Flight Simulator Deck
Ba'el stopped on the threshhold into the FSD, checking the various cyclindrical machines to make sure no one else was there. Only when he was sure he was alone did he step all the way inside and let the door swish shut behind him.
The FSD - Flight Simulator Deck - had been an addition requested by Starfleet Air Command, the fleet department responsible for every squadron and flight crew dotted around Federation space. It allowed Commander Turner’s people to maintain their form thanks to intense simulated runs. The simulators were designed to mimic any starfighter on record, varying from the standard Hornet-class fighter he had flown against the Klingons to more elaborate Klingon, Romulan and even Dominion fighters.
When Ba'el had found out about the FSD, he had promised himself that he would make the time to log some hours in the simulator. Now seemed as good a time as any.
He walked towards the nearest simulator, already thinking about the kind of simulation he wanted to run. He had just reached the control panel when the door opened.
Swinging round, his heart dropping in disappointment, he relaxed as a familiar figure ran through the doors, out of breath. Commander Turner had a scowl on her face and she was already talking as she walked in.
"Now, who the hell do you--" She stopped short when she saw him, her cheeks colouring. "Captain?"
Ba'el couldn’t hold back a tired smile. "Hello, Commander."
Turner’s blush intensified. "God, sorry, Captain. I didn't realise it was you. I've had a couple of wannabe flyboys trying to convince me to give them some time on the simulators, and so when I saw the unauthorised access, I assumed... I'm sorry."
Ba'el waved a hand. "That's alright, Commander. I should have run this by you first. I just... I needed to blow off some steam."
Turner was shaking her head as he talked. "No need to apologise. Hey, this is your ship." She grinned. "If there's anyone here who can go wherever the hell they want, it's you."
"Well, I guess I'll leave you to it."
She had begun to turn away when Ba'el called her back. He wasn't sure why he did it - instinct, or some other impulse he couldn't control. "I wouldn't mind the company, actually."
She paused, then turned back. "Yeah?"
"Sure. Why not. We've never gone head to head."
To his surprise, she grinned. "Okay, you're on."
"What kind of scenario do you want to run?"
Her grin widened. "I think I have just the thing."
Flight Simulator Deck
Ba'el cursed softly as Turner dropped out from behind an asteroid at his rear and began lighting up his six with the lasers on her T-drive fighter.
He pressed down on the left accelerator pedal, gunning the left-hand engine and sending his own fighter careening out of the way.
Straight into the path of an oncoming asteroid. Cursing out loud again, Ba'el jerked his control stick, narrowly avoiding a collision. He jinked left, then right, trying to throw off Turner's targetting sensors. He saw red lines of laser fire blast past him and he gritted his teeth.
There is no way I'm letting this little girl kill me three times in a row!
He decided to try something more drastic. Throwing his ship into a corkscrew dive, he carved a path between three asteroids, almost clipping his wing on the largest one before managing to regain control of his ship. He knew that Turner wouldn't be so stupid as to try and follow him through his dive, but he also had a pretty good idea of where she would be as she tried to follow him.
Now let's show this girl how to fly.
He remembered doing this once against a Jem'hadar patrol out in the Jovala system. It had taken them by surprise, he had a pretty good feeling that it would take Turner by surprise as well.
All of a sudden, he cut all power to his left engine. The sudden lack of propulsion took a moment to register in the gravity-less arena of space, but after a few seconds, the dead engine sent his fighter into a 180° spin.
Leaving Turner – who was coming in for the killing blow – directly in his sights.
Ba'el grinned, then pulled the trigger. Three lances of hot red fire shot out of the triangular cannon mounted just behind his cockpit, catching Turner with a deadly blow. For a moment, her shields flared, then collapsed. Finally, the lasers pierced her cockpit and he saw a flash of white light.
Space around him - the starfield, the debris, the asteroids - vanished to black. Ba'el sat there for a moment, then reached up and popped the roof of the simulator.
He grinned as he heard Turner swearing loudly. He stood up in the fake cockpit in time to see her climbing up out of her own, shaking her head and muttering to herself. She looked up and caught his eye. Her frown deepened.
"How the hell did you pull that off? Your fighter should have shook itself apart with a stunt like that."
"There's a big difference between should have and did, Commander," Ba'el replied, unable to keep the smile off his face. "A big difference. You'll learn that when you see some real combat."
"Don't patronise me, grandpa," she shot back.
Ba'el looked at her, a single eyebrow raised. Turner seemed to suddenly realise who she was talking to, but she didn't blanch, or frown, or even blush. She stared back at him challengingly until he held his hands up. Fair enough
, he thought. Ranks down. For now.
"So, you want to go again?"
She laughed. "Not right now. Give me a chance to recover from my humiliation."
Ba'el nodded, a little disappointed. It had been a long time since he had been a simple pilot, able to concentrate on nothing more complicated than staying alive and finishing a mission. He missed it.
Climbing out of the cockpit completely, he swung onto the ladder that led down the frame to the decking. By the time he reached the floor, Turner had just finished getting out of her cockpit. He watched her climb down, unable to stop himself from studying her rather fine figure, displayed to full effect in her tight flightsuit. He realised what he was doing and turned away just as she reached the deck herself.
"So," she said, turning to him. "You want to talk about it?"
He turned back, trying to pretend he had been studying... Well, actually, he realised, there wasn't anything he could have been studying. Trying to hide his embarassment behind a frown, he met her eyes.
"Talk about what?"
"Whatever it is that has you so riled up you've flown more combat simulations in the last hour than a rookie in his first week of training."
Ba'el's frown deepened. He had been able to push away the last few days events while flying, but now the frustration came rushing back. He opened his mouth to tell Turner that he didn't want to talk about it, and then, almost despite himself, he found himself saying, "I get nightmares."
The moment the words left his mouth, he realised how stupid they sounded. He went to shrug them off, make some smart comment, but Turner just nodded.
"I can tell."
Ba'el started slightly. "What?"
"That you're not sleeping. I mean, I'm no counsellor, but even I know what a man who isn't getting his beauty sleep looks like."
"I look that bad, unh?"
"Like a badly manged jungle cat," she said, smiling slightly. "But I still like you."
"I'm not sure whether that makes me more worried about you or me," Ba'el said lightly, though her words had set off brush fires in his chest.
"Probably me. What are the nightmares about?"
Again Ba'el opened his mouth expecting to say one thing and said something completely different. "The war. The destruction of Bajor, to be precise."
And then, without really knowing why, Ba'el told her everything. First of all about the dinner party and what Benjamani had done, and then what memories that had dredged up. Before he knew it, though, he had also told her about the various other run ins he had had with Benjamani, and other things he had done during the war, and the Founders' death, and the burning of Bajor, and the guilt, and Elara, and his son, and...
When he next became truly conscious of where he was, he was sat with his back against the simulator, Turner at his side. Somehow, her hand was over both of his and he had tears in his eyes.
"Wow. I... I guess I really needed to talk about all of this,” he whispered as he realised what had just happened.
Turner nodded. "Did you ever get counselling? After?"
"There were offers but... I've never liked the idea of talking about all of this with someone who was being paid to listen."
"I can understand that."
“Good thing you were here, I guess,” he said with a smile.
“I guess so.”
They sat there for a moment more, Ba’el staring down at the deck, feeling her eyes on him. He could tell there was something going on here, some connection between them that had been there from the first day he saw her but stronger now, more immediate. What is it?
He wondered. How have I allowed things to reach this point?
He lifted his head to say something just as she leaned in. Without even meaning to, he turned his head slightly and their lips met. He tensed for a moment, surprised at the contact, then the sensation of her lips against his – soft, slightly humid – and the smell of her perfume – subtly flowery and with a hint of spice – washed over him. He didn’t make a conscious decision to press harder, nor to open his lips slightly. Blood rushed through his ears, and he was suddenly very conscious of his own heartbeat. He felt her respond, her own lips parting and…
“Bridge to Captain Sarine.”
The sound of Prin's voice broke through the haze that had settled over them and they both responded by darting their heads back. They stared at each other for a moment, neither knowing what to say. Ba’el’s comm badge chirped again. He broke eye contact and tapped it.
“Captain, I just wanted to let you know. Three Laurentii Behemoths have just dropped out of slipstream space. They've hailed us and have demanded to speak to you."
What perfect timing. Ba'el sighed, glanced at Turner, who had started to climb to her feet again. What have I done?
"I'll be right there," he said after a moment.
"Very good, sir."
The comm cut off, leaving Ba'el and Turner stood in the silence of the FSD. Ba'el stared down at the deck between his knees for a moment, then looked up at her.
"Well," he said.
An uncomfortable silence grew between them. Turner broke it, finally.
"Captain, I just want you to know, this doesn't have to..."
"Commander.” He lowered his voice. “Gemma. I'm not the sort of man who goes around kissing female subordinates."
"That's good to know."
Smiling, Ba'el clambered to his feet, pushing his hand against the simulator to help himself up. He stood there, feeling like an awkward teenager. He pushed on regardless. "I'm serious. I like you. I... I know there is something here. But..."
"Ah, the eternal but."
"I am your commanding officer. And there is so much going on right now..." I don't want to hurt you.
Turner - Gemma - reached out and put her hand on his arm.
"Ba'el, you don't have to explain. I understand. I want to be your friend. If something else comes from that, one day, far, far into the future, then I won't complain. But I understand that for now, nothing can. I'll give you the time you need."
He smiled. "You're quite a woman, Commander."
Gemma smiled. "If you don't get going, you won't be much of a captain."
He started. She was right. This was no time to be discussing this. "You're right,” he said, nodding. “I have to go."
"What do you say we have a rematch in the next couple of days?"
Ba'el smiled. "I'd like that. For now, though..."
He hesitated anyway, staring into her eyes. She really was quite a woman. Then, shaking himself, he turned and walked towards the door.
“Oh and Captain?”
He turned, eyebrow raised.
“Benjamani? I’ve known women like her. The main thing she needs is to feel in control.”
“Yes.” He dragged the word out, turning it into a question.
“She thinks she knows how you will react and that makes her feel confident. Don’t let her. Keep her off balance.”
He stared at her for a moment, not sure whether he was more surprised at how insightful that seemed or the fact that he hadn’t thought of it already. He nodded, smiling. “Thanks. I’ll give that a try.”
He turned away from her and walked through the door. For now, he had a mission to fulfill. Anything else would have to wait.