Part of USS Challenger: You Can’t Go Home Again and Bravo Fleet: The Stormbreaker Campaign

Country Roads

U.S.S. Challenger NCC-71099
Stardate 77024.1
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With her right hand, Tejara picked up one of the plates and placed it on her upturned left forearm. She repeated this process again but this time placed the plate in her left hand before picking up the third and final plate with her right hand before moving towards the table. One by one she set the plates down on the dining table, first the one in her right hand, then the one in her left hand using her now free right hand and finally the one balancing on her forearm.

“What’s this?” Her son, Antos, asked. He studied the food in front of him, unsure of what to make of it. It definitely wasn’t what he was expecting.

Tejara settled herself in her chair and reached for her glass, taking a sip of the spring wine her husband had poured for the two of them. “It’s something Captain Forrester made for me when we were on the Trafalgar; Lasagne al forno with steamed vegetables on the side. The replicated version isn’t quite as good as the captain’s but I thought it would be nice to try something different.”

“Oh wow. If the replicated version tastes like this, you have to talk the captain into making his version for us sometime.” Hejol, who’d been in Starfleet long enough to have become accustomed to trying new foods from a variety of worlds, was already digging into his dinner.

Antos still looked unsure and poked gently at the food. Eventually he brought a forkful of lasagne to his mouth and carefully caught a small proportion of it between his teeth. He chewed for a moment, considering the flavours he was tasting. His eyes lit up when he realised that he liked what he was eating and cleaned the fork of the remainder of the lasagne before going back to his plate for more.

“I think he likes it.” Tejara said, chuckling when Antos nodded his head enthusiastically.

Thirty minutes later Tejara and Hejol were cuddled up on the couch with a glass of spring wine each while Antos was in his room working on his homework. Hejol was the first to break the comfortable silence. “I’m so glad to be back in the Alpha Quadrant. I was tense the entire time we were in the Gamma Quadrant.”

“It may only be temporary.” Tejara pointed out. “Once Starfleet gets through with reevaluating it’s Gamma Quadrant operations, we could be straight back there.”

Hejol sighed and took a sip of his wine. “I guess we’ll have to enjoy our time in the Alpha Quadrant while we can then. The Captain’s given you some leave once we reach Starbase 86, hasn’t he?”

“A week. Not enough time for us to get back to Bajor but we might be able to escape for a few days on Risa. That resort we went to a few years ago was great.” She suggested.

Before he could agree or disagree, the bosun’s whistle sounded through the comm followed by the voice of Captain Forrester. “Senior Officers report to the observation lounge.”

“Well, there goes shoreleave.” Hejol muttered as Tejara quickly switched back into Executive Officer mode.

***

Though his original intention had been to have a one on one round of golf with Zarbrun, AJ was glad that Bennett and Miller agreed to join them; the more the merrier. He watched as Bennett pushed her tea into the ground and placed the small white ball on top of it. For a few seconds she looked off into the distance, silently watching. 

“Have you played much golf?” AJ asked.

Bennett adjusted her stance and held the face of the driver beside the ball. “Once or twice.” She pulled the club back and took her swing, sending the ball sailing down the fairway. 

“Once or twice, huh?” It was an impressive shot and it suggested a lot more experience on a golf course than ‘once or twice’.

If her satisfied smile hadn’t confirmed his suspicion, what she said next did. “I may have forgotten to mention that I was captain of the Academy golf team.”

“Probably just slipped your mind.” He mused with a lopsided smile before turning to Zarbrun. “Nexani, you’re up.”

The ops chief stepped forward and quickly set up her shot. When she swung her club, the ball flew straight and true down the fairway but not nearly as far as Bennett’s had. AJ went next. He was happy with his shot and the ball came to lie just short of Bennett’s. Finally it was Miller’s turn. His stance was good and he swung the club well but he sliced the ball and it went sailing off to the right and wound up in the rough.

“I thought you told me that ‘golf has been the pastime of Doctors for centuries’?” AJ asked.

Miller offered a shrug in response. “But I didn’t say it was my pastime.”

“Idiot.” AJ muttered as he watched Miller put his club away.

The group began pulling their golf trolleys towards where their shots had landed. “How’s the captain?” Bennett asked.

AJ shot her a confused look. “He’s fine. Didn’t he seem okay when you were on the bridge earlier?”

“I’m not going to pretend that I know him well, but he’s seemed a little withdrawn since…the past few months.” She said and AJ instantly got her meaning.

He let out a sigh. “He misses him, though he’s too much of a stubborn jackhole to admit it.” Miller split off from the rest of the group to go hunting for his ball in the rough. “Their relationship was brief but intense and Tom hasn’t felt things like that for anyone in more than a decade.”

“I hope they’ll be able to find their way back to each other.” Bennett said.

That was a sentiment AJ shared but he knew Tom well enough not to get his hopes up. “Well, they’re still in touch but there’s a lot for them to overcome. I think we should all just keep our fingers crossed.”

The three came to a stop to watch Miller take his next shot, as the furthest back he was first to take his second stroke. They watched as he swung the club and the ball went sailing high into the air…and straight into a bunker on the right of the green.

“Poor Josh.” Zarbrun’s tone was sympathetic.. “He’s not having a good time.”

That, AJ thought, was an understatement. “Yeah, it’s a good thing we’re not playing the full eighteen. At this rate, just playing this front nine’s gonna test his sanity to destruction.”

By the time they reached Zarbrun’s ball, Miller had rejoined the group. “Bad luck old chap.” AJ said in an exaggerated posh English accent.

“Muzzle it.” Miller shot back sourly as Zarbrun prepared to take her next shot. With a swing of her club, she managed to make the green in two. AJ followed her example a few minutes later, though his ball was a little further from the pin. Finally Bennett took her shot and wound up only a few feet from the pin.

The group continued on towards the green, with Miller once more breaking off to the right. Selecting a sand wedge, he moved into the bunker and studied his situation for a moment. “Things can only get better, right?” He chipped the ball straight into a bunker on the other side of the green.

“Yeah.” AJ drew out the vowels of the word. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that, Doc.”

Miller opened his mouth to reply but was drowned out by the computer sounding the bosun’s whistle. “Senior officers report to the observation lounge.”

“Computer, save program and end.” AJ ordered.

The computer beeped in response. “Yeah, cause I wouldn’t wanna lose my progress.” Miller quipped as their surroundings dissolved and were replaced by the hologrid.

***

He slowly, gingerly pulled the block clear. The tower swayed slightly but quickly settled. Gently he placed the block on top of the tower. It swayed again, this time more precariously, but it continued to remain standing. Rafael da Costa sat back with a satisfied grin on his face, his twinkling eyes meeting those of his opponent. “Your move.”

“You seem pretty confident.” Jackson commented as he studied the tower of wooden blocks and considered his next move. The Endeavour lounge, one of four smaller lounges located throughout the Challenger; wasn’t particularly busy this evening.

Rafael took a sip of his drink. “Because I’m a Jenga Master.”

“How do you get to be a Jenga Master?” Jackson asked as he finally began pulling a block away from the tower. When he placed it on top and was satisfied it wasn’t going to collapse, he continued. “Is there a Jenga Council that has to grant you the rank or is it more of a self appointed title?”

Rafael smirked as he quickly made his move. “It’s more of a self appointed title.” He said as the tower wobbled slowly before finally settling. “I figure I’ve earned it after all the Saturday nights I spent playing it at the Academy.” If only he could feel as confident in other parts of his life, Rafael mused silently.

“Saturday nights spent playing Jenga. You guys were real party people.” Jackson’s deep brown eyes met Rafael’s briefly before they returned to studying the tower.

A chuckle escaped from Rafael. “Oh yeah. You have no idea.” He replied in an exaggerated tone. “Games night could get pretty wild. Sometimes, we’d even drink alcohol.”

“Total party animals.” Jackson joked as he reached for another block. The moment he’d pulled it clear, the tower collapsed. “Dammit!”

Rafael smiled triumphantly. “Better luck next time.”

“If there is a next time.” Jackson muttered as he picked up his glass and raised it to his lips. As he did, a familiar figure approached the table and flopped down into the free chair to Jackson’s left. “Hey Coop. Long day?”

The exhausted counselor nodded. “I’m really looking forward to getting some shoreleave.”

“You wanna take on the Jenga Master?” Jackson asked.

Cooper chuckled at the suggestion. “You mean the Jenga hustler?” He asked rhetorically. “No thank you. I had that privilege a few weeks ago. We played best of five and I lost three straight games.”

“There’s gotta be someone who can beat him.” Jackson grumbled.

The smug smirk on Rafael’s face would probably only make them more determined to find someone who could beat him. “Good luck finding them.”

“What about Thalev?” Cooper suggested, causing Jackson’s eyes to light up. Rafael’s smirk faltered momentarily and it didn’t go unnoticed. “Ohhhhh. What’s wrong Rafa? Worried that Thalv could school you?” Copper asked, sitting up straighter in his chair. “What d’you think, Chris? Could we convince the ice queen to take him on?”

Jackson nodded his head slowly and pursed his lips, thinking about it for a few seconds. “I heard she thrashed a few of the other senior officers when they went bowling back on Earth. It was the first time she’d played. I think she might be just the person to knock our cocky young Lieutenant down a peg or two.”

The sound of the bosun’s whistle interrupted their conversation and the lounge fell silent as everyone waited to hear the announcement. “Senior Officers report to the observation lounge.”

Cooper let out a groan before he pushed himself out of his chair. Jackson followed suit. “I’ll see how the Lieutenant feels about a heads up game sometime.” He told Rafael, patting the younger man on the shoulder as he left.

***

Even though his duty shift was over, Captain Forrester was still on the bridge. He wanted to personally oversee the Challenger’s docking at Starbase 86 before clocking off. Their unexpected return to the Alpha Quadrant had been very welcome and spending at least the next week docked to the Challenger’s homeport would allow him to grant the crew some well deserved extended downtime.

“Captain,” the duty ops officer’s voice interrupted his thoughts, “we’re being hailed by Commodore Vega.”

Tom could feel the muscles in his shoulders tense. He couldn’t imagine the Commodore was contacting them with good news. Pushing himself to his feet, Tom absently wiped his hands on his pants leg and stepped forwards until he was standing between the ops and helm officers. “Onscreen.” 

When the Commodore’s face appeared seconds later, his suspicion was all but confirmed. She looked worried. “Captain Forrester, three hours ago we lost all contact with the Coltar IV colony.” Vega paused for a few seconds. She’d read his service jacket and no doubt knew that Coltar was Tom’s homeworld. “I’m ordering the Challenger to proceed with all due haste to investigate.”

“Understood.” Tom replied, trying to keep his voice even. He cleared his throat before speaking again. “Do you believe this has anything to do with the Century Storm plaguing the Paulson Nebula?” Just a few days ago a Federation colony in the nebula had been hit by the storm. Whatever way it had interacted with the atmosphere, the planet became toxic in just a few short days. Thousands had lost their lives. Had the same thing happened to Coltar? Were his parents…he pushed the thought down; he needed to focus.

Judging by the look on Vega’s face, the answer to that question was ‘probably’. “We believe that interference from the storm is preventing communications. Challenger’s task is to investigate and provide whatever assistance is necessary.”

“We’ll get underway immediately.” Tom said with a confident nod.

Commodore Vega nodded in response. “Very well, Captain. Good luck. Vega out.” The image of the Commodore was replaced briefly with the Starfleet Command seal before that too disappeared and they were looking at Starbase 86 growing closer on the viewscreen.

“Helm, bring us about. Lay in a course for Coltar Four and prepare to engage at maximum warp.” Tom returned to the command chair and settled himself into it. Holding down a control on the LCARS terminal built into the armrest, the bosun’s whistle sounded. “Senior Officers report to the observation lounge.”

The lyrics of an ancient song that his father was fond of occurred to him and they seemed appropriate at that moment. “Take me home, country roads.” He muttered before turning his attention to the task at hand “Helm, engage.”