Commander Jesse Kincaid stared at the picture of the woman on the viewscreen on the captain's desk. "I've never seen her before, sir. I certainly never slept with her," he vehemently denied. He was standing before her desk, along with Ariel and Lieutenant Sovera. The latter held a PADD of her own and was reviewing the information upon it.
"'Jacob Reardon,'" read Leone from the desktop terminal. "Mother was Cassandra Reardon, father not identified on his birth record. According to the JAG Officer aboard the starbase, they feel they have sufficient evidence in the DNA match to place him in your custody."
"She's certainly attractive enough," Ariel commented. Cassandra Reardon had been an appealing woman, with long, blonde hair and bright blue eyes.
"I think I'd remember speaking to a woman who looked like that, Lieutenant Commander. I certainly would remember sleeping with her," Kincaid bit out.
"The initial analysis provided by Starbase 310 appears accurate," Sovera interjected in a mild tone. "You and the child share a number of genes. Of course, this analysis must be confirmed with a full genescan as the starbase lacked one on file for the commander. The medical team obtained a partial from records."
Kincaid shook his head. "Look, there has to be some mistake. I know I didn't sleep with her so I couldn't be related to this child." He ran a hand through his brown hair nervously, then dropped the hand to his side. "At the time, I was in a serious relationship with someone. I didn't cheat on her." He evaluated the looks he was receiving from the three women and straightened his spine. "Sir, you have to believe me. I never met this Reardon woman, and I am not the father of her child. I'm sorry he's an orphan but he's not mine."
"Jesse, I believe you," assured Leone. She placed her hands with fingers interlaced atop her desk and leaned forward. "The best thing we can do right now is to determine without a doubt this paternity issue."
"Thank you," breathed Kincaid.
"That being said, we have to investigate this fully. Maybe Miss Reardon acquired Jesse's DNA in some untoward fashion," Leone said as she spoke to Sovera.
Sovera nodded. "It's possible, but I would need both the child and the commander to report to sickbay for testing to determine consanguinity."
Leone replied, "Fine. Ariel, contact starbase security and make arrangements for the child to be brought aboard. This will be a short-term visit, and they can send anyone they need to with, uh..." She looked down at the terminal's display to recall the name, "Jacob."
"Will do," said Ariel.
"Should he turn out to be your son," Leone continued, directing her gaze to Jesse, "you know what this will mean, right?"
Kincaid clenched his jaw for a moment before answering, a muscle visibly rippling. "I'll have to transfer off Farragut
"You missed the festival again," said the man on the viewscreen.
Wilson Nieves winced at his words. "I know, I'm sorry. I wanted to be there."
"I know," the man replied with a frown. "But maybe it was better that you weren't. The main plaza was crowded and you get all anxious when you don't have a clear line of sight."
Wilson looked down at his hands. "Yeah, but I would have not let it bother me if you were there by my side."
The man grinned. "You always say the nicest things to me."
"Well, it's because I love you, Sephon," Wilson's smile widened. "And I miss you, terribly."
"I miss you, too, Wils," Sephon said warmly. He looked at the small screen nearby and asked, "So, when will you be returning? Within a week?"
"Uh, no..." Wilson looked off-screen as well, only to avoid the smiling face of Sephon. "No, I actually have been reassigned."
"Reassigned?" Sephon's tan face contorted slightly in confusion. "I thought you had leave until the end of next month. You promised me we would spend this time together, remember?"
Wilson swallowed visibly. "I didn't forget that I promised, but this amazing assignment came up and there wasn't a lot of time to make a decision..."
"You could've called me."
"Wilson, I took leave from my
ship so we could spend this time together, and now you're telling me that it was for nothing?"
Wilson weakly replied, "At least you get to see your family on Risa, right?"
Sephon's smile had long departed, replaced with a scowl. "That wasn't the point of me coming home and you know it." He opened his mouth to continue, but stopped. "I'm not going to waste my time on this conversation. You've made your decision, and I'll have to put up with it."
Wilson sighed, feeling worse after the Risian relented than when he was haranguing him. "You're still angry."
"I'll get over it," Sephon promised. "But you have to know something."
"There are only so many times I'm going to let you disappoint me and then that's it."
"I know." Wilson raised his hand as though he would reach through the screen. "But, we've talked about this before. Both of us are pursuing our careers and that means we're going to have take our promotions when they're offered. It isn't always going to be convenient."
Sephon sighed. "That's not just it. How long have you known about your reassignment?"
Wilson shifted on his feet and cleared his throat. "A little under a month..."
"A month," Sephon stated coolly. "Well, since that was before
my leave began, I suppose I can be furious with you for not telling me."
"I didn't know how to tell you. You were so excited about getting some real time off, how long it's been since you've had more than a day or two..."
"I was excited to spend it with you! Not to spend six weeks with my family!"
"You don't make it easy for me to disappoint you, when you act like that every time."
Sephon paused, then shook his head. "Wils, you know you are in the wrong here. You know it. I'm done with this conversation if you're just going to try and somehow make yourself the injured party." He wasted no time in terminating the transmission.
Wilson stared at the blank screen for a brief moment, stunned at the sudden disconnection. He took in a deep breath and felt his stomach knot tightly before turning around to face the interior of his quarters. He spoke aloud a single word that only he could hear:
Lieutenant (jg) Gregory Aspinall's gazed without focus at the ships moving in to dock at the starbase through the window of the lounge. Since the end of his shift on the bridge, he took to sitting at the table that he and Tommy shared daily. His formerly ice cold drink bled droplets of condensation upon the surface, creating a cold puddle around the base of the tall pilsner glass. Though he had every intention of drinking its contents, he never touched it again.
"Is there something wrong with your drink?" asked Caryn Johnson, the civilian manager of Ten-Forward. She stood behind him, holding an empty tray in her arms, flat against her chest.
Greg jumped at unexpected voice, pulled out of his unbroken gaze. "What?" he asked, confused.
"I can get you something else, if you'd like?" she offered with a grin.
"What?" he repeated. He looked down at the drink and put it all together. "No, I'm fine."
Caryn slipped into an empty seat across from him. Tommy's seat. "You're not fine."
"I know," conceded Greg, with a voice barely above a whisper.
"You've been here every day, sitting at this table by yourself, staring out the front of the ship for hours on end," she said. Her blue eyes made contact with his, and he felt unnerved by her scrutiny. "Is it that hard to let go?"
Greg said nothing in response to her question, finding it difficult to speak. Eventually, he forced out a very terse, "Yes."
Caryn leaned back in her seat and set her tray atop the table. "Tell me about Tommy. I didn't know him very well. How did you guys meet?"
Greg swallowed hard; forcing the emotions back down long enough to reply. "He was a year behind me at the Academy. I was his unit leader when he was a freshman."
"What kind of midshipman was he?"
"At first? Not a very good one. Na´ve, but tenacious," he replied with a wistful smile. Unless you were lucky, like me, you spend most of your first year trying to decide what you want to do with your career after graduation. You have to declare your major by the end of your first year, and when you finish general education at the end of your second, you spend the last two years studying your specialty."
"You chose command?"
"I chose flight. Which means I wear red, and I'm an unrestricted line officer."
"And Tommy chose engineering."
"Not at first."
"Tommy chose flight, too. But he was pretty bad," chuckled Greg. "He picked up basic piloting, no problem, but when it came to advanced concepts..."
Caryn smiled. "He failed a lot?"
"He realized his limitations early on," he told her, now meeting her gaze warmly. "He wasn't quite sure what to do. And then there was this one time he and I decided to prank Foxtrot Unit at Kirk Hall."
"Well, Foxtrot Unit and Delta Unit have always had a long traditional rivalry at the Academy. Usually, it was limited to the usual pranks at homecoming, but while we were there, the rivalry tended to escalate, if you know what I mean."
She showed her teeth as she listened to him speak. "It got personal?"
"No, not personal. It got complex, you know?" When she shook her head, he explained, "The first prank is always the theft of the hall's bust. We were housed in April Hall, so there's a bust in the lobby of Commodore April, just as there's one of Captain Kirk in theirs. The night before the homecoming game, both halls go on full alert. Patrols to guard against thieves, and we send out a team to pull off the theft. We got theirs, they didn't get ours."
"How did you do it?"
"It was Tommy's idea, actually. We both set up scattering fields to prevent a transport. Tommy used two commbadges and a tricorder to emit a high-frequency pulse to disable the field. We beamed it into the Superintendent's office!" Greg snickered, "The next morning at assembly, the old man is standing out there with his hand on the head of the statue. He looks at the midshipmen from Kirk Hall and says, "Will you please escort the Captain back to his place of honor?'"
Caryn chortled. "Did he punish them?"
"No. I think the embarrassment of being called out was more than enough, but it did set off a chain of events that, shall we say, resulted in a midshipman beamed to a lecture in the nude."
"That's not funny."
"Tommy didn't think so, either," Greg replied as he played with the glass' base, drawing a line with the puddle to the edge of the table. "He was the one who ended up showing off his meager physique to the students of Professor Sobel's Intro to Astrogation lecture."
Greg nodded solemnly. "Naturally, Tommy sought some payback. None of us were about to tell him to back down. If it had been any one of us, we'd be in the same mood. So I did the only thing I could. I helped him."
"When in your years at the Academy was this?"
"Near the end of my sophomore year and his freshman. He was still kind of bent on doing flight, but not quite sure about his chances. The genius part of his payback was how he did it, and this led to his entrance on the engineering track."
"How is that?"
"He spent nearly a week and a half designing and programming a simulation for the entire Foxtrot Unit in one of the Academy's holorooms. He booked it for use for twenty-four hours, then beamed them all into it, which, by the way, consumed all our combined remaining transporter credits for the whole year. I'm not even sure what was even in the program, but all I know is that after that, they left him the hell alone." He paused. "The next day, Tommy signed up for engineering courses. He said he found his calling when he was devising all the little traps and devices he created during our little war."
"And you've been friends ever since?"
Greg nodded slowly. "We made it out of April Hall and into the junior/senior residences together. We shared a suite my senior year. When I transferred here for the pre-commissioning unit, I recommended him to Lieutenant Bartlet. I even called in a favor from my mother to make sure his first assignment was Farragut
. I thought that we'd serve together for years-" His throat tightened, preventing his speech. Again, he swallowed and regained his composure. "If I, uh, hadn't done that..."
"Don't go down that road, Greg," Caryn warned with a finger pointed at him. "He could have declined the assignment and requested another. He accepted the transfer."
"Because of me," Greg replied, allowing a tear to fall from his left eye and down his cheek. "He wanted to serve with me, like we always talked about at the Academy."
"Greg." Caryn softened her tone and moved into the seat nearest him. She placed a comforting hand on his shoulder and told him, "Tommy made his choice, and he knew the risk of serving. This is not your fault."
He lifted his hand to wipe away the cool wetness from his face and gave her a brave smile.
"And I think Tommy would be most unhappy to know that you're beating yourself up over this. Don't you?"
"Yes, he would."
She stood up behind him and embraced his shoulders as he remained seated. He touched her arm with his hands to accept it. "I think you should go and talk to Counselor Otex, Greg. I know she can help you."
Greg stiffened. "No, I'm all right. I mean, you're right. It's not my fault." He stood from his seat, leaving his drink there. "I need to get some shut-eye before my next shift. Thanks for the talk, Caryn. I really appreciate it." He left her behind as quickly as he could without running; he moved briskly through the lounge until the ornate doors slide shut behind him.