TASKFORCE VANGUARD/DARK TERRITORY:
THE QUALITY OF MERCY
The transparent aluminum window was frigid to the touch. Captain Banti Awokou suppressed a shiver before removing his hand. The Starship Nimbus, his latest command, floated before him. The moorings entangling the angelic ship didn’t mar its sleek beauty one parsec.
Stretching nearly seven hundred meters in length, the Sovereign-class starship dominated the docking port, as befitting its designation. Uncharacteristically Awokou smiled, thrilled at the prospect of returning to her.
“I don’t believe I have said anything in jest,” Rear Admiral Terrence Glover said by way of introduction. The younger brown-skinned man stood ramrod straight at the entrance to the room. Awokou’s smile quickly morphed into a look of concern.
He always knew that his protégé would one day rise to the admiral’s rank, but he hadn’t assumed it would be so quickly, or under such tragic circumstances. Yet so much had changed in Awokou’s universe since that fateful day in the skies above Lakesh.
The captain put the thoughts of that particular tragic in the back of his mind. “My apologies…sir,” He nearly tripped over the word. It would take him a little while to get used to the idea of Glover being his superior officer. “I meant no offense.”
“None taken.” Terrence seemed oblivious to the fumble, which saddened Awokou. He would’ve thought the Glover he knew would’ve enjoyed showing off his fifth pip to his old mentor.
But a lot of bad things just hadn’t happened to Banti since the Dominion War; Terrence had been drastically changed as well.
The man seemed more closed off, his body language wary, his arms folded across his broad chest.
His expression was mildly impatient, at odds with the recollections of Banti’s wife Rozi, who told him how Glover had spent hours at his bedside while he had been in a coma.
“You wished to speak me with captain?” Glover prodded, gently but still insistent. Awokou’s heart sank further.
“Yes sir, I…I wanted to thank you,” Awokou began, not quite sure how to proceed, and feeling as awkward as he had on his first date with Rozi.
Glover’s head tilted to the side and he gave the captain a look like he was a curious new specimen. “I don’t follow.”
“I know you helped get me the Nimbus,” Awokou said, recalling the scuttlebutt he had heard from some of his friends in the Fleet. “Not everyone thought I was ready for such a prestigious assignment.” He was one of those doubters, but only Rozi knew that.
“It was…a logical choice,” Glover shrugged, coming off even colder than many Vulcans Banti knew. “Your service record was exemplary before your accident.” Banti tensed at how sterile and antiseptic his old friend made it sound. “And with the dearth of skilled senior officers currently in the Fleet, and in light of your previous history restoring the reputation of Phoenix, it made sense to move Nimbus past the Ardana Incident.”
“I see,” Awokou nodded slowly, wondering if these were the same arguments Terrence had made to secure the post for Banti. There was a part of him that hoped that Terrence hadn’t been so dry when making those arguments though.
The captain chided himself. He had no right to criticize the man who had just helped him get a prestige command. Further, Awokou wasn’t taking into account how rough the last several years had been for Terrence, the emotional buffeting the man had received.
He had lost his father and his marriage; and before that his ship. That fifth pip must seem like cold comfort, and something that can’t replace what had been torn away from him.
“Admiral, Nimbus doesn’t push off for another day, if you would like to…tour her, that can be arranged, and then afterwards we could have dinner. Rozi would love to see you.” Banti was a laying it on a little thickly. Actually Rozi was a little peeved at Glover for not showing up while Banti was convalescing after reawakening.
But Awokou had cut the man some slack. Terrence was dealing with his own emotional turmoil and the demands of a new and possibly crushing responsibility. However, Banti also knew that his wife would smother any sharp words she had for the younger man and treat him with the respect he deserved.
The thought of his wife, her graciousness and compassion, made him smile again. “Am I wearing my uniform inside out or something?” Terrence asked, a glimpse of the man’s old mirth breaking through.
Laughing, Banti couldn’t help but give the man a quick once-over. The man looked resplendent in his long black jacket and matching trousers. Glover’s hair hadn’t been touched by gray while Banti’s had become snow-white. Terrence looked nearly the same as when he had commanded the Aegis, though he seemed even sadder now, with bags around his eyes.
The man’s visage was still stern, but he had unfolded his arms at least. Now they awkwardly rested at his side. Awokou had never seen Glover anxious, even when they served on the Cardassian front.
“We’ll have to reschedule I’m afraid,” the admiral replied. “I have business to attend to at Starbase 27.”
“Along the Romulan Neutral Zone,” Awokou pointed out. “Don’t tell me the Star Empire is acting up again? Trying to take advantage of this whole refugee situation?”
“Let’s hope that isn’t the case,” Glover said, without adding more. Normally Terrence would add something, he would drop a hint, but that was the past, and Awokou had woken up to a much different future. Glover nodded respectfully before he turned to make his exit.
The man tried one more stab at it. “Lt. Rojas will also be at the dinner.” Glover stopped, but didn’t turn around.
Banti sought to reel him in. “She was gushing about seeing you again, well, not in so many words, but I could read the excitement on her face when she heard you would be here to review Intercept Group Four.”
Terrence turned around slowly. I think I’ve got the fish on the line, Awokou thought. “I appreciate you also recommending her for flight control officer,” the captain added. “We’re going to need someone with her skills navigating us through the Delta Quadrant.”
“Please send my regards to Lt. Rojas,” Glover said, “But I will have to get reacquainted upon your return.”
“Excuse me sir,” Awokou’s forcefulness erupted from him, “I know you’re grieving Terrence, but that doesn’t give you the right or excuse to turn your back on your friends!”
“I think you need to watch your tone Captain,” Glover’s nostrils flared and his eyes lit with fire. Banti knew that he was risking losing his ship even before he had made himself at home, but there were some things that needed to be said.
“I understand that your schedule is busy, but I really wish you could comprehend how much it would mean to all of us if you stopped by,” Awokou softened his tone, but not his stance.
“There’s no time,” Glover said.
“We could be gone for years,” Awokou rejoined.
“I’m sorry,” Terrence said, his neutral expression not giving a hint to his true feelings.
“It’s almost as if you want to get rid of us, shorn us off like dead skin or something,” Awokou felt his emotions springing forth and the words escaped before he could stop them. Since his awakening from the coma, his emotions had been harder to control.
“I’m an admiral now, things are different,” Terrence offered.
“No, the biggest difference is you,” Banti shot back. “Lt. Rojas had thought you were going to put her on your staff. She did all that extra training at Starfleet Academy to build up her resume and then you pass her off to me. I’m pleased, but it’s not what she wanted.”
“Is this what she told you?” Glover’s expression became hooded.
“No,” the captain admitted, “but sitting in that captain’s chair, you learn something about sapient nature.”
“Perhaps you are mistaken,” Terrence replied.
“Maybe,” Banti confessed, “But my gut tells me otherwise. You don’t have to push us away. You don’t have to do this alone. I can tell you from personal experience that you can’t do this alone.”
“Thank you…Banti,” Glover said. The captain’s voice caught in his throat. Awokou reached out, to grab the man’s shoulder, to pat it for reassurance, but the rear admiral fell back. “It’s going to take time,” Terrence offered.
“Fair enough,” Awokou reined in his emotions.
“Please relay that message to your wife and Juanita,” Glover said.
“I will do,” the captain promised.
“Now sir, am I dismissed?” Terrence asked with the heartening sliver of a smile.
“Yes sir,” Awokou smiled in return.