CHAPTER FOUR Adele glanced at the chronometer and groaned. She set the PADD she’d been reviewing down on the side table and rubbed her eyes. Once again, she had stayed up far too late reading all she could about the history and politics of the Delta Quadrant as the Federation understood it. She had read the same reports over and over again, but she felt the need to keep the details fresh in her mind. With barely more than two days left before launch, reviewing the data helped her feel more ready. It also made her feel exhausted. She had taken her evening meal in her room, reading as she picked at a bowl of replicated pasta. She had then drifted to the sofa, where she sat now, feeling foolish for staying up, knowing she would regret the choice in the morning. Slowly, she stretched and stood up. She had changed out of her uniform several hours ago, so all that was left was to clean up and get in bed. As she brushed her teeth, she stared into the large mirror in her nicely appointed lavatory. At 44, she still had the smooth dark skin of her early youth, but the years had started to take their toll in other ways. She thought she had aged more quickly in her last six years as a Captain than at any other time. She noted the first hints of lines developing around the dark black eyes that were a genetic gift from her maternal grandmother, a Betazoid. She also saw how tired those eyes looked. In most ways, she was as energetic as ever, and she certainly felt up to the task of commanding the Tesseract. But the battles of the past weighed on her, as did the loss of her husband at the Battle of Wolf 359 eighteen years prior. Had it really been so long? They had been newlyweds then, ensigns both, serving on the USS Endeavour. Theirs had been the sole surviving ship of the 40 that engaged the Borg, but Ken Oyugo had been one of the casualties. She was thankful that he had been killed rather than assimilated as so many others had been that awful day, but she still missed him keenly all these years later. She had never found love again. Then again, she had never really looked for it. She had thrown herself into her work to compensate for her loss, and everyone who had ever sought more than friendship with her, she had pushed away. She finished brushing her teeth, rinsed her mouth and wiped the edge of the sink off. As she turned to shut off the light and head for bed, her communicator chirped. The voice of Lieutenant Borux, the Denobulan officer commanding the night watch, said, “Captain Oyugo, please report to the bridge. We are receiving a distress call.” I guess I should have slept when I had the chance, Adele thought. “On my way,” she replied aloud, and strode over to the closet that held her clothing. She quickly pulled on the dark red high-necked shirt and sleek black and grey flightsuit that made up her uniform and affixed four pips to her collar. She slipped on her boots and headed for the turbolift. When she arrived on the bridge moments later, the bridge crew was receiving an incoming transmission from Starfleet. “Send it to my ready room,” Adele requested. “Yes, sir,” replied the ensign at the communications console. Borux handed the Captain a PADD with data on the distress call as she walked off the bridge to receive the transmission. In her ready room, Adele sat down at her desk, glanced briefly at the PADD she was holding, and activated the viewscreen. Admiral Ben McAllister’s aged face appeared on the screen. “Captain Oyugo. How are the preparations going?” “Fine, sir. We’re set to launch on schedule, but you should know we just received a distress call.” She glanced back down at the PADD. “It was from the science colony on Aris 4.” “That’s why I’m contacting you,” replied the Admiral. “The Tesseract is the closest vessel to the area by three days, and the only one with slipstream capability. I want you to respond. Time is critical, we’ve lost all communication with the colony, and the sensor data they transmitted with their initial distress call indicated a massive explosion.” Adele looked back down at the PADD, which held the same data the Admiral was describing. Her eyes widened when she saw the data on the explosion. “Yes, sir, I have that information here,” she said, “but we’re in no way ready to respond. Nearly half our crew isn’t even here yet, we’re expecting them to arrive on transports later today. And Engineering hasn’t finished running final checks, yet.” “I’m sorry, Captain, I can’t give you more time. There are 113 people at that colony who need assistance now. You’re the only vessel close enough to give it to them. You’re a clever problem solver; I’m confident you’ll figure something out. Good luck, Captain.” With that, McAllister’s face disappeared from the screen. Adele sighed heavily. She thought for a moment, and quickly came up with a possible solution. The auxiliary ships. The tactical and rescue teams. They haven’t trained yet, but they know their assignments, and most of them are already on board. Adele quickly pulled up the roster for Tactical and Rescue Team Alpha, and tapped her comm. badge. “Captain Oyugo to Commander Icheb,” she said.