Master-at-Arms Chief Petty Officer Saihra Dunleavy checked Leone’s identification card against his biometric profile and retinal scan displayed on her console. "Everything appears to be in order, sir. Welcome aboard." She gestured to a nearby security specialist. "Sharpe, Lieutenant Leone has an appointment with the captain. Please see him to the ready room, straight away."
Sharpe led Leone through the ship, skirting areas filled with engineering personnel where welding teams attended to structural damage. Some of the corridors they passed through were blackened and pitted, obviously of lower priority on the repair schedule.
At one point, Leone slowed his pace, his eyes drawn to the silhouette of a humanoid figure burned into the bulkhead. He looked back down the corridor and saw the evidence of heavy phaser fire, where bolts and beams had scored the duranium plating. "What did this?" he inquired.
"Combat android, sir," Sharpe replied conversationally, as if such a thing were perfectly natural aboard this ship.
"I, uh... see," Leone observed with widened eyes. "You guys see that kind of action out here in the Delta Quadrant?"
"Yes, sir," Sharpe agreed. "More than our fair share, Lieutenant." It was all Dom could pry out of the man during the brief ascent.
Sharpe led Leone onto the bridge, pressing the annunciator button on the ready room door before taking his leave of the lieutenant. "Good luck, sir."
An unremarkable voice bade him to enter, and Leone stepped through the parting doors to find an unimposing man seated behind the desk. "Lieutenant, junior grade, Dominic Leone reporting as ordered, sir," Dom rattled off.
Lar’ragos glanced up at Leone over his padd, then set the device down as he stood and offered his hand. "Pava Lar’ragos. Please, relax and have a seat, Lieutenant." Lar’ragos moved for the replicator. "Can I get you something, Mister Leone?"
Leone took his seat. "No, thank you, sir."
An Altair water in hand, Lar’ragos moved around the desk and resumed his seat. He gestured offhandedly to the padd on the desktop. "You received high marks in your tactical training, Lieutenant. Your instructors indicate that you’re able to think quickly and correctly in dynamic situations."
As it was not a direct question, Leone remained silent before the desk. His eyes briefly drifted toward the padd before returning to Lar'ragos.
"I’m in need of intelligent, resourceful people, Lieutenant," Lar’ragos continued. "Is that you?"
Leone smiled sagely. "How do I answer that without sounding arrogant, sir? I received high marks, as you said, so I suppose my instructors believe that to be true. I worked very hard to get where I am, and I burned a couple of political bridges to join the task force." He scratched at the back of his neck as he continued, "If you disagree, then I'm sure another ship could use me. I like to go where I'm needed, sir."
Lar’ragos sipped at his drink, gazing at Leone appraisingly. "There’s a thin line between confidence and arrogance, and you’ve yet to cross it, Mister Leone. You’re good and you know it, there’s no shame in that. My question to you would be how you’d run a combined department? Two thirds of the security staff are Starfleet, and a third are Marines. Historically, the two haven’t always gelled well."
"I've served aboard a starship with a Marine contingent for a little under three years before I attended Starfleet Academy," Leone replied quickly. "My best friend's older brother is a Marine colonel, and I respect him and his opinions. I feel I have a proper handle on Marine leadership and their... shall we say, unique
style of command."
Lar’ragos nodded slowly. "This crew has gone through three commanding officers in the past six months, and the security department has cycled through two department heads. Building trust under combat conditions isn’t easy. If you were to undertake this challenge, you’d have to win their trust as you’re earning their respect." He turned his gaze and his formidable listening abilities on the young man, giving Dom his undivided attention. "Are you up to it?"
"Actually, sir, if I may so bold, I think combat conditions with Marines are the best time to build up trust. Marines naturally trust the uniform, even if I am a 'squiddie.' Idle time with them means they have time to think, but they... and I... feel that actions speak much louder than anything anyone could say about their abilities. Speaking strictly as an officer, I judge someone by how they perform... not how they boast or perhaps their repute prior to my time with them." Leone paused, then grinned. "Oh, that was good, sir. Very good. Let me say that in short, yes. I'm up to it."
The captain’s next statement was blunt and unapologetic, obviously designed to elicit a reaction. "Your mother’s best friend died on a mission under my command. Is that going to be a problem for you?"
"If it was, I wouldn't be here, sir," Leone affirmed. He lowered his voice from the confidence it held earlier; it softened significantly. "Might I have your permission to speak freely on that subject?"
"Be my guest, Lieutenant."
"Ariel Elannis was my godmother. She treated me more like a kid brother, and I spent a lot of time with her when I was on Farragut
," he began on the heels of Lar'agos' words. "No matter what anyone else thinks of her or how she lived her life, I know for sure that she died doing what she wanted most in the universe. As much as I loved her, and as much as I'll miss her... if I end up going out the way she did, I'll be very lucky." He lifted his eyes up to meet Pava's. "As you were to have served with her."
"I agree wholeheartedly," Lar’ragos affirmed before falling quiet, leaving them in a moment of silence where both men reflected on the woman who’d changed both their lives. "I very nearly passed on your application," Lar’ragos confessed suddenly. "After what’s happened to this ship recently, I didn’t want to risk your mother losing another loved one under my command. But... that’s not fair, to you or the admiral. You both wear the uniform, as did Ariel, and you both know the risks."
Since his permission to speak freely had yet to be revoked, Leone took another chance: "I think she would have liked the idea of us working together, sir. If she couldn't be here herself... this is the kind of thing she would have loved to do."
Lar’ragos stood slowly, extending the same hand he’d offered when Leone had arrived. "You’re my first choice for this post, Lieutenant. It’s yours if you want it."
"I accept, sir," he said at the same time he grasped Lar'ragos'. "Feel free to call me Dom."
Lar’ragos stepped out from behind the desk, walking his glass back to the replicator where he initiated a matter recycling. "I’ll do that, Dom." He tapped a command into the device, eliciting another gentle hum that produced something small enough that Leone couldn’t make it out before Lar’ragos had scooped it up out of the delivery slot. He turned to present the younger man a full rank pip. "You’ll need the rank to fit the post, Lieutenant."
Leone eyed the pip and frowned at first. "I... thank you, sir," he corrected himself with the pleasantry. With a firm nod, he said, "I will not disappoint you."
"I’ll hold you to that, Dom. You already know who and what I am, so I’m guessing you have an inkling of what it means for me to put my personal safety and that of my crew in the hands of another."
"Yes, sir, I do." Leone asked, "May I have some time to say goodbye to Captain Caldwell before they ship out?"
"Certainly," Lar’ragos replied. "We’ve got another three weeks at least in dock before we’ll be ready to set out again. Celebrate your promotion with your friends."
Leone nodded. "Thank you, sir. I owe them a lot."
"Welcome to Europa
, Lieutenant. Report aboard in forty-eight hours, ready to assume command of your department. You are dismissed."
* * *