Part of Phoenix: Bad Moon Rising

Bad Moon Rising – 6

Bridge, Phoenix
March 2157
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West had stared at the display on the briefing table at the rear of the bridge for twenty minutes, and it still wasn’t giving him the answers he wanted. But that didn’t seem about to stop Lopez, who clapped her hands and looked at the gathered senior staff with a manic glint in her eye.

‘Alright, people. We’re back in the crunch time. No ideas are bad ideas. How do we beat three scouts and a small station?’

Black wore an unusually terse frown, arms folded across her chest. ‘I wouldn’t be confident we could take all three ships in a straight fight. I cannot recommend we engage them and the depot.’

‘Thanks, Helena,’ said Lopez, the edge in her voice audible. ‘I was planning on waltzing straight in for a slugging match and die before you said that.’

‘Oh, boy,’ sighed Takahashi. ‘It’s that time again, is it?’

She gave him a look. ‘Something on your mind, Tak?’

He lifted his hands. ‘No, Cap, no, it’ll work out. You’ll shove us in a confined space to fight like cats and dogs, and then we’ll spit out gold.’

Normally, Lopez would have taken Takahashi’s wryness in stride, but she looked away from him as if he hadn’t spoken. West frowned and stepped forward. ‘What can we do,’ he said, looking to Antar and Hawthorne, ‘to mask our presence as much as possible?’

Antar shrugged. ‘Power emissions are our big give-away, but the moment we’re fighting fit and in someone’s face, we’re lit up brighter than a carnival on anyone’s sensors. They’d have to be a long way away to not spot us in a firefight.’

Hawthorne nodded. ‘I’m sure we could do a lot to get the drop on the Romulans, and that could give us an edge. But with their present dispersal, the moment we engaged one, the others – and the station – would be able to see us.’

West grimaced. ‘What about hitting them at range? We acquire the targeting telemetry from one of our probes and we can rain down torpedoes on these scouts, taking them out before they can form up.’

Potentially taking them out,’ said Black, shaking her head. ‘The probe would transmit us the data, then we’d have to extrapolate a targeting solution taking into account the delay of the transmission and from the distance the torpedo has to travel. There’s no margin of error and it would take pinpoint precision to at least incapacitate multiple scouts in quick succession. Especially as they’ll start evading the moment they detect incoming torpedoes, so we’d only get one good salvo anyway.’

Antar scoffed. ‘What’re we talking about? Our probes can’t even transmit back to us anyway.’

Takahashi gave a low laugh. ‘This is going well.’

Lopez cast him a curt look. ‘We’re still at “no idea is a stupid idea,” Tak.’

‘Magic the Romulans away? That seems to be where we’re heading.’ He waved a dismissive hand at the display. ‘They’re guards. They’re not going to get bored and wander off.’

Black looked pained as she leaned forwards. ‘I agree with Lieutenant Takahashi. We don’t have the means of dividing these forces, the flexibility to exploit these conditions. We can return later with a bigger task group.’

‘When there might be more Romulan ships?’ said Lopez.

‘I don’t know,’ said Takahashi airily. ‘There might be none. Anything could happen.’

Lopez shook her head. ‘We’re close. We’re one good idea away from cracking this wide open. I’m not turning around and leaving just because this is a bit tough.’ She jerked her finger around the table at her five senior staff. ‘Keep working on this. We’re not giving up yet.’

West frowned as she turned on her heel and stalked back to the ready room, but stayed silent as Black looked at him. ‘Respectfully, sir,’ she said, quiet and tense, ‘we can’t make something happen out of nothing.’

‘You heard the captain,’ he found himself saying. ‘We’ve only been at this for twenty minutes. Take a break, get some coffee, kick some ideas around. Come back in an hour. We leave only if we’ve tried to think of everything.’

Takahashi clicked his fingers. ‘We challenge them, one scout at a time, to a dance competition -’

West had grown accustomed to ignoring Takahashi. He didn’t like the man or his manner, but Lopez had long been protective of him, and even Black gave him the time of day or at least gently manage him. He had been prepared to turn and leave, but now Black who rounded on him.

‘Tak, shut up unless you have something helpful to say,’ she said, before stomping for the turbolift.

Takahashi blinked. ‘Well, she -’

‘You’re all dismissed,’ West blurted. ‘Like I said. Coffee. Eat. Kick ideas. Back in an hour.’

They slipped off, Hawthorne and Takahashi exchanging glances, Antar bolting in Black’s wake. West turned to the bridge and nodded to Dynevor, who moved from Tactical to take the command seat, holding down the fort while the senior staff sorted themselves out.

And while West tried to sort his captain out.

She was pacing in her ready room when he came in, stalking as if trying to wear a hole in the carpet. He opened his mouth, intending to discuss Takahashi, but the moment the door shut, Lopez snapped, ‘I can’t believe Helena.’

West blinked. ‘What?’

‘She doesn’t have to like this mission, but we are far from running out of options, and she doesn’t have to be so negative in front of the senior staff. It discourages them. Or it encourages them to oppose this plan.’ She stopped and glared at him. ‘It encourages you to tell me I’m wrong.’

He stopped, brow furrowing, and this time he didn’t fight the spark of indignation. ‘I don’t know what meeting you were in, Lopez, but I was throwing out ideas and pushing people to think how we’re going to crack what might be, frankly, not possible.’

‘Oh, there it is.’ She rolled her eyes.

‘There what is?’ He took another step forward. ‘I’ve spent the past six months playing ball. I’ve backed your hare-brained schemes. I’ve backed you to Command. I’ve backed you to the other captains.’

‘I’ve backed me by getting results, West. We slipped past the Decius and rescued Vega, we drove a wedge between the Empire and the Enolians, we beat every Rommie force they sent at us -’

‘And all the time you’ve pissed people off, and don’t say that doesn’t matter; you’re the one who told me that pretending Starfleet doesn’t play politics is asking to get played by politics. I’ve helped you get results and I’ve helped you look respectable doing it, so don’t come at me.’

She stopped, glaring out the window. They could not see the neutron star from here, but a hint of its gleam still crept across the metal panelling of the bulkhead. ‘You don’t want to do this strike.’

‘I sure as hell don’t; I think Black’s right. But out there it’s her job to say that, as Chief Armoury Officer. Out there it’s my job to help plan. It’s only in here, where nobody’s listening, that I tell you I think you’re pushing a bad idea for the wrong reasons.’ He folded his arms across his chest, and braced for the response.

Indeed, Lopez gave a frustrated sigh. ‘You’re going to psychoanalyse me, too?’

‘You’re worried that if we hit this with the Dragonfly and especially with the Buran, then Sharpe or Nwadike get the credit. Not just for the supply depot, but for finishing off the whole Vega theatre if we’re really successful.’

‘They will,’ said Lopez. ‘In Command’s eyes, anyway, and then we get sent off to do something else irrelevant and Sharpe and Nwadike get all the glory.’

‘Maybe, maybe not. Is that a good enough reason to risk the lives of everyone on this ship?’

‘They’ve been risking their lives for the last six months. They deserve credit for that. This isn’t just about me. You should want that for them. I know you’re going to come out of this smelling like roses no matter what – if I do well, you get credit, if I don’t do great, then nobody ever expected more of me and you tried your best.’ She looked him in the eye, chin tilting up. ‘Or are you afraid that if I screw up too badly, it’ll scratch your rep?’

After six months of working with Lopez, West knew how good she was at getting under people’s skin. But knowing what she was doing didn’t stop it from working, and for a long moment, all he could think of was the PADD that lived under his mattress. The PADD from Admiral Black that empowered him, if necessary, to remove Lopez from command and take over the Phoenix. The PADD he’d hoped he would never have to use, but the more indignant and egotistical she seemed, the more tempting it became.

Instead, he drew a sharp breath and said, ‘I couldn’t possibly be disagreeing with you because I care about the crew -’

‘You think I don’t? You think I’m about to sling us into danger because my ego’s too big? There’s a reason I’m making them come up with a plan, West, instead of ordering we charge in and damn the consequences.’

‘Every moment we’re here,’ he said in a low, taut voice, ‘is a moment the Romulans might expand their patrol, maybe investigate if they caught wind of the probe…’

‘If they caught wind of the probe, we’d know it by now,’ Lopez snapped. ‘And I hear you. I hear you don’t like this, even though I’ve decided on nothing yet except for not giving up.’

‘You’ve decided,’ West retorted, ‘to ignore your agreement with Nwadike and Yang to investigate and come back…’

‘I don’t answer to Nwadike and Yang! If anything, they answer to me! Does it really not matter how many victories I win or how much Vega would be fucked without me, I still have to listen to other people because Command likes them more? And again, I’m not charging in there, West! Will you listen to the me that’s actually talking, instead of the me that’s in your head?’

I could say the same to you!’

Silence rang out through the ready room as they stared at each other, the wiry captain and the broad-shouldered science officer. And after long, thudding heartbeats, Lopez took a step back and laughed. West stared at her, but the laughter continued until Lopez was bracing her hand on her desk, and then he couldn’t help but laugh too, even though he wasn’t sure what was funny.

At length, Lopez drew a deep breath and tried to sober. ‘Aren’t we a pair.’

‘Worst set I’ve seen,’ West chuckled.

‘Black told me I needed to stop riding your ass. That you’ve been playing ball.’ She grimaced. ‘She’s not wrong.’

‘There’s one more way I play ball,’ said West, looking at her. ‘I tell Command, hand on heart, that we’ve been – that you’ve been – doing a good job out there. I know you want to prove them right on your own terms, I know you want to prove them right with a dose of spite, and I get it. But like you said: pretending politics aren’t a thing is just asking to be politically out-manoeuvred.’

Lopez scrubbed her face with her hands. ‘You really don’t want to do this strike.’

‘I don’t. I think it’s risky, whatever we come up with. I think we come back with a big-ass task group so we can not only smash this depot, we can smash all their defences, wipe it off the map so badly and quickly the Rommies don’t ever know for sure what happened to them. But.’ West tilted his head towards her, catching her gaze. ‘You want to wait an hour for the team to come up with ideas. We give them an hour.’

She grimaced. ‘When did you get all shiny and trusting?’

‘When we first met, you asked me what the difference is between a captain and a first officer. I thought you were trying to find a way to tell me that it was my job to shut up and listen to you and not piss you off.’

‘It is,’ Lopez drawled.

‘But I’ve seen how you work the crew, how you give them space to be brilliant and – and weird, truth be told. That’s the job of a captain, isn’t it? Your first duty is to the crew.’ West straightened. ‘I don’t like this mission. I think we should play it safe. I do think you’re, if not blinded, then influenced by your fear that Command will take your hard work and throw you in the trash anyway. But if your first duty as the captain is to your crew, then my first duty as the first officer is to you. To back you up. To protect you.’

Lopez watched him, open astonishment on her face. Then she swallowed. ‘Actually,’ she said awkwardly, ‘I was just trying to tell you that you should shut up and listen to me.’ But she stepped forward and stuck out a hand towards him, and he was reminded how she’d done that months ago, after thwarting the Enolians and backstabbing Command, and he wasn’t sure he trusted her a whole lot more since then but he had a job to do. ‘I hear you, West. I just disagree. Let’s take out this supply depot, then you and me come back to Earth as big damn heroes.’

I’ll settle, thought West, for coming back to Earth and upsetting my daughter with all the math about magnetars. But he gave a show of a disgruntled sigh, because he knew that was what Lopez wanted, and shook her hand.

‘As you say, Captain. Let’s win the Vega campaign.’

Comments

  • Lopez and West's relationship is really refreshing to read - it's slightly like Archer and T'Pol and early Janeway and Chakotay but then entirely different in so many other ways where they still need to work out what their dynamic is. I am hoping for a really clever and 'weird' plan to come out here from the crew to take out this depot! Also Tak's stupid/sassy remarks made me chuckle - 'Dancing with the Romulans' has a good ring to it!

    April 9, 2022
  • The emotional gut-punches keep coming and I'm sitting here begging for more. Lopez is an endlessly fascinating character. Her force of will and charisma is intoxicating to read, and I truly can't understand why Star Trek hasn't spent more time living with a captain like her. Lopez's plain frustrations with Black are equal parts shocking and understandable, that line about "looked away from him as if he hadn't spoken" was the coldest move I've read in a while, and I wanted to get up an cheer at: "I’ve backed me by getting results". Further, West's inner conflict at trying to manage between Lopez and Black is so effective, it makes my stomach hurt to read it. It was quite satisfying to read him tell Lopez how he REALLY feels.

    April 11, 2022