United Trek is celebrating its 10th anniversary! Most of us are posting stories for the occasion, many of which have the number 10 somewhere in the tale as a tribute. This is my contribution. It’s a two-part episode about a young, green Jason Aubrey on the cusp of assuming his first command. But the strange forces at work in his life are always present, sometimes hidden and almost always plotting against him. Here is a short peek at a pivotal moment of his career. Star Trek: Intrepid _____________________ Wayward Son - Part 1 I’m masquerading as a man with a reason, but my charade is the event of the season… --- Kansas New Latakia, Syria 2368 Damien Carter entered the room warily, hunting for his adopted son among the crowds. He was nervous for no good reason that he could fathom. They spoke regularly since the day Jason went off to Starfleet Academy, so there was very little catching up to be done. They hadn’t quarreled in the recent past, nor was he about to meet a fiancé or some other person of significance to his son; none of the usual suspects were involved that might cause him to fret. He supposed there was just something about personal visits that carried with them an inherent weight. Somehow they registered higher on the family visit index than your average long distance chat. At least, that’s what he told himself. The large banquet hall was thick with at least a hundred people, most of them wearing Starfleet dress uniforms. Their ages ran the spectrum from snot nosed cadets to command level officers. He finally spotted his son at a large bar that ran the length of the room just in front of a concave window. As Damien threaded his way through the population, he noted with bemusement that a group of plebes were finishing up an enthusiastic rendition of Le Miserables’, “One More Day”. When it was done, the room broke out in applause, including Jason Aubrey, who had been enjoying a front row seat. It brought a small, sentimental smile to his father’s lips. He always did like show tunes. Jason could easily have passed for his biological offspring. He had Damien’s broad shoulders, his angular nose and oval face. Even his hair was dark blonde, Damien’s shade before his original color was lost. Aside from age, only their eyes set them apart; his were dark brown, while Jason’s were large and intensely blue. He waived over a young Bolian woman who was tending the bar and asked for nelag, an Andorian beverage that was one of his favorites. It derived its pleasing effects from a plant based narcotic, rather than alcohol, which made it easier on the stomach lining. He noted that Jason had a glass of the bright purple liquid himself. Little wonder, Damien had introduced him to it. Jason’s father was sixty-seven and had retired from Starfleet fifteen years ago. He had been an Operations Chief and backline maintenance engineer throughout his career, which had meant postings to ground based facilities and starbases for the most part. He had preferred it that way. Roaming the stars just wasn’t in his blood. He still kept his appearance simple, much as he had in the old days. His preferred hairstyle was a crew cut, which did little more than show off a litter of gray stubble. “My word, quite the fanfare. You’d think they were promoting you to the Admiralty.” He spoke with a blended English accent that identified no particular region. That was normal, considering Earth’s richly diverse population. “Didn’t think you’d make it.” In Jason’s case, he was originally from North America, which had its own mixture of dialects, but he had caught Damien’s accent after spending his formative years under the other man’s roof. “Tell the truth, dad…you just came for the nelag, right?” “Quite so.” Both men clinked their glasses together and drank deep. “Congratulations on your first starship command, kid. Sorry your mum couldn’t make it. She’s still on Berengaria VII.” “Slaying dragons, aye?” “Only the political kind. She’s still the Senior Liaison for the Bureau of Planetary Affairs. Don’t know how she does it, pacifying administrative buffoons on dozens of different worlds, including the Federation Council. I told her she’s gone daft, putting out fires for these people. That’s what they have diplomats for, but does she ever take advice?” “Definitely not from you or me.” Jason smiled wirily. “Waite a minute, I thought mum was transferring into BPA’s Environmental Impacts Division last year?” “Her Department Chief did some pleading, talked her into staying put. Should’ve told him to piss off is what I said, but she doesn’t listen, does she?” They shook their heads in unison, for a moment looking like a man and his mirrored reflection. After a few voracious gulps of his drink, Damien said, “So, the Guadalajara, hunh?” “That’s right.” Jason’s eyes lit up, despite the drinks he had consumed. “I have to admit, I was a little surprised. You just made XO a year ago.” Jason raised his chin haughtily. “Well, obviously Starfleet sees a lot of potential in me.” “I’m wondering how Captain Cheng took it? He sent you off to the Advanced Tactical Training Program, and then bumped you up to First Officer when you came back. Now you’re leaving him for the first command docket that comes along.” “You make it sound as if they’ll be plenty of other offers.” “There may be, actually. After a few more years as Cheng’s XO, you could write your own ticket.” Jason snickered. “I’m a starship commander at the age of thirty-one. I think my jacket’s looking pretty good at this point.” “Well, there are commands and there are commands.” He grimaced the moment the words left his mouth. Jason turned slowly on his stool to face him. “And just what does that mean?” Ah, Christ. “Nothing. Forget it. This drink is creating semantic fracturing in my cerebral algorithms, that’s all.” “Stop being cute, dad. You’re barely into your first glass. Now, you obviously don’t think highly of my appointment. You can spit it all out. I promise not to cry.” “Really Jason, forget I said anything. This is your special night. I’m not here to ruin it with fatherly criticism. I never should have brought it up.” “I insist.” His expression darkened ominously, as if his own father were a subordinate who’d stepped out of line. Damien sighed resignedly, rubbed the bridge of his nose, then dove in. “So here it is then: Nothing against the Guadalajara. But she’s an Oberth-class science vessel. The old girl’s a dinosaur, used mostly as a support craft to modern ships. You’ll be operating well within Federation borders for the most part, ferrying specialists back and forth from starbase to starbase. If you’re really lucky you might get to tag along on terraforming missions.” “Then I guess my crew will have to provide all the merriment.” He could see that his son’s festive mood was already beginning to curdle and he felt a stab of guilt. On the other hand, he’d already committed himself. If his son was too delicate to receive disparaging viewpoints, he had no business running a ship. The rationale brought resolve, and thus armed he plunged ahead. “Speaking of your crew, you’ll have a grand total of maybe fifty-four, none of whom you’ll get to select. You’re looking at a handful of aloof Vulcan crewmen and a motley assortment of NCOs, all of them too immersed in their work to acknowledge the presence of a skipper who’s not even a science specialist. You’ll be more caretaker than captain, I’m afraid.” Jason stood and held out his glass, as if making a toast to the room. “The Wizard Damien has worked his foul magic yet again, my good people! Presto! My victory is now a resounding defeat!” He bowed in mock supplication. “I yield to you sir, and throw myself on your tender mercy.” From the other end of the bar, The Bolian woman moved uncertainly in their direction, trying to decide if Jason was requesting another round. Damien ground his teeth irritably. “Oh, stop your bloody whining. You asked for my thoughts, so here they are. Now, you know I’m proud of you, son. I have been from day one. I’m just saying there won’t be many ways to distinguish yourself on the Guadalajara. The Baghdad. Now that’s a ship. An Ambassador-class workhorse with a variable mission platform. And it’s a posting that’s been very kind to you, as made obvious by your recent good fortunes.” “I spend one more day on that ship and I’d blow myself out an airlock with a smile on my face, my good fortunes not withstanding. As for Captain Cheng, I nearly resigned my commission because of that son of a bitch.” “I remember. You two were at each other’s throats from the moment you became Second Officer. But he’s also the same son of a bitch that made you his right-hand man. If he was able to readjust his comfort level for the sake of his crew, why can’t you?” Jason looked back at him impassively, saying nothing. “What’s more, I’ve heard he’s retiring soon. Hell, they probably would have given you his ship. All you had to do was wait for it.” “Or I can have my own command right now. There’s no time like the present.” You’re as impatient as you are arrogant. Luckily, Damien caught that one before it got away from him. There was an uncomfortable stretch of silence as they both feigned interest in the clumsy dancing that had started around them. A new show tune was being sung, something from Far Beyond The Stars, a 22nd Century musical about the ill-fated Terra Nova colony. When he could no longer stand being ignored, Damien said: “I’m half way to spoiling your celebration, aren’t I? You’re probably counting the minutes till I leave.” The younger man sneered in agreement. “Don’t let the doors pinch your ass on the way out.” “Right, then. Well. Before I go, let me leave you with this: you’re wasting your talent, you know. You had some of the highest scores on record at ATTP. It’s a gift you have, tactics, starship combat and all that. Now, maybe Starfleet doesn’t recognize people with your type of gifts at the moment, but the day is fast approaching when we’re all going to need officers like you.” He swept his hand expansively at the large window behind the bar. “And you’ll be needed out there as a first line of defense, meeting threats head on, not paddling around the backwaters of the Federation.” Jason was taken aback by the tirade. “Dad, you act like we’re on the brink of war. All things considered, the Federation’s done a fine job of keeping the peace. I doubt any major conflicts will flare up in my lifetime.” He frowned suspiciously. “Unless you know something the rest of us don’t.” A somber grin quivered to life. Damien seemed distant as he spoke, as if recalling a sad episode from his past. “I don’t have to. I know what I know because chaos and war are a cycle---a rhythm just like the change of the seasons. When you’ve been around a spell or two, you can catch their scent in the air.” Jason regarded at him for a few moments before presenting his customary half-smile. “Sometime I wonder if you aren’t just hoping for it.” Damien screwed up his face in a parody of rage. “There’s a lot of nerve. Aren’t you the bloke who nearly started a civil war on the Gorn home world?” “Hey, now. There were mitigating circumstances.” “No wonder Cheng hated you. You’re a diplomatic crisis with feet.” Aware of Jason’s growing scrutiny, he held up a finger, “I see that look on your face, so before you ask, I get wind of all sorts of supposedly classified information from Starfleet. Or rather, you mum hears about it via the BPA. You know…diplomatic Snafus and all that. I promise we haven’t been spying on you.” Jason’s half-smile slipped away, but the intensity of his gaze lingered. “Still, it’s curious. You and mum don’t speak much these days. And for a guy who stayed an enlisted man his whole life and is now retired, you seem to really have your ear to the ground.” Damien put his hands up. “All right, you caught me. I secretly moonlight for a sinister organization that has tendrils in every level of Starfleet. Spying on you is just one of my nefarious activities.” “The next time you wonder where my sarcasm comes from…don’t.” Jason said drolly. At that point Jason’s old Academy buddies accosted them. They pulled him off his stool and all but dragged him off for some type of drinking contest. But he hadn’t quite turned off his probe before he left. For just a moment there, Damien was the recipient of a frigid, piercing examination. That look of his---like being dissected by lasers. Then the probe snapped off and he was laughing merrily with the gang. How long had it been since he’d seen that? Now that he had a little time on his hands, he ordered another drink and pondered the idea, watching as his son squared off against a Ktarian across a table with two shot glasses and a bottle. It finally came back to him: the first time that look made an impression on him was during an incident from his son’s childhood. It happened when Jason was twelve, just two years after his adoption. He had run afoul of a bully named Pierre, a fourteen year old who lived across the hall in the housing complex at Starbase 323. It started after the kid had tackled Jason as he walked home and beat the living tar of him. Pierre had learned a thing or two from his daddy---a security man---so he knew how to dispense a beat down without inflicting serious damage or leaving marks. Jason told no one so his father didn’t learn about the beating until much after the fact. He was, however, there to see how his adopted son had chosen to retaliate. Coming home from his duty shift one night, he had stumbled upon a bizarre tableau in the hallway that burned forever in his memory. He had found Pierre backed against a wall, sobbing hysterically. “You can’t do that! You can’t DO THAT!” the boy was shrieking. Jason stood a few feet away, his arms crossed. He wasn’t threatening the other kid physically. He had no weapon. Indeed, there not even so much as tussled hair on either of their heads to indicated a physical altercation had occurred. In fact, Jason hadn’t uttered a single word during the time his father was on the scene. He just stood there, an expression of cold amusement on his face, like a predator toying with his victim, delighting in the terror he was inflicting. Pierre ran off the moment he spotted Damien. When he pressed his son for details, he made up some vague story about bluffing the other kid with a threat. To this day, Jason would not say exactly what that threat had been, or how it could have made a hard-as-nails Starfleet brat wet himself in fear. What Damien did know, was that Pierre never bothered his son again. The angry visit that should have followed from his security officer dad never occurred, either. The event was unsettling because it wasn’t the first time he’d seen flashes of cruelty in the boy. But up until that day, they’d been minor incidents that were easy to dismiss. Now he was forced to wonder how well he actually knew his child. Back then those thoughts had led him in a strange direction… He had wondered if Jason were a shell, devoid of all empathy. What if his disarming smile, the compassion he sometimes voiced for those in difficulty, was just a mask worn by a talented actor? Then, just when he was steeling himself to swallow that bitter pill, his new son decided to just plain confuse the hell out of him. Three years later, while visiting Earth, Jason witnessed a rare accident: two hover cars colliding in midair. One of the vehicles was so badly damaged, it lost its anti grav pods and spiraled into a house where it exploded. Jason had sprinted without hesitation into the burning structure to save the lives of the residents trapped inside. He made three trips through the inferno, suffering ghastly injuries each time. When it was all over, he was left with third degree burns throughout his body and needed a new set of lungs. He nearly died on the operating table. Once he recovered, Jason waived off any accolades regarding his heroism. Whenever the subject was broached he would dismiss it by saying, “It was the right thing to do.” At this point, Damien couldn’t decide if his son was a hero or a closet sadist. So it was, that when the boy later showed an interest in joining Starfleet, Damien did all he could to encourage it, even pulling strings to expedite the admission process. He reasoned that only Starfleet could bring Jason’s dueling natures into harmony. If that could be done, he might become one of Starfleet’s most formidable instruments. The bartender suddenly appeared before him, interrupting his contemplations. “Excuse me sir, are you Damien Carter?” He said that he was. She pointed across the hall full of milling people to an open doorway. “That gentleman over there sent me a whisper. He said he’s an old friend who’d like to speak with you outside. Sorry, I don’t know why he did it that way.” Damien looked over to see who would send the bartender a tight beam audio broadcast directly to her ears, rather than using a communicator. He spotted a heavyset man just about his own age, standing within the open door. He made out a full head of salt and pepper hair, bushy eyebrows and a wide, brown face. Once eye contact was made, he motioned for Damien to join him outside before moving out of sight. Well, now the whisper made sense. His “old friend” obviously wanted their meeting to take place off the grid; nothing sent through any COMM network. Apparently Kevin was still compulsive about protocol, even after all these years. Damien sighed bleakly. He decided to make the clown wait while he ordered another drink. Once in hand, he downed half its contents in less than a minute. After it had achieved the desired effect, he slipped off the stool and shuffled towards the exit, his reluctant footfalls lost in the roar of celebration.