“What do you mean you’ve been reassigned?” Forrester demanded.
Kailir moved around the room, grabbing a PADD or a piece of clothing before stuffing them into a duffle bag. “Temporarily reassigned,” she corrected him, “and I know as much as you do. Apparently, my skills and experience are needed elsewhere.” She grabbed another PADD and pushed it into the side of the bag. “I’m to report to Captain Stafford on Starbase Bravo for new orders.”
“For how long?” Forrester already knew the answer she was going to give but asked it anyway, on the off chance he would be pleasantly surprised.
The Bajoran commander shrugged. “I have no idea.” Her eyes lit up as something came to her. “Oh, the new CDO is arriving today. In fact, they’re probably on board already.”
“What new CDO?” His brow furrowed in confusion.
Kailir continued her packing. “The new CDO I told you about.”
“You didn’t tell me about a new CDO.” Forrester searched his recollection for any memory of a conversation regarding a new chief diplomatic officer but came up empty.
The XO stopped what she was doing for a moment. “Oh. Well, I’m telling you now.”
“Thanks for the heads up,” Forrester replied with a healthy dose included for good measure.
Kailir quickly resumed her packing. “You have a new officer to meet, and I need to finish packing and then tell Hejol about my reassignment.” she stopped again. “Just don’t get the ship destroyed while I’m gone.”
“You have my word.”
“The new CDO is waiting in your ready room.” Commander Bennett held out a PADD that Forrester accepted as he walked past. He paid little mind to the knowing smile she gave him.
The PADD contained the results of a recent tactical drill they’d run during the journey to Starbase Bravo. His focus was on the report as he entered the ready room and walked around the desk. When he glanced up, the device slipped from his fingers and fell to the desk with a clatter. “Matt,” he croaked, his mouth suddenly dry.
“Hey Tom,” Bentley’s tender tone and his charming smile cause the hairs on the back of Forrester’s neck to rise
Forrester cleared his throat, “Hey.” Matthias Bentley was not high on the list of the people he’d expected to find when he walked in. “You’re my new CDO?”
“That’s right,” Bentley confirmed gently. “I should do this properly.” He held out a PADD that he’d been holding in his left hand “Commander Matthais Bentley, reporting for duty.”
Hesitantly, Forrester accepted the PADD. He didn’t give it so much as a glance, his gaze fixed on the man in front of him, and set it down beside the dropped PADD. “I thought you’d retired.” Bentley opened his mouth to answer but was interrupted by the door chime.
“Come,” Forrester called, glancing past Bentley.
The door parted, admitting entry to an unfamiliar officer with four silver pips attached to his collar and a PADD in his right hand. “Captain Forrester,” he extended a hand as he approached the desk, “Captain Maxwell Stafford, Fourth Fleet Chief of Staff.”
“Good to meet you,” Forrester clasped Stafford’s hand firmly and shook it before motioning to Bentley. “My new CDO, Commander Matthais Bentley.” He watched as both men shook hands and exchanged pleasantries.
Stafford kept his gaze on Bentley, “Commander, what do you know of Vinex II?”
“Uh,” Bentley’s eyebrows shot up momentarily as he scoured his memory. “Vinex II,” he said slowly, “is a mining colony in the Velorum sector, part of the modern Romulan Star Empire” Stafford nodded slowly and motioned for him to continue. “About twenty years ago, following the Shinzon coup d’etat, the Reman miners demanded equality and a place in government. The Romulans refused, which led to four years of bloody conflict. Since then, they’ve maintained a fragile peace through a power-sharing government and the principle of consent.”
Forrester shot Stafford a questioning glance. “Why are we talking about a planet deep in Romulan space?”
“There’s been a coup d’etat on Rator III,” Stafford told them solemnly. “The Senate’s been dissolved, and the military’s in charge.” As Stafford continued, Bentley and Forrester shared a concerned look, “The move hasn’t gone down well. Planets and regions all over the Star Empire are declaring independence, while some are looking to the other Romulan factions. The Velorum Sector is one of the regions to declare independence and has requested Federation assistance.”
Bentley eyed Stafford sceptically. “A Romulan regional Governor has specifically requested Federation assistance?”
“He’s Reman.” Stafford silently watched the surprise on both their faces. “I was surprised too. He apparently led a revolt and seized power. Now he’s asking for our help.” He handed over the PADD he’d been holding. “Your task is to mediate between the parties on Vinex II. The government is gridlocked, no one can agree on which path to take, and their fragile peace is beginning to break down.
Forrester skimmed over the data contained on the PADD. “No pressure.”
“Good luck, gentlemen.” Stafford was gone as quickly as he came.
Maintaining his professional demeanour, Forrester was the first to speak. “Prepare a briefing for the senior officers in four hours. We should be underway by then.” He handed the PADD over.
“Understood.” Bentley hesitated for a moment. “Tom,” his voice was soft, and his eyes held an expectant look, “Is this okay? Me being here?”
The captain nodded. “Of course,” he replied, “I need a diplomatic officer with your skills and experience.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Bentley quickly shot back.
Forrester’s reply was just as quick. “I know. But-”
“Don’t tell me,” Bentley quickly cut across him, “we can’t do this right now.” Forrester’s gaze shifted downwards, unable to meet Bentley’s. “Some things really don’t change.” He could feel Bentley watching him for a few seconds. “I’ll go make a start on this briefing.”
When Bentley was gone, the captain’s shoulders sagged, and he collapsed into his chair, his head resting against the back of the chair. He didn’t have much time to overthink what just happened because the door chime sounded not even a minute after Matt’s exit again.
Commander Bennett stepped in a few moments later. “Is everything okay, sir?” She asked cautiously.
“I can’t stop hurting him.” The moment he realised he wasn’t alone, Forrester’s demeanour changed. He straightened up and cleared his throat. “Commander, I’m glad your here. Have a seat.” When Bennett was seated, waiting expectantly for whatever came next, he continued, “Commander Kailiar has been temporarily reassigned. I need you to pull double duty as Exec and CSO.”
The chief science officer looked, understandably, shocked. “I…I only passed the bridge officers exam a few months ago. I’m not ready.”
“That’s nonsense.” Forrester shot back, leaning forward and lacing his fingers together. “I’ve watched you these past few months. You’re not just a great science officer but a natural leader. I wouldn’t be asking this if I didn’t think you were ready.” Bennett seemed less sure. She fidgeted with her hands for a few seconds. “Look, I won’t force you to do this. But I know no one I’d rather have watching my back.” He sat back and studied her for a moment. “We should be departing in an hour. Take the next thirty minutes to think about it, and talk to people if needed.”
Bennett nodded. “Thank you, sir.” She stood and briskly left the room.
“Where are we, XO?” Tom asked as he strode onto the bridge.
Having temporarily swapped the blue of science for the red of command, Commander Bennett stood smartly and took a step to her right. “All departments report ready, sir. Station Operations has cleared us for departure.”
“See? You’re a natural.” He muttered, earning a smile from his acting First Officer. “Commander Mitchell, was our runabout swap successful?”
Mitchell rotated in his chair enough that he could meet Forrester’s gaze without having to crane his neck too much. “Yes, sir.” He replied with a smile. “Two of our Danube-class runabouts have been transferred to Starbase Bravo, and the two new Arrow-class runabouts are tucked up safe and sound.”
“I’m sure you’re itching to put them through their paces,” he gave his friend a knowing smile. When Mitchell nodded, he added, “I’ll see if I can provide you with the opportunity. In the meantime, take us out. Once we’re clear of the system, lay in a course for Vinex II and engage at warp eight.”
Mitchell turned back to his console, and his fingers danced gracefully across its surface, inputting a series of commands. “Impulse engines engaged. ETA to system edge, twenty minutes.”
Forrester felt a pang of guilt at the empty chair as he glanced to his left. He tried to tell himself that Bentley was elsewhere, familiarising himself with the data they’d been provided and preparing to brief the senior officers. But the captain couldn’t shake the feeling that Bentley was already avoiding him after only a few hours onboard. He knew they would need to sit down and talk things through eventually, but for right now, he had to focus on the task at hand.
The future of Vinex II depended on them.