“We’re dropping out of warp.” Conrad announced from the helm.
Burton had been standing at the rear of the bridge in the situation room when his pilot had spoken. He had been reviewing all of the latest information on the Romulan war that Admiral Gardner had sent him. Standing there with him studying the data too were Commanders Levesque, Stanton and Sub Commander T’Plau. Every so often he had caught Levesque’s eye, neither of them being able to stop smiling at the idea they were going to become parents in the near future. It had changed everything, especially how he looked at life now. He had heard that parenthood changed people, but he wasn’t expecting it to be so sudden like this. Looking at Levesque again he noticed that most recently she was constantly holding on to her stomach in a protective manner. He found the act adorable.
Two nights ago, they had stayed up talking about the whole situation after they had briefed the senior staff about their news. By now it had gone around the entire crew and both were getting constant congratulations from everyone they passed in the corridors. They had made it quite clear to their crew that they were not in a romantic relationship with each other but were pleased to be having the triplets. That night they had spoken about how they would try to raise the children, neither of them being able to actually come up with a plan that would mean they could remain on Challenger. Overall though they were happy to do this with each other; they felt they could be two friends who had children together. Levesque had said she would take some time to think about everything once they arrived on Earth. They had also said they would make Admiral Gardner aware of their situation and circumstances surrounding how it all happened. They would do it once Challenger was docked at the Obama Repair Facility.
Burton and his senior staff had just finished reading the news of how the Romulans were using their telepresence computer virus on Klingon vessels to attack allied shipping. It would seem that everything Challenger had endured recently was part of some grand Romulan scheme to destabilise the peace in the region. Burton eventually ignored all the information on the screens before them and indicated for them to head back to the main area of the bridge. As they walked away Sub Commander T’Plau logged off the computer screens and placed them all in lockdown standby mode.
“Ned, please inform Commander Anthi she can disengage her tractor beam.” Burton commanded as he took his chair.
Hennessey nodded and sent the message to their Andorian saviours. After a few seconds he got a response. “Commander Anthi has said they’ll escort us all the way into Earth orbit.”
“Send her our thanks.” Burton said before looking down at Conrad. “Jack, take us to full impulse and lay a course for the Obama Repair Facility.”
“Aye sir.” The helm officer replied.
Challenger sped away at sub-light speeds across the Sol system, quickly passing the outer planets before approaching Mars.
“Sir we’ve got an incoming call from Starfleet Command Headquarters, it is Fleet Admiral Hathaway.” Hennessey stated.
Burton was impressed to hear the Starfleet Commander-in-Chief was calling them. “Put her up.”
Hennessey accepted his orders and transferred the call directly to the bridge’s main viewscreen. The visual image of Fleet Admiral Hathaway stood in the Hub, the main area of the day-to-day operations of Starfleet. “Welcome home Captain Burton.” She said in her stern British accent.
A shiver went down Burton’s spine. The way she spoke reminded him of his mother, but the sentiment of being welcomed home after what they had to go through recently was nice to hear. “Thank you, ma’am, we’re glad to be back.”
“You’re to proceed to the repair yards at once.” She commanded “Our engineers believe it will take at least two weeks for Challenger to be restored to her former glory. As such I am relieving your crew of duty and ordering you all to take some well-deserved R and R.”
“We appreciate that ma’am.” Burton said sincerely with a smile.
Hathaway hesitated for a second. “Captain, there is also a personal matter I need to discuss with you.”
Burton got worried when she said that to him. He quickly looked to Levesque and back to the admiral. Did she know about Levesque’s unexpected pregnancy? If so, how? “Ma’am?” He said, seeking clarification.
“It involves your father, captain.” Hathaway said in a more compassionate manner, despite still sounding professional. “Let us speak in privacy.”
Burton was now worried. He rose from his chair and just nodded. He gestured for Levesque to take over from him as Hennessey transferred the call to his ready room. Burton entered the office and activated his desktop terminal. Hathaway appeared after her call was put through to him.
“Captain, I am truly sorry to tell you this, but your father died recently.” Hathaway said, still in her compassionate tone. “Please accept my deepest condolences.”
Burton felt a sudden pain hit his chest after she spoke. He wanted to know more. “How did he die?” He asked, fighting back the tears that were building up.
“There was an explosion on a private shuttle that he was on. Our investigators believe it to be an accident.” She answered. The Starfleet leader had noticed that Burton was in distress, as such she quickly continued. “I felt it was best to tell you once you arrived in the Sol system. Your father and I had met on a number of occasions over the course of our careers and I found him to be truly inspiring. Earth has lost one of its finest scientific minds.”
Burton just nodded sombrely. “I appreciate you telling me ma’am, thank you.”
“I know your mother and siblings are eager to see you. I believe you also have a nephew to meet for the first time. Go to them the moment you are able to, your debriefings here at headquarters can wait.” Hathaway stated.
“I will. Thank you, admiral.”
“My deepest apologies again.” She paused before closing the call. “Hathaway out.”
The screen went blank and Burton sat back in his chair and allowed the tears to now fall. He wanted to know more, but right now he just wanted to see his family.
An hour had passed, and Captain Burton hadn’t come out of his ready room for some time. Commander Stanton kept on looking towards the entrance of the office from the engineering station, becoming anxious about what was going on to keep the captain locked up.
“Are you sure Ned the call has finished?” Stanton now asked the communications officer.
Hennessey replied with a single nod after looking at the computer display beside him. “I’m sure sir. The admiral cut the channel from her end over fifty-seven and half minutes ago.”
Stanton looked at Levesque. “Something big has happened.” He said.
Levesque had been sitting in the centre chair and was using the time to read more on what had happened so far with the war. She looked up at the chief engineer. “He’ll come out when he’s ready too.”
“I don’t think this is one of those times Nicole.” He remarked. “The admiral had a serious look on her face when she said she had a private matter to discuss with Lloyd about his father.”
“Then you should respect his privacy.” Sub Commander T’Plau interjected from her position at the tactical station. “The captain does not have to share everything with us.”
“He shared with us that he got Commander Levesque pregnant.” Stanton stated.
“Hey!” Levesque defended herself. “This isn’t the time and place for that Commander.” She paused in her speech. “And for the record he didn’t get me pregnant, on purpose. It’s your fault you rushed us back to the ship via the transporter.”
Before Stanton could protest, he was interrupted. “Commander Levesque has a logical point to her argument.” T’Plau added.
“Okay, how many times do I have to apologise?” Stanton said with a smile. Since the news of Levesque’s pregnancy had become public knowledge on the ship, he had been jokingly told on numerous occasions that it was his fault it had happened. “I’ll make it up to you by being godfather!”
“Good, I’m glad we can call on you for babysitting duties!” Levesque said in a deadpan expression.
Stanton shook his head and got out of his seat.
“Where are you going?” Levesque asked him.
“To see if our captain is okay.” Stanton said, “Let me do this Nicole, please.”
She sighed and silently nodded at him. She knew he was right, and Stanton was probably the best person right now to speak to Burton beside her. Since she had told him about her pregnancy their relationships had changed dramatically. She wasn’t certain where it was going now.
Stanton walked straight in to find Burton leaning with his right arm up against the ceiling bulkhead, staring out of his office’s window. His posture was almost statuesque. “Sir, is everything okay?” Stanton asked after coughing once, he didn’t want to startle his commanding officer.
Burton only nodded and relaxed from his position. Still keeping his back to the chief engineer, he wiped his face with the back of his free hand before turning around. “Yeah, I’m fine Michael, thank you.”
Stanton was slightly surprised to see Burton with red tear stained cheeks and watery eyes. “Obviously you’re not Lloyd.” He remarked, stepping close to Burton. “What’s happened?”
“It’s my father,” Burton answered as he pushed the tears further away. His attempts at remaining calm were slowly failing. “He was killed in a shuttle explosion.”
“Oh Lloyd, I’m so sorry.” Stanton said, closing the gap further and embracing him into a hug. “Is that what Hathaway informed you of?”
Burton just nodded again as he returned the embrace.
“Do you want me to contact anyone for you?” Stanton asked after letting go of Burton and guiding him to his desk chair.
Burton spoke, shaking his head in response to Stanton’s question. “Once we’re docked, I’m planning to see my family as soon as I can.” He then sat down and wiped his face again.
Stanton sat on the edge of the desk. “Do they know how it happened?”
“Apparently there was an overload in the shuttle’s engines as it powered up. There were no warning signs, it just happened.” Burton described.
“Look you don’t need to worry about the ship, we’re home safe now so the rest of us can deal with the handover to the repair teams and in a fortnight’s time Challenger will be as brand new just like when we took her out for her first spin!” Stanton stated, trying to make things easier for his captain.
“Thanks Michael, I appreciate it.” Burton said, attempting to smile in gratitude for Stanton’s support, but there was nothing the engineer could say that would make him feel any better. He felt like his heart had been ripped from his chest. He just wanted to return home as soon as he could.
Slowly walking down the corridors of E deck, Levesque was feeling quite sombre in her mood. She approached the big hatch for main engineering. Forcing the door forward after pulling on the lever, she made her way into the heart of the ship. It wasn’t as busy as she had expected it to be.
Since docking at the Obama Repair Facility three hours ago, most of the crew had departed from the ship to begin their breaks per their orders from Fleet Admiral Hathaway. Levesque had seen Captain Burton off on one of the first transports. When Stanton had told her Burton’s news regarding his father her heart had gone out to him. Burton didn’t look like the man he had been before the admiral’s call. Burton on many occasions had spoken fondly of his father and how close he was with him. The loss of a parent on anyone was a serious toll to endure. Levesque was thankful that she still had her parents. Burton had promised to be there for her to help sort out her pregnancy issue, but she had told him not to worry about it right now and to be with his family. She had promised to keep him updated with any developments though.
Levesque soon found Stanton, who she had journeyed to see, standing on the upper level. He was adjusting some controls on the matter induction coils. She made her way over to him via the access ladder. “Michael.” She called as she reached the upper section.
Stanton automatically looked up from where he was working upon hearing his name. “Nicole, you okay?” He asked before returning to his work.
She approached him. “I am, but I’ve come to tell you that your request to stay on board has been denied.”
“What?” He protested as he got from his crouching position. “Why?”
“Orders from Fleet Admiral Hathaway, she doesn’t want any of us on Challenger.” Levesque stated. “We’re to take a break!”
Stanton sighed. “I really wanted to supervise the installation of the new warp core.”
“I understand; however, those are our orders. Anyway, you and your team will have a few days before we re-launch to check over all the new installed systems.” Levesque said. “Surely you want to take this time to see Alex?”
He nodded. “I do, but the Discovery isn’t due back to Earth for another four more days.”
“Then go see the rest of your family or friends!” Levesque suggested. “Or go find a nice beach somewhere Michael and relax on it. You deserve it, after all you’ve done to keep this ship together!” She rubbed his shoulder in a friendly manner and smiled at him.
Stanton surrendered and agreed with her orders. “Understood.” He said playfully. “What are your plans?”
Levesque sighed as she rested against the wall and crossed her arms. “I’ve got a couple of appointments to go to, then I’m planning to see my folks in Napa. I’ll probably stay with my sister Claudia at her vineyard. Why don’t you come and join me at some point?”
Stanton smiled at the gesture. “Thanks Nicole, that would be great.”
They were both interrupted by the arrival of Ben-Ami who cleared her throat from the level below them. “Sorry to disturb you both, but Commander Levesque can I have a word please?”
After telling Stanton she expected to see him on the next transport off the ship, Levesque climbed down from the upper level and joined Ben-Ami for a walk outside main engineering.
“So, what’s up Kefira?” Levesque enquired when they were alone in the corridor.
“I’ve been discussing your pregnancy with some of my colleagues at Starfleet Medical and obviously many of them are baffled at how the conception occurred as it’s entirely new territory for them. None of them know where to start in working on a method of checking that the pregnancy is developing normally.” Ben-Ami remarked.
“That’s not helpful Kefira.” Levesque said with concern, instinctively she placed her hand over her small bump.
“I know, so I’m pursuing a few of my old professors from the University of Tel Aviv. One of them was part of Emory Erickson’s team when he did his first trials of the transporter. She’s intrigued with your case, so I’m planning to visit her and her husband for a few days. They’re both experts who I think may be able to give us helpful insights into this.” Ben-Ami stated. “If you want, you can join me. Tel Aviv is a beautiful city.”
Levesque smiled at the offer from the doctor. “Thanks Kefira, but I’m really not in the mood to sit in any more labs or hospitals, no offence. I really want to visit my family.”
“I understand. I’ll keep you posted if I find anything useful.” The doctor said after nodding. She squeezed Levesque’s left arm gently before walking away from the first officer.
Slowly and carefully, Sub Commander T’Plau placed the final item of clothing into her holdall. She pushed the folded-up garment gently so she could close the zipper but didn’t apply too much force as she wanted to avoid crushing some of her other belongings in the bag. She gazed around her quarters and to see if there was anything else that she needed to bring. Pleased that she had not missed an item, she began leaning down to pick up the black holdall and small suitcase that had Challenger’s insignia on it when her door chime went off. She ceased her movement and looked over at the entrance to her room.
“Yes, enter.” She answered swiftly.
Ensign Hennessey stepped through the doorway once it had opened, carrying a computer tablet in his hands. “Ah good timing.” He spoke when he noticed her packed bags sitting on her bed. He handed over the device in his hands towards her. “This just came through for you. I wasn’t sure if you had left yet, so I ran down here to deliver it to you.”
T’Plau bowed slightly in gratitude for his rapid response to her message. “I appreciate your promptness.” She took the tablet and entered her access codes. As she logged in, she turned around, placing her back towards the chief communication officer as she read the message. A frown began to appear on her face and Hennessey noticed it forming from her reflection in the nearby hanging mirror.
“Everything all okay ma’am? I noticed it was marked as personal and urgent.” He said, offering friendly support.
Instantly after he spoke T’Plau span on her heels. She did her best not to show her frustration at his attempt to intrude on her privacy. “Thank you Mister Hennessey, you’re dismissed.”
He hesitated at first but nodded in respect. “Of course, ma’am. Have a safe trip.” Hennessey offered before walking out.
As soon as the door closed behind him, she looked back down at the message that she had been sent. She read the title of the message one more time and was certainly curious to know why the Vulcan High Command had decided to promote her and reassign her off from Challenger.
Yanking on his holdall’s strap for the third time since leaving his quarters, Ensign Conrad was going to be glad to be getting off Challenger so soon. He was more than happy to go somewhere else and forget about the last few months, especially the past fortnight. He had thrown himself into his work so he could avoid feeling the pain of his breakup with Martha. He could no longer stand how much she had changed since their mission to Delta. The woman he had fallen in love with had returned a complete stranger to him. He had considered the possibility that he had changed as well, but he was definitely sure that she wasn’t her old self. He had tried to be supportive of her, especially as she had felt so awful after publicly opposing Commander Levesque in her decision to help the Deltans with their fight against the Carreons (it hadn’t helped when it was revealed their fight had been started and manipulated by the Romulans). Habiba had returned to the ship in a bitter depressed mood with a sense of self-destructiveness since then. She had gone through so many mood swings and in the end Conrad had enough. He tried to be reasonable and fair to her. He had spent many long nights with her talking everything through, particularly talking about the relationships she had ruined from her decision, despite everything he said or did was never right or helpful in her eyes. He was certain there was something more to it and in the end, he felt like she was pushing him away. Eventually he had just given up on their relationship and after another massive argument with her he had called it a day to what they had. Since that evening when he had walked out on her a bitter taste had remained with him. He was annoyed with himself for not trying harder with their relationship, but his friends had told him he couldn’t have done any more for her.
Walking along the starboard corridor of E deck, Conrad was on his way to meet with his friends in the mess hall before they all left Challenger. He was looking forward to the break and getting away from the ship for a bit. Fortunately for everyone Fleet Admiral Hathaway had organised for the crew’s debriefing sessions to take place at the end of the two-week break. Captain Burton had described the Starfleet Commander-in-Chief being eager to allow everyone to take a vacation while the ship was repaired and refitted. Conrad had found the notion of taking a holiday while their nation was at war an odd one though. Even Angela Hathaway, who was the admiral’s niece, had said it was odd for her aunt to say such a thing and wondered if there was more going on than what was being said to them. Nevertheless, everyone was quickly leaving the ship to take up the opportunity to escape from the madness, even if it was for a short time.
Entering the mess hall now, he was pleased to see his collective group of friends all huddled around one corner of the room. All of them were out of their uniforms and wearing casual civilian attire.
“There you are Jacky!” Trommler called him over and gestured for the pilot to join them where they stood.
Conrad smiled at his MACO’s friend’s use of his nickname. Conrad had been called Jacky by his grandparents when he was growing up and had hated it. However, hearing Trommler call him it sounded different. The soldier had quickly become his best friend and had spent almost every free time with him since his breakup with Habiba.
“So, is everyone here Trommo?” Conrad asked as he approached the group. He could see almost everyone there.
“Ja.” Trommler replied in his native German accent as he pulled Conrad under his arm in a protective manner.
“See I told you they would end up together!” Ensign Cortez playfully whispered from where she stood in the group towards Hathaway.
“Hey!” Trommler said in defence of his gesture towards the female armoury office. “I’m just sharing the Trommo love. Ladies there’s plenty to go around.”
“Sometimes too much Luis.” Ensign Stewart replied from where he sat on the edge of the table with his arms around his fiancé, who stood in between his legs.
The group laughed at the banter floating in between them.
“Right so is everyone clear on the times and locations of when we’ll meet up?” Corporal Jenkins asked, looking around the group.
“Yeah, yeah.” Larsen said as he zipped up his jacket that he wore. “We’ll meet in five days’ time in Hastings before starting your joint-bachelor party.”
Jenkins nodded in confirmation. “Yep, my folks have just expanded their hotel, so we can all stay in. They’re expecting you all so don’t be late!”
Eventually after a few more minutes of standing around and finalising their plans for Jenkins and Stewart’s joint-event to celebrate their upcoming nuptials, the group began to disperse and leave the room.
“Ready?” Trommler asked his friend as he picked up his own bag off from the deck plating.
Conrad nodded after snapping out of his gaze. He had completely disengaged from the group conversation after a few minutes. His mind had drifted off in thinking about his breakup with Martha.
“I can’t wait to hit the Gold Coast! I haven’t been to Australia since my initial training.” Trommler said, sounding like an excited child on Christmas Day.
“Yeah, the city is an amazing place.” Conrad replied. “You’ll love the waves too.”
“Five days of sun, sea and amazing beaches! What more could we ask for?” Trommler said remaining excited for their holiday. The two of them had found out months ago they both shared a passion in surfing and had decided before joining the others for the joint bachelor party they would go to the Gold Coast and spend a few days surfing and sunbathing. Everyone else would be visiting families and friends. It was going to be a welcome distraction for Conrad. If he had time at the end of his holiday, he would go home to Tycho City and visit his parents on the Moon.
A shiver went down his spine as he took one more glance around the room, eventually he gave up hoping that Martha would appear, apologise and try to get back with him. Nonetheless it didn’t happen and for the first time since their breakup he didn’t actually feel as disappointed as he had previously.
“Gold Coast here we come!” He said to Trommler as they departed, trying to hype himself up for their vacation.
Packing the last of her items into her holdall, Major Yu looked around her office one more time to double check she hadn’t forgotten anything. Pleased she gathered everything she wanted to take with her, she picked up her bag and chucked it over her right shoulder. She walked towards the door and tapped the button by it to turn off the lights before opening it with the access button underneath. Stepping through the now opened doorway, she walked through the MACO briefing room and was surprised to see Staff Sergeant Iyer emptying his locker and loading his items into a similar holdall she had with the ship’s insignia on the side of it.
“Rupesh, I thought you left in the first transport?” She remarked when he looked at her after hearing her enter the room.
He shook his head. “I was planning to ma’am, but I had a bit more packing to do.”
Yu sighed; she knew this could be the last time she saw him. “Looks like you’re taking everything with you?” She said, hoping that he wouldn’t confirm her fears.
Iyer just gave her a weak smile in reply before carrying on with his activity.
Yu placed her holdall on top of the briefing table and walked over to the sergeant. She knew he was taking his responsibilities as guardian of the two Ardanan boys seriously. She wondered just how much he was planning to sacrifice for them. “Rupesh,” She began with, he stopped what he was doing but didn’t turn around to face her. “I just want you to know that whatever you decide to do, you have my absolute support and it has been an honour serving alongside you.”
Smiling at her words, he now turned around to look at her. He extended his hand towards her to shake it. “Thank you, ma’am. It has been an honour serving with you too.”
After shaking his hand, Yu picked her bag back up and left F deck, heading towards the launch bay to make her own escape back home to Canada. Deep down she hoped that wasn’t going to be the last time she saw Iyer.