, so he had opted to wear contact lenses while Ro-fa Ben-Ami had administered some level laser eye correction surgery that had helped. Hands behind his back, his demeanour was that of a man curious to know why he had been summoned.
The door closed behind Burton’s visitor, and the fleet captain swivelled his desk chair towards him without bothering to stand. “Ned, thanks for coming in. Take a seat.” He gestured at the small armchair opposite to him.
Complying with his superior’s offer, Hennessey sat down almost straight away. “What can I do for you, sir?”
Burton cleared his throat. “You know the call I took from Fleet Admiral Hathaway earlier this morning?”
Hennessey just nodded. He looked as though he would prefer to be anywhere else but here right now as he could probably tell by the seriousness of Burton’s tone that what he was about to hear was not going to be good news.
“Part of our task group has been ordered to return to Earth straight away, while Challenger and a few others patrol the outermost reaches of the Commonwealth.” Burton started. “The Command Council wants you on Discovery as it makes its trip home, they want you to head up the team that is being assembled to decrypt the Romulan database.”
Opening his mouth to protest, Hennessey’s posture straightened up as he defended his desire to remain on Challenger. “That’s not fair sir, and not to blow my own trumpet but you need me on Challenger now more than ever.”
“I have gone over this with Starfleet.” Burton said, sharing the lieutenant’s annoyance but remaining professional in his comments. “Their orders stand. Sorry Ned.”
Sighing heavily, Hennessey deflated as he realised what it meant for him. Looking down at the deck plating, he spoke. “When will Discovery and the others leave?”
“Within the hour. I’ve spoken with Frank and he said they’ve got a spare guest quarter you can have.” Burton answered. “I can have Angela take you over on Shuttlepod One, if you’d prefer to not use the transporter.”
“That would be great.” Hennessey said solemnly and looked up at his captain. “So, I suppose this is it, sir?”
Nodding glumly, Burton confirmed. “I’m afraid Ned, but if your work back at home means you can return to us sooner than please let me know.”
Appreciating the sentiment, Hennessey thanked Burton. “No sir, I know how tough that may be. Challenger needs to move on and I would suggest you move Ensign Avery into my spot as soon as you can. She’s young, bright and extremely talented.”
“I’ll seriously consider it,” Burton replied. “I’m not sure we’ll have a full communications department for sometime though.”
“Then give young Mister Harris the role of protocol officer. He can handle it along with his other duties as your yeoman.” Hennessey advised. “I had a chat with him the other night, he needs more to keep him on his toes.”
Liking the idea, Burton nodded. “All right. Noted.” Burton rose from his chair. “I’ll make an official ship-wide announcement in fifteen minutes, it’ll give you time to go pack, tie up any loose ends and then we can say our final goodbyes.”
Copying his captain, Hennessey agreed with the idea and extended his hand towards Burton. “Thank you sir. It’s been an honour to serve under you.”
“No, thank you Mister Hennessey.” Burton said. “The honour has been mine.”
Hennessey let go of Burton’s grip and soon left Burton with his thoughts as he opened the ready room’s door. Stepping over the doorframe he began his final moments on board the Challenger.
Sitting back heavily in his chair, Burton looked at the pile of tablets and ignored them. Picking up the frame that held the picture of him and his siblings, he smirked at the memory of when it was taken. The eve before he left Earth to take command of Challenger. It was a good evening. Madison had shared she was pregnant, Seth was enjoying his assignment on the Republic while Roman was basking in his relationship with Nathan. It was a good time, it was a simpler time. Far better than what they all found themselves in now. The war with the Romulan Star Empire continued to change everything around them. And once again Burton found the effects of the war knocking on his door and taking someone else from his crew.
Hennessey would be leaving a huge vacuum, he just hoped that Avery was up for it.
She was up for it.
Tanisha Avery, for the fourth time in a matter of twenty-four hours, found herself in the company of Luis Trommler on the firing range again. Her aim was improving, but she was enjoying spending time with the MACO leader. There was something about his youthful charisma along with his confidence that attracted her to him. He was extremely friendly and his jovial ways made their time together further pleasurable. To top it all off, he was a great kisser.
“Someone has been paying attention to my lessons.” Trommler remarked from behind her.
Lowering the phase-pistol down to take note of the amount of shots she had taken against the target that sat in front of her from afar, Avery smirked at her almost perfect score. “It helps when your teacher is good at modelling for you.” She flirted as she turned to look at him.
Closing the gap between them, Trommler placed his hands on her hips, a move he wouldn’t normally make while they were both in uniform and in a public space. However no-one was around and he was finding Avery to be extremely attractive. Looking down at her, he pushed a stray lock of hair back behind her ear. “Well I’m pretty good at modelling other things, instead of just firing a phase pistol.”
“Oh really?” Avery questioned as she put her phase pistol down on a nearby counter before placing her hands around his neck. “I heard that you’re quite good at leading the physical training with the other MACOs.”
“I’m very good at being physical.” He smirked as they got closer.
“Yeah, I heard from Corporal Jenkins you like to push everyone beyond their limits and make them sweat hard.” She flirted back with as their faces started to get closer.
“Oh indeed,” He replied, “I don’t believe in never stopping sometimes.”
Just as they leaned into one another and were about to kiss, the ship’s intercom went off and the voice of the captain could be heard being echoed across everywhere as he addressed the crew.
“Attention all hands, this is Fleet Captain Burton. Regrettably I must inform you that we will be saying goodbye to a fellow crewmate very shortly. Lieutenant Hennessey will be leaving Challenger to return with some of our forces back to Earth. Starfleet Command is recalling our chief communication officer to lead a think-tank in cracking Romulan codes in a bold attempt to help us win this war. Though this is an excellent opportunity for him, I know all of you will join me in our sorrow in losing such an important member of our crew. Ned has been with us since our launch and his reassignment will be our loss. That said, we cannot let him leave without showing how much we have appreciated his time with us. All hands are to assemble in the launch bay in twenty minutes as we wish him well. Burton out.”
The sudden news of Hennessey’s departure surprised Avery to the point she had completely let go of Trommler. Her shock registered on her face as she considered the consequences of this moment. With him gone, until the captain appointed, she was now the ship’s acting chief communications officer. The announcement had completely killed the romantic interaction between her and Trommler. It had caught her off guard.
“Tanisha, you okay?” Trommler checked.
Nodding a few times, still surprised, she looked at him. “It’s just so out of the blue.”
“The lieutenant is a fine officer and one hell of a linguist.” Trommler shared. “That said, you are as well.”
Smiling at his efforts to encourage her, Avery leant in and kissed him on the cheek. “I should go,” She said afterwards. “I should go see him and try and get some sort of handover before he leaves.”
Before Trommler could say or do anything else, Avery was whisking herself away at warp speed as she left the firing range to hunt down her former superior.
Helping out in engineering had been one thing that Rodham had done while on Discovery, he found that getting to know the ship’s systems (especially the propulsion based ones) made him a better pilot as well as more effective leader on the bridge. He had hated it when he had to take command for the first time on the Rhine and had no clue what the chief engineer meant when he had reported about the status of systems that Rodham had not heard of before. Since then he had done his best to remain on top of his engineering knowledge.
“Thank you again for helping out, sir.” Masuko said as she walked past him as she made her way over to a nearby engineering station. “The extra pair of hands is always welcomed.”
“Happy to help.” Rodham remarked. “I know it may sound sappy, but being here…”
“…makes you think about Michael?” Masuko checked as she finished his sentence off.
Nodding to confirm, Rodham continued with the maintenance he was doing to the plasma injectors. “Yeah, it makes me think he is here. I know it sounds strange but it does.”
“He put a lot into these engines and the ship’s other systems. It makes sense.” Masuko stated. “Well to me it does. Others may think we’re crazy.”
“We’re in Starfleet, lieutenant. Crazy is a part of it.” Rodham said. “Talking about husbands, have you spoken to yours recently?”
Caught off guard by the question, Masuko paused what she was doing on the screen and looked over to the first officer. “The Lexington is patrolling near to Terra Nova at the moment, so I’m not expecting to hear anything from him for a few days.”
Realising she wasn’t keen to talk about that subject, Rodham moved on as he finished off his work. “How is Colleen working out as your new deputy?”
“Fine.” She answered with a simple nod. “She’s good.”
“And how’s Theo doing with it all?” Rodham asked, referring to the third engineer that had been replaced as second engineer.
“Well, our plan to get everyone to develop their skills seems to be working. He has taken the lead on it.” Masuko explained. “Are you worried about the engineering staff, sir?”
Surprised at that question, Rodham shook his head twice as he closed the hatch and turned to her. “Not at all, I just want to know if there’s anything I can help out with.” He lowered his voice. “We’ve all had to adjust quickly to recent circumstances, I don’t want anyone to feel like they’ve got no-one to turn to.”
Appreciating the effort, Masuko smiled at the first officer and was stopped from saying another as the captain spoke up over the intercom. Both stood still as they listened to what he had to say and at the end, realising he needed to report to the bridge, Rodham looked at Masuko. “Let me know Sakura if you need anything, that includes a chat over a coffee.”
“Thank you, sir.” She said as she watched him depart engineering to head to the bridge.
After hearing the news of Hennessey’s departure, Commander Walker had resumed his duties at the science station. He had some time before he would join the others in their honour guard as Hennessey took his final journey to the ship’s launch bay. He had spent the morning finalising his report for Starfleet Command about the initial survey they had been able to take of the Rator system. Though brief, it did give them some information about the Romulan landscape. Starfleet Cartography had been interested in forming a map of the territories that had originally been claimed by their enemy before the war had started. This was another marker for them to use.
An amber light began flashing on his console at that moment, prompting him to tap the adjacent incoming reading button followed by the standard response of opening up what the ship’s sensors had registered. Turning towards the bridge’s centre, where no-one was sitting in the captain’s chair, he looked over at the armoury station at Lieutenant Cortez.
“Rachele, are you seeing what I’m seeing on long range sensors?” He asked.
The armoury chief looked down at her station and flicked a few switches. Seconds later she nodded. “I do.”
The sudden arrival of another ship, caused some tension to rise in the commander’s shoulders. Tapping the nearest intercom, he activated the ship-wide announcement. “All hands to tactical alert, Fleet Captain Burton to the bridge.”
The lights dimmed on the bridge as the ship entered its highest alert system. It didn’t take long for Burton to appear out of the ready room and a few seconds later Commander Rodham came off the lift.
“What do you have, Cooper?” Burton questioned as he stepped across the deck to stand behind the science officer.
Before the captain had reached him, Walker had raised the sensor reading onto his primary monitor that sat in the centre of his console. “We’ve got an incoming vessel approaching us at high speeds. Its energy signature reads as a Kriosian ship, it appears badly damaged.”
Looking at the same reading, Burton shared the surprised reaction that his chief science officer and second officer had. “This is a first.” He remarked as he made his way back to the centre of the bridge towards his chair. Sitting down, he ordered Rodham to move them so they were facing the incoming ship and then ordered for the fleet to form up around them.
The moment the Kriosian ship hailed them, Walker could see that their departure from their current spot was now going to be delayed and that included their goodbyes to Hennessey.
Joining the bridge crew for one more mystery, Hennessey had arrived after the call for tactical alert had taken place. His deputy, Ensign Avery, had followed him out of the lift and had taken a spot in the aft section of the bridge while he took over at the main communication’s console. “Sir, they’ve been sending out a general distress call on a low subspace band.” Hennessey informed his captain.
“Any reason why?” Burton asked.
“Their subspace radio is probably damaged and it’s their only way to communicate.” Hennessey suggested.
“Adjust our frequencies to match and open a channel.” Burton commanded.
Walker watched from his chair Hennessey doing his work and then turned to the captain with a simple nod to say the channel was open.
Burton was about to speak but was stopped as the main screen flickered to show the appearance of man, who appeared to be human besides the faint speckles of what looked like tattoos around his forehead, face and neck. He appeared injured from his dishevelled appearance along with the blood that ran down from the side of his face. Almost appearing victorious in his expression, the man spoke up.
“Captain Archer, I’m so pleased we found you and Enterprise, we need your help. I’m here by the request of First Monarch Kaitaama to offer an alliance with your people. In return for helping us, we will help you with new faster warp engines and defence technologies.”
Confused, startled and somewhat unsettled by that announcement, Walker could tell that Burton had no idea who this guy was and the fact he had confused Burton and Challenger with Earth’s flagship and her famed skipper, was also another worrying factor.
“I’m sorry, I think there’s been some misunderstanding here but I’m happy to help and speak about your offer more.” Burton said, doing his best to remain friendly and diplomatic.
Walker turned to look at the man on the other side of the channel, wondering if Burton’s attempt to sort out what was going either worked or fell flat on its face. But before a response could come, the man all of a sudden had a glazed expression and eventually fell forward and out of the chair he was on. The signal was then cut and everyone looked at one another, confusion remained among them all.