Deciding he did not want to leave his office since reporting for duty, Fleet Captain Burton had kept to himself since their mission in Romulan space had completed. Nevertheless the taste of victory was a bitter one. The loss of his first officer, pilot and MACO commander had devastated his crew. For the last few days since they had left the Bassen Rift and avoided the Romulan fleet, a solemn mood had swept across Challenger. For some reason since he woke up today, he truly felt alone. He had decided to postpone the memorial service until they returned home. Challenger and Discovery were now at warp four making their way home side by side. Like a pair of injured soldiers limping home, supporting one another up, the ships were going to be entering the Sol system any time soon. Burton had broken radio silence only an hour ago to update Starfleet Command with their news. Fleet Admiral Hathaway had congratulated him with their attack and had shared her sympathy at the news of hearing of their losses. Informing her that they had a Romulan database in their possession alongside further improvements to their countermeasures against the Romulan telepresence capturing device had given the admiral hope that this war may end soon for them. She had added though she wasn’t holding her breath on that matter. A sentiment that Burton had shared with her.
The door chime went off and Burton took a moment before answering it. “Come in.” He said in a sombre tone.
The door hissed open to the right allowing his yeoman to enter. “Sorry to disturb you sir.” Harris stated as he walked in, holding a tablet in his hands. “But Lieutenant Commander Sandoval asked me to bring you this.” Handing the tablet in his hand over to his captain, Harris remained quiet thereafter.
“Thank you Jamie.” Burton replied as he activated the device and took a brief glance over it. Straight away he could see how his Gamma Shift Watch Officer, who was stepping up to help out since Stanton’s loss, had ensured that the crew were giving time to do their work but also space to deal with their losses. “Looks fine.” He said after handing it back to the young enlisted officer. “Anything else?”
Harris shook his head in response and then stopped. “Actually sir, there is something, if I could speak freely?”
Leaning back in his chair at his desk, Burton nodded. “Of course Jamie. What is it?”
Taking the courage to speak up, Harris shared something that Burton wasn’t expecting. “Just to say sir, that the entire crew is behind you and that even though we’ve lost Commander Stanton, Major Yu and Jack…” He paused, “Frankly sir, none of us blame you as we all knew that they loved their jobs and being part of our crew. So please do not feel you need to distance yourself from any of us. We’re with you and we would follow you to the end of the universe and back if we had to.”
Smiling slightly at the shared sentiment. “I appreciate that.” Burton remarked. “I truly do, but it doesn’t make their losses any easier. Thank you Jamie.”
Harris understood that the captain got what he had shared and left the room to leave him to be on his own.
The mess hall was so silent that evening. It had been for days now. Barely anyone spoke when mealtimes were occurring between shifts. Standing among her crewmates, Chef Lawson couldn’t believe what she was witnessing. The crew had been through a lot harder situations since they had been assembled at the start of the year, but this mission had appeared to knock them back significantly.
Interrupted with her thoughts by the arrival of Lieutenant Habiba, Lawson walked across the room away from the serving table, leaving one of her stewards to take over. Habiba had been in sickbay since their return, undergoing treatment under Ro-fa Ben-Ami. She had been injured on the Prowler and her trip through the transporter had been traumatic. It was good to see her up and about. Standing in civilian attire, the science officer appeared lost as she stood in the doorway.
“Hello Martha.” Lawson said, greeting her. “It’s good to see you out of sickbay.”
Looking at the cook and morale officer, Habiba smiled at the reception she got. “Thank you Chef.” She spoke softly. “It’s nice to be out too.”
“When are you back on duty?” Lawson asked as she put her arm around Habiba’s shoulders and walked her away from the door towards the serving table.
“Not for a couple more days at least.” Habiba answered. “I’m famished though. What’s on the menu tonight?”
“A range of pasta dishes or I can whip something else up which is a bit lighter if you fancy?” Lawson offered.
“No anything with pasta in it sounds good, thank you.” Habiba remarked in a quiet tone. “I take it that the mess hall has been like this for some time?”
Nodding in acknowledgement, Lawson explained how everyone was reacting to the loss of their shipmates. “I haven’t seen much of the captain either. He’s been eating alone in his office or quarters. It appears most people are doing that at the moment.”
“Jack would be devastated if he knew this was going on.” Habiba stated. “He was the life and soul of a room.”
“He sure was.” Said a soft male voice beside her.
Habiba looked around and saw Second Lieutenant Trommler standing there. He and Conrad had become fast best friends since Conrad had joined Challenger. “Luis.” Habiba said, noticing the grief that encompassed the tall, slim MACO soldier. He had not only lost his best friend but the woman that had led his unit. Stepping forward the science officer put her arms out and Trommler responded by embracing her.
“He loved you so much.” Trommler whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
Tears rolled down her cheeks as she carried on hugging the German soldier further. Habiba knew she had lost the love of her life and for the first time she felt comfortable again on Challenger as she stood there embracing Trommler. She finally had a chance to grieve too.
Standing on the upper level of main engineering, Lieutenant Sakura Masuko looked across, staring into nothing. Engineering was quiet, except the gentle vibrations coming off from the warp core. She had been standing there for some time, expecting for Commander Stanton to enter and hand out orders. Nevertheless she knew that wasn’t going to happen. He was gone and everything he had built with this engineering department felt empty without him there.
Behind her the noise of the lift elevating upwards towards her interrupted her thoughts. She turned around and saw Ensign Metaxas approach her. “What’s up Theo?”
“I’ve just finished my diagnostic of the transporter.” The Greek engineer reported.
The mention of the device that she had used to save the team that Stanton had been on gave her goosebumps and shivers down her spine. She had been left sick from what happened in their attempt to rescue Captain Müller and the others. Her efforts had resulted in the loss of Major Yu. Since the rescue attempt, she had ordered for the transporter to be taken offline and examined piece by piece so they knew what happened in the loss of the MACO leader. “What do you have Theo?” She enquired.
“The entire transporter system was working ma’am, there were no glitches. From what the logs can tell us and I’ve had Commander Walker look over them; we lost Major Yu’s pattern due to the gravitational well caused by the black hole. Her patterns had degraded mid-beam up.” Metaxas stated.
Hearing that caused her to feel faint, so she grabbed the rail in front of her. She didn’t say anything anymore. She didn’t know what to say, instead Metaxas continued talking.
“From what I can tell, and again I spoke with Commander Walker, our transporters don’t have the sophistication let alone the energy to do what we wanted to do. We both agree that getting back who we did get back was impressive under the circumstances.”
“But it wasn’t enough, was it Theo?” Masuko said bitterly. She pushed back tears. She wished that Stanton was here to say something impressive and encouraging. “I want the transporter system kept offline until we return to the Obama Repair Facility, unless the captain opposes that order.”
“Yes ma’am.” Metaxas said and took the lieutenant’s silence as his clue to go. Before he got back in the lift, he stopped and turned to her. “Sakura, none of us could have saved her. The odds were stacked against us. It may be another two hundred and fifty years before we have the technology to be able to do what we did entirely successfully.”
“None of it helps us rationalise her death though.” Masuko said as she turned to look at Metaxas. “It just doesn’t seem right, for a woman who served her entire life should go down because of a transporter malfunction. It’s not very MACO is it?”
“I disagree ma’am.” Metaxas said. “I know for a fact that none of the MACOs think that. Liam and Luis have both told me that the entire unit is obviously mourning her loss, but they are proud she helped achieve an important victory for Earth. That’s what she will be remembered for and that’s how they plan to celebrate her life and honour her passing.”
His sentiments didn’t seem like enough to help her, nonetheless Masuko just nodded to say thank you and for him to leave her alone in her thoughts. Could she really remain on Challenger with what had happened? She truly didn’t know the answer.
Sat alone in the MACO locker room, Corporal Jenkins was quietly reading a tablet when a familiar voice interrupted him with a simple ‘hi’ which was followed by a kiss on the left cheek. His husband carefully sat down close next to him on the bench and leant his head against his.
“How are you doing?” Stewart asked softly.
Sighing and trying to find the right word to answer with, Jenkins looked at his other half. “I’m okay, how’s your day been?”
“Not as busy as it has been.” Stewart replied simply as he sat up straight. “Martha was released from sickbay earlier.”
“That’s good to hear.” Jenkins remarked. “We should check in with her.”
“Yeah, definitely. How’s Luis been?” Stewart enquired about their friend.
“He’s okay, I think.” Raising the tablet in his hands to show Jenkins what was on it. “First Lieutenant al-Fayyad gave me this earlier.”
“What is it?” Stewart asked as he tried to read it.
Taking a breath, Jenkins answered. “It’s my acceptance letter to start officer-training.”
“Oh my god Liam, that’s great news!” Stewart said with pride as he wrapped his arms around his husband. “I’m so pleased for you.”
“Thanks.” Came Jenkins’ reply with half a smile. “It seems that Major Yu had sent it in before we left Earth. Al-Fayyad got the response when radio silence was lifted.”
The gesture of the former MACO leader was one that didn’t surprise the Starfleet nurse. She had shown some sort of motherly instinct with Liam, she had shown it since he joined Challenger and had given him plenty of opportunity to develop his skills. His battlefield promotion was another piece of her commitment to him.
“I’m gutted she wasn’t here to read it.” Jenkins said sadly.
Pulling him closer, Stewart kissed the top of his husband’s head. “I’m sure she knew you would get in without a doubt.” He held his husband close for a bit. “Will al-Fayyad do your training then?”
Shaking his head, Jenkins answered. “Apparently not. She told the unit this afternoon that she plans on leaving the MACO service when we return to Earth.”
Hearing the sudden news, Stewart was shocked. “I wasn’t expecting to hear that. How come?”
“Because if I learnt anything from Major Yu it was not to have any regrets.” First Lieutenant al-Fayyad said from the other end of the room. The tallish Egyptian woman walked down with a smile on her face. Her unusual blonde hair was tied in a tight bun above her head. “Viktoria taught me a lot, we even served together before we re-joined together here on Challenger. She was a mentor, a close friend and the one thing I knew she regretted was allowing her marriage to fail with her ex-wife Erika.” By the time she approached the two men, Jenkins was about to stand up to attention of which al-Fayyad told him to sit back down. Looking down at the two of them, she smiled sweetly at them. “Guys, promise me you won’t allow anything to come in between your marriage, even your careers, do you hear me?”
Both men looked at each and then back to her. Jenkins spoke up. “Absolutely ma’am. What are you planning to do when we return to Earth?”
“I’m going to spend time with my husband and our two daughters. They deserve the mother that has been away from them for too long now.” She answered honestly. “I’ve been keeping them too far away from me for too long now. What our uniforms stand for isn’t worth it if we miss out on the things we’re fighting to protect. I want to honour Viktoria by living in the moment and however much I love serving on Challenger I can honestly say that I need to be home with my girls and husband.”
Jenkins and Stewart both stood up, the former extending his hand towards his former superior. “It’s been an honour serving with you ma’am.”
“The honour was all mine Liam.” She said, shaking his hand before pulling him for a quick hug. He returned the gesture. She then turned to Stewart. “All the best Niall.”
“Likewise Khawla.” The nurse said as he embraced the former MACO deputy.
Sitting up in his bed, Captain Frank Müller was starting to feel a bit better after being released from sickbay the day before. He was on bed rest and wasn’t allowed to return to official duty until the next day, just in time as they returned home. That said, he had used the time to catch up with his paperwork as well as catch up with the latest information from the European Football Championship League. His team was doing well in the tournament and he was keen to watch their most recent match against the British team they faced recently. He had to put his plans on hold when the door chime went off.
“Ja.” He called out. Still in his lounge wear, the captain wasn’t bothered if the crew saw him out of his uniform. The door slid open and Commander Rodham walked in. His first officer and chief pilot had been unable to deal with the death of his husband on the mission that Müller had been able to return from. Müller had found it hard to not feel guilty every time he looked at Rodham in the face. “Alex, how are you?”
Rodham, who had requested a leave of his duties, wore a simple black top and charcoal trousers. To be honest, Müller could probably guess how his first officer was. He looked like a mess. His hair was scruffy and he had deep black bags under his eyes.
“I’m fine thank you sir.” He said in an unusual quiet tone. “Yourself?”
“Getting there.” Müller remarked. “What can I do for you commander?”
Rodham had entered his room with his hands behind his back, hiding the fact he was holding a data tablet. “I’m sorry to do this sir but I’d like to formally request a transfer.” He then handed the captain the device.
Not surprised that this was happening, nevertheless Müller hadn’t expected it so soon. “I understand Alex. Where do you want to go?”
“Challenger.” He answered. “I’ve spoken with Fleet Captain Burton and I’ve made a personal request that I would like to honour Michael by assuming his duties as first officer as well as take over as their chief helm officer.”
The double blow to Müller was reasonable. He had lost both Stanton and Lieutenant Conrad on the mission. The two men had volunteered to join his team from Burton’s own crew. The fact that Burton was now without either of them meant that three spots (first officer, chief engineer and chief pilot) were open. If Rodham joining Challenger meant that he could give Rodham some peace and somehow pay back Burton, then Müller knew he couldn’t refuse. He took the device from his first officer and read the simple request that had been written along with the transfer papers. Signing both he then handed it back to Rodham. As Rodham turned to leave the room, Müller spoke up. “Alex, I am so sorry for what happened. It should have been me that had died out there, not Michael.”
Holding back tears, Rodham had paused and then carried on walking out. That would be the last time Müller would see his first officer and chief pilot.
Sat in an armchair, reading one of his favourite books, Commander Roman Burton peered above the page he had just turned over to read next. Looking up at his boyfriend who laid on the bed in sickbay, he wondered how much longer it would take for Nathan to fully recover from his ordeal. After being rescued by Challenger and returned to Discovery, Nathan had started to suffer from a range of delusions and hallucinations. He was constantly dehydrated too. As a result of this Doctor Reyburn had performed a number of scans and had determined that he was suffering from a sort of breakdown of neurochemicals. She had yet been able to determine what had caused it, but her only working hypothesis was something linked to his run through the transporter. She had even consulted with Challenger’s chief medical officer for a second opinion, again Lloyd’s doctor had not been able to fully diagnose what was going on with him. So when Roman wasn’t playing acting captain (with Müller relieved of his duty and Rodham on compassionate leave) he spent his time in sickbay watching over Nathan.
Reyburn approached him with a mug of hot tea. “Not that I want to chuck you out, but it is getting late and you’re under a lot of pressure. I would hate to see another member of our command crew be placed on bed rest.”
Taking the hot beverage in his free hand, Roman put his book down on his lap and smiled in appreciation. “I’m planning to go grab something to eat shortly.” He looked at Nathan one more time. “Any more ideas doc?”
Shaking her head in a dejected manner, the short Caribbean woman pulled up a stool. “I’m afraid not Roman. I’ve asked to see the transporter logs from Challenger to conduct a comparative scan of his anatomy. Your brother has agreed to it, but I’ve not quite had them yet. They’re probably busy trying to deal with their losses.”
Hearing that his brother may be able to help Nathan further, Roman stood up. “Let me call Lloyd now. He’d do anything for me and Nathan.”
Reyburn placed a firm hand back down on Roman’s shoulder to push him back down. “I’ve already made the request and it’s not as simple as getting their logs as quickly as possible. I’m running a deep tissue scan of Nathan which will take a few more hours to complete.”
“Fine, but if you don’t have them by the time you finish your scan then I will call Lloyd.” Roman said defeated.
“He has been very supportive so far and has said that I can have Doctors Ben-Ami and Payne join us once we arrive at home to help further.” Reyburn assured him. “Nathan is in good hands, I promise.”
“I know he is,” Roman said sincerely. “It’s just not how I imagined this mission would end, especially with all the planning we did.”
Agreeing with his assessment, Reyburn nodded. “The best laid schemes of mice and men.” Pausing the doctor clarified her thoughts further. “None of us saw any of this happen, but then I am sure none of us expected to be engulfed in a galactic war in our first year of service on this ship.”
“Absolutely.” Roman said as he looked back at Nathan. “I just hope the sacrifices we’ve made are worth it.”