‘Nice flying, Commander.’
It was the fifth time Zihan Shepherd had been stopped on her way down this section to be complimented by a crewmember, and she wasn’t in the slightest sick of it. This petty officer got a high-five as she passed. ‘Team effort, team effort. Which couldn’t have been done without me.’
Lieutenant Olivia Quinn rolled her eyes good-naturedly. ‘Nobody ever compliments me on things like tracking down the pirates in the first place, or Krish for masking our presence until we were on top of them, or even Vigo for his shooting…’
‘Vigo would look at them like they sprouted a second head and grunt that he was doing his job,’ Shepherd said with a dismissive wave of the hand. ‘Not because he’s humble, but because he really likes blowing things up. But like I said, O. Team effort.’
‘I don’t think you believe that, Shep.’
Shepherd’s grin widened as they stepped into the turbolift. ‘I think I’m having a good day. Deck nine.’
They’d gone to warp three hours ago, long after mopping up the last of the raiders they’d stopped from blowing Endeavour to kingdom come. The Independence’s advance hunting party had paid off, leading them to a small asteroid base where the birds-of-prey had run to lick their wounds. They had plainly not anticipated Starfleet to catch up with them so quickly, but swift had been the retribution, the Triumph leading the assault with the Independence providing support and the Nighthawk blocking any escape. Most of the ships had been destroyed. Data records had been raided. Pirates languished in the brig.
There was more to do, because Captain Jericho was right: pirates like this had support, and that support was going to be the Mo’Kai. But that was someone else’s work, or it was at least someone else’s work tonight. Tonight, the Triumph celebrated.
Whoops and claps flowed over the two young officers as they stepped into the lounge, and while Quinn flushed self-consciously, Shepherd waved her hand in a circle to keep the acclaim coming and gave an over-the-top bow. ‘Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week; try the veal.’
The crew were used to Shepherd’s behaviour by now, laughing and taking it in stride, and while she received more hand-shakes and back-slaps as they headed through the crowd, they were as in on the joke as she was. More importantly, none of the crew of the Triumph got in their way as they headed for the bar.
Until someone stepped away from a knot of engineers, and the austere figure of Commander Tiarith Ranicus blocked their path. The XO was tall and, Shepherd thought frankly, gorgeous, with flowing dark hair and piercing eyes. Her usually reserved expression was particularly impassive as she locked her gaze on them. ‘You have to make an entrance that’s all about you, don’t you, Commander.’
Shepherd grinned. ‘Gotta give the adoring fans what they want.’
There was a beat. Then Ranicus gave the tightest of smiles, and the tension of the moment broke. ‘Your flying was exceptional today. Enjoy the celebrations, but the captain asked me to tell you: he’ll want a minute of your time when he gets here.’
Once, the two of them had been nothing but at odds, the cold disciplinarian impatient with Shepherd’s flashy style and confidence. It had taken years – and at least one incident of being stranded on a hostile planet together – to develop this kind of mutual respect. ‘Got it,’ Shepherd said. ‘Don’t get blitzed in the next twenty minutes.’
‘I’m not sure the captain is that optimistic.’ Ranicus’s gaze fell on Quinn. ‘Outstanding work mapping out the combat zone ahead of our arrival, Lieutenant. The Independence’s reconnaissance was good as always, but you gave us the edge.’
Before Ranicus had become XO, she’d been the Science Chief, with Quinn as her protege and successor. Now Quinn flushed more. ‘As you said, the Independence did most of the work. I just compared it to historic regional maps and, based off the discrepancies, extrapolated the rest -’
‘Neat, nerd stuff, I want my celebratory drink.’ Shepherd waved a hand as she waltzed back into the crowd and towards the bar. It was there she found the knot of the faces most familiar to her, the bulk of the rest of the Triumph’s senior staff, and she slid up to her usual place: just to the right of operations chief Commander Malhotra. ‘They’re all singing my praises, Krish. It’s getting old.’
Krish Malhotra gave one of his boyishly cheerful smiles, pushing back from the bar and handing her a bottle of beer it looked like he’d had waiting. ‘You’re so fickle, Shep. Basking in it one moment, tired the next. O with you?’
‘Got caught up talking shop with the XO.’ Shepherd jerked a thumb over her shoulder and looked at the other two gold-shirted men. ‘How’re repairs, Dimitri?’
Commander Isakov shrugged his wide shoulders. ‘If I say they’re keeping my team busy, will you be offended? Story’s going that you flew so well the enemy did not even touch us. Scratches on the hull plating tell a different tale, though.’
‘Scratches? I just didn’t want your engineers to get bored.’ She turned her impish grin on the last, undeterred by the dour gaze of Chief of Security Lieutenant Sterlah. ‘Good shooting out there, Vigo.’
When the Andorian also shrugged, muscles had to make way for other muscles. ‘I successfully executed the plan of attack,’ he rumbled. ‘This isn’t remarkable. I do my job.’
‘I knew you wouldn’t take it as a compliment.’ Shepherd snapped her fingers. ‘Guess I made it easier for you to hit them by putting us right where -’
‘Alright, alright.’ Malhotra raised his hands. ‘Don’t wind Vigo up.’
‘But that’s my fun times.’
‘How far out from 86 are we?’ asked Isakov, leaning in between them as Sterlah glowered at her. ‘One day? Two?’
‘Two. The hunt took us a bit out of our way.’ Shepherd had a swig of her beer and leaned back to scan the crowd. ‘That’s good. It’ll all be business when we get there, won’t it? The crew did well, they should have a chance to celebrate.’
‘Interrogations of the pirates continues,’ grunted Sterlah, even though nobody had asked him. ‘They will give up leads.’
‘Or,’ mused Malhotra, ‘I’ll crack that encryption on their files. It’s pretty good – better than it should be – but I’m better, aren’t I. One way or another, we’ll have some Mo’Kai to chase.’
‘And a whole new problem to do it alongside,’ mused Shepherd. Malhotra looked at her, and she shrugged. ‘Endeavour. Ship like that, they’re gonna think they should be the lead, aren’t they? They’ve been running around this patch of space a year, they’re bigger than us…’
‘We’re the more tactical vessel,’ Sterlah said with a sting of offence.
‘Sure, but if they want to kumbayah their way through the region after all this time on diplomatic duty, they’re gonna be a pain.’
‘It’s no problem,’ said Isakov. ‘Captain Jericho calls the shots. They’ll listen to the shots.’
‘I didn’t say they were gonna disobey orders. I said they’re gonna be a pain.’ Shepherd made a face, then turned a smirk on Malhotra. ‘Enjoy that, Krish.’
Malhotra’s smile was badly-disguised. ‘I’ll enjoy the promotion I’ll get with the transfer.’
Sterlah looked between them, nonplussed. ‘I did not realise the orders for Commander Malhotra’s transfer had been finalised.’
‘No orders have happened at all.’ Malhotra shook his head. ‘Shep’s just jumping to conclusions.’
‘Making logical extrapolations…’
‘Captain on deck!’
It wasn’t necessary to call that when they were in the lounge, off-duty, having a celebratory party on the captain’s own orders. So the response to Lionel Jericho’s arrival wasn’t one of decorum, but full whoops and cheers and claps that made their welcome to Shepherd seem tepid. But she was part of the enthusiasm as well, putting her drink down to thud her hands together with as much glee as anyone.
It took a while. Jericho swaggered in with all his usual confidence and presence, stopping to shake hands, exchange a quick word with any crewmember who caught his eye. Triumph had three hundred and fifty souls aboard, and Shepherd reckoned he knew each and every one of them. By more than simply name, if the short exchanges were anything to go by. Everyone knew him, but Jericho knew everyone.
He paused by Ranicus and Quinn, exchanged hushed words with his XO and cast the briefest look at the rest of his senior staff, then advanced on the lounge’s small stage and hopped up to claim the high ground. ‘Thanks! Thank you!’ Jericho raised his hands to make everyone pipe down, and enthusiasm shifted for rapt attention.
‘You did a hell of a job today. Hell of a job. I never need reminding you’re the best crew in the fleet, but days like this remind me you’re the best crew in the fleet.’ His grin could appease a raging Klingon warrior, Shepherd thought. ‘We went from an easy trip across the sector to all hands on deck foiling a Mo’Kai plot, and you did it with willpower, smarts, and grace under pressure and fire alike. It takes grit and determination like that to keep these parts of the border safe. Everyone in the sector should be sleeping sounder, knowing that you’re all here, their first line of defence.’
Shepherd whooped, the lone sound followed by a round of low chuckles in the audience. At the bar, Ranicus and Quinn arrived, Malhotra throwing his arm around Quinn. Shepherd gave the XO her usual martini glass.
Jericho beamed at the spirit in the audience. ‘We’re about to step it up. There’s bad guys lurking in the shadows, but make no mistake: we’re the monsters under their beds!’ This was met with raucous hooting and hollering from the victorious crowd. ‘We’ve got new allies and new orders, and our new friends are damn happy and damn lucky to have this ship of heroes at their backs.’ Someone reached up to hand Jericho a fresh bottle of beer, which he raised aloft. ‘Who are we?’
‘Heroes!’ came the crowd’s unhesitating response.
‘Who are we?’ Jericho hollered again.
‘Heroes and monsters!’
‘Heroes and monsters!’
The crew always took a while to settle down after the chant, and Jericho didn’t even try to keep engaging them. The day had been long and hard, and it took partying hard like this to let off steam. But soon enough, the captain had shouldered his way through the gathered to reach his senior officers.
‘I’m glad we could do this,’ he said at the group’s ebullient welcome, but there was something a little sad in his eyes. Shepherd couldn’t help but cast Malhtora the briefest, teasing smirk. ‘Things will change real soon.’
‘We’ll be ready,’ came Ranicus’s cool assurance.
‘I know.’ Jericho shook his head fondly. ‘Not all changes are gonna be worse. Dimitri, you heard the good news?’
The engineer looked up. ‘Captain?’
‘Endeavour still has permission for families aboard. I’ll clear it with Captain Rourke, but you could bring your folks over. Won’t be quite the same as having them here on the Triumph, but they’ll be safe on the big old bird.’ Jericho clapped him on the shoulder. ‘It’ll be great to see Sasha and the kids again.’
Isakov had known the captain longer than any of them, had served with him when they were both engineers. Now he gave one of the biggest smiles Shepherd had seen from him. ‘That will be something.’
‘Won’t it just.’ But Jericho paused, fiddling with his beer bottle, and cast his look across the rest. ‘Ships are known for their rumour-mills, and Triumph’s no different than any other. So I know you all know I’m gonna be breaking up our family a bit. Because, you see, I don’t think it’s fair I hog all the good officers while this squadron is gonna need the best.’
Despite Shepherd’s smile, she saw Quinn stiffen a little even as Malhotra straightened. His promotion was a long time in coming, but the two of them hadn’t been together enormously long, after years of a game of cat-and-mouse in their romance. It was the one idea that saddened her about the operations officer leaving.
Then the captain turned to her and said, ‘Shep. When we get to Starbase 86, you’re gonna report aboard Endeavour as the new XO.’
Everyone stared. Shepherd almost dropped her beer. ‘Me?’ Even that took effort. She wasn’t accustomed to being speechless.
Ranicus pulled a small box from her uniform jacket and handed it to Jericho, who extended it back towards Shepherd. ‘This has been a long time coming – Commander.’
She stared some more as the box was snapped open for the round pip. Then, as undiplomatically as possible, she laughed and said, ‘Nah…’
Jericho did hesitate at that. ‘This isn’t something you turn down, Shep.’
‘I’m not – I mean, surely you want Krish?’ She might have been second officer, but Krish Malhotra was older than her, had worked his way up on the Triumph for longer than her, and it was only by what she felt to be a quirk of Starfleet procedure that she had any seniority on him. Shepherd knew she was good, but Malhotra had put in the years and the work.
He himself didn’t look best pleased, but he shifted his weight and when he spoke, it was in a clear and sincere voice. ‘Captain wants you for the job, Shep.’
This had to be, she thought, a crushing disappointment for him. But then, Shepherd had charted a course for command her entire career. It was only by being so satisfied on the Triumph that she’d stopped dreaming so ardently of moving on. Now she had her wish, and a part of her was minded to turn it down.
Instead, of course, she took the small box, and stared at the pip inside. ‘I don’t know what to say.’
Malhotra’s laugh was warming. ‘That’s a first.’
‘Well done, kid.’ Isakov slapped her on the back.
‘You deserve it,’ Sterlah concurred with a stern nod.
‘Damn.’ Shepherd pulled the pip out and theatrically pinned it badly to her collar, a misshapen fourth pip. ‘I’d have prepared something to say if I’d known.’
‘We can enjoy the break,’ Quinn said. Her smile was the most calm, the most sincere – she’d gotten, Shepherd thought with a hint of reassurance, what she wanted if Malhotra wasn’t leaving.
‘For a good long while if I’m on Endeavour.’ Shepherd hesitated. ‘Aren’t they all a bit stiff and boring?’
‘You’ll brighten them up, I’m sure,’ Ranicus drawled.
‘You’ll do great,’ Jericho reassured, and lifted his bottle. ‘To Commander Shepherd.’
They raised their glasses and toasted her, and for once the attention didn’t sit so well, because it was too bittersweet. Shepherd gave a twist of a smile and raised her own drink. ‘To all of us – all of you,’ she insisted. ‘Heroes and monsters alike.’
That broke the tension – the apprehension of the future, the surprise at her appointment, the disappointment and excitement it brought – and as one, the staff of the Triumph lifted their drinks.
‘Heroes and monsters.’