NCC-74429 (USS Gallant
Standard orbit over Luna.
Captain's Ready Room
Stardate 54571.54 (28 July 2377)
Lieutenant Commander Carolyn Kircheis tugged on the right cuff of her dress uniform jacket as she used the smooth and reflective surface of the large, deactivated viewscreen to check her appearance. Her tug seemed to help fit the jacket just right, as it had a tendency to feel as though it were sliding to the left whenever she wore it. She lifted her head to address the computer, as her desktop terminal displayed text to inform her that it was recording her words for posterity.
"Captain's log; stardate five-four-five-seven-one-point-five-four. We have arrived in orbit of Luna after just over eight weeks in transit from the Badlands. Our duty as part of Task Force Indemnity, under the command of Captain Donald Sandhurst and USS Gibraltar
, has formally been concluded and we're awaiting our next assignment while enjoying a brief respite in the Sol Sector. Along with the transfer of our prisoner, Commander Jesse Kincaid, we also conveyed the remains of Commander Ariel Elannis to her family on the moon's surface below," she began. On the last word, she felt her throat constrict involuntarily.
In a strained voice, she quickly ordered, "Computer, pause recording." As the computer chirped in the affirmative, she spun around to place her hands atop her desk to support the full weight of her upper body. The surface of the desk directly beneath her eyes held drops as though a leak had sprung in the ship from above.
"Get it together," she admonished herself aloud, her voice barely above a whisper. Kircheis brought herself upright, then wiped at her eyes with both hands. She held them there, after a couple of quick movements, then slumped into the chair. The muscles of her face painfully taut, she rubbed at her cheeks as she fought hard to maintain her thin composure.
She allowed herself a teary-eyed chuckle. "How the hell am I supposed to make it through this thing, Ariel? I can't even make it out of my own ready room." Kircheis ran a hand over the top of her short, dirty blonde hair, and then cleared her throat.
"Computer, play back the log so far, please." She listened to the sound of her voice and the words. Satisfied that she managed to hold it in beforehand, she ordered the computer to continue the log.
"A memorial service for Commander Elannis has been scheduled for today, which I will be attending. Lieutenant Merrit Kelley, my executive officer, will mind the store while I'm away.
is also undergoing the standard crew rotation. We will be taking on a number of newly-assigned crew in the next few weeks as we will be stopping over at Spacedock for resupply. I would like to commend my crew, at this time, for a job well done in this most recent mission. Kircheis, out." She tapped a finger on the desktop panel, "Computer, end log. Attach to the final mission report and mark for the attention of Rear Admiral Krystine Leone, Deputy Chief of Starfleet Intelligence."
As the computer responded once more, the ready room door announced a visitor with a five-tone chime.
"Yeah?" she replied loudly.
The single-panel hatch slid open to reveal the aforementioned Lieutenant Kelley. Unlike her commanding officer, she wore the uniform of the day. "Good morning, sir."
"Good morning, Merrit." Kircheis gestured toward the only open seat within the office and watched as her Amazonian first officer seemed to glide across the floor gracefully. It always amazed her to see Kelley move so swiftly in spite of her size. Kelley was a contrast to her in almost every respect; over six feet tall with brunette hair that she kept long enough to tie up in a French braid or a ponytail in a pinch. "What can I do for you?"
Kelley peered at Kircheis briefly. In her dulcet contralto, she expressed her worry in her tone, "Sir, have you been crying?"
Instinctively, Kircheis' hands flew to her face again to wipe her cheeks from wet to damp. "Yes, I was. Just... still dealing with it," she managed to stammer out.
"Captain..." she said while approaching the desk. "If you're not feeling up to it... I'd be happy to go in your place."
Kelley blanched at the sudden, rather loud rebuke.
"Sorry... I... I didn't mean it to sound that harsh," Kircheis said quickly with a wan smile. "I only meant that this is something I have to do. I wouldn't dream of sending someone in my place... not for Ariel."
"Of course, sir," replied Kelley. Her eyes drifted down to the deck. "I wouldn't dream of insinuating disrespect toward Commander Elannis."
The right half of Kircheis' lips lifted up in a smirk. "You meant well by it, I'm sure." She swiveled around the desktop terminal to face the executive officer and changed the subject. "Looks like we're losing a third of the crew to rotation."
Kelley jumped at the opportunity to discuss ship's business. "A little under twenty enlisted and one officer, yes, sir."
"Who did we lose?"
Kelley reached into her uniform jacket to retrieve a PADD that was much smaller than its standard-sized cousins. This PADD was designed especially for engineers, but somewhere during her career, she appropriated one for her own use. "Ensign al-Adel. Oh, I guess it's Lieutenant
al-Adel, now. He was selected for promotion in the last promotion cycle and it was confirmed earlier today."
"I'll have to pass my congratulations to him, then."
"I've already done that, sir."
Kircheis' smirk grew. "Thank you."
"No problem, sir." Kelley continued, "We're also losing Chief Skarn and one more NCO."
"Not Karis, is it?"
Kircheis let out a relieved sigh. Senior Chief Petty Officer Karis Amdal was the ship's chief engineering officer. His years of expertise with the Defiant-class had been invaluable, so much so she had written to Admiral Leone directly on his contributions to their team in the recent past. "I don't know how we'd get on without him."
"Agreed," Kelley said, distracted by the stream of information. "It's a petty officer, if I recall correctly. Petty Officer, uh... there it is, one of the operations NCOs, Petty Officer Eugene Lassard."
"Gene's heading out, too? I guess Hiroko's going to be disappointed by that."
"I didn't really know him that well," admitted Kelley. She did not bother to look up from her PADD.
"He was the specialist we had running the decryption on those Cardassian intercepts nine months ago," explained Kircheis. "I wrote him a letter of commendation?"
"I know who he is, I'm merely stating that I didn't get to know him."
"He was on the ship for over a year."
Kelley offered nothing more than a light shrug, as was her nature. In spite of her position as the executive officer, she tended to keep her own counsel when it came to her free time.
The computer chimed once, then announced, "This is your pre-scheduled warning. It is now thirteen-forty-five hundred hours."
Kircheis touched the control panel on her desk to silence the alarm. "I should get going." She rose up from the desk and looked at her reflection once more, only to tug on the left sleeve this time. Kelley rose from her seat, as well, out of respect.
"Sir, if you'd like, I could have the uniform fitted for you."
"Merrit, you're not my yeoman," Kircheis sighed. She placed her right hand on the arm of her first officer. "But, thanks all the same. You have the ship."
The effects of the transporter beam lingered for the briefest of moments after materializing Kircheis on the surface of the moon within the Starfleet transporter room adjacent to the Tycho City base. With a nod toward the transport petty officer, she strode out into the complex.
Among the many uniformed personnel, she stood out in the dress uniform of all white. That particular dress uniform was reserved for use by ship captains, and even though she only wore the two solid and one open pip of a lieutenant commander, her position as commander of the Gallant
entitled her to the privilege. She was one of the minority who were merely Captains in title but were not yet bestowed with the four solid pips of a Captain’s rank. Whenever she stood among others in dress uniforms, she stood a little taller knowing that she could stand alongside those who commanded starships.
Today was not going to be one of those days.
The short trip outside of the main dome of Tycho City and along the outskirts into Ariel's childhood home of suburban Lake Armstrong was new to Kircheis. She wondered briefly how often Ariel had gazed upon the line of small residential habitation domes that touched the edge of the lake while making this same trip from the city. The magnetic levitation train slowed, then stopped to allow her to disembark and walk the distance toward the memorial gardens where Ariel's family had invited her friends and colleagues to join them as they mourned their loss.
Lines of other Starfleet personnel in similar dress flowed into the open-air garden. Rows of white seats faced a small gazebo with ivy wrapped in its supports. Kircheis did not recognize many of them, assuming they might have worked with Ariel at other times during her long career.
Her eyes continued to scan for familiar faces, when a hand touched her left shoulder. She turned and found herself looking at Commander Gregory Aspinall.
His expectant grin turned into a wide, warm smile. "I thought that was you. How're you doing, C. J.?"
Kircheis wasted little time in embracing her old comrade from Farragut
. "Oh, my God, Greg
!" He held her for a moment, before separating with a step back. She said, "I haven't seen you in years. How's Abbie?"
doing just fine," he replied with a chuckled emphasis. "Thanks for asking." He nodded to someone standing to the right of Kircheis. “And naturally, Abbie’s doing great, because I’m here to remind her how much she loves me every day.” She could almost hear Captain Abigail Atherton’s eyes rolling in response and turned towards the other woman to greet her as well.
"Hey!" Kircheis said, thankful to see another old friend. "I meant to thank you both for your messages last year."
Greg took his wife's hand in his as they stood next to each other. "We knew you were busy," he said.
"I was, but I still felt bad about it."
"You can make it up to us, later," Abbie said. "Where are you sitting?"
Kircheis turned to look at the crowd. "I don't know. Is there assigned seating?"
"No, but I thought maybe you'd want to sit with the rest of us," Abbie replied. She gestured with her free hand toward the open gate. The trio moved into the garden and took their seats. Within minutes, she had Abbie to her left and Commander Wilson Nieves to her right.
Her row filled up quickly with others from their former ship: Commander Petra Bartlet and her successor as chief engineer, Captain Diego Hererra. Commander Allen Tomita and his family sat in the next row, while the admirals all had front row seating to the memorial. Rear Admirals Leone and Monica Covey, Vice Admiral T'Cirya, Vice Admiral Joy Aspinall, and Fleet Admiral Alynna Nechayev were naturally all in attendance. She saw that seated nearby Admiral Leone were her parents, retired Vice Admiral Angelina Leone and her husband, Commander Patrice Leone.
Before she could spot anyone else, the service began with a single male voice speaking over the garden's address system. Kircheis recognized it as belonging to the man standing within the gazebo, wearing his dress uniform, although its design was far older than hers. Of small stature, he commanded the attention of those assembled simply with his presence. He stood before a black-and-white two-dimensional photograph of Ariel, smiling while wearing her dress uniform. It was obviously a candid shot, as the image depicted her winking at the camera, while pointing a finger as though it were a gun.
"My name is Master Chief Petty Officer Patrick Katayama. My wife, my family, and I would like to thank you all for coming to honor the memory of our daughter, Ariel," he began in his gravelly voice. Kircheis had met him once while serving on Farragut
and another time when they all met at Admiral Leone's house for a reception for her son, Dominic. "In the weeks we've had to prepare for this service, we've agreed to let a few of Ariel's family and friends say a few words."
Ariel's mother, Henda, took the center of the gazebo and spoke about her daughter, followed by her cousins on her father's side. After that, the Starfleet contingent made their presence known; Fleet Admiral Nechayev spoke, then Admiral Aspinall, followed by Vice Admiral and Commander Leone.
Finally, Rear Admiral Leone rose up to take her place. Unlike the others, she did not seem to take prepared remarks to the podium. With downcast eyes, she turned to face the crowd, only to shift again to address the image of Ariel.
"I miss you, Ariel," Leone began with a expulsion of breath. Her hands broke free of one another and slapped against her thighs. "I remember the first day that we met on Victory
. You were two weeks out of Officer Candidate School as an ensign with everything to prove since they commissioned you from the ranks. No one wanted to sit with you because you didn't go to the Academy, but there was something about you that drew me to you. That first dinner together, I knew that we would be friends." Her words came just a bit too fast and Kircheis saw the rear admiral lean up against the right support of the gazebo.
"We hit it off pretty quickly, and you told me about your parents and what it was like growing up near Tycho City. Our first leave together was on an outpost that had nothing but a bar, and two dom-jot tables, but you managed to drink me under the table every night and hand me my ass over the dom-jot every day." That brought the obligatory round of chuckles from the crowd. Kircheis joined in, but for a different reason; Ariel had once told her that between the both of them, they combined for twenty-three very fatigued men and women. Ariel was responsible for twenty-two of them.
Leone continued, "That was just the beginning. Throughout our time in service over the past twenty years, no matter what game we played, from poker to dom-jot and your favorite, chess... you were always the victor. You never let up on me, you never once stopped, uh..." Her voice softened and trailed off. She pumped her fist at the photo a couple of times, seeming to buy herself some time to keep a tighter grip on her composure.
Kircheis fidgeted in her seat, feeling the ball of sorrow in the pit of her stomach grow as she watched Leone ramble. She took a moment to swivel her head around and saw the same growing look of concern on Greg and Wilson's faces. When Leone cleared her throat, Kircheis drew her attention back forward.
"The first time I brought you to meet my parents at Starbase Six, you became an instant hit with them," Leone paused to turn and look at her parents. "We lived through Victory
together, and you stood as my maid of honor at my wedding. You were the godmother of my son, Dominic, who you loved... just as if he was your own, for so many years-" Her voice cut off again and her head bowed down. Several Farragut
officers, including Kircheis, rose up out of concern for their former commanding officer.
Vice Admiral Angelina Leone stood up, apparently ready to go and aid her daughter. A few steps later, she grabbed at her the rear admiral’s hand and pulled her close for a hug. It seemed a strange display of support from a woman who everyone knew to be a distant mother at best. Kircheis sucked in her breath roughly, sinking back into her chair, while most merely watched in stunned silence. Only Abbie seemed to be able to react, her tone quiet but sharp. “For the love of God, get that woman away from her. She's not there to comfort her."
Rear Admiral Leone turned, her eyes and cheeks a watery mess. She leaned in to her mother's shoulder and brought their joined hands upward to her chest. "I'm all right," she said into the audio pickup. "I'm all right, Mom."
Her mother leaned, seeming to offer some words, but it didn't get carried over the speakers. Kircheis watched Abbie’s head shake as Rear Admiral Leone stiffened visibly, then nodded a few times. Kircheis thought she heard a "Yes, sir," from the rear admiral, but she was not entirely sure that she did. The vice admiral retreated to her seat and silenced the concerned inquiry of her husband with a curt look.
Still standing, Rear Admiral Leone pushed herself upright and regained her composure noticeably. Leone turned to face the crowd and the evidence of her tears glistened on her cheek. "I apologize," she offered with a weak smile. More tears fell, and she looked down at her hands, letting her long reddish-brown hair fall in front of her face.
Kircheis felt her heart ache more over the sight and stood up. She pushed past Wilson, much to his surprise and entered the aisle. Others followed her lead, but by the time she made it to the front, Henda had stood up and embraced Leone tightly.
Within the warmth of the embrace, Leone sobbed openly before everyone. Kircheis stopped in her tracks and without realizing it, she felt the tears fall from her eyes. Henda turned her head and gestured for them to hold off for now.
Her distance reduced to only a couple of meters, now, she could now hear Admiral Krystine Leone telling Ariel's mother, "I'm never going to get to see her again and tell her how much I love her."
"I heard you had a hell of a mission in the Badlands," said Wilson Nieves as he sipped a glass of champagne. Kircheis, along with the rest of the mourners from the service, had migrated to the reception held within the recreation facility at Lake Armstrong, where Ariel was said to have spent her teenaged years competing in swim meets.
Kircheis grimaced slightly. "Yeah, you could say that."
"And how's that little ship of yours handling?"
She smiled. "Extremely well. She's light, fast, and has enough firepower to leave you changed after you taste her rage."
Wilson took another sip and noted, "Most of those Defiants are overpowered, but I heard they really came through for us during the war. Did yours see any action?"
"I didn't hold command during the war, I was on the-" She was interrupted by another touch on the shoulder, this time from Captain Diego Herrera. "Captain," she said with a smile.
The larger Hispanic man pointed with the hand holding his glass. "Is this young man bothering you, C. J.? I'll be happy to sort him out, straight away."
Wilson chuckled, "Good to see you, sir." He shook hands with the man. "You look good for a chair-warmer."
"Oh, you wound me, sir. Wound me right to the core, with your slanderous.. ah, shit, I can't keep that up for long," Hererra let loose with a chortle. "Actually, the desk hasn't seen me in some time. They have me on a consulting job over at the Utopia facility giving some advice to this really hotshit lieutenant commander who's determined to push through this new class, and-"
"And that class is something you shouldn't be talking about, isn't it, Captain?" said a stern voice.
All three officers straightened their posture around Fleet Admiral Alynna Nechayev. "Admiral," said Kircheis with a nod.
"Commanders, Captain," Nechayev said with a succinct nod. "In the interest of changing the topic of discussion, I presume that all of you are aware that the family has asked for Farragut
alumni to return with them to the house tonight for dinner and dessert?"
The mood sobered up at the mention of the family's wishes. Kircheis nodded her understanding. "Yes, sir, I received the invitation."
"Then I shall see you all there." Nechayev turned just in time to see Rear Admiral Leone and two Vulcanoid officers approaching. "Krys," she greeted warmly. Her hand reached out to touch her forearm gently. She added to the trailing officers, "Commander, Lieutenant."
"Aunt Alynna," replied Leone with a weak smile. After pleasantries were exchanged, the fleet admiral moved toward the other guests and Leone joined Kircheis' group. "Gentlemen, lady, I believe you remember these two."
Kircheis grinned widely. "Ariennye and Teelis," she said. Inwardly, she held her exuberance in check at seeing the two Romulans wearing Starfleet uniforms. She had met them over seven years ago when they sought refuge aboard Farragut
. Ariel was the officer who "rescued" them from the Empire. Since then, Ariennye served as a medical officer attached to a marine division, while Teelis was only eight months out of Starfleet Academy. "How are the jarheads treating you, Doctor?"
“When I received the posting, I had been told that the Marines were quite vigorous,” Ariennye replied, her mouth curling slightly in mirth. “I haven’t found them to be that taxing, though.”
Wilson offered a thin smile and gestured with his glass toward Teelis. "Congratulations on your commission, Lieutenant. You must be dazzling the engineers at Utopia."
“Naturally,” Ariennye answered on behalf of her younger sister, turning to give her a beaming smile. “I’d expect nothing less of a valedictorian with her scores.” Her gaze flashed back to Wilson, adding, “S’Harien just entered the Academy and we expect him to follow the trail Teelis has blazed for him.”
Herrera flashed a toothy smile toward Ariennye as she spoke of their younger brother. "High expectations that I'm sure he'll live up to, though, I hope that he brings satisfaction to himself before others."
Ariennye merely raised a brow, a deft mimicry of the expression of so many Vulcan officers. “If he does it right, he’ll be more than satisfied, Captain,” she assured him.
Teelis glanced quickly at her older sister, and once the commander gave her a subtle nod, she interjected. “He will do very well, I am sure, Captain. Our mother, by the way, does send her regrets. She had hoped to be able to come to the memorial service with Llaiir and Freddy, but they couldn’t arrange transport in time. S’Harien too. Unfortunately, he’s in the middle of first year training exercises. They had wanted to see you all again, sirs.”
Kircheis couldn’t help but smile again. In contrast to typically abrasive older sister, Teelis remained the polite young woman she remembered. “Are you enjoying your assignment on Utopia?” she asked.
“Freddy?” Wilson questioned.
“Oh, I am, sir. I’m learning quite a bit from my superiors,” Teelis replied before answering the other commander’s question. “Freddy is the nickname my brother, Friedhlov, earned shortly after we arrived in New Athens.”
“They couldn’t pronounce Friedhlov correctly,” Ariennye noted dryly.
“Your family is still on New Athens?” Wilson wondered.
“Yes, sir. Mother is an integral part of the environmental science division. We all enjoy it there,” Teelis quickly explained.
Herrera's eyes focused on something behind Teelis and Ariennye. "Oh, my God." He nodded his head toward someone. "Was he here the entire time?"
All heads turned to look at the subject of his query, and Commander Jesse Kincaid in dress uniform, flanked on either side by two members of Starfleet Security, stood at the entrance to the recreation center. His hands appeared to be free, which was not the manner in which Kircheis had left him when he transported over to the courier vessel that took him into custody.
"I didn't see him during the memorial," Kircheis said, her voice strained at the sight of him. She scoffed and turned her head away from the man. "I'm surprised they allowed him to appear, given everything that happened."
Wilson and Hererra shot Kircheis an admonishing look. Wilson said, "He served with us, surely he's welcome to mourn Ariel as much as the rest of us."
Kircheis opened her mouth to fire off a retort, but closed her mouth without saying a word. Given their sympathies toward their former executive officer, it was not politic to speak against their ideals in that setting, she figured. Instead, she fumed silently as she watched Kincaid moved toward the table where the non-alcoholic drinks were served. Abbie greeted him warmly, but had to keep her distance as the guards moved to prevent her from making physical contact.
He shouldn't even be here, she wanted to scream aloud. She wanted to walk up and tell him that he was responsible for the memorial in the first place, that if he hadn't decided to go rogue, Ariel might still be alive.
Leone broke the mood with a simple question, "Captain Kircheis, might I have a word in private?" She gestured toward the outside area through the double-doors as her intended destination.
Kircheis nodded once. "Of course, sir."
"If you'll all excuse us?" Leone asked, but did not wait for a response as she moved off to lead the way.
Once outside and away from the multiple conversations within the center, Kircheis immediately asked, "Are you all right, Admiral? Is there anything I can do for you?"
Leone tilted her head. "I'm fine. Why do you ask?"
"Earlier, when you were speaking..."
"Oh." Leone blushed as she relived the memory. "That. I'm fine," she repeated. "I wanted to speak to you about your next assignment."
Kircheis thought to herself. "Yes, sir?"
"I'd like to see you in my office tomorrow morning at oh-nine-hundred. I'd very much appreciate it if you would also dispatch your latest ship status reports."
"Already done, sir. I signed the last one just before I beamed down."
Leone smiled. "I should've guessed. Thank you."
"No, that'll be all."
An awkward moment passed as Kircheis and Leone stared at one another, the commander waiting for her friend to continue onto the more personal matters of the day. It took her half a minute to realize that wasn’t going to happen. “Oh, well, uh. Yes, sir,” she confirmed awkwardly. As she walked back into the reception, she shook her head. There wasn’t anything she could do if her friend wouldn’t let her.
When she stepped back inside, the tip of her boot caught the bit of striping along the carpeted floor and her loss of balance caused her to stumble across the threshold. A pair of strong arms reached out to steady her before she fell too far forward to recover. Her brief view of the floor suddenly ended when she pulled her head up and met the concerned gaze of Lieutenant Commander Pava Lar'ragos. He had commanded the Special Missions Team assigned to Task Force Indemnity and was in the same firefight that resulted in Ariel's death.
"You all right, Captain?" he asked after helping her stand upright.
Chagrined, Kircheis composed herself and straightened out her dress uniform. "Thank you, yes." She glanced down to confirm her presentability, then looked at him. "Are you
all right?" she asked with genuine curiosity.
Pava's eyes moved away from Kircheis' briefly; they focused on the large image of Ariel on the far wall of the center. In a soft tone and a lost expression, he answered, "I don't know... I really just don't know."
As he stalked off into the crowd, Kircheis felt uneasy about the tone of his voice. She wondered if Pava would ever be all right again.