Origins, Chapter 11

 

 

 

Chapter Eleven

They met up in the transporter room of Starbase One. “Well, Apollo,” Skip said, pumping his friend’s arm, “it’s been real fun. I hope to see you again sometime.” He left Karen on the pad and came up close to Apollo. “And confidentially, what I said a couple of years ago still holds. You find yourself in the captain’s chair one day, you let me know. I wouldn’t mind serving with you.”

“Ditto, buddy. Have yourself a great adventure.” He watched as Skip stepped up to the pad next to Karen. He signaled, and the transporter operator activated the controls. They disappeared in sparkling coalescence.

He turned to his lover, looking solemn. “Looks like it’s your turn.”

“Uh huh.” Sam stood there for a few seconds, then gave Apollo a hug. “You take care of yourself. I’m looking forward to sharing shore leave with you.”

“The feeling’s mutual,” he said. He turned her toward the pad and gave her a gentle push. “Now get going. I don’t think your captain will appreciate you being late.”

Before she got up on the pad, she turned quickly, and before he could react, she kissed him. Then, stepping into position, she looked at him and waved. Apollo thought she looked so vulnerable at that point. He wanted to scoop her up in his arms, but fought the urge. “Goodbye,” she said to him. The operator took that as his cue and beamed her over to her ship.

Apollo hung his head, feeling the weight of this departure. He walked up the platform and took his place. Taking a deep breath he stood up straight. “Energize,” he said firmly.

He felt a moment’s disorientation, the way he always did when he used a transporter. When it ended, he saw a different room. A different person stood behind a console similar to the one he just saw, but there were two officers standing next to him. One of them approached him with his hand extended; Apollo could clearly see the two and a half braids encircling the sleeve of his gold tunic. “Lieutenant Racer,” the officer said, “I’m Captain Peterson. This is my first officer, Commander Stevens.”

“Hello, Captain,” Apollo said warmly, “Lieutenant Racer reporting for duty, sir.”

“I’m glad to have you, son… er, excuse me. I heard a rumor that you don’t particularly like that term.”

The lieutenant shrugged. “It doesn’t really suit me, sir.”

Peterson laughed. “I completely understand. Look, Stevens here will show you to your quarters. What’s say we start your orientation tonight at dinner. Will that be okay?”

Apollo was a little taken aback. Pretty informal, isn’t he? “Why… yes, sir. If you insist. I mean, we could do it sooner if you’d like.”

“Nonsense. You need to settle in first. Tonight will be just fine. Now, I have to be on the bridge, so if you’ll excuse me.” With that clearly sounding like a dismissal, the captain turned on his heel and walked out of the room. Apollo immediately sensed that the temperature in the room seemed to drop a few degrees. He looked over toward the operator; he was starting to fidget. Apollo decided to study what seemed to be the apparent reason for his unease.

Commander Stevens was obviously not as laid back as his captain. He was six-foot-four, largely built, and extremely stiff. His eyes burned like ice, and the look on his face told Apollo that this man knew who and what he was, and he wasn’t too pleased. The lieutenant immediately decided that he did not like this man.

“If you’ll come with me, Lieutenant.” He gestured toward the door, but walked through it before Apollo did. Walking through the corridor was pretty silent. Later, upon reflection, Apollo judged that it was halfway to his quarters when Stevens finally spoke. “You may as well know now. You’re not going to get any special treatment on this ship.”

Oh, great, Apollo thought, he’s got a chip on his shoulder. If it’s one thing I don’t need on my first mission, it’s someone like Quinn. He felt, however, that Stevens wasn’t going to be as easy to enlighten as Quinn. “I never expected that at all, sir.”

“That’s good. Remember that.” They entered a turbolift, but before any commands were given, he allowed the doors to shut before continuing. “I don’t care how the captain treats you, but around me, you’ll stick to protocols. Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir.” Apollo ached to give this guy a smart-assed remark, but somehow, he felt that it wouldn’t be a good idea at this time.

“Deck eight,” Stevens ordered. The lift started to move. “I’ll be watching you, Racer. Don’t think that just because you left the Academy a lieutenant, you know more than an ensign.”

“Uh, with all due respect, sir, I do know more than an ensign. In fact, I’ve probably forgotten more than you’ll ever learn, sir.”

Stevens backed Apollo against the turbolift wall. “Don’t you dare get smart with me, Lieutenant, or I will not hesitate to make an example of you! Is that clear!?”

Apollo didn’t turn his gaze away; he matched it, to show this overgrown alpha wolf that he wasn’t about to back down from bullying, regardless of rank. “Crystal… sir,” he said through clenched teeth. Stevens waited a moment before moving away. “Permission to speak freely, sir.”

“Denied,” Stevens snapped back.

The rest of the trip was in silence. When Apollo finally reached his quarters, he stood in the center of them for a moment. Then he dropped himself into a nearby chair and audibly let out a breath. “Whew.” He wiped his brow. If he didn’t watch himself, this was going to be a very long tour.

~ * ~

The next day didn’t give him any more insight into the first officer. At the dinner last night, he carried himself with such dignity and composure that he seemed to be a completely different man from the one who escorted Apollo to his quarters. He knew it was a ruse, though. He thought about exposing him to the captain, but he figured that if Stevens managed to pull this off for this long, it stood to reason that others have had the same thought, and met with less than desirable results. Besides, this was only his first day aboard ship. He didn’t think he had any clout here yet, so he kept quiet about it. When the end of the night came, Stevens gave Apollo a superior look, as though to silently acknowledge that the pecking order had long been established on this ship, and no upstart lieutenant would change that. Right then and there, Apollo silently vowed that he would be watching the commander as closely as he himself would be watched. It would be a dangerous game, but fully worth it to wipe that smug look off that man’s face. He didn’t care if it took his entire tour on that ship.

For now, though, Apollo shunted those thoughts to the back of his mind as he reported to his duty section. Though he wore a gold tunic when he arrived on board, he had changed into a red tunic to report to Security. Before he went to sleep that night, he decided to memorize the ship’s layout, a good measure if he were to be one of the personnel in charge of keeping it safe. It was also necessary because he couldn’t get Stevens’ face out of his head long enough to sleep peacefully. There were few people that Apollo took an immediate dislike to, and they usually provided good reasons. This first officer easily ranked high on that short list.

The Security section was pretty much the same as on other ships. He entered into a large foyer. There was a gray desk with a black top for the person on watch; behind that were three doors, two red and one gray. The one on the left was the Security Chief’s office and the one on the right was the conference room. The third door, the gray one, directly across from him, looked more fortified. This was the door to the brig; its door was three times as thick as normal doors, phaser resistant, and force field protected. The field, of course, was off at the time; you don’t expect to have prisoners when you’re leaving Earth. Apollo envisioned Stevens in a cell beyond those doors, and his day brightened.

The security person at the desk hopped up to attention. “Good morning, sir. Commander Brooks is expecting you.”

Apollo studied the sharp officer. He realized that he’d also have to memorize the crew manifest so he could get the names right. “Thank you, ensign.” He moved around the desk and upon approaching the office, the door opened and he entered.

A man sat at the desk inside. He was looking over a report on a padd, twirling a stylus while doing so. His sleeve bore the rank of Lieutenant Commander, but he looked relatively young. It went with the rumors Apollo heard: that on board a starship, one didn’t make it to old age as Security Chief, just an early grave… unless they were good. Apollo stopped at attention in front of the desk. “Lieutenant Racer reporting for duty, sir.”

The man merely looked up at him, then resumed reading at a leisurely pace. When he finished, he looked back up… Apollo hadn’t budged an inch. He got up and moved around the desk. Slowly circling Apollo, he headed toward the door. For a moment, Apollo though he was going to leave him in that position. He heard the door open. “Ensign,” he began, “who put this statue in my office?”

The ensign looked up, completely flabbergasted. “Sir, no one, sir. Lieutenant Racer was supposed to be meeting you. I thought…”

“I thought so. He must be some type of trickster, entering my office and leaving that… that facsimile of himself, thinking that I wouldn’t notice, and he could get out of meeting with me.” He wagged a finger at the ensign. “If you see him, tell him I want a word with him.” He re-entered his office without waiting for acknowledgment. Again he slowly circled Apollo, whom he noted still hadn’t moved. “All right, you’ll do. At ease, Lieutenant.” When he noticed his new arrival visibly relax, he extended his hand. “I’m Lieutenant Commander Brooks. You must be our eager new phaser fodder. Welcome aboard.”

“Thank you, sir,” Apollo replied, shaking his hand.

Brooks returned to his seat. “It’s not often that we get full lieutenants straight out of the Academy. What did you do to be so special?”

“Prior military service, sir.”

“Yes, I notice that.” He gestured to the padd. It was then that Apollo realized that Brooks was reading his file when he came in. “What else?”

“Well, they seemed to think I did pretty well in the Academy.”

Brooks slowly nodded. “Good… good. You know enough not to draw attention to yourself. I’ve had people come in here pretty proud of their accomplishments and felt it was something they needed to share with everybody.” He snorted. “May as well have gone around wearing a target.” He tapped a couple of controls on his padd, scrolling through the text. “It says here you performed above and beyond your duties at the Academy.” He thought a moment. “What do you know about an incident involving a fire a year or so ago.”

Apollo shrugged. “There was a fire, my friends were involved, I got them out. End of story.”

Brooks looked at him skeptically. “Uh huh. Well, if that’s all you want to tell me, then that’s as far as I’ll take it. One thing that strikes me as odd, though… there are some areas in your file that even I can’t get access to. I find items like that suspicious. But… there’s something about you. I can’t put my finger on it. But as long as you work for me and you don’t do anything to get on my bad side, you’ll be all right. I’m not one to hold things over people’s heads, unlike some people.” He caught Apollo’s speculative expression. “Yes, I’m talking out our illustrious first officer. I know you’ve met him. The general scuttlebutt around the ship is that he’s a pompous ass. But he does his job, so no one gets in his way. Those who do find themselves on the business end of a transfer. But don’t worry, as long as you stay out of his way and do your job, everything should go fine.”

Apollo smiled at that, but he was actually wondering if his life would be that simple.

~ * ~

For the most part, life aboard the Merrimac was contrary to what Apollo had believed. Being one of many Security personnel assigned to the ship, he had little reason to interact with the first officer. Once in a while, he would “pick the short straw,” as his comrades would put it, and wind up on a landing party that Stevens led. They felt he’d be fine, as the commander paid little or no attention to the Security people unless his life was threatened. Unfortunately, they hadn’t realized that Stevens had picked Apollo as his “pet project.” He was always given the low or dangerous assignments, perhaps in Stevens’ hopes that Apollo would either get sick of the abuse and request a transfer… a request that the lieutenant suspected would get turned down to spite him… or he would become just one more statistic of Security personnel fatalities.

Despite this, Apollo persevered. He also kept notes… especially ones when his report was required after landing party duty, but was conveniently lost if it spoke unfavorably of the first officer. Apollo smelled something rotten on his ship, but he didn’t have nearly enough evidence to bring it to the captain. He also had a bad feeling… like he was stumbling onto something much bigger than he yet imagined.

His one blessing had been letters from Sam. After she got over initial sadness at being separated, she found herself greatly enjoying her life aboard the Lexington. It made him smile when she would describe her experiences… science officers seemed to have more pleasant ones than Security. He purposely left out his encounters with his first officer, but it seemed she had a sense there was something he was keeping from her.

He sent her messages at least once a week, yet for some reason, her replies seemed to be getting fewer and farther between. When they stopped coming altogether. He felt a deep sadness. I wonder if she’s forgotten about me, he thought. That idea seemed wrong, though… nothing in her communiques led him to believe she would just stop replying like that, no matter how gradual her responses petered out. She wouldn’t do that to him… would she?

In the meantime, he continued his discreet investigations, becoming grimmer as he realized just how deeply Stevens’ corruption reached into the ship’s infrastructure. I can’t believe this is being allowed to happen aboard a starship. Something needs to be done. He sighed, sitting back in the chair in his quarters, staring at the screen. But what? Where can I find my rosetta stone that’ll bring this setup crumbling down? Figuring that he couldn’t do anymore that night, he shut down his terminal, lowered the lights and laid across his bed for a fitful sleep.

During his next landing party mission, he got the evidence he’d been looking for…

“Racer to Merrimac! Come in, Merrimac!” Apollo had been yelling into his communicator for about five minutes. Disruptor fire screamed past his head. How did I get myself into this, he thought.

Their ship was on routine patrol duty when the planet, Decimus, had contacted them. It was a Federation supply outpost, so the captain decided they could stop by. En route to the planet, Brooks felt there was something odd about the message, so they ran what they knew through the computer. That’s when they discovered that Decimus was supposed to be an automated outpost… there weren’t supposed to be people there. So who contacted them?

When they reached orbit, they found no ships there, so Stevens led a party down to investigate. It was after they materialized on the surface that everything went to hell. They were surprised to find a Klingon outpost, with a lot more Klingons than there were landing party members. Apollo wondered how Klingons managed to get this far into Federation space. That question was put on hold, though… their arrival was like kicking a hornet’s nest.

The lieutenant did a quick survey to update his situation. Nicholson, his partner, was down. He was glanced by a shot, and as a result, he had a huge, gaping wound in the side of his leg. Fredericks wasn’t as lucky. The only thing left of her was a black outline on the boulder where she thought she had cover. His only comfort was that she felt no pain as her atoms defaced the rock.

They had managed to get corralled into a small clearing. Stevens and the medical officer, Browning, were trapped across the clearing from Apollo. Stevens made a move to try to get a better position. “Stay down, sir! It’s too dangerous!” Apollo yelled. As if to emphasize his statement, the tree next to him was disintegrated.

Stevens ignored Apollo’s warning as he headed out. Browning was livid… he tried to grab at Stevens but missed. “Dammit, Ted, what in blazes do you think you’re doing?” he shouted, then he looked to Apollo. “Well, don’t just sit there! Do something!”

Apollo rolled his eyes and took a deep breath, silently counting to three… then he took off. Browning never saw him change position. Apollo blurred as he used his momentum to push Stevens behind a large boulder closer to the outpost.

Stevens slammed against the rock. Dazed by the sudden jarring, he shook his head to clear it. Glaring at the Security officer, he hissed, “What the hell are you trying to do, kill me!?”

“No, sir. I think you can do that just fine on your own. What I’m doing is saving your butt. Sir.” How the idiot hadn’t gotten himself killed by now, Apollo had no clue. Probably due to other security men who weren’t as fortunate as Apollo, having the abilities needed to avoid blasts like the one that blackened the ground where Stevens had previously been. And of course, Stevens didn’t even register that his life was a hair’s breadth away from ending.

Too late, Apollo saw Browning make a run for their spot. “Don’t…” Apollo started, but as he spoke, a bright red beam struck Browning. He glowed for an instant, then disappeared. Apollo clenched his teeth in rage. “Dammit…” He poked himself up long enough to shoot whoever had killed Browning, then darted back in before he could get hit himself.

“Contact the ship,” ordered Stevens.

“Sir, I’ve been trying to. From their lack of response, I’d say they have their hands as full as we do,” Apollo replied wearily.

“Don’t question my orders, Lieutenant! Just do as you’re told!” His shout was punctuated by another shot shaving off a section of boulder above his head. At this rate, their cover wouldn’t last long.

“Why don’t you just shout a little louder so they can pinpoint us.” Apollo took his attention off of Stevens and tried his communicator again. “Racer to Merrimac, come in Merrimac. If you’re able, please respond.”

Static crackled over the communicator for a minute. Suddenly, it cleared up. “Landing party, this is Merrimac. Sorry we couldn’t respond sooner. A Klingon battle cruiser appeared shortly after you beamed down. We scan more of the suckers not far from you. Do you need assistance?”

“That’s affirmative. We lost Browning and Fredericks. Nicholson is down with a bad leg wound. Commander Stevens and myself are pinned down. We…”

Stevens yanked out his own communicator. “We need to get beamed out of here immediately. Can you lock onto us?”

“Stand by.”

Apollo glared at him. “You’re just going to run?”

“We can take care of them from orbit. Like shooting ducks in a barrel.”

Apollo’s eyes grew wide with shock. “I can’t believe this. You’d murder them in cold blood?”

“Look what they did to Fredericks and Browning! They wouldn’t think twice about doing it to us! Now this is a direct order, Lieutenant! We’re beaming up to the ship, and you can put yourself on report for insubordination!”

That pushed Apollo past the breaking point. “You’re right, they wouldn’t think twice about killing us that way, because they’re Klingons! We’re not! If you want to be a coward, then be my guest. When I do back to the ship, the only report I’m going to make will be how you’re selfishness and incompetentence cost the lives of three good people.” He reset his phaser, then he took Nicholson’s phaser and stepped out. The next thing Stevens knew, Apollo was gone.

He stared at the lieutenant’s previous location a moment, his hand holding the communicator trembling with rage. He brought the device up slowly. “Merrimac,” he said, not taking his eyes off where Apollo went, “one to beam up.”

As he materialized in the transporter room, he made his way to the console. “Bridge to Transporter room,” Peterson’s voice blared over the commlink, “what in devil’s name happened down there? Where’s the rest of your landing party, Commander?”

Stevens glared at the transporter pads. “They’re gone.”

~ * ~

Apollo was a blur. He slowed down long enough to draw a bead on a Klingon, then stun him into submission. The rage he felt at losing his friends and at Stevens’ behavior only focused his concentration. He steadily moved inward. It was only when he was in the outpost’s control room did he realize that the fight was over. He stepped outside and examined the Klingon bodies sprawled everywhere. Slowly he moved among them… if they were still alive, he dragged them into a central location. If they were dead, he vaporized them with his phaser. When he was certain the scene was secured, he contacted the ship. “Racer to Merrimac.”

There was silence for a second, and he wondered if his tranmission had gotten through. Apollo was about to repeat his hail when he got a reply. “Lieutenant, is that you?”

Apollo decided he deserved to make a wisecrack. “No, this is a Klingon. I only sound like your Lieutenant Racer. What do you think?” He paused to shift gears. “The outpost has been secured. If it’s prisoners you want, you have your pick. We can beam the whole kit and kaboodle up if you want.”

More silence, then a different voice came over the communicator. “Racer, this is Captain Peterson. What the devil happened down there? I was told you were killed.”

Apollo fumed… he knew exactly where those reports came from. “I can assure you, reports of my demise have been grossly exaggerated. I could use some rest right now, though.”

Understood. Stand by to beam up. And Racer… well done.”

“Thank you, sir.” He closed his communicator and looked around at the smoking ruins that used to be an outpost. Apollo suddenly felt very tired, yet at the same time he literally had his smoking gun. Starfleet is going to have a cow when they find out about this, he thought as the transporter whisked him and his prisoners away.

~ * ~

The captain was waiting for him in the transporter room. “Lieutenant, I don’t know what you did down there or how you did it, but that was a damn fine job. I’m sorry about Fredericks. She had a lot of spunk, and Browning is a blow to us, too. But if it helps, Nicholson will be just fine in a week or so.”

Apollo couldn’t help but smile. “Thank you, sir. Yes, that does help some. I’ll visit him later.”

“Later is right, Lieutenant. You look like hell. Go get some sleep. You can turn in your report in the morning.” Peterson headed down the corridor, passing Brooks as the security chief came up to him.

“Are you all right, Lieutenant?”

Apollo nodded. “Yes, sir… I just wish things could have gone a little better.”

“Trust me, losing people on a mission never gets any easier. You’d do well to remember that.” He glance down the corridor to make sure no one else was there. Then in a lower tone, he asked, “Did Stevens really write you off as dead?”

Apollo fumed inside, but was careful to keep his expression controlled. “Yes, sir, he did.”

“That’s pretty serious. I’d be careful with how to handle it if I were you.”

“I fully realize that, Commander. I know exactly what to do.”

Brooks studied his man for a moment, then nodded. “All right. Do what the captain said… go get some sleep.”

Apollo hadn’t been resting long when his door chime went off. It didn’t take his Foresight to know who that was. “Computer, record,” he said. When the computer finished chittering, he sat up on his bed. “Enter,” he said wearily.

Stevens marched in through the opening doors; he didn’t look very happy. “Racer, I’d like to have a word with you. Your actions today were reckless and totally irresponsible. You were supposed to protect the landing party from danger, and instead lives were lost. You acted completely against direct orders, and there is absolutely no excuse for that.”

“You know, sir, you do have a mirror in your quarters.”

Stevens blinked, both in confusion and due to the lieutenant’s tone. “Excuse me?”

“I mean, if you were going to yell at yourself, you could just as easily have done that to the mirror in your quarters instead of using me as one.”

The Commander was livid. “How dare you take that tone with me, Lieutenant! I don’t care how much of a hot shot you are! I’ll have you busted down to ensign so fast your head will spin, and you’ll stay there for a good long time, in an out-of-the-way section of Starfleet!”

Apollo just looked at Stevens from his prone position. “Are you quite finished, sir?” Stevens was speechless, so Apollo took it as a yes. “Perhaps you’d like to know what my report will read, sir.” He paused a moment. “‘Landing party arrived to find the outpost overrun with Klingons. Prudent course would be to return to the ship and inform Starfleet. Instead, the first officer demanded that we stay and try to ascertain the level of infiltration. Landing party was immediately beset upon by a hostile force. Through the first officer’s inaction, one security agent was injured, another killed. His own inept performance almost got himself killed as well before being moved to safety. The first officer then, in direct contradiction of his previous command, and at the cost of the chief medical officer, ordered the remaining landing party members to beam up, where orbital bombardment would cleanse the site of hostile forces.'”

“I made no such…”

Apollo spoke over Stevens’ bellowing denial. “‘The first officer beamed up, claiming to be the sole survivor of the party. His gross negligence cost the lives of two officers.'”

“I had no idea you were alive! With all that firepower, no one could have survived on their own!”

“‘This in combination with this officer’s previous observations as listed in the attached file suggests that the first officer is unfit for duty and should be relieved.'”

Stevens was about to protest again until he heard the end of the report. It then hit him that just as he had been keeping an eye on this upstart, striving to make his life aboard the Merrimac a living hell, this lieutenant was also keeping tabs on him. He dropped his act and gave Apollo a cold smile. “That report will never be seen. It has to go through me before it can reach the captain. Yes, I’ve seen your past reports… did you really think I was going to allow you to give Peterson suspicions about me? I’ve got too good of a thing going here to have you mess it up. I’m going to make sure you’re drummed out of Starfleet. You’ll be seen as a troublemaker, and no one will want anything to do with you.”

He stood in front of the first officer. “Permission to speak freely, sir.”

Stevens’ eyes narrowed. “What the hell else could you possibly have to say to me?”

He didn’t expect a right cross to solidly connect with his jaw, sending him flying across the room to slam into a bulkhead. He started to get up, but Apollo gave him a look that told him to stay down. The coward in him listened and he didn’t move. Apollo stood over Stevens and glowered at him. “For the past year, I’ve been calmly taking whatever abuse you’ve been dishing to me and the crew. I tolerated it and your little delusions of grandeur, because I didn’t see any way I could do anything about it. But today you took things too far. Your behavior reflected that of a spineless coward who was looking for the easy way out. To make things worse, you left me and Nicholson for dead down there, and you told the captain I didn’t make it. If we did things your way, we would never have found the reason for the Klingons’ presence at that outpost.”

Apollo was silent for a moment, to maintain his composure, then continued. “I’ve noticed how you show one side in front of the captain, but in his absence you show your true colors. Yes, you’re really the model officer.” He sat down on his bed.

Stevens was flushed with anger. “I’ll have you court-martialed for striking a superor officer! You’ve made a big mistake now, mister! If you think your word is going to be believed over mine, I’ve got news for you! There is no way in hell a lieutenant is going to make an ass out of me! Your career is as good as ruined!”

“Ohhhh, I don’t think so, sir. You see, I’ve been planning for just such a day as this one. I never liked you, and I know you never liked me. I don’t know if I simply rubbed you the wrong way or you saw my Academy record and figured I’d be bright enough to pose a threat to you. Either way, it’s over… our whole conversation here has been recorded. Once I show my report and this recording to the captain, it is your career that is finished, not mine.”

Stevens was flustered. He wanted to say something, but nothing would escape his lips. Apollo concluded his little speech. “It’s my job to protect this ship and its crew from any threat. That goes for within as well as from without. Which means that if I so choose, your butt could be in the brig right now. But I think you have those commander’s stripes on your sleeve for some reason, though it completely escapes my logic. I’ll let you decide how you’re going to rectify the situation. Computer, end recording.” Apollo grabbed his tunic and a disk from out of his terminal. He held it up so the commander could see it. “I’ve just brought my report through you, sir. Would you like to review it again?” The menace in Apollo’s look kept Stevens’ mouth shut. “I thought not.” He marched out the door, leaving the first officer on the floor of his quarters.

~ * ~

Peterson stared at his terminal, unable to believe his eyes. Apollo had entered and presented him with his material. After a few minutes, the captain said, “Better sit down, Lieutenant… this is going to take a while.”

Apollo patiently waited, allowing the captain to review the data. At certain points in his perusal, he asked the lieutenant some pointed questions for clarification. Then he returned to his reading. After half an hour, he sat back and took a deep breath. “I have to tell you, Racer, if you hadn’t given me this file, I’d have been hard pressed to believe your report. now I honestly don’t know what to believe. I never realized Stevens had been playing me this whole time.”

“He’s like a chameleon with his behavior, Captain. He lets people see what he wants them to see, what they want to see. To anyone not looking for it, they would have never suspected anything.”

“Like a certain blind starship captain?” He smirked.

“Sir… I-I didn’t mean…”

“Relax, Lieutenant. You’ve opened my eyes. I also like how your findings present themselves… they give me just enough to lift this veil of obscurity, but allows me to start conducting my own investigation without overlapping anything you already have.” He gave the security officer a suspicious look. “You never struck me as the type to butter up to the boss.”

“I merely felt that by giving you the opportunity to conduct your own investigation, the answers you would find would confirm and strengthen that which I already discovered.”

He nodded. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were Vulcan.” He shook his head. “I’m not entirely sure that this is a completely good thing, though.” To Apollo’s credit, he didn’t try to protest this, though Peterson gave him an opening to try. “Some of these leads you have could go pretty deep into our crew. I can’t tell just how big a can of worms it is you’ve handed me, but I think it’s safe to say there will certainly be repercussions to this. I have to warn you, Lieutenant… something like this is always messy. Expect to find unexpected echoes from this.”

Apollo nodded, though he wasn’t quite sure what the captain meant.

It didn’t take long for him to find out. A ship-wide investigation was started, and Security found a number of people who were essentially working around the rules. For two solid weeks, people were being called in for questioning by the captain and the security chief. Stevens was certainly relieved of duty and confined to quarters. Others suffered similar fates, from a simple reprimand to spending time in the brig. The command structure of the ship was completely shaken. Brooks and the captain did their best to reassure their bright lieutenant through it all that he did the right thing.

The problem was that more and more, Apollo was starting to feel as though this wasn’t the case. Some of the crew who weren’t even involved in the scandal had received some unexpected benefits from the corruption. Some weren’t involved in the scandal, but they were bending rules on their own and got caught. As much as he tried to keep his role as catalyst to these proceedings to himself, somehow his role was fleshed out, and he had a feeling Stevens had something to do with it. What baffled Apollo the most was the fact that some of the people he considered as friends were implicated in the mess. He suddenly found people who knew Stevens was corrupt but were afraid to speak out against him were alienating him.

The captain had to reprimand him for decking Stevens… as criminal as the first officer was, he was still Apollo’s superior officer. Strangely, Stevens’ warning had been prophetic in an unexpected way. Apollo’s fellow officers didn’t see him as someone who rooted out corruption… they saw him as someone who thought nothing of loyalty toward his own crewmates. Some felt he only started the whole thing as a way to gain favor with his superiors in hopes of an early promotion. He would try to talk to them, to explain his actions, but they wouldn’t listen. As much as Peterson and Brooks lauded him for his performance, Apollo found he really needed the acceptance of his peers.

At the lowest point of his ordeal, he finally decided a change was in store. Despite Peterson’s protests, Apollo requested for a transfer, citing that his absence would improve morale and efficiency aboard the ship. The captain reluctantly granted it. Brooks was one of the few people who also felt Apollo leaving was a bad choice. “I’m not trying to tell you to stay. It’s obvious you’ve made up your mind. It’s your decision to make, but for the record, I’m saying it’s a mistake. You leaving is like saying Stevens won.”

Apollo shook his head. “I disagree. Stevens didn’t win. The corruption he ran on this ship is being purged. There’s not much I can do to shake things up any more than they already are.” He smirked. “Look on the bright side, sir… I didn’t become one of those redshirt statistics.”

Brooks patted him on the shoulder. “You take care of yourself, Lieutenant.”

The Merrimac reached Starbase 14. Apollo wasn’t the only crewmember to stay behind when the ship left again, but he was the only one to stay voluntarily.

As no ship was scheduled to arrive in the near future, Apollo was temporarily assigned to the starbase. He tried to get in touch with his friends, but upon searching for the Alexander, he discovered that their location was classified. That meant they were on a sensitive mission… he’d have to do without contacting them. Instead, he automatically put together a message to Sam, updating her on what had been going on. When he was finished, he moved to send the communique, but something stopped his hand.

Apollo sat there for a few moments, staring blankly at the screen. The scandal took its toll on his confidence… he didn’t know what had happened, but something stopped her from replying to his messages. He wished he knew what he did wrong for her to drop contact with him. Was it his duties? Did someone, for some reason, tell her that he turned on fellow Starfleet officers? He made about as many enemies with his role in the scandal’s revelation as he made friends. Still, what could he say to her to make her believe him. With a sigh, he realized he had no answers.

The computer was still waiting patiently for his command. “Computer…” he muttered, “delete message.”

He spent six months on Starbase 14, during which time he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander, due in part to his efforts on the Merrimac, but coming too late to do him any good. He satisfied himself with doing administrative work – Starbase 14 had its own security force – and boned up on technical manuals of the base, along with those of different starships. Anything he could get his hands on… from the layout of the base to any intelligence reports available on Klingon forces… he kept himself busy so his head wouldn’t know just how hurt his heart was.

For all his efforts, the paperwork did the exact opposite of what he was trying to accomplish, and only served to deepen his depression. While the personnel were civil enough, his incident on the Merrimac was still fresh on their minds…. they gave him a wide berth. After eight months, all he had to look forward to was going to the officer’s lounge after his shift. Since no one would sit with him, he figured that he wouldn’t waste the table space, and sat at the bar.

One night, he was sitting there, staring at a half-empty glass of Saurian Brandy, his fourth for the night. If his head hung any lower, it’d be resting on the bar. He heard someone come up behind him, but he was firmly ensconced in his depression, and he was also more than a bit tipsy to acknowledge it.

Then a familiar voice said, “I’ll have what this gentleman’s having. Saurian Brandy, isn’t it?” Apollo twirled in his seat to see Captain Kirk smiling at him.

Apollo almost jumped off his seat, but remembered the standing rule in the lounge, set by the base commander himself: In the officers’ lounge, there are no officers. Besides which, in his state, he was likely to wind up on the floor. “Captain Kirk, what a surprise.” His depression wasn’t serious enough to prevent him from returning the smile, but his tone clearly revealed his mood. “Would you like to join me?”

Kirk accepted, sitting next to Apollo as the bartender set his glass down in front of him. “Well, a lieutenant commander,” the captain said, noting the stripes on Apollo’s sleeve. “Not gunning for captain too fast, are we?”

Apollo snorted. “Nothing of the sort. Just doing my job.”

“Yes, well, if you were ‘just doing your job’, you wouldn’t be lieutenant commander.” Kirk shifted gears. “I heard what happened,” he said in a more compassionate tone.

The smiled abruptly left Apollo’s face. “Did you now.” He turned to face the bar, emptied his glass and ordered another one. “News travels fast.”

Kirk kept his smile. “Fastest thing in the Federation. You know, you did your ship a good service. Not many people would have the guts to come out and say that something’s wrong with the command structure, especially when they’re under it. I’m impressed.”

Apollo scowled. “Forgive me for saying this, sir,” he said, forgetting lounge policy, “but if that came from anyone but you, I would have been insulted. And I certainly don’t need to be patronized.” He didn’t hear an answer, and looked at Kirk. The captain had a look on his face that Apollo had seen before. This was the type of man who wouldn’t ask you to elaborate, but his behavior compelled you to do so anyway. “Because of what I did, I lost any standing I had on my ship, I have a lot of people who don’t trust me anymore, not just those on the Merrimac. I’m not so sure that even you should be seen with me right now.”

Kirk’s face grew stern. “Walk with me.” He got up and waited. Apollo figured the man was going to stand there until he complied, so he drained his glass again and joined him. They walked until Kirk was sure no one would deliberately listen in. “Don’t do this to yourself. I’ve seen a lot of fine officers walk the line. Some of them fall one way or the other, but a few rare people manage to keep their balance. Yes, people are going to be uncomfortable with you, but that’s because on the Merrimac, you gave those people a good swift kick in their complacency. You’ve rocked the boat, but you’ve done it for the right reasons, and that’s what counts.”

Apollo kneaded and rolled that advice in his head. It served to help him fight off the effects of the alcohol. As he did, two men walked up to Kirk. “Come on, Jim, the concert’s about to start.” He looked over Kirk’s shoulders and saw Apollo. “Oh, excuse us, Commander, but we’ve got to drag our captain to an appointment.”

The other officer, a Vulcan, raised his eyebrow. “Yes, Captain. You had only spent the past 2.63 days boasting about how you looked forward to this event.”

“Yes, gentleman, in a minute. I was talking to Commander Racer here…”

A sparkle appeared in the eyes of the officer who called Kirk “Jim.” “Is this the one you told us about a couple of years ago?” He had a southern accent that Apollo actually found quite pleasing. He reached around Kirk to shake Racer’s hand. “Well, I always wanted to meet the person who knocked our captain down a notch.”

Apollo was bewildered. “I assume you mean my test scores at the Academy.”

Kirk grinned. “Commander Racer, this is my chief medical officer, Dr. McCoy, and my first officer, Mr. Spock.”

Apollo shook McCoy’s hand, then he turned to Spock. “Greetings, Spock,” he said, raising his hand in the Vulcan salute. “I am honored to finally meet you.”

“And you as well, Commander.” Spock returned the salute with the greetings. “My mother has spoken of you.”

“It is a privilege to be the subject of such a pleasant woman’s conversation.” He turned to Kirk. “If you would excuse me, I’d like to finish my ‘business’.”

Kirk looked at him wryly. “As a matter of fact, I believe our table seats four, isn’t that right, Bones?” He looked sideways at Dr. McCoy, who nodded confirmation. “You’re welcome to join us, if you’d like.”

Apollo didn’t give it a second thought. “I’d consider it an honor, Captain.”

As he fell into step with them, Spock turned to him. “I am curious… from what I’ve heard, my father can be quite a taskmaster.”

“Yes, he is,” Apollo replied. “He was as thorough as he was efficient.”

“He had mentioned to me of a human who had managed to meet his standards. There are few non-Vulcans who can accomplish that.”

“Well, Jim, I think we finally found Spock a friend,” McCoy uttered dryly. Kirk grinned at the comment.

 

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