The Star Eagle Adventures V: Shadows in the Haze

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by CeJay, Oct 21, 2012.

  1. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    Click here to see the alternate cover

    The Star Eagle Adventures V

    Author's Note:

    Welcome to Shadows in the Haze, the fifth Star Eagle Adventures feature novel which picks up four months after the conclusion of the previous novel All The Sinners, Saints.

    This story is mostly self-contained and you should be able to comfortably follow it even if you have little or no previous experience with the series. Naturally, the more familiar you are with the characters, the more enjoyable the read.

    Please don't hesitate to let me know what you think. I'm venturing into new territory here myself and not everything may work the way I'd like.

    Hope you enjoy.

    - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Stardate: 52103
    (February, 2375)

    Day One: Farewell, My Lovely

    - I -

    It was a storm of unnatural intensity and it raged over the Mediterranean Sea with the force of a vengeful deity, torrents of rain and angry, unrelenting lightning ripping through the dark skies as if Poseidon himself had decreed the end of man for once and for all.

    The roars of thunder were so deafening, they struck fear into even the bravest and most courageous of sailor’s hearts. Waves the size of church towers and winds, driving at the speed of falcons, ravished the waters.

    Caught in this fateful storm was a small ship, fighting against all odds to survive this hellish weather. The wooden planks creaked and bent, the large main mast weaved and the white sails had long torn away, only leaving a few shredded pieces.

    The captain of the ship, a man of middle age who had spent the better parts of his life at sea, held on tight to the robes. His eyes were wide open with fear. Never before had he encountered a storm this villainous, this determined to bring an end to his life and his ship.

    “Boatswain!” he shouted from the top of his lungs.

    A younger man fought his way across the deck just as another colossal wave hit the ship’s exposed port side and flooded the quarterdeck. The man was almost washed into the sea before he was able to desperately hold on to the railing.

    “Here, master. What cheer?” he cried.

    “Good,” said the captain. “Speak to the mariners. Fall to’t, yarely, or we run ourselves aground. Bestir! Bestir!”

    The boatswain knew what to do. He nodded and headed back to where his frightened men where waiting for orders. He began barking and shouting, doing his best to keep up their morale and imploring them to save the ship.

    The sailors went to work but only hesitantly. For many of them had no more courage left in them. They had seen the abyss and it was coming for them.

    A number of men, dressed in fine clothes and utterly out of place on a ship in distress made their way from below to deck. With less concern for their own safety they noticed the boatswain busily at work, fastening the ropes.

    “Good boatswain,” one of them shouted across the deck and approached the sailor. He was an elderly nobleman with little knowledge of the seas and the dangers inherent to them. His demeanor and his stance were that of one who thought himself above the elements. Like a king. “Where’s the master? Play the men.”

    “Do you not hear him?” the sailor shot back, unable to keep the annoyance out of his tone. “You mar our labor. Keep your cabins. You do assist the storm.”

    “Nay, good, be patient,” said another nobleman who joined in the defense of his king. He hung on to a robe with one hand while trying desperately to keep his hat from blowing away with his other.

    The boatswain gave up on hiding his anger behind a mask of decorum. If he had to die in this storm he was determined that it wouldn’t be because of the arrogance of his passengers. “When the sea is. Hence! What cares these roarers of the name of the king? To cabin: Silence! Trouble us not.”

    The old man could scarcely believe the sailor’s defiance. “Remember whom thou hast aboard!”

    “None that I more love than myself!” the boatswain spat back. “If you can command these elements to silence, and work the peace of the present, we will not hand a rope more. If you cannot, give thanks you have lived so long, and make yourself ready in your cabin for the mischance of the hour. Cheerly, good hearts! Out of our way, I say,” he shouted to make himself heard over the thunderous noise and then pushed past the stunned passengers.

    Michael Owens watched with captivated fascination as the storm finally overwhelmed the small vessel, losing its futile struggle against the elements it was crushed by the waves and ripped to shreds. Only a small number of survivors were washed onto the shores of a nearby island.

    Soon afterwards the man who had been responsible for the disastrous weather was revealed. He was an old man, wronged and betrayed by his closest confidant a long time ago and then exiled to a seemingly abandon island in the middle of nowhere. But instead of withering away as his betrayer would have hoped, he only grew more powerful and now commanded the forces of magic. With only his beautiful young daughter for company, he had vowed to use his dark arts to have his revenge on his enemies.

    Owens and the rest of the audience were dazzled by the actors who brought these vivid characters to life on the stage of a faithful recreation of the 17th century Globe Theatre in London. The stage had been enhanced with holographic technology to transform it into the actual setting of the play.

    They sat and watched, sometimes laughing, sometimes applauding but for many parts in silent fascination as the plot thickened. They watched the prince, played by a ruggedly handsome young man, fall for the equally beautiful Miranda only for their passion to be foiled by her protective father.

    Owens’ eyes opened wider and a large smile came over his lips when he recognized a familiar face. The stunningly attractive young woman was portraying a spirit, and quite fittingly so. Her long white and green dress, shimmered in the bright light, her golden hair was flowing freely down her shoulders. She sang in a voice fit for an angel.

    “Come unto these yellow sands, and then take hands;
    Curtsied when you have and kissed the wild waves whist,
    Foot it featly here and there;
    And, sweet sprites, the burden bear.”

    She quite easily seduced the young prince to follow her even though he could only hear her marvelous voice. She was like a siren and her effect was felt on the stage and beyond.

    The play drew to an end. Prospero, the old mage had finally given his blessing to his daughter and the prince. He had given up his plans of vengeance and instead had decided to forgive the king for the wrongs he had done to him. As a reward his exile was to come to an end and he would be ready once more to join civilization and be restored to his rightful place. He freed the spirit he’d enslaved and asked for forgiveness for himself.

    “Now my charms are all overthrown, and what strength I have's mine own, which is most faint. Now, 'tis true, I must be here confined by you. Let me not dwell in this bare island by your spell; But release me from my bands with the help of your good hands. As you from crimes would pardon'd be, let your indulgence set me free.”

    The audience raged with applause, more than willing to give the old man the freedom he so desired.

    Owens stood and others soon followed suit until every last audience member was on his or her feet, applauding and shouting bravo. The play had been a phenomenal success and the applause lasted even long after Prospero had gratefully left the stage. He returned with the other players and together they bowed to the applause many more times. They were forced to return to the stage again and again until the audience finally grew tired and the applause died down.

    A few minutes later the audience and the actors mingled amongst each other in the Nest, Eagle’s spacious crew lounge. Even though the galaxy was gripped by a devastating war, for now the mood was festive. For now the Dominion and their Jem’Hadar solider were light-years away. In fact Eagle’s new mission had given its crew a welcome break from fighting the enemy and Michael Owens had found the idea of having a play a great way of boosting morale. There had also been a second and slightly less conspicuous occasion as well.

    The captain stood amongst his officers, patiently waiting for a chance to speak with the actors. Most of which were being questioned and congratulated by the rest of his crew. He did not wish to pull rank and butt in, after all this play had been for them.

    Instead he turned to his science officer. “Mister Xylion, you haven’t said much. How did you enjoy the play?”

    “The performance was adequate, sir.”

    Tazla Star, Eagle’s Trill first officer aimed a sidelong look at the Vulcan. “That’s all you’ve got to say? Adequate?”

    Owens was not surprised. “He is not an admirer of the writer.”

    “Still,” she said. “It was a magnificent play.”

    “I do not disagree with you, Commander,” the Vulcan said. “The aesthetics were pleasing indeed.”

    Star sighed and gave up. Her face lightened up when she spotted DeMara Deen approach the group. She had changed out of her costume and into civilian attire but the young Tenarian remained as stunning as ever.

    “Here comes the big star,” the first officer said and raised her glass towards her.

    Deen wasn’t a woman who blushed easily and she didn’t now. “Hardly,” she said. “My part was rather small.”

    “It is not the size of the part, my dear Dee,” said Owens. “It’s what you make of it. Here is to a splendid performance.” He joined Star in raising his own glass.

    “Thank you, all,” she said. “But it was not just me in this play. They all did a fantastic job.”

    Ashley Jane Wenera joined the group. The raven-haired doctor had nothing but praise herself. “Indeed. But when you started singing, I swear I heard a few hearts flutter.”

    “How fortunate then that you were in attendance, Doctor,” said Deen with a little smirk.

    “What I want to know is,” the doctor continued, “who was that handsome prince?”

    “Lieutenant Jin Gedar,” said chief engineer Louise Hopkins, who had quietly joined her colleagues. “He’s Krellonian, like Lif,” she said, referring to the ship’s chief helmsman. “He’s also one of my best engineers. A real gifted young man.”

    Michael and the others threw the usually shy Hopkins surprised looks. It wasn’t like her to sound so assertive when outside of engineering. Hopkins blushed noticeably.

    “Well I say this much for the man,” said the doctor. “If his engineering career doesn’t work out, he’s got a splendid future as an actor ahead of him.”

    Everyone seemed quick to agree with the sentiment. All but Hopkins who unbeknownst to her colleagues had turned surprisingly dour for reasons not immediately apparent.

    “Here he is now,” said Tazla Star as Gedar had finally managed to tear himself away from his many adoring fans.

    “Sir, I apologize I was held up, I should have come to see you first,” the dark-skinned Krellonian said as he reached the captain. Just like Lif Culsten, Gedar possessed silvery long hair which he wore in a style to distract from his earless head.

    “Nonsense,” the captain said quickly. “I just wanted a chance to shake your hand. I believe the crew is in agreement that you are a most gifted young man.”

    “You are too kind, sir,” the man responded even if he couldn’t quite hide that proud smile beginning to form on his lips. The man took the captain’s hand and shook it.

    “You understand of course that with a gift like yours also comes a great responsibility,” Michael continued. “I expect many more performance of this caliber in the future.”

    The engineer was grinning openly now. “I’d be happy to oblige, sir.”

    Gedar went on down the row of senior officers to shake their hands. Nobody noticed that the exchange between him and the chief engineer was awkwardly short.

    They met the rest of the performers including a middle aged Chief Petty Officer who was nearly unrecognizable as the old Prospero without the heavy makeup.

    “Very well done, Crewman,” said Michael as he shook the hand of Sierra Decaux, a lithe but pretty, blonde-haired young woman who had played the part of Miranda.

    The girl seemed distracted. “Thank you, sir, thank you very much,” she said and then turned her head as if she was trying to find somebody else in the crowd. She seemed to have found who she was looking for when her eyes came to rest on Jin Gedar. “If you would … if you would excuse me for a moment, sir?” she said and then turned to leave, forgoing congratulations from the rest of the senior staff.

    Star shot the captain an incredulous look. “Should I feel snubbed?”

    Michael just smirked. “Let’s give her a break, Commander. I’m sure some of them are just glad it’s over. I remember the torture I had to go through when my mother dragged me to rehearsals for school plays.”

    “Now there is a story I’d love to hear,” said Deen.

    “Not on your life,” he shot back.

    With the obligatory handshakes and congratulations over with, Michael watched as actors and spectators began to mingle and relax again. It had been quite some time since his crew had been given a chance to do so. The ongoing war effort had not allowed for much R&R and Michael couldn’t help but grow concerned about the accumulative strain of fighting a war with a physically and mentally exhausted crew. And things were not faring well for Starfleet even now that the Romulans had joined the war effort.

    Michael glanced across the room to find Lieutenant Commander So’Dan Leva, his half-Romulan tactical officer engaging in conversation with security chief Nora Laas. He remembered that it had been partially thanks to his efforts that the Romulans had joined the fray against the Dominion, even if Leva liked to point out that the real reasons had little to do with his diplomatic mission to Romulus a few months ago but much more with a surprisingly well-timed assassination of a Romulan senator by the Dominion.

    The tide had started turning slightly into their favor after the Romulans had come aboard but it had soon become apparent that it hadn’t turned nearly enough and not nearly quickly enough. At this rate, Michael suspected that this war, already over a year old, could drag on another five or ten years. It was a cold and terrifying thought and he barely suppressed a shudder.


    He turned, thankful for the distraction, to find Ashley Wenera having stepped up to him. Regardless of the dark times they lived in, the woman had possessed a radiant glow these last few weeks which almost rivaled DeMara’s.

    “Doctor,” he said and offered a smile.

    She responded in kind. “I just wanted to thank you, Captain. I can’t … I don’t really have the words. Thank you for everything.”

    He put a hand on her shoulder. “Doctor, no thanks are necessary. Now I want you to go and spend some time with the crew. That’s an order.”

    She nodded gratefully before she did just as he had suggested.

    Deen stepped closer after Wenera had left and aimed a suspicious look at the captain. She had clearly overheard some of the conversation but had been unable to make sense of it.

    Michael Owens was not willing to explain himself just yet, leaving her to her own thoughts.

    * * *​
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2012
  2. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    - II -

    “I need you to have all of these sorted by name and function before the end of the day,” said Doctor Wenera to the myriad of doctors, nurses and technicians who were following her around sickbay. She pointed at another cabinet. “It’s always bothered me that the stand-by sedatives are not more clearly labeled. Now is the chance to get that done.”

    Her people busily entered notes in their padds, nodding along.

    All but head nurse Leila Adams. “Are we getting inspected by Starfleet Medical?”

    “Something like that,” Wenera shot back. “Besides you don’t need an inspection to get yourself properly organized. Come on folks, let’s have a sickbay we all can be proud off. And let’s do it today.”

    The medical professionals broke up in order to get started on their chief medical officer’s master plan to completely revamp a room they had worked in together for over three years.

    “Is it time for spring cleaning already?”

    Wenera turned to find DeMara Deen leaning casually against the bulkhead.

    “Dee, I didn’t see you there.”

    The Tenarian smirked. It wasn’t very often that she could go unnoticed amongst a crowd. She enjoyed her rare inconspicuous moments. “No wonder,” she said, “you were too busy spinning your people’s heads.”

    Wenera took a step closer to the operations manager, concern now edged on her face. “You don’t think I was too hard on them, do you?”

    She shook her head and stood away from the wall. “No, I just think you’re confusing the hell out them,” she said. “And after watching a nice relaxing play that is.”

    She smiled. “You were fabulous, I really mean it.”

    “You liked the play?”

    Wenera nodded eagerly. “It’s one of my all-time favorites.”

    Deen shot her a suspicious look.


    “I thought I remember you saying that before.”

    “Maybe I mentioned it once,” she said and then stepped away and began removing equipment from one of the cabinets in preparation to have them all re-ordered.

    Deen followed. “It’s a bit suspicious that we just so happen to be putting on your favorite play, don’t you think?”

    She shook her head. “Don’t be silly. The crew was in dire need for some relaxation. The fact that it’s my favorite play is a mere coincidence,” she said and moved on to the next cabinet.

    Deen followed. “Sure. And then, all of a sudden, you get your entire sickbay reorganized. Oh and of course there is that senior staff dinner the captain has so conveniently scheduled for this evening. I suppose those are all coincidences as well.”

    Wenera didn’t say anything to this.

    The golden-haired Tenerian stepped closer to the doctor. “Not to mention those subtle mood changes I’ve been observing lately,” she said. “And you look, I don’t know, fuller, I guess. But it’s not weight gain. Not really. It’s something else.”

    The doctor froze.

    “You want to know what I think?”

    Wenera shot the younger woman a sharp look. “Come with me,” she said and then turned to head into her office. She closed the doors behind Deen and then walked to her desk.

    “I think you are with child, Doctor,” said Deen with a wide grin on her face now. “I think the captain knows about it and has been putting on this whole –“

    “I’m leaving Eagle, Dee,” said Wenera after she had sat down in her chair.

    That smile dropped off her face. “Say what now?”

    “Tonight,” she added. “I’m making the announcement at the dinner this evening.”

    Deen was clearly at a loss for words. She stepped up to her desk and sat down. “But why? I mean, yes, I understand that having a child is a big change but you can have it right here on the ship. We can all help out,” she said, making it quickly obvious that she had secretly looked forward to welcoming a newborn child on Eagle and perhaps be allowed to help take care of it.

    Wenera looked up. “On a starship in the middle of war? You think that’s a safe place for a child?”

    “I … I suppose not.”

    “The truth is I feel horrible about this. This child, let’s just say, it wasn’t exactly planned and the circumstances of its conception are, well, complicated.”

    Deen had another grin on her face, a big schoolgirl-kind of grin which revealed her relatively young age.

    The doctor quickly shook her head. “It’s not a good story, Dee.”

    The grin was quickly replaced with a look of concern.

    “Only a few people know about this, including the captain who has been incredibly supportive.”

    “He can be a big softie at time,” she said. “Don’t tell him I said this,” she added quickly.

    Wenera offered a sad little smile. There weren’t many people on board who dared talk about the captain in this manner. As a close personal friend she could get away with it on occasions. The doctor stared at an empty wall for a moment, as if working up the courage to speak. She found it eventually. “It happened on our mission to Tiaita a few months ago,” she said. “There was a man there and I very inappropriately let myself get swept up in a moment. It was disgraceful, Dee. It was entirely inappropriate.”

    “You’re talking about the man who kidnapped you?”

    She nodded slowly. “Now you understand?”
    Deen looked her square in the eye. “I understand that he helped you escape from a sadistic monster determined to torture you. I understand that he helped our people to stop an anti-matter bomb which would have destroyed an entire city and killed millions. A man who may be the best future that world has to end its civil war.”

    “Damn it, Dee, it was wrong, ok? It was completely unbecoming of a Starfleet officer and a medical practitioner to get involved with him in the manner that I did,” she shot back angrily.

    Deen was momentarily stunned by the outburst. “And yet you are going to have his child and leave Eagle,” she finally said.

    “It wasn’t an easy choice.”

    She nodded slowly. “Who’s going to take over? Doctor Nelson?”

    “Doctor Katanga will be coming onboard shortly,” she said. “He’s been a mentor to me for many years and an extremely capable –“

    “Doctor Elijah Katanga?” Deen said, interrupting her. “The Elijah Katanga.”

    “Yes,” she said carefully.

    “The man is practically a legend,” she continued, her eyes suddenly wide with admiration. “Isn’t he heading the interstellar relief agency at Starfleet Medical? The one you used to work for?”

    She nodded. “He’s agreed to take over for me here on Eagle.”

    Deen was smiling now. “I can’t wait to meet him. I heard so much about that man.”

    “Well, that’s good. I’m glad you like my replacement,” she said, sounding a little bit hurt.

    “Sorry,” she said quickly. “I’m still devastated that you’ll be leaving us.”

    “Yeah, but being replaced with a living legend is making it hurt less, right?” she said with twinkle in her eye.

    Deen raised her hand and held her index finger and her thumbs close apart. “Maybe just a tiny little bit,” she said with a smirk.

    * * * ​
  3. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    – III –

    The captain had put on a dinner which rivaled those lavish affairs he liked to throw for their annual anniversary celebrations. This time however the occasion wasn’t quite as festive.

    Eagle’s entire senior staff had assembled in the observation lounge along with Captain Amaya Donners whose ship, the Agamemnon, had delivered a team of civilian scientists and engineers for Eagle’s upcoming mission as well as another Starfleet officer, past middle age with short dark and graying hair and a full white beard. The man hadn’t been formally introduced yet and most of the assembled senior staff threw him curious looks, not being able to quite place the officer wearing a blue medical uniform with commander pips on his collar but sans jacket.

    Ashley Jane Wenera stood after the waiting staff had filled their flutes with sparking champagne. Unbeknownst to most of the people around the table, her glass had been filled with ginger ale instead.

    Eagle’s chief medical officer felt her eyes beginning to water as she looked over the faces of the men and women around the table, many of which she had served with for over three years. “First of all I realize that I owe you all a big apology for this announcement which for many of you will most likely come as a surprise. All I can do is humbly ask that you do not judge me too harshly for it. This has not been an easy decision for me to make, in fact, I think it may be the hardest decision of my life but I believe in my heart that it is the right one.”

    She certainly had captured everyone’s attention.

    “I will be leaving Eagle tonight for personal reasons until further notice,” she said and let that sentence hang there for a moment. As expected and judging from the blank looks of most of her fellow officers, the news came as a complete shock to them. It made this so much harder for her.

    In fact only the captain and Deen had known the true occasion for this dinner, leaving all the others to speculate wildly as to why the captain had called all his senior officers together that evening.

    She took her time to consider those blank faces for a moment. Lif Culsten, their young Krellonian helmsman and a close friend looked particularly shocked and she could hardly blame him. Louise Hopkins, Eagle’s chief engineer had been unable to keep her mouth from gaping open in surprise. So’Dan Leva and Nora Laas did a slightly better job at keeping the surprise off their faces and Tazla Star, Eagle’s new first officer kept her own feelings well hidden under an unreadable mask.
    Considering she had been on the ship only a few months, she doubted that the Trill had strong feelings about this announcement one way or the other. Commander Xylion, the ship’s Vulcan science officer demonstrated his own surprise at the unexpected announcement merely by a raised eye brow.

    The doctor took a deep breath before continuing. “I know how some of you must feel and that in a way it is not fair to make such an announcement in this manner but please trust me when I say that due to the circumstances leading me to this decision, I thought it was necessary to keep my departure under wraps. I kindly ask that you do not speculate as to the reasons for my transfer. Lastly, I just want to say what an absolute honor it has been to serve with each one of you. We’ve been through good times and bad times together, and you truly have made this more than just another assignment for me. It has been the adventure of my life and I will miss you all greatly,” she said and stopped to wipe the tears off her cheeks. She turned to look at the captain. “And sir, I could not have asked for a better commanding officer. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for everything.”

    Owens nodded and after she had taken her seat again, he took the opportunity to stand. “Doctor. Ashley,” he said. “I want you to know that we very much feel the same way about you. You have been not just my own but the entire crew’s moral compass over the years we’ve been fortunate enough to serve with you. And no matter what the future may bring for you, I want you to know that you will always have a place on Eagle.”

    She nodded gratefully, again unable to keep those tears from streaming down her face. She blushed and quickly reached for a napkin to dry off her face.

    Owens looked at their mystery guest. “In Doctor Wenera’s absence, Doctor Elijah Katanga has gratefully agreed to lend his extensive skills and vast experience to Eagle and fill in as chief medical officer.”

    The dark-skinned doctor nodded. “That was a polite way of saying that I’m a very old man, Captain,” he said with a smirk. “But thank you nevertheless. I’ve had the great fortune of having known Jane since the day she graduated Starfleet Academy and I too had to say goodbye to her once before, so I certainly understand how you all must feel,” he said and then looked at Wenera. “Jane, I just want to reiterate the captain’s gesture by saying that I’m only here to keep your sickbay warm for you. As soon as you come back, and no matter how you may feel about this at the moment, I’m convinced you’ll be back, you’ll go right ahead and kick me out of your office.”

    She gave him a tear-filled little laugh.

    “In the meantime,” he said, addressing the entire room again, “it’ll be my great honor to serve the crew of this fine ship and hopefully you won’t get tired with putting up with an eccentric old man too quickly.”

    Tazla Star actually smirked at that last line while most of the other officers in attendance were still getting to grips with the idea of having to say good-bye to a fellow officer and friend.

    “Now, my dear Jane,” he continued. “Take it from an old man, youth is too short to be wasted on tears. Besides, I’ve been sitting here for the last ten minutes smelling a twelve cheese fondue and quite frankly if we don’t start eating soon you’ll have one last medical emergency on your hands.”

    This time Wenera’s laugh was truly sincere and a few others joined in. “Not at my farewell dinner,” she said. “Please, by all means, dig in.”

    Eagle’s outgoing CMO didn’t stay around long after the dinner had come to an end, just enough time to exchange a few heartfelt hugs and handshakes. Then she was off with Katanga to sickbay where her own extensive staff had been asked to assembled to be told that they’d have to answer to a new boss.

    Michael retreated to his quarters with Amaya Donners.

    “Never easy to see one of your people go,” she said after the doors had closed behind her. “And it’s hard on her too,” she added. “Reminds me of the time I had to say goodbye to the people at Deep Space Five after I was given Agamemnon. I’d been there for four years, toughest thing I’ve ever had to do,” she said and took a seat on the sofa underneath the forward facing windows. “Well, at least until a week after and I had to go toe-to-toe with the Romulans and the Borg.”

    Michael went to retrieve a half full bottle of Saurian brandy from a cabinet. He poured her a glass before doing so for himself and then sat at the other end of the couch. “I don’t like loosing her at all. But I understand her reasoning.”

    Maya took a sip. “I hear a lot of good things about Katanga,” she said. “Word of warning though, he wasn’t lying when he said he was an eccentric old man,” she added with a sweet smile.

    He aimed a puzzled look at her.

    “I’ve had him on board for only a few days and he’s already established himself as a household name on Agamemnon.”

    “Should I be worried?” he asked.

    “The man has been in Starfleet longer than both of us combined. He’s got three Carrington Awards under his belt and worked with legends like McCoy, P’Trell and Quaice.”

    Michael smirked. “Somebody’s been doing their homework.”

    “Hardly. Let’s just say the good doctor likes to talk and something tells me you’re going to be inimitably familiar with his career once his assignment here comes to an end.”

    He frowned.

    “Don’t worry, he’s not that bad. I actually found it refreshing to have a man of experience around. Feels like lately every other Starfleet officer is a wet behind the ears ensign.”

    “War will do that.”

    She nodded with a serious expression. “And yet here you are going off gallivanting into a nebula while us real soldiers fight the good fight,” the little smirk at the end revealed that she held no grudge against her friend over his latest assignment.

    “It’s not scientific mission if that’s what you’re thinking.”
    “I know. Doctor Rosenthal and his team are suppose to build a new fancy spy array in the Aphrodite nebula to allow us to spy on Dominion troop deployments,” she said. “And you’re telling me you’re not going to use the opportunity to try and do some good old fashioned exploring?” she added with a little twinkle.

    “We won’t get the chance,” he said, “we’re on a strict time table. We only have ten days to build that array before the radiation in the nebula becomes lethal to ship and crew.”


    Michael looked off into space for a moment.

    “So, tell me about Commander Star,” she said after he hadn’t said anything for a while.

    He looked at her. “Not sure what to say.”

    “Please,” she shot back. “There isn’t an officer in the fleet who hasn’t heard of the infamous former Captain Star. Rumor has it she had half her crew killed after going off on some unsanctioned mission. Lost her command and was sent to the stockade only to be brought back to fill desperately needed vacancies after the war started. And where does she end up of all the places in the galaxy?”
    “You know how it is with rumors,” he said.

    Donners looked skeptical.

    “Fine, yes, she made mistakes, she went to prison for them.”

    “And was released early.”

    Owens sighed. “She did some really good work on our mission to Tiaita. If not for her actions that mission would have ended as a much bigger disaster as it already was. She saved millions of lives.”

    “You almost sound as if you are trying to convince yourself, Michael.”

    He leaned forward. “I didn’t want her here. She was forced onto me by people with their own petty little agendas but after all was said and done, you know what she told me? She was ready to pack her things and simply disappear.”

    “And that would have been such a bad thing?”

    “She’s changed, Maya. She’s a different person and she’s working hard on making a new start of it,” he said.

    She took another sip from her drink. “In my experience people don’t just change overnight,” she said and then looked him straight in the eye. “Here’s my question to you, Michael. When it comes down to it, when everything’s on the line, your ship, your crew, the people you care about most, do you trust her? I mean completely trust her?”

    He uttered a heavy sigh and let himself fall back unto the couch.

    “That’s what I thought.”

    Donners put her empty glass back on the table with a loud thud causing her fellow captain to shoot her a surprised look. “Here we are, in the middle of a war which hardly ever gives us the chance to see each other in person like this and I’m playing Captain Buzzkill. Fill me up, will ya?”

    Michael laughed and reached for the bottle. “Careful there Buzzkill, this isn’t synthehol you know. And I believe you still have a starship to drive tonight,” he said as he poured her another glass.

    “For your information, I have very capable officers who can do that for me,” she said and took a big gulp of the emerald colored brandy. “Sometimes it’s good to be the captain.”

    He offered her a large smile but left it simply at starring at her.


    “Just quietly admiring you from afar.”

    “I’m not a statue, come closer, you are allowed to touch.”

    “Sounds like that brandy is getting to you,” he said but scooted over her way nevertheless.

    “If there is one good thing about the Dominion,” she said as she watched him move closer, “it’s that it really makes you appreciate being alive. Makes you realize that nothing is for granted.”

    “And everything could be gone tomorrow.”

    “Exactly,” she said just before she pressed her lips against his.

    His hands were on her a second later, brushing against her soft, dark skin and her satin like hair as he kissed her passionately.

    They came back up for air and Maya, her nose just inches from his, looked right into his brilliant blue eyes. “That was nice. Any particular reason we’ve never done this before?”

    Michael’s face turned into a frown and he actually pulled back.

    “Now who’s Captain Buzzkill?” she said.

    “This wasn’t the first time we’ve kissed,” he said but avoided looking her in the eye.

    “It was the first time we kissed like that,” she said. “Unless you slipped me something I don’t know about.”

    But the look on his face made it clear that he was dead serious. “I tried to tell you once before.”

    “Tried to tell me what?”

    He took a deep breath before he continued. “It’s been weighing on me for a while now. The truth is I once cheated on you.“

    “Cheated on me? If you were trying to confuse the hell out of me, congratulations, you’ve succeeded.”

    “No, cheated on you is not the right word,” he said, clearly struggling to explain himself to a clearly befuddled Maya Donners who had not expected the evening to take such an unexpected turn. “I cheated on somebody else. With you.”
    She stood abruptly. “You’re not making a lick of sense mister. Listen, if you don’t want this, whatever this is turning out to be, just tell me.”

    Michael followed suit. “It’s not that. It’s not that at all.”

    “Then what is it?” she asked, impatience creeping into the tone of her voice.

    “A few years ago I had a rather unique experience. I went back in time while pursuing a wanted criminal,” he began.

    She nodded slowly. “You went after the man who killed your brother. I was there remember? I was the one who gave you the evidence to find him. And I read your report after.”

    “There is something that wasn’t in the report.”

    She gave him an expectant look.

    “I went back to our time at the Academy together. It was just after our second year and you had come up to my father’s house in Wisconsin.”

    She nodded “Yes and you’re right, I remember now. We kissed. Sitting on a bench outside, watching the sunset. I was giving you a hard time for assuming you had the whole thing set up to seduce me.”

    “The truth is you were right, it was a set-up. And it worked.”

    Maya shook her head. “You changed your mind. We kissed but then we stopped. You later introduce me to your girlfriend and I finally understood why nothing ever came of that night.”

    “But you see, something did. Before I went back, something did. That night turned out very different and our relationship became something else,” he said, finding it suddenly quite difficult to look into her eyes as he spoke.

    “You’re starting to make my head hurt.”
    “There was another timeline before I went back and it changed. In that timeline things between us were very different because I made an awful mistake that night. I ruined our friendship and I kept seeing you even though I was in a committed relationship with Jana Tren. Eventually you found out and you never forgave me for it.”

    Michael watched her carefully as she turned her back on him and took a few steps towards the far wall. “That’s a lot to take in.”

    “Now do you understand why I’ve been feeling so awkward all this time?”

    “Let me try to get this straight. There was another timeline where you cheated with me on your girlfriend and I ended up hating your guts,” she said and turned around to face him again, a noticeable gap now between them.

    He nodded.

    “Then you went back in time and fixed it?”

    “It kind of happened that way, yes. It wasn’t planned.”

    She offered a humorless smile. “I would think the Department of Temporal Investigations would seriously frown on people using time travel to ease their conscience.”

    “Must be why I never told them about that particular event.”

    Maya rubbed her temples with her thumb and index finger, clearly still having trouble fully appreciating Michael’s revelations. “Here’s what I don’t understand,” she said. “From what you’re saying all this cheating and lying happened in a different timeline, one that nobody remembers. So why tell me this now?”

    “Because I remember, Maya,” he said and took one small step towards her, but not confident enough to come any closer just yet. “I wish to God that I didn’t but I do. I remember everything.”

    She considered those words for a moment before reciprocating with her own exploratory step. “There’s supposed to be whole other universe out there where we all exist but in twisted, evil versions of ourselves. There is the multi-verse theory which says that there is a parallel universe for each decision we may have made in our lifetime. So presumably there are versions of us right now where I killed you in a jealous fury, maybe even one where we’ve gotten married. I don’t see why any of that should stop us from living our lives the way we see fit.”

    “I just needed you to know about it.”

    She smiled and closed the gap between them. “Well, now that that’s off your chest, where were we?” she said and kissed him again.

    “And by the way,” she said after a minute or so when their lips had parted once more. “If you do ever cheat on me, I will kill you in a jealous fury. Just keep that mind for any future time travel excursions.”

    * * *​
  4. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Oct 27, 2007
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    Great read, so far. And always a pleasure to see Captain Donners again.
    I don't usually like ST teasers that begin with holodeck type scenarios, but in this case the play was so well depicted I didn't mind. And it does make sense, given the unending horror of war.

    You've done a good job of setting the stage with an important mission, tension between Donners and Owens and a larger than life visitor to the ship.

    I have my own ideas about who the victim will turn out to be, but I'll keep that under my hat. Can't wait to see how murder most foul will be handled by Owens and his crew.

    Keep it up.
  5. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    Hey, thanks for reading and commenting.

    And yeah, I completely agree, the it's all just a holodeck fantasy opening is an overused cliche. Albeit a tempting one. Interestingly enough I hadn't planned for it to be a holodeck play at all at first but then I thought how cool it would be for our characters to sit in a genuine recreation of the Globe Theater and watch a play come to life.

    It's more of a mood setter than a surprise revelation though, so hopefully I'm forgiven.

    Hope you get the chance to stick around and find out who the victim is. And more importantly the killer.
  6. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    – IV –

    Michael Owens stifled a yawn as he looked over the padd in his ready room.

    It had been a long day and the only reason he was still up was because Eagle was mere minutes away from entering the Aphrodite nebula, one of the most mesmerizing and remarkable spatial phenomena in the quadrant. Due to the high background radiation prevalent in the beautiful, multi-colored cloud and because standard shielding could not adequately protect a crew for long, no manned vessel had ever entered the nebula for any prolonged period. Even unmanned probes had not survived longer than a few hours within its hostile environment.

    However thanks to some ingenious shield modifications by Doctor Erez Rosenthal, a man often credited as the inventor of muliphasic deflectors now standard on all Starfleet vessels, Eagle would be able to safely operate within the nebula for up to ten days and complete the construction on a long-range sensor array.

    No, it wasn’t an exploratory mission in the grand Starfleet tradition which seemed almost forgotten after over a year of fighting an uncertain war. But it was the closest Eagle would get to one in what he feared a very long time.

    And if the spy array worked as Doctor Rosenthal had advertised, they’d also be able to give Starfleet a significant edge in the war effort.

    But for now Michael entertained a new proposal by his sedulous first officer. One of many she had brought to him since permanently joining his crew three months earlier.

    She stood in front of his desk as he scanned that padd, he’d asked her to relax a number of times but she remained as stiff as a board. “As you can see I have already run this by department heads and most agree that this will increase efficiency across all personnel on Eagle.”

    The captain glanced up at her. “Most?” he said with a smirk. “Any dissenters?”

    The red-haired Trill frowned. “Lieutenant Nora feels that the current shift arrangements are sufficient for the security department. But she’s the only hold out. I’m sure I can make her see the rationale of a four-shift rotation.”

    Michael doubted this very much. The lost love between his fiery Bajoran security chief and Commander Star was well known on the ship. And rationale had very little to do with the two women’s feud.

    “Mmm,” was his only comment as he glanced back at the padd, keeping himself purposefully uncommitted.

    “This setup worked very well for me on the -,” she interrupted herself. “On my previous assignment,” she added after a short pause.

    The captain didn’t miss the fact that she couldn’t say the name of her previous ship. That fateful assignment that had ended in such disaster that it had very nearly axed her Starfleet career. Star had served as the captain of the Sacajawea for only four months before she lost it all after going rogue and trying to apprehend a dangerous and wanted criminal by herself. This mission had gone sideways and she not only lost the man she had gone after but also her entire team. Many also blamed her for a number of casualties on two other starships which had attempted to stop her.

    She had served six months of a five-year sentence at the Starfleet Stockade at Jaros III before being released due to the outbreak of the Dominion war and reinstated as a commander in the Border Service. After she had decided to break with her unscrupulous intelligence boss who had arranged for her to be temporarily assigned as Eagle’s acting first officer, he had found a way to make the assignment permanent as a punishment.

    After Owens had agreed to give her a chance to prove herself, she had made it clear to him that she’d do whatever it would take to redeem herself as a Starfleet officer and she certainly had worked hard since she had made that vow.

    And yet something Amaya had said kept teetering on the edge of his mind. “When it comes down to it, when everything is on the line, your ship, your crew, the people you care about most, do you trust her? I mean completely trust her?”

    Michael decided it was too late to ponder those questions now and looked up at the expectant face of his controversial XO. “Tell you what, I look this over tonight and we’ll discuss this first thing in the morning. 0900 okay for you?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Good,” he said and placed the padd on his desk. “Now how are our civilian engineers settling in?”

    “They’ve practically thrown themselves into work,” she said. “Hardly even exchanged pleasantries. According to Doctor Rosenthal, he and his people will have hardly enough time to sleep in order to finish that array by their deadline.”

    “Hopkins giving them all the support they need?”

    She nodded. “She’s got an entire taskforce of engineers ready to work at the project around the clock,” she said. “But our chief engineer seems a little depressed that she isn’t being consulted more.”

    Michael stood. “I’m sure she’ll get over it. Besides nothing good ever came out of putting too many geniuses in one room,” he said as he headed for the doors. “You’d be able to measure the ego with a tricorder.”

    Star followed the captain on the bridge where they found their chief science officer, smartly getting out of the captain’s chair. “Sir, I was about to contact you. We are three minutes and forty seconds from dropping out of warp at the edge of the Aphrodite nebula.”

    “Excellent. And I see I’m not the only one staying up for the occasion,” said Owens.

    The Vulcan raised an eyebrow. “Using a manned spacecraft to enter the Aphrodite nebula is a significant scientific event in astrophysical research. The discoveries we may make here could help us make important advances in understanding the composition of certain stellar phenomena.”

    “Do I hear passion in your voice, Commander?” said Star with a smirk.

    “That would be improbable, sir.”

    Owens and Star exchanged a quick smile before the captain took a seat. “Let’s put it on the big screen, shall we?”

    Xylion quickly moved to his science station at the aft part of the bridge.

    A swirling mass of crimson, emerald and azure, all mixed into one extensive cloud, appeared on the main view screen. Aphrodite was different to other nebulas by its relatively small size. It was only a few light-years wide at its most expansive point and even though colorful and bright, it was actually not very well visible from a distance and without powerful sensors due it being surrounded by especially heavy concentrations of dark matter.

    One of its most impressive characteristics and the main reason it had been given its name, were those multi-colored twinkling lights which popped up at seemingly random intervals all over the cloud. It reminded Michael of Christmas lights and he quickly realized that it was a quite mesmerizing show. After the nebula had appeared on the screen, every set of eyes on the bridge had been drawn to it and now watched the spectacle in awe.

    It wasn’t until the aft turbolift opened, disgorging half a dozen men and women, speaking in fast and hectic voices that the quiet spell was broken.

    Michael rose from his chair to see who had intruded onto his bridge in such a brazen manner.

    “Doctor Rosenthal, may I present Captain Owens,” said Tazla Star once she had spotted the scientist among the civilian team having stepped out of the turbolift.

    Rosenthal was man of middle age, fifty-five, maybe sixty, with high cheekbones, thinning dark hair and a pointed chin beard. He wore an old-fashioned brown, three piece suit made out of cotton but perhaps most unconventional were those round eyeglasses sitting on his large nose.

    “A pleasure, I’m sure,” said the engineer as he stepped down the ramp to head towards the command area of the bridge.

    Michael reached out to shake the man’s hand. “Welcome aboard, Eagle, Doctor. We’re all very excited to have you onboard. I didn’t realize you needed access to the bridge tonight.”

    “Ah, thank you, Captain,” he said. “I apologize for the intrusion, I do understand how sacred Starfleet considers their starship bridges but it really is the best place to ensure my shield modifications are correctly calibrated before we enter the nebula.”

    Owens offered an easy smile. “I wouldn’t say sacred, Doctor. Just a little heads up would have been nice.”
    “That’s my fault, I’m afraid,” said a woman who quickly stepped up next to Rosenthal.

    “Ah, please allow me to introduce my chief advisor on this project, Miss Colcord,” said Rosenthal.

    Michael shook hands with the attractive blonde woman who he couldn’t help but think was a little too young to be an advisor to an engineer of Rosenthal’s acclaim. He thought he saw her flinch a little at being called an advisor but it was late and he may have misread her. “Nice making your acquaintance.”

    “Likewise. And thank you for hosting us on your fine vessel. Again my apologies,” she said in a rapid-fire tone which he found difficult to follow. “Liaising with your crew is my job on this project and therefore it was my oversight to not inform you of our intentions of attending the bridge. We’ve had very little time to prepare the shield modifications since coming over from the Agamemnon.”

    “Well, yes, I understand,” he said, his mind still spinning slightly at the pace of those words coming over her lips. “And by all means my bridge is yours. Let me know if you need anything?”

    “Thank you, Captain. In fact we would greatly appreciate if you could drop us out of warp as soon as possible to give us the time we need to finish the shield modifications,” she said.

    “Naturally,” he said and turned to his first officer. “Commander?”

    Star nodded smartly and then turned to the helm were an alluring, caramel-skinned Risian woman was handling things during Gamma shift. “Ensign Aliris, drop to impulse.”

    “Aye, sir.”

    The ship decelerated out of warp not a second later.

    “How long until we reach the threshold at this speed?” Star asked.

    Rachel Milestone, a petite brunette and the nightshift’s operations manager responded quickly. “Forty-three minutes, sir.”

    Michael turned to look at Rosenthal and Colcord.

    “That’ll give us the time we need, thank you, Captain,” said Rosenthal just before he and his advisor joined the rest of their team which had practically taken over the aft stations of the bridge.

    For the next forty minutes the bridge crew remained at their posts while the civilian engineering team was hard at work, walking back and forth between the various aft stations, reading out status updates, shield frequencies and liaising with their remaining colleagues in engineering and deflector control even while the magnificent Aphrodite nebula steadily grew larger on the screen.

    "Captain, with your permission we are now ready to engage the transphasic shielding," Rosenthal finally announced.

    "By all mean, Doctor, please go ahead," Michael said.

    "Initiate the main deflector and get ready to activate the transphasic emitter," Rosenthal said which immediately prompted another flurry of activity.

    "Deflector engaged and running at optimal operational output."

    "Transphasic emitter within standard parameter."

    "Powering shield grid."

    Owens had made his way to the aft science station, careful to stay out the engineers way. He found Xylion working on his console and leaned in next to him, momentarily studying the readings on his screen. "I may not have read the mission briefing as carefully as I should have. What's a transphasic shield, Commander?" he said, keeping his voice low enough to hopefully not out himself as an ignoramus in front of Rosenthal and his team.

    "A fairly new concept in deflector shield technology first proposed by Doctor Rosenthal three years ago, it is based on frequencies which shift approximately every 10.4 picoseconds, allowing the shields to momentarily exist in an asymmetric superposition of multiple phase states. This in turn allows the shields to deflect certain types of radiation, including thermionic radiation prevalent in the Aphrodite nebula.”

    Owens nodded. He didn't have a science background but he could understand the basic concept. The shields would keep his ship and crew safe, that was all he really needed to know.

    "The truly groundbreaking technology here is the level of miniaturization," said Rosenthal who may not have overheard the question but hadn't missed the Vulcan’s answer. He turned to look at the captain and took the moment to remove his eyeglasses and clean the lenses with a cloth he kept in one of the many suit's pockets. "The emitter itself is, well just about the sizes of my spectacles here and still powerful enough to protect the entire ship by utilizing the existing shield grid. This will allow us to use the same shield technology on shuttles, workbees and even EVA suits while we construct the sensor array."

    "Doctor, the transphasic shield is running at 97.8 percent power and is now stable," Colcord said.

    "Excellent, Charlie," he said and looked back at he captain. "At you leisure, sir."

    Michael gave the man a curt nod and headed back towards his seat. "Distance to nebula threshold?"

    "250,000 kilometers," said Milestone.

    "Ensign Aliris, get us to the threshold at full impulse and then slow to one quarter to take us in nice and easy," he said and took his seat.

    "Yes, sir, increasing to full impulse,” the Risian said enthusiastically.

    After that it didn't take them long to get there.

    "20,000 kilometers to threshold," said Aliris. "Slowing to one quarter impulse, 2 minutes until we enter the nebula."

    "Captain, even with the transphasic shielding we can expect to encounter strong spatial turbulence while we cross the outer periphery," the science officer said, "I recommend we transfer auxiliary power to inertial dampers.”

    Owens nodded. "You heard the man, Ensign."

    "Transferring power," Milestone confirmed.

    Not a few moments later Eagle encountered the promised turbulence like a ship entering rough waters. Michael couldn't help but be reminded of the play they had watched earlier in the day and hoped that their travels would fare much better.

    "Now passing nebula threshold," Ensign Milestone said.

    "And down the rabbit hole we go," said Star.

    Michael found that to be an apt metaphor and didn't regret his decision to stay up late to watch Eagle slip into the Aphrodite nebula. It was Wonderland indeed. While the nebula had looked spectacular from afar, it was even more amazing seeing it from the inside. The many multicolored lights were revealed to be countless specks of varying size and ever changing shades as they swirled around the ship. Some just by themselves while others seemed to be traveling in seemingly synchronous formations not unlike swarms of fish under the sea.

    Every few seconds, kilometer-long strands floating through the nebula would spontaneously erupt in a bright flash and quickly burn themselves out again, creating a never ending series of spatial fireworks.

    "Its absolutely gorgeous," said Aliris.

    "Never seen anything like it," agreed Milestone next to her.

    Star caught the large smile plastered on the captain's face. "Sir?"

    He aimed that grin right at her. "It's been a long time since we could say that we've gone where no man has gone before."

    "Sir I must point out that we are not the first manned spacecraft known to have entered this nebula," said Xylion. "While we may be the first Federation vessel able to withstand the radiation for a period of time, other starships have -"

    "Commander, it's the sentiment that counts," said Owens, interrupting the Vulcan. "Now how about we just enjoy the view?"

    Xylio cocked an eyebrow. "Indeed, sir."

    After a while their ride noticeably smoothed out as Eagle traveled away from the turbulent periphery and deeper into the cloud.

    "Transphasic shields are operating as expected and remain stable," said Rosenthal. "At the current level of decay we should remain safe from the radiation for ten to eleven days."

    "Well done, Doctor," said Owens.

    A myriad of sensor alarms from tactical and operations interrupted the serene tranquility which had gripped the bridge.

    Star was out of her chair in an instant. "Report."

    "I don't know what's going on," a flustered Milestone said as her fingers rushed over her controls. "I'm reading multiple fires all over the ship."

    "Fires?" Star said as if to make sure she’d heard that right.

    Milestone nodded. "Also reading loss of atmosphere on deck five, section twelve and failure of life support on deck nine though twelve."

    "Captain, I believe I can explain," said Xylion. "While external sensors have been calibrated for the interference caused by the nebula's background radiation, internal sensors have not and are therefore providing us with unreliable readings."

    "Can we recalibrate them as well?" asked Star.

    Rosenthal stepped forward. "It is possible but it would be rather time and resource intensive, two things we are already short of. I recommend that we disable the internal sensors until we have completed our task inside the nebula."

    Michael frowned. He didn't remember reading that he would be without internal sensors during this mission. They weren't crucial to operating the ship but without them it be difficult to find out if something went wrong.

    Rosenthal seemed to notice the captain's reluctance. "I assure you that all critical ship systems will not be affected."

    Owens glanced at his science officer who nodded in agreement. "There will be sufficient redundancy systems to monitor critical systems."

    "Alright," he said and turned to ops, "Ensign, disable internal sensors but make a note in your station's log that I want hourly reports on all critical systems."

    "Yes, sir, disabling internal sensors and making note in log."

    The captain glanced back at the stunning light show on the screen and then tugged down on his uniform jacket. "That's enough excitement for me tonight," he said and glanced at his first officer, "We'll have plenty of time to appreciate Aphrodite for the next ten days."

    She responded with a nod. "I've switched shifts with Commander Leva so I'll stay on the bridge to keep an eye on things."

    Michael tried to figure out if Star had decided to head Gamma shift to continue to admire the nebula or if she had alternative motives. Something told him the latter to be true. "Have it your way, Commander, but I'm going to get me some shut eye. I'll see you in the morning."

    "Have a good night, sir."

    Back in his quarters, Michael stripped out of his uniform, took a quick sonic shower and quietly appreciated the beauty of the nebula from his the large forward facing panoramic windows. He observed as numerous specks of brightly colored light made contact with the modified deflector shield and then fizzled out with a little burst, almost like raindrops against a windshield. Albeit in much more spectacular fashion.

    Then he went to bed with a little bit of light reading, in this case Commander Star's report on improving crew efficiency by transitioning to a four shift rotation.

    But after only a few sentences he found his thoughts drifting off to his too short encounter with Amaya earlier. He was glad he had been able to finally talk to her about a mistake which had haunted him for so long and now seemed like it had happened a lifetime away. And she had taken the revelation in stride, not letting it affect her feelings for him in the least. On the contrary, judging by what they had done afterwards. They didn't have nearly enough time together as he would have liked as Agamemnon had to rush off to its next engagement.

    Michael hated the uncertainty of ever being able to see her again but then again that was the nature of their chosen lives, war times or not, and neither of them had regretted what had taken place between them.

    He had no idea where this unconventional relationship could lead, if it had a future or, for the matter, if any of them had a future at all.

    He decided not to dwell on those depressing thoughts and I instead simply appreciated how much he had enjoyed her company and how he would enjoy seeing her again.

    Michael closed his eyes for just a moment and not surprisingly immediately visualized her smiling face.

    "Star to Captain Owens."

    Michael opens his eyes and sighed. His new first officer desperately needed to take a break, he thought. "What is it, Commander?" he said, unable to keep his annoyance out of his voice.

    "I'm sorry to disturb you, sir," she said, his irritation had clearly registered. "But I thought you might want to go through that report about the shift transitions."

    He couldn't quite believe his ears. "In the morning, Commander. 0900 hours, remember?"

    A pregnant pause followed. "Sir, it's 1120 now."

    "What are you talking about?" he grunted, swung his legs over the side of the bed and activated the chronometer only to find that she was absolutely right.
  7. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    Day Two: The Getaway

    – I –

    DeMara Deen found Xylion in Eagle’s main science lab where he seemed hard at work at one of the computer stations and surrounded by a myriad of well-organized padds.

    “Reporting as ordered,” she said as she stepped into the lab and gave the chief science officer a snappy salute.

    Xylion raised an eyebrow to the gesture. “You are mistaken if you believe I ordered you here.”

    She offered a little smirk. “’Lieutenant Deen’,” she said, putting on her best Xylion voice, “’please report to the main science lab as soon as possible.’ Sure sounded like an order to me.”

    He considered her with curiosity. Cleary it wasn’t often that other officers pretended to speak with his voice. Deen almost expected him to say. ‘I do not sound like that at all.’

    Instead he said. “I apologize if you were under the impression you were ordered here.”

    She waved him off. “That’s alright, I didn’t have anything better to do anyway,” she said and approached his workstation. “What are you working on?”

    “I have initiated a full spectrum survey of the Aphrodite nebula.”

    Deen immediately began to study the screen. “Fascinating,” she said and then shot him a mischievous little look. “To borrow one of your lines.”

    The empty look on his face made it clear that even after over three years on Eagle, he didn’t really get her humor.

    She focused on the screen again. “These must be the most detailed scans anyone ever took of Aphrodite,” she said as she studied the screen. “Look at the high density of particle flux. This looks almost like a still forming protostellar nebula and not an inversion nebula as we previously assumed,” she said. Even though Deen served as an operations officer on Eagle, she had started her Starfleet career as a scientists. She had switched tracks only after Michael Owens had been unable to convince Starfleet to install the young and seemingly inexperienced woman as Eagle’s chief science officer when he had first put his crew together. However it was rare that she regretted those turn of events and she’d had been given plenty of opportunities over the years to pursue her original passion.

    “My preliminary analysis suggests that Aphrodite exhibits enough unique characteristics that it could be classified as an entirely new nebula category. However additional study is required in order to establish a categorization in line with currently established scientific parameters.”

    “A brand new kind of nebula?” her voice having taken on a tone of reverence. It wasn’t everyday a scientist got to discover something that had never been seen before. “Have you tried probes to get better data?”

    Xylion quickly brought up the logs detailing his efforts so far. “I have deployed a class-II sensor probe as well a class-IV stellar encounter probe. Both provided only minimal new data before full systems failure brought on by thermionic radiation approximately two minutes and thirty-eight seconds after launch.”

    She nodded understandingly. “It’s not an ideal environment for probes. Did you run a high-energy proton spectrometry scan?”

    “Yes, with inconclusive results.”

    “How about a graviton –“

    “Lieutenant, I appreciate your input,” he said. “However I did not ask you here to suggest alternative means to study the nebula.”


    “I require your assistance in securing additional resources to continue my work,” he said.

    “I see,” she said, putting on a mock frown. “I’m not a good enough scientist to assist you. I’m just a good enough ops techie.”

    A raised eyebrow mirrored the Vulcan’s confusion. “I am not certain how you have come to interpret my request in that manner.”

    She offered a brilliant smile before planting herself down on the workstation next to his. “Relax, Commander, just pulling your leg. You need an ops officer and I’m an ops officer. Good enough fit, if you ask me,” she said before she stretched out her fingers dramatically in front of her. “Tell me what you need and I shall work my wonders.”

    “I require full access to the lateral sensor pallet. Specifically the hydrogen-filter subspace scanner and the low-frequency EM flux sensors.”

    “Alright let’s see what we can do,” she said and began tapping away at her console. But after just a few moments she began to frown in earnest. “Looks like the entire lateral array has been locked down to be used by engineering to assist in their construction efforts.”

    “Can we utilize pallet six and the virtual particle mapping camera,” said Xylion.

    But Deen quickly shook her head in frustration. “Also re-purposed by engineering. Same goes for the wide-angle EM radiation scanner, the quark population analysis counter and the steerable lifeform analysis cluster.”

    The Vulcan offered a minimalistic nod. “I have assumed as much.”

    “I suppose there are things that trump scientific research,” said the golden-haired Tenarian.

    “Indeed. Certainly war and the preservation of life and our freedom fall into that category.”

    “I know,” she shot back. “But it’s all so frustrating. We are losing such an amazing opportunity here,” she said and uttered a heavy sigh. “The only thing war has ever done is throw us back decades in real scientific and exploratory progress. That and killing millions of people.”

    “I do not disagree, Lieutenant,” said the science officer. “However, logic suggests that the need of many outweigh the needs of the few.”

    “Vulcan wisdom,” she said. “Where would we be without it?”

    Xylion had no response to that.

    Deen stood and her face brightened with a new idea. “But what if the few could manage to slip away and get out of the many’s hair altogether?”

    Xylion cocked an eyebrow in response.
  8. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    I just caught up with this one, CeJay, and I have to say I'm loving it!

    Wonderful crew interactions for starters, a tearful goodbye to Dr. Wenera, romantic sparks between Owens and Donners, and the ever-mysterious Commander Star thrown into the mix as well.

    And you found a way around the ol' internal sensor conundrum for any would-be killer aboard a starship!

    I'm looking forward to the adventures to be had inside the Aphrodite Nebula...
  9. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    - II -

    “I know what you’re thinking, Captain. You think that I’m a difficult, hardheaded old-man who is looking at one last chance to have an space adventure before he’s cast aside and mothballed for good.”

    “That’s not at all what I–“

    But Doctor Elijah Katanga didn’t give Michael Owens a chance to speak. “And you’re probably absolutely right. I haven’t served on a starship since I was a chief researcher on the Billroth back in ‘53, I think. Could’ve been ‘55.”

    “’54 actually,” said Tazla Star who stood to one side in Owens’ ready room while observing the captain and the ship’s new chief medical officer’s conversation.

    Katanga turned to look up at the red-headed Trill who offered a wide smile in return. The doctor didn’t seem quite sure what to make of that. “Yes, of course. Thank you, my dear.”

    She nodded helpfully.

    Katanga turned to face the captain again who was sitting opposite him behind his desk. “In any case, just because it has been a while since I’ve been on a starship, doesn’t mean that I don’t know my way around a sickbay anymore.”

    “Doctor, nobody here is suggesting that you don’t know what you’re doing. In fact we are all very honored to have you onboard.”

    “A lot of folks seem to be under the impression that space travel is a right reserved for the young,” he continued, almost as if the captain hadn’t spoken at all. “But we are too quick to forget that the real trailblazer to the stars were men and women of my generation. And we still have plenty to offer.”

    Michael began to rub his forehead, Maya’s warnings coming back to the forefront of his mind. “And I would never suggest otherwise.”

    “I’m glad to hear that, Captain. Very glad indeed,” he said and offered a grandfatherly smile, revealing rows of white teeth which stood in contrast to his dark skin. “Than you will have no objections with me spending time on the bridge.”

    “The bridge?”

    “Well yes of course,” he said. “I won’t be able to share my extensive wisdom with you and the crew on a regular basis if I’m hiding myself away in sickbay all the time.”

    “Doctor Wenera preferred–“

    “Oh yes,” Katanga said, interrupting Owens again. “I know all about how Jane liked to run things. And don’t get me wrong, she’s a very capable physician, in fact one of the most dedicated doctors I’ve ever had the pleasure working with. But she also had a tendency to close herself off and keep her thoughts to herself. As you can tell, that’s not like me at all.”

    “I think that much is obvious,” offered Star again who continued to be greatly amused even though neither Owens nor Katanga could tell exactly why.

    “I don’t think I would call Doctor Wenera closed,” said Michael, vividly remembering her inquisitive nature and her tendency to question things on a nearly constant basis.

    At that Katanga grinned. “Well, I’ve worked on her over the years. I’m glad it shows.”

    “Back to what you were saying about–“

    “Me being on the bridge,” he said quickly, completely missing the captain’s frown at being interrupted yet again. “As my dear old friend Leonard McCoy used to say, you can’t very well make a difference if you’re not standing up for what’s right,” he said and then considered his own words for a moment. “At least I think Bones said that. I could be mistaken.”

    “Listen, Doctor, if you like to be on the bridge from time to time, that’s perfectly fine. As long as you understand that there are certain rules and protocols we like to–“

    “My dear Captain,” said Katanga as he stood. “I helped write half of those rules and protocols so you don’t have to worry about me not fitting in.”

    “Talking about fitting in,” said Michael, now trying hard not to show his frustration at not being allowed to finish a sentence in his own ready room. “I’ve noticed that your uniform is not exactly standard issue.”

    Katanga was still wearing his blue medical shirt without the gray-shouldered jacket which usually came with it.

    “Tell you the truth, Captain, I’ve never been a great fan of uniforms. Always seems so needlessly militaristic to me.”

    “The idea of a uniform is for everyone to look … well uniform,” Michael said.

    “Of course that’s the idea, Captain,” he said. “Anyway, if you don’t mind I really should be heading back to sickbay now. I have plenty of work left to do down there and get things organized. Not that Jane has not done a great job with the place and the staff.”

    “By all means, Doctor. And again, welcome aboard Eagle.”

    “Thank you, Captain. I have a feeling we will get on just fine,” he said and then aimed a look at Star who was still smiling at him. “Commander,” he added, his confusion at her smirking face still not entirely dispelled, before he headed out of the doors.

    After Katanga had left the room fell silent for a moment as neither Owens nor Star spoke up straight away.

    “He’s quite something, isn’t he?” the first officer finally said.

    Michael threw her a look.

    “I know he likes the sound of his own voice but the man’s practically a legend,” she said. “He has single handedly revolutionized modern medicine and quite possibly helped shape Starfleet into what it is today.”

    “And how much leeway exactly are we willing to extend to a living legend, Commander?

    She took a step closer to his desk. “I can speak to him about that if you wish. Katanga and I have some history.”

    The captain looked suspicious. “He didn’t seem to recognize you.”

    “In his defense, I didn’t quite look like this last time we met,” she said.

    Owens understood the implication. “Anything you could do to help ease Doctor Katanga’s transition onto a modern starship would be greatly appreciated.”

    Star smirked again. “Leave it with me, sir.”
  10. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Oct 27, 2007
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    Katanga's a real character, I'm enjoying his interaction with an annoyed Owens.

    There's a great feel of impending trouble here, set up by the Eagle's entry into the nebula and loss of internal sensors. The setting is now primed for trouble, all within the confines of a starship that may soon feel much smaller than it is.

    Great stuff, CeJay. Keep it coming, please.
  11. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    Thanks, Galen.

    Yeah there is much more to come here and let's hope we can keep things interesting as things get more serious.

    Working on two novels at the same time has taken a bit of a toll on me lately and I'm considering refocusing my efforts on just one piece of work. Having said that, I like this one too much to let it just sit by idly.

    We'll see.
  12. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    For the story behind the story, read the Writer's Commentary Blog at the United Trek Forum.
  13. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    Well, that was awkward! :lol:

    Katanga's a wily, crusty old sawbones, and someone who's going to make his presence felt.

    He's like a sociable mix between McCoy and the Mark I EMH.

    As much as I liked Owens' reactions, Star was killing me with her dry wit.
  14. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    – III –

    The dream had become all too familiar by now.

    Even though the details were never the same, the theme never changed. She was running up what began as nothing more than a little slope but turned steeper and steeper with each bound until it became a mountainous incline, impossible to overcome.

    She knew she needed to get to the peak, that her life depended on reaching it but without spontaneously sprouting wings, her chances of getting there equaled zero. Instead she would slip, like she did every time.

    She didn’t scream as she fell and the darkness engulfed her, almost as if she had gotten used to her own failures. As if they had become a part of her now.

    Tazla Star opened her eyes and felt a sharp pain in her midsection, almost as if her symbiont was ready to burst right through her flesh and skin, trying to forcefully disconnect itself from the host body.

    That too she had come to expect.

    She threw off the covers and found her tank top drenched in sweat.

    “Computer, time,” she said as she threw her legs over the edge of the bed and sat up.

    “The time is 1058 hours.”

    She had slept less than two hours. And even after pulling a double shift.

    With her elbows resting on he knees and holding her temples, she took a few breaths to try and wait for the pain to go away. It always did after a few minutes. But by then she’d be unable to go back to sleep.

    Tazla Star couldn’t remember the last time she’d had gotten more than four, maybe five hours of sleep straight. Not because of the stressful demands of her job, or because of fighting a war that seemed to go on forever but because her entire body was out to punish her for the mistakes of her past.

    She reached under her bed and found the small safety box. It opened after she entered a combination and she removed the hypospray, considering the device for a moment.

    Inside it contained a vial of yridium tricantizine, also known by its street name Syndicate-Y. A drug popular with members of the Orion Syndicate and one she had become addicted to early in her career when a deep-cover assignment had spun out of control.

    Accepting the drug to infiltrate the organization hadn’t been the first or last mistake of her career but it certainly was amongst the biggest. In fact she was certain that things had taken a desperate turn for the worse after her addiction had kicked in and turned her into a closet junkie, easily manipulated by those who sought her loyalties.

    She had tried to come off it before. For a while a substitute drug, less addictive and damaging, had been a promising way to finally kick the habit which was threatening to destroy what little of a life she had left. It hadn’t worked out.

    Since coming on Eagle permanently she had tried to go cold turkey a number of times. Going four or five days, sometimes even a whole week, without a shot. But eventually, when her concentration dipped, the dreams became more vivid and she wouldn’t get more than three hours a night, she had no recourse but to go back to her supply.

    While eying the tempting hypo in one hand, she felt the octagon-shaped mark on her chest with the other. And while it had healed over the years, the outline was still visible and she had chosen not to treat it and keep it as a constant reminder. The Mark, as it was known by Syndicate-members, was a sign of their loyalty and commitment to the organization. It was also the shape left behind of the first Y injection which bounded most of its members to the organization for life.

    With the pain in her abdomen almost gone, Star drew one large breath and placed the hypo back in box, closed it and pushed it back under her bed. She’d go another day without an injection, she’d managed to convince herself.

    Her legs felt rubbery when she stood but at least the sweats had stopped. She hoped a long sonic shower would get her ready for another long day. And perhaps this time it would tire her out enough to get back to five hours of sleep.

    Afterwards and dressed in a fresh uniform, she aimed a furtive glance at the windows of her quarters to be greeted by the unusual sight of hundreds of different color splotches vying for dominance as they impacted against Eagle’s shields. Most of the crew, she knew, found this spectacle to be mesmerizingly beautiful. To her it reminded her of one of her more vivid Syndicate-Y trips and she couldn’t stand looking at if for longer than a few seconds.

    She swiftly left her quarters.

    She had barely set foot on deck twelve when she heard the Vulcan science officer call out her name.

    The first officer slowed to allow him to catch up with her more easily.

    “Mister Xylion,” she said in acknowledgment as he stepped up to her and matched her pace. “How can I be of assistance today?” she added, aiming a tiny smile his way. She was quite proud of how chummy she managed to sound considering how little sleep she’d gotten. Then she realized that this was mostly lost on the Vulcan.

    “I have a request to make.”


    He raised an eyebrow as if her response has been a complete non-sequitur to his query. But apparently his sharp Vulcan mind quickly processed the true meaning of her words. “As you may be aware,” he started, “this is the first opportunity a manned Starfleet vessel has had to enter this nebula without being affected by the heavy radiation which is toxic to most humanoid races.”

    “I am indeed,” she said and hoped he’d get to the point soon. No matter how much she pretended to be in an agreeable mood, the Vulcan was the one person on board who’d easily be able to test her patience and threaten her with a headache.

    “You may also be aware that our only studies of this spatial phenomena have been limited to automated probes and even those were unable to yield a significant amount of data before they succumbed to this hostile environment.”

    “I can sense where this is going.”

    “It would be a great disservice to the interest of science and our own efforts to better understand our own galaxy if we did not take full opportunity of our current circumstances and attempt to learn more about RAFGL 77-89-98.”

    She thought he sounded unnecessarily dramatic about the whole thing. “Run your scans then,” she said. “We’ll be here for at least ten days. That should give you plenty of time to do some in-depth studying.”

    “Regretfully most of the equipment I would require in order to study the nebula are currently reserved for the engineering team’s efforts to construct the observation array.”

    She nodded. “I see the problem.”

    “And I appreciate that at this time, the construction of the array has to take priority over all scientific considerations, especially since it may give us a significant advantage in the war against the Dominion.”

    Star came to a stop in front of the doors leading to sickbay and turned to the Vulcan. Had he not just answered his own request, she wondered. “And you would be right about that,” she said. “Further scientific study of the nebula will have to wait for another time, I’m afraid.”

    “Not necessarily,” he said and handed her a padd.

    She glanced at it and to her dismay realized that the science officer had written a fifty-page report on the benefits of a one-week study of Aphrodite. She got to the middle of the first page before she made the decision that there was no way in hell she’d read the entire thing. She looked back up at him. “Commander, while I appreciate your point, as well as this,” she waved the padd, “what I can only assume is a compelling—if not comprehensive—report, you have pretty much already summed up the reasons why it’s something we can simply not consider at the moment.”

    “If you would like to refer to page sixteen, section nine-alpha, you will find that I have proposed a solution which I believe would resolve that very issue without interfering with our current mission.”

    Star found the page but then quickly realized that the section he had referred to went on for about ten pages. “Why don’t you just give me the abbreviated version?”

    “The runabout could be equipped with Professor Rosenthal’s transphasic shielding and allow us to enter deeper into the nebula and carry out observations we’d be unable to complete on Eagle due to our current mission profile.”

    Star sighed and tried to give the report another shot. Once again she gave up quickly.

    “I would only require a small amount of volunteers to assist me in modifying the Nebuchadrezzar and accompany me on the away mission.”

    Star sighed and eventually returned the padd to the Vulcan. “You find those volunteers and you got yourself an away mission,” she said. “But I expect this to last not a minute longer than seven days. I want you back on Eagle with plenty of time to spare before we are due to depart.”

    “That should not be a problem, sir,” he said and then quickly departed, no doubt to get his away team assembled and begin the required modifications.

    * * *​

    Read the writer's commentary for this segment here.
  15. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    I love the interplay between Star and Xylion here, and how well she handles him, despite his over-eager preparation of the gazillion pages of documentation. Or perhaps that was his cunning plan after all? :evil:

    I know I should loath Tazla Star after all she's done, after all the compromises she's made... but the woman keeps getting up every day and putting on the uniform, no matter how many times the universe crushes her under its boot-heel.
  16. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    – IV –

    Star entered sickbay and after a quick survey she found the person she was looking for in his office. She stepped up to the doorframe and leaned casually against it while considering the ebony-skinned doctor sitting behind his desk. It took him a few moments to realize that he was being watched.

    “Commander,” he said as he aimed a furtive glance at the Trill woman before returning to his work. “How can I help you?”

    “Has it really been that long?”

    Katanga looked up again, a clearly puzzled look on his face now.

    She simply returned it with a smile. “I understand that the package has changed a bit.”

    “The … package?” the doctor said with confusion evident in his tone.

    “Well, yes, I’d say this one is at least 20 kilos lighter, with fairer skin and, oh yeah, the curves.”

    “Commander, I am not quite sure what you are trying to …” he stopped himself as she began to walk into the room with her emerald colored eyes sparkling like diamonds. “My God, I know that look,” he said as he stood.

    “I’m glad you recognize something, even though you’d think the name would have been a dead giveaway.”

    “Dezwin?” he said, a huge grin now forming on his dark, bearded face as he began to round his desk.

    She shook her head. “Not any more. I go by Tazla these days.”

    “Dear Lord, I didn’t even know,” he said and quickly hugged the first officer. When he let her go again, he took another good look at the Trill, studying the attractive woman in front of him from head-to-toe. “You changed,” he said with a dry grin.

    “You can say that.”

    “You know it never occurred to me. Not even once, that you could be Dezwin. Or should I say, have been Dezwin. I suppose I always thought of you … of him, as Dezwin Sigus and not Star. It never registered with me that you have the same name.”

    She nodded. “It can get a little confusing.”

    The doctor sat against the edge of his desk as he continued to consider the woman in front of him who had just been revealed as a dear friend of his a long time ago. “My God, Dezwin Sigus, now Tazla Star. What a crazy galaxy we live in, huh? I see you’ve decided to pursue a different career path.”

    “The joining affects us all in different ways.”

    He nodded. “I recall. Dezwin couldn’t wait to leave Starfleet after it happened to him, frustrated by the sluggish manner in which the upper echelons responded to medical emergencies throughout the galaxy. Even after he helped me set up MAAP,” Katanga said, referring to the Medical Assistance and Advisory Program which Dezwin and Katanga had created within Starfleet Medical as an interstellar agency to assist with medical crisis throughout the galaxy.

    “Same thing happened to me,” Tazla said. “I felt my drive and determination double almost overnight after I had joined with the Star symbiont. Suddenly I just couldn’t become a captain fast enough.”

    Katanga’s features darkened noticeably. Like many others in the fleet, he too had heard about the exploits of Captain Star and her subsequent downfall. But until now he had never made the connection. “Things didn’t quite go the way you had hoped.”

    She shook her head sadly. “No, they certainly didn’t.”

    Katanga stood and put a hand on her shoulder, adopting an almost grandfatherly smile. “I don’t know what happened to you that led to the things that happened. I don’t know the details or the circumstances but I know Dezwin. Hell, I probably knew him better than he knew himself. I have to believe that whatever you did, your intentions were pure. You tried to do the right thing but sometimes, no matter how hard we try, in the end it just doesn’t work out that way.”

    She looked pained. “I’m not entirely sure I deserve your absolution.”

    “I do and that’s all that matters, you understand,” he said, his tone taking on a sharper edge. “Yes, I’m sure you’ve made mistakes and if you could go back you’d probably do things differently now. But that’s not a luxury we have. From what I’ve heard you were duly punished for your transgressions. Now is the time to put this behind you and focus on how you can be a better person from now on in. I know Dezwin knew how to do that, so do you.”

    Tazla looked almost grateful at the unconditional trust her old friend was willing to place. It had been the first time since Michael Owens had decided to take a gamble on her and allow her to stay onboard as his first officer that anyone had shown this kind of faith in her. It was refreshing. “Thank you. This really means a lot to me, Eli.”

    “Nonsense,” he said quickly. “You don’t need me to tell you any of this,” he said and tapped her stomach. “All you need to know is right there. If you are in doubt, just go talk to Dezwin, he’ll tell you.”

    She smirked. “Doesn’t quite work like that,” she said. Even though it was probably close enough. Those memories after all were still part of her. And the symbiont had his ways to communicate when it wanted to. “But I’m really glad you came here. I think I could really use a friend. It’s not been easy.”

    “I’ve noticed this crew is a little wound up.”

    “I suppose the war is part of that. They’ve lost some of their own and gone through some really tough missions. And they don’t trust me.”

    “I didn’t get that impression,” said the doctor. “The captain seemed to be quite comfortable with having you around.”

    She quickly shook her head. “Let me tell you, appearance are deceiving. Yes, he made the decision to keep me around and I’ll always be thankful for getting this second chance, but he’s not comfortable with me at all. He’s been keeping me on the tightest of leashes ever since I came aboard. He practically looks over my shoulder twenty-four seven and to be honest, I’m scared stiff of letting him down.”

    The doctor looked at her for a moment. “None of that sounds like a particularly healthy relationship.”

    Star sighed and then turned to take a few steps towards the wall before turning back to her old friend. “There might be something that could change all that.”

    Katanga looked suspicious. “I remember that tone of voice,” he said. “It’s just like Dezwin used to sound when he came up with one of his rather foolhardy ideas of his.”

    “I think there is a spy on the ship.”

    He sighed heavily. “Oh God, I knew this wasn’t going to be pretty.”

    “Hear me out on this. I don’t have any proof yet. Nothing concrete that I could show the captain. It really just boils down to a couple of suspicious transmissions and a gut feeling.”

    “I don’t like where this is going.”

    She stepped closer. “Let’s assume for the moment that I’m right. I’ll let the captain in on this now and he’ll probably dismiss it for lack of evidence. But if I’m right, and if I can find out who it is and expose him or her, the captain will have no choice but to start trusting me with my duties. And before long the crew will fall in line.”

    “Dez, this is a terrible idea.”

    “I need to do something. Right now I’m nothing more than an afterthought on this ship. And at first that was enough for me. Better than to run away from Starfleet and drown myself in Saurian brandy in some faraway sector of space. I need to be more than that. I owe it to Owens to be the best first officer to him and his crew that I can be.”

    “And you think keeping secrets from him will achieve this?”

    She sighed. “A gut feeling and two unidentified subspace transmissions which could very well turn out to be nothing more than background noise aren’t exactly a secret,” she shot back.

    “I still think that this is a bad idea and if you came here to try and let me talk you out of this, let it be known that I’ve tried.”

    Tazla shot him a wide grin. “Always looking out for me, huh? I really missed you.”

    “Well,” he said as he sat back behind his desk. “I’ll make sure to remind you of this when they throw you back into that stockade.”

    She could tell immediately that he wasn’t being serious. “I can make this work, Eli.”

    He nodded slowly. “Just be smart about this, alright?”

    “Don’t worry about me.”

    “Somebody has to.”

    She gave him another smile before she headed towards the doors. She stopped halfway there and turned back around, considering her old friend. He still didn’t wear the standard-issue uniform jacket over his blue shirt. “By the way the captain wasn’t particularly impressed with your personal dress code and he wanted me to talk to you about that.”

    “Did you tell him that I’m a stubborn old man?”

    She couldn’t quite suppress the urge to laugh. “You have to realize that you’re not running your own show anymore. You’re back on a starship and out here, the captain has the last word.”

    “I’ve been dealing with starship captains long before our dear leader was even in diapers. And let me tell you something about them. They all like to think that they command everything and everyone around them. For the most part they are right. But from time to time they need to be reminded that some things will always be out of their control. Trust me, it’s healthy. And I should know, I’m a doctor,” he said. “Now get out of here before I’ll start regretting this happy reunion.”

    Star chuckled. “Fascinating theory,” she said. “How about you tell me more about the galaxy according to Doctor Katanga over dinner tonight? We’ll catch up and reminisce on the good old times. 2000?”

    “1800. I’m not a spring chicken anymore, you know.”

    She offered a beaming smile. “It’s really good to see you again, old friend,” she said just before leaving sickbay.

    * * *​

    Read the writer's commentary for this segment here.
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2013
  17. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    – V –

    “It’s amazing, isn’t it?” she said as she took in the marvelous sight outside the large floor-to-ceiling windows. “That in such dark times full of suffering and ugliness we would get a chance to see something to marvelous and beautiful.”

    Michael Owens yawned.

    Deen aimed an annoyed look at him

    “Sorry,” he said quickly. “It’s not you. And certainly not the amazing view,” he added as his glance wandered towards the dancing specters of color just outside the Nest’s observation windows. “I just didn’t get much sleep last night. In fact, I don’t know if I got any sleep at all.”

    Her features turned into a frown of concern. “What do you mean, you don’t know?”

    The captain rubbed his forehead, clearly having a difficult time to explain what had happened to him last night. Even to himself. “It’s as if I went to sleep and before I even had a chance to dose off, it was next day already.”

    “Could this be related to the Hyterian phenomenon?” she asked, referring to an incident in which Owens’ mind had inexplicably been linked to a long-dead civilization which had manifested itself through dreams and nightmares.

    He shook his head. “I haven’t had one of those episodes in nearly two years. It would seem like odd timing if they were back again. Besides I didn’t experience any of the Hyterian themes this time. Nothing about light and darkness.”

    “Do you remember dreaming?”

    “That’s just the thing, I don’t,” he said. “Even though I have a nagging feeling that something happened. There are images flying around in the back of my head but they are so fleeting and blurry, I can’t make sense of them at all.”

    DeMara’s worry lines deepened.

    Michael noticed. “It’s probably nothing,” he said quickly. “Just a bad dream.”

    She was not convinced. “That’s what you said last time,” she said. “You should talk to Counselor Trenira to see if–“

    “Commander Xylion,” Owens said when he noticed the Vulcan science officer approach their table, happy to change the subject. “How are you doing today?”

    “I am well, thank you, sir,” said Xylion as he came to a halt in front of the table, adopting his usual stiff posture with his hands behind his back.

    “Would you like to join us admiring the nebula?” he said with a little smirk.

    “Unfortunately that will not be possible,” he said. “I have come to ask for the lieutenant’s assistance.”

    Deen stopped frowning at the captain and his not so subtle attempts to end their conversation and looked up at the Vulcan. “Oh?”

    “I have obtained permission to put together an away team for a survey mission of the Aphrodite nebula. I have already begun to adapt the Nebucadrezzar with the necessary shield modifications and expect to be able to depart within the next few hours. I would greatly appreciate if you would join the away team.”

    Her face turned into a beaming smile. “I’d love to.”

    The Vulcan acknowledged with a curt nod. “We have been given limited time to complete this survey. I would therefore suggest that you make your preparations as quickly as possible.”

    “Of course.”

    “Wait a minute,” said Owens. “How exactly did you obtain said permission?”

    “Commander Star authorized the away mission,” the Vulcan said with a raised eyebrow. “I assumed she would have informed you of this.”

    “She has not.”

    “Michael?” Deen said, her voice making it clear that she would not be pleased at all if he threw a wrench into an opportunity for her to study the nebula.

    The Vulcan presented a padd. “I have produced a comprehensive report detailing the benefits of this survey mission. Commander Star agreed with the inherent logic of this proposition. If you wish you may review this yourself and I am certain it would alleviate any objections you may feel towards this mission.”

    “He has no objections,” said Deen and shot the captain a pointed look. “You don’t have any objections, right?”

    He took the padd off the Vulcan but after realizing that it would take him hours to go through the hefty document he handed it back to his science officer, his face mirroring a contemplative expression.

    “Commander,” said Deen to the Vulcan. “I’ll be joining you in the shuttle bay within an hour.”

    Xylion glanced the captain with one last look but when he didn’t appear to have any further words to offer, he nodded. “That should be sufficient,” he said. “Captain,” he added before he swiftly left the Nest.

    “I don’t like this,” he said once the science officer had left.

    “Michael, this is an amazing opportunity for us to study Aphrodite in detail. I guarantee there’ll be people back at Starfleet Sciences who would give their right hand for this chance.”

    “I’m not denying that.”

    “What then?”

    When he didn’t say anything right away, she thought she knew what troubled him about this mission. “You’re upset he went to Star instead of coming to you, is that it? You think she was more likely to green light this than you’d been? If it had really been about that, he would have come to me first to try and get me to talk you into this.”

    He shook his head. “Xylion? Not a chance. The man is nothing if not by the book. He wouldn’t even consider exploiting our friendship for something like that.”

    “You’re probably right.”

    Michael took a sip from his tonic water. “Star should have checked in with me first before making this decision.”

    Deen leaned back in her chair with a knowing smile. “That’s what this is about, isn’t it? Commander Star. Michael, she’s the first officer, last time I checked authorizing an away mission falls squarely within her remit.”

    “Perhaps but she’s still new around here. She doesn’t really know how things work on Eagle. She doesn’t understand how I like to run things.”

    “She’s been onboard for four months now,” she said. “I’m pretty sure she’s got the basics covered.”

    But the captain did not look convinced at all.

    “Let’s face it, Michael, if this had been Gene making the call you wouldn’t have thought twice about this. You still have a trust issue with her.”

    “And why shouldn’t I considering her past.”

    She leaned forward. “It was your decision to keep her here. You need to start asking yourself why you made that call. If you really can’t find a way to trust her to do her job, you better start thinking about replacing her as your first officer. Otherwise take her off that leash you’ve kept her on ever since she became your permanent XO. You’re not doing yourself or this crew any favors with the current state of things. And if you ask me, it isn’t fair to her,” she said and stood. “Now, if you’d excuse me. I’ve got to go and pack.”

    * * *​

    Read the writer's commentary for this segment here.
  18. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    Two terrific character-building conversations here.

    Firstly, I’m glad to see Star finally has a friend aboard she can confide in. Yes, she’s still a trainwreck, but having a supportive person around who isn’t watching you constantly out of the corner of their eye might just get her to start acting like a real XO, and not just someone’s stand-in.

    Kudos to Deen for taking Owens to task. She’s right. If the former XO had made the call regarding the away mission, Owens would have backed him 100%. As Deen pointed out, even Owens is second guessing the officer he selected to be his permanent XO.

    Great stuff! :techman:
  19. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    – VI –

    The two people DeMara Deen hadn’t expect to be part of Xylion’s little excursion where So’Dan Leva and their young Andorian beta shift helsman Srena. The half-Romulan Leva, the ship’s chief tactical officer, was usually not the first choice to join an away team as his expertise were most valuable on the bridge during a combat engagement.

    “Not many of those to be expected while we’re hidden in this nebula, constructing a fancy spy array,” he had told her after she had joined the rest of the team in the shuttle bay. “Besides, I don’t get nearly enough of a chance to get off the ship. Change of air will do me good.”

    Srena had been even more excited. The perky Andorian made up for her inexperience with pure enthusiasm. “This is a great opportunity for me, sir,” she told her. “I’m honored Commander Xylion chose me for this assignment. How deep into the nebula do you think we’ll go?”

    After reminding the ensign not to call her ‘sir’, not only because she didn’t much care for titles, but also because she always found it strange when people close her age caller her that, she tried to rein in some of their expectations. Deen had been part of a number of survey missions in her career as a science officer and where Leva and Srena were apparently expecting some sort of glorious away mission, the reality oftentimes was very different and meant spending long hours going over sensor data and analyzing the results.

    “I took a year of astrophysics at the Academy,” Srena had said, unwilling to compromise on her excitement. “Perhaps I’ll be able to help out with the survey other than piloting the runabout. And the view is going to be absolutely gorgeous.”

    After spending about an hour to load supplies onto the runabout Nebuchadrezzar and helping the deck crew installing the sensor and lab modules required for this specialized mission, they cleared Eagle’s shuttle bay on a pre-planned flight plan which allowed them to cover the greatest amount of real estate in the time they had been given.

    “Transphasic shield module is active and functioning to expected parameters,” said Leva from his console. “Shields at one-hundred percent efficiency.”

    Deen who occupied the co-pilot chair turned towards the Vulcan behind her. “Explain to me again how you managed to convince Rosenthal to borrow this module?”

    “It was a simple matter of making the professor understand the breakthrough scientific discoveries his shield technology would be able to make possible.”

    Deen smirked. “In other words you bribed the man with credit on our survey.”

    The Vulcan raised an eyebrow. “That term is incorrect and inappropriate,” he said. “However Professor Rosenthal seemed indeed very interested in having his name associated with this expedition.”

    “The man is a glory hound, if you ask me,” said Leva.

    “Regardless of his personal values, his transphasic shield design is both highly effective and ingenious,” the Vulcan said.

    “Uh, sirs, I’m reading an unusual gravimetric disturbance at two-three-four mark nine-five, approximately eight-hundred million kilometers.”

    Deen quickly brought up her findings on her own console. While their shield modifications did a great job to protect them from the nebula’s radiation, their sensors and communications systems were still greatly affected, especially over range. It was almost impossible to know for certain what the sensors had detected. “I see it,” she said. “Looks unusual for this kind of nebula. Worth a peek, I’d say.”

    But Xylion didn’t appear as convinced. “The coordinates are well outside our planned flight plan.”

    “You telling me you’re not even a little bit curious as to what this could be?” she said with a little smile.

    She could tell from the expression on his face that he was at least considering it. She had known him long enough to be able to notice the subtle nuances playing out on his usually carefully neutral facial expressions. He had put together a meticulously detailed flight plan which would have allowed them to give them the most time to study Aphrodite in the given time and one which did not allow for distractions such as this unexpected discovery. But then of course, making discoveries was the reason they were out here in the first place.

    “Tell me we’re not passing this up just because of your obsessive needs to stick to a plan?” she said with a little more fire in her voice, understanding that sometimes you had to needle a Vulcan to get them to see your point.

    “I vote for going to see what this is,” said Srena.

    Xylion regarded her with a stern look. “This is not a democracy, Ensign. I am in command of this away team and therefore the decision lies with me alone.”

    The young Andorian nodded quickly, obviously chastised for her out of turn comment.

    Deen frowned. “Come on, Xyl, we’re science officers. Out here to explore,” she said. “This warrants exploring.”

    She had only recently taken on calling the Vulcan by this shortened nickname even if it was clear that he didn’t appreciate this at all. It all went back to her needling theory.

    “Ensign, change our heading to two-three-four mark nine-five,” he said even as entered new parameters into his station. “We will allocate twelve hours and twenty-six minutes to investigate this disturbance. I will make the required alterations to our flight plan to allow us to complete our survey in the allocate time.”

    “Aye, sir,” she shot back and exchanging a beaming smile with the Tenarian woman next to her. “Changing course now,” she said and then made eye contact with Deen again. “Looks like this mission is on its way to becoming much more exciting than you anticipated.”

    “I really hope not,” she said, mindful that ‘more exciting’ didn’t necessarily mean the same thing to her as it did to the young Andorian.
  20. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    Day Three: The Big Sleep

    – I –

    Michael Owens stifled a yawn as he stepped out of the turbolift on deck twenty-four. After seemingly having lost an entire night already, he hadn’t been particularly happy when Lieutenant Nora Laas had woken him at oh-dark-thirty, calling him down to engineering for an apparent emergency.

    At least he had slept this time, however short the cycle had lasted. It was still a complete mystery to him what had happened the previous night. Could it have been a remnant of the Hyterian infection as Deen had suggested? That had happened over two years ago and he had experienced no further ill effects after that episode had concluded so it seemed unlikely that his lost night was related to that long-dead civilization.

    For now he would just have to write it off as one of those strange anomalies one encountered on a regular basis while living and working in outer space and hope he’d find the time on making up those lost hours soon.

    He found a crowd had gathered outside engineering and he noticed the number of civilian engineers who were part of Professor Rosenthal’s team were being kept out of main engineering along with many regular crewmembers. Two armed security specialists were guarding the main door.

    Charlie Colcord, the professor’s senior advisor, immediately zeroed in on him when she spotted him coming down the corridor.

    “Captain, what is the meaning of this?” she said even before he had reached the group. She looked visibly upset and even more astonishingly, not the least bit weary or fatigued considering the late hour. Instead she was the epitome of an energized professional, looking crisp and ready to work. “As you are aware, sir, we are on a very tight schedule to complete the array and do not have the luxury to afford these kind of delays. It is completely unacceptable that we are being kept out of engineering in this manner.”

    Owens joined her and took in the scene. Rosenthal was in the process of polishing his eyeglasses, once again quite happy to have his young and energetic colleague do most of the talking.

    “Miss Colcord, I’m sure there is a perfectly good reason why main engineering has been sealed off—“

    “A better reason than completing a spy array which will yield invaluable data on enemy fleet movements which could play a role in winning this war?” she said.

    He sighed. “Honestly, I don’t know,” he said truthfully. “Why don’t you let me find out?”

    She nodded. “Yes, please do. We are here to work, Captain, not stand idly by and wait to be given access to vital areas of the ship.”

    He couldn’t be entirely certain but the look on Rosenthal’s face appeared slightly pained and he wasn’t sure if it was because of Colcord’s insisting attitude or for some other reason. Did he know more than he let on about what was taking place beyond those sealed doors?

    “If you excuse me,” he told the young woman. “Professor.”

    The civilian engineer gave him a nod, his expression having turned to one of concern now.

    The security guards stepped aside for him and he quickly slipped into engineering.

    At first glance nothing here looked quite out of the ordinary until he realized that the many gold-shirted officers busily going back and forth were not engineers but security personnel. And they were not monitoring or studying the many computer consoles and equipment in this room, they were studying the actual room.

    He found Nora Laas along with Commander Star standing close to the warp core at the back of engineering and without further delay headed their way. He thought it to be odd that Star was already here. He was sure Nora would have called him first, not because it was protocol but because it seemed unlikely the Bajoran would have wanted to clue in the first officer on any urgent news before him.

    He was well aware of the difficulties the two women had had working together ever since Tazla Star had come aboard to become first an acting XO and then take on the role permanently. There was something about their personalities—both headstrong, proud and uncompromising—that simply didn’t allow them to click. And there was something else, something more personal which caused friction between his chief of security and his executive officer.

    Nora Laas had been in a short-lived romantic relationship with Star’s highly respected predecessor which was cut short after he was tragically killed in the line of duty. Killed while saving her life no less. It had not gone over well with her that a known traitor and criminal had come in to replace the man she had been in love with.

    And while Owens had his own problems with the Trill first officer, Nora’s issues it seemed were of a more personal nature and one which he needed them to work out together.

    “Captain,” the Bajoran said, beating Star to it. “Over here, sir.”

    “What’s going on?”

    “We have a situation.”

    “You called me down here at 0100 hours. You better be having a situation, Lieutenant,” he said as he stepped up next to the warp core, gently humming and pulsating with bright azure light. Looking around he couldn’t immediately see what the nature of this situation could be.

    “See for yourself,” said Star, and Owens found her looking particularly grim which he didn’t attribute to the early hour, as she looked down the pit surrounding the warp core. He noticed that she made an effort not to touch the bright red safety railing.

    Nora mirrored the move and the captain followed suit.

    The situation was a dead crewman, lying sprawled out at the bottom of the pit, at least twenty meters below and in large pool of his own blood. The man wore a golden uniform undershirt, making him a technical specialist or security officer. He had dark skin and long, silvery hair and was clearly humanoid but possibly not human.

    Michael immediately felt a sickness growing in his stomach. Not because of seeing a dead person, he had seen plenty of those before, many more than he’d ever wanted and even more so since the outbreak of the Dominion War, he was getting this feeling because this death, no matter what it turned out to be, seemed to him like the most senseless of all. This was not a wartime casualty, losing his life while defending freedom and the Federation, this, it appeared was an entirely preventable and tragic death.

    “What the hell happened?” he said, unable to keep the anger in check. “Who is that?”

    “Lieutenant Jinlu Gedar, sir,” said Nora Laas.

    He gave her and empty look. He remembered the promising young engineer from his great performance in the play two days earlier. He, it had turned out, had been a most gifted actor and had drawn much praise from the audience that night, including from himself.

    The fact that he had known the man, shook his hand even, it made this so much worse. It probably shouldn’t, this was tragic no matter who the dead person was, but feelings didn’t lie.

    “He was discovered about twenty minutes ago by the duty engineer. It’s too soon to say what happened but I doubt it was an accident,” said Star.

    Owens missed the dark look the security chief was aiming at the first officer, obviously not happy with her already making speculations.

    “You’re saying this was done on purpose?” said Owens, unable to keep from sounding astonished by the revelation.

    “I think we need to treat this as a homicide,” said the first officer.

    “A homicide?” said the captain, still trying to get to grips with what she was saying. In his entire Starfleet career he had never come across a murder scene. They still happened within the Federation and even more infrequently within Starfleet but hardly ever on a starship. Perhaps on some frontier outpost or a border colony but on Starfleet vessel something like this was almost unheard of.

    “The only other option would be a suicide and from what I know about Mister Gedar, I find that difficult to believe,” said the first officer.

    Owens turned to look at his security chief for an opinion. She nodded hesitantly as if it pained her to agree with Star. “I don’t think we should rule anything out yet but I’m I think we should treat this as if it where a homicide as well. We may have a murderer on this ship and if that is true, we need to act quickly.”

    The idea disgusted him. Bad enough they had lost people to the Dominion, now one of their own was killing fellow crewmembers. It was entirely unacceptable. “If you’re right I want who ever did this brought to justice as soon as possible and before they have a chance to strike again.”

    Nora nodded sharply but before she could respond, Star jumped in. “Sir, I think I should lead on the investigation.”

    “This is a security matter, Commander,” the Bajoran shot back. “I’ll handle this.”

    “If this were a simple security matter, perhaps,” she said, managing to keep her cool considering Nora’s brusque tone. “But this is an actual investigation. We don’t know who we are looking for yet and whoever did this is likely trying to cover their tracks. We’ll need a certain finesse to catch the perpetrator.”

    Nora defiantly crossed her arms under her chest. “And you’re saying I don’t have finesse, is that it?”

    Star was unapologetic. “It’s not a quality I would attribute to you, no.”

    “Captain, with all due respect—“

    But Owens raised his hand to stop his two officers to get into it in front of a crowd of spectators, not to mention at a murder scene. It was the last thing he needed. “Let me make this very clear to you both,” he said, keeping his voice low but with enough edge to make it clear he was being serious. “Whatever it is that’s going on between the two of you, I need it to stop. Right now. This,” he said and pointed towards the warp core pit, “is absolutely unacceptable on my ship, on any ship, and I want to know who is responsible. That’s all I care about. Understood?”

    The two women nodded sharply.

    “And I’ll find out, sir,” said Nora, not willing to give up on the argument even after the captain’s speech. “Criminal investigations of any nature fall into my purview. Let me handle this and I promise I get you the killer.”

    He considered her for a moment and also noticed Star’s doubt filled eyes. She seemed eager to take on the investigation herself, this much seemed clear but he couldn’t be sure if this was because she genuinely felt more qualified or because she saw this as an opportunity to prove herself to him. He finally gave the security chief the nod to proceed. “It’s your investigation, Lieutenant. Whatever it takes, get me whoever did this.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    Star pretended to be a good loser but she clearly had one more point to make. “Sir, I hate to bring this up but there is the matter of the sensor array construction. The longer we delay Rosenthal and his people access to main engineering and other areas, the greater the chance that we will not meet our deadline to finish construction.”

    “A man just died here, Commander, I’m not sure what that means to you but my priorities are clear,” Nora barked.

    “People are dying by the hundred every day,” said Star and doing a commendable job of keeping her own voice down. “I am as disturbed by what happened here as the rest of us but I also understand the wider implications of our mission here,” she added and then looked back at the captain. “I’m not trying to prioritize one thing over the other, sir, I’m just saying that both objectives are of vital importance.”

    Owens considered that for a moment before he found himself in agreement with his first officer and nodded. “Lieutenant, do whatever you have to but wrap things up in here quickly,” he said, already aware that Nora’s security people were taking a myriad of scans of the engine room and knowing that that should allow them to recreate the crime scene into minute detail. “We cannot afford to significantly delay or hinder the professors’ efforts, the stakes are too high.”


    Owens took one last look at the unfortunate dead body of the former Lieutenant Gedar. It was the least he could do as regardless of how he had died, it had happened under his command and therefore part of the reasonability was his. It was going to be his job to find a way to make his family understand that their son had died in the most senseless fashion on board of his ship. It was a duty he was already dreading.

    “I want whoever did this,” he seethed before he turned and headed for the secondary exit, consciously avoiding another run in with Rosenthal and Colcord.

    Going back to bed and catching up on sorely needed rest, he knew was no longer an option.

    * * *

    Read the Writer's Commentary here