– III –
The captain had put on a dinner which rivaled those lavish affairs he liked to throw for their annual anniversary celebrations. This time however the occasion wasn’t quite as festive.
’s entire senior staff had assembled in the observation lounge along with Captain Amaya Donners whose ship, the Agamemnon
, had delivered a team of civilian scientists and engineers for Eagle
’s upcoming mission as well as another Starfleet officer, past middle age with short dark and graying hair and a full white beard. The man hadn’t been formally introduced yet and most of the assembled senior staff threw him curious looks, not being able to quite place the officer wearing a blue medical uniform with commander pips on his collar but sans jacket.
Ashley Jane Wenera stood after the waiting staff had filled their flutes with sparking champagne. Unbeknownst to most of the people around the table, her glass had been filled with ginger ale instead.
’s chief medical officer felt her eyes beginning to water as she looked over the faces of the men and women around the table, many of which she had served with for over three years. “First of all I realize that I owe you all a big apology for this announcement which for many of you will most likely come as a surprise. All I can do is humbly ask that you do not judge me too harshly for it. This has not been an easy decision for me to make, in fact, I think it may be the hardest decision of my life but I believe in my heart that it is the right one.”
She certainly had captured everyone’s attention.
“I will be leaving Eagle
tonight for personal reasons until further notice,” she said and let that sentence hang there for a moment. As expected and judging from the blank looks of most of her fellow officers, the news came as a complete shock to them. It made this so much harder for her.
In fact only the captain and Deen had known the true occasion for this dinner, leaving all the others to speculate wildly as to why the captain had called all his senior officers together that evening.
She took her time to consider those blank faces for a moment. Lif Culsten, their young Krellonian helmsman and a close friend looked particularly shocked and she could hardly blame him. Louise Hopkins, Eagle
’s chief engineer had been unable to keep her mouth from gaping open in surprise. So’Dan Leva and Nora Laas did a slightly better job at keeping the surprise off their faces and Tazla Star, Eagle
’s new first officer kept her own feelings well hidden under an unreadable mask.
Considering she had been on the ship only a few months, she doubted that the Trill had strong feelings about this announcement one way or the other. Commander Xylion, the ship’s Vulcan science officer demonstrated his own surprise at the unexpected announcement merely by a raised eye brow.
The doctor took a deep breath before continuing. “I know how some of you must feel and that in a way it is not fair to make such an announcement in this manner but please trust me when I say that due to the circumstances leading me to this decision, I thought it was necessary to keep my departure under wraps. I kindly ask that you do not speculate as to the reasons for my transfer. Lastly, I just want to say what an absolute honor it has been to serve with each one of you. We’ve been through good times and bad times together, and you truly have made this more than just another assignment for me. It has been the adventure of my life and I will miss you all greatly,” she said and stopped to wipe the tears off her cheeks. She turned to look at the captain. “And sir, I could not have asked for a better commanding officer. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for everything.”
Owens nodded and after she had taken her seat again, he took the opportunity to stand. “Doctor. Ashley,” he said. “I want you to know that we very much feel the same way about you. You have been not just my own but the entire crew’s moral compass over the years we’ve been fortunate enough to serve with you. And no matter what the future may bring for you, I want you to know that you will always have a place on Eagle
She nodded gratefully, again unable to keep those tears from streaming down her face. She blushed and quickly reached for a napkin to dry off her face.
Owens looked at their mystery guest. “In Doctor Wenera’s absence, Doctor Elijah Katanga has gratefully agreed to lend his extensive skills and vast experience to Eagle
and fill in as chief medical officer.”
The dark-skinned doctor nodded. “That was a polite way of saying that I’m a very old man, Captain,” he said with a smirk. “But thank you nevertheless. I’ve had the great fortune of having known Jane since the day she graduated Starfleet Academy and I too had to say goodbye to her once before, so I certainly understand how you all must feel,” he said and then looked at Wenera. “Jane, I just want to reiterate the captain’s gesture by saying that I’m only here to keep your sickbay warm for you. As soon as you come back, and no matter how you may feel about this at the moment, I’m convinced you’ll be back, you’ll go right ahead and kick me out of your office.”
She gave him a tear-filled little laugh.
“In the meantime,” he said, addressing the entire room again, “it’ll be my great honor to serve the crew of this fine ship and hopefully you won’t get tired with putting up with an eccentric old man too quickly.”
Tazla Star actually smirked at that last line while most of the other officers in attendance were still getting to grips with the idea of having to say good-bye to a fellow officer and friend.
“Now, my dear Jane,” he continued. “Take it from an old man, youth is too short to be wasted on tears. Besides, I’ve been sitting here for the last ten minutes smelling a twelve cheese fondue and quite frankly if we don’t start eating soon you’ll have one last medical emergency on your hands.”
This time Wenera’s laugh was truly sincere and a few others joined in. “Not at my farewell dinner,” she said. “Please, by all means, dig in.”
’s outgoing CMO didn’t stay around long after the dinner had come to an end, just enough time to exchange a few heartfelt hugs and handshakes. Then she was off with Katanga to sickbay where her own extensive staff had been asked to assembled to be told that they’d have to answer to a new boss.
Michael retreated to his quarters with Amaya Donners.
“Never easy to see one of your people go,” she said after the doors had closed behind her. “And it’s hard on her too,” she added. “Reminds me of the time I had to say goodbye to the people at Deep Space Five after I was given Agamemnon
. I’d been there for four years, toughest thing I’ve ever had to do,” she said and took a seat on the sofa underneath the forward facing windows. “Well, at least until a week after and I had to go toe-to-toe with the Romulans and the Borg.”
Michael went to retrieve a half full bottle of Saurian brandy from a cabinet. He poured her a glass before doing so for himself and then sat at the other end of the couch. “I don’t like loosing her at all. But I understand her reasoning.”
Maya took a sip. “I hear a lot of good things about Katanga,” she said. “Word of warning though, he wasn’t lying when he said he was an eccentric old man,” she added with a sweet smile.
He aimed a puzzled look at her.
“I’ve had him on board for only a few days and he’s already established himself as a household name on Agamemnon
“Should I be worried?” he asked.
“The man has been in Starfleet longer than both of us combined. He’s got three Carrington Awards under his belt and worked with legends like McCoy, P’Trell and Quaice.”
Michael smirked. “Somebody’s been doing their homework.”
“Hardly. Let’s just say the good doctor likes to talk and something tells me you’re going to be inimitably familiar with his career once his assignment here comes to an end.”
“Don’t worry, he’s not that bad. I actually found it refreshing to have a man of experience around. Feels like lately every other Starfleet officer is a wet behind the ears ensign.”
“War will do that.”
She nodded with a serious expression. “And yet here you are going off gallivanting into a nebula while us real soldiers fight the good fight,” the little smirk at the end revealed that she held no grudge against her friend over his latest assignment.
“It’s not scientific mission if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“I know. Doctor Rosenthal and his team are suppose to build a new fancy spy array in the Aphrodite nebula to allow us to spy on Dominion troop deployments,” she said. “And you’re telling me you’re not going to use the opportunity to try and do some good old fashioned exploring?” she added with a little twinkle.
“We won’t get the chance,” he said, “we’re on a strict time table. We only have ten days to build that array before the radiation in the nebula becomes lethal to ship and crew.”
Michael looked off into space for a moment.
“So, tell me about Commander Star,” she said after he hadn’t said anything for a while.
He looked at her. “Not sure what to say.”
“Please,” she shot back. “There isn’t an officer in the fleet who hasn’t heard of the infamous former Captain Star. Rumor has it she had half her crew killed after going off on some unsanctioned mission. Lost her command and was sent to the stockade only to be brought back to fill desperately needed vacancies after the war started. And where does she end up of all the places in the galaxy?”
“You know how it is with rumors,” he said.
Donners looked skeptical.
“Fine, yes, she made mistakes, she went to prison for them.”
“And was released early.”
Owens sighed. “She did some really good work on our mission to Tiaita. If not for her actions that mission would have ended as a much bigger disaster as it already was. She saved millions of lives.”
“You almost sound as if you are trying to convince yourself, Michael.”
He leaned forward. “I didn’t want her here. She was forced onto me by people with their own petty little agendas but after all was said and done, you know what she told me? She was ready to pack her things and simply disappear.”
“And that would have been such a bad thing?”
“She’s changed, Maya. She’s a different person and she’s working hard on making a new start of it,” he said.
She took another sip from her drink. “In my experience people don’t just change overnight,” she said and then looked him straight in the eye. “Here’s my question to you, Michael. When it comes down to it, when everything’s on the line, your ship, your crew, the people you care about most, do you trust her? I mean completely trust her?”
He uttered a heavy sigh and let himself fall back unto the couch.
“That’s what I thought.”
Donners put her empty glass back on the table with a loud thud causing her fellow captain to shoot her a surprised look. “Here we are, in the middle of a war which hardly ever gives us the chance to see each other in person like this and I’m playing Captain Buzzkill. Fill me up, will ya?”
Michael laughed and reached for the bottle. “Careful there Buzzkill, this isn’t synthehol you know. And I believe you still have a starship to drive tonight,” he said as he poured her another glass.
“For your information, I have very capable officers who can do that for me,” she said and took a big gulp of the emerald colored brandy. “Sometimes it’s good to be the captain.”
He offered her a large smile but left it simply at starring at her.
“Just quietly admiring you from afar.”
“I’m not a statue, come closer, you are allowed to touch.”
“Sounds like that brandy is getting to you,” he said but scooted over her way nevertheless.
“If there is one good thing about the Dominion,” she said as she watched him move closer, “it’s that it really makes you appreciate being alive. Makes you realize that nothing is for granted.”
“And everything could be gone tomorrow.”
“Exactly,” she said just before she pressed her lips against his.
His hands were on her a second later, brushing against her soft, dark skin and her satin like hair as he kissed her passionately.
They came back up for air and Maya, her nose just inches from his, looked right into his brilliant blue eyes. “That was nice. Any particular reason we’ve never done this before?”
Michael’s face turned into a frown and he actually pulled back.
“Now who’s Captain Buzzkill?” she said.
“This wasn’t the first time we’ve kissed,” he said but avoided looking her in the eye.
“It was the first time we kissed like that,” she said. “Unless you slipped me something I don’t know about.”
But the look on his face made it clear that he was dead serious. “I tried to tell you once before.”
“Tried to tell me what?”
He took a deep breath before he continued. “It’s been weighing on me for a while now. The truth is I once cheated on you.“
“Cheated on me? If you were trying to confuse the hell out of me, congratulations, you’ve succeeded.”
“No, cheated on you is not the right word,” he said, clearly struggling to explain himself to a clearly befuddled Maya Donners who had not expected the evening to take such an unexpected turn. “I cheated on somebody else. With you.”
She stood abruptly. “You’re not making a lick of sense mister. Listen, if you don’t want this, whatever this is turning out to be, just tell me.”
Michael followed suit. “It’s not that. It’s not that at all.”
“Then what is it?” she asked, impatience creeping into the tone of her voice.
“A few years ago I had a rather unique experience. I went back in time while pursuing a wanted criminal,” he began.
She nodded slowly. “You went after the man who killed your brother. I was there remember? I was the one who gave you the evidence to find him. And I read your report after.”
“There is something that wasn’t in the report.”
She gave him an expectant look.
“I went back to our time at the Academy together. It was just after our second year and you had come up to my father’s house in Wisconsin.”
She nodded “Yes and you’re right, I remember now. We kissed. Sitting on a bench outside, watching the sunset. I was giving you a hard time for assuming you had the whole thing set up to seduce me.”
“The truth is you were right, it was a set-up. And it worked.”
Maya shook her head. “You changed your mind. We kissed but then we stopped. You later introduce me to your girlfriend and I finally understood why nothing ever came of that night.”
“But you see, something did. Before I went back, something did. That night turned out very different and our relationship became something else,” he said, finding it suddenly quite difficult to look into her eyes as he spoke.
“You’re starting to make my head hurt.”
“There was another timeline before I went back and it changed. In that timeline things between us were very different because I made an awful mistake that night. I ruined our friendship and I kept seeing you even though I was in a committed relationship with Jana Tren. Eventually you found out and you never forgave me for it.”
Michael watched her carefully as she turned her back on him and took a few steps towards the far wall. “That’s a lot to take in.”
“Now do you understand why I’ve been feeling so awkward all this time?”
“Let me try to get this straight. There was another timeline where you cheated with me on your girlfriend and I ended up hating your guts,” she said and turned around to face him again, a noticeable gap now between them.
“Then you went back in time and fixed it?”
“It kind of happened that way, yes. It wasn’t planned.”
She offered a humorless smile. “I would think the Department of Temporal Investigations would seriously frown on people using time travel to ease their conscience.”
“Must be why I never told them about that particular event.”
Maya rubbed her temples with her thumb and index finger, clearly still having trouble fully appreciating Michael’s revelations. “Here’s what I don’t understand,” she said. “From what you’re saying all this cheating and lying happened in a different timeline, one that nobody remembers. So why tell me this now?”
“Because I remember, Maya,” he said and took one small step towards her, but not confident enough to come any closer just yet. “I wish to God that I didn’t but I do. I remember everything.”
She considered those words for a moment before reciprocating with her own exploratory step. “There’s supposed to be whole other universe out there where we all exist but in twisted, evil versions of ourselves. There is the multi-verse theory which says that there is a parallel universe for each decision we may have made in our lifetime. So presumably there are versions of us right now where I killed you in a jealous fury, maybe even one where we’ve gotten married. I don’t see why any of that should stop us from living our lives the way we see fit.”
“I just needed you to know about it.”
She smiled and closed the gap between them. “Well, now that that’s off your chest, where were we?” she said and kissed him again.
“And by the way,” she said after a minute or so when their lips had parted once more. “If you do ever cheat on me
, I will kill you in a jealous fury. Just keep that mind for any future time travel excursions.”
* * *