"'Convoy duty,'" repeated Leone as she spoke to T'Cirya within her ready room. "You're pulling us off the border to escort freighters to Deep Space Four?" After the news of the reassignment made it to her ears, she had demanded an audience with her.
The rear admiral, seated on the other side of the desk, merely nodded. "That is correct."
"May I ask why?"
"The Inspector General's office-"
"I'm not about to go rogue with Starfleet hardware, sir. You, of all people, should know that."
T'Cirya continued speaking, in spite of Leone's interruption, "-feels that due to the investigation, Farragut
should be placed on low-priority assignments for the duration. My assessment of the situation is irrelevant. This order came from Starfleet Command, directly, Captain."
The news of Command's involvement in this investigation put the whole matter into perspective for Leone. She would have to investigate things on her own, from her end, and without T'Cirya's help. She changed the subject, "Who will replace us on the border?"
"I've ordered Majestic
to take your place for the time being."
Leone frowned, her brow furrowing. "I'll bet Ben Maxwell will be pleased by that."
"He did express his annoyance at having to replace a heavy cruiser with a destroyer, yes. However, as you have your orders, he has his."
"Very well. I will take my heavily-armed cruiser on the milk run, until the investigation is complete."
"Those are your orders," said T'Cirya, matter-of-factly. "I trust you will cooperate with the investigator."
"I'll do my best, although she seems to have already determined my guilt."
"I am aware of Commander Hargreaves' service record. I brought her record to the attention of Starfleet Command and they stressed that she be placed on the investigation team."
Leone's eyes widened. "What?"
"There was no room for interpretation in their response and I attempted to contact the Inspector General himself to no avail."
That was T'Cirya's way of trying to help her out. Leone nodded, but did not smile. "I appreciate that, sir."
"Unnecessary," replied the admiral as she stood from her seat. "I was merely attempting to assure you an impartial analysis of your wayward mission."
Leone rose along with her. "Sir, I..."
T'Cirya raised her hand and inclined her head. "You're welcome, Captain."
The captain took in a deep breath and released it. "We'll leave in the morning, then, sir."
"Very well. I will take my leave, then."
"I appreciate you taking the time to see me, sir," said the captain as she escorted the admiral onto the bridge. Mister Reynolds still manned the tactical station, while Greg had the conn.
T'Cirya's features remained unchanged, but the eyes betrayed their mirth. "I would not pass up the opportunity to tour your new command, Captain."
Leone grinned. "Of course."
"Hargreaves to Lieutenant Aspinall," called the investigator from below decks.
Both the captain and the admiral turned their heads to Greg as he responded with a furtive sigh and slap of his commbadge. "Aspinall, here."
"Please report to conference room two. Hargreaves, out."
Leone tilted her head toward the turbolift. "Go ahead, Greg. I'll take the conn."
=/\= =/\= =/\= =/\= =/\=
"One of the most difficult aspects of fitting in on a new ship is reaching out and making new friends," began Isira. "I'm very glad to see you have no difficulty in that respect, Lieutenant."
"You can call me Abbie when we're not on duty, Counselor," Abbie responded. "Like I said, I didn't want to leave it like how it was in the receiving line. I'm not looking for any counseling, but I wouldn't mind getting to know you better."
Isira smiled warmly. "Thank you, Abbie." She leaned in and in a voice barely above a whisper, she admitted, "It's even more difficult for counselors."
"Yeah, I'll bet. Everyone's probably thinking you're taking mental notes about their reactions." Abbie scanned the dining area and pointed out a spot near the windows. "How about that table?" she suggested.
"Lead on." After taking their seats, Isira glanced briefly at the exterior of the docking port before turning her attention to her dining companion. "And who's to say that I'm not taking mental notes about everyone. I mean, it's..." She cut herself off. "Incoming."
One of the lounge's wait staff approached the table with an empty tray and a PADD. "Welcome to Ten-Forward, ladies. Can I get you something to drink?"
"That's handy, knowing someone's coming without having to see," Abbie noted with a half-smile of amusement. To the waiter, she smiled more fully. "While I'd love a real beer, I know that's not possible and I'd rather not sully my tastebuds with a fake. How about some unsweetened iced tea, not too cold and no ice cubes, please."
Isira added quickly, "Altair water for me. At room temperature, thanks."
When the waiter moved off, Abbie returned to the conversation as if they were not interrupted. "Everyone's always taking mental notes of each other. But few of us get to take as much direct action as you. Of course, they don't realize you're probably more likely to keep their confidences and not less."
The counselor frowned deeply and then appeared completely distracted by her midsection; her hands rubbed at it briefly before she realized she was calling attention to herself. "Uh, yeah, right."
Abbie looked at the counselor closely for a moment, then back at the waiter who was already approaching again. "Did he think you were fat?" she asked bluntly.
Isira waved her hand back and forth to indicate she did not wish to discuss it right then. She looked up at the waiter and smiled sweetly as he laid out their drinks. "Thank you very much."
Abbie waited until he left again before noting, "If he did, he's a jerk. I love to eat, honestly. If I didn't eat primarily replicated food, I'm pretty sure I'd be thirty kilos heavier."
"No one can help their surface thoughts, Abbie. I try not to hold it against them too much," Isira said plainly. "And I try to workout when I can, but I love to eat, too. But I think your metabolism is treating you better than mine is."
"If his first thought was about your weight, then yeah, you can hold it against him," Abbie disagreed. "And it took forever for my metabolism to do its job, trust me. When I turned eleven, I got the boobs and hips I have now and my stomach was trying desperately to keep up. Even now, it's harder for me than it might appear. Don't feel like you have to curb your appetite or anything like that around me. Believe me, I understand."
Isira reached over to touch Abbie's hand. "Thank you. I skipped breakfast this morning and I'm starving!"
"Let's chow down then," Abbie invited with a grin. She looked to find the waiter again to signal him back over to take their orders.
Isira's eyes moved toward where the waiter returned, but stopped half-way when the doors opened to admit a new visitor to the lounge. "Speaking of surface impressions..." she let her words trail off. "Is that our new executive officer?"
Abbie looked in that direction and chuckled. "To you, he's new," she confirmed before standing and waving to get his attention. "Come join us, sir," she called out.
Her grin was pasted to her face as Abbie made the invitation, but Isira's eyes betrayed her panic when the two women made contact. Through her smile, she managed to get out a quick, "Holy crap."
"He was raised by a single mother on a frontier colony world. Very deferential to women, very nice. Don't worry," Abbie reassured her, sotto voce
"Yeah, how many psych courses did you take?" Isira replied in kind before Kincaid approached earshot. "Hi, Commander. Welcome."
"Jesse, this is Counselor Isira Otex. Isira, this is Commander Jesse Kincaid," Abbie made the introductions. "I was just telling her that you're like an older brother to me. You know, if I had to call my older brother 'sir'," she added jokingly.
Kincaid nodded a silent greeting to Abbie, before turning his attention to Isira, "A pleasure to meet you, Counselor. I hope I'm not interrupting anything?"
"Likewise," Isira said quietly, holding her smile. "If you don't have any plans, sir, you're more than welcome to join us."
"'More than welcome?'" Kincaid laughed, then turned to Abbie. "Glad to see some
people aboard are happy to see me. Thank you, I'll accept."
"It's a new assignment. We're all still working the kinks out," Abbie replied sympathetically as she retook her seat.
Kincaid waited for both women to sit down before he took his. "Funny you should mention 'kink,' Abbie. I'll tell you about it later."
Isira pressed her lips together pensively, then shook her head. "Anyway, let's order some food, shall we?"
After their food orders were taken down by their waiter, Kincaid asked Abbie, "I hope you don't mind me asking, but how did everything go? How are you doing?" He tilted his head away from Isira slightly, in case Abbie did not want to discuss it in front of her.
"She knows," Abbie mentioned quickly, giving Isira a tight smile.
"Oh, sorry," he amended. He offered Isira a sheepish grin. "I wasn't sure."
"But it went fine, I guess. Everything's all wrapped up, the house is handed off. Thank you for the bouquet, by the way. The tulips were lovely."
Kincaid leaned in slightly. "It was the least I could do."
Abbie shrugged. "Honestly, like I told you, I don't think your presence would have helped. My mother showed up and it was all I could do to handle her without her trying to impress my friends." She changed the subject slightly. "Abernathy sent me a bouquet too. Tiger lilies and regular ones. And later, he sent me a delivery order from the best burger place in town. Made me laugh."
Kincaid gave her a grin. "Still giving you the full court press, huh?"
"If we were ever in the same star system, I might give him a chance," Abbie replied with a chuckle. "Ugh, that's such a lie," she added. "But I like the attention," she revealed freely to Isira.
"Who doesn't like to be wooed?" Isira agreed quickly with a shrug.
"Forgive me for prying, but have you two served together someplace before now?" Kincaid wondered. "You seem unusually open with each other."
Abbie shook her head. "No, but she got a good read on me in the line to get on the ship because I was thinking about those things, and so it seems silly to pretend she's not aware of them. She's the ship's counselor; she's not going to go and talk about it with anyone."
"Oh, of course," Kincaid said. "Any telepathic friend of Abbie's..."
Isira merely raised her water in a mock toast toward him and continued to listen to the conversation.
Kincaid added, "And I might say that making friends so quickly after signing on is a trademark Atherton move. I'm just happy to be along for the ride."
"Actually, I get it from the maternal side, so it's a Mercer move. Except there was no cleavage flashing or back-handed compliments," Abbie replied dryly. "I don't really get along with my mom," she added for Isira's benefit.
Kincaid chuckled. "Now you've got the counselor's attention, talking about the parents like that."
Isira blinked a few times before realizing that she was listening a bit harder than she intended. "Sorry. Occupational hazard. Parent-child relationships are like chocolate to us; completely irresistible."
"Oh, here's a primer on my to wet your appetite," Abbie replied blithely. "Emotionally distant father, absent self-absorbed mother, no siblings," she ticked off and finished just as the waiter arrived with a tray of food. "Let's eat!"
=/\= =/\= =/\= =/\= =/\=
"That sounds like a hell of an interrogation to me."
Later that evening, within the lounge on deck ten, four of the nine senior officers sat around a table in one of the dark corners of the dimly-lit room. Three of them looked toward Greg, who just finished recounting his experience with Commander Hargreaves within the conference room.
The helmsman chuckled. "Yeah, I thought I did very well, but I'm sure I'm going to be called at any moment for round two."
"As amusing a story as that is, I do not find anything illogical about this investigation," said Doctor Sovera, sipping at a glass of water while the other enjoyed something stronger. "The Inspector General's office is entitled to discover whether the captain acted improperly."
Wilson looked at the doctor with an accusatory glare. "You think there's merit to their case?"
"Not at all. I was merely pointing out that they are acting within their province. I found the captain's actions to be laudable under the mitigating circumstances of the predicament, though perhaps trending toward the unconventional."
Ariel snorted. "Perhaps, yes. Anyway, I can't wait for her to get to me."
"I'd love to sell tickets to that show," muttered Greg. "Maybe Wilson can make the popcorn or-"
"Let's talk about something else. I don't want to think about the investigation anymore tonight," Wilson interrupted. "Anyone seen the new senior officers and had more than two minutes to speak to them?" he wondered.
Ariel smirked, but said nothing.
Greg mentioned, "I saw the new science officer. She has a nice-"
Wilson sputtered, "Whoa!"
"Voice, Wilson... I was going to say voice, thank you."
"I'm just saying you need to take a look at people beyond what they look like. Scuttlebutt says that she's got a high decoration for valor during the Tzenkethi War. As a science officer."
"I was going by what she sounds like, but I get what you're saying," Greg retorted. "She is pretty easy on the eyes, though."
Sovera informed them, "I have spoken with the new counselor. She is highly qualified."
"That's it?" asked Greg. He turned his head back toward Wilson, "By the way, she's another one who's easy on the eyes."
Ariel scoffed. "Keep it in your pants, Greg."
Greg was mid-sip as she spoke, and managed to point his finger at her incredulously before he finally swallowed. "Look who's talking!"
"You're lucky your last name is Aspinall," Ariel riposted. "Otherwise, I'd have you scrubbing my toilet for a month."
Greg grimaced. "In that case, my middle name is Aspinall, too."
"The new XO seems to be pretty straight-laced, huh?" Wilson noted quickly. He looked at Ariel. "I heard from Andy Reynolds that you two had a little bit of a tiff on the bridge earlier."
Ariel's jovial mood ended at the mention of the altercation, and she set her drink down on the table. "It's fine. We had a chat in private and cleared up some misunderstandings."
"That is an unusual result for you, Commander," Sovera said, her tone very dry. "The typical outcome of such a conversation generally involves a visit to sickbay." It was clear that neither Wilson nor Greg were buying the explanation, as they peered at Ariel from their seats.
In response, Ariel shrugged. "Kincaid's not your typical officer. Life in a new assignment isn't always smooth, at first."
Wilson turned to Sovera and deadpanned, "Our little girl is growing up."
=/\= =/\= =/\= =/\= =/\=
As she stepped out from her ready room the next morning, Leone regarded the bridge with a smile as everyone manned their stations for the first time since the ship completed its refit. "Listen up," she announced. "We're escorting a convoy of three freighters from Starbase 310 to Deep Space Four. They're already in formation near the inner marker, where we'll join with them and provide protection. Jesse?"
Commander Kincaid sat in the executive officer's position and visibly stiffened at the use of his first name. "Sir?"
"Is that new pod attached to our hull for real or is it just decoration?"
"It is online, sir," he replied as he stood to address Petra. "Mister Bartlet?"
"I'm finishing up the last of the diagnostic cycles, now, sir," said Petra, from the engineering console. "It will be fully operational before we reach the outer marker."
Wilson grunted, "It's too bad we won't be able to test it on something."
"The pod's staying with us for a good long while, Willie. I'm sure we'll be able to find something to shoot at, eventually," noted Ariel as she turned around to face him.
Leone moved toward the empty center seat and sat down. "Let's not get all trigger-happy, people. Jesse, would you please take us out of dock and into formation with the freighters?"
He expelled a breath and then nodded. "Aye, sir. I have the conn. Mister Nieves, signal Starbase Operations for clearance to depart."
"Aye, Commander," replied Wilson quickly. He began to speak quietly to his console.
"Mister Elannis, signal all decks to make preparations for departure and clear the airlock for sealing."
As Ariel acknowledged the order, Wilson announced, "Departure clearance granted, Commander."
"Lieutenant Bartlet, bring all shipboard energy outputs to condition green status and stand by to switch us over to internal power."
"Airlock cleared," reported Ariel. "Standing by to seal airlock and clear all mooring beams."
Bartlet added, "Warp core and fusion reactor energy at normal levels, Commander."
Kincaid nodded, relaxing slightly. "Seal the airlock and switch us over to internal power."
"Airlock sealed," Ariel told him, immediately.
The overhead illumination gave the barest of flickers before Petra announced that they had switched from the Starbase's power feed to the energy generated by the ship's fusion generators.
"Clear all moorings."
"Helm, take us to one hundred meters from the port and then reverse thrust toward the spacedoors."
Greg keyed in the commands as quickly as possible, since their new first officer had taken to putting his left foot on the base of his console and stood over him. "One hundred meters, aye, sir. Engaging reverse thrusters, now."
"Rear angle on main viewer."
The viewscreen flashed briefly to show the one of the sets of massive doors. They began to open as Farragut
approached under its maneuvering thrusters rather than the impulse drive. By the time they reached the departure lane both doors slid open to rest flush against the outer hull of the base.
"We're in the lane," reported Greg. "Thirty seconds to outer perimeter."
Kincaid pushed away from the flight controller's station to return to his seat next to Captain Leone. "Stand by to engage impulse drive."
"Mister Nieves, secure from condition blue and set condition green for cruising mode."
Wilson nodded from above him. "Aye, sir." The alert status indicator on the main bridge ceased its cobalt flash and quieted. "Ship secured from condition blue, Commander."
Open space greeted them as they passed through the doors. "Helm, come to relative bearing one-eight-zero Mark zero and take us to the outer marker at one-half impulse power."
"Making my course one-eight-zero Mark zero relative, aye, sir," replied Greg. The screen showed the stars angling around as the ship's bow and stern traded places. "Speed is now one-half impulse power."
The Starbase on the main view loomed for a moment before retreating as the ship sped away from it. "Forward angle on main viewer," ordered Kincaid.
"The lead freighter is the SS Cat's Meow
," Captain Leone informed them, "Captain Paul Longshore is the owner and operator."
The scan readings on Ariel's console returned immediately. She noted, "Looks like three Puma
"Lead ship is hailing," reported Wilson.
Kincaid nodded. "On screen."
The trio of ships disappeared to give way to the view of a human male wearing civilian clothing. His shaggy mop of blonde hair covered the tops of his eyes and he had to tilt his head back slightly to get a good look at them. "Captain Leone, I presume?"
Leone slipped from her chair and onto her feet as she replied with a smile, "You presume correctly. Is this Captain Longshore?"
"In the flesh, ma'am," he replied with a nod. "Paul Manfield Longshore, owner and operator of the Crazy Eights Transport Company and master and commander of the Cat's Meow
, at your service."
Leone decided to forgo the correction of the honorific; he meant well by it. "Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Captain."
"Likewise, ma'am," he grinned. "We've been contracted by the Federation for a shipment of hazardous materials to Deep Space Four. We're mighty glad you decided to join us."
"Your HazMat code?"
With the exception of Captain Leone, everyone tensed at the mention of the worst kind of hazardous material the Federation classified. X-Ray level one indicated that whatever his cargo was, it was highly volatile and posed a dangerous threat to Federation citizens. Leone simply nodded; Admiral T'Cirya made her aware of the danger in the mission briefing, but she wanted her crew to know as well. Better they heard it from the horse's mouth directly.
"All of your freighters are classified similarly?" she asked.
"Correct, Captain. Due to the instability of our cargo, we recommend warp five for the convoy speed."
Leone sighed, but gave her assent with a inclination of her head. "Agreed. As soon as we clear the Starbase's outer marker, we will proceed at warp five." She approached Ariel's seated position and declared, "Lieutenant Commander Elannis will be the convoy liaison officer. Please contact her should you require anything."
Longshore's eyes drifted toward Ariel, then back up at the captain. "Will do. We'll await your signal to proceed."
"You'll have it momentarily, Captain. Farragut
, out." As soon as the viewscreen blinked to show the freighters, she turned around to return to her seat. "Jesse, let's get underway."
"Aye, sir. Helm?"
Greg nodded. "We're now in formation with the freighters, Commander."
"Signal the convoy we're approaching the outer marker at full impulse power."
Wilson reported, "Signal sent, sir."
"The freighters are moving to maintain their distance." Ariel tapped in a few more commands. "Recommend diamond formation for maximum coverage."
Kincaid stood from his seat again. "Agreed. Mister Nieves?"
"Updating the convoy, sir." Wilson waited patiently for their response. "They're moving into position, now."
"Confirmed," replied Ariel.
Greg announced, "We're clearing the outer marker."
"Stand by for warp speed, Mister Bartlet."
Petra called from the rear of the bridge, "Aye, sir. Warp speed available on all modes."
"Lay in a course for Deep Space Four at warp five."
"Course laid in, sir."
Greg replied, "Engaging. Speed is now warp five, sir."
Leone leaned over and smiled, "Well done, Jesse."
Kincaid lowered his voice, but did not return the smile. "Thank you, sir. And might I ask a favor?"
"What is it?" asked the captain, keeping her voice low.
"I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't use my first name in front of the crew, sir."
"Yeah..." replied Leone with a half-smirk. "We haven't really had The Talk, have we?"
"Ariel, you have the bridge."