The cup of herbal tea had gone untouched as it sat on the coffee table in front of an obviously distracted Amaya Donners, seemingly too pre-occupied with her own thoughts as she stared blankly into empty space.
“You want to tell me what’s on your mind?” Vej asked.
She turned to look at the black-haired Ullian telepath as if she had only just realized that he was there.
“You know, traditionally that’s how this works,” he said as she still refused to talk. “You tell me about the things that have you worried and I offer my humble and all-too-often ignored advice. After four years of this, I would have thought you understood that process.”
Maya aimed a displeased frown at the counselor.
“Unless you would rather have me run this session telepathically,” he added.
“Don’t you dare.”
He quickly raised his hands defensively. “Just kidding.”
Amaya knew that Ullians had a strict code when it came to using their amazing telepathic skills with non-telepaths. They took it as seriously as a Klingon took his honor or a Ferengi is latinum and while it may have greatly restricted his abilities to know what people were thinking at any given time, she had often found that Vej had unique insights into people’s thoughts simply by virtue of having a long and dedicated career in psychology. And of course it helped that as a telepath he had hands-on experience at probing a person’s minds even if it had only been those who had given their implicit approval.
“But you don’t need telepathic skills to know that you are more preoccupied than usual with your own thoughts. Something specific, I’d say. Maybe something that has come up recently.”
She focused on his hazel colored eyes. “And you are sure you’re not reading my mind?”
“If I were reading your mind, you would know.”
She nodded slowly. He had communicated with her in that manner previously and for no other reason as to sate her own curiosity. And it was true that an Ullian mind probe was usually invasive enough to be noticed. It wasn’t as subtle as Betazoid empathy and while not exactly painful either, it made it difficult for Ullians to read somebody’s mind secretly.
“So, do you want to talk about it or shall we just spend the next hour in silence? That too can be therapeutic, I’ve been told.”
Maya uttered a small sigh. “I can’t really talk about it.”
He nodded. “I can understand that. But you realize of course that anything we discuss here stays strictly between us, right?”
Maya had no doubt of Vej’s discretion both professionally and otherwise. And yet the orders surrounding the Omega Directive had been quite clear. Do not discuss Omega or the directive itself with anyone with a security clearance of level nine and below which practically meant she couldn’t talk about it with any member of her crew and definitely not to a civilian.
She had spent the hours since getting the shocking orders from Admiral Glover reading through the classified information he had provided and she had started to understand why Starfleet had decided to shroud Omega in so much secrecy. The dangers of the molecule were entirely palpable and Starfleet was right to be afraid of the potential consequences of this information falling into the wrong hands. And yet, she hated the idea of suppressing information. It went against her core believes that any government or organization should keep knowledge away from its own people because of fear of where it may lead. It was a lesson she was now learning slowly, that sometimes reality and practicability trumped idealism. Or did they? Truth be told, she wasn’t entirely convinced yet.
“I know,” she said after a few moments of considerations.
“This has something to do with our new orders, doesn’t it?”
“Ok,” he said. “I don’t want you to compromise on whatever orders and directives you may have been given by Starfleet Command. That they are serious, of that I have no doubt. You have ordered Agamemnon
to change course suddenly and without much explanation and now we are heading towards the Neutral Zone at maximum warp. That’s all I know. And I suppose all anyone on board besides you knows.”
She nodded again.
“But sometimes you can talk about things without really talking about things,” he added with a little, almost mischievous smile.
She leaned back in her chair and considered him for a moment. “I find myself in a situation I’ve never been before. I suppose you could say that for the entirety of the past week though, right?” she said. “I’ve never been a starship captain before either. But these new orders, they are like nothing I would have expected. I understand that my job will require me to make difficult decisions and even keep secrets from my officers or my crew but this – this is different.”
“How so?” he asked. “Without getting into specifics.”
“I don’t know if I can do what I’ve been asked to do. And not just morally or ethically. I don’t know if it can be done practically. And I really don’t know if I can do it alone,” she said. “Ideally what I need is to talk to someone who can understand exactly what I’m going through and what these orders mean. But I’m not allowed to.”
“A peer then?” the counselor suggested.
“Yes. But Glover has ordered us to strict radio silence and I’m kind of the only starship captain around at the moment.”
“You were right to say that your new role will require you to make difficult decisions and it strikes me that this would be one of them.”
Maya shook her head and then leaned forward to take a sip of her tea. “That’s just it. There are no decisions to be made here. They’ve already been made for me. I’m just to follow orders and shut up. Quite literally.”
“And I never believed that,” said Vej. “No matter what you’ve been told, you remain a starship captain. An individual who Starfleet has entrusted to make important life or death decisions at a moment’s notice. And you have to be free to make those decisions and have the confidence that the people who put you here will back you up on those.”
“You’re implying I should disregard my orders?”
“No, not at all,” he said with a quick headshake. “I’m saying that as a starship captain sometimes you will have to make decisions to the best of your abilities and entirely dependent on what you feel is going to be best for your ship, your crew, Starfleet and the Federation. And you will be the only person to be able to make them because you are the only person fully aware of all the factors on the ground. Not some politician or admiral hundreds of light-years away.”
Maya nodded in silent agreement. She hated the idea of disregarding a direct order but what if matters were made worse because she had decided to stick to the strict letter of the law? After all, the stakes were too high and perhaps sometimes it was necessary to use your own initiative for the greater good.
“You know Terrence once came to me with a similar conundrum,” said Vej.
She shot him an astonished glance. “Glover?”
She smiled. “You’re telling me that you used to counsel Terrence Glover? Captain Terrence ‘I-know-it-all and never-make-a-mistake’ Glover?”
Vej frowned at that. “Of course not. If I did, I certainly wouldn’t be telling you about it. He was simply asking for friendly advice and I was more than happy to indulge him.”
“Even that I’m having a hard time believing.”
“If you asked him, he’d probably deny it,” said Vej. “But when he came to me for my advice in a similar situation, I told him to try and get some inspiration from people who have done what he did. There is no better way to understand what it means to be a starship captain than to study those who have successfully risen to the challenge in the past. And you know what?” he said. “I think he took it to heart.”
Maya thought about that for a moment. “I’ve always had a soft spot for Robert Wesley and his captaincy on the old Lexington
“Then perhaps that’s a good place for you to start your search for the answers you are looking for.”
* * *
“Sir, I’d like to volunteer for extra readiness drills with Chief Holly.”
Commander Texx shot the now seemingly eager lieutenant as sidelong glance as they briskly walked together down the corridor on deck sixteen. “I don’t think so.”
“How about joining the Marines in their daily training exercises? I could use the practice to brush up on my combat skills.”
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you are trying to get yourself out of this assignment,” he said with a smirk as they continued along the corridor.
“It’s not that at all, sir,” Allenby said quickly. “I just think that my skills would be put to better use somewhere else. There are plenty of technicians on board who would probably be better suited for this task.”
The Bolian first officer stopped in front of the doors leading to their destination and then turned towards her. “I seriously hope that you are not implying that you consider yourself above configuring the navigational deflector.”
“Of course not,” she responded with semi-outrage.
“Good. Because Chen and his people have their hands full finishing up the systems shakedown since we got our new orders and I need all hands on deck. The deflector has been giving us trouble since we left spacedock and seeing that we are traveling at high warp, we can’t afford for it going down now.”
“I understand. It’s just that – “
“And as the chief operations manager on this ship, you are more than qualified for this task while the person responsible for piloting Agamemnon
will be able to assist you to ensure the navigational components are properly calibrated.”
“About that. I don’t think I need any input from the pilot on this. As you said, I’m perfectly qualified. It may be a waste of resources to involve –“
“I’m not late, am I?” Bobby DeSoto called out as he jogged down the corridor to meet up with Texx and Allenby.
The lieutenant quickly shot the man an annoyed frown but kept her thoughts to herself.
“Just in time,” said Texx and then stepped into deflector control just beyond those doors they had assembled in front.
“Hi there,” Bobby said to Allenby with a wide grin.
She glared at him a moment longer before following the first officer.
“What?” he asked and then followed suit also.
“Alright people,” said Texx once they were inside and faced the bulky equipment and the many work stations which made up the main deflector control room. “As you are both aware the navigational deflector needs to be re-aligned. Now, I appreciate that this isn’t an easy task while we’re travelling at warp nine but the captain has made it clear that we cannot afford to drop out of warp to do this. So I need you both to work together and do this as quickly and efficiently as you can,” said the first officer, looking back and forth between the two officers. “I don’t have to tell you that this is sensitive stuff and even more so while it is running under full power, so be careful and get this done right. Any questions?”
Bobby shook his head. “Not a one. Let’s get started.”
But Allenby looked almost pleadingly at the first officer. “Sir, I appreciate that this is an important task but can’t we reconsider who is going to –“
“Lieutenant,” he said sternly. “You are a Starfleet officer, are you not? You’re here to follow orders not question them. Now carry on. I expect you to have this done within three hours,” he said and turned towards the exit.
But Allenby was not yet ready to give up and quickly intercepted him before Texx had a chance to leave her alone with the young helmsman. “Sir, please. If this is some sort of punishment for going to the captain about DeSoto, there are plenty of much worse alternatives you could consider,” she said, mindfully keeping her voice low enough to keep the ensign form overhearing the conversation.
“If this were your punishment, Lieutenant, what would make you think that you had a choice in the way it would be administered?”
She responded with a blank look.
“Contrary to what you may believe, Tess, I’m not trying to punish you. I need this reconfiguration done yesterday and you two happened to be available. And both Cap and I need to see that you two can work together. Now, stop complaining and get a move on,” he said and this time promptly left the room.
“Hey Tess, where should we get started?” Bobby asked as he was looking over the computer console. “I think the problem may be with the EPS induction coil from the secondary graviton polarity source generator.”
Allenby turned slowly to face him and aim a less than pleased look into his direction which to her disdain he failed to notice. Having apparently given up on any chance to avoid working with DeSoto, she slowly approached. “Let’s get one thing clear right off the bat, Ensign
,” she said, her voice firm as steel. “You will address me as Lieutenant
. Is that clear?”
He looked up to spot the serious expression on her face. “Sir, yes, sir,” he responded with mock discipline. “Lieutenant, sir.”
She ignored the jibe and almost pushed him aside as she reviewed the same computer station he had been studying. “We’ll have to take the secondary graviton generator offline and then replace the induction coil. There are enough redundant generators to ensure continued operation of the deflector while we do the replacement.”
“Still tricky stuff,” said DeSoto. “I don’t know about you but I’d rather not get fried by 800,000 megawatt of raw current.”
“Just focus on the task and do as I say and we’ll be just fine,” she said without gracing him with another look. Instead she went to work on the station. After a moment they both felt the subtle rumble of the deck plating underneath their boots as one generator powered down and two others came to life to pick up the slack. “Follow me,” she said as she headed for the hatch leading to the induction coil assembly and the deflector dish hardware.
It was a short trip down a narrow ladder until they reached the parabolically shaped backside of the powerful navigational deflector whose main job it was to keep the ship safe from macroscopic and submicron particles while it traveled through space at faster than light speeds.
Various conduits connected the deflector to its powerful generators as well as to the long-range sensor array.
Allenby quickly identified the induction coil leading to the generator she had shut down to affect repairs. “I want you to monitor any residual EPS power flow while I start dismantling the coil itself.”
“Yes, Lieutenant, sir,” he said.
There wasn’t much room in the cramped space however and in order to get to the monitoring station he had no choice but to push himself past her.
“Watch it,” she said as he bumped into her.
“Apologies, Lieutenant, sir,” he said. “But this is the only way,” he added and continued pushing himself past her, only to leave her even more irritated by the unwanted contact.
He simply shrugged it off and then attended the console.
Allenby shot him another glare before she turned towards the coil.
“EPS power flow to secondary conduit shows at zero. But you might want to give it a few minutes to cool down before you –“
“Son of a bitch,” she cried out and quickly pulled back from the super-heated conduit.
“- try and touch it,” he continued with a smirk as he watched her shake out her hand.
“Wipe that grin of your face, Ensign,” she barked.
He places his hand over his nose and mouth and dramatically wiped it across his lips, replacing the smile with a more serious expression. “As you command, sir.”
“This is your fault for distracting me.”
Bobby gave her a confused look. “My fault? What did I do?”
“What did you do?” she shot back with a disbelieving tone in her own voice. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Where do I start? You are a hopelessly immature child. You take nothing seriously. You show no respect for the uniform or your fellow officers. You have absolutely no discipline or appreciation for the chain of command or Starfleet in general. And to make things even worse, you’ve had everything you don’t deserve handed to you on a silver platter.”
He simply stared at her for a moment, clearly not having expected this kind of outburst.
She paid no attention and turned back towards the coil, now that it had cooled she quickly began to dismantle the induction assembly. But she was far from done putting DeSoto in his place. “When I was in your shoes and I had just graduated the Academy I was thankful for the assignment I was given which I had earned due to hard work and dedication. Not like you. For you everything is just a game, isn’t it? A fun adventure, an opportunity to play silly pranks. Well, let me tell you something. Life isn’t all fun and games.”
“I think Wayne was right,” he said as he monitored his station.
“Wayne was right about what?”
“That you are so mad with me because you secretly like me.”
“Like you?” she said with disbelieve. “Have I not made myself clear, Ensign? I think you are a disgrace to the uniform.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said. “And yet you have a total crush on me. Just so you know, I’m fine with that.”
She whipped around to face him, her jaw hanging open.
DeSoto looked up and that smirk was back. “Women have always been into me, I’ve gotten used to the DeSoto cure over the years. And if I may be so forward, Lieutenant, you are quite attractive yourself so maybe it’s not a bad fit after all.”
“You … you may certainly be not, Ensign,” she stammered. “In fact you are way out of line.”
But DeSoto had noticed something on his control panel. “Uh, Lieutenant, we may have a problem here with –“
She shook her head with continued disbelieve. “The audacity to suggest that I have any kind of interest in you quite frankly is beyond arrogance. I’ve half a mind to have you put on official report for your continuously inappropriate behavior towards –“
“Lieutenant, I really think you should step away from that conduit right now,” he said urgently.
“And stop interrupting me when I’m addressing you, Ensign. I am going to suggest to Commander Texx –“
“EPS surge, get down!”
And then it finally registered with her that she was in serious danger. Her eyes grew wide as she saw the flash of an impending power surge. She jumped back but not quite in time to avoid being hit by the powerful discharge cursing through the conduit which promptly erupted with sparks and smoke.
Allenby was pushed backwards by the force of the explosion and crashed against a nearby bulkhead which she hit with a groan before she slid down to the floor.
“Tess,” DeSoto cried out and rushed to her side.
He found her conscious but clearly in pain, holding her left hand which had been badly burned. “Are you alright?”
She looked at him as he squatted down next to her. “Do I look alright?” she said through gritted teeth.
“Can you walk? Let me help you to sickbay,” he said and tried to pull her onto her feet.
But she quickly freed herself from his attempts. “Just stay away from me, ok? Just stay the hell away,” she said and then struggled to stand by herself.
Bobbie watched her as she awkwardly climbed up the ladder, only being able to use one hand and then disappeared onto the deck above.