Starship Reykjavík – Conduct Unbecoming

Two nail-biting rescues down, one to go... Loved the scene with Keller going further and further off the rails. That fellow has serious mental health issues.

Also really liking the precision and protocol of dialogue between the officer of the deck and the shuttle crew. That military verisimilitude is one of the very attractive features of this series.

Thanks!! rbs
 
* * *

Commander D. Davis Dini wiped the itching drip of blood from his forehead before it fell below his left eyebrow and threatened to obscure his vision. A quick glance over to his deceased co-pilot's console showed the proximity of the Gorn Hunter; a corvette sized ship.

As he maneuvered the damaged shuttle away from the Hunter at low warp, he angled the bow toward the nearest star system. He fervently wished that he had not delayed his departure as he had. The rapid rotation of Repulse caused Shuttle Two to ricochet against the starship's hull. The impact damaged the port nacelle and ripped a breach open in the passenger compartment. He didn't know precisely how many people died, but as only four remained alive, the math weighed heavily on his heart.

"Hang on back there," Dini called out over the intercom. "We're going to try to make a run. Strap in, folks." He closed the circuit and banked the shuttle toward the outermost planet. He scanned ahead to figure the best departure angle from subspace to make the poles and obscure the shuttle from the Gorn's ability to track them accurately.

The computer warned him, "Core damage at fifty-eight percent. Recommend immediate reduction to sublight speeds and effect repairs."

With a scowl, Dini spat, "Understood." The planet loomed large on the sensor display, and he waited until the last possible second to drop from warp over the pole. Eyeballing the numbers as they sped by, he used his years of experience to kill the warp drive and watched as the shuttle's impulse drive flared to life to reduce their speed to zero.

Although he did not necessarily believe in any specific deity or pantheon, Dini whispered a plea to whomever might be listening that the Gorn would lose sight and pass them by.

* * *

Lieutenant Shukla eyed his sensor returns, reporting, “One third of the Gorn fleet is slowing as they approach Repulse, sir.”

“Not too close, I hope,” Trujillo said with genuine concern.

She toggled open a comms channel, in the clear. “Gorn vessels, that starship you’re approaching is set to self-destruct. I suggest you keep your distance.” She spared a glance at Leo. “I’m still holding out hope we can get out of here without sparking a war.”

“Ten seconds until detonation,” Garrett advised.

Leo offered his judgment. "I believe your warning to the Gorn would satisfy The Powers That Be, sir."

She held up a hand with fingers crossed. “Aft view, computer enhancement of Repulse’s position.”

The screen obliged, and the image shifted just in time to display a bright flash as the Excelsior-class starship exploded in a cataclysmic joining of matter and anti-matter.

The bridge was silent for a moment. It was never easy to witness a starship meet its end, regardless of the circumstances.

“Well, sir,” Garrett spoke up as she eyed her sensor returns, “I’d avoid that patch of space for the next millennia or two. That explosion has only worsened the subspace deformation created by Repulse’s deceleration maneuver.”

Trujillo nodded her acknowledgement and returned to her chair. “Status of the Gorn fleet.”

“Their other ships avoided the detonation, the ones that maintained pursuit are falling behind, but only gradually. The gap will widen as we approach our space.”

“Position and status of the other shuttle?”

Garrett reported, “Shuttle Two has just entered the Legreus system at warp with the Gorn in pursuit.” She looked back from her console, features taut with anxiety at the implications of Starfleet personnel falling into the hands… claws… of the Gorn. “The shuttle’s leaving a substantial warp trail, littered with radioactive particles. She must have taken damage at some point after launching from Repulse. I didn’t even need her IFF transponder to locate her, she’s practically blazing like a comet.”

“Position of the hunter trailing her?” Trujillo asked.

“Just about to enter the system as well, sir. A blind Tiberian bat could pick up that signature.”

“ETA?”

“Twelve minutes, eighteen seconds until Legreus system boundary, sir,” Naifeh provided from the helm.

“Shuttle deck to Commodore Truillo. The Repulse personnel have been medically screened, and one has been moved to Sickbay. The others are being escorted to the rec deck, with the exception of Captain Keller, who’s on his way to the brig under escort.”

Trujillo glanced over at Davula, and the two women shared a brief concerned look at this development before the commodore replied.

“Understood, Mister Cambrio. Be advised that we may have to execute a dynamic recovery of a damaged shuttle. Best you and your people erect the crash barrier and clear the deck.”

“Aye, sir,” Cambrio acknowledged before closing the channel.

Trujillo turned in her chair to fix her gaze on Helvia. “How long can our shuttle last against that hunter?”

Helvia’s grim demeanor turned even more taciturn. “Not long, sir, especially if they’ve already taken damage. For what it’s worth, the Gorn will try to take them alive, if possible.”

Trujillo nodded and tried to force her stomach back up into her torso from where it had settled somewhere in her feet.

She turned back to face the viewer. “Helm, accelerate to warp twelve-point-seven.”

* * *

Minimal environmental power along with passive sensors helped Shuttle Two maintain its subterfuge. With their warp core at nominal output to provide that small quantity of power, Dini stood over the shoulder of the third class petty officer working to repair the damage as best she could.

"How long do we have before we could reach warp six?" Dini wondered.

Steward Third Class Odette McDougal sighed. "Sir, I'm not a damage control tech," she admitted as her tricorder scanned the repairs she effected so far. "I took a correspondence course on power systems when I thought I would strike for the rating. I could be doing more damage at this point."

Dini looked back at the other three. Two of which were civilians that worked in the galley, and the last one was the single surviving corpsman making the other two comfortable given their injuries. "I doubt that very much," he said with a shrug. "Just… do what you can."

She turned back around and waved a tool at the damaged main energizer. "I know enough to know that we can't sustain high warp on the backup unit, Commander. You did right by rerouting power through the secondaries, but they're already showing signs of damage. Whatever the hell hit us on the way out, pulled no punches."

He let out a ragged sigh as the memory replayed in his mind. "Try not to think about that, right now," he said to her, though his words were as much for himself. "We might have to hightail it out of here at a moment's notice, so get ready to close it all up and strap in. Can't lose our best engineer, okay?" He said that last as he walked back to the cockpit to monitor the sensor outputs.

McDougal groused under her breath, "I'm your only engineer, sir." She continued with her scans and followed the exposed power conduit to find and patch weakened stretches. Before she could do so, the shuttle rocked beneath her.

"Shit," she spat, dropping the tools back into the kit and securing it to the bulkhead. She called to the others, "Strap in!" The moment she locked herself in her seat, the shuttle lurched once more, this time with more force than before.

* * *

“The shuttle has taken up a polar orbital position, and appears to be using the planet’s magnetic field to mask their signature,” Garrett alerted.

Trujillo nodded her approval of this tactic. “Is the hunter ship still following?”

“Yes, sir. They’re a few minutes behind. We’ll see how good Gorn sensors are.”

Trujillo called over her shoulder to Helvia at the Tactical station. “Weaps, how do we measure up against a hunter-class corsair?”

“They’re more maneuverable, sir, but we have a significant advantage in firepower and shield strength. Their best bet is fast strafing attacks, ours is to stand-off and whittle them down with sustained fire.”

The commodore checked her armrest display for an updated ETA, and was still dissatisfied with how long it would take to catch up to the hunter and its prey.

“Helm, drop us out of warp in-system.”

Naifeh threw a glance back, on the cusp of saying something but Trujillo raised a hand.

“I’m well aware of the risks, Lieutenant. We don’t have an extra twenty minutes to saunter in from the edge of the system at impulse. We have to get to that shuttle before they do, otherwise I’m going to be forced to fire on the hunter and if we aren’t already at war, that would seal the deal.”

At Operations, Shulka’s attention was drawn to a blinking icon on his display. “Sir, I’m getting a comms-link notice on my board. I believe we may finally have a secure channel with Shuttle Two.”

“Will talking with them give away their position to the Gorn?” Trujillo asked.

“No, sir. It’s encrypted, and the wavelength is broad enough the Gorn won’t be able to use it to–”

“Gorn vessel has opened fire, sir,” Helvia noted, cutting off Shukla’s report. “They appear to be firing in a predetermined pattern, likely hoping for a lucky hit.”

Standing behind Trujillo, Leo gasped, "If one of those hits lands…"

Trujillo looked at Verde and dipped her chin, acknowledging his fears.

"Commander Dini was pilot-in-command," Leo offered. "Hopefully, he still is." His sanguine eyes drifted over to Shukla's seated position.

Davula caught his expression and gestured to an empty auxiliary console. “Why don’t you see if you can raise them…” she eyed the rank insignia on Leo’s shoulder flash, “...Captain?”

Needing no further encouragement, Leo ignored Davula's confusion and slid into the offered auxiliary station. His fingers danced over the controls as he reconfigured it for communications. He grabbed the earpiece and wore it as he called out to them, "Verde to Shuttle Two." Within seconds, the response returned. "Sir," he twisted his head towards Trujillo, "we're getting a visual reply."

“On screen,” Trujillo instructed.

The viewscreen blinked over to show a tight closeup of Commander Dini's bloodied face. "Captain!" his elated tones carried over the bridge speakers, conveyed with a toothy grin. "You're on another ship?" he added in confusion.

"Dini," Leo replied in greeting. "I'm aboard Reykjavik. Repulse was too damaged; we had to scuttle her." He paused to let that sink in and asked, "Say your status."

A quick explanation brought everyone up to speed. "I've only got four passengers of the forty-three we took on from Repulse," Dini said, allowing his guilt to color his voice. As she spoke, Gorn-directed fire came close enough to shake the screen. "Damn, that one was too close!"

“We’re on our way, but we’re still minutes behind the Gorn. If you can’t maintain your position, can you go atmospheric?” Trujillo asked.

"Negative, we've sustained too much damage to survive the transition to atmo," Dini said curtly. "Doing some evasives using thrusters only, if I burn too much they'll spot us for sure."

Trujillo shot a look tight with concern at Leo as she muted the channel. “That tears it, we’ll have to open fire on the hunter. I won’t allow them to destroy the shuttle or worse yet, capture the survivors.”

"That'll mean war, for sure," Leo noted, though his tone was disappointment rather than chastisement.

“Yes, but we haven’t any alternatives in this situation.” She opened the channel again. “Commander Dini, when I give the order, initiate a Z+ five thousand meters evasive course. We’ll be bracketing the hunter with torpedoes then strafing them with phasers on our approach.”

Dini called out, "Negative, sir, I refuse your order." He paused, then said, "Wait one." The circuit cut out. The screen showed the enhanced shot of the Hunter conducting burst fire as before. Minutes later, a long streak of atmospheric disturbance showed as a lazy line being drawn at a distance.

"-the hell?" Leo wondered aloud, his eyes tracing over the scene before snapping a glance at Trujillo.

“Sir,” Shulka called, a hint of alarm creeping into his usually imperturbable voice, “the shuttle’s ejecting objects… people… in EVA suits.”

“Reykjavík to Shuttle Two, what are you doing?” Trujillo asked, her tone hardening.

Dini's voice replied over the audio circuit only. "I can't let you fire on the Gorn, sir. I've evacuated all my passengers and am leading them away. Court-martial me, later."

"Dini, you don't have to do this," Leo cautioned, though it was moot since the Hunter began moving off, responding to Dini's strategy as he desired.

"I do, Captain," Dini replied, his tone softer than before. "My ship was responsible for this mess, I botched the launch and ended up killing most of my passengers. I owe it to you and them to put an end to this, if I can."

Loath to interrupt, Naifeh turned a regretful expression towards Trujillo. “Crossing the system boundary, sir. We’ll be dropping out of warp within the gravity well of the planet in eight seconds… mark.”

She toggled the intra-ship in response. “Trujillo to all hands, brace for a rough deceleration.”

Around the bridge safety harnesses snapped closed and the torso support frames rose from the deck for those personnel at standing stations.

“Helm, as soon as we drop to sub-light, make a beeline for those EVA suits. Ops, have transporters standing by to beam those personnel aboard the moment they’re in range.” Trujillo lowered her voice for Leo’s ears only. “If that crazy bastard survives this I’m going to pin a medal on him, insubordination or no.”

Leo coughed and nodded. "I'll hold him down for you, sir." His eyes never left the screen, however, watching as the Gorn vessel throttled to full impulse power in pursuit of the crippled craft. "Oh, no…" he breathed, allowing his anxiety to surface.

Reykjavík came to a crashing halt, the ship’s deceleration curve running headlong into the concrete reality of the planet’s gravity well. The vessel’s reinforced shields absorbed much of the impact, but system overloads forced automated cut-overs, lights flickered, and personnel were thrown hard against their restraints.

The ship lurched forward again as Naifeh kicked in the ship’s almost comically large impulse engines, setting Reykjavík on a corkscrewing course designed to pick up the free-floating survivors in the shortest amount of time.

Over the speakers, the sounds of impacts could be heard from Shuttle Two. Dini's grunts under fire were unmistakable. Upon the screen, a tractor beam lanced out and arrested the shuttle's progress once and for all. "I'm not letting these bastards take me alive!" he promised as he raised his voice over the din. "I'm engaging warp engines in five seconds. I'll see you on the other side, Cap'n."

Leo spoke quickly, "It was an honor to serve with you, Commander." He closed his fists tight enough to whiten his knuckles. Then, he relaxed his grips and stood at attention, knowing what was to come next.

“Helm and Ops, mind your stations,” Trujillo called out. “Everyone else, stand to render honors.”

The bridge crew unfastened their restraints and rose to their feet, coming to attention. It was a hasty gesture in the heat of the moment, and lacked coordination or elegance, but it was absolutely genuine in its raw intensity. They were about to watch a good man die in defense of others.

Trujillo nodded to Leo, extending the honor of the last words to him. She looked at the captain’s rank insignia on his shoulder flash. “Your ship, your crewman, Captain.”

As the bright flash of Shuttle Two's warp entry began, Leo decided on a paraphrased quote from memory, "'To the endless expanse, embracing the last full measure of devotion, he is a beacon of sacrifice lighting the path of salvation and peace for his comrades.'" On the last of his words, the strain of the damaged shuttle's hull reached critical stress and succumbed to the shearing forces of FTL speeds against the tractor, and disintegrated before Reykjavik and the Gorn.

“Gone too soon,” Trujillo murmured, before turning back to face her crew. “Stations, please.”

“The last of the survivors is safely aboard, sir. They’re being taken to Sickbay as a precaution,” Shukla advised in a low tone, unwilling to upset the hush that had fallen over the compartment with Dini’s passing.

“Mister Naifeh, get us the hell out of here. Best speed out of this system and back to the border.” She resumed her seat and turned to engage Helvia at Tactical. “Weaps, I want all of our decoys, sensor scramblers, and EM-jammers dropped at irregular intervals behind us as we egress the area. Whatever we can do to slow the Gorn without provoking them further with overt violence.”

She reached out a hand to grasp Verde gently by the forearm. “I’m sorry for your loss, Leo.”

"Thank you, sir," Leo said solemnly. He let out a ragged sigh and returned to the auxiliary station.

“Two-D tactical plot on the viewer,” Trujillo ordered.

On the screen, a silhouette of Reykjavík departed the star system at warp, trailed by dozens of Gorn vessels of various classes.

“Now we find out how badly the Gorn want a war,” she said to no one in particular.

And how badly Starfleet Command does…
she thought silently to herself.

* * *
 
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Great sacrifice scene, and reaction on Reykjavik's bridge - great way to raise the stakes of what is, apparently, a mystery rooted somewhere in Star Fleet Command...

Thanks!!! rbs
 
* * *

Trujillo, Davula, and Captain Tarrant stood in Reykjavík’s CIC watching the Gorn flotilla opposing them across their mutual border. The tactical plot map seemed to mock Trujillo, displaying a potent fleet that her combined task forces would be lucky to turn away, and not without heavy casualties. The Gorn had stopped their pursuit at the border and had not yet attempted to cross, likely unsure of what awaited them thanks to Harken’s artificially imposed sensor-clouding dead zone that still persisted.

“Why aren’t they attacking?” Trujillo wondered aloud. “It's not as if we haven’t given them ample provocation.”

“They might be awaiting reinforcements, sir,” Tarrant offered. “Though, between all the interference that white hole is kicking off and the jamming field Harken’s maintaining, they’re effectively blind.”

“Would you go jumping over the neighbor’s fence without knowing what was waiting for you on the other side?” Davula asked rhetorically.

“Still, though, this isn’t like them,” Trujillo pressed. “They’re Gorn. They shouldn’t give a damn if they can see across our border or not. They’ve always been highly territorial, and they’ve never been much for negotiating, at least not with beings they regard as mere prey animals.”

Davula cocked her head to one side, the Bolian equivalent of a shrug. “We have a full diplomatic team on the way, hopefully the Gorn will stay put until they arrive.”

“I don’t hope, Commander, I plan,” Trujillo countered with a wry grin. “At the very least it keeps my mind occupied and prevents me from fretting.”

Davula returned the reticent smile. “How’s Leo, sir?”

Trujillo’s expression grew somber. “Physically and mentally exhausted. It was bad enough having to come face-to-face with Keller again, but with the computer override and Repulse’s charge into Gorn space… let’s just say he’s had a very eventful twenty-four hours.”

The XO shook her head in acknowledgement of Verde’s burdens.

“Dr. Bennett ordered him to twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep. If he didn’t set an alarm, I’m not going to wake him.” Trujillo took a last look at the Gorn positions before turning to face Davula. “Status of the Repulse survivors?”

“We’ve offloaded most of them to other ships in the task force, sir. There are still eight of them in our Sickbay, and in deference to Commander Verde, I’ve assigned Repulse’s senior officers guest quarters aboard. I got the feeling they didn’t want to be too far from him given all that’s happened.”

Trujillo nodded fractionally. “Yes, I think they’ve adopted him.”

“Oh,” Tarrant said, just remembering an important update, “Gol’s systems have been restored. She was towed back to the task force. Commander Glal was, shall we say, somewhat vexed at his ship having been disabled.”

“I can only imagine,” Trujillo said, mustering a grin at the thought.

Davula inclined her head towards the exit. “If there’s nothing further, Commodore, I’d best return to the bridge.”

“Actually, I was just heading topside myself. I think it’s time I met Captain Keller.”

* * *

The door chimed and Trujillo sat forward to deactivate the terminal where she had been reviewing the service record of one Theodore Keller.

Commander Davula entered and stepped to the side, admitting Captain Keller to the compartment, trailed by two security specialists outfitted in armored vests and helmets.

Davula made the introductions. “Commodore Nandi Trujillo, Captain Theodore Keller.”

Trujillo stood. “Thank you, Commander.” She gestured to her XO and the security detail with a nod. “You’re dismissed.”

After they had exited and the doors hissed closed, Trujillo reached across the desk to offer her hand. “Captain.”

Keller stepped forward and accepted the hand briefly. He wondered aloud, "Am I? I've been treated more like a criminal, especially by your best friend, Commander Verde."

Trujillo gestured to the chair facing her desk and resumed her seat, saying, “Commander Verde was assigned by Command, Captain. As for our being old friends, Leo defended me against charges earlier in my career. He’s a capable litigator.”

With a not-so-subtle growl emanating from his lips, Keller took the seat and leaned as far back as he could. "Maybe he is. Under my command, he skirted the lines of insubordination and nigh mutinous acts. He is lucky he is the son of two heroic admirals, else I'm sure his commission would have been cashiered following my evaluation of his… service."

“I can’t speak to any of that, Captain, as it’s not within my remit and is irrelevant to my current mission. My assignment was to track Repulse down and discover the reasons behind your ship’s attack on the Gorn. The circumstances surrounding that attack are still under investigation, and you’ve not been charged in relation to that inquiry. You have been charged with disobedience of a direct order of a superior and conduct unbecoming for your alleged refusal to follow the lawful instructions of Commander Glal upon reestablishing contact with Starfleet.”

Keller scoffed loudly, his eyes shifting away from Trujillo as he did so. "Lawful, you say. Let me tell you that I find your entire operation highly suspect. You presume to approach my mission with lofty, trumped-up authority. You jump to the worst possible conclusion absent the facts surrounding my operations behind enemy lines, then you move to have me relieved, remanded, and confined by my juniors in absolute disgraceful conduct. Then, as the coup de grace, you destroy my command without the ability or opportunity to allow me to gather evidence necessary to defend myself against your charges. You sit there, safe in your rank and role, judging me? I am outraged by this entire exercise."

Trujillo took a moment to call something up on a data-slate, before sliding it across her desk towards Keller. “These are my orders from Starfleet Command, Captain, which I have carried out. Would you care to show me yours?”

"How can I? My evidence was aboard Repulse." Keller angrily rejoined. "All I can say, at this juncture, is upon my word as a Starfleet officer, I had legal orders to operate within Gorn territory. I and my executive officer, Commander T'Rel, were briefed by a four-star admiral, issued written directives, and obeyed those orders to our understanding." His eyes narrowed as the heat of his statement rose. "I am not a rogue officer. I follow orders and trust in the chain of command."

“To that point, Commander Verde located potential evidence aboard Repulse that may well absolve you and your XO of any wrongdoing. That information will be provided to Command and your legal counsel in the ensuing inquiry and any potential subsequent courts-martial that might result. As to the destruction of your ship, it had been hijacked by means of your prefix codes and was barreling into Gorn territory towards one of their battle fleets. I encroached into Gorn space in pursuit of Repulse, and when Verde and your crew were able to shut down the engines, we were on hand to rescue you and your crew from certain death at the hands of the Gorn.”

She sat back in her chair, favoring Keller with an analytical gaze. “And while you appear to cherish the prerogatives of your rank and authority, you take every opportunity to demean and discount mine, and that of my subordinates. I had issued a directive to Commander Glal to allow you to retain command of your ship upon your return here, but you refused to comply with his very reasonable instructions and thwarted his attempts to board Repulse to investigate your actions.”

Brow furrowing even deeper as Trujillo's words reached him, Keller raised an accusatory finger in her direction. "'Demeaned and discounted?' From where I sit, Commodore, I held orders to maintain radio silence. It was expressed to me that my mission was of vital and critical importance to the security of the Federation and its citizens! Were you in my place, under those operational conditions, you are telling me that an officer of lesser rank comes along and attempts to assert their authority over that of an admiral's - a full admiral, no less - you would violate your orders to tend to that distraction while Starfleet Command awaited the successful completion under the penalties of disobedience?! For all I knew, it might have been an enemy trick. Were it not for the use of the Starfleet Emergency frequency, I would not have given it a moment's notice. How dare you question my loyalty." His frown communicated his extreme distaste at the idea. "I welcome the opportunity to explain my actions, with or without the assistance of that idiot Leo Verde. I did what was asked of me."

“Yes, you did, Captain. Without question,” Trujillo said, her expression darkening. “You violated the sovereign territory of a foreign power, attacked their research installation and several of their vessels without asking further questions about the legitimacy or advisability of orders originating from an admiral you’d never heard of, because he doesn’t exist.” She held Keller’s angry retort at bay with a raised hand. “It appears you were duped, Captain. And as a result of your actions, we’re now in a standoff with the Gorn along the border, one trigger-pull away from all-out war.”

Keller's lips thinned as he listened. "So, this conversation is to be a salve to your conscience? Your opportunity to conduct a one-person drumhead trial in the safety of your ready room? Shall I remain mute to your charges and allow you to draw your conclusions absent a full accounting of what actually happened?" He placed his hands on his thighs and ran them over the dark material of his uniform's trousers, back and forth. "You may exercise your rank and your authority that you seem to cherish enough to carry out this theatrical exchange, and I'll sit here and allow you to do so until you give me your leave. And then, I'll return to the brig for the duration of this flight." With a casual wave of his hand, he looked away toward the bulkhead to his right and told her, "Please proceed."

Trujillo’s expression tightened. “Nothing said in here will appear in any inquiries or courts-martial. I called you here to take some measure of the man who’s brought us to the brink of war. I’ve spoken to your crew, and I have found that they’re good people, better than their personnel evaluations would have me believe. I’ve also discovered that they fear you, your mercurial disposition, and your tendency to lash out at anyone who dares to offer advice in any situation. You have their fear, Captain, not their respect, and certainly not their loyalty. I believe that whoever is ultimately behind this misadventure into Gorn space chose you and your crew for this task because they knew your people were so brow-beaten and fearful that they wouldn’t dare ask questions or balk at your questionable orders. Your arrogance and venom made you and your crew the perfect patsies for an illegal and ill-advised attack on the Hegemony.”

"You and Verde…" Keller shook his head in disgust. "You're both soft. You would seek a captain who's more concerned with being pals with their subordinate officers than understanding the true nature of leadership. In a crisis situation, I don't need friendship from my officers. I need them to obey me without question." He paused briefly. "I learned command in the field from some of the best, but my mentor was the brilliant Admiral Lawrence H. Styles. I served under him on three separate occasions, and he held his command similarly and to great effect. But, to your point, if I don't coddle my people, then I'm mercurial and a tyrant." He rose from his seat to stare down at Trujillo. "Verde made the same accusation of me just before I beached his ass for disloyalty, for his inability to understand the demands of starship command. It's funny that you use some of the same phrasing; almost as though you coordinated your messaging." He nodded slowly. "Yes… you did say you were old friends, didn't you…"

Trujillo followed suit, rising to her feet. She fixed him with the same look she saved for those in the sights of her ship’s weapons. “I’ve never been accused of coddling my people before, Captain. I find the allegation… quaint. For the record, I believe you stand a good chance of surviving the inquiries to come with your career intact. However, following my report to Command on the psychological and emotional state of your subordinates due to your toxic command style, I seriously doubt that you will ever be granted the privilege of a command again. Welcome to the Yellow Squadron, Captain Keller.”

Rage colored his face as a red-tinge purple complexion overcame his normal skin coloring. "How dare you! My crew, as you call them, were perfectly fine until your best pal stepped aboard and started throwing his vaunted JAG authority around!" Keller leaned forward, his palms slapping hard against the edge of Trujillo's desk, "You sent that ship to interfere with my mission! You sent Verde! And, by the bye, he could not wait to leap into my chair the second he arrested and confined me to quarters! I am insulted by the fact that that person is walking around wearing a rank insignia he didn't earn." He pushed off from the desk and folded his arms across his chest, his eyes shifting away from her. "You allowed all of this to happen. Be it on your head when the bill comes due, sir! Count on that!"

Trujillo touched the LCARS interface on her desk, issuing a summons. “If that’s the case, Captain, I’ll stand tall before the flag to answer for my actions, as I have before. Oh, and that captain’s insignia that you’re so upset about was a gift from your former crew to Mister Verde, a symbol of their loyalty and faith in him under circumstances which appeared to be an almost certain death sentence.”

Upon hearing that information, Keller's face went ashen. "They what?"

The ready room doors parted for Davula and the security detail, who stepped silently into the compartment behind Keller.

“It’s amazing how a crew will perform for a good leader, don’t you think?” Trujillo’s smile had turned predatory and her eyes had assumed a flinty cast that hadn’t been there when he’d entered the room.

Trujillo looked at Davula. “Commander, please show Captain Keller to guest quarters, where he will remain until I receive further orders regarding his disposition from Command. Standard isolation protocol on ship’s systems access, and no visitors except his legal counsel.”

As he followed the security detail out of the ready room, Keller paused to make one more comment: "I hope this discussion brought you the appropriate amount of joy, Commodore." Without waiting for her to respond, he departed for the corridor.

After they had departed, Trujillo shook her head sadly before opening a channel to the bridge. “Mister Shukla, please get me Starfleet Command and patch it through in here.”

* * *
 
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Keller is such a fun-loving, easy-going guy, isn't he? Reminds me of a boss I had for nearly a decade...

Trujillo bided her time, took the measure of the man and planted just the right barb. Quite a little contest and Keller didn't realize he was never even a player.

That was a fun read! rbs
 
What a rollercoaster ride, from beginning to end. And Keller just doesn't seem to be interested in doing himself any favors. It will be satisfying to see him get his just desserts, but can't help wondering if he also has it within him to redeem himself. He could take a lesson from Commander Dini or, perhaps, any of his own "subordinates".
 
What. A. Dick.

Keller is like Ed Jellico dialled up to 11... Seriously cannot wait to see what his comeuppance will be. But if I've learned anything from Gibraltar's writings, it's to expect the unexpected in his works.

Speaking of which, I guess this story and perhaps the entire Reykjavik series take place in an alternate timeline because... YOU BLEW UP THE REPULSE?! I mean, really?! :confused: :wah: :lol: :D
 
* * *

Leo was awakened from his deep sleep by the gentle chime of the door announcement system. With a lazy effort, he opened his eyes and experienced the stiffness and soreness in his muscles as he tried to stand up from the bunk in his stateroom on Reykjavík. He sniffled deeply and cleared his throat as soon as the second chime sounded. Afterwards, his voice, raspy from sleep, inquired, "Who is it?"

The reply came through the intercom, "Chief Zenn, sir."

"Enter," he said automatically. Zenn had traveled with him on multiple investigations in the past and had seen him in states worse than this. When she walked in through the door, he strained his eyes to see her amidst the glaring light from the ship’s corridor. He mustered a short greeting of "Morning."

With triteness, she informed him of his sleep duration of over eleven hours. "The team grew concerned."

"‘The team.’" His use of her words came with a pointed tone behind them. "I guess I should not expect your personal concern," Leo noted with amusement.

Zenn shook her head. "No, sir. My concern is limited to ensuring that you attend to your duty, and nothing more." She faced away from him, but he could see that her words did not match her body language.

He smirked. "Understood, Chief." He got to his feet and reached upward to stretch out his muscles. His chosen sleepwear consisted of the Greenwood Royal Naval Academy t-shirt and boxer briefs that were given to him by the Queen. He twisted his midsection back and forth to alleviate the discomfort from a prolonged period of rest. While he did that, he observed her moving about his stateroom and commencing her usual organizing routine, which they often did when working together.

The memories of the previous day flooded his mind. He lost his energy and his joviality vanished.

"Lara?" he called to her softly.

The mention of her given name broke through her professional facade. "Leo?" she replied, concerned. "What’s wrong?"

He sighed. "While I was on Repulse, Maria decided to break up with me. I read the message right before I crashed."

Zenn moved closer and wrapped him in a tight embrace. "I’m sorry," she said. "Did she say why?"

Leo nodded. "She, uh… found someone else. Her last assignment took her to a colony world and one of the agricultural administrators there caught her eye. To say that the feeling was mutual is an understatement. I guess she’s really smitten because she’s talking about moving there to head up their news service."

She glanced at him and inquired, "Didn’t you have plans to meet up later?"

"After the conference. However, we got sidetracked here, and she ended up being assigned a new feature. She shipped out when I told her I wouldn’t make our planned trip to Pacifica," he explained as they parted. "Them’s the breaks, I guess."

Zenn offered lamely, "Bex always says that absence makes the heart grow fonder… for someone else."

He snorted. "Bex is a cynical person by nature. But… in this case, I guess she nailed it."

"She is a woman of rare talents," she noted. "So… do you need anything?"

Leo shook his head. "I’m a big boy."

"Um… are you going to reply to her in any way?"

After contemplating for a few minutes, he settled on the words, "I will wish her all the best and hope for her happiness."

She peered at him, wordlessly pressing him for more.

"The fact is that if Maria’s found someone that she feels so strongly about that she’ll upend her life to be with…" As he completed his sentence, his tone took on a resigned quality.

"Yeah, that part of the story really caught me off guard."

He chuckled while nodding. "Yeah."

Zenn noted, "It stings like hell, though."

"It does. I would never have asked her to sacrifice her career for me, but…"

"It hurts to hear that she did it so easily for this other person," she finished the thought for him.

He responded with a silent nod. He lifted his index finger in the air, a clear sign of his emphatic agreement with Zenn’s assessment. In the dimly lit stateroom, they sat in silence.

"Would you take an order from me, sir?" she asked him.

He smiled. "In all our time together, I’ve always taken orders from you."

She giggled at that. "Go clean up, Leo. You stink. And you’ve got a meeting with the Commodore later."

Leo lifted his arm and sniffed to confirm his odor after almost half a day in bed. He gave a wince before nodding. "Aye, aye, Chief."

* * *

Trujillo, Leo, and Captain Tarrant from Starfleet Intelligence sat in her ready room, each of them with a glass of whiskey in hand.

The commodore raised her glass in a toast, “To the starship Repulse and all her crew who fell in Gorn space.”

Raising his glass, Leo closed his eyes for a moment before knocking it back in one motion. When he recovered, he nodded. "To Repulse."

Trujillo gave him a sympathetic look. “It’s never easy to lose people, Leo. It doesn’t matter if you were only in command for a little while, it was your ship and they were your crew. I’m sorry for your loss.”

"Thank you, sir," Leo replied in a soft tone. He set the empty shot glass down on the desk and wrapped his arms around himself.

Tarrant cast a glance towards the narrow viewport, the transparent aluminum and composite window three times thicker than aboard most other starships. “So, does anyone in Command know if we’re at war with the Gorn or not?”

Trujillo shook her head with evident distaste. “Nobody seems to know. They’re still gathered along the border, but damned if I know why they haven’t attacked yet. We’ve got a full diplomatic team on their way with Vice-Admiral Abwao, who’s taking command of the combined fleet they’re assembling from Task Forces Lacertus and Truancy, along with another five ships the admiral’s bringing. Reykjavík is being re-tasked to take Keller to the nearest starbase, after which… who knows? I just hate leaving this whole mess unresolved; it offends my sense of order.”

She refilled her glass from the bottle of cask-aged New Scotland Single Malt, produced on Alpha Centauri. “I wish we knew who or what was responsible for hijacking Repulse and Gol. The fact that anyone, let alone a potential foreign power could exert that kind of control over our ships of the line is absolutely terrifying.”

Tarrant dipped his head, appearing pained for a brief moment, before raising his gaze to meet Trujillo’s eyes. “Sir, I’ve been giving that some thought. I must reluctantly admit this may have been an inside job.”

Leo shot Tarrant a look, but said nothing.

Her eyes widened. “Intel you mean?”

“Not… precisely,” he said, followed by a reluctant sigh. “Once upon a time, there was an agency, an adjunct of Starfleet Intelligence, that used to specialize in just this sort of thing. Skulduggery and dirty tricks were their raison d'être. They reportedly went rogue sometime in the late 2250’s and were supposed to have been shut down, but rumors persist to this day that they’re still out there, somewhere, plying their trade in fanatical defense of the Federation.”

Trujillo took a long sip from her drink before being struck by a proverbial lightening bolt of realization. . “Wait… you’re talking about Section 31, aren’t you? That’s a real thing? That was always the sort of bullshit midshipman’s tales we passed around at the academy, ghost stories about a super-secret black-ops intel outfit that ran around the quadrant assassinating people and blowing things up.”

"Back on Starbase Eight, the very first case I got involved in there was some kind of… conspiracy," Leo told them, though his gaze settled on the far bulkhead. "It was an odd case, but I know that when I started digging deep, my suspect went from having none-to-weak evidence to strong evidence in the course of hours. It dropped right into our laps without any effort. It felt almost like a frame job. Janeera and I got him to agree to an administrative discharge, because we both felt there was something more that we didn't see." He added, "He ended up dead in his hotel room on Risa later in the week."

Trujillo looked from Tarrant to Leo and back again. “I hope to hell you’re both joking, but I know you’re not. Something like this actually exists? An organization that can send a starship on a suicide mission into enemy territory under false and completely fabricated pretenses?”

"The mechanism clearly exists, though you and I both know that the prefix code is supposed to be a fail-safe against enemy capture," Leo intoned, now looking at Trujillo. "The entire system was subverted for a specific goal. That cannot happen without access."

She pinched the bridge of her nose, fighting back a headache fueled by utter disbelief and dismay. “Good God, how do we defend against something like that? If that’s who was behind this, they clearly had no compunction about sacrificing an entire starship crew to destroy that Gorn weapons facility, not to mention the likelihood of starting a war between our two governments.”

“That was supposedly their mission statement, Commodore,” Tarrant offered. “They would do what had to be done, regardless of the cost in lives or treasure, to defend the Federation against threats both foreign and domestic.”

“How the hell do I sell that to Command as a possible explanation for this whole fiasco? Sorry, folks, it looks like a covert intel cabal that hasn’t been seen or heard from in sixty years decided to blow up the Gorn isolytic weapons station by playing Captain Keller for a fool. When that plot fell apart after the fact, they attempted to destroy the ship and the evidence of their crimes by hacking its prefix codes and driving it headlong into a Gorn fleet.”

"You don't," Leo said with a start. "Do what I did. Write two reports."

Trujillo’s confused expression begged elaboration.

Leo tossed a quick look to Tarrant before explaining. "My official report had nothing but the facts; dry, hard evidence to support the conclusions that he violated the civil rights of his prisoners based on what they framed him with. He was a bad guy, either way. I didn't lose sleep over this conviction." He paused, then continued, "I wrote a second report, same evidence, but I also included all the hinky stuff that happened during the investigation. Janeera has a copy of that report in her private archives, so if anything happens to me…" He trailed off, leaving the rest unsaid. "As far as our antagonists are concerned, we know nothing officially."

Her expression hardened. “You really think they’d kill line officers to protect their secrets?”

“Almost certainly, sir,” Tarrant replied guiltily, looking morose.

"They already have," Leo added quickly. "They most definitely killed my suspect. No way he died in his sleep. He was a healthy marine company-grade officer."

“Goddamn it,” Trujillo seethed. “Very well, then. I guess I’ll be writing two reports, one for Command’s general consumption, and one for Admiral Saavik.”

Leo nodded in approval. "Yes. If there's any admiral I would trust, it's her." Then, a quick, sheepish amendment, "I mean, outside of my parents…"

“Damn it,” she said again, this time with less heat. “This isn’t the way Starfleet or the Federation are supposed to function.”

Tarrant reached out to pour himself another glass, then raised it towards the others. “Here’s to living up to our ideals, an increasingly risky proposition these days.”

“I will, reluctantly, have to drink to that, Captain,” Nandi said, topping off her own glass.

Leo allowed her to top him off, and he raised his glass before downing his shot. "Salud."

* * *

Trujillo pressed the annunciator, chiming Leo’s cabin.

"Enter," Leo shouted from within. "Though, I'll be changing addresses in the next fifteen minutes!"

She stepped across the threshold, smiling wistfully. “Your chariot awaits, Leo. Hathaway’s just come alongside.”

Patting a packed duffle on the chair's seat next to the table, Leo nervously grinned and told her, "Ready to go. Hey, did all of the Repulse folks make it on board, okay?"

“They did, and I was assured that Hathaway’s carrying three trauma counselors to assist with the crew’s adjustment after the loss of their ship. The same will be afforded them at the starbase.”

He agreed with a chuckle. "The therapists on base are some of the best," he assured her. "I'm sure some of them are heading back to Earth for new assignments, though, right?"

“Most of them, or so I’ve heard, after a generous spell of shoreleave.”

Leo sighed. "I'm a bit concerned for the bridge crew. Commander Vara, especially. She seemed to be struggling once we beamed off of the ship. I was planning on talking with her on the long trip back to the base."

“Everyone handles stress and trauma differently. I’m sure talking with her might be helpful, but it’s also a good bet she could use a bit of professional assistance.”

"I started therapy, myself," he admitted. "Four years ago, when I got back from Sigma Serpentis - Greenwood. I, uh… it was a traumatic mission. And after this, I'm pretty sure I'll be visiting him frequently."

“Greenwood?” Trujillo suddenly remembered. “Oh, God… the Kzinti, wasn’t it?”

"Yeah," he nodded solemnly. "Task Force Seventeen, Operation Castle Wall. I was an exchange officer on one of the Royal Navy ships when we got boarded. A lot of people died, including this young midshipman who had her whole future in front of her. I, uh… had a lot of baggage after that. But the talking's help a lot."

She nodded empathetically. “I’ve had… similar experiences. Fortunately, I’ve availed myself of counseling services as well. I think that’s the only way any of us can last in this career until retirement.”

On top of the table next to him, sat his captain's rank insignia. "Speaking of lasting to retirement," he said, picking it up and handing it to her. "I should give this back. My career as a captain is over."

Trujillo took a moment to examine the rank pin in the palm of her hand. “Not so fast, Mister Verde.” She cleared her throat dramatically. “Attention to orders.”

The Pavlovian response to the order reflected immediately in Leo's straightened posture. He waited wordlessly for the next drill order, as he had since entering the Academy.

She stepped forward reaching up to unclasp his shoulder flash, replacing the commander’s insignia with the captain’s pin. “By order of Commodore Trujillo, you are hereby awarded the brevet promotion to captain as of this time, stardate blah-blah-blah. It’s official, by the way, I processed the orders with Command two hours ago.” She re-fastened the clasp, smoothing it out and stepping back to look at him. “You get to keep these until the promotion is confirmed as permanent or someone of a higher rank than me decides otherwise. Seeing as I’ve written a very complimentary letter about you to Admiral Saavik, I say the chances of the latter are slim to none.”

He balked, though respectful in tone, "Sir, I failed. I got so many people killed. Keller was right…"

She blinked, genuinely surprised at his admission. “Leo, give me your eyes.”

Leo met her gaze without hesitation. "Yes, sir."

“You took a shattered crew, a crew that Keller had beaten and scolded into submission, and you provided them both leadership and hope in their moments of greatest need. Your plans were the best that anyone could have come up with given the circumstances, especially since you had no idea that Reykjavík was in pursuit. The freak accident that damaged the second shuttle isn’t your fault, it was just… bad luck.” She gestured in the general direction of Hathaway. “Those people over there gave you that pin because you earned it. Despite everything going on, you stepped into the power vacuum on that ship and you saved as many of them as you could. That’s why they’re waiting for you right now. Captain Sheinbaum says the Repulse survivors have formed an honor guard outside the transporter room.”

He blinked silently at the mention of an honor guard. Finally, he found his voice, though at a high pitch, commented, "Honor guard?" Leo sputtered, "I.. er, uh… I didn't do anything special…" He sighed loudly, a blush settling on his cheeks at the news. "Can I be honest with you?" he asked flatly.

“Always.”

"When I was on that bridge and everything went sideways… I asked myself what you would do in my place," Leo admitted, dropping his eyes to the deck.

She smiled. “I'm flattered. I still do that myself. Ask myself what Captain Bryce or Captain Vosluk would have done in whatever situation I’m facing. Usually, after it’s all over, I hear one of them in the back of my head saying, ‘Holy shit, Nandi, I’d never have tried that in a thousand years!’”

Leo chuckled. "Well, thankfully, the Nandi in my head seemed to be in lockstep with me. Which was great, until it wasn't. When we were watching Commander Dini on that screen, my muscle tension was so high, I thought I might break my bones just from standing up."

“Watching when there’s nothing you can do to affect the situation is the worst part,” she confirmed. “It’s one of the sacrifices the captain’s chair demands of us.”

A slow realization of the truth altered Leo's expression to one of understanding. "I'm… yes. That's a painful lesson to learn. I can't imagine how much worse it gets when you take a flag rank and have to watch from a great distance."

A shadow seemed to cross Trujillo’s features, a darkness comprised of dozens of ships, thousands of lives. “Exponentially worse,” she murmured.

Leo stole a quick glance at his shoulder before returning to meet her eyes. "Well, for what it's worth, sir, you've literally been an inspiration. And I appreciate you taking the time to set me straight. Part of me wishes that I could stick around and learn more, but I'm sure my boss wants me back."

“Your boss, and those people over on the Hathaway,” Trujillo replied, pulling herself out of her dark reverie. She gestured towards the door. “Shall we?”

Grabbing his duffle and slinging it over his right shoulder, Leo nodded. "Yes, sir." He preceded her out the door and into the corridor.

* * *

Starbase 8, in geosynchronous orbit of Memory Alpha

Seeing the seal of the Starbase Operations branch of Starfleet on the inner airlock’s far bulkhead set Leo at ease as he returned to his home of five years. The starship Hathaway conveyed him and his team from Reykjavík back to the core worlds of the Federation, along with the rest of Repulse‘s surviving crew. Upon their return to Earth, they would potentially transfer the survivors to other assignments.

"So," Lieutenant Alejandro Martinez placed a hand on Leo’s shoulder as he followed him through. "What’s next, jefe? The next case on the docket?"

Leo sighed. "Yep," he replied, turning his head halfway toward the younger man.

Sergeant Angela Torres and her investigative partner, First Lieutenant Marie Collins, held up short to allow the two officers to hold their discussion in private.

Martinez nodded toward Leo’s shoulder. "You keeping that on?"

"I tried to give it to Commodore Trujillo, but she told me to keep it," Leo explained softly. "I guess now that I’m back, I shouldn’t wear the insignia of a rank I haven’t truly earned."

Torres stepped forward and shook her head. "I think you’ve definitely earned it, Leo."

Collins agreed. "No doubt."

"Hey!" Chief Lara Zenn’s voice called from inside the airlock. "Who’s holding up the damn gangplank? Some of us have to report back in, you know?"

Everyone stepped clear and allowed the NCO to step through until she came up to Leo. Handing over a PADD to him, Zenn said, "Read through and sign this, Captain. It’s the final draft report for the boss." With nothing further or waiting for a dismissal, she proceeded past the inner doors and disappeared around the corner.

Leo looked down at the PADD’s screen and noted that she had finished putting together the team’s final report for them. He deactivated the screen and saw his reflection. He brought the face of the device against his maroon chest and asked, "Should we get back to the office?"

Following Zenn’s led back to the turbolift, the discussion between the long-serving team fell silent. Leo glanced around, assuring everyone he was fine. The smiles he received were just as convincing as his own.

* * *
 
* * *

Leo found himself seated before the ornate desk of Captain Janeera Ch’charhat, who held the positions of both his Commanding Officer and the Sector Judge Advocate. She held a PADD in her hand and scanned the contents of the file, breezing through the entire report within minutes. He waited serenely as she enlightened herself with the facts of the case, before she could sign it and send it to the Judge Advocate General, herself, Rear Admiral Devereaux.

After fifteen minutes, Janeera made eye contact with him. "I see you had yourself another adventure out there, didn’t you?" she asked in a neutral tone, but her eyes twinkled to convey it wasn’t an interrogation. She added, shaking her head, "You have a knack for attracting trouble."

Leo audibly cleared his throat. "I suppose that my natural curiosity does land me in those circumstances."

She giggled melodically. "Just so."

"Um, I have to hand over this rank insignia to you," Leo stammered, reaching for his shoulder flash. "I am no longer authorized to have it on."

She signaled him to pause by holding up her hand. "Hold on a second."

He was perplexed as he explained that Commodore Trujillo had assured him that this was only a temporary promotion granted during an emergency. "Those conditions are no longer in force."

Janeera leaned in, clasping her hands and intertwining her fingers in her usual manner. "Be that as it may… I think there is something you should be aware of." She reached for another PADD, activated it, located the appropriate file, and then handed it to him.

Leo took the PADD in hand. The text reoriented itself for his comfort, rotating to make reading easier. His eyes followed the lines of the message, which was sent to him through his commanding officer.

"You wouldn’t mind reading aloud from the third graph on down, would you?"

He glanced up at her and shot her a smirk. "No." He held up the PADD and read, "‘Effective immediately, you are hereby authorized to assume the insignia and responsibilities commensurate with the rank of Captain. This directive, known as "frocking," allows you to undertake the duties and bear the privileges associated with this higher rank pending the formalization of your promotion. The formal ceremony and issuance of orders will follow in due course.’

"‘In your capacity as Captain and as an Unrestricted Line Officer, you are expected to exemplify the highest standards of leadership, integrity, and professionalism that Starfleet holds in esteem. Your new responsibilities will demand the utmost diligence and commitment.’

"‘Your performance while seconded to Task Force Lacertus aboard starship USS Repulse has demonstrated your ability to lead under pressure and has been a testament to your tactical acumen and courage. These qualities have not gone unnoticed by your superiors and peers alike.’

"‘As you embark on this new chapter of your career, know that Starfleet Command has full confidence in your abilities and judgment. You are entrusted with the welfare of your subordinates and direct report, along with the success of your missions, and it is anticipated that you will continue to uphold the distinguished traditions of Starfleet.’

"‘Signed, Admiral S. Heisenberg, Chief of Starfleet Operations.’"

Janeera grinned through his reading of the memorandum from headquarters. "So, as you can plainly see, Leo, you’re still within regulation."

A deep sigh escaped him as he shook his head. "I don’t know what to say."

Standing up, she circled her desk and extended her hand to him. "Let me be the first to congratulate you on a well-deserved promotion, Captain Verde. Well-deserved."

Leo stood up to take her hand and held it softly. "Thank you very much."

"Admirals Saavik and Devereux also wanted me to pass on their regards," she mentioned, joining him in the neighboring seat. "Also, a couple of possibilities for you to contemplate."

Leo settled into his seat and questioned, "What?""

"Well, you’re a captain now, Leo. There are other opportunities out there for someone with your rank and experience. You’ve ranked out of your current billet."

In a soft tone, he confessed that he hadn’t expected that. "I thought that I might be able to stay on here and continue as your XO."

She made a dismissive gesture with her hand. "It’s the same situation as though you were aboard a starship."

"Okay," he accepted. "So, what exactly are we talking about?"

Placing her hands on her left knee, she crossed her legs. "You are being offered the position of Sector Judge Advocate on Starbase Ten by the JAG. My friend Commodore al-Adel has agreed to take on a new role and is in transit back to Earth, leaving the billet vacant."

Blinking in surprise, Leo reacted to that unexpected opportunity. Starbase Ten would position him near the Rihannsu Neutral Zone. Similar to his present position, it would place him in the heart of Border Service operations, drawing on his professional background to guide his decisions on cases. "That would be a great opportunity to take advantage of."

"I concur. But, before you go making a decision, you should hear what Admiral Saavik has in store for you." She reached for yet another PADD and pulled it closer to her. "On the strong recommendation of Commodore Trujillo, Saavik would like to offer you command of a new ship: USS Musashi. She’s still at Utopia Planitia, under the final phases of construction where the pre-commissioning unit is forming."

Stunned by the second offer, Leo felt his vision blur as the memories of commanding Repulse came rushing back to him. He descended into a spiral until he remembered his encounter with Trujillo, and her words struck a chord at the perfect time. As he pulled himself out, he let go of his breath and turned his focus to Janeera, who had a concerned look on her face.

"Are you all right?" she inquired, her tone laced with concern.

"I-uh... I never thought I would be offered the chance to command a ship," he confessed, his eyes shifting to the deck. "Trujillo and I had a disagreement about the assessment of my performance on Repulse."

Janeera offered a faint smile and gave a nod. "You’ve always been very tough on yourself."

His gaze quickly returned to meet hers. "I feel that therapy has been helpful in my journey."

"It has." She reassured him, with a serious demeanor, that it was noticeable. "In my years as a civilian attorney, I can confidently say that no lawyer in my firm would have endured the same demanding conditions as you have in the service. Compared to most fleet-serving officers, you and Bex have seen a lot of action."

"Hah! You’re probably right. Who would have thought that JAG work could be so dangerous?"

Janeera laughed along. "Maybe a transfer back to the fleet would be safer." She continued, "However, I think if you accepted the Sector Judge Advocate role, you would be chained to your desk, much as I am."

"Desk duty is what I expected when I accepted your offer," Leo replied with a grin.

After his admission, there was a prolonged and uncomfortable silence where neither of them spoke. Janeera interrupted the moment with a suggestion, "Give it some consideration. You don’t need to decide right now. There’s a chance that tomorrow you’ll come across a third option that you’ll like better."

Leo disagreed by shaking his head. "I don’t need time to think. I believe I know what I want. And, maybe… for the first time in my career, it shall be my honest desire instead of trying to please my parents."

She widened her eyes as he spoke. "Very well. Would you be willing to tell me what you’re thinking?"

He smiled widely as he took a deep breath. "Absolutely. You’ve been the most supportive CO I’ve encountered in Starfleet. It’s the least I can do."

Under the praise from her soon-to-be-former XO, Janeera’s high cheekbones took on a purple hue against her blue complexion. "I’m honored, Leo. And if you’ll permit me to return the gesture... you’ve been an exceptional executive officer. I believe you will achieve great success as a CO."

Leo looked into Janeera’s eyes once again, this time with an evident display of affection. He nodded in acceptance before revealing his decision to her.

* * *

THE END
 
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