Two weeks later…
“Captain,” Tai Donar said warmly, punctuating it with a short bow once he reached her bedside. “It’s good seeing you conscious, and sitting up.” There were only a few other occupied biobeds in the massive medical center. The captain was propped up on the half-elevated bed, one leg and arm hanging from straps attached to the structure overhanging the bed. Tai stood on the other side of the bed, opposite the structure.
Captain Redfeather smiled, and winced right after. Her face was covered with deep red and brown welts, and her right arm was still encased within a cast. “Captain Donar,” she chanced a smile again, got half way and then thought better of it. She nodded and him and winced again. “Thank you for getting my crew and Erickson back safe and sound.”
He frowned, nodding his head, “I wish I could say the same, but there were fatalities.” Nine crewmen had been mowed down by the marauders, not counting the poor young man whose neck had been snapped by his wife. “And I let one of the key perpetrators go.”
Redfeather’s eyes clouded over and her face took on a grim cast. “It could’ve been worse, much worse. But it wasn’t, and I have you to thank for it.”
“Captain, I-I came here,” Tai paused, his words tangling. “To see you, but also…” She strongly shook her head.
“Don’t you say it,” she warned, “Don’t you dare. You’re not going to quit on me.”
“But captain, I…f-failed,” he stammered.
“Who among us hasn’t,” she riposted, “and who among us hasn’t lived up to all of their promises. You’ve had men die under your command before, far more than I ever have, and you know that is one of the risks of the life we live.”
He lowered his head, unable to speak. Captain Redfeather continued, “Listen Captain, Commander, oh, Tai, listen, I wasn’t honest with you. I did have doubts about you, reservations about your military conditioning,” she paused, to gauge his reaction. Tai kept his head down, so she continued, “I was concerned that when the battle was on, you might get lost in the thick of it, you might give into whatever thing the Angosians programmed you to be, but I was wrong. When that moment came, or moments from what I heard, you stuck by your crew, you put them first, and I,” she halted, the words escaping her now.
Donar looked up and saw tears glistening in the woman’s eyes. With her mobile hand she reached out and grasped one of his, and squeezed it tight. “I just want to say thank you.”
He nodded, his chest constricting, and his own eyes growing uncomfortably moist. “Also,” Redfeather added, with a trace of a smirk, “If you try to leave, I’ll send Helen after you.”
Captain’s Ready Room
Despite his size, the captain’s leather chair felt too big for him. Tai downplayed his insecurity and laughed along with the woman gracing the holoprojector. Lt. Juanita Rojas, dressed in an alluring low-cut azure blouse and tight golden pants, definitely civilian attire, grinned as she finished, “I knew my man would make captain someday, but not so soon.” The slight blue tint bathing his paramour, courtesy of the projector, didn’t diminish one iota of her beauty.
Beyond the room, the faint din of work crews could be heard. Tai could’ve taken up space on the mushroom-like starbase, but he preferred being closer to the ship.
“Don’t get used to it,” Tai quipped. “This is just temporary. Will you still love me after I’m busted back down to first officer?”
“I love you,” the younger woman said, suddenly serious, “I’m so glad you made it out of that nightmare in one piece.” Donar had been ordered to be circumspect in how much he could discuss about what happened in the Caldera Expanse, but he had told Juanita as much as he had been allowed. “Andraste huh?” She asked, her eyes lighting with devilment again, “So, do you still have a thing for her huh?”
He rolled his eyes, playing along, and feeling so good he had someone he could do that with. “All I said was that she still looked fit.”
“Really now?” Juanita hit him with a jaundiced eye, “And also that she was agreeable, if I recall.”
He huffed, “Well, yes, there is that.” He shrugged. They shared another laugh that died off into nervous silence.
Juanita reached out and Tai met her ghostly hand. He so wished that she was there with him, that he could feel the warmth of her hand, wrap his arms around her, lay his head on her lap.
Time had taken a lot from him, as it had Andraste, but at least he had found someone, a reason, to find himself again, and even more, to remake himself anew.
“You be careful out there,” she warned him. “I don’t want to lose you.”
“I don’t want to be lost,” he replied. “And thankfully I only have one ex-wife.”
“That better be the case,” she said. He quickly nodded that it was. “I’m surprised that the captain hasn’t contacted you,” Juanita remarked, switching subjects. Despite his promotion to rear admiral, Rojas still referred to Terrence Glover as Captain. He was the only captain she spoke about often, or at length.
Tai shrugged. “He’s a busy man,” he replied. It wasn’t like they were especially close and Donar hadn’t expected a call. Then again, he wouldn’t have been surprised if Glover hadn’t contacted him. Tai could see how having one of his officers reach the captain’s rank, if only temporarily, and handling the incident in the Caldera Expanse, would have been a point of pride for the man.
“Don’t you think he’s different now, since…you know, the Admiral?” Juanita asked, referring to his father Samson. The former admiral had been captured and later executed by the Romulans almost a year ago. Terrence had failed in his attempt to rescue him and had been captured himself.
Unlike Tai, Glover and Juanita had a much tighter bond. That was due in part to her deceased brother, Commander Pedro Rojas, who had been one of Glover’s closest friends. “He’s so…standoffish now, cold.” She shook her head, a sad expression marring her features.
“We all deal with grief in a different way,” Tai offered weakly. He had noticed some personality changes with his former CO too, but hadn’t read too deeply into it. “We have to give him his space, let him…find himself again,” he added, thinking about both Juanita and what she had restored in his life.
“I know; it’s just…” Juanita sighed and shrugged her shoulders. “I know he must feel terribly alone, with his father gone, the divorce,” her voice grew bitter, “and what those Rommie bastards did to him.” The anger took Tai aback.
It also shocked Juanita. She touched the well of her throat and sat back. “I’m sorry.”
“No,” he said, “It’s good to get it out. You should never carry that stuff bottled up. What the Romulans did to the captain, how they slaughtered Admiral Glover…not to mention all the other bad things that have befallen the captain,” he paused, reflecting over the loss of the Aegis and its seventy-five souls, “It could destroy a normal man. But Terrence Glover is not a normal man.”
“You got that right,” Juanita brightened.
“I have every confidence that he will be back, and stronger than ever,” he concluded, believing every word. For an average human, Glover had proven extraordinarily resilient.
“I think you’re right,” she smiled. “And I think the captain could learn a few lessons from you in that regard.”
He cocked an eyebrow, “Oh really now?”
“Absolutely,” she nodded in agreement. “What you did in the Caldera Expanse is already sounding like a legend around the Fleet. It makes me extra pumped about getting out there and meeting the new life coming to our part of the galaxy.”
Tai frowned slightly, thinking of the polaric ion generator and the havoc it had wreaked in the expanse. He shuddered to wonder if other members of that species were out there, heading their way with even more terrible weapons. “Don’t be so anxious,” he cautioned.
Juanita sniffed, “Well, I’m hoping that we get picked for the second wave. I did hear that there’s a second wave to the Vanguard taskforce. Did you hear the same?”
“I heard that as well,” Tai said, “Well, for the time being, I’m content with roaming the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.”
“Come on man, where’s your sense of adventure?” Juanita teased.
“I’ve had more than enough of that for a good long while,” Tai’s smile was close lipped. “Besides, it’s going to take several months to repair Erickson, and I was wondering if we could arrange some time to spend together in the interval.”
The woman brightened so much, she shone like a star. “Maybe I should tell my CO to keep this can parked for a little while longer. I hear that Risa is wonderful this time of year.”
“Risa is wonderful every part of the year,” Donar said, prompting another round of much needed laughter.