Fleeing exhausted and nauseous, Commander Levesque had to swiftly run out of Shuttlepod Two and empty her stomach for the third time that morning. She hadn’t been feeling well ever since they made orbit and was blaming the Andorian cuisine that wasn’t sitting right on her stomach. She had refused treatment from the Andorian doctor (or chirurgeon as they called them) stating she would get over it, but she was far from that. Unfortunately for her, others had seen it.
“Commander, are you okay?” T’Plau had asked her as she chased after the first officer once she had exited the shuttle at warp speed.
She nodded and put her hand up to tell her to give her some privacy for a moment to sort herself out. Once she was feeling almost human again, she wiped the back of her against her mouth. “I’m fine,” She groggily said.
The chief armoury looked at her, not convinced of her statement. “Really?”
“I think it’s just a bug I’ve caught or some food poisoning.” She remarked. Until now she had been able to manage it, yet this morning when she awoke, she had been emptying her stomach for a good hour or so before reporting to the hanger bay to visit the planet.
“Maybe you should get Doctor Ben-Ami to look at you?” She offered with some sympathy in her Vulcan voice.
“Can’t,” Levesque remarked. “She’s still overseeing the packing away of the camp.”
T’Plau raised her eyebrow at her. “A job that Major Yu could easily take over while Ben-Ami examined you.” Levesque didn’t have a chance to protest as she continued. “The medical tent is still up.” She added and gestured in the direction of the medical tent to see if the doctor was available. Levesque nodded in agreement and followed the Vulcan woman over.
“New Mars?” Burton chuckled a bit as he looked around the campsite that his crew had put together and had lived in for almost a month now. The sun was shining brightly down on the encampment as his crew started to take down what had been their shelter. Around him smiling faces were present as he and Major Yu walked around. Nine days ago, when the Avenkerev arrived in orbit (with Challenger in tow) they had made contact with the Challenger survivors and had even detected the local inhabitants. The first shuttles down to the encampment had been met with open arms and cheers. Burton, Levesque, Stanton and T’Plau had visited their crewmates alongside Commander Anthi and some of her crew. They had been told about the inhabitants being pre-warp and not wanting to engage with “off-worlders”. It had been agreed that both crews would work hard to avoid any contact with the Ardanans while they removed their presence from their world. Now as they made the final preparations to leave the world behind, Burton cursed their situation and the need to get back home. Their quick departure prevented them from really exploring this world and he was completely disappointed at the inability to make first contact with these Ardanans himself. He had read Conrad’s report about the fact that they had the knowledge to create a warp drive but refused to use it to take them beyond their world. Commander Anthi and he had agreed that it wasn’t worth creating another interstellar incident for the Coalition to deal with. The news about the war with the Romulans had not been shared with either crew. Anthi had been wise enough not to share it with anyone, apart from Burton of course. Both commanding officers had discussed when to tell them they also wanted to cut their losses in this area of space and head back to friendly territory as soon as possible. The Deltan-Carreon conflict was one that they couldn’t help with right now. On top of that it was unlikely that either side would be able to fight the other. They were now licking their wounds and rebuilding what they had lost. Burton, as well as Levesque, were still feeling bitter over how the Deltan leader had used them as a ticking bomb against the Carreon armada.
“It was either that or New Vulcan and the crew felt New Mars seemed more homelike.” Yu responded to her captain. “No offence towards Sub Commander T’Plau and the Vulcans sir.”
He chuckled at that too. “I’ll keep that between us Major.” Burton said. “Unfortunately, it’s taken us nine days to recover the last of the Challenger’s escape pods. By tomorrow we’ll be back on the road home.”
Yu nodded with his assessment. “However not under our own sails.”
Wincing at her remark, Burton understood why she said it though. “Sadly not.”
The loss of the ship’s warp core had been a massive blow and once it was shared with the survivors the look of horror on their faces had been one image that Burton would never get out of his mind so quickly. Fortunately for them, the Avenkerev would tow them all the way back to Earth for their repairs and refits. Neither Anthi nor Burton had made contact with either the Imperial Guard or Starfleet to give them an update. They had felt that keeping a radio silence for now would be the best thing until they got closer to their homes.
“Even with all of this mess we’ve been in for almost three months now, we can happily say that our entire crew have survived it sir. We’ve pushed the limits of space exploration and made first contacts with three new races we obviously needed to be aware of. We’ve also prevented another possible Romulan incursion, or at the least we’ve stopped them from having a means of taking advantage of others for their own political gains.” Yu stated.
“That’s all fair to say Major, but it’s come with its own costs. Too many people have lost their lives because of them.” He replied.
“You are right sir, yet we’re still here and that’s not no mean feat considering the circumstances.” Yu said, trying to remain positive. She paused while walking and saw something in the corner of her eye. “And I’m pretty sure they won’t argue with me either sir.”
Burton looked over at what she had stopped for and smiled slightly at the sight. Ensign Stewart had been unable to visit the planet as he was helping the Avenkerev’s medical staff in checking over the survivors, while Corporal Jenkins had been with the rest of the MACOs who were tasked with taking down the encampment. Stewart had finally arrived with the recent shuttle and both were finally reunited. They stood together hugging each other tightly.
“So, I heard a rumour they got engaged?” Burton stated as Yu and he started to move off again.
“You’ll be right on that one sir.” Yu answered. “Just be prepared for them to ask you to conduct the ceremony.”
Burton chuckled as they moved towards one of the last tents that remained up. “Now that’s one job as a captain I’ll be happy to conduct right now.”
“Heads up!” Hennessey shouted towards Lawson.
Lawson looked up from the case she had been packing up. She was finally happy to put all of her utensils away and take them back to the Challenger and not to use them around a campfire again. Instantly she caught a pack of playing cards flying in the air in her direction and looked up to see Ensign Hennessey approaching her. “What are these for Ned?” She asked, waving the pack of playing cards at him.
“I’m returning them to you.” He explained. “My time in office as moral officer is at an end and I’m more than happy to return it back to you!”
Lawson chuckled at the communication officer. “And I humbly accept the transfer of power back to me.” She put the cards in the case and closed the lid before giving it over to a crewmember that was packing the shuttlepod with their gear. “However, from what I hear about the state the ship is still in, I may need to call on your morale boosting expertise!”
“Well let’s hope now that all of Commander Stanton’s engineers have returned to the ship that they’ll be able to fix most of it before we get home.” Hennessey said. “I’m sure they’ll get it back to its normal happy looking place.”
“Normal perhaps, but I doubt most of our crew will consider it a happy environment just yet.” Lawson said.
“I don’t know, perhaps the laughter of children will change that.” Hennessey said as he gestured at the sight of the two Ardanan orphans they had been caring for. Edro and Roburn were being taken to see Captain Burton with Sergeant Iyer and Ensign Hathaway in one of the last remaining standing tents.
Lawson looked at the boys with the same hope that many of the other survivors had. They were hoping that Captain Burton would agree to bring the boys with them and away from this planet that treated them like slaves. “You think he’ll say yes?” Lawson asked Hennessey.
“Burton’s a compassionate man. I can’t see him saying no.” Hennessey stated.
“He’s also got to weigh up the political ramifications of this. Starfleet Command may not like the idea of Challenger returning with some possible unwelcome guests.” Lawson said.
“Well thankfully one of their carers is related to the Commander-in-Chief.” Hennessey said before looking back down at what Lawson was packing. “Need a spare of hands to finish off here?” He offered.
Lawson shook her head out of her gaze as the boys were led into the tent with Iyer and Hathaway. “Yes please.” She gracefully accepted.
“Captain Burton, please meet Edro and Roburn.” Ben-Ami said as Iyer and Hathaway ushered the two Ardanan boys in front of him. “Edro and Roburn, this is our leader, Captain Lloyd Burton.”
Burton automatically gave them a friendly smile and bent his knees down to greet the boys with a handshake. “So, these are the two famous cave explorers I’ve heard so much about?” He rhetorically asked. “Boys it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
They both replied with smiles and shook the captain’s hand in return. He gestured for them to come join him by sitting on a few chairs that were still left up. Yu and Ben-Ami sat down with them while Hathaway and Iyer just stood close by.
“Boys I understand you would like to come with us?” Burton asked them.
“Yes, please sir.” Edro responded on behalf of both him and his brother.
“Well before I make a decision I need to know if you understand that we live on a powerful ship that flies through the stars. We don’t come from this world and we will be leaving it very soon.” Burton explained. “That means if you come with us then it is very unlikely, we will ever return to your world so soon. You’ll be leaving your people behind.”
Edro nodded in acknowledgement. Ben-Ami had guessed that Edro was close to being fourteen in Earth years while Roburn was close to six. “I know that sir, but we don’t have anywhere to go.”
Burton winced slightly at that. He wanted Edro to understand there were other options for them. “Well Edro we wouldn’t leave you and Roburn here on this island alone. If you wanted to stay then we would take you to another village or even one of the cloud cities, perhaps Stratos.”
Edro shook his head. “We wouldn’t be welcomed anywhere sir. We would either be sent back down the mines or become servants to some noble family. Our parents worked hard so that neither my brother nor I would end up doing such a thing. They were saving their fortunes so they could find us a place on Stratos. My father was an artist and would have become wealthy to look after us and send us to school.”
Burton took in a breath through his nose and looked to the others. He knew what they were all thinking. He stood up and paced for a few seconds as he considered his options. “Edro we left our world to be explorers, so that we could meet new civilisations, to discover new wonders but we didn’t come out here to play with people’s lives.” Burton turned to look at the two boys. “And that’s something I need to remind myself every day.” Instantly he saw his officers beginning to protest in their body language and facial expressions. “That said though I need to believe that if two Human children were the only survivors from their own settlement’s destruction then if anyone found them, then they would care for them.” He stepped back to where the boys sat and took back his chair. “I would lose what it means to be Human if I left you behind knowing what would happen. I could no longer be a Starfleet captain, because we’re not just out here to explore, but when someone needs help then it’s in our nature to help them and that’s what we are doing here today. It’ll be our pleasure to have you join us on Challenger.” He gave them a smile.
Edro’s eyes lit up like a Christmas tree at the end of the captain’s speech and automatically he jumped out of his seat and leapt onto Burton’s lap and hugged him. Roburn jumped off his seat and followed his brother. “Thank you so much sir.” Edro whispered into Burton’s ear while the others in the tent gave out a little cheer at the captain’s decision.
“You’re both welcome.” Burton said, hugging them. Once they had let go of him, Burton looked at Iyer. “Rupesh, I hear that Angela and you have been taking care of the boys?”
Iyer nodded in acknowledgement, as he stood closer to the helm officer. “We have sir and we’ve spoken about it and we are more than happy to carry on being their guardians while they are with us.”
Hathaway agreed. “Rupesh and I are prepared to arrange whatever we need to do to take care of them.”
“And I believe a number of the crew would also be happy to help out too.” Ben-Ami added.
Burton stood up. “Then let’s get them packed and back to the ship before the next shuttlepod departs.”
“Aye sir.” Iyer said with joy and he quickly ushered the boys out of the tent with Hathaway following.
Burton watched them leave the tent and stood back up as some MACOs came in to begin taking out what was left in the tent. Yu began giving out orders, allowing for Burton and Ben-Ami to walk outside without interrupting their efforts.
“That was a tough decision sir, but well done.” Ben-Ami congratulated him as they walked out of the tent’s doorway.
“Thank you, but I’m not sure what the fallout will be once we return to Earth.” Burton stated. “I’m not sure how I’m going to explain it to the brass.”
“I’m sure you’ll think of something.” Ben-Ami said as they walked across the almost naked campsite. “They have to see that the other choice you had was creating an interstellar incident with a pre-warp civilisation who had categorically told us not to get in touch with them again. The freedom of two boys is a small price to pay for being told off by the admiralty. You’ll be fine sir.”
Burton nodded in appreciation. “Oh,” He said after a few seconds, pausing and looking around to see if he could see someone. “Where did Nicole and T’Plau end up? I thought they were going to join us for that?”
“Well sir,” Ben-Ami began, coughing as she delayed her answer. “Commander Levesque wasn’t well and Sub Commander T’Plau took her back to the ship to rest.”
Frowning, Burton became worried at the news of his first officer’s ill health. “Nothing too serious I hope?”
“No, no,” Ben-Ami stuttered. “I think it’s exhaustion and a few other factors related to what stress we’ve been under. I’m pretty certain she’s just pushed herself too far, but I will check up on her when we get back soon.”
Burton wasn’t completely convinced at first but decided to relent. He was too tired to find out if Ben-Ami was covering something up. However, knowing Levesque as well as he did, she was quite a proud and private person when it came to her health. She had told him once she hated being ill, especially if it affected her work. She had most likely hidden her condition to him just so he didn’t think she was letting him down. “Understood.” He said as they waded through some grass that reached up to their knees. “Well the sooner we leave here the better. I’m eager to get back on the road home.”
“You won’t hear an argument from me sir about that. It was a nice vacation spot with a beautiful skyline, but nothing quite beats seeing stars warp pass you while you sleep!” Ben-Ami stated as they made their way over to one of the shuttlepods that had landed to take them back to Challenger.