John Quigley was lying on his bunk, staring at the ceiling. In one hand, he held a tennis ball, which he bounced off the nearby bulkhead repeatedly, catching it when it fell back toward him. He could not sleep. At first, it had been simple adrenaline overload. Icheb’s collapse in the ready room of the Sol
, his own sudden command of the away mission, and his subsequent rash decision to jump to slipstream in order to get his friend back to relative safety more quickly had added up to quite a morning for the twenty-seven year old lieutenant. His heart had still been pounding when he entered his quarters after walking Icheb back to his.
Now that the morning’s excitement was over, he was left with a cold dread. He had been lying there for more than three hours trying unsuccessfully to sleep and waiting for the other shoe to drop. He wasn’t sure which he feared more -- the whatever-it-was out there that had assaulted his best friend, maybe blown up a planet and some Borg cubes, and possibly even followed them back to the Tesseract
... or the dressing-down he was sure to get from Captain Oyugo before the day was out.
John still couldn’t believe he had made such a stupid decision. He was known for his tactical skills and efficacy in combat situations. Surely, not getting one’s crew killed or assimilated during a simple away mission fell under that heading. The truth was that he had panicked, and he didn’t like the feeling.
On the Titan
, it had been different. Ever the peacemaker when it came to personal interactions, John had gotten along with almost everyone, but there also hadn’t been anyone he had been especially close to. It was easy to make rational decisions when the people around you were simply professional colleagues, just as it had been easy to pass the Bridge Officer’s Test -- in which he had to give the order to send a subordinate to certain death -- knowing that it wasn’t real. But here on the Tesseract
, two of the people he cared about most were suddenly right there with him, and life-or-death decisions were suddenly much harder to consider. He knew he had failed this morning when he erred on the side of helping Icheb over following the safety protocols Icheb himself had laid down in the best interest of the entire crew.
John was tired of waiting. He considered locating Maren to see if she was off-duty, as she was always his first choice for talking things through, but he quickly decided there was no way he’d get away from a conversation with her without breaking his promise to Icheb to keep quiet about what he’d witnessed on the Sol
. He wondered if there was a tactical simulation he could run, a briefing he could attend ... anything to keep his mind off his impending doom, whether professional or literal.
He didn’t have to think long. The sound he’d dreaded for the last four hours nearly made him jump out of his skin. His communicator emitted its familiar chirp, immediately followed by the captain’s stern voice summoning him to the bridge. Here we go
, thought John. “On my way, Captain,” he responded stoically. He swung his long legs off the bunk, rose, and headed for the door.
As he walked to the turbolift, he wondered what the consequences were going to be for his actions on the Sol
. He had a defense prepared -- he hadn’t actually disobeyed any orders, because Icheb had relieved himself and put John in command of the mission. From that point forward, the orders had been his to give. They could argue all afternoon over whether he had made the right call, but the fact was that it had been entirely his call to make. The captain could call him stupid, impulsive, reckless or anything else she wanted to -- but she couldn’t call him insubordinate. If Icheb had actually ordered him not to jump to slipstream, he wouldn’t have done it. At least, he was pretty sure he wouldn't have.
As John stepped off the turbolift and walked onto the bridge, Ensign Slidell gave him a sympathetic look from his position at Ops and glanced over at the ready room door. “She’s waiting for you,” he said. John nodded and buzzed the intercom.
“Come,” said Adele, and the door slid open. She looked up at John. “Lieutenant Quigley, please come in. Have a seat.”
John complied, awkwardly folding his lanky frame into one of the Starfleet-issue visitors’ chairs.
“Can I get you anything from the replicator? A glass of water? Coffee?” the captain asked. John was uneasy. He had expected hostility, not hospitality.
“No, thank you, ma’am, I’m fine.”
“Very well,” said Adele, taking a sip from her own glass of water. From her chair behind the large desk, she fixed John with a critical gaze for a moment, then began her questioning. “Mr. Quigley, I understand that you and my first officer were at the Academy together, is that right?”
John nodded. “Yes, ma’am, he was a year ahead of me,” he answered.
“Indeed,” replied Adele. “I had a look at your file after you got back this morning. Do you know what I found?”
John stared back at her silently for a moment, wondering where she was going with this. He shook his head. “No, ma’am,” he replied warily.
Adele met his gaze. “Two separate disciplinary hearings, one as a first-year cadet, the second the following year. The first one was after a fight in the Academy replimat. It seems someone said the wrong thing to a young Maren O’Connor, and you took it upon yourself to send the offender to the infirmary with a broken nose. You were placed on probation. The following fall, you got into another altercation, this time against three other cadets. Two of them were taken to the infirmary with rather serious injuries, and the third fled before security arrived.” Adele sighed. “I guess your natural talent for hand-to-hand combat partly explains why you came so highly recommended for security and tactical,” she said wryly. She continued, “You almost had your appointment revoked over that one, only Admiral Janeway stepped in on your behalf and asked for leniency as a personal favor to her. I can only speculate who might have called for her
intervention. You see, that last fight wasn’t about anything those three cadets had done to you, was it, Lieutenant?”
John quickly averted his eyes from the captain at the memory. He could still see Admiral Janeway's enraged face as she had given him the ass-chewing of a lifetime, right before she had walked into that closed-door hearing and singlehandedly saved him from expulsion. He suddenly realized exactly what Adele was getting at. “With all due respect, Captain, that was almost six years ago. Is there a reason we’re taking this trip down memory lane?” he prodded her.
Adele continued as if he hadn’t said anything. “I read a portion of the transcript from the hearing. You fought those cadets because they were tormenting your best friend -- my first officer -- because of his history with the Borg. He wouldn’t stop them, so you did. I don’t blame you, really. If one of my closest friends was being treated the way I understand Commander Icheb was during his time at the Academy, I’d have been out for blood, too. Of course, I’ve never had the physical prowess to land two people in the infirmary, not without a weapon, anyway,” she said with another wry smile. For once, John didn’t smile back.
“When I put your actions this morning in context of your history, do you know what I see?” asked Adele.
“No, Captain,” John answered cautiously.
“I see a young officer with a lot of potential who loses all objectivity when it comes to his friends,” Adele said quietly.
John didn’t know what to say to that, so he launched into the defense he’d planned while lying on his bunk. “Permission to speak freely, ma’am?” he asked.
“Please do,” replied Adele.
“Ma’am, I want you to know that I didn’t disobey direct orders. Icheb -- Commander Icheb,” he corrected himself, “-- relieved himself of duty and put me in charge of the mission. I’m willing to admit I made a mistake in jumping to slipstream, but I wasn’t being subordinate.”
“I understand,” said Adele. “That’s why I’m not going to punish you as if you had been. But you need to learn to separate your feelings for the people you care about from your duties as a Starfleet officer. It’s pretty clear just looking at your records that you, Lieutenant O’Connor and Commander Icheb are very close. Until further notice, you will not be part of any mission that either of them has been assigned to. Since, as senior staff officers, between the two of them, they are assigned to pretty much all of the more desirable missions that you junior officers like to compete for, I’m sure this will be punishment enough until you figure out how to control your emotions. In the meantime, I’m going to have you start meeting with counselor Taran Madar to work through some of these issues.”
John groaned inwardly, but didn’t dare argue. “Yes, ma’am,” he said quietly.
“Also, Lieutenant ... you’re on probation. One more incidence of letting your personal relationships get in the way of your duty, and you’ll be demoted to Ensign immediately, with all of the loss of privilege that entails.”
“Yes, Captain,” replied John.
“Now, I suggest you go get cleaned up, Mr. Quigley. You have a launch ceremony to attend, and I must say, you’re a mess,” Adele said with a slightly amused smile.
John’s hand flew up to his head as he realized his sandy blond hair was completely disheveled. He hadn’t bothered to check it before leaving to see the captain, and he’d been tossing and turning on his bunk for three hours prior to that. Way to make an impression,
he thought to himself. “Yes, ma’am,” he said, smiling weakly.
“You’re dismissed, Lieutenant.”
John rose to leave the ready room. As he reached the door, Adele called out to him. “Mr. Quigley?” John turned around and looked at the captain.
Adele smiled at him. “I regret that our getting to know one another had to be under such uncomfortable circumstances, but I do want to say ‘welcome aboard.’ If you’re half as loyal to the rest of this crew as you are to your friends from the Academy, I believe you’ll be a valuable asset to this mission.”
“Thank you, Captain,” John replied, grinning despite himself.
“That’s better, Lieutenant,” smiled Adele, as she felt a little bit of the young man’s confidence return. “I’ll see you tonight.”
John nodded and walked out of the ready room. He wasn’t thrilled about having to see a counselor, but all in all, he was relieved at the way his meeting with the Captain had gone. Well, except for one thing.
“Hey, Slidell,” he whispered as he passed by Ops, “Next time I go for a meeting with the captain, could you at least warn me if I look like a Kazon?” He pointed at his head, indicating the disarrayed condition of his hair, which was barely within Starfleet regulations for length, in addition to being a mess.
The ensign snickered. “Yes, sir,” he promised. John shook his head, chuckling. As he walked off the bridge, he made a promise to himself that he would do everything in his power not to let his captain down.