– V –
“The benefits are quite obvious. Higher crew rotations means that we have more focused and rested personnel on duty on any given day. By adding the additional shift we also increase and reinforce overall crew experience and skill in key positions. Of course there’ll have to be additional training and we’d probably want to rotate shifts around a little bit. Move delta shift up to beta and vice versa, that kind of thing.”
But Michael Owens was barely listening to his first officer explaining her recent proposal in more detail. It wasn’t because he didn’t think it had merit or because he was still feeling tired from a night seemingly lost and another interrupted. But it was hard to focus on routine ship operations when in reality recent events had made it clear that anything but routine applied.
A crime taking place on a starship was rare enough, a murder was almost unheard of. And it had happened on his ship. During a war which was claiming people by the thousands, somebody had felt it necessary to thin their ranks even further by this despicable act. It was incomprehensible to him.
The sound of the door’s enunciator finally managed what Star had not been able to do, refocus his thoughts.
But before the words had even come over his lips, the doors had already parted and a clearly fuming Nora Laas was practically barging into his office. “Captain, I apologize for this interruption,” she said and regardless of her words, sounded rather unapologetic, “but would you kindly remind Commander Star of your earlier decision of assigning me the Gedar case as I don’t believe she fully understood.”
The first officer jumped to her feet, blushing slightly at the rude manner in which the security chief had entered the room and almost barked at the captain. “Lieutenant, you’re way out of line.”
“I’m out of line?” she said, aiming a perplexed look at the Trill. “I’m not the one disregarding clear orders from a superior officer.”
For a moment the redheaded first officer didn’t even seem to know how to respond to this accusation.
“Sir,” said Nora and considered Owens again, “you had made yourself perfectly clear to the both of us as to who was to take the lead on this investigation. How am I expected to do this if I’m being undermined—“
“What in the seven hells are you talking about?” Star barked at the lieutenant, clearly losing her composure for a split-second before reining herself in again.
“Don’t play coy, Commander. You had this … this counselor take over the investigation on your behalf and—“
“I did no such thing, Lieutenant.”
“That’s funny because according to him you’ve given him explicit orders to—“
The two women stopped and looked at the captain almost as if only just realizing that he was also still in the room.
“Sit down. Both of you,” he said sharply, as if unable to believe that he was playing arbiter in a seemingly childish fight between his own senior officers.
The two women took the seats in front of his desk, both looking at least slightly chastised for allowing to let it come to a near shouting match in the captain’s ready room no less. Both absolutely avoided eye contact with each other.
“This is not acceptable,” Owens said, his voice sounding much softer now. “A heinous crime has been committed on my ship and I cannot have the two of you fighting each other instead of focusing on getting me whoever is responsible for this.”
“Sir, if I may,” Nora began tentatively and then continued when he responded with a little nod. “I believe you were perfectly clear as how you wished to handle this matter. As your chief of security, you asked me to solve this crime and handle all aspects of this investigation. My team and I were all set up to do just that until I was undermined by Commander Star who clearly has her own designs in regards to this investigation.”
The first officer’s face turned a darker shade of red and she did everything but bite her lip to bark out a fierce rebuttal to Nora’s provocative words.
“This counselor is neither requested nor required and clearly has only been assigned to me so that Commander Star may have a spy within the investigative team and influence it to her own purposes,” she continued, keeping her steely focus on Owens the entire time.
The captain uttered a little sigh before looking at his first officer. Her brimming eyes considered him for moment and Michael thought he could see a hint of pain in them. Perhaps it was even anger for having been placed in a situation in which she had to justify her actions in front of a subordinate. “Commander, who is this counselor?”
She took a small breath of air, presumably in order to not allow her angered state to dictate her next words. “First of all, sir, may I just point out that I resent Lieutenant Nora’s implications that I have any designs on her
investigation other than finding the person responsible for this crime.”
Owens nodded. The atmosphere in his ready room had taken on a distinct courtroom feel and he wasn’t all too pleased about this.
“I have asked Assistant Counselor Alex Clancy to aid Lieutenant Nora in her investigation—“
Nora grunted noticeably, shooting the captain a ‘get-a-load-of-this’ look.
“To aid the Lieutenant with her investigation,” Star continued, her voice taking on a little volume to stress her point, “in the best interest of finding the person or persons responsible for this as quickly as possible.”
“And how would a counselor be able to assist me with that, Commander?” Nora asked, unable to keep her voice free of sarcasm.
The Trill turned to glance at the woman sitting next to her and if looks could kill, Nora would have died on the spot. “Well, for starters, Lieutenant, presumably we are dealing with a living person here. Somebody with a mind, possibly a disturbed mind, who felt it necessary to kill another living person for reasons which must have been entirely unacceptable. Who better to try and understand such a person than somebody whose job it is to study minds?”
“Fine then,” she said. “Once I find whoever did this, you can have this counselor of yours psychoanalyze the perpetrator until the fleet comes home.”
“Secondly, Lieutenant Clancy was stationed for three years on Farius Prime. I don’t have to tell you that that planet is practically run by the Orion Syndicate and that crimes are rampant there. As a Starfleet liaison to the local government, Clancy took part or assisted in a number of criminal investigations ranging from misdemeanors to felonies. How many criminal investigations have you taken part of, Lieutenant?”
“I’ll have you know that I successfully investigated a homicide when I served on Deep Space Two,” she responded lamely.
Star considered the woman for a moment with a little twinkle in her eye, almost as if she had been waiting for that point to come up. “Investigate?” she said. “A bit generous of a term, don’t you think? You were assisting Commander Leva at the time who did most of the heavy lifting. Besides, that was nearly six years ago. Do you have any other relevant experience you’d like us to acknowledge? Other than your mandatory Academy classes that is.”
Before the Bajoran could form a retort, Star turned back to the captain. “Sir, I’m not denying that Lieutenant Nora, as the head of security, should take the lead in this investigation. But I do think that Clancy is uniquely qualified to assist and compliment her efforts to bring the responsible party to justice as quickly as possible.”
“Captain,” Nora began but was stopped when Owens held up his hand.
He rubbed his temples for a moment. “Lieutenant, the Commander here makes a very convincing argument. Work with Clancy. You’re the lead of course but I see no harm in having the closest thing to a subject matter expert in on this.”
“But, sir,” she started again, clearly trying to object. Once again she was stopped by her captain.
“That would be all, Lieutenant. Go to work and find me whoever did this.”
Nora looked like she wasn’t done arguing her point. But after seeing the resolute expression on Owens’ face, she decided against it. She shot a last, withering look at Star and then stood. “Sir,” she said once more, clearly addressing only the captain and then quickly departed.
Owens uttered a heavy sigh just after the doors had closed behind his departing security chief.
For a moment silence reigned in his ready room which dragged on just short of becoming uncomfortable.
“This isn’t working,” he finally said.
“I’ve studied Clancy’s file very closely. He has the right set of experiences for this task. And I trust his abilities to find a way to get on with Nora.”
“I’m not talking about Clancy.”
She nodded as if knowing exactly what he meant.
“Captain,” she began and then left her seat and took a few steps towards the bulkhead, considering her next words carefully. She turned back around. “I’m trying here, sir, I really am. There is nobody on this ship who wants to make this work more than I do. There is nobody who has a bigger stake in my assignment here. No matter my past, I am a Starfleet officer and this is exactly where I want to be. And without this, without Eagle
, I have nothing. I have no illusions about that. Nobody else would touch me considering my past. So I ask you, sir. What is it you want me to do? I’ll be whatever kind of officer you need me to be.”
He looked up at her expectant eyes. “You’d think you could do that?”
“I’ll do whatever it takes, sir.”
“I don’t doubt that. What I don’t believe however is that you are the kind of person who can completely and entirely dismiss her own nature and become somebody else just to accommodate others. ‘This above all: to thine ownself be true.’”
She turned away to face the bulkhead again. “If you’re right then I’m not the first officer you need.”
Michael considered her for a moment, thinking back to both Maya’s and Deen’s assessments of his controversial first officer. In a way they had both been right about her. But what he couldn’t deny was the fact that he had been anything than fair to an officer who had done nothing but try her hardest to make the best out of her second chance. “We’ve both undertaken on this journey together, Commander and we both knew that there would be bumps along the way. We’ll both learn from them and move on.”
“I don’t know if I can,” she said, still with her back to the captain. “You said it yourself, I can’t fight my nature. It took everything I had just now to keep from boiling over.”
“I understand that. And you’re not wrong. Laas was out of line.”
Star turned to face the captain, a perplexed look on her face. “Then why did you allow—“
Owens grimaced. “Because I’ve known her for a long time. Served with her for years. Because, and I’m not proud to say this, I understand her pain and anger and while it has no place in this room nor on duty for that matter, I can’t just dismiss it either because the truth is, it’s a pain I share with her,” he stood and walked over to the window to consider the majestic beauty of the Aphrodite nebula for a moment. “Nora Laas is broken and I don’t know what it will take to fix her again but I know that I’m not going to be the one to be able to do it. And I can’t give up on her either,” he said and then faced his first officer. “So you see, Commander, I need you on this ship. I need you to do the things I cannot do.”