“I just can’t get over the thing you pulled on me up there. That was totally cruel but so incredibly beautiful at the same time. One prankster to another, my hat’s off to you,” said Bobby DeSoto, leaning casually against the turbolift wall while Allenby stood mere inches in front of him but refused to turn and face him.
“I am not a prankster,” she said but was not able to keep that little smirk off her face.
“You could have fooled me,” he said. “I mean, man, that was the prank of the century. People will be talking about this for years.”
“Let’s hope not.”
“It really made me see you in a completely new light. The way you got everyone on the bridge, including Commander Texx to play along. Wow, just wow.”
“I don’t need you to see me in a new light.”
DeSoto couldn’t quite help his eyes dropping a little towards her backside. Allenby had a terrific body shape which looked great in her uniform jumpsuit. She was certainly smart and, for the first time, he realized that she had a wicked sense of humor as well. One she had gone to great lengths to hide from anyone.
The turbolift arrived at its destination and the doors opened. “Do me a favor, Bobby.”
“What’s that?” he said even while his thoughts were drifting.
She turned her head to look over her shoulder. “Stop staring at my ass,” she said with a grin and then walked out of the turbolift.
DeSoto looked after her with a dumbfound expression on his face. It took him a moment to dispel it and then quickly ran after her. “You have to admit it’s a pretty fine looking posterior.”
She didn’t slow down as he joined her by her side. Instead she offered him a sidelong glare, making it clear that discussing her anatomy had stopped amusing her a while back.
He gently reached for her arm to stop her. “Okay, listen Tess, I know I’ve been a little out of line with you.”
She raised an eyebrow. “A little?”
“A lot,” he said. “And I know you were mad as hell and you had every right to be. Your whole attitude was just so … uppity all the time, like you were somehow better than everyone else.”
“Better?” she said incredulous. “I’m not thinking I’m better than anyone. But I’m a full lieutenant, Bobby. Maybe I haven’t been for long but still. I’m a senior officer now and I need to act like one. And you pulling these antics is making my life a living hell.”
“Consider us even now.”
“You’ll respect me and my rank?”
He shot off a tight salute. “Yes, ma’am.”
Tess rolled her eyes.
“Will you admit that you like me?”
Her eyes remained hard as stone.
“A little bit?” he said, holding his fingers apart by a mere inch.
“Fine, a little bit,” she said with a sigh.
“See, that wasn’t so hard,” he said and moved closer to her.
Before Tess knew what was happening, his lips met hers. Her eyes opened wide at first but then they closed and she allowed his tongue to slip into her mouth.
It lasted all but a couple of seconds until a voice in the back of her mind must have called her back to reality. She harshly pushed him away, forcing their lips to separate again. Her face was bright red. “Damnit, Bobby, what the hell?”
He offered an innocent look in response. “I thought we had a moment there.”
“You thought wrong,” she shot back furiously. “What did I just say about respecting my rank? God, you’re incorrigible,” she added, turned on her heels and stormed off.
“I’ve been called worse,” he said after her with a huge grin plastered on his face and secure in the knowledge that whatever protestations she had offered after the kiss, for just the briefest moment she’d enjoyed it as much as he had.
* * *
Besides Doctor Rass and a number of members of her staff, Maya was surprised to also find Beatiar Sh’Fane in the large cargo transporter room and by all accounts looking just as anxious as she felt.
Donners felt a large sigh of relief coming over her lips when Mer’iab and his team began to materialize on the transporter padd.
Queen Ket had remained true to her word when she had promised her that she would do whatever was in her power to ensure to locate and try to return the Starfleet team left behind on Zenith. It now appeared her people had indeed accepted the Artisan Queen as their new Supreme and promptly followed her orders when she had commanded the release of the prisoners.
And Maya was thankful there were prisoners. Her worst fear had been that Mer’iab and his team had been killed, either by fighting to the last man or executed after the battle had concluded.
Sh’Fane had been the first at the tall avian’s side once he had materialized, beating Rass and her medical team to it. Maya tried hard not think of the term ruffled feathers as the Andorian helped Mer’iab off the platform. Like most of his team, his uniform was dirty, torn and bloodied and while many of the humanoids had scratches and bruises covering their skin, his amber plumage appeared to be in disarray.
He waved off the nurses trying to treat him but interestingly he never once turned down help from the Marine commander who was more than willing to give it. In fact an unspoken agreement seemed to pass between the two warriors. Maya was curious to find out what exactly had transpired on the surface that had made them come together like this. Their reports, she was sure, would make for interesting reading.
“Lieutenant,” she said as he stepped up before her.
He pushed the Andorian away gently; intend to stand on his own two legs while facing the captain.
“Sir,” he said. “I regret to inform you that we lost twelve good men on the surface.”
Donners noticed the coffin-like boxes that had been beamed up along with what remained of the team. She focused on Mer’iab again. “But you brought them back. You brought them all back. And most of them you brought back alive. That is more than I could’ve hoped for.”
His large bright, blue eyes made contact with hers. “I followed your orders, sir. You told me to survive and I did my best to ensure that the men would.”
She nodded curtly, feeling tears of relief in her own eyes but fighting hard to keep them contained.
“Shortly after you left and we were surrounded on all sides, I gave the order to surrender, knowing that any additional aggression on our part would cause me to fail your instructions. The Xenarth accepted and we were taken prisoner. And despite what we have seen of them, despite their ferociousness when in battle, we found that for the majority they are decent people. We were not harmed or mistreated in captivity. They provided us with food and water and basic medical care.”
“That speaks well of our hopes of a lasting friendship between our people,” she said with renewed hope that perhaps Ket’s ambitious plans were not quite as challenging as she had feared. “Your last order for today, Lieutenant, is to get yourself and your team to sickbay and get whatever care you need. I don’t expect to see you back on duty for at least a week.”
He nodded sharply, not seeing any reason to object to that.
Sh’Fane stepped back in and he allowed her to help him out of the cargo bay only after all his men were back on board and being seen to by the medical personnel.
Donners remained in the cargo bay as well, watching as members of her security personnel, as well as Marines and Cuffe
crewmembers were being beamed onboard in groups. She was glad for every familiar face she recognized, including Elborough, the young science officer who had been charged with shutting down one of the Omega generators. The diminutive woman eyes were bright red and she remained close to one of the coffins, containing the body of one of the men who had not been lucky enough to escape with his life.
The young ensign stayed even after the room had cleared and Donners stepped up close to her, gently touching her shoulder.
“Captain,” she said, clearly surprised to still finding her here. She immediately tensed up.
“As you were, Ensign.”
She nodded and relaxed.
Donners touched the smooth, unmarked coffin.
“Lieutenant Chi Ling Yuen,” said Elborough at the unspoken question.
Hearing his name stung her. She had known the young security officer. Not well, of course but she remembered meeting him a few days earlier. Remembered that he had a proud mother and father as well as a younger sister back home in Shanghai. He was one of thirty-eight crewmembers they had lost in the assault. Two remained in critical condition in sickbay. She knew it wasn’t a number she would soon forget. In fact, she was determined not to forget Yuen’s name or any of those of who had given their lives following her orders.
The two women stood alone among the dead in silence for a while longer. Then Maya once again squeezed the ensign’s shoulder gently before she headed for the exit.
She stopped and turned around to face Elborough.
“May I ask a question?”
The science officer hesitated for a moment. “Was it all worth it?”
Donners considered this for a moment even while her eyes wandered across the room to take in the twelve coffins. Then she faced the ensign again. “I suppose having that kind of certainty, to know without a shadow of a doubt that we did all we could, that there was no other way, that these brave souls did not give their life in vain, it would make us all feel much better, wouldn’t it?”
Elborough offered only empty eyes in response.
Maya managed a grim smile. “Yes, A.J., it was worth it. Because knowing that is the only way any of this makes any sense,” she said and then left the cargo bay.