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Part of Challenger: While The Iron Is Hot

TWO

Challenger NX-03
Tuesday, February 4th, 2155
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Lloyd had found the best way for him to get something off his chest was to beat it out of his system. So right now, he found himself pounding the hell out of the punch bag in Challenger’s gym. Sweat and anxiety poured from his body with every blow he gave out. His expression showed one of concentration to any onlooker however it didn’t truly reflect his focus. It was driven with a mixture of anger, frustration and utter soul retching. His grief of coming to terms of losing Captain Karim and Commander Rossi had been a source of strength for him the last few days but now he had to let it go. It had only taken him an hour after their funerals to return to Challenger and make the decision to visit the ship’s gym. He knew if he didn’t get all of emotions out of his system now then he wouldn’t be able to function and focus properly now. 

As he pummelled the bag, he thought of how his decisions and actions had got him this far on the Challenger


Monday, December 23rd, 2154

Portsmouth, Hampshire, United Kingdom of Great Britain, Earth

Lloyd sat quietly on the bench watching the newest ship to be launched in the British Royal Navy, the HMS King William V from the Royal docks of Portsmouth. The huge super-carrier was going to be appointed the new flagship of the British fleet. Watching from afar, Lloyd could hear His Majesty King Nathan I blessing the new ship named after his grandfather. Lloyd was concentrating on the speech when he was interrupted by the arrival of his brother, Roman. 

“I thought I would find you here.” Roman remarked as he took a seat next to him. “You okay Lloyd?”

Roman was only a few years younger than Lloyd but the two brothers were extremely close however Roman knew how to wind up Lloyd like any younger brother could. Roman stood an inch and half taller compared to his older sibling however was slightly slimmer in build. He had deep sandy coloured hair and shared the same piercing blue eyes with his brother. Unlike his brother, Roman had his hair cut short and was stubble free. 

Lloyd wasn’t paying too much attention to his younger brother’s arrival or question but eventually snapped out of what he was staring at when a round of applause erupted once the bottle was smashed against the hull of the new ship. “Sorry?” He returned and looked at his brother.

“I asked if you were okay.” Roman repeated as he shoved his hands deeper into his big thick black coat. It was a typical winter’s day in Britain and with the bitter cold sea breeze coming in from the Solent, it only added to the freezing temperatures that the country was experiencing. 

Lloyd stared at his brother; Roman was either being sarcastic or genuine. As the Christmas holidays were upon them the Burtons had all seen each other in the past week for a brief family get together. Lloyd hadn’t seen any of his family since he had asked for a leave of absence from the Republic to deal with losing his girlfriend Ros. They had all known about Ross’ death but when Lloyd had seen them all, they hadn’t really spoken about it in great depth. He was now leaning towards the former of Roman’s sincerity just because Roman knew exactly the answer to that question he had asked. “Remind me again when is Columbia leaving again?!”

“Hey you’ll miss me!” Roman countered back and playfully punched his brother on the arm. 

Lloyd smirked slightly and took in a deep sigh. “I suppose you have your uses now and then.”

The two brothers sat in silence for a few more moments as the huge aircraft carrier was launched from the docks and made its way out of Portsmouth. A number of smaller ships, from the British Royal Navy and merchant fleets escorted it out of the harbour. 

The younger brother broke the silence. “Okay I’m just going to come out with it because you know I love you and someone has to say it. I know you’re going through a difficult time Lloyd but you either talk about it to someone or you deal with it and move on.”

Even though his words stung like hell, Lloyd knew his brother was right. He hadn’t spoken to anyone since Ros’ death. He didn’t know what to say or where to begin. He had been hurt too much. Roman pulled his brother into a hug and eventually Lloyd broke down and let out what he had been holding in for ages now.

“Why the hell was she taken from me again? Why now? We had only just got back to where we had been.” Lloyd said as he sobbed into his brother’s shoulder. 


Thursday, November 14th, 2154

Republic NV-02, orbit of Denobula II, Denobula Triaxa system

The day had been long and was far from over. The seismic activity was now calming down on Denobula and from their efforts the crew of the Republichad helped rescue nearly three hundred people and supported the Denobulan government in setting up four large shelters on the southern hemisphere. 

Lieutenant Commander Lloyd Burton was overseeing the last of Republic’s landing parties who were participating in search and rescue operations on one of the tropical islands in the south eastern hemisphere. The climate and landscape reminded him heavily of New Zealand back on Earth. His party was in a small town that had been close to the epicentre as many of the buildings had collapsed under the pressure. Hundreds were estimated to be dead under the rubble. His team consisted of himself, nine MACOs and Republic’s chief engineer: Lieutenant Ros Noble. They had just found a family taking refuge in an old bunker and had escorted them to the nearest rescue vehicle. Moving slowly down the road his communicator beeped, alerting him of an incoming call. He took it out of his jacket’s arm pocket and flipped it open.

“Burton here.” He answered having a feeling it was his captain calling.

“Report commander.” Said Captain Tess Lane over the communicator. 

Burton automatically replied. “We’re about to enter the last building standing ma’am, local officials tell us it’s an orphanage. Scans indicate faint life signs beneath the surface.” 

“Very good commander, I want your team back on the Republic soon, you’ve spent the whole day down there. You need a break.” Lane ordered. “The Denobulan Premier has informed me that they’ve been able to get more search and rescue teams prepped and ready to move into your area.”

Burton smirked, knowing the captain well that she truly did care about the wellbeing of her crew. “Yes ma’am, we’ll be back shortly.” 

“Good luck, Lane out.” The captain finished the call and gave the team the opportunity to enter the building.

Ros Noble walked slowly by Burton’s side as they entered the structure. Her short blonde hair was pulled back behind her ears with a hair band. Even though they had been working for almost seven hours without a break, she didn’t appear as filthy as the other team members. She had unzipped her jumpsuit and undone the top buttons to her undershirt to help her cool down. Nevertheless, she looked as professional as she always did. 

The team’s flashlights flew against the walls in the close to pitch darkness that surrounded them. Ros was scanning away at the structure, attempting to find if it would truly hold any longer. She winced slightly as the readings came through, automatically Burton recognised her expression. 

“Not good news I take it?” He asked as he approached her.

“If we don’t feel any more tectonic activity the building should hold for at least another six hours under its own weight, but I can’t tell you how quickly it will collapse if the ground shakes just slightly.” She answered as she intensified her scans. 

Sighing under his breath, Burton went on to the next question. “What about those life signs?” 

“Six of them, all just over eight feet under us.” She answered. 

The next hour or so the team slowly made their way through rooms and eventually down stairs to a place where they could find the trapped souls. In what appeared to be a scene only made from nightmares they came across a group of children who were all huddled together in the centre of the room over the body of a woman. Once Burton had introduced them to the group of children, the eldest child told them it had been their teacher who had sacrificed herself to get them down here into the safety bunker. Just as Burton was about to tell them it was time to leave, the ground shook. 

“We’ve gotta get out of here now!” Noble screamed as dust started to fall from the ceiling. 

“Agreed, let’s move these children out.” Burton commanded. 

The next events all happened in a blur for him. He remembered them all climbing out of the hole they had cut out to get to the children, passing the children through as the ground continued to shake, however once they reached the main hall the trembling seemed to get worse. It wasn’t until they arrived at the foyer that something went crack, followed by a huge bang that in turn led to Burton feeling someone push him forward out of the entrance. He only had enough time to turn around and see it was Noble pushing him clear from a falling beam that soon impacted against her and pinned her down on to the ground. The noise her body made as it landed against the floor sent shivers up and down Burton’s spine and made him sick to his stomach. The entire team rushed to free her; however, they were too late. It had crushed her spine and she only had moments to live.

“You can’t!” Burton quietly sobbed as he held her close, knowing what was going to happen.

Noble lifted her free left hand to his cheek as a tear rolled down her cheek. She brought him in close and kissed him with as much energy as she had left. “I’m so sorry it took me this long to find you again.” She whispered before taking her last breath. 

Burton had remained there at her side, guarding over her dead body until Captain Lane had arrived with another team. Lane had somehow gently prised him away and put him on to the shuttlepod back to the Republic

Days later Burton stood in Lane’s ready room, barely holding himself up to attention.

“Permission granted Lloyd.” Lane had said softly as she passed him the computer tablet back to him. He had given her a request for an immediate extended leave of absence from active duty. She hadn’t questioned him at all as she knew the whole story and his reasons. She also knew she was losing a great first officer. “Take all the time you need.” She added before dismissing him from her presence.


Monday, December 23rd, 2154

Portsmouth, Hampshire, United Kingdom of Great Britain, Earth

After finally releasing the pain inside, Lloyd had shared everything with his brother. His anguish after losing Ros the first time when she had suffered a major loss in her memory, which was later followed by her painful decision to leave him as she didn’t know him. The heartache only grew more when she was assigned to the Republic. Every day he had to see her but during that time together somehow she started to remember what they had and who he was. They started off slowly, seeing each other and by the time she had died on Denobula the two of them were extremely close. He was considering asking her to marry him. Now he had lost that opportunity. 

“So, what will you do now?” Roman asked, once again breaking the silence that fell between them.

“Mum has offered me a job with her charity.” He answered.

Roman rolled his eyes and gave out a small huff. “I heard, but really Lloyd, you want to be her CEO? That’s not who you are mate.”

“I can’t return to the Republic Roman. I just can’t.” Lloyd countered back as he pushed away another tear.

“Then apply somewhere else. There are plenty of ships out there looking for experienced officers. Request a transfer and see what Starfleet has to offer.” Roman suggested a piece of advice that Lloyd would act on the next day…


Tuesday February 4th, 2155

Challenger NX-03

Burton was now taking a break from his workout. He had taken a sip of water from the bottle he had brought with him when he had seen his reflection in the mirrors along one wall in the gym. His entire body was covered in sweat and this was even more apparent with his drenched black vest. He didn’t have time to take another sip when the doors to the gym parted open and walking in was a man he was hoping not to see for some time. Rear Admiral Samuel Gardner. 

He turned around to face his superior officer. “Admiral.” He said acknowledging his presence.

“Commander.” Gardner replied as he walked past the various workout stations. “Are you free to talk?”

Burton nodded. “Of course, sir.”

Gardner placed his hands behind his back before he spoke. “Commander, I know how you feel right now. You have no idea where you stand in the grand scheme of things because the person who shall be leading all of this,” He said gesturing around the room, that was his way of speaking about the Challenger, “isn’t here. This ship and its crew before its maiden voyage are in a period of uncertainty. So, I’m here to shed some light and hopefully help get things back on track.”

“Understood sir.” Burton said as he listened attentively to the admiral. 

“Captain Karim was a major player in getting this ship together and picking all of her crew and getting to know them. Starfleet has lost a great officer before her time. However, I regret to say that we don’t have the time or the luxury to truly mourn her and Commander Rossi’s losses.” Gardner began to pace in front of the commander. “Before her death Captain Karim was to be briefed on Challenger’s first mission, one that was of the utmost importance to Earth and its security with the upcoming signing of the Coalition of Planets Compact. That mission must still be carried out. The Command Council feels that we must press forward in finding Captain Karim’s replacement at once as we will need Challenger involved in flying the flag for Earth sooner rather than later. I think it’s what Captain Karim would have wanted too. The crew needs to know there isn’t a leadership crisis.”

“I couldn’t agree more sir.” Burton interjected with. He knew that Gardner’s visit was a courtesy call before he announced who they would be sending to take over. 

“It hasn’t been easy for us to decide who would be the best candidate to take over from Karim. Nevertheless, we have reached the conclusion that we need someone who knows the ship and crew as well as Captain Karim did.” Gardner stopped pacing and turned to look at Burton. “Lloyd, we’ve decided to promote you to the rank of captain and give you the Challenger.”

Burton was shocked. He wasn’t expecting that. “Me sir?” It was all he could get out.

“Yes Lloyd. You’re an experienced field officer and there isn’t anyone else who hasn’t trained as hard as you for this assignment or put in the time with the crew as much as Karim did.” Gardner stated with conviction.

“I appreciate the vote of confidence sir, I truly do, however surely one of the other captains of the other NX-class ships that are going to be built are better suited?” Lloyd asked.

Atlantis and Discovery’s captains have their own ships to worry about. You’re next in line, it only seems right.” Gardner remarked. “Do you accept?”

Burton thought about it for a moment. He knew he could hear Captain Karim in the back of his mind telling him to do it, hell even Ros would be shouting at him to do it. “Very well sir. I accept. Thank you.”

“Then Lloyd Burton I hereby promote you to the rank of captain and order you to take command of this ship and its crew with immediate effect.” Gardner ordered and extended his hand to shake Burton’s. “Congratulations Captain Burton.”

Burton smiled as he shook the admiral’s hand. “Thank you, sir.”

Gardner smiled in delight that Lloyd had accepted his offer. “I’ll make the official announcement to the rest of the crew shortly and then to the press. I suggest you get a shower and change into your new command uniform straight away.” He said. 

“Yes sir.” Burton answered. 

“I’ll leave you to it then.” Gardner finally said before leaving the Challenger’s gym. 

Burton now looked back over to the mirror-covered wall and somehow for the first time in days a small smile appeared on his face. He knew he could only do this new job well by honouring Captain Karim with everything he did with it now.