“The Tholian Stratagem”

FOUR

Monday, November 10th, 2155
Tycho City, Luna Colonies, Luna

“Without a doubt he was one of the finest pilots in the fleet and I know Fleet Captain Burton won’t mind me saying that he would have gone out to become a fine officer.” First Lieutenant Trommler spoke with sincerity as he delivered his remarks. “I know from first-hand experience that he had the true Starfleet spirit of being an explorer. The fact we are celebrating his life here at the Mare Tranquilities Museum of Human Exploration is a true testimony for his passion. He spoke fondly of this place. In fact that passion of his came to the forefront when we were stranded on an alien world. He led a group I was in and he ensured we did our best not only to survive but to live. That’s one thing I learnt from him the most, along with his bad habits when he tried to teach me his surfing tricks earlier on this year!” That last comment caused a few to snigger. “Seriously though, Mister and Misses Conrad on behalf of everyone on Challenger, for the short amount of time we had Jack in our lives we loved having him being part of our team. I will miss him tremendously.”

Smiling and bowing his head slightly, the newly promoted MACO officer walked away from the lectern where he had just delivered his speech about their departed friend. As he walked past Jack’s parents his mother hugged him and his father shook his hand. Taking his seat back with the rest of the Challenger crew, the minister that was leading the service called for a few minutes of peaceful reflection on the former pilot’s life. Fleet Captain Burton was sitting directly behind Trommler and he placed one hand on the MACO’s shoulder and gave it a tight squeeze. Turning to look at his superior, Burton nodded and gave a wink with a smile. It was his way of saying well done with the speech on behalf of everyone on the ship.

Almost half an hour later and the memorial was over. Everyone on the crew followed in the captain’s footsteps to praise Trommler with his words. The usual gang of younger crew all gathered together in one end of the gallery that had been privately cornered for Conrad’s service. Conrad’s parents had planned a small finger buffet reception for those who joined them. The former pilot’s mother was the museum’s curator/assistant director, so being able to host his memorial service in the one place he adored the most as a child was fitting.

“Those were great words Luis.” Habiba said as everyone gathered. All of them with a drink in one hand and a small plate of food in the other. Conrad’s mother had insisted that the crew stayed to help them celebrate their fallen comrade’s life with them.

“Absolutely,” Metaxas added. “Jack would have gushed at them.”

Trommler smiled in appreciation. “Dank.” He spoke softly.

“I can’t believe how far Jack’s mother went to host it here.” Commented Lieutenant Stewart. Looking around them the large exhibition gallery was focussed on the Apollo missions from the late twentieth century. “I remember Jack saying he was related to one of the astronauts from the Apollo program.”

“Was it Apollo Twelve or Thirteen?” Jenkins asked his husband.

“Twelve.” Stewart answered. “Thirteen was Jim Lovell, where Twelve was where Jack’s ancestor, Charles Conrad Junior commanded the mission and was the third person to walk on the Moon.”

“Didn’t Jack get kicked out of STC for attempting to recreate the Apollo missions?!” Ensign Hathaway asked the group with a smirk as she recalled the conversation she had with their former pilot. “I’m sure he said that was the reason why we found him on the Raven.” Laughing at recalling the first time they all got to know Jack properly, the group all smiled at the famous speech he shared with them all during his first week on Challenger. “I have to admit, I was glad when Fleet Captain Burton brought him on. After spending so many double shifts on the bridge, I was certain I was going to have my own warp core breach.”

“You did amazingly well during that mission at Archer Four.” Crewmember Harris said, assuring his friend. “In fact didn’t Jack get introduced to you when Commander Levesque found you napping in the mess hall?!”

More chuckles were shared among them all. Hathaway nodded to confirm the story. Her thick Scottish accent came out. “Indeed and after she left he got me the strongest coffee I’ve ever tasted in my life. One of my favourite moments with Jack would be trying Chef Lawson’s blends of coffee while writing our weekly helm reports.”

“My favourite memory of Jack was a classic Jack moment.” Metaxas remarked with a grin plastered across his face. “It was just after we abandoned ship and before we landed on Ardana, I still remember waking up in the middle of the night on Shuttlepod One and finding him spooning Luis.”

The moment he recalled that memory, Jenkins burst out laughing and Trommler just shook his head in disbelief.

“Didn’t Jack try to defend himself by cuddling up with you saying he was getting cold?” Jenkins added.

The new MACO leader glared at the Greek engineer for sharing that story and then one at his subordinate. “Two months.” He said between his teeth. “We almost went two months without anyone finding out about that and Jack’s justification.”

“Always knew there was something going on between you two!” Habiba remarked.

“It was a true bromance.” Trommler admitted. He took his glass and raised it. “To Jack, my lost spoon.”

“To Jack.” Everyone repeated as they raised their glasses.

Hearing the others call their fallen comrade’s name, Burton and Levesque looked in the direction to see the younger officers celebrating Conrad’s memory.

Smiling at the scene, Levesque looked back at Burton. “It’s nice to see that none of them have lost one another from this all.”

“Yeah, they’re a good bunch.” Burton agreed as he took a swig of the glass of wine he had.

Sipping on her flavoured water, Levesque looked at the future father of her unborn children. Since they had decided to become a couple they had kept public displays of affection to a minimum to avoid raising suspicions. Nevertheless she couldn’t stop smiling at him. “You didn’t tell me why when I mentioned Admiral Gardner’s name yesterday you reacted the way you did.”

Looking back at her, Burton put on his poker face. “What do you mean?”

“It was your ‘I know there could be a reason for that but I have to keep it quiet for now’ look.” Levesque explained.

Trying to swipe the notion away, Burton made a pfft noise with his mouth and shook his head. “I was just caught off guard to hear it, that was all. The entire investigation seems pointless. They’ve interviewed almost everyone, except me yet.”

“When do you have to travel to Helsinki?” Not quite believing him, Levesque decided to move the subject on. After asking her question they decided to move away from the table they were standing at for some cushioned chairs that were near to a glass cabinet that housed a replica of the space suits used by the Apollo astronauts. “I can come with you if you want some moral support?”

Shaking his head to stop her, Burton told her there was no need. “I’m sure they will be long and boring. I’m taking Jamie with me anyway.”

“Shame, I’d like the opportunity to see you take on Gardner.” Levesque said disappointedly. “I’ve always found there to be an air of smugness that surrounds him. Not sure if it was because the Vulcans wanted him to command Enterprise first or the fact he got promoted to admiral quicker than anyone else in Starfleet’s history.”

“I never had any issues with the admiral before. He seemed like a reasonable man back when he promoted me to captain.” Burton paused and wondered again if Gardner was truly involved in the whole Section Thirty-One mess. Gardner had been the one to promote him after Captain Karim’s apparent death. “Maybe he doesn’t like the idea of Hathaway giving me such free reign and perhaps I did take the privileges my new rank brings a bit too far. Maybe I do need a bit of a slap on the wrist so it makes me stop and think further about what I’m about to order. Maybe it’ll help stop us from having to attend so many memorials like this one.”

“Lloyd you can’t think like that. We are at war, there’s no two ways of looking at it. You made a tactical and sound decision in the moment.” Levesque said as she reassured her boyfriend. “Did Hathaway give you any inclination of which way she was thinking? I could speak with Rear Admiral Kaur for you?”

“No,” Burton said quickly. “Please don’t. I wouldn’t want your career put on the line for me for being accused of tampering with an investigation.”

“Okay, but just give me a shout if you change your mind.” Levesque said. “Anyway, did Hathaway approve of your battle plan?”

“She said she was going to let me know later today.” Burton answered. He took another sip of his wine. He was glad that Levesque hadn’t asked him about the other plan, the one that involved him sending Hennessey to Vulcan to find out more about the Romulan language. Hathaway had approved that idea and suggested they undertake it in a quieter fashion. Burton had already set the wheels in motion on how they would get their chief communication officer to Vulcan without too much hassle. He had called in a favour with another former crewmember for her help. She had been quick to respond and agree to it. Hennessey would depart from the ship tomorrow morning for the Vulcan homeworld with Commander T’Plau.

“So how was your inquisition?”

Finishing the small piece of carrot stick she had just picked up, Ben-Ami used the napkin she had to wipe her mouth as she answered the question from Hennessey. “It wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be Ned.” Keeping her voice low so only he heard her she added more detail. “The questions were bizarre, not only were they based around us dealing with treating the crews from Armstrong and Discovery, but also around my professional opinion on whether Captains Müller and Burton were fit for duty during the attack against the Romulans. To top it off, Gardner asked me if I was bothered by Burton bringing in Rodham and Walker above me. He also asked if I thought it was bizarre for the chief medical officer to be so high up in the chain of command.”

“Is it?” Hennessey asked as he picked up a chicken drumstick from the buffet table which they were standing next to. “I mean I suppose beforehand we had Levesque, Stanton and T’Plau in the top positions.”

“I suppose it is unusual, normally you would have someone else who is a bridge officer but then the captain is…” She paused as he considered her words carefully, “well limited on choice. I wouldn’t mind if I didn’t know what I was doing because apparently in the admiral’s eyes my experience in the Israeli Defence Force and serving on the Yorktown isn’t good enough.”

Swallowing the bit of meat he had just chewed on, Hennessey indicated for them to move away from the table. “Did he really say that?”

Shaking her head as she sipped on her peach flavoured water, the doctor shared more. “Not in so many words. It was just the way he was saying it and inferring through his questions. He’s certainly gunning after the captain.”

“Any reason why?” Hennessey questioned.

Shrugging her shoulders, Ben-Ami couldn’t answer that question. “I can’t see what he is trying to get at.” She looked around the room. “How’d the meeting go with Fleet Admiral Hathaway?”

“Yeah fine, she spoke with Ambassador Soran there and then got me sorted to travel to Vulcan to carry on with my research.” Hennessey said. “I leave tomorrow via the Jarok.”

“That’s T’Plau’s ship.” Ben-Ami stated. “Did the admiral or ambassador pull a few favours for her to be your ferry ride?”

“The admiral insisted that it was T’Plau who took me and seeing as the Jarok is one of the few ships still in the area the ambassador agreed with the request. It was a logical response.” Hennessey said.

“Good, make sure you give the commander my regards.” Ben-Ami said as she finished her drink. “Do you think you’ll be successful in finding more answers?”

“I would hope so. The Vulcans have the largest linguistic library that we’re aware of. If we can find similarities from the cultures they’ve discovered and encountered we may find a better way to access the Romulan database.” Hennessey said with a sense of positivity. “I just hope it doesn’t take me too long and that it actually helps with the war effort.”

Malibu, United States of America, Earth

“Coming!”

Rushing through his beach-house, wearing just a pair of black swimming shorts and his sunglasses on top of his hair, Fynn Trommler approached the front door and could see a familiar figure standing on the other side thanks to the large window. Stood wearing his MACO dress uniform was his older brother.

“Lui!” Fynn shouted with joy as he opened the door and pulled his brother in for a hug.

Returning the gesture, Luis hugged his brother back. “Fynn! I hope you don’t mind me bursting in on you and Ollie!”

Pulling away from his brother, Fynn looked at his brother. “Ollie isn’t here. The Poseidon is out somewhere in the Alpha Centauri system.” He indicated for Luis to come in and then closed the door behind him. “What are you doing all dressed up?”

Luis gave him a look that made his younger brother stop and think for a moment.

“Oh jeez, I’m sorry – you said in your letter about your friend’s memorial.” Fynn said apologetically. “How did you do with your speech?”

“It went fine thanks.” Luis remarked. “I was thinking about staying with our dads in Germany, but then I remembered you and Ollie bought this amazing place. I hope you don’t mind gate-crashing for one night?”

“Absolutely not. As I said, Ollie isn’t here so it’d be great to have some company.” Fynn said as he led his older brother further into his home. “If you head on upstairs, the two bedrooms on the left-hand side are guest rooms. Help yourself to either one. While you’re getting settled and changed, I’ll grab us some beers to catch up over.”

Luis smiled in appreciation for his brother’s hospitality. Fynn was two years younger than him. They slightly resembled one another with similar coloured eyes however that was where the similarities stopped. Fynn was a few inches smaller than Luis but slightly broader in the shoulders. Both had brown hair, but Fynn kept his hair shorter while Luis had longer hair that he kept slicked back. Unlike his older brother, Fynn didn’t keep much facial hair either.

Making his way up the wooden floor steps, Luis was impressed with how well his younger brother was doing. The whole beach house was decorated in a very modern way. A huge open planned living room looked out onto Malibu beach that had a dining room and kitchen connecting to it. Upstairs impressive views could be seen of the coast too. A few pictures were hanging up on the wall with the staircase of family members, most of them were taken from Fynn’s wedding.

Almost ten minutes later and Luis had got himself out of his dress uniform into a pair of comfortable grey shorts and a plain white vest. He had picked up his sunglasses too and had put them on too. As he headed back downstairs to find his brother lying on a sunchair by the outside pool wearing his sunglasses. 

“I definitely went into the wrong career.” Luis said playfully.

Fynn got up from his chair and reacted to his brother’s words with a smirk. He handed Luis a bottle of beer as promised. “How come you’re staying Earth-side? Isn’t your ship ready?”

“Not quite.” Luis answered after taking a sip. “I just wanted some time away from it all. It’s been pretty intense recently.”

 “That bad huh?” Fynn inquired with sympathy. “That’s another reason why I hate having Ollie out there, not knowing what’s going on.”

“How are things with you guys?” Luis inquired as he sat on the edge of the sunbed that ran parallel against the one that Fynn was on. “Last time I saw you both, everything seemed okay. I am sensing something more?”

Giving out a groan, Fynn took a breath before he admitted something to his older brother. “You know you’re the only one I can share this with.”

Concerned that his brother was about to let out a massive secret, Luis sat at. “Of course, what’s up Fynn? Tell ya big brother!”

Scratching the top of his left lobe, a sign that he was nervous, Fynn explained what was going on. “Well I told Ollie that I wanted a divorce as I couldn’t deal with being a possible Starfleet widow.”

“Jesus Christ, Fynn!” Luis replied in a shock tone. “I wasn’t expecting that!”

Raising his hands in defence, Fynn went on to share more. “I know, I know before you say it that I was acting irrationally and rushing into a decision. It’s just with him out there and me here, there’s been no us for a long time. I can’t bear it.”

“So is that why you’ve not been on the starting squad for your last four matches?” Luis countered back with. His brother, being a professional soccer player for the LA Galaxy team, was a sort of celebrity in the sports world. Fynn was skilful, especially with football and had played for the German national squad on more than one occasion. Luis always kept up to date with what his brother was doing so had been surprised recently that he hadn’t seen his brother on the starting line for his team’s latest matches. In fact he hadn’t even been on the bench with sports commentators stating he was not around.

“That’s not the only reason.” Fynn admitted.

“No it isn’t.” Luis said. “Look Fynn, I don’t want to tell you how to live your life or get involved in your marital problems with Ollie, but you need to sort out what you’re going to do because joining the MACO reserve list isn’t the answer.”

Surprised, shocked, confused, Fynn wasn’t expecting his brother to come out with that. Nervously, he tried to brush off the final remark. “MACO reserve list? I don’t know what you mean?”

Rolling his eyes at how his baby brother was trying to play stupid with him, Luis came clean to the other reason why he was visiting his brother. “I’ve just been promoted and given command of the MACO detachment on Endeavour. While I was reviewing possible new members to my unit, I was reviewing the reserve list of those currently being trained and surprise, surprise I came across one name I was never expecting to see. Yours.”

Falling backwards onto the sunbed, realising he had been caught red-handed, Fynn pushed his sunglasses up and rubbed his eyes. “Are you mad at me?”

“No,” Luis answered honestly, “I’m proud that you want to serve but give me a reason why you’ve done it? Is it because of what’s happening between you and Ollie?”

“Sort of.” Fynn said as he got up. “I can’t explain it entirely, but I am envious of what you and he get up to.”

“I hope you don’t think this is easy to do Fynn?” Luis questioned. “It’s an entirely different world from what you’re used to.”

“I know, I know.” Fynn said defending his choice. “It’s just don’t get me wrong I love my job and the amazing opportunities it has brought me but my life is empty when it’s just me here alone without anyone else to share it with. Since enlisting and doing my initial training, I’ve felt more alive than I’ve ever felt before.”

“Have you spoken to Ollie about it?” Luis probed next.

Shaking his head to say no, Fynn told him the reason why not. “I don’t want to worry him right now, plus as I said things between us haven’t been that great since my tantrum earlier in the year. He has worked hard to keep things going between us, but it just doesn’t feel like enough. I want to eventually settle down with a family but he doesn’t want to consider it.”

“So running off and enlisting with the MACOs is the best answer?” Luis countered back with, trying to understand his brother’s logic.”

Sighing out in despair, Fynn knew his brother wouldn’t understand. “Please Luis, I know it doesn’t make sense. My contract with LA Galaxy ends in December and I’ve got a few more training sessions with the MACOs. My training officer thinks I should apply for the office entrance exam too. I’ve got a real good chance at doing well with this.” Pausing to take a breath, Fynn got up from where he was sitting and sat by his big brother. “I thought you’d be proud of me.”

Realising he will probably regret saying what he was about to say, but Luis gave in. “I am proud of you Fynn, with anything you do. It’s just I think you need to speak to Ollie more about this and I want you to be certain you want to be a MACO. This war is costly, you’re going to see people you become close to die around you and you may find yourself killing another soul. Are you fine with that?”

“Lui don’t give me the lecture or the psycho-mental-health-assessment. I’ve already gone through that.”  Fynn said. He placed his hand on his heart. “I want to do this so badly.”

“Alright, just make me a promise you’ll find time to tell Ollie…plus I don’t want to get a mouthful from the führers, you know dad and pops are going to blame me for this.” Luis said with a smile of support.

“I promise, thank Lui.” Fynn said as he leant in and gave his big brother a bear hug.

After letting go of his little brother, Luis looked out and saw the waves were pretty high. He could hear his old friend Jack in the wind telling him to get up and go surfing. “Fynn, do you and Ollie still have your surfing gear?”

“I think so. How come?” Fynn asked.

“Something a friend of mine taught me about being on the waves helps you figure things out. You need to clear your head and I could do with thinking about the ocean instead of deep space. What do you say? Shall we go and hit some of those waves?” Luis suggested.

“Sounds like a plan Lui.” Fynn said as he finished his beer and went to find their gear.

Challenger NX-03, docked at San Francisco Shipyards, Earth orbit

The ship appeared to increase in population size since the afternoon transport had arrived. As such Commander Rodham found himself saying hello to anyone he passed in the corridor. Getting used to the new ship wasn’t that hard, for some reason he was finding it easy to transition from Discovery to Challenger. Having the benefit of visiting the ship often and coming from one NX-class ship to another did help him out quite a bit. The only thing he was finding the most difficult to do was getting to know everyone. After spending the morning and most of the afternoon reviewing the latest repair reports while on duty on the bridge, he had made his way to E deck to grab something to eat from the mess hall before he had a meeting with the captain.

Seeing that he was right that the crew had mostly returned since attending Lieutenant Conrad’s memorial in Tycho City, Rodham had to squeeze past a few people after entering the mess hall. Taking a tray he walked up to one of the counters to see that what was left over from lunch was almost gone. Opting to grab a BLT sandwich along with a mug of tea, the new first officer said hello to everyone he met. Trying to remember their names was a challenge in itself, he felt like he was getting every one of them wrong every time he tried. Once he had his meal he looked around to see if there was an empty table anywhere. Seeing only one that others appeared to be avoiding, he walked over and asked its singular occupier if he could join him.

Looking up from his computer tablet, Commander Cooper Walker gestured for Rodham to join him. Finishing off what was left of a cheese panini, the new chief science officer smiled at Rodham. “How are you settling in, commander?”

Realising how formal that sounded, Rodham shook his hand to stop Walker from doing that. “Please, call me Alex. We’re the same rank.”

“Then I insist on the same back…” Walker said pausing before adding the commander’s name at the end. “…Alex.”

Sorting himself out with his meal, Rodham went back to the question that Walker had asked. “I thought joining Challenger would be easier than when I joined Discovery, but at the moment I’m feeling a bit…”

“…ostracised?” Walker asked, finishing Rodham’s sentence.

“Yes,” Rodham said in a quiet tone, appearing quite glad that he had found a kindred spirit of sorts in Walker. “I thought it was just me.”

Shaking his head, Cooper went on to share his own experience. “I’m feeling it too. I think we’re going to have it for some time.”

“I think you’re right,” Rodham remarked as he picked up his sandwich. “It’s just frustrating as it isn’t what I expected.”

A feminine voice then spoke up, “Gentlemen, do you mind if I join you?”

Looking up to see Ben-Ami with a mug of coffee in one hand and what looked like a plate of chocolate cake in the other, both men welcomed her to join them.

“I didn’t expect the mess hall to be this busy at this time of the day.” Ben-Ami remarked as she took her seat and got herself comfortable. “I suppose everyone must have returned to Challenger together on the same transport from the Moon.”

“How was the service?” Rodham asked as he finished a mouthful of his sandwich.

“Different to what I expected.” The doctor replied as she cut off the end of her cake with the side of her fork. She went onto place the smaller slice onto her utensil. “Jack’s parents had it in a space exploration museum. I hadn’t realised how much he was into the early space exploration programme. Our new MACO leader delivered a lovely speech in Jack’s memory. The two of them had formed a close friendship.” Picking up the slice of cake and bringing it up to her lips, she looked at both men. “So how are you both settling in?”

Rodham and Walker looked at each other and smirked. Settling in was a common phrase they both had heard in the last few days. 

“We were just talking about that.” Walker answered. “I think we’re both realising that the changes the ship has undergone in leadership hasn’t been received well by the crew.”

Finishing her mouthful, the doctor wiped her mouth with her napkin and as she lifted her mug of coffee she asked them to explain further. “What are you encountering from everyone?”

Taking a sip from his tea, Rodham explained his experiences. “It’s not that no-one isn’t friendly but it’s like a certain look I’m getting from everyone for who I am and who I’ve replaced.”

“I’m having the same reactions too. My honeymoon period with the crew seems to be over and it feels like that I’m being judged for not being anything like Nicole or Commander T’Plau.” Walker shared. “I know I shouldn’t be bothered…”

“…but a good leader works hard to develop a relationship with those they command. It’s hard to get over that wall when the crew are used to one way.” Rodham added which Walker agreed with. “I do get where they’re coming from, one-hundred percent, I mean I was married to the man I’ve replaced as first officer but then earlier today when I was checking something in the launch bay I was told by a crewmember that Ensign Hathaway liked the maintenance reports done differently compared to what is the standard template laid out by Starfleet.” Pausing for a moment, Rodham tried to rationalise why that got to him. “It was like they were saying to me ‘don’t change that’ or ‘we do it a certain way here’.”

“I had a similar situation with the science team and it needed Martha to remind them that I was in charge now.” Walker said.

Smirking at their plight, Ben-Ami placed her mug down as she gave them her own counsel on the situation. “You’re both bright men so I won’t bore you with all of the psychological mumbo jumbo about the impact significant change and death has on a tightly-knit community. I will say though that this is expected. The sudden departures of Commander Levesque and Sub Commander T’Plau was a blow to morale, then when things look like they are settling down we lose three more significant members of our crew but instead of having a chance to say a proper goodbye, we had to grieve for their sacrifice instead. Mix that all in with a war happening and I’m surprised you both have not had a crewmember snap at you yet. I’ve already got myself and the medical team on standby for this. The mental toll recent events have had on the crew is high. I know you’re both coming at this with the best of intentions but for now if you want to get everyone on your side, just continue to get to know them. Encourage them and make sure they know you’re both here to do the jobs the captain has given you. In time they will quickly adjust to you both and accept that neither of you are Levesque, or Stanton or Conrad.”

“Thanks doc.” Rodham said with a smile.

“Ro-fa.” Ben-Ami corrected him. “It’s Ro-fa, not doctor or doc!”

Walker chuckled a bit as Rodham got told off by Ben-Ami. Quickly he apologised for his faux pas.

Taking another slice of her cake, she shook her head. “I’ll let you off as long as you both promise me something.”

Smirking with a sense of relief from not offending the chief medical officer, Rodham agreed as did Walker. “Sure, what are your terms?” Rodham asked.

“The captain,” She said as she picked up her fork. “He’s used to having his first officer and second officer available to give their honest opinion on a range of things. That said, I certainly believe right now he needs that and more. As you know Commander Rodham, he’s just had to deliver eulogies to three members of his senior staff, that is a heavy burden for a captain to have to carry alongside with him about to become a father. I believe the captain will depend on you two more so in the coming days in more than just a leadership capacity. Get to know him and build that rapport with him.”

“I think we can do that.” Walker said with a smile.

“Absolutely, I know how much he appreciated Michael’s counsel as much as Michael liked his. I want to do the same thing.” Rodham added. Mentioning his husband’s name felt good for the first time.

“Good, I’ll be available but I know you will make a difference here.” Picking up her cake and mug, Ben-Ami continued. “I’m going to take this and grab myself another one on my way-out gentlemen, but before I go there is one tradition on this ship I’d be happy to have you both a part of.”

“Oh?” Rodham inquired, intrigued at the doctor’s words.

“If you’re not dining with the captain then please know that you’re always welcomed to join Lieutenant Hennessey and me. Since Viktoria’s death us oldies on the ship are a bit outnumbered by these young ones,” She gestured towards the younger crew around them. “Commander Sandoval has just started to join us, so I promise you both you’ll be in good company.”

“Thanks for the inviate Ro-fa.” Rodham said smiling at her.

She winked at them as she got up with her cake and coffee, leaving them to consider her advice and offer.


Heading into main engineering, Lieutenant Masuko took one big breath in and pushed the hatch open. Immediately she could see that the room was busy, but productive busy not chaotic busy. Smiling towards her new deputy, Lieutenant junior grade Colleen Malone, Masuko was thankful for her agreeing to take on the role. It was a lot calmer in the room. Looking around, before she gave her big speech to everyone, she found the person she needed to talk to the most.

Lying on his back, tweaking the plasma injectors, was Ensign Theo Metaxas. The young engineer was grumbling to himself, more than likely the injectors were not cooperating with the diagnostic he was trying to perform on them. Kneeling down to be at his level, Masuko called his name to grab his attention. “Theo, have you got a moment please.”

Instantly he got up and stood to attention. “Yes ma’am.” He said formally.

Waving the formalities away, Masuko told him to stand easy. “First off I owe you a huge apology for the way I acted. I was wrong, unprofessional and unfair.”

Metaxas smiled in appreciation for the apology. “It’s fine lieutenant, I know taking over from Commander Stanton hasn’t been the easiest of jobs and I should have done better with what you left me in charge of.”

“I appreciate that Theo and if we can make forward together, then I’d like you to remain in your position so I can teach you the ropes clearly, properly and fairly. If there was one mistake I learnt from Commander Stanton as his deputy that I should have rectified sooner was not including everyone in how we organised things. I plan to change that from today.” She said sincerely. “Theo you are a great engineer and I’d like the opportunity to make it up to you by teaching you everything I learnt from Commander Stanton, so that one day you’ll make an excellent chief engineer.”

Now grinning, Metaxas nodded. “What happened ma’am, I’ve already forgotten and I know on reflection that I wasn’t ready to be a deputy. I’ve still got so much to learn, so if you’re willing to part some of that wisdom then I’d appreciate it.”

“Thank you Theo and I hope me appointing Malone won’t be too difficult for you?” Masuko asked with care and concern.

“Not one bit.” He said shaking his head. “She’s a far better engineer and more organised than I am. She should be your number one.”

“I still need a number two, so I don’t plan on changing your responsibilities that you had before.” Masuko stated. “however I do want to give you a few more. If you’re up for it?”

“Name it.” Metaxas said.

“Take on the night shift supervisor every so often. Have the opportunity to take responsibility without either one of us watching over your shoulder all the time. It’s where I started my leadership development back on the Lexington.” Masuko suggested.

“I’d be happy to do that ma’am.” Metaxas agreed.

“Good.” She smiled at him and pulled him into a hug. “Thank you.”

“No thank you.” He replied in their hug before letting go.

Turning around, she was pleased their brief hug didn’t bring too much attention. Clearing her throat she called out to everyone. “Please, can you just stop for a moment and gather around.” It took a few seconds for everyone to put their tools down, place their jobs on hold to gather around in a large semi-circle between the warp drive and the primary workstation. Once she knew she had everyone’s attention, Masuko spoke up. “Okay, so today is my first official day as your chief engineer.” There was a round of applause by everyone along with a few cheers. Smiling in appreciation for the support, Masuko put her hands up for everyone to quiet down. “Thank you, that means a lot to me. I’ve asked Lieutenant Malone to become our second engineer, this is a role she has already fulfilled on the Armstrong and one I am confident she will be able to do here on Challenger.” There was more applauding for the appointment and Malone thanked everyone with a smile and a slight bow of gratitude. Masuko continued. “For most of us we have one thing in common and that’s the fact we learnt a lot from Commander Stanton. He set a standard for us all to achieve on a daily basis. He encouraged us to be better engineers by running this engineering room in a way that empowered us to be true problem solvers and to share our expertise. I plan to continue that approach here; I think we all work best when we know we can share our ideas and come up with solutions together. We pull in our expertise, that’s a strength of ours but it can also limit us. One thing I do plan to change and to implement from today is the need for us all to become more versatile and expand our skill sets. If anything, this war has taught us that life is too precious and this engineering department needs to be able to carry on working, even when one of us isn’t here. So by the end of today I want from you all to put in writing one more area of the ship’s systems that you plan to become more familiar with. Call it a backup specialism. Before this year is out, I want you all to have worked not only on your own areas but in your new one. Lieutenant Malone and I will work out duty assignments so that this is feasible. Nevertheless I do not want this extra piece of work to become a burden for you. We still have a ship to run and to maintain. Is that clear everyone?”

A round of “yes ma’am”, “yes lieutenant” or variants of those came from her staff.

“Good, now let’s get to work and have this ship ready to leave the moment the captain gives the word for us to set sail. Dismissed.” Masuko ordered and watched with pride as everyone moved off.

Approaching her with a smile, Malone stood next to Masuko almost shoulder to shoulder and crossed her arms. “Great speech.” She added. “We’ll get this department ship-shape in no time!”

“Good, because all I want from now on is perfection from everyone!” Masuko remarked. “Myself too.”

“Well why don’t we start with an update on repairs?” Malone offered.

Agreeing to the idea, Masuko gestured for Malone to go in front of her and head towards the primary workstation to review the data. In the corner, hanging on the bulkhead in a black frame she saw the picture that Commander Stanton took of them all a few months ago before the Delta IV mission all stood in front of the warp core. She smiled at it and hoped she was doing Stanton proud before she got on with reading what her deputy was sharing with her.


Stood looking out of the large viewport that showed Earth below the ship, Fleet Captain Burton was so mesmerised by the sight of the large green, blue and white marble before him that he didn’t hear the conference room door open. Stepping over the threshold his visitor kept themselves quiet until the door closed behind them and they spoke up.

“It takes my breath away every time.” Fleet Admiral Hathaway said with sincerity after realising what the captain was staring at.

Instantly, the captain came to life when he heard the Starfleet Commander-in-Chief’s voice. “Fleet Admiral Hathaway, this is an unexpected visit.” Burton claimed as he stood to almost attention.

Gesturing for him to be at ease, Hathaway walked around the large conference table to be standing almost parallel to Burton. “It’s best sometimes I don’t make my whereabouts public knowledge.” She remarked as she handed him a tablet. “The Command Council has approved your battle plan. Operation Citadel Raid has the green light.”

Taking the tablet from her, Burton read the memo that had the approval seal on it. “Wow, I wasn’t expecting them to approve it.”

Taking a seat near to her, Hathaway made herself comfortable and leant across the table to grab herself a mug and pulled the flask of tea that sat nearby towards her. Pouring herself one, she pulled the drink to her lips. She knew that her and Burton drank similar hot beverages. “Neither was I,” Hathaway said, “and Admiral Nivola is ending the investigation inquiry.”

Amazed to hear that, Burton took the seat next to Hathaway. “How come?”

“Officially, she and Admiral Kaur believe the evidence that was submitted is enough to prove that everything that happened to the Armstrong could not have been prevented, along with that everything you all submitted about your extra joyride into the Bassen Rift was enough to close the case.” Hathaway answered.

“So that’s the official line, what’s the unofficial line? I take it Admiral Gardner wasn’t onboard with the idea?” Burton enquired.

Taking a sip of the tea, Hathaway nodded her head. “Unfortunately not Lloyd. He is one of theirs.”

Disappointment engulfed Burton. “As in Section Thirty-One?”

“Yes.” Hathaway remarked. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you sooner but I’ve had to play a careful game of chess with him and the others recently.”

“Others?” Burton questioned.

“Him and Black at least.” Hathaway said, placing her mug down. “I’ve known since your little trip to Mars. I’ve had Agent Minerva confirm how involved they are with this little rogue element and sadly it turns out to be quite deep. My hands were tied even further, I couldn’t remove them from the Command Council without raising too much suspicion.”

“So that’s why you reassigned Black to be the Starfleet liaison to the president and prime minister and why you took a more direct involvement in issuing out orders.” Burton said as he started to place the puzzle pieces together.

“Indeed.” She said, pleased that Burton was still the gifted detective he was when he led the investigation into his father’s apparent death a few weeks ago. “Eventually I will remove them further from being involved in high level command decisions but when you returned from the Rift both of them insisted that a full inquiry to what happened was needed. Both of them opposed your promotion and cited this time round that giving you free reign may have been a step too far. Thankfully I was able to divert some of the pressure off from you by agreeing to the investigation but I made sure that it was led by Starfleet JAG and not Starfleet Operations. I trust Nancy explicitly.”

“You didn’t say what the unofficial line is?” Burton probed.

Grinning slightly, the older woman shared what had happened. “Well by you presenting your attack plan in a more traditional, standard way instead of jumping the gun and doing it without consulting any of us it helped your case out further. Nancy believed it proved that while out in the field you took decisions for the greater good of Earth but you also knew when to share things with Command when it is safe to do so. Admirals Kaur, Jacques and Nwakanma all agreed with her assessment and agreed to have the case closed before you were interviewed. Don’t get me wrong, it annoyed the hell out of Gardner and Black. Nevertheless you have your approval to go ahead with the attack.”

“Good, thank you ma’am.” Burton said in an appreciative tone. “I do value the vote of confidence from you all. I just wish I could get Admirals Gardner and Black to get off my back.”

“That is one thing where you will need a miracle to take place.” Hathaway said. “They’re pretty annoyed about what you did on Mars.”

“With your backing.” Burton countered hastily.

“Unofficially.” She said just as quickly back. “That said, I’m not sure when you will be able to go ahead with your plan. Our forces are spread pretty thin. It may be a few days, if not weeks before we can mount the ships needed to succeed.”

Disappointed to hear that, Burton leant back into his chair and then a thought came to his head. “Ma’am, if you don’t mind me annoying the admirals one more time than I have a suggestion on how we can keep the fleet where it is and still go ahead with the attack against the Romulans.”

“I’m all ears captain.” Hathaway said as she took another sip.

“The fleet I found at Utopia. Let me take those ships along with Discovery and those others who are in dry-dock that are undergoing repairs and that haven’t been assigned new orders yet.” Burton proposed.

For a moment she thought about it and then came to a decision. “Fine, but those new ships don’t have a full crew yet. You’ll need to find their command crews at least.”

“I like a challenge.” Burton said with a grin.

“Then all I can say is…” Hathaway picked up her mug before saying, “Godspeed!”

Tuesday, November 11th, 2155
D.F.C. Jarok, en route to Vulcan

Unpacking his bags gave Lieutenant Hennessey some free time to think carefully about his plan of action over the coming days. Now safely in his cabin on the Vulcan cruiser Jarok, he was wondering if Commander T’Plau had put him in the correct room. It was pretty huge, a lot bigger than his quarters on Challenger and he was pretty certain he read the door sign correctly where it said VIP guest quarters on them. He had access to a bedroom with an en-suite, but it also had a connecting living room space which also included an area where he could work.

The door chime went off and he automatically told his visitor to come in.

Stepping through the dark maroon coloured doorway, Commander T’Plau turned to find Hennessey in his room. “Lieutenant Hennessey, I hope your quarters are satisfactory?”

“Completely above satisfactory. Thank you commander.” Hennessey said, he stopped putting his items away and joined his former shipmate in the living room area. Still wearing his Starfleet uniform, he offered for her to take a seat. “Are you sure I’m allowed a set of quarters so luxurious?”

Raising one eyebrow, like she did normally, T’Plau answered in her cool Vulcan logical way. “Due to the nature of your work, I thought you would prefer to have the room to do so in a more comfortable setting. Along with that my crew only believe we are transporting a former shipmate of mine to Vulcan. So as my guest, it is my prerogative as ship’s captain to decide on what type of room you have.”

“Well I appreciate the thought behind it.” Hennessey said as he took one of the armchairs. “I will do my best not to disturb your crew.”

“That would be appreciated.” T’Plau remarked. “When I spoke with Fleet Captain Burton he explained to me your research. I hope you do not mind but I went ahead and checked the Vulcan linguistic database for any matches to what you have discovered so far.”

“Oh my, that’s great. Thank you, did you find anything?” Hennessey asked, eagerly wanting to know.

Pulling out a Vulcan tablet, T’Plau shared her findings. “Indeed, a number of the syntaxes in the Romulan database matches with an ancient Vulcan language. It would appear your hypothesis is surprisingly correct.”

“Seriously?” Hennessey said as he looked at the tablet. “I thought it was a long-shot, even just studying some languages that the Vulcans have encountered may have helped slightly. What’s the language?”

“A language called Rihan.” T’Plau explained. “It has not been used in Vulcan society for centuries.”

“Well somehow commander it is very similar to the Romulan language. I’d appreciate knowing more about Rihan to see if we could crack this database. Where do we start?” Hennessey wondered.

“My brother works for the Ministry of Information; I suggest we speak to him when we arrive. He may be able to advise us on where to look first.” T’Plau advised. “I will join you on your…quest. That is what I believe Fleet Captain Burton called it.”

Smiling at her, Hennessey appreciated the back-up. “Sounds like a good place to start to me and I’m grateful for you joining my quest.”

“Indeed.” T’Plau said in a flat, but Vulcan way.

“Do you have any idea as to how an ancient Vulcan language has been assimilated into Romulan culture?” Hennessey asked.

“I can only speculate that before the creation of our non-interference directive, my ancestors when they started to explore shared their language, one of which may have been Rihan.” T’Plau contemplated.

“Interesting conjecture,” Hennessey said as he scratched his chin. “Perhaps we should expand our quest to include historic records.”

“That is certainly a logical course of action.” T’Plau said as she stood up. “I must return to the bridge, if there is anything you need before we arrival please speak to my executive officer.”

Standing up as a sign of respect and gratitude, Hennessey bowed his head. “Thank you, Commander.”