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Part of Challenger: While The Iron Is Hot

TWELVE

Challenger NX-03, en-route to Denobula
Monday February 10th, 2155
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Entering sickbay with a sense of pride pinned across his face, Captain Burton made his way over to where those from his crew who had been kidnapped rested. Sickbay in the past few days had been filled with injured crewmembers and as such folded out beds had complimented the normal three beds. Most of these were now empty and just had the standard Starfleet sheets draped over them. Moving past some of them he made his way over to where Commander Levesque was sat up with a data tablet in her hands. Levesque was wearing surgical scrubs and had a blanket covering her. She instantly noticed Burton’s presence and switched the tablet off by pressing the button along the top edge and laid it down on her lap. 

“Captain.” She greeted him with a warm smile but in a hushed tone.

“Commander,” He said, returning the greeting. “How are you feeling?”

She nodded with confidence. “Well thank you. Doctor Ben-Ami said I’ll be able to return to my quarters this evening and be back on duty by tomorrow morning.”

“I’m pleased.” Burton replied as he pulled up one of the stalls that were near to sit on. “By the way don’t refer to Ben-Ami as Doctor, she prefers the title Ro-fa.”

“Oh yes, I’ve already been told off for that.” Levesque replied with a slight chuckle. “How are you though sir?”

Burton smirked at that question. “All things considering, I’m okay – I think.” He said honestly. He looked over to where Commander Stanton, Ensign Alcott and Major Yu laid, all sleeping. “For a first mission we certainly were fed to the vultures.” He looked back at Levesque and the proud expression he had worn on his way into sickbay returned. “Even though we lost one and you all went through hell I’m still proud of what we’ve achieved in a matter of days.”

Levesque smiled and nodded in agreement. “We’ve certainly had quite the christening sir.”

“And I don’t want you or any of the others,” Burton said motioning to them with his right hand. “To think that I’m not aware of what you had to endure over on the Orion ship.”

“Thank you, sir.” Levesque said as she winced slightly as she moved and hit a bruise on her back against the bed. She looked over at Alcott. “Ezrah may require a bit more time off to come to terms with what he had to deal with. The Orions took a liking to him.”

Burton nodded, understanding what she was saying as he had read her preliminary report about their capture and what the Orions had done to them. Out of them all it had seemed that Alcott had been the only one sexually abused. Ben-Ami had confirmed this after she had examined him. “Kefira said she will put some time aside for him to talk to her about it.” He had been looking at their young helmsman while he spoke and then looked back at her. “What about you Nicole, are you sure you want to return to duty?”

“I’ll be fine sir. The good Ro-fa has booked me in for some time to talk with her tomorrow evening to talk about it all. I’ll bounce back.” She assured him with. “Do we have any more information as to why the Orions attacked us and abducted us?”

Burton sat up straight as he answered her. “No. Admiral Gardner said that they have yet to turn up any answers and the Vulcans, Andorians and Tellarites are saying the same. Captain Archer believes the Orion Syndicate were just trying to stall or at least stop the formalisation of the Coalition Compact. But once again we proved to the galaxy that working together has its benefits.”

“Truer words were never spoken, captain.” She returned and grabbed his hand as a sign of assurance and support of what he said. 

Burton returned the gesture by squeezing her hand gently. “I’ll let you rest Nicole.”

At that point Ro-fa Ben-Ami walked over and quietly spoke up to the two most senior officers on Challenger. “Visiting hours are now over, captain.”

Burton stood and nodded to the doctor’s words. “I was just leaving.” He said before giving an assuring smile and wink towards his First Officer as he left the confines of sickbay. He was definitely proud to be leading this crew and ship.


Ensign Niall Stewart moved away from the mess hall counter with his tray and made his way over to a secluded area in the not so busy lounge area. It was late in the evening and the gamma watch would be coming on to duty any minute now. He was lucky he would be able to return to his quarters after being on for two duty shifts. As Challenger’s senior nurse and field medic, Stewart was used to ungodly hours during massive traumas, but since the ship was launched, he could not remember when he had taken a break and rested (except for sleeping in between shifts). Sitting down he looked at the slice of chocolate gateaux, covered with chocolate sauce. He licked his lips, looking forward to the sweet dessert when he was rudely interrupted. 

“Mind if I sit here?” A quiet feminine voice spoke.

He looked up and saw the fatigued figure belonging to Lieutenant Masuko, the ship’s Second Engineer. “Please lieutenant.” He said with his own tired warm smile.

“Thanks.” She replied and made herself comfortable in the chair opposite to him after putting her tray down. She leaned over to him with her hand. “I’m Lieutenant Sakura Masuko, Second Engineer.”

He reached over and shook her hand once. “Nice to meet you Lieutenant, I’m Ensign Niall Stewart, Senior Nursing Officer and Field Medic.”

 “Ah I’m pleased to meet someone else besides an engineer who has had an exhausting day like me.” She returned with a smile. “How are things in sickbay?” She asked as she began to tuck in to a bowl of tomato soup.

Finishing his first bite from the cold dessert and wiping his mouth, the ensign replied. “Starting to slow back down again thanks. Engineering?”

“Most of the battle damage is repaired, but I’ll be glad to have Commander Stanton back. How is he?” She inquired before blowing on a spoonful of soup in hopes of cooling it down.

“Well. He’ll be back on his feet in no time.” Stewart answered. “Most of the kidnapped crew should all be discharged by tomorrow.”

“That’s great news.” She said, “I’m sure the captain will be happier to have everyone back on duty.”

Nodding in agreement. “I’m sure he will. In fact, he visited Commander Levesque and the others earlier. He seems to be quite the considerate captain, like his sister.”

Curious by what he meant, Masuko looked a bit perplexed by Stewart’s remark. “His sister? What do you mean?”

“I served under Captain Madison Burton on Voyager.” He said in between bites. “She’s a keen scientist and a great captain. He is quite like her. How about you?”

“Sorry?” She asked, confused to what he meant. 

“Where were you before Challenger?” He questioned.

“Oh, I served on the Lexington.” Masuko stated. “So, you’re probably one of the few, possibly the only one who knows a bit more about the captain then the rest of us?”

Stewart laughed nervously at that comment. “Well if he’s anything like his sister then we’re lucky. Plus, I heard he had served with Major Yu previously.” Pausing for a second to get another bite, he continued. “Anyway, what I want to know is there somewhere else on this marvellous ship we can watch films on except the small monitors in our quarters?”

For a moment Sakura thought about it. “I don’t think there is…there is the MACO training room or the command centre.”

Stewart sighed. “We need to do something about it. Do you like movies Sakura?” He paused, realising he had just called her by her first name and she did outrank him. “I mean Lieutenant, that’s if you-”

Masuko held a hand up to stop him from blabbering any more. “Sakura is fine and I’m not a huge movie buff, but I don’t mind some of the films from the early twenty-first century.”

“Then you’re in luck, I’ve got a great selection of films from that era as well as before and after! We just need to find somewhere to recreate the cinema experience!” Stewart stated as he pondered the matter further.

“Well I heard that on Enterprise and Columbia they have a weekly movie night. Why don’t we suggest it?” She offered.

He grinned at the idea. “Sounds perfect. Fancy helping me draft out a proposal to Commander Levesque?”

“If it means it gets me to stop thinking about plasma injectors for an hour or so I’m all yours Niall!” Mausko said, glad she had made a friend on her new ship.


Sunday, February 16th, 2155

Challenger NX-03

Reaching forward to grab the pot of coffee that sat close to her, Madilyn Campbell found herself longing for its contents. Pouring herself a mug she was content to listen to the current discussion happening between her peers around the table. Challenger and the task force were only moments from entering the Denobulan Triaxa system and currently she sat discussing with her counterparts from the other ships about their gameplay with Premier Norlox and his government. As lead-envoy it was her duty to chair any meetings they had. Right now, she was wondering if they would actually convince the Denobulan government to re-join the talks, especially as there was a lot of disagreement in the current room.

“I will state my case again, the most logical course of action here is for us to engage in one-to-one talks with those members of Nerlox’s party that need the most convincing.” Soron stated coolly from his seat next to Campbell’s left. 

Campbell found herself trying not to roll her eyes at the Vulcan’s repeated suggestion. Thankfully she was not the only one thinking the same. “Proposing the same flawed strategy over and over again will not make it more effective, Mister Ambassador.”  Ambassador Magerit countered back. “What we need is to show a united front here, so the Denobulan government sees we mean business and that we can work together in all areas.”

A snort came from Ambassador Gouth. “For the first time I agree with my Andorian colleague, but,” Gouth took in a breath before speaking, “we can’t all go to each one though, the process will take too long.”

After taking a sip of her coffee Campbell quickly interjected. “Then don’t.”

“I beg your pardon?” Gouth asked, surprised at the remark.

“Everyone is saying all the right things, what we need to do now is do what we diplomats and politicians do the best at: compromise.” Campbell explained. “We split our team in half, that way we show the Denobulans a united front as well as getting through those on Nerlox’s government who need to have their arms bent.”

Magerit chuckled at this. Gouth scratched her chin. Soron raised an eyebrow. 

“Do we actually need to inflict physical harm to the Denobulans?” Soron asked curiously.

“Even I knew that was a human metaphorical phrase for persuading them to agree.” Magerit responded towards Soran before looking at Campbell. “I think it’s a good plan, Madam Secretary.”

“Agreed.” Gouth said reluctantly. 

“Indeed.” Soron added.

At that point, in the corner of her eye, Campbell noticed the ship dropping out of warp. “Excellent and that’s good timing.” She remarked gesturing with her head about their arrival. “As Ambassador Soron and I have already made good relations with many in the Denobulan government I recommend that Ambassador Gouth join Ambassador Soron and Ambassador Magerit partners up with me?” 

All three diplomats once again agreed to the suggestion, then Campbell rose from her chair. “I suggest we all return to our own respective quarters on our own ships to prepare for our meeting with Premier Norlox within the hour.”

With the conclusion of their meeting her three colleagues all departed the small meeting room that had been assigned to them. Campbell watched them all leave before turning around to look at the man who had stood in the distance during the meeting at the back of the room. “Have you quite finished lurking Captain Burton?”

Captain Burton stepped forward with his arms crossed against his chest. “Sorry Madam Secretary, I didn’t mean to be ‘lurking’.” He answered. “I was curious to learn from what you discussed and to see how you planned to engage with the Denobulans.”

Campbell gave the Starfleet captain a smile. “I’m kiddin’ Captain, actually having your presence in the room was helpful.”

“Oh?” Burton said, surprised.

Nodding, Campbell explained her thoughts. “The others still see Earth as a small player and so do many races, the Denobulans included. We need to show them that we mean business and I plan to do that.”

“Is that why you picked Ambassador Margerit as your partner?” Burton inquired.

“Partly, but Margerit is running for the Andorian Chancellorship and if she is to win it, which from recent polls suggest she will with great ease, then I want her to know that us pink-skins are good partners to have, even if our ships are inferior to their own!” Campbell said. “Plus, it’s always good to have first-hand experience of what the next leader of the Andorian Empire is like!”

“As long as she wins the election!” Burton remarked with a playful smile. “Do you see dealing with Premier Norlox and his government difficult?”

Campbell considered the question for a second. “Norlox isn’t that hard to deal with, it’s those in his cabinet and his party that will be tricky, however I want to involve the entire Denobulan Congress from both sides of the political spectrum. We need to show the entire Denobulan population we are serious about involving their entire race in the Coalition as much as we are with the other members.”

“Sounds like you’re going to have your work cut out for you then ma’am.” Burton said before motioning towards the door for them to exit.

“Oh, it’s going to be a fun few days I can promise you that Captain!” Campbell replied as she walked alongside him out of the room and out into the corridor.


The gentle hum of the Challenger’s power system vibrated throughout the section, giving a sense of security to Alcott as he remained seated perfectly still, staring at the bulkhead before him. His mind was almost empty but every time he closed his eyes, he saw flashbacks of the cruelty he endured while on the Orion ship. He had spent the last few days meeting with Ro-fa Ben-Ami in therapy sessions, discussing the ordeal but he wasn’t finding any sense to any of it. 

“There you are.” A calm voice said above him. He looked up to see the perfect assuring smile coming from Commander Michael Stanton. Normally he would have blushed at the presence of Professor McSteamy except now he felt nothing towards Challenger’s Second Officer and Chief Engineer. “Ezrah you do know you’re upside down?”

He nodded in reply. “Aye sir. It’s the sweet spot sir.”

“The what spot?” The engineer asked, confused at the designation he had given.

“It’s what Boomers call the part of the ship which is usually about halfway between the bow plate and the gravity-generator. I was told about it by a classmate of mine.” Alcott stated solemnly. “It’s meant to be one of the most peaceful places on a ship.”

Stanton looked around to find something to use to push himself off from.  As he did, he found himself flying through zero-g before catching the side and dropping down beside Alcott. “Cool place. I never knew about this before.” He said looking around before placing his eyes on the pilot. Immediately he found his heart sank in sympathy for the young man.  He had a glum expression slapped across his face. “How long have you been here?” He asked next, finding it awkward on how to engage him in discussion.

Alcott shrugged his shoulders. “A couple of hours, I think.”

Stanton just nodded. Out of those who had been kidnapped Alcott was the one they were most concerned with due to the type of torture he had experienced. Everyone had noticed that he had lost his youthful eagerness he had shown when they had launched. Captain Burton had met with Commanders Levesque and Stanton with Ben-Ami to discuss how they could help him. If they had been on Earth he would have been relieved of duty for compassionate leave, but as they were now several weeks from there, they needed to do something now to help him. Alcott had insisted he remained on active duty just like the others who had been kidnapped. He had attended all of his therapy sessions, but he still wasn’t appearing to be making progress in coming to terms with the trauma that inflicted him. Stanton had volunteered to talk to him, or to at least give him a shoulder to cry on. Alcott being a former pupil of his, Stanton felt responsible that he had to do something to help. Burton had thanked him and said if he needed support to let him know he would help as well but he didn’t want to overwhelm the ensign.

“Is it helping?” Stanton asked. “Being here.” He said, clarifying his point.

The pilot nodded sombrely. “Did Ro-fa Ben-Ami send you?” He asked after a minute of silence between them.

“No.” Stanton answered honestly as he brought his knees up to his chin and crossed his arms around his legs. That might not have been entirely true, the good doctor did recommend someone else talking with him, but it had been the captain that had wanted it to actually happen. “I just thought you could do with a friend right about now. I know Ensign Hathaway was looking for you in the mess hall earlier.” 

Alcott rubbed his face with both hands and then pushed his right hand through his flat hair. He appeared that the realisation he had been missing in engaging with his colleagues dawned on him.  “Was she annoyed with me?”

“No.” Stanton answered with a shack of his head. “More concerned about you.”

“Oh okay.” He replied quietly with a single nod of acceptance.

It was at that point that Stanton extended his left arm out and pulled Alcott in to him, something just clicked in his mind that he needed to make the gesture and it was all in good timing at that point Alcott broke down in to tears and accepted the embrace from his superior officer as he cried on his shoulder. “Just let it out Ezrah, tell me everything that’s on your mind and I promise it will stay between us.”


The door chime buzzed like a loud rude siren. It startled Hennessey from what he was studying from the comfort confines of his chair behind his desk. He got up and made his way over to the door and tapped the button on the side to unlock it and to see who it was.

“Jane.” He said, surprised to see her at his door.

“Ned.” She greeted him with a slight smile. “May I come in?”

He stood to the side to let her in. She stepped through the threshold and the door closed behind her. Hennessey remained where he was as she looked around his small living space. 

“It’s lovely, slightly smaller than the guest quarters mind you.” She stated.

“Thanks?” Hennessey replied, still unsure of what she was doing here. As such he took his glasses off and placed them in between his hands. “How can I help you?”

She seemed to be still focussed on the room and didn’t instantly reply to him but when she realised he had spoken she explained her visit. “I noticed that Captain Burton has assigned you to his landing party to join him and Secretary Campbell on Denobula.”

Ned nodded and took one step forward towards her. “That’s right, it’s standard procedure for the chief communication officer to join the captain for any diplomatic mission, in particular to ensure there is a backup in case the universal translators fail.”

“Let’s hope they don’t as that’ll cause a lot of issues in the first round of talks.” She remarked.

Tired of her beating around the bush, he got straight to the point. “Jane, what is this about?”

She took in a breath. “I just want to say, that is I wanted to see if,” She stumbled her words out. “It’s just I heard what happened to those on your crew who were kidnapped, and I just thought that…” She stopped as she struggled to find the words she wished to express.

“You thought what?” He asked, wanting to know where she was going with this line of enquiry. Was she going to ask how those affected were recovering? Which reminded him he must see Ensign Alcott; the young pilot had been one of those kidnapped and rumours had gone around the ship that he had suffered the most traumatic experience then the rest. In fact, Commander Stanton had asked him earlier if he had seen him when Hennessey was sharing a break with Ensign Hathaway. The Second Helmsman had expressed her concern at Alcott’s behaviour since his return and had told the Chief Engineer she was desperate to see him to see if he was okay. 

“I just…just…never mind.” Jane said, suspending his thoughts about Alcott, and in a flap, she began to walk towards the door. “I’m sorry for wasting your time, Ned.”

Just before she reached the door, he grabbed her gently by the arm. “Jane, what was this about?”

“It’s nothing. I just wanted to make sure you were okay and to say I hope we can work amicably for the sake of this mission.” She came back with.

He nodded and released his grip on her. “Okay.” He said and watched as she left his company. Bizarre he thought as he made his way back to his chair.  


Lieutenant Commander John Callahan had expected to see the usual armoury crewmembers on duty when he entered the Main Armoury, except they weren’t the only ones on duty. In the corner of the room sat Major Yu on a stall tinkering what looked like a MACO phase rifle. Callahan walked over to the weapon’s locker, keeping his gaze on the MACO as he picked up a phase pistol in its cover case and attached it to the side of his uniform. He locked the cabinet before making his way over to Yu.

“Problems?” He asked, disturbing her work.

Yu stopped and looked up at Callahan. She placed the tool she had been using down, sat up straight and rubbed the back of her neck with both her hands. “Problem.” She corrected him as she leant back down to look at the phase rifle she had taken apart. Currently its hard-shell covering was off, and its inside was fully exposed.

“Care to share?” He offered.

“On the Orion ship our weapons were instantly disabled by some sort of dampening field. I want to see if there’s a way of getting around that.” She shared. She looked back at the American officer. “But I’m not getting anywhere fast.” Yu looked over at Callahan’s appearance and realised he was wearing a field jacket over his standard Starfleet jumpsuit uniform. “Landing party duty?” She enquired as she reached for the cold mug of coffee that sat next to the rifle.

“Yeah, the Capt’n wants me to join him and the Secretary for the first meeting with Premier Norlox.” He replied. “I did suggest we bring a few MACOs, but the Secretary doesn’t want our presence to be too militarised.”

“Understandable.” Yu said in agreement. “Quite logical in fact, the Denobulans could take the presence of several well-armed and outfitted MACOs as a sign that we don’t trust them fully with our security.”

“Yeah, the Capt’n said the same thing. Somethin’ about us needin’ to show them we can work together around national security.” Callahan explained with a sense of not being completely on board with the idea. “How ya doin’ anyway Major?”

“I’m fine.” Viktoria said after giving out a huffing noise. “If I have to share my feelings with one more person about the whole Orion ordeal, I promise you sir I will punch someone in the noise.”

Callahan chuckled slightly at the Major’s response. “Fair enough, I was going to see if you were free later for a workout?”

Yu looked up at the man and nodded with a smile. “That sounds like a great plan, thank you Commander.”

“Eighteen hundred hours sound good?”

“Sounds perfect.”

“Great, see you then.” Callahan said before waving her off as he left the armoury.

Yu returned to her project, determined to be able to use her weapon next time she engaged the Orions.


Captain Burton stepped off the lift onto Challenger’s bridge with Secretary Campbell in tow and automatically saw the image of Denobula on the main screen. A sick feeling rose through his stomach, the memories of being here last began to surface in his thoughts. 

Ros.

“We’re slowly approaching Denobula captain and have already received authorisation to enter orbit.” Commander Levesque spoke as she stood from his chair in the middle of the bridge, interrupting his train of thought. “Shuttlepod One is prepped and ready to take you all down there.”

“Thank you, Nicole.” Burton responded and walked forward to stand behind Ensign Hathaway at the helm, still staring at the image. “Take us into orbit Ensign, let’s make a good first impression to our friends down there.” He said with a smile and a strong conviction that this time when he left Denobula he wouldn’t be leaving any bad ghosts behind him.