"THEREFORE, this Board of Inquiry finds that Lt. Gabriel Frost will bear no punishment for the loss of the USS Spitfire. Indeed, we find that he acted in keeping with the finest Starfleet traditions, and that his actions in the Tixeon system against Nassin pirates, taken at great personal cost, resulted in no loss of life amongst the colonists bound for Concordia V, though their Starfleet escort vessels were all destroyed. Further, we recommend that Lt. Frost receive the Silver Aquila commendation for valorous action, and that he be promoted immediately to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. "These proceedings are closed. Congratulations, LCDR Frost." Gabriel, who'd been standing at attention as the Board read its findings, snapped off a textbook-precise salute. "Thank you, sirs." The assembled Admiralty returned the salute; as Gabriel sat heavily, those in the hearing room's gallery broke into smaller groups and several conversations commenced, while all but one of the admirals who'd made up the board departed. High Fleet Admiral Robert Durham, Commander in Chief Unified Command, cut through the gradually thinning crowd over to where Gabriel sat. "Got a minute, Gabriel?" "Yes, sir," Gabriel replied quietly. The proceedings had been emotionally draining, and he hadn't slept for going on three days. "So, the 'Hero of Tixeon'.. gets the Silver Aquila and a promotion to boot." Adm. Durham smiled. "I'm no hero," Gabriel protested. "Nonsense! And for the second time in your career, you find yourself in the enviable position of being able to choose your next posting. Anywhere you want, any engine room in the Fleet." He leaned closer, his voice taking on a semi-conspiratorial tone. "I have it on good authority that the Enterprise is looking for an Assistant Chief Engineer." "With respect, sir, I just want to go back to the Yards at Rasalhague." "The Enterprise, Gabriel. A billet aboard her is a guaranteed move to the front of the proverbial Fast Track. How can you turn that down?" "Permission to speak freely, Admiral." "Always, Gabriel, always. You know that. It hasn't been that long since you served under me." "Sir, I feel I can best serve Starfleet, I mean the Unified Command, by continuing my work at Rasalhague. It's where I want to be, and you did say any posting I want." Adm. Durham made a show of sighing and slumping his shoulders dramatically. "Very well, Lieutenant Commander, I'll see to it that the orders are drawn up. You'll have to take a detour to Concordia V on your way to Rasalhague, however. The colonists have been waiting for you to complete your recovery so they could celebrate their hero." At this, Gabriel looked less than pleased. "Duties of a hero," Adm. Durham said, a small and very gently mocking smile crossing his lips. "Besides, it's good PR for Starfleet." Gabriel knew there was no way to avoid it. "Very well, Admiral. Now if you don't mind, sir, I could use some sleep." "I'll be in touch with your orders and travel itinerary. Dismissed." "On your word, sir." Gabriel shook Adm. Durham's hand, turned sharply on his heel and headed for the Bachelor Officer's Quarters on the east side of the Unified Command Headquarters complex. * * * * * * * * * * * * * Admiral Durham found Adm. Michael Rosenthal in the latter's office, muttering and cursing to himself in Hebrew. Something's really bothering him, Adm. Durham knew, and he asked what it was. "Damned Celvani caught wind of the Daikatana project, and started kvetching again about how Starforce gets the best ships and Starfleet gets the leftovers. We're going to have to throw them a pretty meaty bone to quiet them down this time, you know." Adm. Durham rolled his eyes, sighed: "What do they want?" "A quote-unquote cutting edge starship class assigned exclusively to Starfleet, you know, with at least one of that class -- with a Starfleet crew, mind -- assigned to Gateway Sector." "The thought occurs," said Adm. Durham, as the idea formed quickly in his head, "that we can use this as an opportunity to put a scapegoat into place. We've been looking for a chance like this." "Yeah, but who?" "Frost would be perfect. The Celvani think his shit doesn't stink; he's their prophesied 'Third Traveller', after all. Let's give Fleet the Pellucidar-class.. Daikatana's better anyway, and Frost designed 'em both. But which ship to send to Gateway?” Durham thought for a short moment. “Challenger. We’ll give her to Frost and send them out there to mollify the Celvani.” "Commander Taylor won't like that, you know. You promised Challenger to her, and she’s a plank owner, don’t forget. Not to mention, you put Frost out there and MacAllister will blow like a defective warp core." "I'm counting on it. Should make things come to a head pretty quickly, and all to our advantage. We'll give Frost a couple of weeks to settle, then spring it on him." Adm. Rosenthal looked up from his desk. "Are you comfortable using him, given your relationship?" For a moment, Robert Durham’s focus turned inwards. He’d known Gabriel and his parents since Gabriel was four or five years old; hell, he’d sailed very briefly with Gabriel’s father St. John before the man had left the Federation Merchant Marine to make his own way in the galaxy. Robert had procured for him the nearly-derelict Block Six Miranda-class cruiser that Gabriel’s dad had turned into the tramp freighter Destiny’s Moon. He’d delivered news of St. John’s death to Gabriel and his mother Talya, and when Talya had died in the test run of a new warp drive, Robert had taken Gabriel under his wing and steered him towards the Starfleet Corps of Engineers. Gabriel had a gift for starship design and engineering that Durham was quick to exploit.. for the good of the Federation, of course. "He's a friend, yes... more than a friend. Hell, he's like a son. But what we do is for the good of the Federation, and... sacrifices must be made." "Oy vey, Robert, we just barely promoted him. You want to try and make him a captain? He won't want the assignment, you know, he'll resign his commission." "We won't let him. You know that game that Intel plays, the one they call 'good cop bad cop'?" Durham smiled, a predatory grin this time. "This is how it works..." * * * * * * * * * * * * * Two weeks later... Gabriel had been deep in a restless sleep when the com-terminal on his nightstand chirped. "Call for you from Unified Command," said Ensign Hirano, Rasalhague's 'switchboard operator'. "UniCom?" asked Gabriel, shaking the cobwebs from his head. Always the same dream... "Pays to have friends in high places, hon." Gabriel keyed his code, finding Adm. Rosenthal on the other end. Without preamble or pleasantries, the admiral rattled off Gabriel's new orders. "Begging the Admiral's pardon, but there must be a mistake." "No mistake, Lieutenant Commander." Adm. Rosenthal's voice was cold. "You are ordered to report immediately to Earth, Newport News Shipyards, to take command of USS Challenger. The orders come directly from Fleet Admiral Durham himself. You will obey those orders, Mr. Frost." "No sir, I cannot. I'll resign my commission..." "Do so, and we terminate the Project." Gabriel paused in shock. "I can't believe Adm. Durham would approve such a measure." "Don't try me, Mr. Frost. You have your orders." "I'm going to take this up with Adm. Durham, you know." Adm. Rosenthal sneered. "You do that. Meanwhile, the orders stand." He abruptly cut the com-channel. Gabriel sat for a long moment, collecting his thoughts. A cold anger started to grow as he asked Ensign Hirano to place a return call to UniCom HQ. The call went through surprisingly quickly. "Gabriel, what can I do for you?" said Adm. Durham amicably. "What can you?.. how about rescinding these orders?" Gabriel waved an isolinear chip at the monitor. "I can't do that." He held up a hand to ward off Gabriel's impending protest. "Let me explain. We need you. I need you." Adm. Durham explained the Celvani's 'request', adding, "they want you commanding that ship." A lie, but one Gabriel wouldn't likely think to try and verify. He knew all too well how the Celvani felt about him. Gabriel was quiet, but his face displayed his resignation. Gotcha, Adm. Durham thought. Here comes the part where he thinks he's bargaining with me. Adm. Durham was, however, surprised by the hard look that flashed across Gabriel's face before it reacquired the look of dejection. "It occurs to me, Admiral, that perhaps there's more to this than you're letting on. Why else would Adm. Rosenthal threaten to pull the plug on the Project? I suspect that gives me some leverage." Adm. Durham eyed Gabriel warily. "Go ahead," he said cooly. "What do you want?" "I want special permission to continue to wear Engineering yellow." "Command line officers haven't worn yellow for nearly one hundred years… but I think we can accomodate you. Now let's..." "That's not all, sir. I want Dallas Parrino, and a full wing of Hayabusa-type fighters." Parrino was the hottest fighter jockey this side of Betelgeuse. "If you want her then..." "Kromm." "He'll never do it." "He owes me," Gabriel said. "Klingons and their honor, you know." "It'll be difficult, but you'll have them." He looked at Gabriel and said, somewhat sarcastically: "Anything else?" "I want the Black Seven." "Absolutely not. No-one even knows where they are, but even if they did, the admiralty would never agree to it." "I want them," Gabriel repeated. He stabbed a finger at the monitor. "I'll terminate the Project myself." "I.. fine. Done." He lowered his eyes in mock defeat. "If I may, Admiral.." started Gabriel. "What is it that you want now?" he barked. "Just respectfully requesting, sir. The orders say immediately, but if I may have a week to wrap things up here?" "Very well. But the next time I see you, I expect you to be wearing the proper rank insignia." "Aye, sir. On your word." "Then congratulations, Captain Frost." The way Durham put an oddly ice-cold emphasis on ‘captain’ made Gabriel's heart skip a beat, but the channel was cut before he could comment. Besides, his mind was already racing with thoughts of the upgrades he could give Challenger, systems he’d wanted to install but didn’t dare as a lowly lieutenant. As a captain, though… * * * * * * * * * * * * * "So how did your cop thing work?" asked Adm. Rosenthal. "It was.. expensive.. but worth it. He was purchased a bit more dearly than I'd expected, but we have him. Now we can proceed with the next phase..."