Captain Andrew Estrada of the USS Excalibur
patted Jesse Kincaid on the back. "Good to see you, again." They stood within the turbolift as it ascended toward deck one. "It's been what... four years since Valdemar
Kincaid smiled. "A little under four, yes, sir." The lift came to a halt and the doors parted to admit them entry to the main bridge. He led the captain to the other side of the bridge and into the corridor leading to the observation lounge.
The commanding officer of USS Sutherland
, Captain Nathan Brotman, had already been seated to Leone's left and appeared to be mid-conversation when Kincaid and Estrada entered. Upon seeing Estrada, however, Leone excused herself to walk to Estrada and greet him.
Kincaid said nothing as his captain leaned in to give Estrada a peck on the cheek. In response, Excalibur
's captain half-smiled.
"Andy, I'm glad you're one of the guys I'm handing over this mission to," Leone said warmly. She turned to Kincaid and explained, "We served together on Hood
under Captain DeSoto for a couple of years before he won that XO spot on Valdemar
"Small universe," said Andy with a grin. "Jess took over for me as exec on Valdemar
when I earned my fourth pip."
Leone breathed, "No kidding." She gestured with an open hand to the seat that Kincaid normally occupied. "Andy, if you please. You've met Captain Brotman, I'm sure?"
"Not in person, but we've had a lot of calls," Andy replied. Before sitting down, he offered his hand to Brotman, who accepted it. "Captain, good to finally meet you."
Brotman flashed a smile toward Andy. "Likewise, sir."
"Jesse," Leone said, "why don't you call in Ariel, Abbie, Petra, and Isira?" As Kincaid turned to summon them, Leone turned her attention back to Andy. "So, I heard they've got you roaming the Black Cluster?"
"Yes, but not for much longer," Andy said. "I'm being told that we'll be shifted to the Romulan border in the next six months as the command cruiser out of Deep Space Four."
Abbie and Isira arrived together from the same door that Kincaid used, while Ariel and Petra used the opposite entrance near the turbolifts. Kincaid could not help but notice that both visiting captains immediately fixated on Ariel's presence.
Leone made the quick introductions and then turned over the briefing to Kincaid and Abbie.
"Sirs, as you know, we've collected quite a bit of data, all of which has been transmitted to your ships. We indicated where we left off in our analysis, as well as where our ships left off in the search grids of the debris field. So far, we still haven't found any evidence of anything other than an accident causing the initial explosion. Likewise, we have yet to find any evidence that Ensign Thomas O'Day managed to evacuate the shuttle prior to its destruction," Kincaid summed up succinctly before looking expectantly at Abbie.
"We also forwarded to your Chief Engineers the enhanced sensor package we were using to cut through the distortions left by the freighter's cargo explosion," the lieutenant explained. "Lieutenant Bartlet has outlined the hardware modifications necessary, while I included the program modifications which you would simply be able to upload into your computers. We estimate that you can make the modifications in no more than twenty minutes per shuttle."
Andy asked, "I presume that you were able to make these modifications to some or all of your shuttles?"
Petra replied, "More or less, Captain. To be honest, we did not have enough stores to utilize across all forty-seven- er, forty-six of our shuttles, pardon me. We were only able to modify eleven shuttles before we began our recall."
"And this was a project undertaken by your division, Mister Bartlet?"
"In conjunction with Lieutenant Atherton, yes, sir," Petra turned her head to acknowledge Abbie.
Andy grinned. "I had a sneaking suspicion."
Leone tilted her head slightly. "I don't understand."
"We served together on Valdemar
, sir, for a little over a year," Abbie explained to Leone.
"Had I an open berth for a chief science officer, I think I might've fought you over her," Andy said with a smirk. "Please continue with the briefing, Commander."
Kincaid waited a beat, taking in Leone's slight nod of approval, before noting, "We also included two other search patterns for you to consider. These patterns were based on the analysis we completed and are designed to focus on areas we think are more likely to contain any trace of the ensign."
Brotman leaned forward. "But, this is for recovery, right? It's been well over forty-eight hours, and those suits aren't really given to extending their ranges no matter what you do to them. Surely, you're not holding on to some hope that he's still alive."
As Brotman was speaking to Kincaid, Leone bristled at the mention of the ensign's death. Isira noticeably picked up on that and cleared her throat to distract Leone before she could say anything.
Kincaid gave the captain a bland look, though there was nothing mild about his tone. "Regardless of his possible survival, sir, I believe it is our duty to try and recover what we can for his family to mourn properly."
Andy nodded. "I agree. Whether we rescue or recover the ensign, we should make every expedient effort to locate him." He set his eyes on Brotman as he spoke, "We do not leave our own behind." As he said it, he realized his mistake and added, "I meant no disrespect, Captain Leone. Your ship was ordered away."
Leone stared at the long table. "Of course not, Andy." Though she said the words, Isira knew there was very little truth behind them. "Besides, we're all one fleet."
=/\= =/\= =/\= =/\= =/\=
Isira asked Leone and Kincaid to remain behind once the briefing concluded and the captains returned to their respective starships.
"What can we do for you, Counselor?" asked Leone.
"Sir, I'd like for you to strongly consider conducting a memorial service for Ensign O'Day." Off their uncomfortable expressions, Isira added, "Preferably while we're en route back to Starbase 310." She put up a hand to forestall any disagreement for the time being. "The crew is very upset. Very few people are ready to deal with this kind of loss when on this kind of mission. I think it is important to let people know that it is okay to begin to grieve even though we don't yet have his remains."
From Kincaid, Isira could sense his reluctant acceptance of her argument. "Captain, I have to agree with the Counselor. It would give the crew some closure after the frantic search we just went through."
Leone's uncertainty was replaced with discontent at their words. "A memorial service is also one way of saying to the crew that we've given up on the ensign. You don't think that would have an adverse impact on morale to know that their captain will throw in the towel if they were floating out there waiting for a rescue?" As she spoke, each word had more edge than the previous until its sharpness was unmistakable.
"No one thinks so, sir. I can assure you of that," Isira answered forcefully. "Moreover, the ceremony I had in mind was truly in keeping with the sentiments of a memorial. We will remember him, keep our thoughts with him though we cannot keep searching. We will give the crew a safe space to talk about Ensign O'Day without the conversation crashing to an uncomfortable halt."
The captain's jaw visibly flexed as she considered her response, though Isira could already tell that Leone's emotional state was in severe flux. Finally, after a few minutes of contemplation, she conceded. "Fine. Make the arrangements. Is there anything else?"
"Sir, would you like to speak with me privately?" Isira questioned. "If not now, then a bit later would be fine."
Before Leone could answer, Kincaid took that moment to lift himself from his seat. "By your leave, sir?"
Leone's gaze drifted from Kincaid to Isira. "That will be all, Jesse." Once they were left alone within the observation lounge, she continued to stare at the Counselor. "Something on your mind? Or perhaps mine?"
Isira let the joke pass with only a small smile. "I wanted to give you a chance to express what you're going through, sir, before you have to speak about Ensign O'Day publicly. I know this is a new situation for you."
"I've lost subordinates on missions, before."
"Not when you've been the captain of the ship."
Leone sighed. "I've only been captain for all of fifteen minutes, Counselor."
Isira said nothing, trying to prompt the captain to fill the silence herself.
The captain took a deep breath and laid her right palm against the surface of the table to turn away from Isira and look out of the large viewports. "In those fifteen minutes, I've managed to lose one of my crew. You don't think that's a little strange for a new captain?"
"There have been many captains who lose crewmembers the day they gain command, and not just in a time of war. Starfleet is hazardous duty; even routine missions contain dangers. That's why Starfleet is so careful in selecting its captains."
"Yeah, well... I'm not the other captains, Counselor."
"No, you are not. Why don't you tell me what you're thinking, sir?" Isira coaxed.
Leone's flat palm curled up into a clenched fist. "That this wasn't supposed to happen, and certainly not to a kid like Tommy O'Day. He deserved better than this, and he deserves us going to every extent of making sure that he's back on board this ship with the crew where he belongs. And I think that a memorial service is a clear sign that we'd abandoned him, as though leaving him behind literally doesn't already do that!"
"But for the Admiral's orders, we would still be a part of that search effort. Everyone is aware of that. And everyone is always aware of the near impossibility of the ensign's ability to survive in a suit for this length of time. Even though most of your crew won't say it, almost all of them believe he is gone. There are Vulcans, Tellarites and other members of your crew who are less hesitant who voice this sentiment right now. Everyone's just waiting for your permission to mourn."
She drew in a deep breath through her nose and exhaled through her lips. "And I thought I said that was fine. It doesn't mean I have to like it, but I'll handle it like I do everything else."
"If you don't speak honestly about that, sir, they won't see the memorial as anything but a formality."
Leone rose from her seat, clearly finished with the conversation. "Then so be it, Counselor. I need to return to my ready room so I can stop talking to you. You understand, I'm sure." She did not wait for a response, instead leaving Isira alone within the lounge.
=/\= =/\= =/\= =/\= =/\=
Abbie walked down the corridor with Captain Estrada, his informal escort to the transporter room.
"I meant what I said back there, Abbie. If I had the position open, you would have been my first choice," he said with a wide grin. As he did so, the laugh lines around his dark brown eyes formed.
"All from the year I was the most junior lieutenant on the ship, sir?" Abbie questions dryly. "I suppose I should thank you."
"As if I didn't keep tabs on my old ship. And as if Gleason wasn't campaigning on your behalf. I don't think you know half of what the Old Man does for you. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were related," he teased.
"I always thanked him for his recommendations, but really, we didn't serve together for that long. I tell him he doesn't need to chat me up so much."
"Jesus, I've never seen anyone so reluctant to acknowledge that they earned a Silver Star. At twenty, no less, and from someone who didn't go to the Academy. Listen, Abbie, in all seriousness, no one impresses the Old Man. I mean, no one. If he likes you, he calls you competent. The words he uses for you are, and I quote, 'knowledgeable, proactive, and excellent in all categories.' The Old Man
. The Admiralty probably choked when they read that."
"I just don't like to be known for being lucky enough to survive and quick enough to save my own behind as if that was something anyone else wouldn't do, sir. I want to stand on my own, be known for what I do in my own department," Abbie explained, visibly growing uncomfortable as she guessed at the turn of the conversation.
"And about that. Abbie, you have
to consider making a change to Ops down the line. If not Command directly. You have leadership potential all over you and I know that in time, you would make an excellent Captain. But you have to be in the right department for that." Andy grinned. "I see I'm not the first to make that suggestion. Gleason, huh?"
"Yes, sir. And I will tell you what I told him. I am a scientist and I intend to remain one. Respectfully," Abbie added with a smile of her own. "Are you trying to replace my rabbi, sir?" she added, raising a brow.
"I'm not senior enough to shove Gleason aside, but maybe I'm a bit more politic. Either way, we're both doing what we can for you."
"Andy," she replied in exasperation. "Please, don't. It's just so..."
"You don't want acknowledge it, but Starfleet is very political. You don't have the usual network that Academy graduates have, but what you do have is the ability to gain the respect of your commanding officers. Even if we're just helping you to better science positions, let us help you do that. You deserve it and you don't want to be edged out by someone with more strings to pull than you."
"I get it," Abbie accepted resignedly.
"Good," Andy responded triumphantly as they turned to walk through the open door of the transporter room. "So, are you seeing anyone?"
Abbie ignored the sudden smirk of the transporter chief at overhearing the question. "No, sir."
"Because my little brother is still available. I know he didn't graduate from the Vulcan Science Academy but MIT isn't a bad little institution. He'd be a great match for you."
"Thank you, sir, but like I told you before, I'm partial to men in uniform," Abbie answered easily.
Andy laughed as he shook her hand in farewell. "Good answer, Lieutenant. I'm sure you'll speak with Captain Gleason before I do, so please give him my regards. And forward my goodbye to Commander Kincaid as well."
"I will, sir. Good luck on your mission," Abbie replied as he stepped onto the transporter pad.
"Thank you, Lieutenant. See you around," Andy answered before giving the signal to the transporter chief to energize.