Part of USS Arcturus: Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit and Bravo Fleet: Phase 2: Horizon

I – Red Leaf Tea

Executive Officer's Office, Starship Arcturus
September 2399
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Ship’s Log, Starship Arcturus, Saucer Section. Stardate 76705.7. Captain Iro Rakan, Reporting.

 

After nearly a week separated, we will rejoin the stardrive section within the day in deep space. While confused about the reason for the separation, crew morale has remained high as we continue to examine discoveries from our first contact with Thalruatania. The saucer section’s warp drive has performed above expectations, and I believe it has been good to allow this section of the ship to ‘stretch its legs,’ borrowing a Human idiom, as I believe it is a proof-of-concept for future extended separations. There is, however, something unsettling about being in the Delta Quadrant with only half of a starship, and I look forward to returning to what passes for normal in this part of the galaxy.

 

End log.


Captain Rakan finished what she hoped was her last official log entry in command of the saucer section. What she didn’t say in the ship’s log was that she was deeply troubled by the course of action the admiral and Captain Lancaster had taken: leaving 80% of the ship’s crew behind while their captain went on an extended, secretive mission was not the sort of thing that Starfleet captains were often asked to do. She was intensely curious to figure out what was happening, even with the unambiguous instructions she’d been given to bury her concerns. Over the past few days, they’d picked up most of the runabouts that Admiral Hayden had sent out across the sector, with a few still just out of range. With most of their support ships back in the hanger and the stardrive nearly at their position, Rakan hoped this strange episode was over.

Despite being entitled to use the ready room on deck one, Rakan had continued to use her own office on deck two for her short stint in command. There was a lot to admire about Captain Lancaster, but she just didn’t think she could ever be comfortable in what was emphatically his space because of how private and particular he was, nor did she think he’d particularly relish the idea of her sitting behind his desk. The office she now had also once belonged to Lancaster when he was first officer himself, but Rakan had nearly completely transformed it, lowering the lighting and humidity to levels more comfortable for her and filling the shelves with mementos of her diplomatic career. As a nod to her Cardassian sensibilities, she’d also moved the desk, so it faced the door rather than the window, leaving room for two chairs in front of her display of trinkets.

The first officer spent most of her waking hours in that room when she wasn’t making her regular walks of the ship’s decks to directly interface with the crew—she got the sense that Lancaster had preferred to deal only with the department heads, who he expected to keep tabs on their subordinates and so on, but she liked to make sure she was getting a real picture of what was going on amongst the junior officers and enlisted members aboard the ship.

Just as Rakan was contemplating ordering tea, the door chimed. It was odd that someone had gotten to her door without being announced by her yeoman, which piqued her curiosity.

“Enter!” she called.

Rakan scrambled to her feet when Rear Admiral Hayden entered. They hadn’t yet interacted much, but before whatever this crisis was, Rakan had only ever seen her in a more casual command bomber jacket or the softer, less formal cowl-necked uniform available to flag officers, either with her signature gold earrings, but since the stardrive section departed she’d consistently been wearing a standard duty uniform sans jewelry.  She’d also drawn her medium-length blonde hair back into a bun, rather than leaving it to frame her face like she normally did. As a Cardassian, Rakan would never claim to be a master at reading Human sartorial and cosmetological decisions. Still, her gut response to the change was that she intended to convey seriousness and solemnity.

“At ease, Captain,” Hayden said with a smile. “I was hoping to talk with you before the ship reconnected.”

“Of course, Admiral. If I’d known, I would have been happy to come to your suite instead,” Rakan asked, moving out from behind the desk and gesturing towards the pair of armchairs.

“I don’t summon Michael while he is in command, and I won’t do that to you either, Captain,” Hayden replied firmly as she took one of the offered seats. “You’ve redecorated since his time here.”

It was a little jarring to hear the admiral use the captain’s first name, but Rakan was aware that he had also served as her first officer aboard the starship Lafayette for several years, long before he’d sat second seat for her on the Arcturus for the first few months of the year. Rakan had also gathered through her diplomatic sources that Hayden had even presided over Lancaster’s wedding to Dr. Sheppard. Their relationship was one of long-standing trust and mutual admiration, if not affection, which made Rakan a little envious, as she was still getting the cold side of cordial from Lancaster.

Hayden was a famous name, known not just for her recent command of Task Force 9 against the Breen but for a storied career as an explorer, diplomat, and scientist. While others in the class of 2354 had moved on to flag rank decades earlier and included at least one full admiral already, Hayden had resisted promotion to spend nearly twenty years in the center seat. Though Rakan knew relatively little about her personality, she would still bet heavily that this was a woman who would have rather quit than be stuck behind a desk back on a starbase and was the sole reason the Arcturus had finally been sent back out into deep space as her base of operations.

“I thought it was important to put my own touches on the space to help the crew see the change in first officers was more than just a new face behind the desk, sir. And, admittedly, it’s always too bright on Starfleet ships for my taste, so I’ve indulged myself with the lighting. I can make it brighter if you wish?” Rakan replied with a smile.

“No, thank you,” Hayden replied, studying Rakan. “One of the reasons that Michael and I worked well together is that I’m a diplomat, and he’s a technical expert. Well, to be frank, he could be the demanding stickler while I could be the popular figurehead. I’m sure the crew has sensed a reversal without your very impressive Kurlan naiskos.”

Rakan turned to glance at the ceramic object. “An artifact uncovered by my father. I’m impressed you identified it, sir. As for the crew, I respectfully believe they could use all the hints they can get that although Cardassian, I am on their side,” she said, feeling as though she’d become more pointed the more she said.

“From what I can see, you’re doing a remarkable job, Captain,” Hayden said. “That’s more or less what I came here to talk to you about. Sidelining you for this mission was not Michael’s choice.”

That statement seemed conciliatory, and it made Rakan smile, but not for the reasons Hayden had surely hoped. It didn’t take a genius to work out that there had to be an excellent reason for Lancaster to break protocol and leave her behind. Under any other circumstance, the third officer would assume command of the saucer section during extended separated flight. In this case, that was Doctor Anjar, who also happened to be a captain by rank. This ‘Omega Directive’ seemed to give Lancaster full authority to override any standard protocols. Still, Rakan knew he wouldn’t do so unless there were a very compelling reason to do so: Anjar, as a former starship commander, was briefed in the necessities of their mission and would therefore make a compelling choice for first officer, while she was not and so would only get in the way. It was logical that she be left behind, even though it did sting personally.

“I’m fully aware of that, Admiral,” Rakan replied, with a characteristically Cardassian smirk.

Hayden chuckled. “I’m sure you’ve worked out part of it, anyway,” the admiral replied, studying her. “I don’t like to meddle in shipboard affairs because I wouldn’t like it if I were on the other side of it. I don’t want Michael to feel like he’s not the captain. In this case, though, I ordered him to leave you here with me, beyond any considerations he might have made to fulfill the mission.”

Rakan blinked. Now that was slightly unexpected.

“I believe he would have selected someone else so that he could have his full team with him, so I cut that thought off at the pass. I also realized that if he did make the decision himself, there would be resentment, no matter how valid that order was,” Hayden explained. “The directive we are operating under right now is abnormal. Secrets can strain working relationships, and I want to ensure that any frustration is directed towards me or our orders, not to him. I don’t want you to be wondering if there was anything more to this decision than the realities of the mission.”

Rakan nodded. “I was about to have tea, Admiral. Would you like some?” she asked.

“Please,” Hayden replied.

Rakan stood up from her seat and went over to the replicator. She swiped through the menu and selected a red leaf tea service for two. She could, of course, have had the computer produce it for them where they were sitting, thanks to the Arcturus‘s modern replicator grid, but she wanted the moment to think through her next verbal move. She had asked Lancaster if being left behind had anything to do with her being Cardassian, which he had flatly denied, but she had been used to suspicion based on her heritage for her entire career. A teapot and two cups along with accouterments materialized on a tray, which she picked up.

“I do think the pattern for red leaf tea found on Starfleet replicators has improved substantially since I entered the academy in the 2370s. On Starbase 72, we were fortunate enough to get regular shipments of the stuff from the Union. Of course at the embassy in Cardassia, one could just walk down the street to a tea house, so I’ve probably been spoiled,” Rakan said, with a smile, as she crossed the room and set the tray on the small table between her chair and Admiral Hayden’s chair.

After negotiating who needed milk or sugar and then pouring both cups of tea, Rakan sat back in her seat. “Admiral, I do appreciate your concern, and in fact, whether I am Cardassian or not did factor into my thoughts, but I am also fully aware that I do have something to prove, still, if not to you and to the captain but to Starfleet,” she said. “I hope that’s not out of turn.”

Hayden took a sip from her cup and shook her head. “I’m never going to tell someone on their own turf not to be candid with me. I would disagree with you about how much you have to prove, though. You are a captain and the executive officer of the largest ship in the quadrant, after all.”

“I was also a tactical attache at the Federation Embassy to the Cardassian Union for five years, before serving as the executive officer of a Sovereign-class ship for another four. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for this assignment. Still, I was offered a promotion to captain without an actual captaincy, which can only lead me to believe I have something to prove,” Captain Rakan replied before taking a drink from her own cup.

Rakan was well aware that Lancaster was younger than she was and had started his career several years later than she had, while still reaching command before she had. He had seemed to luck out with prime assignments, too, serving under at least two captains who had gone on to flag rank shortly after serving with him. He was also Human. Brilliant, yes, but also of the correct species.

The first officer cleared her throat. “I believe I may have just expressed more… displeasure… than I intended, Admiral. I mean only to say that I do not take this decision personally,” she offered.

“I gave Michael three choices, and he picked you, so you have the confidence of both of us. Don’t ever forget that, Captain,” Hayden said, setting her tea down. “Beyond assuaging any feelings you were having before, I did also want to let you know now that our mission isn’t over. We’re not reconnecting the ship because the danger has passed but because we will need the full facilities of this vessel to proceed. You may get strange orders or be left out of briefings, and I want to know if you’re prepared for that.”

Rakan had always assumed that Hayden had selected her directly, so it did fill her with a small amount of confidence to know that Lancaster had picked her from among other candidates, even if he had yet to show her much in the way of comradeship.

“I will fulfill my duties to the best of my ability, Admiral,” Rakan confirmed.

“Good. I have faith that you will, Captain. But I want you to know right now that there would be no shame at all in taking leave time or requesting temporary reassignment. This is not going to be easy,” Hayden offered.

Rakan arched an eyebrow. “With all due respect, Admiral, whether I have something to prove or not, going on a vacation when this ship is about to embark on something so serious that you feel the need to come to speak to me seems like a way of proving that I am, in fact, not ready for this,” she replied. “Cardassians have a … unique capacity to set aside our emotions long enough to do our duty. As well as a unique ability to create complicated conspiracies about why people don’t like us,” she added with a chuckle.

“Well, I hope this has stomped a conspiracy out for you rather than adding fuel to one,” Hayden said, smiling again.

“It has, thank you, Admiral. If I may make an observation, though?”

“Of course.”

Rakan cleared her throat. “Captain Lancaster is fortunate to have you looking out for him in this regard, but I want you to know that I am looking out for him, too. I’m assuming any moves he makes are in good faith.”

The admiral nodded. “I believe that you believe that, but darker days may lay ahead. Thank you for the tea, Captain,” she said before leaving the office with a polite nod.