UES Enterprise. Orbiting Galador V.
October 25th, 2151.
There was an observation window in the outer bulkhead of the captain's office, small and round like an ancient nautical porthole. With the Enterprise in low orbit over Galador V, all that could be seen was the gas giant's night side, inky blackness with the faintest hint of deep blue cloud. The view was less than inspiring, but Commander Hernandez forced herself to look outwards. She was not, she knew, the most patient of people, and didn't want to pressurize Commander Tucker by breathing down his neck as he read the report from the landing party. The question she wished to ask would be unwelcome, and it would be unwise to antagonise him pointlessly before hand.
In the reflection of the view port she could see him reading the pad closely. Despite his intelligence his mouth moved slightly as he read, probably a deliberate affectation, she decided. At least, she hoped so. The idea that the ship's chief engineer couldn't keep his mouth still whilst reading was disquieting, to say the least. Next to Tucker Major Reed was also perusing the message. His mouth, Hernandez noted with some relief, was still.
"I'm sorry t'hear 'bout Corporal James, Malky." Tucker eventually said, putting his pad down.
"Thank you sir. But she's a tough little thing, she'll pull through."
Trip nodded. "And, o'course, they've got Doc' Locke down there with 'em. His bedside manner may be abysmal, but he's prob'ly the best there is."
Reed sighed with relief. "That's reassuring."
Hernandez turned and sat in the chair across the desk from them. "Commander Tucker. I have a question for you, and I'd appreciate it if you think very carefully about the answer. Don't just give me your first response, I already know what that would be. Please consider the matter carefully."
"Commander, I need to know..." She paused, trying to find the best way to phrase it. "I need to know, is Corporal James at any risk?"
A confused expression crossed Tucker's face. He glanced at Reed, perplexed, then back to Hernandez. "Errr...ma'am, I'm no doctor. I can't make heads nor tails of the medical lingo Locke's using. But he seems to think she's fine. We can get Millington from sickbay to have a look at the report---"
"Or my medic, Dent." Reed helpfully put in.
Hernandez waved their comments away. "That's not what I meant. Ah, how to put this...Look, before Captain Archer set off, he and I had a disagreement as to...the wisdom of the mission. I thought it would be safer if Enterprise remained in orbit during the survey, the captain thought they could do without us."
Tucker said "I remember."
"Right. Well here's the problem. If someone has been hurt, that could be seen as proving that I was right and he was wrong. I know the report says that Corporal James will recover fully, and Enterprise is to remain here and carry out our mission, but is there any possibility, any chance at all, that Captain Archer is downplaying this incident?
"You mean James could be hurt a lot worse than they say, and the captain's sendin' misleading messages out of, what, pride? A desire t' save face?" Tucker retorted angrily. He half rose from his seat.
"Commander!" Hernandez barked. Tucker caught himself and sat back down. He picked up his pad and scrutinised it again. Not, Hernandez realised, because he thought great insight lay within. It was a prop, a barrier he could place between them.
After a few moments he put the pad back down. "Ma'am, after due an' careful consideration, I have t' say my answer is the same. No. There is no chance of tha' happenin'."
Reed asked "So if someone was badly hurt, he'd recall Enterprise back to the planet?"
"Nope. Wouldn't be quick 'nuff for him. He'd bundle 'em into the shuttle, blast off as fast as were safe, an' signal us to meet 'em at the quickest rendezvous point."
"To be honest that's what I expected." Hernandez said, pinching the bridge of her nose. "But I don't want to leave things to chance, not where lives are concerned. Well, it looks like the survey team are all safe for now."
"Most of them." Reed said wryly.
Tucker turned to him. "What do you mean?"
Reed lifted his pad. "According to this Dumont was with James when she was poisoned. He's a team medic, should have spotted something was up. I reckon he's got a pretty major beasting in the near future."
"Yeah. Beasting, you know. Beating, drubbing, kicking, doing over...not serious, nothing that'll put him out of action or leave scars. Just a little reminder to pay more attention to his job in future."
"Now tha' sounds a bit harsh." There was disapproval in Tucker's voice.
"Oh it is. That's the point. Wouldn't be worth doing if it was all nice and fluffy. But it's good for a couple of reasons. First, he messed up, so it's got to be dealt with. We can either deal with it officially or unofficially...." He trailed off.
"Don't mind me, I'm not listening to this at all." Hernandez said. If it was a regular UEMA matter she'd have insisted on going by the book, but she knew that Special Forces had their own way of doing things. Besides, she'd been on the Enterprise long enough to develop a certain amount of flexibility.
"Right. Well. Going officially means a black mark against his name in the records, plus a shed load of extra paper work for me. Both of which are undesirable, so we keep things in house. Obviously if it were a really major matter we'd have to deal with it properly, but for something like this we can stay off the record. The other reason, it will make him feel better."
Hernandez and Tucker exchanged glances. "Some sort of masochist thing?" the first officer asked cautiously.
Reed chuckled. "Not quite. He's a medic. He let one of his team mates get injured. Didn't even realize. He's probably feeling pretty guilty about that, letting the side down. He'll be looking for, well, redemption isn't the right word but it's close enough."
"What, an' gettin' beaten up's goin' to help?"
"It can't hurt. Well, actually it can hurt. A lot. But it's....penance. That's the word I was looking for. You take a beasting, you pay your penance, you learn your lesson, and you get on with it. The matter's dealt with and everyone's happy. At least they will be when the bruises heal. Do you see this?" He leant towards Tucker, pointing to his ear lobe.
"Yeah..." Tucker said. There was a faint red scar on the lobe.
Reed sat back. "I fell asleep once on sentry duty. It was during a training exercise, and we weren't attacked or anything. So we got away with it. Nobody knew but me, and for a few days I kept quiet, but the guilt sort of bubbled up. So first chance I got, I got the rest of my squad and took 'em to a bridge near our camp. I told them what happened. I then took a big, barbed fishing hook from my survival kit..."
"Ow." said Tucker. He could see where this was going.
"Yep. Pushed it right through the lobe. Stung a bit too."
Hernandez winced. "So what's the significance of the bridge?"
"Glad you asked me that." Reed grinned. "It had been repaired recently, and there were still a few of the old concrete blocks lieing around. I took one, attached it to the hook with some really strong line, walked out to the centre of the bridge and---" He mimed tossing a heavy object out in front of him.
Tucker rubbed his forehead. "D'ya have to be insane t' join the marines?"
"No sir. You can be sane as you like in the regulars. And for the Pathfinders, we prefer the term fearless."
Hernandez chuckled. "Fearless, eh? Well I know, for a fact, that there's at least one thing on this ship that frigh---"
The intercom whistled for attention. "Commander Hernandez, bridge
." came Lt. Moshiri's voice.
Hernandez lifted the desk's handset. "Hernandez here."
"Ma'am, could you come to the bridge please? We've made a couple of...discoveries.
"Looks like a mix of plasma burns, blunt force trauma and explosive decompression." Hernandez said softly. "Followed by years in a vacuum. All those small bits of ragged debris drifting around in there can't have helped. Unless we can find dog tags we're going to have to get a DNA sample to identify the body. Hell, I can't even tell if it's a man or a woman."
She straitened up from the drone control console and pinched the bridge of her nose, suddenly weary, before muttering a quick prayer for whomever it was that they had found.
Reed leant in to see the display. Almost instantly he pulled back with a grimace. "Poor bastard. That's no way to go."
"OK, where is this, Kaufman?" Hernandez asked.
The sensor specialist tapped a control, bringing a schematic of Destroyer D-11 on to the screen. Several parts were highlighted red, for extreme damage, whilst other sections were missing entirely. A bright green light pulsed rhythmically near the aft. "We've managed to get a drone into the engineering section ma'am. So far we've only been able to access this compartment. There are four others, all larger. There may be other...other bodies, in those."
"Engineering..." Hernandez said. "Is there any way to get the body out of there?"
"Ah, not at the present ma'am. To get the drone in there, I had to retract the arms and fly in through one of the thruster tubes. It had ruptured internally, probably in the battle." Kaufman thought for a moment. "There's not enough room to fly out with...cargo, ma'am. Of course, I'll keep looking for other routes. And we may be able to cut our way through."
"Alright Mr. Kaufman, carry on. So, you said you had two discoveries?" she said, turning to Moshiri.
The navigator looked grim. "Yes ma'am, and it's not good news. I've gone over the computations several times. The orbit of the D-11 is decaying, rapidly. Two, three weeks. A month at the most. And then..."
Hernandez swore. "So much for leaving the bodies where they are for later repatriation. Ladies, gentlemen, I need ideas. Find a way to stabilise the orbit. I didn't come all this way to fail now."
Moshiri leant closer. "The engineering section. Didn't you say you had a friend who worked there?" she asked quietly.
"Nuyen, yes. I have no idea if it's his remains we found, or if he's in one of the other compartments, or if his body is even onboard still. But I swear Haleh. I swear I'm not letting it end like this."