Making himself comfortable in the executive officer’s ready room, Kellin loosened the front flap of his uniform jacket and he replicated a snacking bowl of almonds. Commander Elbon’s decor wasn’t as surreal as Captain Taes’ ready room; the XO’s ready room more closely matched the starship’s reflective bronze and copper interior design. Kellin padded out a slow lap around Elbon’s desk and then he decided to settle himself on the dark burgundy sofa instead. After he chewed on a couple of almonds, Kellin accepted the subspace communication that was waiting for his attention.
On a wide LCARS panel set into the opposite bulkhead, a live video link with the USS Sarek‘s stardrive section appeared on screen. Commander Elbon himself was centred in the comms. The day’s end stubble was visible along his jawline and his uniform jacket was falling off, like Kellin’s. They exchanged the usual pleasantries, by rote.
“We’re setting course for Burleigh Minor in the company of an ambassador from the Holy Goddess Mother’s Great Kadi State,” Elbon said. His face was lit up with a different smile, the one Kellin didn’t always get to see. So often, Elbon played off Starfleet duty as second nature, something he’d already mastered years ago. This Elbon was invigorated. He looked genuinely proud of swaying the Kadi with little more than words.
“We will rejoin with the saucer section by stardate 77884.4,” Elbon explained. “As long as we facilitate their procedures and rituals –and pending a blood dilithium donation to the Holy College of Abbotts– the Kadi have agreed to our offer to repatriate the remains of their ancestors to their home colony.“
Flashing a grin at the screen, Kellin said, “I never should have doubted you.”
“You never have,” Elbon countered.
Kellin’s grin tightened to an impish smirk. “I spoke to your–” Kellin said, “to Commander Duncan from the USS Odyssey this morning.”
With a touch of amusement in his delivery, Elbon asked, “And how is my Academy chum?“
“He requested a wellness update on our telepaths impacted by the blood dilithium,” Kellin said. “I think he might have been looking for you, but the computer routed him to the saucer, rather than the stardrive. He did ask about you.”
Kellin glanced off to the side, suddenly replaying the memory in his mind. “I think… I implied we were still married? By accident.”
Elbon used the lower register of his voice, the one he used to mock Kellin mercilessly. Pointedly, Elbon pointedly asked, “Is that jealousy I hear, darling? Max contacted me for our initial findings when we first arrived in the Delta Quadrant. I already told him we were divorced. …You always said you were functionally incapable of jealousy, no?“
“Jealous of Max Court from the Odyssey?” Kellin asked, boggling at Elbon. His voice went higher in a pantomime of disbelief. “I don’t need to be jealous of him; I’ve already had you. No, I’m jealous of you when you were a cadet. Max can odd-my-sea any day.”
So soon after sipping at his tea, Elbon bleated out a laugh that sent tea dribbling down his chin. After he daubed at his face with his uniform flap, Elbon shook his head at Kellin.
“By the Prophets, Kel,” he said, “you’re funniest when you’re not funny.“
Kellin blinked. “What did I say?”
Crossing the sunken flight control deck of the main bridge, Lieutenant Commander Kellin Rayco made up his mind. There was a casual sway to his hips as he climbed the two steps of the command platform. He kept his shoulders loose. Kellin was accustomed to taking up space in any room, given his thickset, if maintained, build. This one time, he wanted to be invisible. He craved this moment for himself: as Second Officer of the USS Sarek, Kellin sat himself in the captain’s chair. He placed his palms on the armrests and he cast his gaze through the forward viewport.
A heartbeat later, as Kellin looked around the bridge, the moment rang hollow. The senior staff were scattered across the two hulls and the surface of Burleigh Minor. Elbon and Yuulik were on the stardrive. Nune was locked in the brig, fighting for his own mind. Nelli was swinging all ten of their vines in sickbay to keep up with the number of telepaths succumbing to the distressing effects of blood dilithium. Even Captain Taes hadn’t returned from her ready room retreat.
The only truly familiar face among the bridge crew –from the old USS Nestus days– was Annikafiore Szerda. Even Szerda looked out of place, sitting at the engineering hub to his right, managing the operations station rather than the conn. He wondered idly for a moment if this was what a career in Starfleet would be like, growing and developing beyond each of your crews and friend groups. He supposed he didn’t really know how many crews Captain Taes had left behind to reach her position aboard the USS Sarek.
The thought of crews left behind reminded him of a nagging frustration Kellin walked away from in the ready room. He looked to the U-shaped hub of science consoles to his left and nodded at the Vulcan ensign overseeing science station one.
“Ensign T’Kaal,” Kellin said, “Lieutenant Yuulik hasn’t been answering my hails and I promised a status update on Nune to the USS Odyssey. Did Yuulik share her shift-end report with you? Not that she would ever ask anyone to proofread her work…”
T’Kaal inclined her head in Kellin’s direction. He saw her visibly hesitate before responding.
“No, commander,” T’Kaal replied. “Yuulik has not responded to my hails either. Nor has she made any of her research available in the department’s shared library for over twenty hours.”
At that, Kellin sighed. It was a soft, frustrated sound. Frustrated with himself more than Yuulik. “I should have checked on her after–“
A piercing LCARS alert sounded in Kellin’s ear. His shoulders tensed automatically. He knew that telltale sound all too well. Sitting at the tactical station behind Kellin, Lieutenant Jurij silenced the alarm.
“We’re receiving a distress call from the surface,” Jurij reported. “Audio only.”
Kellin did the most rational thing he could think to do first. He tapped a comms button on his armrest and he requested, “Captain Taes to the bridge.” The computer routed the request to the captain’s ready room automatically. Simply knowing Taes would arrive momentarily, Kellin took the deepest of calming breaths.
Waiting no longer, Kellin said to Jurij, “Open the channel.”
Flavia’s harried voice came from the bridge’s embedded communications nodes: “USS Sarek this is Science Officer Flavia, requesting emergency beam up. I don’t know what experiments you’re playing with up there, but the blood dilithium beneath our cavern has detonated!“
For just a second, Kellin squinted at the moon through the viewscreen, as if he should have been able to see smoke rising from the away team’s cave. He blinked and then he looked to T’Kaal, raising his eyebrows in a questioning expression.
Taking note of his look, T’Kaal reviewed the sensor logs on her holo-display. Moments later, she met Kellin’s eyes and shook her head in the negative.
“We detected no explosion, Flavia,” Kellin said in puzzlement.
Flavia retorted, “The solar radiation is interfering with your sensors, fool. I wasn’t sure this comm signal would even get through.“
When Kellin looked to Szerda at the operations station, she was already nodding at him, her expression pained.
“I can’t get a transporter lock on Flavia,” Szerda said, struggling to hide the rising panic in her voice. “Sensors can’t locate the other members of her away team.”
Flavia hurriedly explained, “My colleagues were injured in the cave-in. Their communicators may be damaged or lost. Commander, you have to get us out of here! The veins of blood dilithium run deeply into the moon’s crust. If there should be another explosion–“
“I’ll– I’ll prepare a shuttle with engineers and medical staff. They can launch in less than five minutes,” Kellin promised, falling back on an order of operations he’d memorised for a command school exam.
“You can’t risk any more crew, commander. If the blood dilithium destroys more of the cavern,” Flavia chided him. “You’ve lost the six of us already.“
With Flavia’s damning assessment, Kellin felt his chest tighten, and the gears stopped turning in his head. The running monologue of thoughts and feelings in Kellin’s mind went blank. He was so accustomed to modelling his leadership off Taes and he couldn’t remember Taes finding herself in a situation where a planet had turned against the crew so suddenly, so harshly. Raising his hand, he made a cutting motion across his neck.
Lieutenant Jurij silenced the bridge’s side of the communication channel. Over the subspace link, scrabbling footsteps and laboured breathing could still be heard from Flavia’s end.
“Where is Taes?” Kellin asked desperately. His gaze swung across the bridge, only finding eyes looking back at him expectantly. When his eyes landed on Ensign Cellar Door, Kellin ordered, “Check the captain’s ready room. Get her, ensign!”
His body painfully tense, Kellin looked back over his shoulder at Jurij. He gave the order with a look and Jurij opened the comm channel with Flavia again.
“Flavia, can you escape to another chamber?” Kellin proposed. “If you can make it closer to the surface, we can get a stronger targeting lock for the transporter.”
Kellin held his breath when Flavia didn’t respond. He still heard footsteps, faster now, a rustling sound of her communicator rubbing against fabric, and a hollow scraping sound too. It sounded like Flavia was dragging something behind her. Something or someone.
“Flavia?” Kellin called out again.
“Com-man-der,” Flavia said, exaggerating every syllable, and then she grunted painfully. “We almost– there’s just– one more– Yes! We restored the pattern enhancers. Beam us up!“
Floating into the bridge from an open doorway, Cellar raised the volume on his speakers to announce, “Help me! Captain Taes is unresponsive! I think you would call it a fugue state? She’s sleeping at her desk with her eyes open!”
Tapping the comm controls on his armrest, Kellin sent the order, “Doctor Nelli, report to the bridge immediately. We have a medical emergency!”
In the same breath, Kellin snapped his head in Annikafiore Szerda’s direction. He ordered, “Szerda, lock onto the pattern enhancers. Beam the away team to the bridge immediately!”
“Energising!” Szerda declared as she dragged three fingers down the controls on her interface.
A swirling, sparkling mist of light coalesced before Kellin’s eyes. As the swirls narrowed into six blinding pillars, those pillars solidified into Flavia and her team of five Romulan scientists materialising on the bridge between the captain’s chair and the conn. When Kellin blinked the first time, he noticed there was no sign of bruising or blood on any of them. Flavia had reported they were all injured and their jumpsuits didn’t even look dirty. When Kellin blinked again, he then noticed the pile of bones and amour plates and helmets scattered at their feet.