Saturday, July 12, 2014

"Changes"

By Christina Moore
_____


"Life’s about changing, nothing ever stays the same.” ~ Patty Loveless, “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye?”


May 10, 2378

U.S.S. Nautilus – Alpha Centauri Orbit
1230 Hours



"My, don't you look well rested?"

Captain Oliver Harris smiled at his longtime friend as he stepped off the transporter platform. "Why, thank you, Commander. I actually do feel well rested, now that you mention it."

Lt. Commander Jennara Stadi laughed. "And we both know why, don't we?" she jibed as she and Harris walked out of the transporter room. Harris, of course, made no comment to her last remark, so she went on. "How are Annaliese and the kids?"

Harris smiled. "Splendid. Annaliese, of course, was happy to see her beloved husband, as she always is when I go on leave. Josh is actually a little taller than I am now—man, how kids grow. Turned sixteen the other day, and already asking to get a pilot's license."

"For shuttlecraft?"

"Yeah—says he wants to race professionally one of these days." Harris shook his head. "Steve is getting into pareses squares, and so is Anna."

Stadi knew the sport well. She had played it as a kid herself, and was on the Academy team her junior and senior years. "Good for them. Are they any good?" she said.

The captain laughed. "Funny you should ask, because she's better than he is."

Conversation flowed between them easily as Stadi walked with Harris first to his quarters and then on to the bridge. She updated him on the ship's status and informed him that the first officer was still in the midst of the personnel reviews.

Harris stifled a groan. "I was hoping Braeden would have those finished by the time I came back," he said, keeping his voice low as the turbolift opened and they stepped out onto the bridge. Heidi Pleasant, the ensign manning the helm, saw them step onto the bridge and announced their arrival with a warm, "Welcome back, Captain."

Captain Harris nodded. "Thank you, Ensign. It's good to be back." He noticed then that everyone was standing at attention. "As you were, everyone," he said, and looked around for his first officer.

As if reading his thoughts, Stadi said as she headed for her post, "Commander Braeden is in your ready room with Crewman Unger, doing his review. That's why I was the one to meet you instead of him."

Harris nodded. "You're a prettier sight, anyway," he said over his shoulder as he headed for the ready room. And though as captain he did not have to announce his entrance into his own office, he did so, and waited for Charles Braeden's "Come in" before entering.

Both Braeden and Unger stood when the door opened. "Captain Harris. Welcome back, sir," said the first officer. Unger repeated the greeting.

"Thank you, gentlemen," Harris replied. "Are the reviews going well, Commander?"

Braeden colored slightly. He knew Harris had wanted the reviews finished before his return from leave. "Yes, sir. I should be finished in the next couple of days."

He looked to Unger. "We're finished now, Crewman. Thank you."

The crewman nodded at both Braeden and Harris as he quickly left the ready room. Harris watched him leave before turning to his first officer. "I think you know what I'm going to say, Charlie."

Braeden sighed as he stepped around the captain's desk. "Yes, sir. Why aren't the personnel reviews finished?"

Harris raised his eyebrows. "And why aren't they?" When Braeden didn't answer right away, and avoided looking at him directly, Harris began to get an idea. "Charlie, what did I tell you when you came to me about you and Pleasant?"

Braeden looked up. "That you wouldn't say anything about it as long as our personal relationship didn't interfere with the performance of our duties," he replied. "And it hasn't sir, I swear."

"I was on leave for one week, right? And you were given one job to do in that one week, beyond your usual responsibilities, were you not?"

When Braeden nodded but remained silent, Harris asked as he sat in the chair behind his desk, "Tell me how come that one job isn't finished? Because I can't think of any reason, other than your relationship with Ensign Pleasant, that could possibly have kept you from doing it."

"I'm sorry, Captain," Braeden said. "I guess I did get a little distracted." It had been easy to, now that he thought about it, with the captain not looking over his shoulder.

"That's not an excuse, Commander, and it's not the first time," Harris returned. "If the two of you cannot conduct yourselves in a manner becoming an officer of this fleet, then perhaps it's time the two of you reconsidered your priorities."

Braeden had to stop himself from shouting that Harris was being unfair. It would only get him into more trouble than he was already in. "Our priorities are straight, Captain, I assure you."

"Then do I need to consider transferring one of the two of you off my ship? Because if that's what it takes, Commander, you know I'll do it. You are my executive officer and she an officer as well, so you both know better."

Braeden swallowed. He hadn't had such a dressing down in a long time, and Harris hadn't even raised his voice. It actually made him feel worse of a fool for not giving his duties the attention they merited. "I'm sorry, Captain. It won't happen again."

Harris' lips formed a thin line before he replied, "See that it doesn't, Commander. Now, I want the ship ready to depart at 1500 as scheduled. Can you do that?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Dismissed."

Braeden turned on his heel and left the ready room, properly chagrined, Harris was sure. Not the first thing he'd expected to do, he thought, dressing down his first officer. Perhaps it would make the commander think twice next time before shirking his duties to dally with an impressionable ensign. Now he had to get on with his own duties, such as signing off on the personnel reviews already completed.

Along with about a hundred other things.

*****

At 1400 hours, as Harris was in his quarters unpacking from his trip, Charles Braeden's voice came over the intercom. "Braeden to Harris."

The captain paused. "Harris here, Commander. Go ahead."

"We're receiving a transmission from Starfleet Command, sir. Admiral Roquefort would like to speak with you."

Now what could the admiral in charge of personnel possibly want with him? His curiosity piqued, Harris acknowledged and requested the transmission be transferred to his quarters.

"Hello, Captain," said Roquefort as soon as her face appeared on screen.

"Hello, Admiral. What can I do for you?" Harris asked, sitting in the chair at his desk.

Roquefort smiled. "As I understand it, you've been captain of the Nautilus for a little over nine years now, correct?"

Harris wondered where she was going with this. "That's right."

"Can I interest you in a transfer?"

Now Harris' eyes widened. Of course, he thought. Why else would Roquefort have called? "To be honest with you, ma'am, I hadn't given any thought to a transfer. The Nautilus and I have just started getting used to one another."

Roquefort smiled again. "I don't doubt that she's a fine ship, and that she's served you well," she said. "And I understand it will be an adjustment getting used to another, but we've got one for you if you're interested...

"...and this one's brand new."

The last she'd surely added to sweeten the deal—and it worked. Harris' eyes grew even larger, and he began to smile ever so slightly. He'd not met a Starfleet captain yet that didn't practically throw themselves at the opportunity to be First Captain. It wasn't a position granted often, though in the last few years it had become more common with the rebuilding of the fleet after the war.

"Brand new, eh?" Harris asked. "May I ask what kind of ship she is?"

Roquefort glanced at something off screen. "U.S.S. Journey, NCC-2063, is a Nova-class vessel with a top speed of warp 9.9, planetary landing capabilities, an artificial intelligence-based computer core, and an optimal crew compliment of eighty—though with the fleet still slightly undermanned, the crew will be short by twenty. Maiden voyage is in five days ... interested yet, Captain?"

Harris chuckled. "Of course, Admiral," he admitted. "What captain in his or her right mind wouldn't be interested in taking on a brand new ship? But if I may, is there any special reason you're offering this one to me? And what's with the registration—we've been numbering in five digits for a couple of decades now."

"The registry number is in homage of the year of Zefram Cochrane's first warp flight, a numerical combination which oddly enough we haven't used before. You might also say it has a special connection to the name of the ship, as that flight represented humanity's first journey into space beyond our own solar system. Now, why you? Beside the fact that you're on the rotation along with every other captain of five years or more?" said Roquefort with a shrug. "We're actually cutting this one close—normally a captain would have been selected long ago, a year or more before launch. But if you'd rather I asked someone else..."

"Oh, no, it's not that. I'm glad you did, because I'm already getting used to the idea. It’s just that this has come rather unexpectedly."

"Opportunity, Captain Harris. Think of this as an opportunity."

"Yes, Admiral."

Roquefort grinned. "Now, to dispense with the formalities, do you, Captain Oliver Harris, agree to a transfer of command from the U.S.S. Nautilus to the U.S.S. Journey?"

Harris nodded. "I do."

"Good. I'll be sending you the details shortly."

*****

It wasn't every day that Starfleet Command asked you if you wanted a transfer—usually you were given an order and were expected to follow it, no questions asked. Captain Harris sat back in his chair and absorbed the news with some awe, before reviewing the material Roquefort sent him on his new command. He then called Annaliese and told his wife and children the good news.

Harris walked onto the bridge several minutes later. Commander Braeden stood, saying, "Captain, we are ready to depart Alpha Centauri Orbit on your order, sir."

Harris looked at him, then to Ensign Pleasant. "Helm, set course for Sector 001, warp eight. Engage at once." Then the captain tapped his commbadge. "Senior officers, report to the briefing room."

He walked across the bridge to the briefing room, followed closely by Braeden, as he felt the Nautilus pull out of orbit of his homeworld. Though it was not a tangible sensation, Harris could even feel the ship leave the system, then the subtle shift into warp speed. Stadi was the next to sit at the conference table, and one by one the rest of the command team appeared.

Harris cleared his throat. "I've called you here to tell you all, before I announce it to the rest of the ship, that I have accepted a transfer. In less than twenty-four hours I'll no longer be captain of the U.S.S. Nautilus."

Surprise registered on every face, to varying degrees. Some of them asked the usual questions of how, why, and who their new captain would be.

Jennara Stadi was thunderstruck. Oliver was leaving them? Leaving the ship? It didn't seem right. He had been such an integral part of her life for as long as she could remember that it was hard to imagine her life without him. The Nautilus was her first posting after graduating the Academy—she had started out as an engineering tech and worked her way up in her first year to Chief Operations Officer—and she had been here ever since.

Oliver Harris was only the second commanding officer she had known in her years of service, and though it was not uncommon for one to serve under multiple commanders, she'd just never taken into account that a change in command could happen. Again. Her first six years on board, Keith Olsen had been captain. Oliver Harris had been here longer, almost ten. She and Oliver had become fast friends the moment they met one another, and Stadi was quite pleased with her situation.

At least until said friend had dropped a torpedo on them.

Lt. Dareth, the Nautilus' multi-task officer, watched Stadi's reaction to the news with a keen eye. He’d known her since their childhood on Betazed, where they’d become close friends. Stadi was close with the captain as well, he knew, and it bothered him that she would be saddened by Harris' leaving.

"Well," Stadi said at last. "We're sorry to see you go, Captain. You'll be missed around here for quite a while."

Oliver Harris grinned, as a man with a secret he couldn't wait to share. "While it's true that the crew will likely miss my presence—I have been here a long time—I don't see as how you'll miss me as much since you'll be going with me.

"What are your thoughts on becoming an executive officer, Commander?"

Again Stadi was struck speechless, this time from a different kind of shock. She hadn’t put herself on the command track during the Academy, but had still assumed that one day she'd have a command. Having spent so long as a junior officer, even though she'd been running Operations for many years, she hadn't given any real thought to advancement—she'd been a lieutenant commander for nearly six years, after all. Now that she'd been slapped in the face with the possibility, she realized she hadn't given her career the consideration it was due, and now would be the right time to start working for a promotion.

What she had before her, however, was a lot more than she'd expected to happen at once.

"I don't make the offer lightly, Jennara," Harris went on. "You've come a long way in your career, and with the command experience you've gained in the last few years, I think you're ready for this. I would also recommend a promotion to full commander."

Stadi blinked. "I ... I don't know what to say," she said.

"You're supposed to say yes, you ninny," Dareth told her. "Command has always been one of your goals. Don't even act like you're going to pass this up."

Harris and the others laughed. "Dareth's right," Harris added. "Besides, I was thinking I'd like to take him with us."

It was Dareth's turn to be surprised. "You were?"

Harris looked at him. "If you know a better linguist, Lieutenant, I'll be glad to ask him or her. And you can stay here."

The senior officers laughed as Dareth slowly arched one eyebrow.

"I take that to mean you accept?"

"I'll go."

Captain Harris grinned and turned back to his ops officer. "Stadi?"

Commander, Stadi thought, and First Officer. And she would still be with her two best friends in the entire galaxy. What more could a Betazoid ask for?

It occurred to her briefly that one of her more ... unique ... skills had not let on that this was going to happen. Then again, countless history books and her own experience with the ability had proven precognition was anything but predictable. It didn't always work when you wanted it to.

"I would be honored to join you on your new ship as First Officer."

"Congratulations, Jen! You'll make a great XO," observed Angie Lockhart, the Nautilus' doctor.

"Thanks," Stadi replied. "I appreciate the support, Angie. Goodness knows I'll need it."

"I know you'll do fine," Harris told her. "This is a big opportunity for the three of us, being on a brand new ship, but it's also an opportunity for some of the crew here on the Nautilus. Obviously, with these positions open, there will be some shuffling of the staff. Of course, all final decisions will be made by your new captain."

The questions flew again as to who it might be. Harris told them again it was out of his hands, that Starfleet Command would be making that decision. "I don't know who will be taking my place, but I'm told the decision will be made by the time we reach Earth. My new command will be awaiting me at Spacedock, and I'll be taking command of that vessel immediately upon my arrival."

"What class is your new ship, sir?" asked the chief engineer.

"Nova."

Charles Braeden chuckled. "You must be lucky, sir. That's every captain's dream, commanding a brand new ship."

After the news had been revealed to the senior staff, Harris made the announcement over the comm system to the rest of the crew, and then his seniors made their way back to duty posts or off-duty activities. Only Braeden remained with him.

"Something I can do for you, Commander?"

Braeden cleared his throat nervously. "About earlier, sir," he began.

Harris shook his head. "It's your job, Charlie, not mine, to inform your new CO of the relationship between Ensign Pleasant and yourself should it become an issue."

Braeden nodded. "Yes, sir. Of course it is." After a moment he added, "I guess this means you won't be recommending me for promotion."

The captain looked up from his place at the head of the conference table. "Sit down, Commander," he said, pointing to Braeden's usual seat at his right. He waited until the younger man had done so before leaning forward, his hands clasped together on the table, looking at him earnestly.

"It is important that you understand me here, Charlie: No, I am not going to recommend you take my place, but it has nothing to do with what we discussed earlier today. Although you made an error in judgment, it wasn't a grievous one. All you have to do to make up for your mistake is to correct your behavior. I'm not saying you have to stop seeing Pleasant—I'm not blind to how much you obviously care for her. But you cannot allow this new relationship to interfere with your responsibilities to this ship and its crew, because the moment you do, the relationship becomes a liability—for both of you. If the two of you can't conduct yourselves in a professional manner while having a personal relationship, then perhaps you need to sit down with her and discuss one of you transferring off this ship."

Braeden knew he was right, although right now he didn't see how he could work any better if Heidi weren't close by.

"I understand, Captain," he said.

Harris nodded. "Good. Now, as to why I'm not recommending you for captain, I'm afraid you're just not ready for the center chair yet. You've only been my XO for two years, and although you are a fine officer, Charlie, I think a couple more years of experience as executive would better equip you for the enormous responsibility one takes on when accepting a command. You have to stay on top of the well-being of your crew. Their mistakes are your mistakes, because the captain is the one who is ultimately responsible for the actions of those who serve under him."

Harris paused, studying his officer's expression before continuing. "You're probably wondering right now why I chose Stadi to go with me instead of you."

"The thought did cross my mind," said Braeden slowly.

"I chose Stadi because she needs the experience you've already gained as First Officer. It will be easier for her to adjust to the role under someone she's familiar with versus someone she's not. After we're gone, the crew will most likely look to you until they're used to whomever takes my place. They all know you, they're comfortable with you and they trust you. That in itself is an enormous responsibility."

Charles Braeden absorbed his captain's words, considering them for several minutes. "I guess if I'm not going to be captain," he said, "that's the closest thing to it."

*****

May 11, 2378

0500 hours
Earth Orbital Spacedock - U.S.S. Journey


After officially turning command of the Nautilus over to her new captain, Oliver Harris and Jennara Stadi materialized on the platform of one of Journey's transporter rooms. They both looked around, immediately impressed.

"If you think this is impressive, wait until you see the rest of the ship."

They were startled by the voice of the man walking around the operator's console. He was a four-star admiral according to his rank insignia, so Harris and Stadi immediately drew themselves to attention. The admiral smiled benignly. "As you were. Captain Harris, First Officer Stadi, I am Admiral Elliot Haywood, Starfleet Special Projects Division. From now on, you will report directly to me. Welcome aboard Journey."

At last he allowed a smile to show, and as he was being so cordial, Stadi almost hated to correct him. "Begging your pardon, Admiral, but I haven't been named First Officer yet," she said. "We haven't received confirmation of my promotion."

Haywood arched a brow before turning and exiting the transporter room, leaving Harris and Stadi to follow. "I just gave it to you, Ms. Stadi. Congratulations."

Stadi exchanged a quick smile with Oliver, who gave her a thumbs-up. They would celebrate later.

"I make it a point to know who is going to be running my ships," Haywood was saying. "More often than not, I select the captain myself. If the recommendation for promotion hadn't been approved, I can assure you that you wouldn't be here.

"Now, as you can see, Captain, Commander, this ship is a little more than you're used to. That's because she's state of the art, perhaps a little more so than an Intrepid or even a Sovereign. Naturally, Journey has the most advanced technology Starfleet has on hand, and some of it has never been tested."

"What hasn't been tested, Admiral?" asked Harris as they entered a turbolift.

Haywood ordered the lift to take them to the bridge. "Your emergency medical hologram, for one, is the latest incarnation of the program. It's designed to be a part of the medical staff, not just a handy tool in an emergency. You also have the latest shield calibrations, the most advanced sensor arrays and testing equipment—this is, after all, a science vessel—and the most sophisticated data processing system in the entire fleet," he answered.

"The information Admiral Roquefort sent said something about artificial intelligence," Harris commented.

"Synthetic neural cells contained in gel packs were introduced in the Intrepid Class. They were found to process information faster than isolinear circuitry. You're familiar with the technology?"

Both Harris and Stadi nodded. The Nautilus was an older Miranda-class vessel that still operated on isolinear banks, but most line officers kept aware of the advances in data processing systems.

Haywood continued. "We took the bio-neural circuitry introduced in the Intrepids and combined it with a sophisticated artificial intelligence program ... and we got Adrian."

Harris and Stadi looked at one another, then back at

Haywood. "Sir?" Harris asked cautiously.

"No need to call me sir, Captain. I work for you."

Haywood was unable to suppress a chuckle at the startled look on Harris and Stadi's faces. Clearing his throat, the admiral fought to resume a serious expression. "He has a habit of doing that."

"I guess we won't be referring to this ship with feminine pronouns," Stadi said at last. "Of course, I never understood that practice."

"The computer is male? It has a name?" Harris asked.

Haywood raised a finger. "Your Interactive Computer Personality is a he, Captain. His name is Adrian."

The turbolift had by this time stopped on the bridge level, and the doors opened. Harris and Stadi had been so caught up in the revelation about Journey's computer that they hadn't noticed. Now the two of them looked out, and Haywood gestured for them to precede him out of the lift.

"Your bridge, Captain," said Adrian. "Welcome."

Both Harris and Stadi had seen the bridge layout of the Nova-class before. Schematics of every class in the fleet were available in every ship's database. But this was a new ship. This was...

...their ship.

They both wore grins as they walked the bridge, Stadi stopping to run a hand along the operations console. She wouldn't be sitting here anymore. This would be someone else's baby. Someone else would dance their fingers across this board and have control of hundreds of ship's operations all at once.

"Your place is here now, Commander."

Stadi turned and looked to where Oliver stood with Admiral Haywood. They were standing in front of the two command seats, to the left. Leaving the right open for her.

She crossed to them. "This will take some getting used to," she said, looking down at her new place.

"Better get used to it fast, Miss Stadi," said Haywood. "You've only got four days."

*****

When they had first arrived, Admiral Haywood had been the only one on board. Harris and Stadi made use of the privacy granted them, for at 0600 crew would begin to arrive, and the last-minute preparations would begin. They toured the little ship together with Adrian as their guide, keeping, for now, to the most vital areas. Decisions still needed to be made as to who would fill out the senior staff; beyond Stadi and Dareth, Harris had only selected a doctor. Myrian Sumner was, according to her file, the only Romulan to be raised a Federation citizen, and was the first one ever to serve in Starfleet. Her service record was exemplary, and she had several commendations to her credit.

Stadi had agreed she would be an interesting addition to the crew.

After half an hour of sitting at the table in the briefing room, Harris put down his PADD and ran a hand over his face. "I don't get it, Jennara. You and Dareth were natural choices for this crew. He's a natural with languages and it's about time you moved up the chain of command."

"Thanks, Oliver," Stadi replied. "I think."

"I don't get why it's so difficult to select the rest of the senior staff," Harris went on. "Dr. Sumner was also an easy choice. She's intriguing because she's Romulan, and she's got a hell of a service record."

"Thank you, Captain. Compliments are always welcome."

Harris and Stadi looked up to see that a rather lovely woman, wearing a Starfleet uniform and carrying a standard-issue duffel bag, had come into the briefing room. She was around average height with eyes an unusually light shade of green. Her skin was a light olive tone, her hair chestnut brown, and her forehead smooth and devoid of the V-shaped crest many of her species were born with.

"Welcome aboard Journey, Doctor," Harris said as he and Stadi stood. "Ladies, allow me to make the introductions. I am Captain Oliver Harris and this is Commander Jennara Stadi."

"Lt. Commander Myrian Anil, M.D.," the doctor said with a smile as she approached.

Her good humor was contagious, and Stadi couldn't help but return the smile. "It's good to meet you, Doctor," she said, and the three of them sat together at the table. "You use your maiden name professionally?"

Anil nodded. "Alden and I decided it would suit me professionally to use my maiden name, that doing so would help me establish my own identity and reputation." She cleared her throat. "I want to say up front how grateful I am that you selected me for this assignment, Captain. My space duty request has been out there so long I was beginning to wonder if it was covered in cobwebs."

Harris regarded her curiously. "Have you had much difficulty because of your heritage?" he asked bluntly.

"In the beginning, yes, but not as much in recent years," she replied. "I guess I was just afraid Command thought I'd been on Earth too long to be fit for space duty. I guess that's silly."

Anil took in the PADDs on the table. "I'm here, of course, to report in. Thought I would also let you know that the ship is filling up. I'm guessing everyone already here knows what they're supposed to be doing."

Harris nodded. "Admiral Haywood informed us that all but the senior staff is already assigned to the ship. So yes, everyone has a job to do." He grimaced as he picked up a PADD.

"Is there anything I can help you with?" the doctor asked.

"Actually, you just may," Stadi said, handing her a PADD. "The captain and I are having some difficulty choosing the rest of the senior staff."

Anil glanced at the PADD, thumbing through the list of chief engineer candidates before saying, "Well, I actually know someone who might be interested in the Chief Engineer's position, although he's not on this list."

Harris's eyes brightened. "Really? Who might that be?"

"His name is John Pool, an engineer on the Archimedes. I've known him for some time, and I know he's ready."

"Adrian, access Starfleet's personnel database and bring the file of the officer Dr. Anil just mentioned on the main screen in here," Harris said.

Anil was confused for a moment, and then was surprised upon hearing the ship's computer respond—with a man's voice.

"Yes, Captain. One moment please."

In the time it took Oliver Harris to get out of his chair and walk over to the wall screen to activate it, Adrian had the information he had requested. "Whenever you're ready, Captain."

Harris grinned at the expression on Anil's face as he activated the screen. "Adrian is the name of Journey's Interactive Computer Personality, Doctor. It's an artificial intelligence program integrated into the ship's computer core."

"I've heard of the technology—who hasn't—but I've never actually encountered an AI before," the doctor said with a sheepish smile.

"If it makes you feel any better, Dr. Anil, I've never encountered a Romulan before," said Adrian.

Anil had to laugh. "Thank you... Adrian is it? I'm sure it'll be learning experience for both of us."

Harris looked over John Pool's service record. "He's had a good career so far, some commendations. Few disciplinary actions—that's good. Nothing really stands out, but at this point in his career, he's got to be ready for the chief's position. We'll talk to him."

Stadi looked at Anil with a smile. Anil was relieved that Harris had accepted her recommendation, and smiled back. The three of them spent the next ninety minutes going through the rest of the candidates, and by the time oh eight hundred rolled around, they had their senior staff.

All that was left to do was calling them all up and make the offer.

*****

"Who were you talking to, Auryn?"

Lieutenant Tanis Auryn turned away from her desk, surprised that she hadn't heard Delis come in. "When did you get here?" she asked after he'd kissed her.

"Not long ago," Dr. Delis Renn replied. "I just wish the Hippocrates was going to be in the system longer than a day and a half."

The Hippocrates was the flagship of Starfleet's medical corps, and Renn served on her as Chief Medical Officer. They had come into the Sol System for personnel turnover and to restock. Tanis was a security grunt at the Titan Observatory, on the Jupiter moon of the same name. It was her third post since joining Starfleet after the Cardassian occupation of Bajor had ended. Prior to Titan she had served at Starbase 66, her longest tour, and before that she'd actually spent time as an officer with the security team at Starfleet Headquarters. The Titan post she'd been at for six months now.

Delis she had met when his ship had stopped at Starbase 66 for repairs. They'd spent all the time they could together before the Hippocrates had left again, and had thankfully been able to keep in contact over the last two years. This too-short visit was the only time they had been able to spend together in person in the six months since her assignment to the observatory. They'd discussed the possibility of getting married, and then perhaps they'd be able to serve on the same ship.

"So... you going to tell me who that was, or should I just mind my own business?" Delis asked.

Tanis glanced at her computer, then back at him. "That was Captain Oliver Harris. He's just taken command of a new ship, and he offered me the position of Security and Tactical Officer."

Delis smiled. "That's great, Auryn!" he said. At the look on her face, he added, "That's what you want, isn't it?"

"It is, but Delis—what about us? We talked about ... we talked about getting married, so we could serve on the same ship and be together all the time." Tanis took a deep breath. Though they'd known one another almost three years and the subject of marriage had been broached, her history and their constant separation made her fear she would someday lose him.

Delis took her chin in his hand and lifted it so he could look into her eyes. He was smiling as he said, "Honey, we will get married."

She brightened. "We will?"

He chuckled. "I know, that's not much of a proposal, but I want to reassure you, taking this offer isn't going to keep us from being together. We're going to have a life together even if we never serve together. Starfleet officers manage to do it all the time."

He kissed her then, deeply, to show Tanis how serious he was. When they broke the kiss, he asked her, "So, are you going to do it? Take the job, I mean?"

Tanis smiled, relieved that she had Delis to believe in her, to reassure her. "Since you're so convinced that it won't stop us from being together, I guess I will. Besides, it is a senior level position—no more grunt work. That alone is reason enough."

*****

As she had been informed, Dr. Anil was greeted by a computerized voice when she finally entered her department.

Please state the nature of your medical needs.

It was the standard female computer voice, though she had been half expecting to hear Adrian. Then again, she supposed he couldn't be expected to perform all the ship's vocal functions.

Anil smiled. "I don't need a doctor, thanks. I am one," she returned. "Now, I wonder if my MTs are here?"

"I am, Doctor, though I haven't met the other two nurses yet," said a smiling young man of South Pacific origin as he walked out of the office. "Ensign Milo Haiakauna."

Anil took the young man's extended hand and shook it. He'd shown no initial reaction to her somewhat obvious Romulan heritage, which pleased her. Though the Romulan Empire had eventually fought the Dominion War on the Federation's side, the long-standing stigma of lies and betrayal that plagued her race in general caused a mistrust of her that was without cause. People she'd never worked with before were either reluctant to trust her or refused to work with her outright. She'd known the difficulties she would face in Starfleet when she'd entered the Academy nearly sixteen years ago, but sometimes it smarted when people prejudged her based on the actions of a race she couldn’t recall ever having lived with.

As if reading her thoughts, the younger man stated, "I must say I was intrigued when I found out Journey's doctor was Romulan. If you don't mind my saying."

Anil dropped her duffel inside the door, intending to take it to her quarters later. "I don't mind at all. Your honesty is appreciated, in fact. May I ask precisely what about it piqued your interest?"

"Well, think about it. A full-blooded Romulan serving in Starfleet," Haiakauna said. "I know you're not the only one, but still, it's not something most folks imagine, considering the history between the Federation and the Romulan Empire."

"I've never been a member of the Romulan Empire, Ensign. At least that I'm aware of," Anil replied, leading him into the office and sitting behind her new desk. Milo sat across from her. "As a child, I was abandoned by whomever birthed me, found on the doorstep of an orphanage with nothing to indicate who I was or where I'd come from. I was a scared seven-year-old with no family and no memory. All I knew was my name. Don't know what happened to me, and to be perfectly honest I never even think about it. The life I have made for myself is more than enough to keep me from dwelling on a few lost years."

Anil smiled then, realizing she'd just opened up more with this ensign in only a few minutes than she usually did in weeks. It was something of a breach in protocol, but it had felt so good to have his questions asked in genuine curiosity instead of unwarranted hostility. She decided then and there that she liked this kid a lot, and sharing such personal information with her subordinate suddenly didn’t seem so out of place.

"Now that you know where I come from, until the other nurses get here you can tell me about yourself, Ensign." Anil stood then. "But let's do that while we inventory Medbay."

Milo followed her to the first large storage cabinet, a PADD in hand. "Medbay?"

Anil nodded. "It's a little quirk of mine. Within twenty-four hours, the official designation for our place of work will be Medbay and not Sickbay—if the captain approves my request, that is. I've always felt the title was inappropriate, as not everyone seeking medical treatment is ill," she said. "Is a pregnant woman sick?"

The ensign chuckled. "No, sir."

"That's another thing. Don't call me 'sir.' I'm a woman, not a man. I prefer either Doctor or ma'am," she went on. "I've never understood the protocol that requires female officers to be addressed with a male pronoun. How hard is it to say ma'am?"

Milo Haiakauna only laughed again as the two of them started the cataloguing, then told her the basics about himself. "I was born and raised in Honolulu, the capital of the great state of Hawaii—where there's lots of sand, lots of surf, and an amazing cultural history. Best place on Planet Earth in my opinion, but then I'm biased."

Anil grinned. "One should be proud of where one comes from," she told him.

"You'll have to visit sometime, whenever we get back to Earth," said Milo. "You're going to love it."

A chuckle escaped the doctor as they went on to the next cabinet of supplies. "Have you met the SAMH yet?" she asked.

Milo's brow creased in a frown. "The Sam?"

Anil turned to him. "S.A.M.H., I should say. Situational-Adaptive Medical Holographic Program."

Milo stopped what he was doing. "What happened to the Kelley McCoy EMH, the one that was named after Admiral McCoy?" He made it a point to try and keep himself appraised of all developments in medicine, as he hoped to be a doctor one day himself.

Anil's eyebrows rose. "You don't know?" When he shook his head negatively, she set down her own PADD and leaned against the counter. "On December 31, 2376, the first Kelley McCoy program was installed on a Saber-class ship that was then under construction. Shortly after a surprise visit by Admiral McCoy himself, the ship was moved up to the orbital dock that was taken out by the explosion of the U.S.S. Antietam.

"Though Starfleet Command is not usually a superstitious body by nature, it was decided not to use the program at all after that. Bad luck, some believed it would be. Dr. Caren Tucker, the program's developer, was disappointed, as one might imagine. But as she was already developing an even more sophisticated EMH, the SAMH, her unhappiness didn't last too long."

"And the SAMH is the one we have now? Is it the first of its kind, or has it already been installed in another ship?" Haiakauna asked.

Anil nodded. "Yes, we are the first to receive it. As that Saber would have been the first to try out the McCoy program, we're going to test this one. Not including the McCoy EMH, it will be the sixth medical hologram."

Milo grinned. "Cool. Do you know anything else about this new program?"

Anil indicated they continue with their inventory. As they did so she said, "As the name suggests, the program is designed to adapt to the medical situation it is needed for. When we activate it, it will ask us to state the nature of our medical needs."

"Sounds familiar."

"Yes," Anil went on, "but its appearance will depend on our answer. It has the same database as a standard EMH, but there are a thousand or so physicians and medical personnel from whom it can choose to appear as. If we were to need an extra pair of hands for a complicated surgery, it would choose a surgeon."

Milo began to nod. "And if we needed help with the delivery of a baby, it would select either an obstetrician or a pediatrician," he said, thinking of her earlier words. "Or a pediatric nurse."

"Exactly," Anil said with a smile.

"Is there anything else? Anything it can't do?"

"Something else it does may surprise you. When I was familiarizing myself with the program's operations protocols, I read that it can also be asked to appear as a loved one to a dying patient. Part of the comfort and care subroutines."

Haiakauna was surprised. "Hopefully we'll never have to use that particular function," he said somberly.

"Yes. Hopefully indeed."

*****

Finley McPherson began a sharp turn the Type-9a shuttlecraft wasn't really designed to make at the speed she was traveling. The computer warned her that hull stress was increasing and structural integrity was being compromised; to reduce the risk of a hull breach she was advised to terminate the maneuver and reduce travel velocity.

She told the computer to shut up.

Her hands flew across the console and she brought the shuttle around smoothly—just as she knew she would. She was contemplating which trick she would try next when she was startled by the intercom.

"Lt. McPherson, you have an incoming transmission."

"Damn," McPherson muttered under her breath. Couldn't they have just left her a message? "Computer end program."

Reluctantly, she acknowledged and stood as first the starfield outside the shuttle's window and then the shuttle faded away, to be replaced by the familiar black walls and yellow grid. Walking over to the holodeck's arch, McPherson keyed on the monitor and transferred the commlink.

"Hello, sir," she greeted her caller when his face appeared on the small screen. "This is Lt. Finley McPherson."

"Hello, Lieutenant. My name is Captain Oliver Harris. As I understand it, you've been flying runabouts and shuttles delivering medical supplies and other cargo since the war ended, correct?"

McPherson frowned. Why would a captain she'd never met or even heard of be looking into her service record? "That's correct," she replied slowly. "May I ask what this is about?"

Harris smiled lightly. "When I reviewed your service record I saw that by all accounts you're an excellent pilot. I know you're staying on Earth between assignments, but I was wondering if you might be interested in something permanent. I've just taken command of a new ship, and am in need of a helmsman."

McPherson relaxed. It was as if her mind had been read, because although she didn't mind the supply runs—she had met a number of intriguing people over the last two and a half years—she had been thinking lately of applying for a permanent assignment. Here one was being offered without her having to ask—and a brand new ship, no less. She would be the first to fly it.

What starship pilot in her right mind passed up an opportunity like that?

"I appreciate the offer, Captain," McPherson said at last. "You've got yourself an excellent pilot."

*****

May 15, 2378
06:05 hours

The moment Aviri Praeger stepped through the airlock, he was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a familiar voice.

"Welcome back, Lieutenant."

A couple of crewmen passing by looked around curiously. Praeger grinned as he started down the corridor. "Adrian, it's good to hear your voice, lad. I'm surprised you remember me," he said.

"Of course I remember you," the computer replied. "How could I forget the man who created me?"

Praeger shook his head. "I wasn't the only one who worked on you. I might have designed the program, but I had help putting you together and installing you in this fine little ship. By the way, can you direct me to the core room?"

Adrian chuckled. "You mean you've forgotten my layout already?"

"It's been nearly a year and a half since I was last here, mate," Praeger replied as he found a turbolift and pressed the control. "I've been quite busy since then, so memorizing this ship's schematic hasn't exactly been a priority."

"One usually makes a point of at least skimming over the schematic of a ship they're assigned to as Senior Science Officer," Adrian replied as the lift arrived and the doors opened.

Praeger stepped inside, and the car began to ascend automatically. Adrian advised Praeger that the computer core could be accessed on Decks 3 and 4 and that the biological, geological, and physics science labs were on Deck 3, while the astrological lab was on Deck 7. The Argelian-Trill hybrid told the AI that he wanted to go to Deck 3 and the science labs.

"Thank you, Adrian," Praeger said as the lift reached Deck 3 and he stepped off. "We can catch up later, mate. I'm sure you've lots to do, and frankly, so have I."

"Very well. Have a good morning, Lieutenant."

Praeger acknowledged and turned right, then right again after a few steps, heading for the Geological Sciences lab. He went inside, grinning as he set his bags down inside the door and looked around. How could he have forgotten this laboratory? he wondered. The equipment was state of the art, it was brand new... and he was in charge of it all. He made a mental note to visit the other sciences labs to check out their setups as he turned around and exited, stepping just a few feet down the hall and entering the computer core room.

He was a little surprised to find it was not empty.

"Begging your pardon, sir," he said, noticing that his companion was Captain Harris.

Harris looked over at him. "Good morning, Lieutenant... Praeger, is it? Welcome aboard."

Praeger nodded. "Thank you, sir. I'm actually quite pleased to be back here working with the ICP again. I often wondered what would become of him."

Harris' glance returned to the glowing, humming computer core. "That's precisely why you're here, Mr. Praeger—to work with the ICP, among other things. Quite the operating system you've designed."

The scientist stepped closer. "Sir, the artificial intelligence program is just that—a program. It just happens to be a program that operates faster than any computer Starfleet's ever used before. But like any computer program, there are backups and fail-safes designed reset the program to its original operating parameters should there ever be a problem. I promise you, Captain, that there's absolutely nothing to worry about with Adrian. I made sure to get it right the first time."

"I'm sure you did, Lieutenant. Still, I'll sleep better knowing the man behind the wheel, so to speak, is on hand in case things don't go exactly like they're supposed to."

*****

The time had come. Twelve hundred hours was mere minutes away, and all hands were watching every monitor on the ship. Admiral Haywood stood at the center of Journey's bridge flanked by Harris and Stadi. At five minutes to noon he stepped forward.

"I have attended the launch of more than twenty starships in my career," he began. "It never gets any less exciting than my very first. This is a very special occasion, and it is my very special honor and privilege to turn command of this vessel over to a fine man and officer of the Fleet: Captain Oliver Harris."

The personnel on the bridge applauded respectfully as Harris stepped forward. "Admiral, it is with great honor that I accept this command. U.S.S. Journey requests permission to disembark, sir."

Haywood nodded solemnly. "Permission granted, Captain. Good luck."

The admiral stepped aside and then disappeared as he was transported (according to prearranged timing) by Journey's operations officer, Ensign Azlyn Reda, over to the station. A moment later, the crew watched as the image on the viewscreen changed. It showed a bottle tumbling through space on the ship's port side toward the hull. Harris knew it to be a bottle of Chateau Picard bottled in 2305—the same year the famous captain of the last two Enterprises was born. It was a rare vintage from Jean-Luc Picard's family vineyard, and it was almost a shame to waste what was surely delicious champagne. But as the admiral had said, this was a special occasion.

Cheers rang out as the bottle impacted with the saucer section. Harris turned to Stadi with a look of utter joy on his face. Last night they had spent their last quiet moments together on an empty bridge that would never be empty again, and she had taken his picture as he stood next to Journey's dedication plaque.

"Lt. McPherson," Harris said, turning back to the viewscreen. "Release docking clamps and engage maneuvering thrusters. Take us out."

Finley McPherson flashed him a quick grin, "Aye, Captain."

As her fingers danced gracefully across the console before her, Harris walked back and sat in his command chair for the first time. Stadi stepped forward and gave her first order as Journey cleared the cradle of Spacedock's arms.

"Engineering, bring impulse and warp engines online. Helm, engage impulse engines and take us out of the system. Then set course for Rentara Prime and engage at warp seven."

Lt. Commander John Pool acknowledged the order from Engineering, and McPherson input the commands into her station. "Course set to leave Sol System at full impulse, Commander. Coordinates and speed for Rentara Prime also set to engage when ready," she reported.

Stadi moved to sit next to Harris. The flight out of Earth's solar system was quick and smooth, and when McPherson announced their exit from the system, Harris smiled at Stadi once again.

"Warp seven, Lieutenant," the captain said. "Engage."

Once the last round of cheering died down, the crew got down to business. Most of the fifty-seven personnel on board had served starship duty before; some had served on space stations or other outposts. Everyone knew what to do. Diagnostics and systems checks were ran, the crew making sure their new ship was running in prime condition. No negative reports came in—everything was working smoothly.

Journey's first mission was rather simple. They were headed to Rentara Prime to pick up their new Ship's Counselor, Dr. Gillon Marcan. He was in the Rentara System as a member of the Interstellar Red Cross relief teams sent to lend aid; the system was on the fringe of the Demilitarized Zone and had been devastated by the Cardassians and their Dominion allies early in the war. While some of the inhabitants had died trying to defend it, most had done the only thing they could to save themselves—they'd fled. Now they had returned, hoping to rebuild.

Marcan's file had intrigued Harris, Stadi and Dr. Anil once they'd come across it. Though the El-Aurian people were known to Starfleet, there weren't many who had personal contact with them. All the three of them really knew was that they were incredibly long-lived, much the same as Vulcans—although how long they truly lived nobody knew. Marcan himself had turned a full hundred years old last September. He had attended Starfleet Academy as a young man and after graduating had served as a medical technician, but then had surprised many of his superiors and peers by resigning unexpectedly after five years. Still, his career path had taken him into both neurology and psychology, and he earned doctorates in both disciplines.

It would take ten days to reach Rentara Prime. There they would retrieve Marcan and other Starfleet personnel, the latter of which they would ferry another week to Starbase 27. A nice, clean, quick mission—

—and not too bad at all for the first time out.

*****

Azlyn Reda nodded to Lt. Tanis as she entered the bridge and relieved the night officer at the Operations station. Captain Harris was in his command chair and Commander Stadi was walking around, checking on the ship and the crew. She stopped beside Reda.

"Good morning, Ensign."

"Morning, Commander."

"What's our ETA to Rentara?" Stadi asked.

The young Trill checked her readouts. "Looks like six hours and twenty-one minutes, ma'am" she replied.

"Excellent," Harris spoke up from lower on the bridge. "Just in time for lunch."

Stadi grinned at Reda and walked down to join the captain. As she took her seat she felt the sharp chill down her spine, a feeling that only ever happened when she was about to have a vision. Her hands gripping the arm rests, and her mind's eye turned inward.

She was on the bridge, but it was in shambles. Crewmen were bleeding, wounded. Consoles and wall panels sparked. Oliver was nowhere to be found.

Reda went over the logs from the night before. Nothing unusual had come up, and just as she finished recalibrating the sensor arrays for daytime running, unusual reared its head.

She frowned. What was that? she wondered. Just a blip on the EM band? Somewhat nervous about speaking up about nothing, Reda ran a diagnostic on the sensor arrays. When it read that all sensors were operating at peak efficiency, she went ahead and ran a full sensor sweep. And found it again.

Reda cleared her throat. "Um, Commander Stadi, could you come up here for a moment?"

Stadi, shaken from the brief and violent vision, rose and crossed the bridge to stand next to her. She would tell the captain about the vision in a moment. "Yes, Ensign?"

Reda swallowed. "I'm getting some strange readings here. Looks like an ion storm, but there's also an unusual amount of electromagnetic interference coming from the same coordinates."

Stadi checked the sensor data as another factor registered. "Lt. McPherson, run a sensor sweep of the following coordinates," she said, sending the data to the helm console. "Are you seeing what we're seeing?"

McPherson called up the data on her board and ran the sweep as ordered. Her eyes widened in surprise. She ran the sweep again, as Reda had done, before she looked back over at Stadi and said, "It's moving toward us."

Captain Harris stood. "Commander?" he queried, looking back at Stadi.

She faced him. "Captain, there's an unusual spatial disturbance point-seven light years port, electromagnetic and ionic in nature."

Harris raised his eyebrows. "It's an ion storm, Commander. What's so unusual about it?"

"Well, nothing, sir, except that it's moving toward us," the Betazoid replied.

Harris turned to McPherson. "If it's in our flight path, adjust course as necessary."

McPherson nodded. "Aye, sir," she acknowledged and turned back to her console. Once the ship's course had been adjusted to avoid the storm, she reported that she'd completed the task.

Tanis spoke up from Tactical. "Captain, the storm's changed its course ... and is moving toward us again."

Harris turned in her direction. "What?"

Stadi tapped her commbadge. "Lt. Praeger, report to the bridge."

"Acknowledged."

"Should we go to alert status, Captain?" Tanis asked.

Harris shook his head. "No, not yet. McPherson—adjust our heading again and reduce speed to warp five. Let's see what it does then."

Wordlessly the lieutenant carried out his order, then shook her head a moment later. "No good, sir. The storm hasn't changed velocity, but it has matched our direction and is still on an intercept course."

Lt. Aviri Praeger stepped onto the bridge at that moment. Stadi greeted him and walked beside the Argelian-Trill as he went over to the bridge science station and brought it to life.

Harris joined them as he was going over the sensor data of the last few minutes. "Bloody unusual behavior this storm has," the younger man said. "If that's what it is."

"Lieutenant?" Stadi prompted.

Praeger grinned sheepishly. "Sorry, Commander. I just mean I've never seen a storm act the way this one has, which leads me to believe there's something more to it than your run-of-the-mill ion storm. The fact that it's coming toward us and has changed course to match us multiple times suggests an intelligence of some kind."

"A life-form?"

"Perhaps. It could be one, it could be many. Or it could be something else entirely, and not a life form at all."

"Maybe it's a magnetic attraction, and the storm is simply drawn to us," suggested Ensign Reda as she brought an image of the expansive, grayish cloud up on the main viewscreen.

Captain Harris nodded. "Raise shields. Keep it on sensors, Ensign."

Anxiously the bridge crew watched the main viewer, as Reda reported shields were at maximum. "No change, Captain. It's still coming."

Stadi recalled her vision. No one on the ship other than Oliver and Dareth knew she had them, and they only knew because they'd been witness to their manifestation. The ability was one she'd acquired through unusual and as yet unexplained circumstances, so it was never openly discussed. The crew on the Nautilus had simply attributed her uncanny "intuition" to her Betazoid empathic abilities. The visions, of course, were something very different.

And she had Mirani to thank for them.

It was time, she decided, to tell Captain Harris what she'd seen. "Captain, a moment please?" she queried.

Harris glanced in her direction, and from the look on her face he knew what had transpired. "My ready room, Commander."

As the two walked across the bridge, Lt. Praeger stood. "If it's okay with you, sir, ma'am, I'm going down to the geology lab, use our sensor platform to analyze this storm."

Harris turned back briefly. He knew that the computers in the science lab were equipped to make a more definitive analysis of the data they were collecting. "Do it, Lieutenant. Let me know when you have something."

"Aye, sir."

As Praeger disappeared into the turbolift, Harris turned and followed Stadi into his office. "What did you see, Commander?" he asked without preamble.

Stadi pinched the bridge of her nose. "I was on the bridge, only it looked like hell. There was a fallen beam, the helm was black, red alert was flashing, half the panels and stations along the back wall were blinking and sparking…"

Harris took her by the arms. "Calm down, Jen. Remember to breathe. Now, what else?"

Stadi sighed. "That's basically it. There was a lot of damage, the lights were down. There were injured crewmen. And you were gone. I don't know if you had simply left the bridge or what, but you were gone.

"I'm sorry, Oliver. I wish I could tell you more."

Rubbing her arms, Harris replied, "Don't be. It's not your fault. Now we just have to figure out when this is going to happen and how to deal with it. Did your sister speak to you?"

To the casual observer, this would have seemed an inappropriate, and invariably odd, question to ask. But Harris knew how she had gotten the visions; he didn't really understand it, but he knew it had something to do with her twin sister, and that sometimes, along with a vision, Mirani Stadi would speak to her sister from ... wherever it was that death had taken her.

Stadi's expression was pained. "No, and I wish she had. I could tell you more. I don't know when this is going to happen or even how—just that it will."

Harris nodded. He knew that Stadi's glimpses of the future were not of what could be...

...but what would be. 

They returned to the bridge then, and though Lt. Tanis raised an eyebrow, they didn't discuss what their abrupt meeting had been about. Stadi walked to the helm to check McPherson's readouts while Harris returned to the operations station. "Status report," he ordered.

"No change, sir. The storm is still on an intercept course," Reda informed him.

McPherson turned partway in her chair, looking first at Stadi, then Harris. "What about an all-stop, Captain? We simply stop moving, and just maybe it will pass us by," she suggested.

It was Tanis who replied, "I don't see how that will work any better than changing course did. Every time we moved it moved with us."

Harris nodded. "I'm afraid I have to agree with Lt. Tanis. Stopping will only give this anomaly a stationary target as opposed to a mobile one."

"Praeger to Bridge."

"Go ahead, Lieutenant," Harris acknowledged.

"Sir, I think Ensign Reda was right on with her magnetic attraction theory. Everything I've gone over so far indicates the storm is attracted to our magnetic wake."

"Magnetic wake?" Stadi asked.

"This ship is made of metal. Nearly all the equipment inside is electronic, and that in itself generates an electromagnetic signature. That signature is actually part of the method used to identify the carrier wave of a communications transmission. It's how we tell who's calling. The metallic composition of the hull and our EM output are what makes up our magnetic wake."

"And the storm is attracted to this ... magnetic wake?" Harris asked.

"I believe so."

Stadi glanced at McPherson, then said, "What if we stop, Lieutenant? Will that have any effect?"

"Doubtful. Neither will slowing down. Going faster will also not work, as driving toward it with increased speed will only serve to make us hit it sooner."

"Maybe we should do that anyway."

Everyone on the bridge looked at Ensign Reda.

"Elaborate, Ensign," Harris prompted.

Reda cleared her throat. "Well, we've determined we're not going to be able to get away from it. We can't go around it. Why not increase our speed and rush it? Get the contact over with and deal with the results after we've passed through it?"

Harris grinned. "Not a bad idea, Ensign," he told her, placing a reassuring hand on the young woman's shoulder.

"Yeah, but what if that doesn't work, either? I mean, what if we can't pass through this thing, and it stays with us?" McPherson put in.

Stadi looked at her captain, stifling a sigh. "I don't see that we have a choice but to find out. We're certainly going to either way."

Oliver Harris nodded reluctantly. "Indeed, Commander. Miss McPherson, resume warp seven."

McPherson nodded as she turned back to her console. "Aye, Captain."

Both Harris and Stadi returned to their seats. Stadi sat and Harris remained standing, saying, "All hands, this is the captain. If you're not already aware, we've encountered a rather aggressive ion storm that appears to be attracted to what our science officer terms our magnetic wake. In a few moments we shall be feeling the brunt of the storm as we attempt to pass through it. Everybody brace yourselves."

"Lt. Tanis, yellow alert," added Stadi as the image on the viewscreen loomed ever closer.

Alert panels throughout the ship began to flash yellow as Ensign Reda called out, "Contact with storm in ten seconds. Nine…eight…seven…six…five… four…three…two…

"...one."

As Journey entered the voluminous cloud, the electric discharges within made contact with the ship's hull and systems began to overload. Red alert sounded automatically and the ship began to shake violently—crewmen shouted as they were thrown from their seats or feet and fell to the floor. On the bridge, a small explosion darkened the dome light in the center of the ceiling. A support beam began to fall.

Jennara Stadi was holding on to the arm of her chair, trying to pull herself up off the floor. Suddenly, it was as if time had slowed—she looked up as the main light went out and sparks flew from it in all directions. She watched in horror as the beam began to fall, heading straight for Oliver.

Captain Harris was standing—barely—gripping the railing that served as a divider between the command area from the helm. The helm itself had blackened and was smoking on one end, and McPherson lay immobile on the floor. He tried to make his way to her, and had time only to look at Stadi as she shouted at him.

"Oliver!"

The beam connected with him as their eyes met.

*****

The wounded began to pour into Medbay. Anil, Haiakauna, and the other two nurses were running from one bed to another assessing the injuries; some were treated, others sent away if their injuries weren't too serious. A ship as small as theirs had only four permanent medical staff and they already had their hands full.

"Ensign, that man needs to be treated with the bone stimulator and dermal regenerator," said Dr. Anil to Haiakauna as she moved to the center console to enter data. "Send him back to his post when you're done, then—"

Whatever she was about to say was cut off as the doctor stiffened, then began to shake uncontrollably. Her voice came out first as a low groan and then a piercing scream as electricity coursed through her.

"Doctor!" shouted Milo as he ran over to her. He tried pulling her away from the unit, but only succeeded in shocking himself in the process. It was as if her hands were glued to the console. Desperate, and not knowing how to help her, he feared she was about to die.

Then it hit him, and he felt foolish for not thinking of it before. Why hadn't any of them?

"Computer, activate SAMH! Now!"

Milo tried pushing on Dr. Anil again, mindless of the shock this time, as the computer replied, Please state the nature of your medical needs.

"I need a friggin' doctor, damn it!" the ensign shouted.

Almost instantly, the holographic doctor shimmered into existence beside him, wearing black pants, black boots, and a short-sleeved blue shirt.

"All right, boy, tell me what's going on here," said Dr. Leonard H. McCoy.

He would be ashamed to admit it later, but for several seconds, all Milo Haiakauna could do was stare. Yes, standing next to him was only a hologram, but it was the Dr. McCoy.

"Well don't just stand there boy, help this woman!"

Milo shook his head. "I can't," he replied at last. “I can't get her off the console."

"Move," McCoy commanded.

The hologram stepped between Milo and Anil and took hold of both the Romulan doctor's arms. His holo-emitters were immediately affected by the power surge; the image flickered as he pulled on her, after three times finally managing to get her away from the console. Both of them fell to the floor, McCoy's hologram solidifying in time to cushion Anil's fall.

"Help me with her," he said, pushing the limp form up so Milo could take her. When he stood he took Anil by the legs and they both lifted, moving over to a biobed.

McCoy looked sternly at the crewman lying in the bed. "Can you walk?" he asked gruffly.

"Yes, sir," the man replied, immediately rolling off the side and standing against the wall.

"How long did you wait before activating me?" McCoy demanded as he and Milo carefully laid Anil in his place. "This woman could have died."

"Less than a minute—thirty seconds, maybe? I think. Dr. Anil's going to be okay, right?" he asked worriedly.

"Engineering to Medbay. We have an emergency. We have a couple injured that can't move and Chief Pool's down too. Can you guys hear us?"

"We hear you," Milo replied.

McCoy glanced at him as he ran a scanner over Dr. Anil. "Go. I'll take care of her."

Milo glanced around. There were so many who had come in during the few intense moments Anil had been connected to the diagnostic console that still waited for treatment. "What about...?" he began, indicating the waiting patients.

"I'll take care of them, too. Now do your job, Ensign."

Milo nodded silently, ran to the storage cabinet and grabbed a field kit, then headed for Engineering.

*****

Time did not resume its normal pace for several very long moments. To Jennara Stadi it was like watching a holonovel in slow motion. Oliver looked at her. The falling beam slammed into his hip and he was thrown backward—over McPherson's still form, over the dead helm. He landed with a sickening thud that made Stadi's stomach turn. The support beam crashed into the floor, narrowly missing McPherson.

Only then did time resume.

"Captain!"

The Betazoid looked up at Tanis' shout as she stood shakily. "Tanis, get me a status report," Stadi said as she made her way down to the flight control area. Thankfully, McPherson was merely unconscious, so she left her there and went around the helm to the captain.

"Commander, we're dead in space," Tanis reported.

"Casualty reports on all decks," added Reda, as she returned from the floor to her own console cradling an arm. "Stress fractures in the hull on decks one, three, four and six. Emergency force fields are in place and holding. Shields down to fifteen percent."

Harris wasn't moving, his back turned in an awkward position. Stadi was sure his hip had been crushed. She kneeled to check for a pulse and breathing as she asked, "What about the storm? Where is it now?"

Reda tried to work her blinking console with one hand. "It's..."

Tanis ran the sensor sweep from her board. "Commander, sensors are not working at peak efficiency, but it looks like we made it through. The storm's behind us."

Hang on, Oliver. Stadi stroked his hair off his forehead, noticing for the first time that there was gray in it. "It's not following?" she managed to ask. "The storm?"

"No, but it seems to have—it looks like it's grown," Tanis replied.

"Thanks to us," Reda added. "Whatever that thing really is, it drained us damn near dry. We've got minimal life support and all systems are on auxiliary power."

It was then that all hell really broke loose.

*****

Engineering was a mess. As Milo Haiakauna entered, he saw chaos. The antimatter flow of the warp core was stilled, numerous consoles were either blinking or black, debris was strewn across the floor, and technicians and officers were running back and forth in no discernable pattern. He didn't see the injured crewmen that had been reported.

"Excuse me?" No one even looked at him, so absorbed were they in detailing the ship's many damages and then organizing them into a repair order. He cleared his throat and spoke louder. "Excuse me! We got a call about injured crewmen and the chief."

A man turned to him sharply, a Vulcan. "You're an MT?" he asked, knowing Dr. Anil would be too busy to come herself.

Milo nodded. "Yes, sir," he replied, acknowledging the Vulcan's higher rank of lieutenant.

"This way," said the Vulcan abruptly, leading Milo toward the warp core. They turned left as they entered the circular room surrounding the engine, and the ensign saw two crewmen propped up against the wall. Both appeared to have broken legs, but were otherwise conscious. Chief John Pool was further along the wall, laying facedown.

"How are they?" Milo asked the Vulcan, indicating the two against the wall as he moved to the chief engineer and scanned him with his medical tricorder. He tried not to show on his face how bad the chief really was.

"They'll be okay, we've already checked them. How’s the chief?"

Milo swallowed. "He's not good, Lieutenant..."

"Dareth," the Vulcan supplied, moving to kneel next to him. He took the tricorder and grimaced, startling the ensign for a moment.

Dareth didn't like what he saw. The scans showed Pool had broken two ribs when he fell from the second level, puncturing a lung, and he was suffering from an impact fracture of his skull and a massive subdural hematoma—bleeding on the brain. If they didn't get the bleeding under control, Pool was going to die.

"He needs surgery, Lieutenant. Immediately," said Milo in a low voice as he took back his tricorder. "But Dr. Anil is injured herself and the holodoc and other nurses have their hands full already."

"What are you saying Ensign?"

Milo sighed. "I don't want to sound like a defeatist, but I just don't have the equipment to stabilize this kind of extreme trauma here. A site-to-site transport is out of the question with so many systems damaged and unreliable, and I can't move the chief in this condition. I'm afraid Chief Pool is going to die."

Dareth frowned again, then sighed himself.

"Do what you can for him, Ensign," he said quietly.

"Lt. Dareth, can you come over here?"

Dareth turned to the voice and nodded. He rose, laying a hand on Milo's shoulder as he did so.

The Vulcan strode over to Lt. Paloq Rejan, a Pacifican who was Journey's assistant chief engineer. "What is it?" he asked.

Rejan's gills flexed underneath his aqua mask. "We've got a problem," he said. "The plasma induction coils are fused in the port nacelle, and it looks like they're building up to an overload."

Dareth studied the readout. "What about flushing the nacelle?"

Rejan shook his head. "Can't vent drive plasma. The induction coils are a part of that assembly, and—"

A shout and a loud bang had the two men first ducking and then looking for the source of the explosion. Dareth paled when he saw that a conduit in the wall over where the medic was working on Chief Pool had ruptured, and was now aglow with pale green plasma flames. A tech ran over with a fire suppression canister to put the fire out as Dareth ran to check on the two men under it.

John Pool's face was red and blistered slightly, and his neck and face were black with soot. He wasn't breathing. The ensign from Medbay lay face down over the chief's torso, the back of his uniform completely obliterated. The skin of his back was black and red, blistered and bleeding. Looking for the medical tricorder, Dareth found it pinned between the two injured men. He pulled it out carefully and scanned the younger man. He was unconscious and critically injured, that much was obvious. He needed immediate medical attention, which no one in Engineering was equipped to provide.

Tapping his commbadge, Dareth called out, "Engineering to Medbay."

There was no answer. Not even static. "Medbay, respond," he tried again. Turning to Rejan he asked, "When did comms go down?"

Rejan checked his board. "When that conduit blew. One of the ship's primary communications relays was behind that wall panel. And sir, the overload in the port nacelle is continuing to build."

"Damn!" the Vulcan swore. "Means we won't be able to contact the bridge, either. Lieutenant, divert all available power to the port shield emitters and seal off the ship at the nacelle pylon so we can minimize the damage."

"Yes, sir," Rejan acknowledged, and began directing other officers to assist.

Dareth, despite the ensign's somber words scanned Pool, to see if there was still a chance he could be saved. But John Pool, either from his initial fall or those injuries combined with the fire, was gone.

After injecting the ensign with a painkiller from the medkit, he moved on to the other two injured officers, both of whom had broken legs. "How're you guys doing?" he asked.

"'Bout as well as can be expected," said one, grimacing in pain.

"Hey Lieutenant, those two there—the chief and the medic—they all right?" asked the other.

Dareth tried not to frown. "The boy is burned pretty badly, but he should be alright as soon as I can get him to Medbay. But Chief Pool ... you know he had a bad fall. I'm afraid he didn't make it."

"Damn!" exclaimed the first man, banging his head against the wall, while his colleague clenched his jaw tight.

"We'll get you guys to the doctor as soon as we secure the nacelle," Dareth told them after a moment, then stood and rejoined the Pacifican.

"Where are we, Lieutenant?"

"Everything except life support has been rerouted to the port shield emitters and emergency bulkheads are in place, but we could still sustain some damage. We're going to lose the nacelle in less than a minute."

"And we have no way to warn the rest of the crew."

*****

Maybe time hadn't resumed. Maybe they had encountered a temporal distortion field as well as the magnetic storm, because it still seemed to Journey's first officer as if everything were happening in slow motion. None of it seemed real. But after the explosion of the port nacelle—when the spinning had slowed and they were able to attain a stable position, when at last Lieutenants Dareth and Praeger had come to carry their captain down to Medbay—and Jennara Stadi had turned at the port door to find the scene from her nightmarish vision playing out before her...

...reality came crashing down.

Though initially it was something of a shock to everyone to see a forty-something Dr. McCoy in their Medbay, those who came and went with some frequency quickly got used to it, reminding themselves that he was just a hologram. Stadi didn't care what the hologram looked like. She only cared about what he could do for her crew. So many were injured. One was dead. And soon, another would follow.

The remainder of the senior staff gathered in the doctor's small office, including McPherson—whose own fall had earned her a few minutes of unconsciousness and a concussion. Reda had sprained her elbow but was otherwise fine. Dr. Anil had at last regained consciousness, but Holodoc, as the crew had taken to calling him, had ordered her to remain in her bed. The two crewmen from Engineering who'd been brought in with broken legs had both been mended with the bone stimulator and ordered to their quarters, but Dareth reported that both had gone straight back to the engine room, where Lt. Rejan had at last taken command. Milo Haiakauna was sequestered in the surgical bay behind a force field, lying on his stomach so that his badly burned back could be treated.

Those that had come to this gathering—Reda, McPherson, Tanis, Praeger and Dareth—stood with Stadi as McCoy gave his report on Captain Harris' condition.

"His hip was broken. Spider-pattern impact skull fracture. His back is broken, and his spinal cord has been damaged beyond repair."

"So he's never going to walk again?" asked Reda cautiously.

McCoy grimaced. "I'm afraid it's far more serious than that, Ensign. Captain Harris has not only sustained spinal cord damage, there's cerebral-spinal fluid leaking into his cranial cavity. His brain is also injured from the trauma, and despite my attempts to stay the swelling with medication, it's just not responding—to any of my treatments. Too much time passed between the time of his injury to the time he came here. Too much damage has been done."

Reda blinked, fighting back tears. Tanis put a comforting hand on her arm as she asked, "So you're saying Captain Harris is going to die?"

McCoy nodded silently.

Jennara Stadi blanched at the staggering mental impact of the emotions from those standing with her, and they were so strong that she had to fight to erect mental blocks to shut them out. It wasn't like she didn't have her own grief to deal with, and she didn't even have time for that. Right now there was no way she could take on theirs as well.

"How long, Doctor?" Stadi asked quietly.

McCoy sighed. "By my estimation ... less than an hour."

"Is he conscious?" the Betazoid went on.

"Barely."

Stadi looked at the somber, sad faces of her fellow officers. She then stepped past them and walked out of the doctor's office, and each followed silently. They gathered around their commanding officer's bed and, one by one, took a moment to say good-bye.

Waiting until the others had taken their time, Stadi stood last with her friend of almost ten years. With him, she was not afraid to let her emotions show, taking his hand in hers as tears fell in silent streams.

"I am going to miss you, Oliver. So much."

"Journey?" he whispered.

She smiled. It was so like him to be thinking of the ship and not what was coming.

"Doing good. It's going to take us a little longer to get to Rentara Prime, but the Lakota is coming to give us a tow to Starbase 27. Journey's going to be fine," Stadi told him.

"Funny...how that word keeps...popping up," Harris said, his voice raspy and beginning to slur. "'Journey.' I think it's...altogether appropriate...that my last should be...on a ship... of the same name."

Stadi forced back a sob. "What am I going to do without you?" she cried.

"You are...going to take care...of this crew," Harris returned. "Remember, Jennara—it's not about...the ending. It's about...the journey."

Again she smiled. These were words he had said to her once before, and she knew precisely how to respond. "And life isn't about where we end up. It's about who we become along the way."

Harris grinned then, but began a coughing fit that took several moments to subside. "Damn right. Besides, I saw...a vid once...where a guy says, 'Death...is only the beginning.'"

Coughing wracked his fragile body again, and Stadi was heartbroken because there was nothing she could do about it.

"I'm not afraid. I only wish...that I could see...Annaliese…my children…one last time."

Stadi bowed her head, attempting to stop the tears. Here was something she could do. She could not take away his pain. She could not stop his death. But she could damn well grant his dying wish.

"Don't you go anywhere yet, okay?" Leaning down to kiss his forehead, Stadi laid his hand gently on his chest and walked across Medbay. Holodoc was with Ensign Haiakauna behind the force field.

"Dr. McCoy, I need to speak to you," she said.

"In a minute, Commander. I'm preparing this young man's first skin graft."

"Now, Doctor."

McCoy looked up, and seeing that her expression brooked no argument, he laid his instruments down and walked out from behind the force field. "Now what is it that couldn't wait?" he asked.

Anger flared—at McCoy, at the galaxy, at the senseless and needless death of a most beloved friend. And from McCoy's reaction, she knew he could see it in her eyes.

"I'm sorry, that was out of line," the hologram said.

"There is a man over there," she began slowly. "He is dying. The only thing he wants right now is to see his family before he goes. Since they are at home on Alpha Centauri with absolutely no clue as to what's happened and we're a few thousand lightyears away from there... Well, we can't bring Mohammad to the mountain. So we're going to bring the mountain to Mohammad."

Stadi walked over to the main diagnostic console, which ironically still worked perfectly even though it had nearly cost Journey's doctor her life. Tapping a few controls, she pointed to the screen.

"That is what can't wait."

*****

She stood inside the doorway of the doctor's office, looking out into the treatment area. She watched as a tall, willowy brunette with long, wavy hair and wearing a paisley print sundress walked softly across the floor to stand at Oliver Harris' bedside. She took in her hand one of his, the same that Stadi had held moments before, and leaned close. Whatever he said was lost to Stadi's ears, and so was the woman's response. She didn't care, and turned away from the heartbreaking scene—Oliver's last moments deserved to be private. Though she wondered briefly if somewhere in the back of his darkening mind he knew this wasn't really his Annaliese, it was her belief that—in those last moments, when he took his last breath—

—he didn't care.

Hers was the last face he ever saw, and that was all that mattered.

*****

With a sigh, Stadi laid her head down on her folded arms, perched on top of Oliver's desk in the ready room. She would rest her eyes only for a moment.

I'm so sorry, Jennara.

Too exhausted to even muster the anger she'd felt earlier, Stadi replied telepathically to the voice in her head. Go away. Go the hell away before I say something I regret.

I can't do that. I have to be here for you now. You're my sister, Jen.

Stadi sat up, rubbing her hands over her face. "Here for me now?" she replied aloud. "Why weren't you hear for me earlier, Mirani? I'll bet you knew, didn't you? You knew he was going to die. Why the hell didn't you tell me?"

I'm sorry, I couldn't do that.

A sound of disgust emerged from Stadi's throat. "Bull, Ani! That's a crock—you could have warned me, damn it! He was my friend!"

She was grinding her teeth to keep from crying again as she heard, Do you really believe knowing he was going to die would have helped? Do you honestly believe it would have made his passing any easier, for either of you?

It's so unfair, Stadi replied silently, tears falling once more despite her efforts to keep them in check. He—Oliver—he was such a good man. A kind and generous man. He was brilliant. He didn't deserve to die like that. We just got here.

I'm so sorry, Jennara, she heard again.

The ringing of the door chime startled Stadi as if from a dream. She blinked and furiously wiped at her face, lest any member of the crew see her a mess. She cleared her throat several times before calling out, "Come in."

Relief flooded through her when the door opened to reveal Dareth standing on the other side. She stood as he crossed over the threshold.

"You've been crying again," he said shortly.

Stadi laughed mirthlessly as the door slid shut behind him. "Nonsense. I haven't had time to cry, Dareth."

"Don't lie to me, Jennara," the Vulcan scolded mildly, tossing the PADD in his hand on the desk and moving around it to gather her in his arms.

After only a moment's hesitation, Stadi let herself be held, relaxing into an embrace of comfortable familiarity.

Dareth forced himself to remember that he was doing this only to comfort his friend. She didn't need his emotional complications on top of her own right now. "My eyes work better than yours," he went on, "especially in the dark. Besides, I can smell the saline on your face."

Stadi almost laughed genuinely this time, but what came out was a choked little sob she fought to control. "Oh, Dareth. I loved him so much. Oliver was one of my best friends, and now I have only one left."

Her arms came around his waist and gripped tightly. Dareth swallowed.

"You're all I have left now, Dareth. First Mirani, now Oliver… Before I know it, you'll end up dying on me, too," she said, unable to hold back the tears any longer.

Dareth didn't see how it was possible for him to hurt so much for two people. He hurt for himself because he, too, had lost a close friend. Oliver Harris had been both friend and mentor to him, taking him on when no other captain would after his suspension. He'd been more understanding of Dareth and his inability to suppress his emotions like other Vulcans than any other person he'd met other than Jennara. And though in no way trained as a counselor, Harris had even helped him learn to channel his volatility into more practical uses.

He hurt for Jennara because she was the most wonderful, captivating woman he had ever met, and it tore him up inside to see her in so much pain. Loss of life was a risk all Starfleet officers accepted each time they put on their uniforms, but for Jennara Stadi death had visited all too often. Her identical twin sister, with whom he knew she had shared an unusual telepathic bond, had died seven years ago on the U.S.S. Voyager, when it had been pulled into the Delta Quadrant by the Caretaker entity. Oliver Harris, the Vulcan knew, had been Jennara's friend from the moment he had taken command of the Nautilus. She had the kind of personality that drew you to her, and no doubt Harris had fallen prey to her exuberant charm the moment he met her. Jennara had extolled the friendliness and easy-going manner of Harris on numerous occasions, and it was she who had first asked Harris to take him on when his suspension had been lifted. Once a member of the Nautilus crew, Dareth had seen for himself what kind of man and captain Harris was. He'd liked him from the start.

Now Harris was gone from Jennara's life, too. Was she really afraid that he would follow?

Taking a risk, he turned his head and kissed her temple, then said softly, "You don't have to worry, Jennara. I'm not going anywhere."

He held her for a few moments more, then reluctantly pulled away. Brushing her hair from her face he said, "Now I hate to do this, because you need to grieve just like the rest of us," he said, "but you are the ranking officer right now. You have to pull yourself together."

Stadi frowned, then slowly smiled. It was just what she had needed, for someone who knew her so well to remind her not only was she not alone, but that she also had others who needed her.

"Thank you, Dareth," she said at last. Sniffling, she gave him another quick hug. "I needed that. Give me a moment, will you?"

Dareth nodded and waited while she went into the office’s attached head to freshen up. Though when she returned he could tell that the crew would likely still see the evidence, she looked much better than she had when he'd first walked in.

"So," Stadi prompted with a sigh, returning to the chair behind the desk as he sat opposite her, "What is it you needed?"

He reached out to pick up the PADD he'd brought in and handed it to her. "That is a list of total ship-wide damages. Including personnel injuries and, um, losses."

Though she grimaced, Stadi held on to her tightly reigned control. Dareth had a point—she was, though she wished right now the case were not so, in command. She needed to act like it.

"Okay," she said. "Where do we stand on impulse and communications?"

"Lt. Rejan says he can give us full impulse in about six hours."

On full impulse it would take them almost as long to reach Rentara Prime as it had taken them to come this far at warp seven. Stadi swore under her breath.

"Suggestions?" she asked.

"Actually, Tanis and Praeger have suggested to taking a shuttle to Rentara to pick up Counselor Marcan. Our best shuttle maxes at warp four, so they should get there either late tonight or early tomorrow."

"A good twelve hours or so late, but better than not at all. What about communications?"

Here he had better news for her. "Reda and I should have comms up in no more than an hour."

She chuckled again, without humor. "That's good. I'll be able to make good on my lie and contact the Lakota, have them meet us here." When he raised his eyebrow, Stadi added, "I ... lied to Oliver right before he died. May the Deities forgive me, but I didn't know what else to do. In the condition he was in he didn't need to be worried about the ship. I know the Lakota's near here, within a few light-years, so I said we'd already made contact and they were on their way to help."

Dareth leaned back. "You don't have to justify yourself to me, Jennara. I know that you did what you felt was right. I would have done the same thing."

She smiled her gratitude. "As soon as you have comms up, let me know. I have to contact Admiral Haywood, too, let him know what's happened. Someone needs to talk to Annaliese, and I have to do that myself. She should hear it from me."

Dareth nodded, and it was at that moment that Stadi remembered the one thing she had not considered.

"Adrian!"

"I'm...still here, Commander."

Stadi looked at Dareth with relief, then frowned. "I'm sorry I forgot you 'til now. Is everything okay with your program?"

"Why do you ask?"

"You almost sounded like you were in pain a moment ago," Dareth said, receiving a nod from Stadi. They had noticed the same thing.

Adrian chuckled. "Technically, no. However, the damages...sustained have registered differently on my neural net...than they would have on a standard operating system. The data, I suppose, could be called pain. As a result I am processing at a slower rate."

Stadi raised an eyebrow. She looked at Dareth and found him sporting the same expression. "Is that normal?"

"I cannot say. I've never been damaged before."

"You mean Journey's never been damaged before," Stadi corrected.

"Yes. Of course."

*****

Tanis and Praeger launched for their trip several minutes later, and Stadi decided not to wait until the comm system was up and running. Shutting herself inside another shuttle—Journey carried four, not including the "waverider"—she brought the smaller craft's operations console online and opened a channel to Starfleet Headquarters. It was several minutes before she was connected to Admiral Haywood's office.

Best get this over with, she thought sadly.

"Commander Stadi. What can I do for you?" the admiral asked.

Stadi cleared her throat as she looked at the small viewscreen. "With great sadness, Admiral Haywood, I am reporting the deaths of two crewmembers—Lt. Commander John Pool, our chief engineer, and Captain Oliver Harris."

Haywood was silent for several seconds, as if he wasn't sure to believe her. "What happened, Commander?" he asked gravely.

Relaying the chain of events as best she could, leaving out any mention of her vision, Stadi told him what he wanted to know.

"I want your data on this storm," Haywood said when she had finished.

Stadi nodded. "Of course, sir, as soon as our systems are back online. We've sustained heavy damage and a considerable drain in power reserves, so we're attempting to conserve what energy we do have. That's why I'm calling from a shuttle."

"Understood. What analyses have you made of the storm itself?"

Stadi tried to remember the details of Aviri Praeger's initial study and explained his theory about magnetic wake and how the storm had been attracted to it. "Since the storm hit us, however, we haven't been able to study any of the data collected. All our manpower is being used for repairs. Just being able to move is our first priority."

Haywood nodded. "Of course. What about your rendezvous at Rentara?"

"Lieutenants Tanis and Praeger have taken a shuttle to Rentara Prime to retrieve Counselor Marcan, sir. The Lakota is not too far away, so I'll be sending a request to report to Journey's coordinates for assistance as soon as I’ve finished speaking with you."

"I think I'll contact the Lakota myself and reiterate the necessity of speed in the matter for you," the admiral offered.

"Thank you, sir."

Looking suddenly wearied, Haywood sighed. "Would you like me to contact the families for you?" he asked.

Stadi knew what he meant, and though the offer was tempting, she shook her head. "No, Admiral. With respect, I believe I should do that myself—I’ll call after I talk to the Lakota’s captain."

"Of course, Commander," he said. "Please convey my condolences to the crew. I am sorry for your loss."

"Thank you, Admiral," Stadi replied.

*****

He pulled down the covers on his side of the bed, but instead of joining his wife beneath them, Elliot Haywood sat on the edge, his elbows resting on his knees.

His wife, Bezsa MacLean Haywood, a commodore and the Deputy Director of the Office of Professional Conduct, sat up. Laying a hand gently on his shoulder, she asked, "What's wrong, Elliot?"

Haywood sighed. "We lost a captain earlier today," he said reluctantly.

"That's terrible. Can you tell me who?"

"Oliver Harris. You probably wouldn't know him. Quite frankly, he had an unremarkable career, or rather a typical one, I guess—put his time in, did his job. Now he'll probably be remembered as the captain who died ten days into his second command."

He turned to face his wife. "We just gave him that ship, Bezsa. It was the damn maiden voyage, for pity's sake. How many ships lose their captain—their first captain—less than two weeks out?"

She shook her head sadly and encouraged him to climb beneath the covers. Still he did not rest. "Roquefort made the official offer, but I was his commanding officer. He had a wife and three children. It was a terrible, tragic accident, but I can't help feeling responsible somehow."

Bezsa placed an arm across his chest and drew him to her. "That's the burden of a commanding officer, Elliot. You all do," she said. "Where's his ship now?"

"The Lakota is towing Journey to Starbase 27. I just gave Harris that ship, and already I have to find a replacement for him. But there's no one left—no captains, anyway."

"So, you promote a first officer. You know as well as I do how often we've had to do that in the last three or four years," said Bezsa pragmatically.

Too true, he mused. The Dominion War had taken from Starfleet a lot of fine captains; so many first officers had been made captain after the fighting began, some before they were truly ready. War, however, had forced them to adjust literally on the run. And in the time since the end of the conflict, commissioning a brand new captain had become almost as common as commissioning a brand new starship.

"I suppose I'll have no choice," he said at last. "You wouldn't happen to know anyone qualified, would you?"

He hadn't really expected her to respond. After all, she had been a lawyer with Starfleet’s JAG office prior to her promotion to the OPC.

"As a matter of fact, an old protégé of mine comes to mind," replied his wife. "She left JAG about ten years ago, and if I remember correctly, she's first officer of the San Francisco now."

"And here I was under the impression that no one ever wanted to leave JAG," Haywood joked, receiving for his jibe a poke in the ribs. "Seriously, though, how long has this former protégé been an XO?"

Bezsa took a moment to think. It had been a while since she'd heard from Serutian Hale, but the younger woman had made it a point to keep in contact despite her change in career paths. So it couldn't have been that long ago that they had last spoken.

"A little more than three years, maybe three and a half," she told him finally.

Haywood's brow furrowed with thought. Three and a half years wasn't nearly long enough in his opinion, but he would add her to the list of candidates he'd already compiled throughout the day. A look at her service record would give him a better idea of her qualifications. Truth of the matter was, though, the fleet was spread pretty thin—their ships were all over the quadrant and beyond, and she might be the best he had available simply by location. It was sheer luck that the Lakota happened to be close enough to Journey to come to their assistance, otherwise they'd have been stuck traveling at full impulse; it would have taken them almost a month to reach Starbase 27 from where they'd encountered the storm. He would need to put someone in charge quickly, and preferred to have a captain chosen before Journey's arrival at the starbase. If the woman was within a week of the starbase and her record showed promise, she would get the job.

*****

Nearly a full day behind schedule, Journey was in high orbit of Rentara Prime. With the assistance of the U.S.S. Lakota, they had managed a flight at warp six while tethered to the much larger vessel via a docking port. Upon their arrival they retrieved their shuttle and personnel, and the captain of the Lakota, not wanting to put any more a drain on their reserves than was necessary, had offered to take onto his ship the officers and personnel Journey was supposed to transport to Starbase 27. They then resumed their tied-together formation and began the week-long journey to the starbase.

Gillon Marcan, a tall, brown-haired man with an unimposing manner, immediately requested an audience with the senior staff as soon as he was on board. Since Dr. Anil was still confined to Medbay, they held the meeting in there. Holodoc, who had returned to the image of Leonard McCoy after portraying Annaliese Harris for their captain's final moments, retreated to the doctor's office to give them privacy.

"There are no words to express how sorry I am that this happened so soon after this crew came together," the El-Aurian began. "And though logically I know that my being here would have had no affect on the outcome, I feel that, as a member of the crew, I should have been here with you."

Dr. Anil smiled weakly, her voice soft as it was the first time she had spoken in more than a day. "You can't blame yourself for any of this. You were doing what needed to be done in a place that really needed you."

Marcan nodded. "I know. I just feel so terrible coming on board under such tragic circumstances."

"You'll certainly have your work cut out for you," Tanis observed. "Everyone I run into, even the people I don't really know, are so..."

"Withdrawn," Stadi supplied. "Sad. Depressed. Some of the younger crew, especially the recent Academy grads, they feel lost. They're unsure of their place, unsure of what will happen to them now that Oliver—Captain Harris—is gone."

Marcan turned to her. "You're Betazoid, right, Commander?" When she nodded, he asked, "It must be difficult for you to handle the emotional impact of something like this."

The others looked at her, and Stadi almost wished he hadn't asked. It seemed more a question he should have asked in private rather than in front of an audience. Then again, if she couldn't trust her senior officers with how she felt, how could they trust her with their feelings?

"It has been," she admitted at last. "I'm not strong enough to handle the emotional turmoil of fifty-six other people on top of my own. I've had to block out everyone, because everyone on board has or is still reacting emotionally.

"But please, don't any of you feel bad. You've a right to feel the way you do," she added hastily. "Everyone does."

"Including you, Commander," Marcan said. "As you said, you've your own emotions to deal with and you will have to make time for them eventually."

Stadi smiled sadly. "Don't worry, Counselor. I will...eventually."

Marcan smiled. "'Counselor,' with respect, is a title reserved for Starfleet officers. You can call me Dr. Marcan."

Dareth quirked an eyebrow. "Weren't you an officer once?" he asked.

"You've done your homework, Lieutenant," Marcan conceded. "I was. But that was a long time ago, and I was neither a psychologist nor an M.D. then. Now I'm both."

"Remind me to recruit you as a field medic," Anil said softly.

"It'll be my pleasure, Doctor," Marcan said with a laugh.

"Getting back to why I wanted to speak to you all, I know don't have to remind you that if any of you want to see me privately, don't hesitate to seek me out. I'd like to organize group meetings for the rest of the crew, as well as making individual appointments. I think it might be a good idea if at least one senior officer attends each of the group meetings," Marcan went on. "If Cmdr. Stadi is right about how the juniors are feeling, they'll need reassurance that you are all supporting them."

"Of course, Doctor," Stadi nodded.

"Sorry to interrupt, but it's time for you all to go now. My patients, especially Dr. Anil, need their rest," spoke up Holodoc as he returned from the office, a medical tricorder in hand.

"I'm feeling much better already," Anil protested.

"That's a matter open to debate, Doctor. Don't argue with me—as ranking physician, I'm ordering you to rest," McCoy returned.

She didn't want to admit it, but she was awfully tired. Anil nodded grudgingly and said her good-byes. The rest of the senior officers filed out of Medbay.

"There's still a great deal to do before we get to Starbase 27," Stadi told them in the corridor. "The station commander informed me that they would begin construction of a warp nacelle immediately, and it should be ready when we arrive. If not, shortly thereafter."

"Do they have enough to replenish our energy reserves?" asked McPherson. "All the other few hundred parts we need?"

"Starbase 27 is a drydock repair station, McPherson," Praeger said. "One of the first, in fact. They have everything."

Stadi grinned in spite of herself. "Though not quite an accurate description, Mr. Praeger is essentially correct. Don't worry, Finley. The helm will be operable soon."

McPherson shrugged, as if she could care less. "It's cool. I'm not worried about just navigation, you know. I worry about everything."

Her companions laughed, and she was forced to join them. She was so very much a pilot, Stadi mused, and McPherson's acting nonchalant about not being able to perform her main duty was welcome comic relief.

They certainly needed it.

*****

"Why didn't you come to my quarters for dinner last night?"

Commander Serutian Hale fought the urge to groan. "You know why, Marcus," she answered quietly. "We've had this conversation before—I don't think I should spend so much time there since you and I are no longer together."

Captain Marcus Randall leaned over the console that separated their command chairs. "And I've never completely understood why," he said.

"Marcus, I really don't want to go through this again. This is hardly the time or place."

Reluctantly, he admitted she was right. The bridge wasn't the place to discuss their personal lives, and even though the whole ship knew they'd been together—and knew they'd broken up—they didn't need to know the details. Despite the fact that it had been nearly five months, Randall was trying to win her back.

Adam Harper, San Francisco's Operations officer, called down from his console, "Captain, there's an incoming transmission from an Admiral Haywood. He would like to speak to you right away."

"I'll take it in the ready room, Lieutenant," Randall said as he stood.

He walked across to the starboard side of the bridge, then entered the ready room. Sitting behind the desk, he keyed on the monitor. "Hello, sir," he said when Haywood's face came onscreen.

Haywood nodded. "Captain. I've a lot to do and very little time, so I'm going to get right to the point. Yesterday the Journey lost her captain. An associate has recommended your first officer as a possible candidate to fill the position."

Randall carefully schooled his features to show no emotion, but inside he churned. Serutian leave the San Francisco? He couldn't let it happen. If she transferred to another ship, he would surely lose any chance he had of convincing her to resume their relationship.

"I'm afraid to disappoint you, Admiral, but your colleague is not entirely accurate. While Commander Hale is a fine officer, I just don't feel that she's ready for a command of her own at this time. She's only been my XO for a little over three years, and that was a battlefield promotion," he said, careful to keep both his voice and his expression neutral.

Haywood said nothing at first. "Very well, Captain. I thank you for your honesty. Haywood out."

Marcus Randall breathed a sigh of relief as Haywood's image blinked out. He hadn't expected the admiral to acquiesce without argument, but he was more than glad he had.

Upon returning to the bridge, he sat in his command chair wearing a satisfied smile.

Hale glanced over. "Good news, I take it?" she asked.

Marcus nodded. "I wasn't sure at first, but the conversation definitely ended well."

*****

When her shift was over, Serutian Hale entered her quarters with a sigh. When would he learn? she wondered, falling back onto her sofa with a sigh. It had been nearly five months since she had broken off her relationship with Captain Randall, and yet he still did not seem to understand that it was over. For good. Every day of every shift since then he made numerous references to wanting her back, and today was no exception.

What she could use right now was a nice, long soak in a tub full of great big bubbles. Sitting up, she bent to pull off her boots, and it was then she noticed the light flashing on her desktop. Wondering who would have left her a message, she stood and walked over to the desk, turning her computer on and opening the file. It was text only, and read:


Hale frowned. Wasn't Haywood the admiral Marcus had spoken to that morning? Sitting in the chair next to her, she engaged the communications system and opened a channel to Starfleet Headquarters. It was several moments before she was connected and transferred to Haywood's office.

"Commander. Thank you for getting back with me so promptly," Haywood said as soon as he appeared.

Hale nodded. "My pleasure, Admiral. How may I help you?"

"Yesterday, the U.S.S. Journey was heavily damaged by an electromagnetic storm while en route to the Rentara system. Regrettably, the storm also resulted in the deaths of their captain and chief engineer," Haywood said.

"I'm very sorry to hear that," the Trill replied.

"A colleague of mine in the JAG office has recommended naming you captain," Haywood went on. "I believe you know her—Bezsa speaks very highly of you."

Hale was surprised, but now she knew why she had thought his name familiar when she'd heard it earlier in the day. The colleague he spoke of could be none other than her former mentor, Bezsa MacLean Haywood…

…the admiral's wife.

Then a thought occurred to her. "Admiral, while I more than appreciate Commodore MacLean's confidence in me, hadn't you best discuss my leaving the San Francisco with Captain Randall first?"

Haywood looked at her pointedly. "It is not required that I ask a captain for one of his officers, nor is it against regulations for me to discuss the matter with you without having done so. However, as a courtesy, I did speak to Captain Randall about the possibility of your taking command of Journey... this morning."

The Trill froze, suddenly realizing that Marcus had lied to her. Of all the things he had done in the past, it was the one thing she had believed he would never do. It hurt to be proven wrong.

And it pissed her off.

"Can you tell me why Captain Randall would suggest you are not capable of commanding a starship at this time?" Haywood asked.

Hale looked at the admiral. "Permission to speak freely, sir?" she asked.

Haywood nodded. "Granted."

Hale cleared her throat. "I'm not really certain how to say this except to come out and say it. Captain Randall and I were intimately involved for more than a year. I ended the relationship some time ago, but the captain did not take it well. He has since then made it clear that he wishes to resume our relationship, despite my assurances that I do not."

The admiral nodded onscreen. "I suspected as much. If his conduct has been out of line, Commander, why haven't you reported it?"

"Frankly, sir, I didn't want to cause any more trouble than I already had by getting involved with him in the first place. It's not always a mistake to date the boss, but in this case it was. I guess I've been hoping he'll come to his senses and accept the fact that our relationship is over, but what you just told me only proves that I didn't learn from the first mistake enough to not make another one," Hale said. She was certain now that whatever chance she had had at the promotion was lost, so there was no point in hiding the truth.

"Have you given any thought to a transfer?" Haywood asked.

Hale nodded. "Here recently I have, but I've been afraid Marcus—Captain Randall—would refuse to let me go."

The admiral's expression changed only slightly as he said, "I think it best we correct your recent errors in judgment, Commander Hale. Consider a request for transfer made and approved, because contrary to what you may believe, Captain Randall doesn't have a choice in whether you leave that ship or not. The question now is: Where do you go from there? I may value my wife's opinion above all others, but that doesn't mean automatic approval. You've served as executive officer for less than four years—tell me why I should give a veritable greenhorn a command."

Hale wasn't familiar with the term 'greenhorn,' but refrained from asking for clarification. From the context in which he used it, however, she had a pretty good idea what it meant. And because she had been brutally honest before, she felt she could be no less so now. "Admiral, I can't give you a reason for selecting me over any other equally or more qualified officer," she began. "All I can do at this point is ask you to consider the fact that I do have more than three years experience as executive officer, and prior to that I served as San Francisco's Chief of Security for almost five years. My service record as a starship officer is impeccable, and thus far the only questionable decision I made was having an affair with my commanding officer. I am certain you will choose whomever you feel is best suited to fill the role."

Admiral Haywood regarded her silently for several long moments, his hands steepled together under his chin in thought. "I appreciate your honesty," he said after a time. "I would prefer more executive experience, but that's not to say you don't have a strong résumé—I have already reviewed your service record. And quite frankly, Commander, you happen to be the best candidate available to me right now, due to the fact that you're closer to Journey's location than anyone else, and I would like to assign a captain before they reach Starbase 27."

Hale nodded her understanding, though she felt compelled to ask, "What about Journey's own XO?"

"Her experience in the position is far less than yours—she's only been at it for eleven days. Now, I suggest you begin preparations for your transfer, such as reading up on the Nova-class line. I'll send you a crew roster to review as well. As for Captain Randall, I will deal with him myself, and I'll let you know as soon as I find you an engineer, which I also hope to do before Journey reaches Starbase 27."

The Trill had a thought when Haywood mentioned finding an engineer, and while she knew that poaching might be seen as vindictiveness on her part, considering Marcus' actions today and his recent behavior...

…it was needless to say that she didn't care.

"Admiral, if I may make a suggestion, San Francisco's chief is an excellent engineer. She's actually been grooming her second in command for the last five years to become a chief himself. To be honest, I don't know anyone I'd trust more in an engine room. Plus, she does happen to be a friend of mine, which I think might make this transition a lot easier," she said.

Haywood knew instantly that Randall wouldn't appreciate Hale's fishing from his crew, but as he didn't particularly care for being used as a pawn in another man's personal machinations, he didn't really give a damn. "You may offer her the position, Commander, but I will need to know as soon as you do what her decision is. If she decides to remain in her current post, I'll need to resume my search for an engineer."

Hale nodded, keeping her expression in check even though she wanted to smile wide. "Yes sir. I'll go and speak to her right now if that's agreeable to you."

"The sooner the better, Commander."

Hale acknowledged and signed off, leaving her quarters with a quick step and heading for Engineering. T'Rae was working the mid-shift today, so she knew that was where to find her. When she arrived some minutes later, she spotted the Vulcan right away—

—she was the tall blonde issuing orders with crisp efficiency.
Hale approached her as she was going over a PADD with an ensign. "Commander T'Rae, might I speak with you for a moment?"

Lt. Commander T'Rae acknowledged with a nod and finished her discussion before sending the ensign back to his post. "Of course, Commander. Do you wish this to be a private discussion?"

Hale nodded. "Let's go into your office," she said, and followed the other woman to the tiny engineering office off to the right of the main entrance. Once inside, T'Rae turned and offered the barest hint of a smile by lifting the corner of her mouth almost imperceptibly. It was a rare gesture she reserved only for those she considered close friends.

"What can I do for you, Seru?" T'Rae asked.

Hale grinned at the nickname, another gesture her Vulcan friend used rarely. Then she grew sober. "T'Rae, I'm going to ask you something, and I want you to consider it very carefully before you answer..."

Drawing a deep breath, Hale plunged ahead. "What do you think about transferring off the San Francisco with me and becoming chief on a ship that's less than two weeks old?"

T'Rae's expression remained impassive as she asked, "What would you be doing on this other ship?"

"I'd be the one in charge."

This news raised one of T'Rae's sharply slanted eyebrows, but before she could speak, Hale explained Journey's circumstances as well as her conversation with Admiral Haywood. "Marcus lied to me, T'Rae," she pressed. "Outright lied to me about something this important—and he wants me to take him back?! There's no way I can forget that, and knowing what I do would make staying here at this point pretty much impossible."

"You are aware, I am certain, that your request to assign me as your chief engineer will be seen as a counterstrike by Captain Randall?" T'Rae pointed out.

The Trill sighed. "I know, and I'm also aware that doing so might look like vindictiveness on my part, but that observation would only be partially correct. I might not know many, but you are by far the most brilliant engineer I've ever met. Gherety's good, so I could certainly take him instead, but he's not you. Having a friend with me will make taking command after a tragedy so much easier.

"And yes, sticking it to Marcus would make me feel a little better, as well."

"How soon do you need to know my answer?" T'Rae asked.

"As soon as you do, and not to put any pressure on you, but the sooner the better," Hale answered. "Admiral Haywood needs to know before he speaks with Marcus—which is already going to be a conversation I'm glad to not be taking part in—so he knows if he's going to be taking both of us or just one of us. If you decide to stay, he'll need to keep looking for a new engineer—or I'll ask Gherety—as he's hoping to have both positions at least filled before Journey reaches the starbase."

For several moments T'Rae stood in silence, her gaze upon Serutian's face making the other woman feel as if she were being studied.

"Mr. Gherety has achieved sufficient knowledge in his time on this ship to be a suitable chief engineer," the Vulcan said at last.

*****

U.S.S. Journey - Docked at Starbase 27


The first time she'd seen her, she'd been looking at a thing of extraordinary beauty. Looking at Journey now, all Azlyn Reda could think was how sad the ship looked.

"Slip of latinum for your thoughts?"

Reda turned to see Journey's chief of security, Lt. Tanis, standing next to her. "I was just thinking about how the ship looks," the ensign replied, turning back to the view port and the little ship beyond it.

"Kind of sad, right?" When Reda nodded, Tanis chuckled. "I hear you. We were out what, ten days? And here we are in a dry dock getting a nacelle replaced."

"Not to mention losing Captain Harris and Commander Pool," Reda added.

Tanis nodded. "Yeah. That too," she said solemnly. "Come on."

With one last look over her shoulder, Reda walked with Tanis to a conference room where Journey's surviving senior officers were gathered. The young Trill couldn't help thinking that it didn't seem right to be in a staff meeting without their captain and chief engineer present. Not even their doctor was here, as Anil was still restricted to Medbay.

"Be seated, everyone," Jennara Stadi said quietly. "I've been told that our new port nacelle will be ready for attachment in an hour, so I wanted to get with you all before we're busy getting that done."

The assembled officers nodded or murmured their agreement. "I also wanted to remind you that our new officers will be arriving tomorrow."

"Who are they again?" asked Avery Praeger.

"Our new chief engineer is Lt. Commander T'Rae, and our CO is Commander Serutian Hale."

"Serutian Hale? Are you sure?" asked Tanis.

Stadi looked at her. "Lieutenant?"

Tanis cleared her throat. "I can't believe I didn't make the connection the other day, but... she's my fiancé's sister."

Gillon Marcan turned to Tanis. "You never said you were getting married, Lieutenant," he remarked.

Tanis smirked. Delis had only proposed recently, just before her transfer to Journey. "You never asked, Counselor."

Stadi's eyebrows had gone up. "So you know her?" she asked Tanis.

"Well, not exactly. I've never actually met her. Most of what I do know I've heard from Delis."

"What about T'Rae?" asked Ensign Reda.

Stadi replied, "I believe Commander T'Rae is Vulcan."

"If she's anything like Dareth..." Finley McPherson quipped.

The statement brought a short laugh from everyone around the table, lightening the somber mood a small degree. Lt. Dareth, their linguist, was not a typical Vulcan. He suffered from an extremely rare neurological disorder that rendered him completely unable to suppress his emotions, the most commonly known facet of Vulcan culture and ideology. Most of the staff simply knew he was different; they hadn't been a crew long enough for him to go into great detail as to why. It was not a subject he really cared to discuss, as it had caused him great difficulty his entire life. Only those he had chosen to become friends with over the years, like Stadi, knew what really made him the way he was.

"I would like to thank you for that overwhelming vote of support, Finley," Dareth retorted. He didn't mind what she'd said—he knew that McPherson's words were not said unkindly.

McPherson smiled. "Oh, you're more than welcome."

"Is there anything you can tell us about Hale, Tanis?" Stadi continued.

"Like I said, I don't really know her personally," Tanis said, "but if I remember right, Delis once told me that she has a really high IQ."

"She's not one of those 'think-tank' types, is she?" Dareth asked, a frown marring his handsome features.

Tanis shook her head. "I don't think so, although Delis did say she was accepted into Starfleet Academy at sixteen. According to him, she's the fifth person in Starfleet history under eighteen to pass the entrance exam."

"I sort of know her too," Stadi said, causing all heads to turn. "She was my sister's friend, but I do remember her vaguely—younger than my sister and I, now that I recall. A freshman when we were seniors."

"How did she and your sister meet, then?" McPherson asked.

Stadi grinned. "Mirani was a junior flight instructor senior year. Serutian Hale was in her class. I think you would have liked my sister, Fin. She was a pilot, too."

"Hey, Commander, is there any word on Dr. Anil?" Dareth asked, wisely changing the subject before the others could ask questions about their XO's sister—a subject that was still sensitive for Jennara even after seven years, and especially now that she had so recently lost another close friend.

Stadi nodded. "Holodoc told me a little while ago that she's been demanding he allow her to assist in caring for the other patients."

"And what did he tell her?"

"Not as long as she's one of the patients."

Again Journey's officers laughed. It felt good to laugh, Stadi mused. She knew that everyone was still smarting from the loss of Harris and Pool. They'd only been working together for ten days when they'd suffered their first tragedy, but already they seemed to have developed an easy working relationship. The senior staff had turned to one another for measured comfort in the week since the accident, and it showed. There was a level of companionship there that hadn't been three weeks ago.

How everyone would adjust to Hale and T'Rae, only time would tell. For Tanis, and to a small degree herself, Hale was familiar. T'Rae was unknown to all. It was likely to be difficult for the entire crew to get used to two new officers when they'd barely become comfortable with the ones they'd lost.

The impromptu meeting was over in short order. Everyone on the crew with shipbuilding experience was drafted to assist with adding on the new nacelle, and those who had none still had work to do. With much of the ship's crew and a contingent of engineers from Starbase 27 on the project, Journey was soon on its way to looking like it had before the storm tore it apart.

*****

"Commander Hale, we've reached Starbase 27 and are at station keeping, ma'am."

Serutian Hale surveyed her now-empty quarters. Tapping her commbadge, she replied to Harper's call. "Thank you, Commander."

With a sigh, she turned and walked out the door for the last time. The corridors were eerily empty at this time of day, and she tried not to suspect Marcus of having anything to do with it. It was petty of her to have even considered it, but then his behavior this last week had been nothing short of childish. She'd tried to have a civil conversation with him after Admiral Haywood had informed her that hers and T'Rae's transfers had been finalized and that he had spoken to Captain Randall, but Marcus had greeted her with extreme iciness. His only words were "Congratulations, Miss Hale," and he had since then refused to speak to her at all. He continued to speak to T'Rae, apparently not holding her decision to follow Hale against her, but Serutian he not only did not speak to, he avoided the Trill altogether. The shifts that they were scheduled to serve together, Marcus had spent either in his ready room or elsewhere on the ship.

It was just as well, Hale thought as she stepped into a turbolift and ordered it to take her down two decks, where the main transporter room was. It was bound to get ugly between them at some point if Marcus wasn't willing to give up his pursuit of her.

When she got off the lift and made her way into the transporter room, she found—as expected—T'Rae waiting on the platform. Besides her friend and the technician were their replacements, Adam Harper and Ted Gherety. Hale was touched that they had come to see them off.

Harper—who had served on the San Francisco almost as long as she—smirked. "I almost can't believe you're going—you've both been here for so long, you're practically part of the scenery," he said, offering his hand for her to shake.

Hale smiled. "Speaking of scenery, Adam, looks like you're growing into it yourself," she retorted as she took his hand and shook it firmly. "Second chair's all yours now."

"Yes, ma'am. It's been a pleasure to serve with you," Harper replied, then snapped off a crisp salute.

Hale repeated the gesture. "Same goes, Mr. Harper. Take care of 'em."

She turned to Ted Gherety then. "Mr. Gherety, congratulations," she said as she offered her hand to him.

"It's only thanks to you and T'Rae, Commander, though I admit to being a little jealous that you like her so much more than me," Gherety replied, shaking her hand.

Hale tilted her head and grinned. "Blame her, not me. If she'd decided to stay, I would be taking you."

They looked up at T'Rae together. The Vulcan merely raised her eyebrow.

"Captain Randall sends his regrets that he is unable to be here to see you off," Harper said as Hale stepped up onto the platform. "He has asked me to extend his congratulations and best wishes to you both."

Hale cast a sidelong glance at T'Rae, unsure just how much to believe what Harper had just told them. Taking the high road, she forced a smile and said, "Please give Captain Randall my thanks, and tell him I'm sorry he couldn't be here."

"Please do the same for me," T'Rae said with a slight nod.

Harper nodded confirmation, then stepped back toward the control console. "Ensign, on the Commander's mark," he said to the transporter operator.

Hale looked at the young ensign, a girl only one year out of the Academy. "Energize."

*****

Moments later, the Trill and the Vulcan materialized on the platform of Journey's transporter room. Tanis and Stadi were there to greet them. Though she had read the crew manifest sent to her by Admiral Haywood, Hale was still slightly taken aback. If she didn't already know better, she would have thought it was her old friend Mirani standing in front of her.

"Welcome aboard Journey. I'm Commander Jennara Stadi, First Officer. This is Lt. Tanis Auryn, our Security and Tactical officer," Stadi said, introducing herself and her companion.

Hale nodded. "Commander Serutian Hale. This is Lt. Commander T'Rae. I believe we're your new captain and chief engineer." She looked over at the other familiar face. "Hello, Tanis. I'd say it's about time we met. Delis has told me so much about you."

Tanis nodded. "Hopefully all good things," she said with a nervous smile. "Perhaps working together will enable us to get to know one another."

"I'd like that," said Hale.

Stadi smiled. "Again, welcome to Journey. Your belongings have already been transported to your quarters. Right now, I suspect, you'd both like to see the ship?"

Hale nodded again. "Yes, I think that's a good idea."

"Excellent. Lieutenant, will you please escort Commander T'Rae? I'm sure she'd like to see Engineering as soon as possible. FYI, there's a reception planned for 1500 in the mess hall to welcome you to the crew," Stadi said.

T'Rae nodded while Serutian held back a groan. She'd always been a little uncomfortable during meet-and-greet sessions, despite their necessity.

"Wonderful idea, Commander. It'll give us a chance to get to know the crew before we get down to business."

Stadi nodded, and when the four women left the transporter room they split in opposite directions. Neither Stadi nor Hale spoke until they were in a turbolift.

"I know it's a bit of a shock to look on the face of a living ghost, Commander," Stadi remarked slowly.

Hale drew in a breath. "It is," she replied honestly. "But it's not like I didn't know Ani had a twin. I'll get used to it eventually."

Once they exited the lift, Stadi led her to a door directly across the corridor and keyed open the door. Hale studied the rooms with a quick glance, noted that her crates were stacked neatly in the middle of the living room, and then turned to leave.

"What department would you like to see first?" Stadi asked after giving Hale a chance to get a good look around. She figured the Trill would say the bridge.

"Sickbay," Hale answered. "I'd like to see how the doctor's doing."

Stadi allowed a small smile. "Actually, Dr. Anil has officially renamed our medical facility Medbay. It's one of her quirks."

Hale raised an eyebrow. "Now I definitely want to meet her."

*****

"And I'm telling you I feel fine!"

The medical program the crew affectionately referred to as Holodoc rolled his eyes. Currently the image was that of Dr. Leonard McCoy as he had appeared during the first five-year mission of Kirk's Enterprise. In fact, it was the same template the hologram had been using since his activation a little over a week ago—and he didn't seem inclined to change any time soon.

"Yes, your temper is perfectly normal," he replied in response to his patient's protest. "The rest of you, on the other hand, is not. Your serotonin levels are still much too high, and even though you may think I haven't noticed, whenever you try to walk you lose your balance. You cannot effectively treat patients, Dr. Anil, if you cannot walk straight."

Myrian Anil wished she could wipe the look of superiority off the hologram's face, but unfortunately "McCoy" was right; she just wasn't ready yet, and she hated that. She felt like screaming in frustration but refrained when the Medbay door opened, admitting Journey's first officer and a Trill she didn't know.

"Doctors," Stadi said as they came up to the Romulan's biobed. "This is our new captain, Serutian Hale. This is Holodoc and Dr. Myrian Anil."

Anil greeted Hale warmly whilst McCoy eyed her conspicuously. "I only see three pips," he commented.

Hale turned to him. "How observant of you, Doctor. I'll be acquiring an onyx pip to join them soon, as my promotion is brevet at this point. I'll be a captain by title, but still a commander by rank," she said. "For now."

"I see. Please excuse me, I have other patients." McCoy turned abruptly on his heel and walked over to the next biobed.

Anil smiled sheepishly. "Forgive his rudeness, Captain. McCoy appears to have a bit too much of his namesake in his subroutines. I'm afraid it's also partially my fault. You know how it is with us doctors—we make the worst patients. As it so happens, I'm almost never on the receiving end of medical treatment, so I'm not used to taking a doctor's orders."

Hale had been studying the Romulan as she spoke. "I'm the same way," she said at last.

Anil gazed up at Hale curiously. "Does my being Romulan bother you at all?" she asked.

"Should it? Does my being Trill bother you?"

Anil laughed. "Not in the least."

"Good," Hale replied. "As long as you're not really a Romulan infiltrator, we'll get along great."

The doctor looked worried for a moment, until she saw on the Trill's features a hint of humor. Of course she was joking, she thought. Though she wasn't about to deny herself the relief she felt. Early on in her career, that's exactly what everyone seemed to think she was.

"How's your recovery coming along?" spoke up Stadi.

"I'm doing much better, actually, though I'm still having trouble maintaining my equilibrium when I walk and I still have trouble with motor control," Anil told them.

Hale crossed her arms and looked at the physician thoughtfully. "I've read the report, but I'd like to hear in your own words how you were injured," she said.

Anil looked down at her trembling hands, almost embarrassed by the absurdity of the tale. "I was working at the main diagnostic console there," she began, pointing to where Dr. McCoy now stood at a station facing the surgical bay. "The ion storm we encountered caused an energy surge in a number of the ship's computer systems, and I received quite the electrocution."

"Holodoc said she was unconscious for nearly five hours," added Stadi, "and that it was a nightmare keeping this place running with only two medical assistants."

"Who is that?" asked the Trill, just as she looked over to McCoy and saw him walk through a forcefield and into the surgical bay.

She turned to Stadi with a look of mild amusement. "That's going to take some getting used to—our EMH is the Dr. Leonard McCoy."

"SAMH, actually," Anil corrected her.

"SAMH?"

It was Anil's turn to smile. "Situational-Adaptive Medical Holographic Program," she said. "The SAMH-1, first of its kind—though we just call him Holodoc. It's an experimental program designed to be a supplement, an addition, to the medical team instead of just an emergency tool. The program has seven hundred fifty physicians and other medical personnel in its database from which to choose, and when activated selects the personality best suited for the task for which it is needed. The program even has the ability appear as a loved one to critically injured patients."

Stadi tried not to react to this information. She had made Holodoc do just that for Captain Harris before he died.

"Is everything on this ship experimental?" Hale asked rhetorically, thinking also of the experimental shield configurations, warp specifications, sensor arrays, and the AI computer.

"Well, this is a science ship," her first officer said. "What better place to conduct experiments with new technology?"

"One of my nurses, Ensign Milo Haiakauna," Dr. Anil continued, "is who McCoy is working on right now. He was in Engineering trying to save John Pool's life when a plasma conduit ruptured, burning him pretty badly. He's being kept behind the forcefield in order to keep his environment as sterile as possible."

"The latest report said there are another day or two's worth of skin grafts left to do on him," added Stadi.

"Why haven't you requested assistance from the station's medical staff?" Hale queried.

Anil's light olive skin colored with embarrassment. "Because we're both stubborn. I thought I'd be well enough to assist by now, and he insists he doesn't need help."

The Trill raised an eyebrow. "Well, if Holodoc's attitude is any indication, then I'd say his diagnosis is flawed. Ani, contact the station CO and make a formal request for assistance from their medical staff. If McCoy argues, shut him off and let them take over for a while."

Stadi was taken aback by the inadvertent use of the nickname everyone who'd known her sister had used. She recovered quickly and replied, "Yes, ma'am."

"Meanwhile, I'm cutting my tour short. It appears I didn't do nearly enough reading on my staff last night. I'll be in the ready room if you need me."

The doctor and first officer merely nodded, and Hale walked out of Medbay in silence. It wasn't until she was in a turbolift that she realized what she had said.

*****

After the door closed behind her, Hale took a long look around the office. It was small, but roomy. The shelves and alcoves normally used for holding mementos were hauntingly bare, as Oliver Harris' possessions were already on their way to Alpha Centauri along with his body. He’d been born there, she had read, and he would be laid to rest there, as his wife had requested.

Her gaze fell at last on the desktop, which she saw contained a number of PADDs waiting to be read. No doubt Stadi had been too busy to do so or had simply fallen behind. Hale reluctantly walked over to the desk and sat behind it, stacking the PADDs into one pile. She noticed a picture among them, covered by three of the devices. She picked it up and saw that it was the late Captain Oliver Harris. He was standing next to Journey's dedication plaque, trying his best not to look either officious or ecstatic. In doing so, he created an expression of contained amusement, with his eyes slightly shining and his lips in the faintest of smiles. If you didn't look closely though, you'd miss it.

Serutian Hale said a silent prayer of remembrance for her ship's first captain.

The ringing of the ready room door chime broke the silence. Startled, Hale put the picture of Oliver Harris aside and bade her unexpected visitor entrance.

Gillon Marcan took a moment to study the face of his captain before stepping across the threshold. He saw that it took her more than a moment to recognize him.

"Greetings, Captain Hale," he said, addressing her by her new title. "I'm Dr. Gillon Marcan, Ship's Counselor."

Hale stood. "Please, Counselor, come in and sit," she said pleasantly. "Can I get you anything?"

Marcan flashed a brief smile and declined the offer as he stepped inside and took a seat across from her. "I prefer 'Doctor' if it's all the same to you, Captain," he told her as she walked over to the replicator.

She nodded and ordered a spearmint tea at the replicator. "I apologize for forgetting that you're not an officer. I remember now that many civilian counselors tend to prefer 'doctor' as their title."

"I'm just used to it from my private practice days," he said with a chuckle. “Though I imagine my wearing the uniform doesn’t make it any easier to remember I’m not actually in Starfleet.”

"You know, one would think a crew of this size would have no need for a counselor," Hale observed.

"That was true once upon a time," Marcan agreed, "Don't forget, though, Starfleet's Mental Health Act of 2375—which states that all vessels and space stations in the Fleet must have on staff at least one certified counseling professional so as to maintain the mental health of the personnel assigned thereto. This includes planet-side facilities manned by and under the management of Starfleet."

Hale couldn't help laughing at the nearly textbook recitation of the Mental Health Act, which had been put into effect within a week of the end of the Dominion War in an attempt to combat the psychological backlash Fleet personnel were expected to experience.

"Well, you have me there, Doctor. So what made you request shipboard service in Starfleet?"

Marcan shrugged. "I've spent the last twelve or thirteen years working with the Interstellar Red Cross, going from one planet to another providing counseling services. I figured it was time to make a change."

Marcan watched Hale sip her drink before he remarked, "I sought you out because I thought you might like to get our first session out of the way."

Hale's eyebrows winged up. "I wasn't aware we had one, Doctor."

The smile that seemed a constant for him returned once more. "We don't. Yet. This visit is more of a fishing expedition on my part, to gauge your reaction to the unexpected. We will, of course, have to arrange a time to meet later for a more formal conversation."

Shaking her head amusedly as she at last returned to her chair, Hale asked, "Do I pass the test?"

"You performed as expected."

Hale’s expression became one of amusement. "The last therapist I knew talked like that. Our counselor on the San Francisco was human, and not to demean her fine expertise in any way, but I've heard that Betazoids make great counselors. I do believe I'm eager to see that sentiment proved," she told him.

"Or not," Marcan returned. "I'm afraid you're mistaken, Captain—I'm not Betazoid, I'm El-Aurian."

Surprise registered immediately. El-Aurians were known as the 'race of listeners'. "But I thought.... Your degree is from the University of Betazed."

"My Ph.D. is from the University of Betazed, yes—because they have one of the best xenopsychology programs in the known universe," Marcan explained.

For a moment Hale simply stared, then with a chuckle said, "I most definitely did not do nearly enough reading. How on Trill could I have made a mistake like that?"

"It's perfectly understandable, Captain. A lot has happened to all of us in the last several days, and we are bound to be off-center for a while—even you.

"But, now that our first meeting is over, I'll leave you be. I can see that you have a lot of catching up to do," Marcan went on, standing and indicating the PADDs on her desk.

"Yes, I certainly do," Hale replied with a wry grin, then glanced grimly at the work before her. "I'm glad to have had the chance to meet you before the big party."

The El-Aurian smiled. "I'll see you then, Captain."

As Dr. Marcan was leaving, Jennara Stadi appeared in the ready room doorway. Hale motioned her in. "What's the situation with Sickbay, er, Medbay?" she asked.

"Starbase 27 sent us a doctor and a nurse. After a few token protests, Holodoc relented to being shut down. I'm sure the program was glad for the opportunity to rest," Stadi reported. "That is, if it could be glad."

"Will we see the same personality the next time the SAMH is activated?"

"I guess it's possible, but Dr. Anil tells us the program will inquire about what it's needed for first, then select a template. You really should familiarize yourself with the SAMH operations protocols as soon as you have the opportunity, Captain," the Betazoid answered, for the first time using the Trill's new rank.

"Of course. Have a seat," Hale told her, then offered her a drink, which she accepted, requesting coffee.

"It's been a long time since you and I saw one another last," Hale said after she handed Stadi a steaming mug of coffee.

Stadi nodded, then sipped before replying. "It has. I'd say about fifteen years, give or take. But you still kept in touch with Mirani."

Hale nodded, leaning her hip against the edge of the desk. "She was my friend," she replied simply. "I used to wonder how the two of us even became friends when we were so different."

Stadi chuckled. "She was like that, making friends with all kinds of different people."

The Betazoid sipped her coffee again. "I'm sorry if this is difficult for you," she added after a moment.

Hale smiled. "It's okay. Like I said, it's not like I didn't know you existed."

Glancing at the desktop at that moment, the Trill took the picture of Journey's first captain in hand and handed it to Stadi. "You either missed this or couldn't let it go," she said quietly.

Stadi's smile was strained as she looked upon the smiling face of her longtime friend. "I remember taking this picture the day before we launched. He was so excited about being First Captain."

"Shall I send it to his family, or would you like to keep it?"

"Perhaps you ought to keep it," the Betazoid replied.

When Hale looked at her with a curious expression she added, "I mean, hang it on the wall behind the desk. Maybe put a picture of yourself by the plaque with it. I think the crew might like that."

Hale imagined what the wall behind the desk would look like with the two pictures over her head. She even thought she knew why Stadi had made the suggestion. In putting up Harris' picture, then adding one of her own, she would be acknowledging the late captain while at the same time establishing a relationship of her own with the crew. The idea did have merit.

"Thank you for the suggestion, Commander," Hale replied after a moment's silent thought. "I might just take you up on it."

*****

As far as first meetings went, this one wasn't going so bad. The crew had been polite, of course, and some were even welcoming. Although Hale couldn't say there was much warmth in her reception, and she didn't blame them. They were all new here, in a sense, but only she and T'Rae were outsiders—the rest of the crew had been getting to know one another for the last three weeks.

Conversation for her had been stilted at first, but after the first thirty minutes or so, she began to relax, and by doing so helped others relax when they spoke to her. T'Rae seemed to be holding her own rather well—which was easy for her because she didn't really care what the crew thought of her. But her extensive knowledge of engines and computer operations were what gave her conversations their life. During one moment of solitude, Hale observed her chief engineer with a smile. The Vulcan might not care if she was liked or not, but something told Hale she already was. And that was a relief.

Gillon Marcan approached her almost two hours into the reception. Hale raised an eyebrow. "Fishing again, Doctor?"

The corners of Marcan's lips turned up slightly. "Yes and no. I just came to say that it's getting on to dinnertime. The crew is probably starting to get hungry, so you might want to make your speech and break this up."

Speech? She was expected to make a speech? Of course she was. She wasn't some temporary post-filler—she was replacing a man who had died. It wouldn't do at all for her to simply schmooze and be done with it. She had to make a statement, set herself apart from the ghost of Oliver Harris.

"Everyone, can I have your attention?" Hale said, raising her voice to be heard. When the conversations had died away, she cast a furtive glance at T'Rae, cleared her throat, and began.

"I want to start off by conveying my sincerest condolences to the entire crew on the deaths of Captain Oliver Harris and Commander John Pool. I never had the opportunity to meet either of them, but everything I have heard so far tells me that they were both good men and exceptional Starfleet officers. Commander T'Rae and I are here to fill their roles, but no one can replace them. It is not for us that we gather here tonight—it's for them."

Hale held her glass of ginger ale up high, and the rest of the room did the same. For a moment they all stayed there, then slowly the Trill lowered hers and sipped. The crew followed suit, their fallen comrades saluted one last time.

Okay, so it wasn't much of a speech. But it was only her first here.

There was still time for improvement.


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