Satisfied that his current task was complete, Jonozia Lex stood back and looked out of the large windows in his new quarters at the magnificent ships outside. Lex had spent most of his time since arriving at Starbase 1 two hours ago, transferring his life from his previous assignment aboard the USS Sovereign to his new assignment aboard the USS Argus, recently been declared deep space worthy. In the next few days Lex would command the ship on its shakedown cruise before she was commissioned and Captain sh’Shaen took over.
As Lex stood watching the view, someone’s breath teased the skin at the back of his neck, causing the hair to stand on end and breaking him from his thoughts. That he hadn’t heard the door to his quarters open and the person enter showed how deeply in though he had been.
He smiled, instinctively knowing who it was who had crept up on him. He reached back, carefully moving his hands over the form behind him until he found the break in their clothes between the top and trousers. The intruder let out a small yelp and jumped back as Lex placed his hands on their bare skin. Lex turned to face them, the smile on his face broadening.
“You’re hands are cold,” Mock protested Sara Parker.
“Peculiarity of the Trill,” Lex replied, as he moved closer to her, until they were dangerously so, his nose almost touching hers. It was only a moment longer before they were engrossed in a passionate kiss. When they eventually parted, he kept his hand around her waist and his forehead touching hers.
Lex had been separated from his wife for too long and he didn't want let go of her. The last three years had been hard on their marriage. Their relationship began when they met during their first academy year, but different assignments had forced them apart at the end of the fourth year. They had then been reunited on the USS London, where they had continued where they had left off, getting married two years later. However, two months after that, Captain Toran, the London’s commanding officer, was offered command of the USS Sovereign. Toran asked Lex to join him as his second officer. With Lex unable to turn down such an opportunity and thinking of her own career, Sara decided to remain aboard the London. She took a promotion to full lieutenant and replaced Lex as the Excelsior-class ship’s science officer, splitting them for the first time since the academy. Their time together was now always too short and with the London in for a refit and Argus not departing for at least the next two days, they were going to spend the most time together that they had had in six months, savouring every moment of it, too.
Sara looked deep into her husband’s eyes, "I looking forward to rediscovering all your little peculiarities."
"Like?" he asked innocently.
"Like," she continued, using her finger to trace the mottled brown pattern from his temple down the left hand side of his face, "exactly how far down those spots go."
Patel turned to ch’Var at the science station, “Commander, are there any survivors on the planet’s surface?”
“It’s possible,” replied the Andorian, as he tapped commands into his console. “It was most likely that the ship was caught off guard and the decimation of the seventh fleet suggests that the dominion forces arrived before they did. The London may have still been evacuating the science teams The most likely place to find them would be the ruins in the northwestern hemisphere.
“It also seems that that was where the majority of the escape pods were headed too,” he continued, pre-empting Patel’s next request, “but I can’t get a good reading on their exact locations from here, unfortunately. However, I can extrapolate from their trajectories that they’re spread over a 20 kilometre area bordering the west edge of the ruins.”
“We could attempt to slip a team past the Jem’hadar in the Tigris,” suggested Sheridan
“Too risky,” replied Patel. “The runabout would last no time against those fighters if we were spotted.”
“So take them out,” Sheridan replied.
Lex’s training was beginning to take over by this point, “Ensign, how long will it take to reach orbit at full impulse?”
“4.35 seconds,” responded Arkin.
“They’ll have their shields up before we’re within firing range,” said Patel. “They will easily be able to get a call for reinforcements out before we can take them out.”
“We have to take out those ships before that,” said Lex.
“They won’t see us coming if we use the planet to hide us,” replied Sheridan. “Those fighters are in a geostationary orbit over the archaeological site. It’ll be on the far side of the planet within the next three hours.”
“What do you recommend?” asked Lex.
“Eight, four man away teams consisting of two security personnel and two medical personnel,” suggested Patel, “We could use Argus’ attack as a distraction to slip past the two fighters and reach the surface in a couple of type 9 shuttles.”
“I’d still recommend taking the Tigris down,” said Sheridan. “We can use it as a base of operations in case Argus’ facilities become unavailable.”
“Agreed,” said Lex. “Assemble your teams, Commander.”
“Bridge to Sickbay,” said Lex.
“McDonald here, Captain,” replied Argus’ CMO.
“Doctor, I need you to prepare eight two-man medical teams for beam down.”
“Captain, that’s most of the Medical staff,” replied McDonald, clearly unhappy.
“Will that be a problem, Doctor?” challenged Lex.
“No Captain,” she replied, standing down, “but we’ll have to activate the EMH to cover sickbay.”
“Understood, Bridge out,” said Lex, before he looking at Patel and indicating towards the ready room. “Commander, a moment, please. You have the bridge, Commander ch’Var.”
“Tom,” said Lex after the door closed behind Patel, “I want you to include Sheridan with you on this mission.”
Patel paused for a moment and Lex could see he was annoyed that the Captain had realised he wasn’t going to include her on the teams.
“Sir,” Patel replied eventually, an even tone in his voice, “as the ship’s tactical officer her place is on the bridge with you.”
It was a well-rehearsed excuse and Lex saw straight through it. “I think it would benefit both of you to work together on this mission.”
“With all due respect, Captain, I don’t,” replied Patel. The evenness to his tone was gone now and his displeasure was beginning to show through. “I don’t trust her. This mission is dangerous enough already without me having to keep an eye on her as well.”
“I think she’ll surprise you, Commander,” said Lex.
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Patel countered, sarcastically.
“That was uncalled for, Commander,” Responded Lex, sternly. He didn’t expect this kind of behaviour from such an experienced officer. “Her service to Starfleet has been exemplary over the past three years. Any other officer of her calibre would be serving as an X-O, instead she keeps getting sidelined.”
“With good reason,” replied Patel, pressing on. “The woman is a massive security risk.”
“Temporal investigations disagrees with you, Starfleet intelligence disagrees with you and I disagree with you,” retorted Lex, now getting more than a little annoyed. “Like it or not, Commander, she is this ship’s tactical officer, a position she is more than qualified for. You need to learn to trust her, that’s an order, and to that end, I am also ordering you to include her on the away team. Am I understood?”
“Yes, Sir,” said Patel, finally realising exactly why Admiral Chase had placed Lex in charge of this ship.
“Then you’re dismissed.”
The sound of the ready room door opening heralded Commander Patel’s return to the bridge and caused Bimitri Cassaria to look up. While Cassaria respected their privacy, the emotions that had been emanating from the ready room felt fairly strong. Whatever it was the Captain had said to the Commander, it still clearly weighed heavily on his mind. When Patel’s emotions peaked, when he stopped in front of the tactical station where Kate Sheridan was manning her post, Cassaria suddenly knew the cause.
“Lieutenant, you’re with me,” Patel said in a clipped tone and then continued on towards the turbolift.
Cassaria sensed Sheridan’s confusion as she alerted her replacement, secured her console and joined Patel in the waiting lift car. As the doors closed, Cassaria turned away for the closing lift and focused on the door to the Captain’s ready room. Inside he could sense the turmoil of Lex’s emotions after having been hit with so many shocking events all at once and still being expected to be the strong centre of the ship.
This is truly a trial by fire, thought the Counsellor as he rose from his seat and headed towards the ready room, especially for someone who wasn’t expecting to have the responsibility of command.
He pressed the buzzer.
“Come” Lex replied from inside and the door parted obligingly. Cassaria stepped through, letting the doors close behind him
“Counsellor,” said Lex, indicating to the seat on the opposite side of his desk, “how can I help?”
Cassaria took the seat offered. “I thought you might want to talk, Captain.”
“Not really,” Lex replied, lying. “I need to concentrate on the job at hand. There’ll be time for…” he paused, struggling to get the next word out, “…grieving later.”
“I understand,” replied Cassaria, before he continued, a little too well, to himself. “It’s one of the hardest things that any member of Starfleet has to learn do.”
Lex looked down. “And yet, I couldn’t do.” He looked back up at Cassaria. “I froze, Counsellor. If Commander Patel hadn’t taken action…”
“Captain, your reaction was perfectly normal for such news about someone who is so close to you,” reassured Cassaria. “Even James Kirk was floored by his son’s death. What’s important is that you acknowledge this and prevent it from affecting your ability to get the job done,” Cassaria replied. “You’re only humanoid, after all.”
“Thank you, Counsellor,” said a reassured Lex.
“While I am pleased that you decided to open up to me Captain,” said Cassaria with a smile, “that wasn’t the reason I came to see you.”
“Oh?” said Lex, his interest piqued.
“I actually wanted to ask you how the situation is progressing between Commander Patel and Lieutenant Sheridan.”
Lex shifted uneasily in his seat. “I suggested to Commander Patel that she be included as part of the away teams, as you recommended,” he replied. “Patel wasn’t happy and I ended up having to order him to include her.”
“Unfortunate,” said Cassaria. “If he’d agreed to take her along willingly it would be a lot easier for her to gain his trust, but ordering him will create an additional barrier she will have to overcome.”
“I couldn’t be helped,” said Lex. “Kate can’t overcome Patel’s distrust of her if they don’t work together and at least they will have to do that on this mission.”
Cassaria nodded. “I agree, it’s a start.”
“Don’t worry, Bimitri,” said Lex. “I know how close friends you two are. We’ll keep an eye on it.”
As she had made readily known, when the order had first been issued, the decision to take almost every member of Argus’ medical staff down to the surface of the planet did not make Dr. Jane McDonald very happy. As the ship’s chief medical officer, she didn’t like that it left the ship virtually without medical coverage. With all eight of Argus’ doctors beaming down to the planet, it meant leaving her sickbay in the care of the Emergency Medical Hologram, an invention she had yet to find a Starfleet doctor who thought was a good idea. While the program was medically competent it had one of the worst bedside manners that she had ever encountered. Mc Donald shook her head. Whichever member of Starfleet medical that had approved it should have been struck off.
Deciding to move forward, she looked around her sickbay. The room was a hive of activity as the members of Argus’ medical staff prepared to join the rescue teams, with most of them in one corner of the room being briefed while several medical technicians prepared field kits on the empty bio beds.
The sound of the doors to sickbay opening caused McDonald to turn towards them, just in time to see Thomas Patel enter and walk towards her. Patel always invoked a strange mixture of emotions in the Doctor, a left over from the relationship they had shared while serving together on the Discovery. A relationship that she had abruptly ended when she transferred to Argus eight months ago, returning to her husband on earth during the ship’s final shakedown. Now the sudden assignment of Patel as the ship’s first officer had made her question that decision over the past couple of weeks, especially since the feelings he had for her were still obvious.
“Doctor,” he said, greeting her formally, “how are the preparations going?”
“Doctor Richmond is completing the briefing them now,” she replied, indicating to the group gathered in the corner.
Patel glanced in the direction of the group, where Dr. Richmond was advising them not to take risks and to allow the security personnel to do their jobs so that they can be free to do theirs.
“Good. I’m glad to see you’ve got everything under control,” he said, before handing her a padd. “Here are the team assignments.”
McDonald thumbed through the list. “Everything looks okay.”
“Thanks to your recommendations,” said Patel. “I’ve assigned you to Blue team along with myself and Lieutenant Sheridan.”
“Sheridan?” she said, slightly puzzled. “I would have thought you wouldn’t have included her after you told me how much distrust her.”
Patel looked uncomfortable, and slightly annoyed, as he replied. “The Captain ‘requested’ that I take her along. He said that she was the ship’s tactical officer whether I liked it or not.”
“Oh?” said McDonald, letting Patel get this out of his system.
“The thing is, he’s right,” continued Patel, a resigned tone entering to his voice, “she is the ship’s tactical officer and none of my misgivings are supported by any of Starfleet’s investigations of her. Like it or not I have to learn to trust her.”
“Then what about starting by asking her if she has any thoughts on the coming mission?” suggest McDonald. “She might give you an insight you hadn’t considered yet.”
“Good idea,” he replied. “If there isn’t anything else…”
Patel let the words trail off and an awkward silence developed between them, as it always did. The feeling that the she should say something, and finally discuss the one thing they were attempting to avoid, was overwhelming. Patel eventually broke it by turning to leave, but McDonald stopped him.
“Tom, I…” She started, but found herself unable to complete the sentence.
He turned back and looked at her expectantly and the silence returned. After a moment Patel stepped forwards and placed his hand on the top half of her right arm comfortingly.
“I understand how you feel, Jane,” he said, to McDonalds surprise, “but I can’t do this now.”
McDonald swallowed and nodded, now feeling more than ever that her reluctance during the past two weeks had affected their relationship.
“We can deal with it after we get through this first,” he said sympathetically, rubbing her arm in an attempt to put her at ease. “I’ll see you in shuttle bay 1.”
He turned and left leaving McDonald wondering what would make the aftermath of this mission any different to the last two weeks.
“We’ll loose the telemetry from the probe in thirty seconds,” warned ch’Var.
“Status of the Dominion ships?” asked Lex.
“Still holding geo-stationary position over the preserver site,” Responded Lieutenant Bower, Sheridan’s replacement at tactical.
“Red alert,” ordered Lex, “Ensign Arkin, set course for the planet, full impulse.
“Bridge to shuttle bay 1,” he continued, opening the comm system, “what’s your status, Commander Patel?”
“Loaded up and ready to roll, Captain.”
“Prepare to launch on my mark.”
“Probe telemetry lost, Captain,” reported ch’Var
Arkin sent the ship to full impulse without responding, putting the ship into orbit around the planet just under 4 seconds later.
“Shuttles clear, Captain,” reported Dulmis at the operations console.
“Arkin, bring us around the planet. Lieutenant Bower, ready phasers and torpedoes.”
“Sir, something’s wrong,” said ch’Var, causing an unsettling feeling in Lex’s stomach. “We should have re-established communication with the probe by now, but I’m not receiving anything.”
“First enemy coming into range,” said Bower.
“Fire,” ordered Lex, putting the feeling aside.
Bower jabbed the controls and a spread of quantum torpedoes deployed from beneath the Sovereign-class ship’s saucer, lighting up their target in a blossoming fireball.
That was too easy.
“Captain, I’m not detecting the other fighter,” exclaimed Bower.
The feel in Lex’s stomach got worse, Oh no…
“Captain the second ship is approaching from bearing 097 mark 088,” exclaimed ch’Var. “Collision course!”
“Evasive manuvers, all hand brace for impact!” Lex ordered shortly before the ship lurched violently.
<-- Chapter 2 | Cover Page | Chapter 4 -->