Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by kes7, Jul 18, 2009.
Still trying to get caught up (not there yet) but wanted to say I'm enjoying the story - well done!
I'm very much enjoying this and the Alternate Broken Bow story. I love how fans can help fill in the gaps, both for the background of the official stuff, and the things that not even the official novels can get at for commercial and other reasons.
Cool, a new reader!
Thanks for reading and commenting ... more to come soon.
(And yes, I agree fan fiction can often be more satisfying to read because the authors are much freer in what they can do.)
Adrian Keller piloted the Sol on manual as the away team followed slowly behind the Tyndoran vessels, mostly to give himself something to do. With Adele in her ready room, the bridge was way too quiet.
Alex Slidell, standing at ops, apparently thought the same thing, because the ensign suddenly whispered something unintelligible to Marcus Lindley, another ensign standing at tactical. Marcus snickered, and Adrian could hear the two start to giggle like a couple of first-year cadets.
Since he was currently the most senior officer on the bridge, he turned around and eyed them. Marcus, the more reserved and polite of the two, saw Adrian’s stare first and quickly shut up, but Alex met Adrian’s gaze head on.
“Ensigns, try to control yourselves,” Adrian said. “This may be a small auxiliary ship, but you’re still on the bridge.” Adrian wondered how exactly it was that so many brand spanking new officers had been assigned to a mission as important as the Tesseract’s. He was sure the long-term nature of the mission had a lot to do with it. He himself would turn fifty by the time they were scheduled to return to the Alpha Quadrant, which was strange to think about. Still, half the time he felt like he was sitting in an Academy classroom.
The two junior officers, whose combined age probably didn’t quite add up to fifty, looked appropriately chastened. T’Pring, standing at the science console, tried to appear as if she was impervious to it all, but Adrian had been around enough Vulcans in his lifetime to know amusement when he saw it. He turned back to the helm control and reactivated the autopilot, standing up to stretch his legs.
As he did so, Adele emerged from her ready room looking tired. She was carrying a cup of something steaming, and sat down in the unoccupied center seat to drink it. “What’s our status, Commander Keller?” she asked.
“I think we’re about a third of the way there,” replied Adrian. “I’m a little confused about the coordinates they gave us, though. Sensors indicate it’s a point somewhere between the fourth and fifth planets, and at least on sensors, it doesn’t look like there’s anything there.”
Adele raised her eyebrows. “Maybe it’s a checkpoint.”
“That’s possible. Now that we’re close enough, I see other traffic moving around that area. It appears very tightly controlled.”
T’Pring had been listening to the conversation. “There’s something there,” she said from the science station. “The orbits of the surrounding planets suggest a planetoid-sized mass, but I have also failed to find anything on sensors.”
“Interesting,” said Adele. “Some kind of planetary cloak?”
“That would be a reasonable theory,” replied T’Pring.
“Ensign Lindley, can you get any sort of tactical readings? Any evidence of a planetary defense system?”
“No, ma’am. My sensors show nothing but space in between the fourth and fifth planets. Or fourth and sixth. Whatever they turn out to be.”
“Well, can anyone get a reading on the apparent fifth planet?”
“It’s M-Class, Captain, with evidence of civilization. But I’m reading very few lifesigns for the number of structures,” said Alex.
“Hail the Tyndorans,” said Adele.
“Aye, Captain,” Alex replied.
Ordi’te’s face appeared on the viewscreen. “Can I help you, Captain?” he asked, third eyelid blinking oddly.
“Yes, I’m wondering if you can confirm the coordinates you sent us. They appear to be pointing us toward a point between the fourth and fifth planets, instead of the fifth planet itself.”
“That’s not an error, Captain. Just keep following us.”
“With all due respect, I have thirty-two people here for whom I’m responsible, along with a much larger crew back on our ship. I don’t know anything about you, and you’re asking me to follow you into an unfamiliar inhabited system where I am outnumbered and unprepared. I realize your protocols dictate that all discussions take place planetside, but as far as I can tell, we’re not heading for a planet. I’d like an explanation.”
“Captain, I can’t give you that over the communications system. It’s not secure.”
Adele suddenly really wished she had brought Icheb along. She had a feeling he would have figured the entire thing out by now. She turned to her major advantage, her empathic skills. It was difficult for her to read those who weren’t right next to her, but she had to at least try.
Despite Ordi’te’s generally nervous appearance, she didn’t feel anything like nervousness coming from him. In fact, the biggest emotion she was picking up was the same as she often felt coming from the enlisted crewmen -- the ones who didn’t have much information and weren’t allowed much decision making power -- a kind of helpless boredom and general wariness. She couldn’t rely too much on the feeling, as weak as her empathic abilities were at this distance, but it was interesting.
They had more than 30 hours left to get some answers. She wasn’t going to push. She smiled. “Thank you for confirming our coordinates, Mr. Ordi’te. Sol out.” The alien nodded and the display reverted to the external viewer.
Adrian shot her a glance. “Not much of a talker, is he?” Adele gave him a grim smile in return.
“I’ll be in my ready room.” She turned to the three officers standing at the back of the bridge. “You three keep scanning the planet and the coordinates they gave us. Let me know if you find anything new.” Marcus, Alex and T’Pring all nodded.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Marcus.
Adele walked back into the ready room to contact the Tesseract. If there was a chance her exec had any more information on these people, she had to ask.
On the Tesseract, Icheb sat in Adele’s ready room eating a quick lunch with John Quigley, who had asked to speak to him regarding Eleanor Gentry’s unannounced visit to the bridge. Admiral Beckley, eating his own lunch in his office, listened in, more out of boredom than actual interest.
“I’m serious, Icheb. You need to do something about that woman,” John was saying. “Talk about not taking a hint. Iden and I tried to get her to leave and make an appointment, and she told Iden to go cut someone’s hair.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” said Icheb, sounding perplexed.
“She’s Bolian. You know, Bolian hairdressers? It’s a stereotype, Icheb -- an insult. How can you not know that?” John asked in exasperation. He sighed. “Oh, never mind. You know, for someone who gets insulted all the time based on your background, you sure have a poor grasp of the subject. Maybe that’s how you got through the Academy without getting into any fights. And here, I always thought you just had thick skin,” he said dryly. “Anyway, if I was Iden, I would have called security and had her removed -- or maybe punched her.”
“That may be part of the reason I did not leave you in command,” said Icheb. “I’ll discuss the matter with Lieutenant Nix and have a talk with Ms. Gentry. I’ll make it clear she won’t be permitted to treat anyone like that in the future.”
“Good luck with that,” John said wryly. “But I’m pretty sure if she shows up on the bridge again, Iden might whip out a phaser. She was not pleased. What did you say to that woman, anyway? She looked pissed when she came out, and just left without another word to any of us. Not that I’m complaining.”
“She was just upset about the away mission. She thought we should have had a meeting about it. And she doesn’t like me, or the Borg. I told her she’s not the first person to feel that way.”
“Well, whatever you said, well done, because she looked like she’d been taken down a peg. What a bitch,” said John, sounding almost awestruck. He continued, “Anyway, what was up with you this morning? That was the best mood I’ve seen you in since Earth.”
Admiral Beckley could hear one of the young men taking a bite of his lunch. The mental image he had of the two twenty-something officers using the captain’s ready room on the most advanced starship in the Federation fleet for lunch and a friendly chat simultaneously amused him and irked him, at least so far as he was capable of in either direction.
“It was nothing,” replied Icheb. “I guess I just woke up on the right side of the bed this morning,” he said, using the old Earth phrase.
“Or alcove,” snickered John. “Either way, you picked a hell of a day for it. Captain’s off the ship, you’re in command, that bitch shows up to pick a fight with you ... I guess she’s lucky you were in a good mood.”
“I would have treated her with the same professionalism regardless of my personal feelings,” Icheb pointed out.
“Right. Professionalism. Like you and Maren?” John teased his friend.
“I worked with her last night and again this morning,” Icheb said, a bit defensively. “She was fine. Very professional.” He didn’t mention the argument they’d had in the hallway after the briefing the night before.
“No wonder you’re in a good mood,” John laughed. “So is this actual professionalism, or the kind of professionalism where you show up at the door to her quarters and kiss her?”
Now that’s interesting, Admiral Beckley thought to himself as he listened to the banter between the two officers. He recognized the first name as the name of the ship’s chief engineer. He wouldn’t have pegged the commander as the type of officer to get casually involved with a subordinate, or anyone else, for that matter. In fact, he quickly decided there had to be more to the situation than casual attraction. He turned to his desk console and pulled up Maren O’Connor’s personnel file. It never hurt to know more about a person’s weaknesses, and he suddenly wondered if the chief engineer might be a significant one for the young XO. Pretty girl, he thought, as the file came up with her image. Not a bad catch for an ex-Borg drone. He was growing more impressed by Icheb all the time.
All the while, he never stopped listening. “I assume she told you that?” Icheb was saying in a slightly irritated tone.
“Yeah, she did. Sorry if it’s classified information,” the other officer said sarcastically.
“I made a mistake,” Icheb said quietly.
“You mean kissing her, or leaving her?”
“Both,” admitted Icheb with a small sigh. “I don’t know how to repair the damage I’ve done.”
“You could try talking to her again,” suggested John.
“I have, more than once. She’s not willing to discuss our previous relationship.”
“Well, can you blame her? Two years without a single word, and now you’re in her face every day reminding her of what used to be, and what was supposed to be. I’m amazed she’s handling it as well as she is; she was a complete mess after you left. What I’ve never understood is why you did it in the first place. You two made each other ridiculously happy. I know if I found someone like that who felt the same way about me, I wouldn’t be walking away from her.”
Icheb’s mood instantly darkened. “You don’t know the whole story.”
“Of course not, because neither of you will tell me. We’ve been over this.” He sighed. “Never mind. I should get back to the bridge -- with your permission, of course, sir,” he added quickly. “Thanks for the sandwich.”
Icheb nodded. “Thank you for telling me what happened with Eleanor Gentry. I’ll take care of it later,” he promised.
As John rose to leave, the comm. activated, and Iden Nix’s voice said “Incoming transmission from Captain Oyugo, Commander.”
“Understood,” Icheb replied. “Display it in here.”
“Yes, sir,” she replied.
“We’ll talk later,” John promised. Icheb nodded.
As John turned to go, he grabbed his plate to take it back to the replicator. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it,” Icheb instructed, waving John off. John shrugged and set the plate back down, leaving to give Icheb his privacy.
Icheb pushed the remains of their lunch aside and activated the viewscreen. “Hello, Captain. How is the mission going?”
On the small holographic display, Adele smiled. “I won’t lie to you, Commander. Two days at impulse is a long time on a ship this small. How is your first day of command going? And how is my ship and crew?”
“Everything is fine so far, Captain. Dr. Duggal made progress with the gel pack situation and Maren is working on a solution. I’m hopeful she'll submit a plan before midnight. Also, Astrometrics completed their comparative analysis of the damage we found at Aris 4 and the damage in this system. Whatever caused the damage appears to be identical in origin.”
“I can’t say I’m surprised. It was too similar to be mere coincidence. The mystery deepens.” She sighed, and added, “That’s great news about the gel packs, though. Anything else to report?”
“Not really, except Eleanor Gentry stopped by earlier. She wasn’t pleased with our decision not to hold a meeting prior to the away mission.”
“What did you tell her?”
“I told her that Starfleet captains frequently handle first contact and that we saw no reason to waste the board’s time with routine matters.”
“What did she say?”
“It didn’t satisfy her. I don’t think anything would, coming from me.”
On screen, Adele sighed, looking sympathetic. She could only imagine how the conversation had really gone. “Well, she’s going to have to get over that. You’re both here for the duration.” Her eyes suddenly seemed to shift toward something just beside Icheb on the desk. She raised her eyebrows and the beginning of a smirk tugged at her lips. “Are you using my ready room as a lunchroom, Number One?” she asked in amused incredulity.
“It’s more efficient than going to my quarters, or the replimat,” he quickly defended himself. Smiling a bit wickedly, he added, “Besides, you said yourself, she’s all mine for the next few days.”
Adele smiled back. “Indeed I did. Don’t let it go to your head, Commander. And I don’t want to find any crumbs on my desk when I get back.”
“Yes, Captain,” Icheb promised.
“I didn’t contact you just to check up on you, Icheb,” Adele said. Her smile faded.
“What do you mean?” Icheb asked with concern.
“I need to know if you can tell me anything else about the Tyndorans. You said they had superior shield technology. Are you aware of any cloaking technology they possess?”
Icheb appeared to think for a moment. He shook his head. “No. At least, nothing that the Borg encountered before my connection to the Collective was severed. It’s been a while, though,” he reminded Adele.
“Yes, I suppose it has,” she admitted. “What about their culture? You didn’t mention anything in our previous discussion.”
“My knowledge of their culture is incomplete. I don’t know if that’s because the Borg themselves had trouble assimilating them, or if it’s just ... something I don’t know.” Adele noted that he seemed bothered by the gaps in his knowledge, as if not knowing absolutely everything was some sort of personal failing on his part.
“Don’t worry about it, Commander. I have an assignment for you to give to the staff in Astrometrics. I’m going to have Ensign Slidell send over some coordinates and some sensor data. I’d like you to have our sensor analysts run some targeted scans to try and figure out what’s at the coordinates. Have them run every scan you can think of. Have them do it, Commander,” she emphasized. “I don’t want you spending all evening in there. I know I said you’re in charge, and you are -- of everyone else. I still get to order you around, though, and I’m ordering you to make sure you get adequate rest tonight. You have a ship to command. Scans are for sensor analysts and workaholic first officers. You’re in the captain’s chair.”
“Yes, ma’am,” replied Icheb, slightly sheepish. The captain certainly had his number when it came to his work habits.
“Also, Icheb, keep me informed regarding the gel pack fix. I’ll rest easier knowing that’s taken care of.”
Adele flashed her second-in-command one last smile. “Have a nice afternoon, Number One. Oyugo out.” The display went blank.
Icheb cleaned up from lunch, being careful to get every last particle of food off Adele’s desk and back into the replicator. It was nearly 1400 hours. He wondered how Maren was doing with the gel packs, but didn’t want to push his luck by checking up on her too soon. Instead, he left the ready room and returned to the bridge.
Admiral Beckley didn’t need to clean up his own lunch; he had Martha to do that. As he deleted the latest audio file from the captain’s ready room, he was intrigued by the mention of cloaking technology and wondered what they had stumbled across. He supposed he would have to wait to find out. He reflected on how squeaky clean both Adele and Icheb seemed to be on a personal level. Those could be the most difficult people to deal with. People with glaring flaws, with things to hide ... they were easily persuaded by threats, promises and manipulation. On the other hand, people as smart and seemingly idealistic as Adele and Icheb tended to dig in their heels and be stubborn regarding that which they considered right, no matter the risks involved. In the admiral’s opinion, Kathryn Janeway was a prime example of this kind of rigid thinking, and she had practically raised the executive officer of the Tesseract, as well as befriended Adele before the mission.
Then again, the admiral recalled, that other young officer, John Quigley, had mentioned Icheb having secrets. It had been in the context of their discussion regarding the chief engineer. He turned again to the desktop viewer, which still displayed the young woman’s holo-image alongside the record of her relatively short history in Starfleet. He’d have to do a little digging to see if the secret was a useful one. Probably not, he guessed with a small smirk, as he looked at the girl’s fresh-scrubbed, clean-cut, incredibly Starfleet-looking face. Then again, he’d been surprised many times before by things that seemed innocuous at first blush. In any case, it was better to memorize her file, analyze it now and not need it than to be caught unprepared if it could be useful later on. Besides, he reflected with a tiny sigh, it wasn’t as if he had anything better to do. If nothing else, he thought, maybe he’d take a walk down to engineering one of these days to check out the slipstream drive and have a little chat. It never hurt to have allies in influential places.
Beckley makes my skin crawl. There is something so perverse, petty (almost prurient, though he'd deny it, when he gets wind of Icheb's connection to Marren) and aggressive about his self serving, self aggrandized voyeurism. He strikes me as a classic narcissistic abuser, a splitter. Regardless of how superior and enlightened he perceives himself to be, he is in fact the basest sort, a pathologically fearful, decorous atavism hiding beneath a patina of self righteousness, protocol, and professed patriotism.
In Beckley's preferred iteration of the universe, there would be no Archers, Pikes, Kirks, Sulus, Harrimans, Garretts, Picards, Siskos, Kiras, Calhouns, Oyugos... No leaders with clean(er) souls raging against capitulation to expediency and abrogation of honor. No Janeways to redeem Starfleet and the Federation from the betrayals of the Rudy Ransoms, or the Cartwrights, or Doughertys, or Luther Sloans of the universe. And no Captain Ichebs in our future.
Ironically, people like Beckley always perceive themselves as defending civilization. But the very civilization they profess to protect would not exist were it dependent exclusively on the moral impetus of people like them. (Hello, Mr. Cheney!) Beckley is a walking, talking ethical oxymoron, anathema to the best for which the Federation stands.
Reading Beckley's thoughts, I suppose he's one of those who thinks that his ends justify his means. He would no doubt laugh at Surak's words: "Space-time is more concerned with means than ends. A beginning must be clean to be of profit."
Or an old Earth quotation I would love to drop on Beckley: "The country is planted thick with laws. If we cut them down in our hunt for the devil, who could stand the wind that would then blow?" (I think I got that right. I'm tired and too lazy to look it up, I confess.)
Kes7, you're not just painting a villain (if that is, indeed, what Beckley is; I dont put it past you to surprise me with some nifty twist) that I love to hate, but one in whose downfall I will revel--I am already entirely emotionally invested in the very prospect of Beckley's undoing.
I love going back and forth from the drum-taut emotional tension and palpable promise of blood in RESTORATION to the extravagantly deliberate character development, and assiduous narrative unfolding of Tesseract.
Thanks for another great chapter, Kes7.
Strange things are afoot in the Tyndoran system, and Sol must head deeper into what might become an unwelcome situation.
I very much liked the interpersonal interactions between Icheb and John, though the fact that the admiral was covertly listening in gave the sceen a creepy edge.
You're continuing to craft a fantastic group of characters and an equally complex mission that serves to draw the reader in more with each successive chapter.
Ditto to everything said above, although I think Beckley will turn out to not be at all what we're expecting...
Loved the character interactions and am intrigued by the mystery of the Tyndorans. I get the feeling things are not going to go according to plan for Captain Oyugo.
Meanwhile back on Tesseract... The scene with Beckley listening in was really well done, providing a cool tandem between these three characters all having lunch. Unfortunate that this now means Beckley has a possible lever to use against Icheb.
Roll on the next installment of this fantastic story!
Another good chapter - can't wait to see what the Tyndorans are hiding!
In sickbay, Sheila Duggal fought to keep her eyes open as she watched Maren O’Connor enter yet another set of adjustments into the console for what had to be the twenty-fifth simulation she had run in the last hour. “I don’t understand why you’re doing this. This isn’t even what you want to propose, so why spend so many hours perfecting it?”
“Because Commander Icheb is going to dislike my proposal, and ask me to do this anyway, so I might as well get it done now, while I have you here to help,” Maren replied without taking her eyes off the console.
“How do you know he’ll dislike it?” Sheila asked. “You haven’t showed it to him yet.”
Maren smiled sardonically. “Trust me, I just know.”
“Did you know him before this mission, or something? I noticed you seemed kind of uncomfortable around him when he came in to check on our progress. Is it the Borg thing? Because if it makes you feel any better -- ”
“No, it’s not the Borg thing!” Maren snapped. She sighed and apologized. “I’m sorry. Yes, we know each other,” she said, tapping a little harder on the console and looking tense. Sheila got the distinct impression she shouldn’t pry any further, and changed the subject.
“So, what a lucky break for you that your boyfriend got assigned to this mission,” she said, trying once again to break the ice. She had been working with the chief engineer for almost sixteen hours straight and felt like she knew almost nothing about her. She seemed nice enough, and could even be talkative and engaging when it came to work or other neutral topics, but she had clammed up every time Sheila had tried to make small talk about her personal life.
At Sheila’s latest attempt, Maren whipped her head around to look at the doctor instead of the console, eyes wide. “Boyfriend? What are you talking about?”
Sheila looked at her in surprise. “The lieutenant who brought us dinner? Quimby? Quincy? What was his name, again?” She remembered the tall tactical officer by sight from the away mission to Aris 4, but there had been so much going on that night she had never really committed his name to memory.
“John Quigley?” Maren asked incredulously. She laughed. “I’m not dating John Quigley.” She turned back to the console and kept tapping away.
“Really?” Sheila asked. “I just thought -- ”
“We’re old friends,” Maren interrupted. “Just friends,” she emphasized, all the while staring at her work.
Sheila was skeptical. Something about the way John had interacted with Maren the whole time he was in sickbay didn’t look like “just friends” to her. But she wasn’t going to argue. The engineer had clearly had it with the personal questions. An inveterate gossip, however, Sheila simply shifted tactics to asking personal questions about others.
“So he’s single?”
“Who, John? Yes, he’s single. Here, look at this,” Maren said, indicating the screen in front of her. “I think I finally got the field strength right.”
Sheila peered at the schematic on the screen. “I think that should do it. I mean, it’s impossible to predict how any individual’s biology might react to it over time, but I think the likelihood of any kind of adverse impact at that field strength level is pretty slim.”
Maren sighed. She seemed a bit dissatisfied, and Sheila wasn’t sure why. She suspected that her obvious perfectionism had something to do with it. The slim blond engineer had been working non-stop all day.
In between frequent interruptions from her staff down in engineering over matters both important and trivial, Maren had sat in on the tests Sheila had run with Rennel Linto and the gel packs and come up with two different possible solutions to the situation. It had taken about four hours for her to come up with the first solution, which was a way to physically shield them. She had spent another hour or so on an actual proposal to that effect; then she had started all over again on a backup proposal using energy fields instead of physical shielding. She had needed much more help from Sheila for the more complicated second plan, as it required extensive knowledge of telepathic biology and psionic fields, neither of which had apparently been on the engineering exams at Starfleet Academy. As soon as they had started working on the second proposal, Maren had gone from seeming friendly, if a little stressed out, to acting almost unnaturally frustrated by the whole situation. It had been a long day.
Finally, Maren pulled a PADD out of her engineering bag and set it on the console, initiating a download of their work. “All right, I think we’re done here,” she said. She turned to Sheila gratefully and smiled for what seemed like the first time in hours. “Thank you for all your help. I know it was a long day. I really appreciate your staying late to assist me with this; I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Sheila gave her a tired smile in return. “No problem. I’m just glad we won’t have to lock Rennel in his room for seven years. He seems like a nice guy.”
Maren smiled again at this. “Yes, he does. I really hope this works.” She sighed. “Now I just have to go give the proposal to Commander Icheb.” As she mentioned the XO’s name, she suddenly looked apprehensive, and Sheila wondered again exactly what the issue was between the two of them, but by this point, she knew better than to ask.
“Good luck,” she said, standing to go. “I hope you’re wrong about him disliking your proposal. I think both of the plans are great.” She gave Maren an encouraging smile.
Maren sighed. “Thanks,” she said. “We’ll see.”
“See you around, Lieutenant,” said Sheila. She gathered her things and gave a quick wave over her shoulder as she left sickbay.
As Maren finished downloading the results of their long workday into the PADD, she checked the time on the console’s chronometer. “Damn it,” she cursed under her breath. It was almost Gamma shift. She was going to be late.
She tapped her combadge. “O’Connor to Commander Icheb.” Maren waited for a response, but there was none. She tapped her combadge again. “O’Connor to Icheb, please respond.” She sighed. “Computer, locate Commander Icheb.”
“Commander Icheb is in his quarters.”
That’s just perfect, thought Maren sarcastically. She had really hoped she wouldn’t have to interrupt his regeneration cycle. Talking to him was awkward enough without having to break into his bedroom and wake him up. With a heavy sigh, she headed for the turbolift.
When she arrived at Icheb’s quarters, she buzzed the intercom just in case. No response. She took a deep breath, entered her security override code to open the door, and stepped inside, silently vowing that the first thing she would do in the morning was design a remotely operated system to interrupt his regeneration cycle so she wouldn’t ever have to do this again. Why someone hadn't planned for that in the first place was beyond her understanding, but then again, she had been shocked to learn that the ex-drones on Voyager had all regenerated in the cargo bay with no privacy at all. She supposed this was at least a step up from that. She also knew Starfleet Command probably hadn't realized they were assigning the XO's former fiancée to be in charge of operating his alcove. Still, she thought, this was really awkward.
“Computer, lights,” she ordered as she crossed the unadorned, completely Starfleet-issue living area with its dining table and large sofa, heading for the bedroom door. A few meters away, she halted nervously for a moment, but then purposefully stepped within sensor range and walked through as the door automatically slid open. To avoid annoying Icheb with sudden bright light in his eyes when he woke up, she said, “Computer, increase ambient lighting by twenty percent,” then waited a moment for her own eyes to adjust to the dim light.
As bits of the room came into focus, she felt almost queasy with recognition. The sparsely decorated space was classic Icheb. The regenerator and small console at the head of the bed, the enormous stack of PADDs on the desk, and the constantly cycling display of star charts on the small viewscreen reminded her a lot of the private dorm room he had been given at the Academy, only much larger. It was obviously good to be first officer, as Icheb’s quarters were about twice the size of Maren’s own fairly spacious residence aboard the Tesseract.
Maren bit her lip and took a deep breath, willing herself not to let her emotions take control. Let’s get this over with, she thought to herself, and stepped over to the bed, where Icheb lay perfectly still with his head centered in the modified alcove, as he always did while regenerating. She had only seen him actually sleep like a normal person a handful of times, usually while wrapped around her on a lazy afternoon. She quickly pushed that memory aside, and entered a sequence on the small console, which glowed green with Borg script. Icheb’s eyes opened as the computer gave its standard caution: “Warning. Regeneration cycle incomplete.” Maren stepped backward as Icheb glanced over at her and quickly sat up.
They stared awkwardly at each other for a moment. “Sorry to wake you, Commander,” said Maren. “I have a proposal for the gel pack shielding. You told me to -- ”
“I know I did,” Icheb interrupted her, standing up. “Thank you.” He walked over to the doorway that led to the more brightly lit living area and motioned for her to go first, squinting a bit as his eyes adjusted to the increased light. As she walked past him, he added, “It’s not necessary for you to call me by my rank behind closed doors, Maren. You were right when we spoke in your quarters before the away mission; we’ve been through too much for that.”
Maren stopped and turned to face him. “Actually, I think it is necessary,” she said carefully. “I really don’t know how to act around you right now, and all I have are Starfleet protocols to fall back on.”
Icheb could understand that feeling all too well. He had relied on those same protocols to get him through any number of awkward interpersonal situations since being rescued from the Collective. One person he had never needed to do that with, however, was Maren. It hurt that she of all people felt she needed to do it with him now.
He sighed and gave her a frustrated look. “Maren, just talk to me. You’ve never needed assistance with that.”
“No!” she said, a bit more harshly than she had intended. Making a conscious effort to soften her voice, she clarified, “I came here to show you my proposal for the gel packs. Please, it’s late. Let’s just work.”
Icheb nodded. “Please sit down,” he requested, indicating the sofa. He paused, and added a little nervously, “Would you like something to drink?”
Maren shook her head. “No, thank you. Let’s just get this done.” She walked over to the sofa and sat down as far to one end as she could without being obnoxious about it. Icheb came and sat down next to her, not being nearly as careful to maintain his distance, but neither did he press his luck, much to Maren’s relief.
Maren looked down at the PADD she was holding and handed it to Icheb, who scanned the contents with his usual speed. As he was reading, she got right to the point. “I think the best way to shield the gel packs is to literally shield them, not with an energy-based barrier, but with a physical protective layer, something thick enough to keep Lieutenant Linto’s psionic waves from reaching the gel packs, but breathable enough to not overheat the relays. I’ve outlined a few different configurations I believe will work.”
Icheb glanced from her to the PADD and back again. “I don’t understand. You have a perfectly workable plan for an energy-based shielding system right here, listed as a secondary alternative. This is excellent work, Maren, it should have been your primary suggestion. It’s much more efficient than replicating the materials for a physical barrier, and fairly easily implemented. I could see this being made standard on every ship using the bio-neural technology. Why are you suggesting something different?
“Because I can’t tell the future,” answered Maren, with audible frustration.
Icheb gave her an odd look. “Explain.”
Maren briefly closed her eyes and tried to compose her thoughts. “That force field is a neurogenic containment field. It’s highly biodynamic and it would be all over the ship, everywhere the gel packs are. I’m an engineer, not a doctor. I have no way to predict what kind of an effect something like that would have on the dozens of different species living aboard the Tesseract. I do know a physical barrier won’t hurt anyone.”
“You worked with Dr. Duggal on this, what did she say?”
“She said it would probably be fine, but I’ve heard that plenty of times before from well-meaning doctors, and so have you,” Maren said pointedly. “If there’s anything I learned during our five years together, it’s that mixing biology and technology often has unintended consequences.”
He couldn’t deny the point. She had certainly seen more than her share of biotechnological crises as a result of her relationship with him. He sighed. “Maren, we live in space. Everyone on this ship is going to be exposed to various types of radiation, energy fields, possibly even alien pathogens or deadly weapons at some point. It’s the reality of life on a starship. Everyone on this ship has accepted that risk.”
“That’s different. Those things aren’t part of the ship -- and they’re not my doing.”
“It’s not any different. This ship is inherently dangerous. The warp core, the slipstream drive, the fusion reactor, all of those things could easily kill the crew. We don’t think about it because our safety procedures are usually very effective, but it’s the truth. I know you know that, Maren. What is this really about?”
Maren sighed and leaned against the back of the sofa, once again closing her eyes as if trying to block out everything but her own thoughts. “I just want to make this solution as simple as possible, and I don’t want to add any more unnecessary biotechnology to the ship,” she said. She opened her eyes again to look directly at Icheb. “The bio-neural gel packs are bad enough. We wouldn’t have been faced with this problem in the first place if we’d just stuck to using traditional computers. Adding more biotechnology to the mix just makes things worse, not better.” She shifted her gaze to the cortical monitor Icheb was wearing and sighed, adding, “Before you know it, I’m going to have to help Dr. Bashir make one of those off switches for just about everyone on the ship, just in case their biology interacts with some critical piece of biotech.”
Icheb sighed. “Try to separate whatever you’re thinking about what’s happening to me from your thoughts about the situation with Lieutenant Linto, Maren,” he said. “I’m aware there are some parallels, but it’s really not the same thing.”
“Right. Of course not,” Maren retorted sarcastically. “Just like your situation is nothing like Seven’s, and you’re not acting like her at all. You know, you make this argument an awful lot, Icheb, about how different you are from everyone else. And actually, it’s true -- no one else in the galaxy is quite as stubborn as you.” She opened her mouth as if to say something more about the subject, then shut it just as quickly, seeming to think better of it. After a moment, she sighed and said, “Please just tell me what you want me to do about the gel packs. I need to give Gamma shift their orders and you should really be regenerating.”
Icheb sighed. She was right, he did need to regenerate. He just wished he could talk to her first. They had done so much of that back on Earth. They were always talking about their dreams, plans, goals, thoughts. They had finished each other’s sentences and spoken in unison like they had earlier that day in sickbay. At times, it really had felt like they shared one mind, but right now, he had no idea what she was thinking. All he wanted was to apologize to her, pull her close, and just talk to her again -- but he had to give her orders instead.
“I’d like to propose a compromise,” he said. Maren looked at him in surprise.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“You’re concerned about the well-being of the other telepaths on board the Tesseract. So am I. What if we have your staff replicate and install the physical shielding you’re proposing in all residential and recreational areas, along with the departments with 24-hour staffing, like the bridge and engineering? We can use the neurogenic containment field in the Jeffries tubes, corridors, turbolifts, and other areas of the ship where people aren’t sitting for eight or more hours at a time. Perhaps after it’s been in place for a while and we know more about how different species react to it, we can re-evaluate and choose one or the other to be used throughout the whole ship.”
Maren looked at Icheb in sincere appreciation. “That’s a great idea, Icheb -- I mean, Commander,” she corrected herself quickly.
Icheb shot her a look. “Stop it, Maren. That’s an order.”
“You can’t order me not to follow protocol,” she replied, then suddenly looked unsure. “Wait, can you?” she asked. Maren suddenly realized she didn’t know.
“I’m not sure. I don’t think the regulations address our particular situation,” Icheb answered wryly. “We could look it up, but I’d prefer you to just listen to me instead.”
“I’m sure you would,” retorted Maren. “It would certainly make things more comfortable for you, wouldn’t it?” She felt like her emotions were at warp, moving light years in different directions from one moment to the next. Three seconds before, she had been grateful to Icheb for his thoughtful compromise on the gel pack solution, and now she was angry again. For two years, he had been painfully effective in his efforts to avoid any contact with her, and now that they had to work together, he suddenly wouldn’t leave her alone.
As he opened his mouth to say something in reply, Maren stood up and cut him off. “I need to go give engineering their orders. Every hour makes a difference,” she said in an almost mocking voice, using Icheb’s own earlier statement against him. “Is there anything else, Commander?” Her words were professional, but her tone was insubordinate in the extreme.
Icheb sighed. There was so much else he had to say. However, it was clear that if she was ever going to listen to him, it wasn’t going to be tonight. He stood to walk her to the door. “No, Lieutenant, that’s all,” he said, acquiescing for the moment to her desire to keep things formal. “You did an excellent job with both of these proposals,” he added sincerely.
Maren looked down at her feet, already feeling guilty for snapping at him. “Thank you,” she said quietly, glancing back up and allowing her eyes to meet his briefly before turning toward the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Commander.”
“Good night,” Icheb said quietly as the door opened and she walked out into the empty corridor. She didn’t acknowledge him. He stood staring after her for a moment, then turned away, the door sliding shut behind him. Alone again, he returned to his alcove and restarted his regeneration cycle.
Just when you thought Maren and Icheb's relationship couldn't get more awkward or tense... heh.
Great stuff. The ongoing trials of their relationship is engrossing reading and helps uncover the inner workings of both characters.
An interesting pause from the intrigue of the Sol's mission and some good character work for Icheb and Maren. Keep up the good work, Kes!
Thanks. Yes, they're a total disaster area, and both are ill-equipped to clean up the mess.
Re: The pause -- Think of it as the calm before the storm. Things are about to get bumpy fast. Thanks for the compliment.
A fantastic chapter - the tension between these two is palpable and you gave us just enough hints as to the past, while keeping the conversation engaging. I loved Maren's reactions - they are so true! And Icheb's proposal of a compromise is a really good solution.
Keep up the good work!
I believe I've already pointed out that this story very much resembles a soap opera in space. But it is so much better than any soap, I'ver seen. (Not that I actually watch any).
I've hadly ever found myself rooting for a character in a story more than I do here. I really want to see Icheb and Maren to smooth things over and be a happy couple already. We all know they both want to be together. But it is perhaps a bit like the Scully/Mulder problem. You want them to be together but you know that once they are, all that wonderful, awkward tension will go away.
And in best soap opera fasion we also have an evil, scheming villain right in their midst. And now it seems as if the admiral has made Maren his newest target.
Oh boy, I'm all giddy to find out what will happen next.
And thank you, too, CeJay, though I'm laughing at the soap opera comment -- I liked your previous "space opera" assessment a lot better, I think. I guess I can see where the two angsty kids give that feel at the moment ... but there's a lot of actual action to come, as well. Promise. I may not get to the blowing stuff up quite as quickly as some, but it's coming. There aren't bits of blown up Borg all over the place for nothing. So, if it's a soap opera, it's a soap opera with explosions and spaceships. I'm glad you find it compelling!
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR
USS Tesseract - Physical Training Area
Retired Captains Mario Alvarez and Almen Drare greeted each other as they both arrived on the recreation deck of the USS Tesseract for a jog around the enormous track, something that was quickly becoming a morning ritual for the two members of the mission advisory board.
“’Morning, Almen,” said Mario, with a nod in the Bolian’s direction.
“Same to you,” Almen replied. Mario, who had been waiting there a few minutes, was bouncing up and down on his toes as a warm-up, but Almen looked utterly relaxed as he approached the physical training area.
“Shall we?” Almen asked. Mario nodded, and they stepped onto the track, beginning to jog in the same direction everyone else was moving. It was fairly crowded ninety minutes before Alpha shift, and the two opted to take it easy and stay together rather than attempt to weave their way through the mass of mostly younger crew members fighting for space as they circled the large physical training area.
Their pace was fairly slow due to the crowd, making it easy to keep a conversation going. Almen, a characteristically talkative Bolian, spoke first: “How do you think the away mission is going?”
“Hard to say. Her exec’s reports have been less than informative,” answered Mario, keeping his eyes forward and concentrating on not running into anyone.
Almen smiled. “I suspect Oyugo ordered him to keep things as quiet as possible. Wouldn’t you, if you were her?” he asked, with a knowing look.
Mario snickered. “Definitely,” he said with a grin. They jogged in silence for a few moments before he added seriously, “We should talk to her when she gets back.”
“Oyugo? Just the two of us?” Almen questioned him.
Mario nodded. “Yes. Without that smug asshole Beckley or that shrew Gentry around to get her defenses up. I can’t imagine having had to answer to a board like this at all, let alone with those two sitting at the table. Especially Gentry -- what a confrontational bitch. Maybe we can show the captain that not everyone on the advisory board has it out for her and her exec.”
Almen seemed skeptical. “Do you think it would be appropriate to approach her apart from the rest of the board?”
“Why not?” asked Mario. “What are we supposed to do for the next seven years, hide in our quarters and avoid talking to her except at board meetings? No, I think we should talk to her. She acts like she could use a friend or two, and something tells me that baby-faced drone they gave her for an XO isn’t going to cut it in that department.”
“I don’t know, I kind of like him,” said Almen, smirking as he added, “In fact, I can think of at least two execs I’d have gladly traded for him.”
“He’s a child,” snorted Mario. “You know as well as I do a captain needs someone to talk to who has some experience. Would you confide in him?”
Almen thought this over as he swerved to avoid a young human ensign who had unwisely stopped in the middle of the track to adjust one of her socks. As she bent over, long, lean legs revealed in their entirety by her running shorts, both Almen and Mario glanced over to appreciate the view.
“She could be your daughter,” Almen admonished Mario with a smirk.
“Hell, she could be my granddaughter,” Mario laughed. “Doesn’t make the view any less enticing.”
“Indeed,” agreed Almen, smiling. Getting their conversation back on track, he said, “All right, we’ll talk to Oyugo.”
“Good,” replied Mario. “I think it will be a good thing for the mission. She needs to know she can trust the board, and right now I get the impression she’s scared to death of us.”
“Can you blame her?” asked Almen, wiping away a single bead of sweat that had started to run down his bald blue forehead.
Mario shook his head. “No,” he replied, “I can’t.”
USS Sol - Captain’s Ready Room
Adele sat sipping a cup of Yridian tea, patiently waiting to be connected to her first officer back on the Tesseract. Apparently, Icheb had been off doing something, so she was being patched through to his quarters and he was on his way there. The officer handling the transmission said the commander had promised to be there “within three minutes.” Out of idle curiosity, Adele watched the chronometer to see if Icheb would be as precise as she thought he would be.
Sure enough, two minutes and forty-four seconds later, her display flickered to life, giving her a first look at her exec’s private quarters in the background behind the commander. She glanced around at the completely Starfleet-issue living area in mild surprise, and said, “Not much for interior decorating, are you, Number One?”
“I haven’t had much time to put any thought into it,” Icheb replied truthfully.
“I see,” replied Adele. “Well, I’m contacting you for an update. How did Astrometrics do finding out what’s at our destination?”
Icheb looked irritable as he replied, “Not well, Captain. If it is a cloaked planet, it’s not like any cloaking technology the Federation or the Borg have seen before, at least not as of the time of -- ”
“Your separation from the Collective. Right, got it,” said Adele, cutting him off with an impatient smile. Maybe it was just the early hour and her own restless mood, but she thought if she had to hear that disclaimer again, she might scream. “So you didn’t find anything?”
“No, Captain,” he said, looking concerned. “Given the circumstances, I recommend you return to the Tesseract and renegotiate the terms of first contact with the Tyndorans. There’s no reason to risk the safety of the entire away team to pursue this contact their way. I'm concerned that you’re heading into a completely unknown situation with thirty-three crew members and one of our three slipstream-capable vessels.”
Adele sighed. “Need I remind you that you were the one who wanted me to take the Sol?” she asked.
She could see Icheb stiffen at the comment. Clearly, he did not need reminding. “No, Captain. I’m aware of my previous recommendation. That was when we thought you were going to visit a typical planet -- one we can see.”
“Commander, I’m seeing this through. I think these people know what’s happening to subspace and the Borg. Before we head into the Delta Quadrant, I want to find out as much as I can.”
“What makes you think they know anything?” Icheb asked. “They haven’t said anything to that effect.”
“It’s a feeling I have,” answered Adele. “A very strong feeling.” She knew this wouldn’t satisfy him. It didn’t even fully satisfy her. But she couldn’t possibly explain to someone who wasn’t an empath that when you had a feeling this strong, you ignored it at your peril.
Icheb narrowed his eyes critically. “You may be an empath, Captain, but a feeling is not evidence. Permission to speak freely?” he asked.
“You mean you’re not doing that already?” asked Adele wryly, though she strongly suspected he was more frustrated than he had yet let on. “In that case, I may regret this, but please, go ahead.”
He got right to the point. “You’re being irrational. This is why I should have been the one to go on this mission in the first place. The regulations are correct, it’s too risky to send the captain on an away mission. Not only could you be killed or permanently separated from your crew, your superior rank affords you the luxury of refusing to listen to the logic of others. One of my functions on this ship is to talk you out of making irrational, dangerous decisions, but you aren’t listening to me. Either that, or you just don’t care what I have to say.” She couldn’t read his feelings from this far away, but he looked angry, or close to it, as he stood staring Adele down on the viewscreen, fists clenched at his sides and an intense expression on his face.
Adele spoke slowly and carefully, keeping her own anger in check. She did not appreciate the insinuation that his logic was superior to hers, nor that she was ignoring what he had to say, but she knew she wouldn’t get far calling him out on it. “Risk is part of the job of a starship captain, Commander. If you ever want to have your own command, you’re going to have to learn that.”
Icheb snapped at her in return, “I’m not averse to taking worthy risks! I just disagree that this is one.”
“Your objection is noted,” said Adele. “I’m not changing my mind. Have Astrometrics keep looking for clues. We’re about thirteen hours from the coordinates we were given.”
“Yes, Captain,” Icheb said irritably.
“Oyugo out,” Adele said, and pushed a button on the console, causing Icheb to disappear from the screen. She sighed heavily and looked out the window at the stars as she reflected on their first substantive disagreement as captain and XO. With six years of captaincy on two different starships under her belt, and five years before that as executive officer under two different captains, Adele had known that this would probably happen at some point. The very nature of their respective positions would inevitably pit them against each other not just this time, but likely again and again over the next seven years. Best to get the first fight out of the way early, she consoled herself. It didn’t make her feel much better.
She rose, stretched out, and stuck her cold cup of tea back in the replicator for recycling. Taking a deep breath, she walked back out to the bridge. She had a Tyndoran to question. Again.
It looks like the captains on the advisory board are just as enamored with the admiral and the lawyer as Oyugo is. Nice to know that Adele might have at least two potentially sympathetic people in her own personal star chamber.
Interesting to see Icheb going toe-to-toe with his captain in regards to the away mission. As irritated as he’s making her, he does have a point, and it is his job to act as a sounding board for her decisions. I hope this is part of the Captain/XO process of feeling out each other’s boundaries, a necessary first step in the formation of any effective command team.
A good chapter, really setting us up for some interesting character interactions. Glad to see that Adele will have a few friendly faces on the panel, at least willing to back her up behind the scenes.
Also good to see this new level to the Adele/Icheb relationship - he is doing his job as XO, it is just a question of whether they will find a balance. I thought you handled Adele's thought process especially well - she realises this is part of the standard Captain/XO relationship and that they will have to get past it.
Great job, as usual!
Ah, they had their first fight. As far as confrontations with you captain goes, this one was a relatively mild one. But I like the idea that you can have a different opinion to your boss without her/him scolding you for it. That's a good relationship and not one you'll find on every ship.
Also looks like Adele is going to have some allies on the board. That's good. She's gonna need all the help she can get with Beckley and Gentry in the other corner.
CeJay - Yes, it was mild. They're both really polite under normal circumstances, and neither one of them is comfortable enough with the other yet to step out of that mold and get into a full-on screaming match. Definitely some feeling out of the command relationship going on there. As for not being scolded, yes, it's nice, unless it's just part and parcel of a larger trend of being ignored. So far, Adele is one for three on listening to Icheb's recommendations when he's given them. We'll see how those numbers progress in the future ... thanks for the comments!
Capt. Sarine and Gibraltar - Thanks for the comments! You guys said exactly the same thing, so I'm responding to you as one. I'm glad you both enjoyed the chapter.
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