Tia strode into the conference room and was pleased to find her XO and the other bridge officers already present, as well as a few new faces she had not yet had the opportunity to meet. She matched the sharp Vulcan features of Ilyia Vikas, her Chief of Security, with the image provided in the database, and the friendly face of the seasoned Charles Acker, her Chief Medical Officer, was another she recognized. With a quick mental note to drop by the medical bay for a private introduction with her Chief of Medical, Tia wasted no time in making her way to the head of the holotable to begin the briefing.
With a quick clearing of her throat she called their attention. “I have just received our orders for the Tesla’s first mission. There is an unnamed class L planet on the outskirts of the Glintara Sector the Federation believes may contain valuable samples that are essential to groundbreaking scientific discoveries in the development of more advanced medicine. We have been tasked with exploring this unknown region and documenting our findings in the area. Take off is set for three hours from now. The coordinates for the planet and the grid reference system is detailed in the briefing I am now sending to your PADDs.” Tia paused to press a few buttons and the room dinged with notifications as the brief was received and the holotable lit up to display the planet. “I would like to plan an approach that will provide us a good placement to gather some detailed scans of the terrain before we send down a ground crew. Do you have any suggestions?” Tia addressed Lieutenant Ty.
“Barring any issues, with a departure in three hours there will be two larger moons on this side of the planet when we arrive.” Zenobi leaned forward to spin the holograph and point to the moons he was referring to. “We would want to avoid these and they have potential to interfere with our scans, so approaching the planet from the opposite side may be our best course of action.”
“Good,” Tia nodded a quick approval. “Coordinate with engineering and tactical and update me once you’ve had time to run through some scenarios to ensure this is the best plan of approach. Otherwise, we will plan to leave shortly. Any questions or input?” Tia opened the floor.
“Why aren’t we being sent to the Velorum Sector?” It was Thatch who voiced the question they were likely all thinking.
Tia gritted her teeth. She should have expected such a query since she herself had wondered the same thing, but she quickly skirted the issue. “The Federation naturally wouldn’t desire to send every member of their force to one sector. We will be playing a more supportive role and ensuring the fleet has members available at various locations to respond should unforeseen incidents arise. And the advancement of science cannot be halted every time some sector seeks independence.” The confidence in Tia’s unruffled tone as she brushed off the issue almost had her believing her own excuse. “Isn’t that correct, LC Aldrich?” Tia looked to her CSO who she was certain would support her in the argument that science was a far more valuable pursuit than any political dispute, but her quick glance did not find the teal suit it was searching for, and with a raised brow she realized that the Science Officer was nowhere to be found.
“Where is Lieutenant Commander Jasik Aldrich?” Tia placed the question to no one in particular as she scanned the room. An uncomfortable silence was the only response and Tia pursed her lips. “I’ll have a conversation with him later,” she stated firmly. “If that’s all, everyone excluding Lieutenant Vikas may now be dismissed.”
Tia did not miss the glance her XO threw her as she excluded her from this private briefing, but she refused to meet her gaze. Federation command had been very specific that the details of this mission were to be shared with as few crew members as possible. The room slowly emptied but Vikas remained in her seat till everyone else had left. Tia knew her security officer had already been provided details concerning her mission, but she wanted to run through the particulars regardless. She was still uncertain as to why command had placed Vikas as the lead on this mission, and hoped to glean some information from this conversation.
“The political unrest surrounding the collapse of the Romulan Star Empire is no secret and stories of small groups rising in support of the former Romulan Empire are quickly growing. You have been tasked with sending a small team to meet with the captain of a Bajoran vessel who claims to have knowledge of a growing force of Cardassian rebels who seek to support the Romulans. I’m sure you’ve seen the particulars in the briefing.” Tia raised her brows.
Vikas responded with a short nod, maintaining her stony Vulcan visage that betrayed not even a sliver of emotion.
“I have a few suggestions for members you may want to consider for your team,” Tia continued, nodding to the PADD in the security officer’s hands. Tia normally would not have adopted such a commanding and slightly confrontational tone with another officer, but she was still peeved that the Federation Command seemed to value Vikas as a commander more than her, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something larger at play.
Vikas’s sharp features did not flinch under the cold stare of her captain. “I’ve looked over your updates and I agree that the Bajoran doctor could provide a positive rapport with our contact. As you’ve indicated this team has worked together in the past, I’m willing to accept your suggestions and move forward with the crew members you have provided.”
Tia couldn’t tell if the Vulcan was simply appeasing her or actually agreed with her input. Vulcans were always so difficult for her to read. She could tell she wasn’t going to elicit any sort of unscripted response from the close-mouthed Chief of Security, so she determined to move on and do her own digging in private. “Very good. Please keep me apprised of the situation and let me know should you require any assistance.”
Vikas rose to her feet without a change in expression. “Am I dismissed?”
* * * * *
Meanwhile, in the science lab and not the officer’s meeting, Jasik was bent over a microscope, entirely engrossed in the world of the tiny organisms that swam before his eyes. His lips closed and parted as he seemed to be speaking to himself, but no words were heard as he carried on his private conversation in his own head. He was far to captivated by the living things he watched flitting about on the slip of glass to notice the arrival of another crew member bearing the teal blue uniform of a science officer.
“Hello.” It took Senri a moment to overcome her shyness enough to announce her presence to the clearly preoccupied Chief of Science, but her desire to meet the legend she had heard so much of during her training far outweighed her fear of negative social interactions, and so after a deep sigh she thrust the greeting from her mouth. However it seemed as though her trepidation held no merit as her idol took no notice of the word which had been squeaked out in a high pitched voice. “Hello,” Senri grew bold and repeated herself a little more loudly. “I’m Senri Ruka. I’ve been assigned as your assistant,” she introduced herself.
“Hmmmmm.” A low hum was the only response she received from the hunched figure.
She nervously bit her lower lip a few times before determined not to press the issue but instead settle into her new work station. Busying her mind with the task of familiarizing herself with the new lab, she began to rearrange a few items to set up the equipment in a way that she felt would be more functional. The silence was deafening as her new commanding officer continued to utterly ignore her as though her efforts and even her very existence was of no import.
“Do you mind if I call you Jay?” She asked impulsively, somewhat desperate to break the silence that was causing the tightness in her chest to grow.
For the first time he tore his eyes from the microscope to glance up at her with a curious gaze. “Oh, I don’t mind what you call me at all. Call me anything you like.” He shrugged and returned to his microscope.
“Jay it is then,” Senri accepted with a nod.
Silence reigned for a moment and then his head once again shot up to look at her. “Are you a natural scientist?”
“I studied more social and formal sciences,” she informed him.
“Huh.” His grunt was unimpressed and his head lowered again. “I suppose formal science is somewhat useful.” He spoke primarily to himself but neglected to lower his voice as he did so.
A sideways pursing of Senri’s lips was the only response she gave.
* * * * *
It was not till sometime in the late evening that Tia felt she had sufficiently prepared herself for the mission ahead and decided to give in to that gnawing desire to allow herself one drink for the evening in an effort to wind down. With annoyance, she realized she had failed to stock her room with any private stash of whiskey, and realized she would have to make her way to the brew house if she was to make good on her designs for a stiff drink.
What had once been the Scarlett Fire had now been redubbed as simply the Brew Pub and was under new management. Although Tia’s heart leapt at the thought of once again visiting her old haunts that she had so often frequented under the command of Captain Ryder, she steeled herself against the familiarity of visiting the pub, determined to set a precedent as a new captain and not permit herself to slip back into her former ways of fraternizing with the crew in a manner that she felt did not befit a commanding officer. She recalled the first time she had been invited to sit with the crewmen shortly after their mission on the Ryex.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“You must have been over two miles away. It was about a tenth of a second before I heard Mack’s fire after seeing that bullet hit.” John was still drooling over Akeno’s magnificent long-range shot.
“Lieutenant Chung.” They hadn’t noticed Savik as she approached their table. “I would like to extend to you my congratulations on your excellent shooting during our encounters with the Hirogen at the village. Without your effective cover fire, we may not have been able to successfully execute the strategy with no loss of life to civilians.”
“Oh, it was entirely self-serving.” Akeno waved off the accolades. “Who would have carried my wounded ass around if I hadn’t gone back to save my boy John here?” he laughed.
“Regardless, I don’t believe I was given the opportunity to acknowledge your contribution to the mission earlier, and I wished to inform you now,” Savik stated with a quick nod and then turned to leave, feeling somewhat awkward.
“Care to join us for lunch?” John extended the invitation although he somewhat doubted the standoffish XO would accept. Although they had shared time together on a few missions, he found it difficult to read the female commander. She surprised him by easily sliding into the seat next to Akeno.
“Sure,” she accepted with a light shrug. She had barely sat down before Riru Sareth approached their table.
“We’re eating at this table now?” Riru asked with a raise of her perfectly arched brows as she slid her tray onto the table to settle herself in the seat across from Savik. Riru had started eating most of her meals with Tia and wasn’t going to change her newly formed habit simply because of some uninvited company.
Riru wasn’t quite certain what had first drawn her to the introverted XO who sometimes came off as a bit snobbish, but after spending a few weeks at her table to avoid conversation with other less desirable lunch partners, she found that Tia was her type of person. Straight and to the point with little time for pleasantries, Tia didn’t talk overly much, and when she did it was normal to discuss theoretic engineering, a passion which they both shared. Tia had at first been annoyed by the chief engineer’s company but had been won over by her extensive knowledge of engineering concepts. And so Riru had chosen Tia as a mess hall partner and Tia had unwittingly gained a friend.
“No one invited you to eat with us,” John good-naturedly joked as she settled in next to him.
“I don’t need an invitation,” Riru shot back. “I do this little thing called whatever-the-hell-I-want.”
“There you go,” John rewarded this quip with an approving laugh.
“And who might you be?” Akeno asked for an introduction with the most charming smile he could muster.
“This is Lieutenant Commander Riru Sareth, our Chief Engineer,” Tia introduced her.
Akeno extended his hand across the table. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Give it some time.” Riru didn’t even acknowledge the offered hand.
Akeno laughed and lowered his hand. He was accustomed to the initial rebuff that attractive women normally gave simply to save face. He would break down her defenses in time. With a confident grin, he began a retelling of the mission they had just been on, with John and Tia occasionally interjecting with a fun fact or supportive laugh.
“I was well over two miles away with shrapnel still hanging from my wounded leg-” Akeno was suddenly interrupted by the little engineering chief speaking over him to cut him off.
“Yes, I am going to cut you off mid-sentence and change the topic but in my defense, you were boring me and my survival instinct just kicked in,” Riru halted him with an offhanded wave of her hand.
The remainder of the lunch conversation was ruled by Riru, who chose to primarily discuss engineering with Tia and deliver cutting remarks to the men who knew very little about the topic at hand. Finally, near the end of their meal, Akeno threw out an offer he knew would garnish a hasty rebuttal but his curious mind could not resist testing the waters.
“Would you care to join me in the training hall sometime for a little exercise?” Akeno directed the question to their Chief Engineering Officer. “I make an excellent sparring partner.” He threw a quick wink at the end of this statement. From the corner of his eye, Akeno noticed their XO stiffen a bit in her seat.
“Go disappoint the next woman,” Riru responded with zero hesitation as though she had stored this retort in her arsenal for just such an occasion. “I’m busy.” With a swish of her hair, Riru rose to her feet. Tossing her napkin amongst the remains of her lunch she pointed down at the finished tray with a commanding finger that could not be ignored. “I’ll leave that for you boys to take care of,” she announced as she turned to leave the table.
Akeno noted the grin on their XO’s face as Riru delivered this rebuttal and suspected more than just an appreciation for quick wit.
“I should be getting back to the bridge as well,” Tia stated with a smile, graciously picking up Riru’s tray as she departed from the table.
Akeno caught Chief Richardson’s gaze following the lithe Orion as she left their table, and he leaned over to speak in John’s ear.
“Forget it, John. You’re not her type.”
“You got that from one lunch?” John doubted his friend’s abilities to read the situation quite that well.
“John, something tells me our little engineering friend, Sareth, would have a better shot than you,” Akeno surmised with a smirk.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Tia shook her head as she pulled herself from her reverie. Now as a captain she could not slip back into her familiar ways. John and Akeno had come to be as close to friends as she would ever allow, and Riru had become so much more. She had been pleased to find that John and Akeno were following her from the Neptune to the Tesla, but her parting with Riru had left her feeling vulnerable. She could not allow anyone to get so close again. Figuring she would have to face John and Akeno at some point, she decided not to put it off but to tackle the issue head-on. She knew it may be difficult for some of her former crew members to accept the change in decorum due to her new station, but it was an affair that would need to be dealt with.
She sucked in a deep breath as she crossed the threshold to the newly renovated bar and was pleasantly surprised to find that the new owner had kept the same ambiance of a classic pub that Felicity had worked so hard to create. A rush of old memories hit her causing a smile to flit across her face for a brief moment before a searing pain gripped her heart. Shaking off the feeling of self judgement she reminded herself that not all things can last forever, and moved forward to continue in her walk along a new path. A familiar voice reached her ears before she had gotten two steps inside the pub and the large form of John Richardson broke into her view as he halted on his path from the bar to their old group table to hail her with a wide grin.
“Captain Savik!” The pride was evident in his voice. He approached her with wide arms to give her a hug, but then glanced at the full glasses of beer in each of his meaty paws and lowered his arms with a laugh. “Come on, Tia,” he extended a jovial invitation. “It’s high time we celebrated that promotion.” He swept an arm to where Akeno and Jovi were both seated.
Tia glanced over to see Akeno and Jovi observing the exchange with interest, but she also felt the gaze of everyone else in the room, and raising her chin with a proud tilt she found a tone that was kind but firm.
“I don’t believe that would be entirely appropriate, Master Chief Richardson.”
John took a step back, seemingly surprised by her rebuff, but with an easy grin he brushed it off. “No problem. Just thought you might enjoy a drink with some old friends.”
Tia set her jaw and steeled herself to deliver a message she did not particularly relish. “I believe the responsibilities of my new position demand I set a precedent from the very beginning. I engaged in some activities during my time as an XO that are not befitting to the degree of formality my new responsibilities dictate. Regrettably, I will have to have to cut out some former practices that are not in line with the position of leadership I now hold. I would hate for it to appear as though I show any sort of special treatment to formerly close associates, so moving forward I would appreciate it if we could keep our relationship strictly professional.”
John’s eyes narrowed and she could sense that he saw more of her than she cared for him to see.
“Is this why Siru was so upset? You tell her that when she decided to stay with the Neptune?”
So many retorts raced through her mind, but not one of them found its way to her lips. John observed her as she stood mute, unable to latch onto one single response. Slowly the face of her comrade softened and it was he who broke the moment of tension.
“You’re gonna do fine, Captain Savik.” His tone held empathy but was still a bit stiff. He turned away from her but took only a few steps before turning back to say one last thing before departing. “And you’re gonna do great as a captain because people will realize you’re someone worth following, the same as we all realized when you were an XO.”
Tia swallowed hard and found words, but Richardson was already gone. She wanted nothing more than to sink through the floor and be gone from all the prying eyes she could feel watching her, but ignoring the curious stares she stifled her emotions and mustered a bold front before marching to the bar. She ordered an old-fashioned from a bartender whose face was nothing more than a blur as she pushed the thoughts of her parting with Riru Sareth back into the deep pit of her heart where she locked away any painful memory of her past. She was proud of her voice which sounded confident and did not shake, and she chose to ignore the questions bouncing around in her brain. A cool glass slid across the counter to meet her hand and she took it robotically before searching for some dark corner to disappear into. Selecting a booth in the back corner she headed for the privacy of a table to escape the eyes she knew were still on her.
That all too familiar feeling of doubt began to gnaw at the pit of Tia’s stomach, but another gulp of her drink served to silence the inner questioning. The confusing feelings she had experienced when saying goodbye to the fiery little engineer who had chosen to stay aboard the USS Neptune with Captain Ryder could be explored at a later time. For the moment, she was playing her new role as captain and she refused to allow her crew to see any doubt. It wasn’t till she started on her second drink that she was able to entirely push Riru’s face from even the deepest recesses of her mind and focus on her mission going forward. She had only just begun to contemplate how she should approach her disorderly new Chief of Science when her inner musings were interrupted.
“Everything goin’ okay?” Thatch put the question to her as he plopped himself down in the seat opposite her. His frank candor and lack of decorum irritated Tia more than it normally would have, due to her already high level of annoyance after the confrontation with Richardson.
“Everything is excellent, commander,” she responded curtly.
Tia made no attempt to conceal her deep sigh of irritation as he continued to speak.
“Sometimes the issue with acting like you don’t need anyone is that some people actually believe it.”
Tia’s jaw tightened at the familiarity in his tone as he delivered this statement, which almost seemed to be questioning her judgement as well as probing into her personal life which she felt did not concern him in the least. Her mind leapt to the possibility that her new crew members may have heard rumors of her relationship with Riru and her cheeks flushed at the thought but she worked to regain her composure.
“Would you care to elaborate on that?” She could not control the stiffness in her voice, but she kept a civil tongue as she chose to give him the chance to explain his statement.
He pulled back, clearly put off by the hostility in her tone. “Well I didn’t mean to upset you,” he spoke amiably.
Tia could not hold back a short huff that betrayed her annoyance at how quickly he seemed to retract his statement, and he quickly caught that their new captain only respected those willing to stand firmly behind their statements although he wasn’t quite certain how to proceed with this insight.
“I’m just sayin’,” he continued on, “Sometimes people see things in different ways. Like I’m on one side of the hill and you’re on the other side and I say a tree’s on the right and you say it’s on the left and neither one of us is wrong we’re just lookin’ at different sides.” He came to a blundering halt as he realized he did not possess the eloquence with which to express his thoughts to their somewhat robotic commanding officer. His eyes squinted as he studied her to see if his words were hitting their target, but he saw no realization in the captain’s eyes. “Don’t pay me no mind.” He waved a meaty hand in the air to dismiss his previous statements. “Just the ramblings of a low-level mechanic. You have a good evening, miss.” He raised his glass to her and then pushed away from the table to once again leave her to her own thoughts. Tia’s brow squinted her lips parted slightly as she tried to translate the words of her chief engineer, but she quickly dismissed them with a shake of her head. That animal may know his way around a nuclear fusion engine but she certainly couldn’t understand how he had reached his current Starfleet rank based on his obvious level of education. It was as though he only understood mechanics and nothing else, although how his mind had managed to grasp the advanced physics of nuclear machinery completely escaped her. Clearly, language was not his strong suit, and she was thankful he was not in charge of comms aboard her ship. Tia was only left alone for a moment to consider the shortcomings of her new crew before her silent reverie was once again interrupted, this time by her operations officer.
The half-Vulcan smoothly slid into the seat across from her, hardly making a sound. He folded his hands before him and leaned his forearms against the rim of the table, every aspect of his posture betraying he had not come here for a casual drink.
Tia sighed but accepted this interruption with far more grace than she had afforded the chief engineer.
“Can I help you, Commander Vostugo?”
He studied her for a moment with deep eyes that she almost felt could see into her soul. “As I was seated at a nearby table, I could not help but overhear your conversation with Lieutenant Commander Thatch and was hoping I would be able to provide some clarity.”
Tia sucked in her breath. How many people were still watching her and judging her due to the events of this evening… or maybe events from further back that she had hoped would not be so widely known? She chose to say nothing as no question had been placed to her, waiting for Idrin to explain himself further.
“I believe what our friend lacked the eloquence to express is this. When you pretend a chosen course of action is easy, some may find it difficult to understand the emotional toll behind such a decision. It is certainly noble to feign courage in the face of danger when the goal is to raise the morale of others, but what will be accomplished by feigning indifference when such a response will only cause pain?”
“You think I don’t know the effect my actions have?” Tia was annoyed by this line of questioning and the growing suspicion that her crew may be spreading rumors of her past indiscretions behind her back pervaded her mind. Were they talking about her management of the crew or was he chiding her for what he may have heard of her liaison with Riru? Tia wasn’t certain, but she couldn’t help the feeling of being personally burned by his words as her agonizing farewell with the fiery little engineer was still a fresh wound in her mind.
“Oh, I am certain you are fully aware of the effects your actions will have. I only question if you considered an alternative means of expressing the desired message that would result in a less emotionally damaging outcome. I understand the desire of many to speak for the benefit of personal emotional gratification, however, I have always held the belief that a leader must place the needs of the crew above their own. ”
Tia’s mouth opened, but it was a while before she finally spoke. “You think I could have handled it better?” She deduced as she considered his words. “That I spoke simply with the intent of making myself feel better rather than considering how my words would affect others?”
“That is what I said,” the officer responded simply.
Tia let out a deep sigh and her jaws clamped shut as she leaned back to absently run a finger around the rim of her glass. “I’ll take your opinion under advisement.” She slipped the statement from between tightly clenched teeth.
With a short nod, the Ops officer rose from his seat to leave their captain alone with her drink. He had said his piece and now had other matters to attend to.