USS Oregon: Reassignment

Chapter 1

“Looks like I missed all the fun,” Captain Jonathan Gardner sat down by Josh at his usual booth in the Nimitz Captain’s Lounge.

“Oh yes, it was a real party,” Josh took a swig of his water. “Suspicion, intrigue, trial, and Romulans, an exciting holonovel to be sure.”

“You made it out alive, with your career intact, and even a commendation,” Jon pointed out to his friend.

“Just throw it on top of the pile,” Josh shrugged. “It was entirely too much stress to be worth it. Where the heck were you?”

“I’m afraid can’t tell you that,” Captain Gardner gave a sly grin. “Let’s just say it was much less exciting than whatever you went through. I heard through the grapevine that you picked up a defector.”

“Unfortunately,” Jackson sighed. “She’s been a real pain in the butt.”

“So who’d she defect from, Pelliad or Terrik?” Gardner queried.

“Both,” Josh answered. “It is rather confusing and quite classified. Long story short, she was a spy for Terrik that got stuck behind Pelliad’s lines, so she tried to defect back to Terrik. Unfortunately, she inadvertently tipped off Pelliad to Terrik’s whereabouts, so he disowned her. Dumped out in space completely on her own.”

“That’s interesting,” Jon scratched his chin. “Doesn’t sound like the Terrik I know to summarily dismiss someone, even if they seemed to be a traitor.”

“Well, how well do you really know him?” Josh asked. “He’s a Romulan, after all. Suspicion and vindictiveness are part of their cultural DNA. But she’s on our side now, so it matters little. So how long are you here for?”

“Just until tomorrow afternoon,” Gardner answered. “Long enough to restock torpedoes, which won’t take long, and get some basic maintenance done and then we’re off again.”

“What are you guys up to?” Jackson queried.

“Some scientists are doing some subspace communications research in the Bassen Rift and given its proximity to the Neutral Zone, we’ve been assigned as protection,” Gardner informed. “Plus they want to use our super-sensors to help them out. Since it cuts off communications, they want a big gun there in case the Romulans try something.”

“Unlikely, considering that they’re currently involved in a civil war,” Josh commented.

“Yes, well apparently someone stirred up a hornets nest,” Gardner eyed Josh suspiciously.

“Uh, well, I can’t really comment on that,” Jackson coughed awkwardly.

“Of course not,” Jon chuckled. “Well, hopefully Felix will be bored to tears for the next six weeks. Miguel will have a blast. In fact, he hasn’t stopped beaming since we got them.”

“What’s Eina doing?” Josh asked.

“She’s been mediating a dispute on Draylax for the last couple of weeks. She’ll join me in guarding the expedition,” Jon raised his eyebrows. “Is there a rock on this station you’ve been living under?”

“I’ve been out of the loop the last two months,” Josh answered. “First with my, uh, mission, then the trial, and then getting the Oregon put back together. Suffice it to say I’ve been a bit preoccupied.”

“Good point,” Jon agreed. “So when do you ship out?

“As soon as we get orders,” Josh answered. “Oregon’s almost up to par, Another day or two. So at this point, we’re just waiting for an assignment.”

“Probably won’t be anywhere near the Neutral Zone,” Jon commented wryly.

“Hope not,” Josh chuckled. “They’ve got a bounty my head that would probably buy a whole system. We’ll probably be sent near the Klingon or Cardassian border.”

“Not that the Cardassians have a much higher opinion of you than the Romulans,” Jon pointed out.

“True,” Josh sighed. “I’m just not very good at making friends.”

At that moment, the doors opened and a young lieutenant walked in and sauntered over to them. The attendant at the bar was too preoccupied with a lovely brunette captain to notice.

“Josh, Admiral MacCray wants to see you in his office. I guess it’s about our new assignment,” Saehir informed him.

“You do know that this is a captain’s only lounge?” Josh growled at her, not enjoying being interrupted, especially by her.

“I thought the Federation was big on equality for all,” the Romulan wrinkled her nose. “Seems rather hypocritical to have a captain’s lounge.”

“Rank hath its privileges,” Josh quipped. “Privileges I have earned, which is far than I can say for you.”

“Aren’t you high and mighty?” Saehir shot back.

“That’s what these mean,” Josh tapped the four pips on his collar. “Now fetch me another water, lieutenant. You can hand it to me at the door on my way out. I’ll be only another minute or two. And that’s an order.”

“You can’t do that,” Saehir complained.

“Actually, I can,” Josh allowed a sardonic grin as he once again gestured to his collar. “Now go.”

“Touchy for a Vulcan,” Jon noted as Saehir stalked off.

“She’s the Romulan defector, actually,” Josh corrected. “And now, as per orders of Starfleet Intelligence and Admiral MacCray, my chief tactical officer.”

“What?” Jon’s eyes bulged. “That has got be some kind of violation, not to mention just plain stupid.”

“I agree, but given my track record, I am not exactly in a position to complain about breaches in protocol,” Josh shrugged. “I happen to be rather notorious for them.”

“Listen Josh, be careful with her,” Jon warned his friend as he got up to go. “If Terrik didn’t trust her, than I wouldn’t either. She’s dangerous.”

“Thanks for the warning,” Josh nodded. “I’ll watch my back.”

“Here’s your water, your highness,” Saehir sarcastically handed him his glass.

“Thank you lackey,” Josh smiled as he took a sip. It was lukewarm. “What the heck?” he exclaimed as he spit it out.

It was Saehir’s turn to smile. “You didn’t say you wanted it cold, sir.”

************

“You wanted to see me, admiral?” Josh tapped on the door.

“Yes, captain, come in,” MacCray looked up.

“So what’s going on?” Josh asked once seated.

“You’re being transferred,” MacCray informed him. “The Oregon is now under the command of Admiral Tim Richards based out of Starbase 123.”

“Richards? I can’t say I’m familiar with him,” Josh looked quizzically at the admiral across from him.

“Old war hero. Got his admiral’s box after the Dominion war, surprised you didn’t run into him then,” MacCray informed.

“I was but a young lieutenant back then that was mostly concerned with keeping my ship in one piece to care about other captains,” Josh shrugged. “I’m still rather young.”

“Right, keep forgetting that,” MacCray chuckled. “Anyway, he’s not much different than you, the warrior-type. Like you, he doesn’t crave battle, but he’s good at it and understands the need for strong military defense. As such, he’s been charged with defending the Isolated Region.”

“Sounds like an exile to me,” Josh mused. “Starfleet doesn’t particularly like us military-types.”

“Oh I agree,” MacCray nodded. “But in this case, it is not an exile at all. As you know, to get there, one must pass through the Klingon Empire and it is cornered by the Klingons (whom I don’t completely trust) and the Romulans. As such, it is fairly isolated; it’ll take about five weeks to get there and a week from Federation space. Because of this and because it isn’t comparatively important with the rest of the Federation, Command doesn’t want to allocate a fleet to defend it.”

“So their sending me?” Josh was dubious.

“Well, you’re joining the task force,” the admiral clarified. “Anyway, in order to compensate for this, they are deciding to send the best military captains to help defend it. That includes you. You guys have a small force, but should be capable enough to manage against any Romulan incursions.”

“So when do we leave?” Josh asked.

“Two days,” MacCray provided. “You have an immediate mission en route. You’re to deliver Ambassador A’ral to Starbase 123. He is mediating a dispute in the Isolated Region, though I’m not privy to the details.”

“That it?” Jackson asked.

“Make sure he gets whatever he needs,” the admiral answered.

“Great, babysitting,” Josh sighed. “Just another of my favorite things.”

“Sarcasm isn’t going to make it more fun,” MacCray waggled his finger. “He’s a rather congenial fellow for a Vulcan, so he shouldn’t be too much trouble.”

“I suppose I don’t have much of a choice,” Josh shrugged. “If that’s everything admiral, I probably best get the crew and ship ready.”

“One last thing,” Gregory held up his hand, stopping Josh. “As my last order to you, I am entrusting the Starfleet training of your new tactical officer, Lieutenant Saehir Aelhih, to you, specifically.”

“Oh come on,” Josh groaned. “You are going to miss messing with me.”

“Most certainly,” MacCray grinned evilly as he stood. “And captain, it’s been a pleasure, mostly, working with you.”

“Likewise admiral,” Josh allowed a rare genuine smile and shook the man’s hand.

**********

Chapter 2

To Saehir, it was as if the temperature in the room dropped five degrees the moment she walked into the main lounge. The loud conversation she had heard outside the door stopped for a moment as people cast a rather unfriendly glance her way before resuming at a quieter tone. Putting on a brave front, she smiled nervously and asked for a drink at the bar.

“Here you are,” the man at the bar joylessly informed her as he handed her the beverage and turned away. Taking it, Saehir scanned the room for a seat. No one offered one and no one made eye contact. After an awkward moment, she spotted Ras and Rio chatting near the window with an available seat next to them. Plucking up her courage, Saehir made her way towards them.

“Mind if I sit here?” she asked politely.

“Would it make a difference if we said yes?” Ras coldly responded.

Saehir shrugged. “No, probably not,” she answered and sat down.

Abruptly Ras stood up. “I have work to do,” he told the group and strode out.

“So, uh, how are you?” the new Lieutenant Aelhih asked Rio.

“I am finished, enjoy you’re drink,” the Bajoran stood up and followed Ras out. Looking down at the table, Saehir noticed that more than half of Rio’s meal was still there.

Sighing deeply, Saehir turned her gaze outside the window as she observed the star lines race by. She had hoped that joining Starfleet and the crew of the Oregon would ease her loneliness, but instead she found herself just as isolated. Here the crew simply shunned her, rather than shooting at her. She almost missed the disruptor fire.

“It is a pretty sight, isn’t it?”

Saehir jerked around to see an average height blond woman in a white lab coat standing there with a drink in one hand and a pleasant look on her face.

“May I join you in staring off aimlessly?” she prodded.

“Uh, sure, if you want,” Saehir responded. “Though I should warn you that associating with me might cause you to be anathematized.”

“This isn’t high school dearie,” the woman chided as she sat down. “Besides, with my connections, they wouldn’t dare. You’re the new tactical officer, right? The Romulan?”

“Yeah, the Romulan,” Saehir sighed. “I’m thinking of changing my name to that, since it’s the only thing people call me anyways.”

“Sorry,” she apologized. “So what’s up with you? I’ve seen you around, but you always seem to be by yourself.”

“Maybe I just like being alone,” Saehir sniffed. “I fought more than my share of battles and lost a lot of friends,” she pointed out, before silently adding to herself, killed a few too. “Being alone makes it easier,” Saehir continued. “Besides, given the last month of my life, who knows how long I’ll be here. So why settle in?”

“It would be easy to believe you’re that much like Josh,” the woman raised an eyebrow, “except that I watched you get shut down by Rio and Ras, so I know that you are trying to fit in. So what’s really the story?”

“What are you, some kind of spy?” Saehir turned a Romulan glare on the woman, who merely shrugged.

“No, just someone who pays attention,” she answered.

“Sounds like something Josh would say,” Saehir bitterly growled. “Where’s he been anyway? I hardly ever see him except when we’re on the bridge at the same time.”

“The captain?” the woman queried. “He keeps to himself. Unlike you, he wants to be alone. But what about you? What’s wrong?”

“Why do you care?” Aelhih acidly. “No one else seems too; especially your precious captain. Everyone seems to treat him like he’s the Emperor or something.”

“Josh’s something alright,” the woman nodded with a wry smile. “But this isn’t about him; it’s about you.”

“What are you, the ship’s counselor or something?” Saehir growled.

“Something,” the woman answered again. “Actually, ship’s counselor is one of Josh’s rare oversights. At any rate, what’s your deal? You’re as evasive as one of the Jackson’s, yet you keep trying to reach out. What’s going on?”

Saehir started to say some dismissive reply but realized that this is exactly what she had been looking for. Why was she fighting it? Taking a deep sigh, the Romulan gave in.

“No one likes me here,” she finally explained. “After all I went through in the last couple of months from getting tossed from one side to the other this seemed like an opportunity to have some stability in my life. No more subterfuge, no more politics, no more suspicion; just being me for once.”

“But instead, you find yourself an outsider,” the woman finished.

“No one likes me,” Saehir confirmed with a sigh. “I mean, I get that the crew has been together on a mission already and I’m kinda jumping in with all the little cliques already formed, but people are ignoring me. It’s like I don’t even exist.”

“That’s got to be lonely, especially for being the only Romulan in the fleet,” her counterpart commented.

“It is,” Saehir agreed. “But it’s more than that. It’s one thing if I was simply ignored; I can handle that. But people are shunning me; talking to me only when they absolutely have to and then they sound like they’d rather shoot me than talk to me. I get the feeling like the entire crew absolutely hates me.”

The woman studied the Romulan for a moment. What she needs is a friend, she concluded silently.

“I don’t hate you,” she told Saehir.

“You’d be the only one,” Saehir scoffed.

“I get off duty in a couple of hours,” the woman ignored the comment, “you want to hang out?”

“Sure you want to risk it?” Saehir raised an eyebrow.

“C’mon, you can’t be that bad,” the woman chuckled. “Besides, with my connections, the rest of the crew wouldn’t dare touch me. You like sports?”

“Huh?” Saehir was confused.

“Sports,” the woman repeated. “You know athletics; games involving intense physical activity.”

“Oh right,” Aelhih nodded. “Yeah sure.”

“Great,” the woman smiled. “Meet me in a couple hours in the rec area and I’ll show you some Federation sports.”

“That’d be awesome, thanks,” Saehir felt her lips involuntarily start to smile. This day was looking up.

“See you then,” the woman stood and started towards the door.

“Hey, what’s your name?” Saehir almost forgot to ask.

“Kirsten,” she answered and walked out.

*************

It was a couple hours later when Saehir found the gymnasium located on deck five in the Beta section. With the ship together, the three parts really did not matter that much, but it was always good to be apprised of where one was in case something happened.       The blond, Kirsten if Saehir remembered the name right, was waiting for her with a smile, a tight tank top, and matching shorts. Saehir herself was clad in a gray t-shirt and black shorts, not having a clue what she was going to be doing.

“So what’s the plan?” she asked Kirsten walking up.

“You made it,” the blond gave her a wry smile. “I was wondering if you had chickened out.”

“No, just got a little lost,” Saehir defended. “This had got to be the most haphazard and confusing layout I’ve ever seen in a ship.”

“Yeah, it’s a labyrinth alright,” Kirsten agreed. “That’s one of the drawbacks to cramming three ships into one is that you have to shove things into whatever cranny they’ll fit, which leads to a random layout.”

“I see,” Saehir nodded. “So what’d you have in mind?”

“That’s up to you,” Kirsten gave a sweeping gesture around the room. “We can do your basic martial arts and calisthenics, though I should warn that I’ve had two very good teachers, just run to keep in shape, pareci squares, racquetball, tennis, fencing, and more.”

“What’s that one?” she gestured to an orange circle three meters off ground resting against a meter by meter piece of transparent aluminum.

“You would be interested in that one, wouldn’t you?” Kirsten gave a sly smile before adding under her breath, “You are so much like him.”

“Huh?”

“Nothing,” Kirsten waved her off and returned their attention to the apparatus at the end of the gym. “That is a basketball hoop. It’s an old earth game from America called basketball.”

“How does it work?” Saehir asked.

“Computer, basketball, women’s,” Kirsten ignored her for a second. Beside them materialized a round orange ball 72 centimeters in diameter. Kirsten hefted it, bounced it a couple of times and then began to explain.

“The essential object of the game is to get this ball through that hoop,” Kirsten expounded. “When playing offense, I cannot carry the ball, I have to bounce it like this,” Kirsten dribbled for a few steps in demonstration. “When playing defense, I must try to stop the defender from scoring without ‘fouling’ or intentionally hitting, tripping, bumping, or really touching the other player. I can touch the ball, just not the player.”

“How do you stop them?” Saehir was confused. Stop someone without contact?

“Position and maneuvering,” Kirsten answered. “Let’s play and I think you’ll catch the hang of it.”

For the next thirty minutes, the two women danced around the half-court area of the gym while others either worked out or looked on, mostly with Kirsten teaching and Saehir learning. Kirsten noted with mild pride that Saehir was catching on fast and rapidly learning how to use her superior Romulan strength to her advantage. But Kirsten’s experience won out in the end.

“You’re a natural,” Kirsten complimented her opponent as they headed for the lounge to get a drink.

“Thanks, but you’re really good,” Saehir returned the compliment between pants. “No offense, but I always thought that human women didn’t do sports.”

“Generally no,” Kirsten agreed. “Though Starfleet women need to keep in peak shape to survive. But that is usually your basic workout routines and martial arts.”

“So how’d you get so good at ball-basket?” Saehir asked.

“Basketball dear,” Kirsten corrected. “My husband and his brother are crazy about the game. It’s one of the very few things that help them relax and unwind. So I picked it up from them.”

“Why have you been so nice to me?” Saehir queried Kirsten when they sat down with their drinks.

“You’re pretty cool, coolest Romulan I’ve ever met in fact,” Kirsten grinned. “Why shouldn’t I be friendly?”

“Because everyone else hates me,” Saehir reiterated. “Aren’t you the slightest bit worried about getting ostracized?”

“Like I told you earlier, with my connections, the crew wouldn’t dare,” Kirsten smiled slyly. “Besides this crew is professional. The job comes first, personal feelings later. Also, I’m the CMO, someone you really want on your good side.”

“You’re the CMO?” Saehir’s eyebrows shot up. “Why haven’t I met you before?”

“You actually did,” Kirsten recalled. “Right after Josh rescued you from Quinterex V, I was the one who treated you. Not surprised you don’t remember; you guys had been through a lot.”

“Oh yeah,” a light bulb went off in the Romulan’s mind. “That was you? Sorry, but it’s all a bit hazy.”

“Don’t worry, I see so many patients that they tend to run together,” Kirsten laughed. “You stood out because a) Josh rescued you and b) you’re a Romulan, which is more than a little unusual. At least your physiology is very similar to Vulcan physiology.”

“Glad to be so accommodating,” Saehir sardonically replied. “So why haven’t I met you at any of the briefings?”

“I don’t go,” Kirsten shrugged. “Rarely do the briefings have anything to do with sickbay, so there really is no need for me to go. If my input is needed, Jon will make sure I’m there, but otherwise he and Josh let me out, much to my relief and their envy. If anything comes up that I should know Jon will fill me in.”

“Sounds like you are pretty well connected with the chain of command,” Saehir noted. “You seem to get out of a lot of paperwork.”

“Sickbay has its own evils, don’t worry honey,” Kirsten chuckled. “It keeps me plenty busy. But I will admit being married to the first officer has its perks.”

Saehir’s jaw hit the table. “You’re married to Commander Jonathan Jackson?” she gasped out in shock. “That means Captain Jackson is your brother-in-law.”

“The logic would follow thus,” Kirsten looked quizzical. “You didn’t know this?”

“No, I guess that little tidbit never came up in any of the briefings I’ve been to,” Saehir tried desperately to regain her composure. “I tried to kill your brother-in-law and you’re still nice to me. Why?”

“Because I seriously doubt that you still are trying to kill him and even if you were, I seriously doubt that you would succeed; because that’s in the past and because you’re a cool person,” Kirsten shrugged. “Because you needed a friend and no one else was offering.”

“I—” Saehir began before being cut off.

“Lieutenant Aelhih,” Josh’s serious tone emanated from her communicator, “report to the captain’s ready room immediately.”

“On my way captain,” Saehir acknowledged. “We are going to talk about this later. I’ve got to hear how you ended up with Commander Jackson.”

“Look forward to it,” Kirsten smiled warmly as Saehir headed towards the door.

************

“So what did you want to see me about?” Saehir demanded as she walked unannounced into Josh’s ready room.

“What in the world?” Josh shot up in his chair and whirled around to face her. “Do Romulans knock?”

“What is ‘knock’?” Aelhih queried.

“I guess not,” Josh did not directly answer the question. “What do you think the big button with a Starfleet logo on the side is for?”

“Uh, decoration?” Saehir posited.

“Try pressing it next time,” Josh growled.

“What does it do?” the Romulan questioned. “Wait, what do I care? What was it that you wanted to see me about?”

“You cover identity,” Josh resumed his all-business demeanor

“Cover identity?” Saehir was confused. “Am I going on some sort of intelligence mission?”

“No,” Josh answered. “As you ought to know, we are going to be reaching the Klingon on border in a couple of hours and I need you to pose as a half-Vulcan while we are in Klingon space.”

“Why?” Aelhih sighed, already knowing the answer.

“Because Klingons hate Romulans,” Josh rolled his eyes to explain. “If they knew that not only were we carrying a Romulan, but she was part of our crew, well let’s just say that I don’t want to start a war in both of my first missions.”

“Why not just have me off the bridge when we cross into their space?” the very concept of pretending to be a Vulcan was nauseating to her. Those cold-hearted, emotionless, cocky, and utterly useless morons.

“Unfortunately it’s not that simple,” Josh countered. “We’ll be escorted the two days across Klingon space, so we’ll be in pretty continuous contact with them. In addition a Klingon representative will be on board with us the entire time so it’s not like we can keep you hidden the whole time.”

“Couldn’t you relieve me of bridge duty for a couple of days?” Saehir asked.

“Because that’s not suspicious,” Josh snorted in reply. “What would I do? Randomly confine you to quarters for a couple of days?”

“I guess,” Saehir shrugged, “I don’t know.”

“Obviously,” Josh derided. “Look, for once in the time I’ve known, just do what you’re told, alright. It’ll be easier on everyone, especially me. Just act all stolid and everything will be fine.”

“Easy for you to say,” Saehir grumbled.

“Yeah, it is,” Josh rolled his eyes at her. “Part of being in Starfleet sweetheart is doing things that we hate or are even insulting to us. Consider it your initiation.”

“Yes sir,” Saehir mumbled back.

“Good,” Josh gave a sharp nod. “Just so we’re clear: that wasn’t a request; it was an order.”

“I know sir,” Saehir sighed.

“Don’t call me sir,” Josh added icily. “I hate that.”

“Aye, sir,” Saehir cocked an eyebrow. “Anything you say sir.”

Josh’s eyes narrowed, “You’re not going to make this easy for me, are you?”

“You’re not making it easy for me, so fair’s fair,” Saehir retorted.

“I should have you thrown in the brig,” Josh snapped.

“For what?” Saehir challenged. “For following Starfleet protocol? That’ll go over well.”

Josh just glared at Saehir, “Don’t you have work to do?”

“Beauty of being off duty,” Saehir smirked. “I have nothing to do.”

“Joyful,” Josh waved her off. “Well, you’re dismissed to do nothing.”

Saehir walked towards the door, but then stopped and faced Josh. For a moment, Josh ignored her, but finally looked up.

“Is there something else lieutenant?” Josh queried.

“Aren’t you supposed to be off-duty?” Saehir asked.

“A captain is rarely ever off-duty,” Josh cryptically replied.

“So I’ll take that as a sort of,” Saehir crossed her arms. “Let’s go grab a drink or play some ball-basket.”

Josh’s eyes went cold. “Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear,” Josh’s voice was low, “was there something of relevance you wanted to discuss.”

“Uh no,” Saehir admitted.

“Then I suggest you stop wasting my time,” Josh ordered. “Dismissed, lieutenant.”

Saehir opened her mouth to say something, but thought better of it and left.

*************

“How can you stand that jerk?” Saehir asked Kirsten in sickbay while the latter was tending to an injured engineer who had gotten hurt doing some martial arts exercises.

“That should do it,” Kirsten told the patient, momentarily ignoring Saehir’s ranting. The ensign, who was more than a little wary of Saehir, nodded and quickly scampered out of the room. Turning to Saehir, “Which jerk are we talking about now?”

“Josh,” Saehir growled. “Who else?”

“Josh? A jerk?” Kirsten looked quizzically. “I suppose that depends on how you look at it. He’s pretty ruthless in a fight, but other than that he’s not a bad person. A bit cold perhaps, but I wouldn’t classify him as a jerk.”

“A bit cold?” Saehir scoffed. “Deep space has more warmth than him. Please tell me Jon isn’t like this.”

“Jon is generally the more congenially of the two,” Kirsten still looked confused. “What happened?”

“When we are going through Klingon space, I’m supposed to pretend to be some half-Vulcan,” Saehir complained.

“Pardon me, but I don’t see the problem with that,” Kirsten hopped onto the bio-bed. “Given the Klingon’s feelings for Romulans, having a Romulan as part of our crew could be a complication.”

“I get that,” Saehir growled.

“Then what’s the problem?” Kirsten asked.

“It’s just that I’m tired of pretending to be someone I’m not,” Saehir sighed. “I had to spend like six months pretending to fight for Pelliad. Then Terrik left me to die because he thought I was a traitor. When I got here, I thought I could just be me, you know. But no, I have to play-act a Vulcan.”

“It’s only for a couple of days,” Kirsten still did not quite understand.

“You don’t get it,” Saehir groaned. “It’s just I’m sick and tired of people wanting to be someone else.”

“Ah, I see,” Kirsten finally caught on. “So did you tell Josh this?”

“I tried, but he didn’t care,” Saehir sourly told Kirsten. “When I tried to protest, he just waved me off and told me to do as he ordered. That’s what really pisses me off. I get that it’s necessary for the mission, but he could have at least cared to listen to my side of the issue, but no, all he cares about getting through to Starbase 123 intact. How I feel is of no importance to him so he won’t hear of it. He just summarily kicked me out.”

“Hmm,” Kirsten continued to listen to Saehir.

“Why does Josh hate me?” Saehir sighed. “I just don’t get it. After everything we went through, I thought that he’d be at least civil to me. But it seems that every time I try to hang out with him or talk to him, unless it has something to do with work, he’ll have nothing to do with me. And it’s not like he’s nice about it either; just tells me to leave him alone like I’m some sort of nuisance.”

“Well, from his point of view, you probably are,” Kirsten pointed out.

“Not helping,” Saehir snapped.

“Sorry,” Kirsten chuckled a little bit. “It’s not you. Josh treats everyone that way.”

“So he’s just a jerk then?” Saehir raised an eyebrow.

“Like I said, I wouldn’t call him a jerk per se,” Kirsten rebutted. “Look Saehir, the Jackson boys are, unique.”

“What do you mean?” Saehir questioned.

“That’s a long story, one that I don’t even know completely,” Kirsten explained. “I’m also not at liberty to tell the story. Let’s just say they never had a childhood.”

“They were never children?” Saehir looked dubious.

“Physiologically of course,” Kirsten answered. “But psychologically…. Well something happened to them that made them grow up in a hurry.”

“What happened?” the Romulan’s curiosity was thoroughly aroused.

“That is something only they know,” Kirsten shrugged. “Even Jon won’t tell me, saying he doesn’t want to dredge up old wounds, wounds he can do nothing about. From his point of view, there’s no point in talking about a past that cannot be changed. At any rate, whatever it was that happened to them profoundly changed them. They like few people and trust even fewer. They incredibly single-minded and focused. I dare say they rival Vulcans in their mental and physical discipline. Whatever task is before them, they focus on with unbending determination. Above all, they live to defend and protect the Federation at all costs. It might explain their ferocity in battle. The end result is that anything that deviates from this is viewed as an unnecessary distraction that they’ll have nothing to do with. It’s made them rather anti-social, but very good at what they do.”

“So it isn’t me?” Saehir clarified.

“You?” Kirsten chuckled. “Other than trying to kill Josh, no. It’s simply the way they are. They let very few past their guard, two that I can think of. Myself and Captain Gardner, but that is all. The rule with them is unless you have something of relevance to the mission to say, then say nothing at all and let them be. They highly value respect and privacy.”

“How did you get past?” Saehir wondered aloud.

“Good question,” Kirsten sighed. “I don’t really know. Maybe I was at the right place at the right time. Maybe there was something about me that let me through. Maybe I pushed hard enough to get in.”

“Maybe I should push then,” Saehir suggested.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Kirsten warned her. “Josh is liable to push back and you don’t want to face that, trust me. I’ve seen more than one woman badly burned because they pushed too hard. My advice to you is to leave him alone. Work with him where you can, but nothing more. Anything else could be risky to your health, to say nothing of your career.”

“But there’s got to be something I can do to get through to him,” Saehir groaned. “He’s someone like me, someone I can understand. I can’t tell you how much that means to me to have someone like that here, where everything is so strange.”

“He may not like you Saehir,” Kirsten put her hand on the Romulan’s shoulder. “But he does respect you. I know Josh well enough to see that. More than he trusts you and his trust is not something that is given lightly. Let that be enough for you.”

Saehir was about to say something in reply when Josh’s voice chirped from her communicator. “All senior bridge officers, report to the bridge immediately. We have arrived at the Klingon border,” it said.

“I gotta go,” Saehir sighed. “Thanks for listening.”

“No problem,” Kirsten smiled. “Let’s hang out later. Maybe we can improve your jump shot.”

“I’d love that,” Saehir shot Kirsten a rare smile and headed for the bridge.

*************

“You know what I really hate about Romulans?” Ras ranted on the bridge to the Klingon officer.

“Please enlighten me,” the Klingon was grinning from ear to ear, clearly enjoying this.

“It’s their women,” Ras supplied. “They have this cold, arrogant, holier-than-thou attitude that is just infuriating. Completely inapproachable. It’s not that their logical like Vulcan chicks, they’re just cocky. Plus they got this nasty vindictive streak in them. Kill you as soon as look at you. Won’t do it honorably either, like a Klingon woman. No, these bitches will poison you or have some hired phaser do their dirty work for them.”

“That sounds Romulan enough,” the Klingon nodded his agreement.

“Oh, but their favorite method is pure evil,” Ras cast a taunting look at Saehir. “From what I hear, if a Romulan chick is into you, run. That means she’s going to off you. See they like to seduce a man into bed with them, then slit their throat while they sleep.”

“Have they no honor?” the Klingon roared in disgust.

“Nope,” Ras confirmed. “But what would expect from a Romulan woman? Never trust a Romulan. First thing you learn at the Academy, right Saehir?”

“I find your banter illogical and pointless,” Saehir hoped that her struggle to remain calm and not strangle both the Klingon and Ras was kept hidden. “I would wish that you leave me firmly out of it.”

“Of course,” Ras smirked. “So how many Romulans have you killed.” With that, the Klingon began enlightening the crew to some of his battles against the Romulans. Saehir knew that some of her friends would have been in those battles. This she did not have the stomach to listen to.

“Captain, may I have a word in private with you?” she asked calmly.

Josh seemed shaken out of his thoughts. “I suppose,” he shrugged. “My ready room?”

Once inside, Saehir broke character. “I can’t stand this,” she wailed to Josh. “I have to put up this crap all day long. Right now you would do me a favor by confining me to my quarters. After this, I may never come out again.”

“What exactly are you referring to?” Josh asked from behind his desk, his visage emotionless.

“Where were you?” she railed at him. “Did you not hear Ras continuously insult and belittle me and my people for the last hour?”

“I believe he was simply making conversation,” Josh shrugged.

“Oh, and was it making conversation when he told Ensign Peck to keep his distance because ‘you never can know what that Romulan whore will do.’ Was that just ‘making conversation’?”

“So are you saying that Ensign Ras has been bigoted and derogatory?” Josh questioned.

“You’ve got to be joking?” Saehir shot the captain an incredulous look. “It’s not just Ras, but your entire damn crew. I would feel more loved and accepted floating in space.”

“So you’re not fitting in and have personal issues with some of the crew?” Josh wondered.

“You could say that,” Saehir confirmed.

“So what do you want from me?” Josh cocked his head.

“Get them to back off, to cut me some slack,” Saehir couldn’t believe how dense this guy could be.

“Sorry, but I can’t do that,” Josh rejected.

“What?” Saehir’s jaw dropped.

“Look, ship operations, tactical procedures, crew placement and replacement, interdepartment feuds and the like are within my jurisdiction. People’s interpersonal relationships, not so much.,” Josh explained. “I don’t ask my crew to like each other; just work with each other. As far as I can tell, my crew is working well together. So if you have a problem with some, that is your problem to deal with.”

“So you’re not going to do anything?” Saehir was shocked.

“I can’t fight your battles for you,” Josh shrugged. “That wouldn’t be wise. Is there anything else?”

Tightening up her face, Saehir forced out, “No captain, that is all.”

“Very well, dismissed,” Josh didn’t even look up.

*************

“I’m going to kill him,” Saehir growled to Kirsten two days later as she laid a swift roundhouse kick to the pad that Kirsten was holding, knocking her back several feet.

“You might want to tone it down,” Kirsten caught her breath. “The people around here are liable to take you seriously, given your history.”

“I’m not really going to kill him,” Saehir grunted as she landed a series of punches to the pad. “Tempting as it might be.”

“Josh can be infuriating at times,” Kirsten agreed with a sigh. “How bad has it really been?”

“Since I’m an emotionless Vulcan, I can’t respond to any insults or jabs that the crew throws my way. A fact they have taken full advantage of,” Saehir answered with a vicious punch.

Kirsten felt her heart sink. For all the rhetoric about equality and acceptance that the Federation preached, there could be some real prejudice among her members. Starfleet officers were apparently not excluded. “What’d they say?” Kirsten asked, certain that she did not want to know the answer.

“I believe the favorite nickname I’ve garnered is ‘Romulan whore’,” Saehir replied with a definite edge to her voice. “Others would include ‘Traitor’ and ‘Turncoat’ and ‘Witch’ and ‘Benedict Arnold,’ whatever that means.”

“He was a traitor during the American Revolution six centuries ago,” Kirsten automatically explained. “Sorry, that’s not really the point, is it? Who’s behind this?”

“Who isn’t would be an easier question,” Saehir snorted. “I guess Ras has been the most ruthless.”

“Figured,” Kirsten shook her head. “He’s taken Mark’s death pretty hard.”

“Were those two good friends?” Saehir rocked on the balls of her feet, preparing for her next strike.

“As good of friends as you can be in four weeks,” Kirsten supplied as she absorbed Saehir’s routine and gestured to switch. “He blames you for Mark’s death. Rio too.”

“And most of the crew, I would suppose,” Saehir sardonically pointed out. “It’s not like I asked them for help.”

“That’s not how they see it,” Kirsten kicked the pad. “Which of course is not helping you. I’m sorry for how the crew has been treating you. It’s not what the Federation is about and not all of us are like that.”

“I know,” Saehir smiled at her friend. “You’ve been a real friend, one I’ve needed.”

“It’s odd that Josh or Jon haven’t done anything,” Kirsten noted. “This is not something that they would tolerate.”

“I doubt they know,” Saehir braced herself for Kirsten’s punch, “or care.”

“They do,” Kirsten told her. “I know Josh does, more than you can guess.”

“Then why doesn’t do anything?” Saehir’s face began to look despondent.

“I cannot begin to speculate on Josh’s motives or reasons,” Kirsten shook her head. “I do know this: he’s got his reasons and if there is one thing I know about Josh is that he’s always two steps ahead of everyone else.”

“Right, like anyone’s that smart,” Saehir scoffed.

“They both are,” Kirsten countered. “Trust me; I’ve been in battles with them when it seemed like everything was falling apart, but they stood there cool as ice. Then, just when all seemed lost, they pulled complete victory from nowhere. They did this because they were two steps ahead. Everything that the enemy did that appeared to be crucial blows to us was really playing right into their hands.”

“That just means that they’re good tacticians, nothing more,” Saehir growled.

“This is how they live their lives,” Kirsten explained as she did a punch-kick combination. “Look, if you don’t trust them, trust me. It will be okay in the end. If he didn’t believe that, he wouldn’t let this go on.”

“Alright, I—,” Saehir sighed.

“—All senior officers report to the bridge immediately,” Josh’s flat voice called over the comm.

“On my way,” Saehir sighed. “Thanks for the workout.”

“Any time,” Kirsten smiled. “Hey, hang in there. Things’ll work out.”

“I’ll try,” Saehir turned to the door.

************

Chapter 3:

“What’s going on?” Saehir asked as she dashed onto the bridge.

“Your uniform is wrinkled,” Rio icily commented from her station. “What took you so long to get here?”

“Last one here, rumpled uniform, out of breath and hair a bit out of place,” Ras counted on his fingers. “I think it’s quite obvious what our resident Romulan turncoat has been up to. Who was it this time?”

Saehir shot a glance at Josh, who merely shrugged and resumed looking at whatever it was that he was dealing with. Clenching her jaw, she walked stiffly to her station and took over tactical.

“What’s going on?” she asked again through clenched teeth.

“We’ve received a distress call from freighter and we’re moving to intercept,” Jon informed her. “The transmission was pretty garbled, but from what Rio pulled out, we managed to pieced together what happened. Essentially, the freighter hit something that fried their warp coils, leaving them dead in space.”

“Just a bunch of fried warp coils and we’re going off to help them?” Saehir raised one of her eyebrows. “Don’t we have to deliver pointy-ears here?” she gestured to the Vulcan ambassador.

“That would be Ambassador Pointy-ears to you lieutenant,” A’ral dryly commented, drawing a chuckle from some of the others in the room.

“Starfleet protocol dictates that we answer all distress calls,” Josh spoke for the first time. “If it is necessary, we can dispatch the Ambassador on a shuttle to complete his mission.”

“That is not necessary captain, thank you,” the Vulcan motioned off. “My mission is not time sensitive, whereas these merchants’ plight is a little more so. Thank you for your concern, Lieutenant.”

Saehir saw Ras visibly bristle at the compliment she received, which brought a smile to her face. Silence reigned over the bridge as they waited to arrive at the freighter’s position.

“Ras, all stop!” Rio suddenly barked out. Without waiting a moment, Ras brought them to a sudden halt, pivoting the ship on the tip of the dagger-head, throwing them from their places, depositing two of the bridge staff on the floor.

“Care to explain why you felt like tossing us around like that?” Saehir snapped at Rio as she picked herself up off the bridge floor.

“She doesn’t have to explain herself to you,” Ras came to his comrades defense.

“After that ride, I thinks she owes us a bit of an explanation,” Saehir crossed her arms and glared down at the helmsman.

“What the hell did you guys do up there?” Ax’s voice came over the comm. “You just about fried the inertial dampers and gave one of my engineers a concussion.”

“Peace,” Josh held up his hand. “Rio isn’t going to subvert the chain of command and toss us around like a salad for no reason, though I am dreadfully curious to know what that reason is.”

“Hold on a second,” Rio held up her hand as she bent over her readout. “Five hundred meters off our bow is a subspace rift. I’m guessing that’s what damaged the freighters warp coils.”

“And if we had hit it, we would have been in the same boat as them,” Jon finished with a nod. “Good catch Rio. Can we go through it with impulse drive?”

“I think so,” Rio answered. “I’m sending the data to Ax; he can tell you better than I.”

“Got it,” Ax’s voice came over the com. He paused for a moment before answering, “Yeah, it shouldn’t be a problem, so long as we don’t go to warp. How far is the freighter?”

“Five hundred thousand kilometers from our present position,” Rio informed. “My guess is that they hit the rift and then basically drifted to a stop.”

“Alright Ras full impulse, Ax get an engineering team ready, Saehir get a security team ready,” Jon ordered. “You’ll be with me.”

“Aye,” was echoed throughout the bridge and they went about picking their teams.

“Captain, we’ve cleared the rift,” Rio informed Josh.

“Excellent,” he nodded to Ras. “Hail them please.”

“Aye Josh, hailing,” Ras sent the communication. A moment later, a Markalian face appeared on the view screen.

“I’m Captain Joshua Jackson of the USS Oregon,” Josh stepped forward. “We received your distress call and have come to lend a hand.”

“Thank you Oregon,” the Markalian responded. “I am Captain Tosh of the freighter Anslem. We seem to have hit a subspace rift that you luckily avoided and have lost warp drive. We are on a tight schedule to make this delivery captain so any assistance that you could offer would be most welcome.”

“I’ll have my engineering team beam over right away along with my first officer,” Josh gestured to his brother, which caused the Markalian to do a double take.

“We would be most grateful Oregon,” he bowed. “I’ll have my crew ready to meet them.”

Oregon out,” Josh cut the communication. “Okay people, you know your jobs. Hop to it.”

As people bustled about, Saehir checked her tactical display of the ship. She had done a quick scan of the ship, just in case they were not friendly. Their weapons were of no concern, but there was something unusual about her readings.

“Rio, what is their cargo?” she asked.

“I don’t know, why?” Rio shrugged.

“Could you run a scan of them real quick? Something doesn’t seem quite right,” Saehir told her.

“What do you mean?” Rio did not move.

“There seems to be some kind of weird energy field around their hold,” Saehir explained.

“Why not,” Rio snorted and did a quick scan. “It’s just a dampening field, probably to prevent sensors from reading what’s inside.”

“Isn’t that odd?” Saehir queried.

“It’s not normal, but not necessarily out of place,” Rio answered. “Especially out here. This is a hot bed for pirates and raiders, so some freighters put a dampening field around their cargo to hide from prying eyes.”

“Can our sensors penetrate it?” Saehir did not like people hiding things. It made her uncomfortable.

“Not legally,” Rio cocked her head at Saehir. “In the Federation we believe in individual privacy and rights. Without a reason or a warrant, I can’t just scan their ship. If they want to hide their cargo, then that is there business, not mine. Being a Romulan, you probably have no grasp of that concept.”

“I—” Saehir began to respond, but Jon cut her off.

“Hey Saehir, let’s go,” he called to her from the turbo lift.

“On my way,” she turned and stalked off.

************

“Thank you commander,” Tosh, the Markalian captain, was talking to Jon as repair teams were busy around the engine room.

“It’s what we do,” Jon shrugged. “Commander, how much time?”

“It’s not pretty Jon,” the Royadanian looked up from his PADD. “I’m guessing six hours at best.”

“Six hours!” the freighter captain gasped. “That long?”

“Yeah, your warp coils are completely shot and need to replaced. Plus you’ve blown half your EPS conduits and your anti-matter containment units are damaged and probably need to be replaced,” Ax explained with a sigh. “Six hours is the best we can do, unless you can spare some of your people.”

“Unfortunately not,” he sighed in response. “We are cleaning up our cargo after we hit that rift. It’s scattered all over the hold.”

“My security detail could assist you with that,” Saehir offered.

“Thank you, but no,” he hastily rejected. “My people can handle it.”

“But we could speed up the process,” Saehir countered.

“I appreciate the offer, but we must respectfully refuse,” the Markalian refused more forcefully this time. “We’ll make due. Thank you again commander. If you’ll excuse me, I have some business to attend to,” with that, the captain turned on his heal and headed for the cargo hold.

Saehir watched him suspiciously. “Something isn’t right here,” she said pointedly to Jon.

“You’re probably right,” Jon eyed her carefully. “But what can we do? Our job is to fix the warp drive and move on. It isn’t like we could sneak into the cargo hold and find out what they’re carrying. That would be illegal.”

“I guess you’re right,” Saehir pursed her lips as an idea formed in her head.

“Parkinson, you’re in charge,” she waved over one of her subordinates. “There is something I need to do back on the Oregon.

“What’s she up to?” Parkinson scrunched up his eyebrows as Saehir beamed away.

“It’s probably best if we don’t know,” Jon smirked and turned his attention back to the work going on in front of him.

*************

Inside the lavatory next to the cargo hold, a bluish light shimmered, dissipating to reveal Saehir dressed in a tight black jumpsuit with a ninja style mask. Reaching underneath the head, she attached a small device that began blinking green, demonstrating that it was transmitting. She grasped the grate overhead that led to the ventilation system, removed it, and crawled in.

A minute and a half later Saehir removed a second grate and slithered through, dropping to the floor inside the cargo hold and hid between a large crate and a wall. Inside the large hold were a dozen or so crewers of various species working about, picking up the pieces from their crash.

Wow, Aelhih mused to herself as she observed the mess spread out before her, they must have hit this rift hard. Deciding that she probably didn’t have a lot of time to site-see, Saehir looked around gathering as much visual information as possible.

The accident had fortunately wreaked havoc on their cargo, throwing it all over the hold. It was all the same, Saehir observed. About thirty centimeters in height it had a pyramidal base with six centimeter or so sphere affixed to the top of it. The object was eerily familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it. Saehir’s suspicions were at an all-time high at this point, but she didn’t have enough information to present a case to Captain Jackson. She needed to know what exactly this thing was.

Testing the crate she was behind, she found it loose and then gently, quietly opened the lid. Sure enough, inside was a stack of the strange objects. With lightning-quick speed Saehir reached in and grabbed one of the objects. For a moment she hefted the object in her hand and examined it.

“Hey, Anthony, go pick up those things in the corner over there,” Tosh’s voice ordered one of his men. Looking up, Aelhih saw a human sauntering her direction. Melting into the shadows, she slipped back up into the ventilation duct, replaced the grate, and retreated back the way she had come. A minute later, she was back in her quarters on board the Oregon. Sighing relief, she sat down and looked at the stolen object in her hand.

What are you? she silently asked herself.

*************

Chapter 4

“Hey, could you give me a hand with something?” Saehir asked Rio on the bridge.

“Aren’t you supposed to be helping out with the repairs on the Anslem?” the Bajoran questioned.

“I was, but something came up and so I had to leave Ensign Parkinson in charge. Don’t worry,” she held her hand up, “he’s fully capable of handling security. Besides, my department, my decisions. But this does bring me to what I need your assistance on.”

“What do you need?” Rio sighed.

“I need you to do your sciency thing and tell me what this is,” Saehir produced the object.

“I’ve never seen something like this before,” Rio frowned as she examined it.

“I have, I just can’t place it,” Saehir sighed.

“Where did you get it?” Rio continued to scrutinize it.

“Uh, it might be better if you didn’t ask,” Saehir looked away.

“Please tell me you didn’t steal this from their cargo hold,” Rio sharply turned her gaze on Saehir. “You did, didn’t you?” she surmised angrily. “Do you have any idea how wrong that it is? No, of course not. After all, you’re a Romulan so the idea of personal privacy and rights is a completely foreign concept to you. And do you have any clue how much trouble Josh could get in? Oh, but wait; nothing would make you happier than to see him suffer, wouldn’t it? I have no time for selfish, conniving bitches.”

“Will you put your damned prejudice aside for just one moment and listen to me,” Saehir hissed. “I’ve seen this thing before and you haven’t which means that it is probably Romulan.”

“Enough lieutenant,” Rio cut her off. “I will have no part in this. Now get off the bridge.”

“As you wish, lieutenant,” Saehir nodded and stormed to the turbolift.

*************

It was several hours later when repairs were finished and Ax was available. He was tired and about to call it a night when Saehir entered main engineering.

“Ah, lieutenant, what can I do for you?” he greeted her with his usual cheer.

“Can you tell me what this is?” she handed him the unusual object.

“Hmm, looks like a compositor of some kind,” he rolled at around in his big hands.

“I’ve seen it before, but I can’t quite place what it is,” Saehir added.

“Really?” Ax cocked his head to one side. “And where did you get this?”

“Uh,” she stammered.

“I see,” Ax turned his red eyes on her. “You are aware that that is illegal.”

“So I’ve been told,” Saehir inwardly winced as she remembered her conversation with Rio on the bridge. “They were just too suspicious and secretive. I had to know what they were hiding.”

“Well I suppose that couldn’t be helped,” Ax shrugged. “And seeing as how we got whatever it was they were trying to hide, we might as well take a look. If it’s nothing, no harm no foul, right?”

“Uh right,” Saehir nodded, not entirely sure if she understood what he was saying.

Ax took out his tricorder and scanned the object. “Hmm,” he scratched his chin and looked at the readout. “There seems to be a lot of tetryon particles built up in this thing.”

“Tetryon compositor!” Saehir slapped her forehead. “Of course, why didn’t I see it sooner?”

“Tetryon compositor?” Ax looked quizzical. “Aren’t those used in cloaking devices?”

“Yeah, it’s one of the central components,” Saehir nodded. “I don’t know exactly how it all works, but the compositor is kinda what makes it go, I think.”

“Interesting,” Ax frowned as he looked at the object again. “So why would these shippers have a cargo hold full of tetryon compositors?”

“Good question,” Saehir agreed. “They’re even designed perfectly for a cloaking device. See here, the base is the right size and shape to slip into the proper slot one a Romulan device.”

“Are you sure?” Ax asked again.

“Yeah, I’ve seen these things hundreds of times. Even replaced a couple when they burned out,” she shrugged. “That’s probably why I couldn’t place it. It’s so routine that you don’t even think about it, it was just unusual to see one here in Federation space.”

“Burned out?” Ax asked.

“The tetryons eventually build up inside and fry the circuitry,” she explained. “It’s like having to replace the warp coils or dilithium crystals. Compositors need to be changed after a certain number of hours otherwise the cloaking device could explode, which really doesn’t go over very well.”

“I can imagine,” Ax snorted. “Can you think of any other reason why you would use a tetryon compositor?”

“I suppose if you were doing experiments with bending the EM spectrum maybe, but you wouldn’t want compositors of this design, at least I’m guessing. Besides, I doubt you would need so many. There were about 100 plus crates with about 200 of these suckers in them. That’s a lot of compositors.”

“You need to tell Josh,” Ax told her. “Immediately. Smuggling stuff, especially military stuff, to the Romulans is tantamount to treason.”

“And also could be a problem when we inevitably face them in a war, yeah I know,” Saehir added. “I don’t know if I feel comfortable about this. After the tongue-lashing I got from Rio, going to Josh might be less risky than walking out an airlock.”

“You might be surprised,” Ax countered. “Josh is pretty cool with stuff like this. He’s a bit of a maverick himself and if you have something important, he will listen. He is interested in results far more than how you got there. Besides, sneaking into that ship wouldn’t rank very high on the illegal things he’s done throughout his career. You should check out his service record sometime. It’s a tale, that’s for sure.”

“All the same, if you could come with me as some sort of back-up, that’d be great,” Saehir asked.

“Sure, no problem,” Ax assented. “But you’re going to have to face him on your own someday, you know that.”

“Just not today,” she retorted.

*************

“Ever been here before?” Saehir asked Ax when they reached Josh’s door and hit the chime.

“You kidding?” the lizard snorted. “I value my hide.”

“Why is everyone so scared of him?” Saehir asked no one in particular.

“Because he values his privacy more than our lives,” Ax explained. “If you have something important to say, then he’s happy to listen. But he hates it when people bother him about trivial stuff. I’ve seen more than one person chewed out by him, including Ras. And he’s not above giving you a wicked schedule for revenge.”

“Why is he so anti-social?” Saehir asked as she pressed the chime button again.

“Who knows?” Ax shrugged. “Jon, Kirsten maybe, but the likelihood of them sharing that secret is slightly below zero.”

“Computer, locate Captain Jackson,” Saehir request of the computer after chiming a third time.

“Captain Jackson is in his quarters,” the computer chimed back.

“Open door security override code Sigma-3-89-3-Alpha,” Saehir ordered.

“Are you insane?” Ax gasped as the doors opened obediently. “He’ll kill you.”

“Not if I kill him first,” Saehir smirked as she stepped in.

“Do you not get the concept of go away,” Josh roared from the backroom coming in wearing a pair of shorts and nothing more.

For a moment Saehir and Ax gawked at Josh. His muscular torso was a web of scars of varying colors. He almost looked like a science experiment gone wrong.

“Well you got me up, so what do you want?” his icy voice brought them back to reality.

“Uh, this,” Saehir took the compositor from Ax and handed it to Josh.

“And this is?” he prompted.

“It’s a tetryon compositor,” Saehir answered and then pointed Josh. “What happened?”

“Klingons, Cardassians, Dominion, Borg, Romulans, Breen, and probably another dozen species I’ve pissed off throughout my career,” Josh’s visage didn’t change. “So why is a tetryon compositor worth kicking me out of bed in the morning.”

“According to Saehir and my understanding of cloaking technology, this particular compositor is specifically used in Romulan cloaking devices,” Ax explained.

“I see,” Josh stared hard at the object for a moment. Then he turned on his heal, “You have ten minutes to put together a briefing. Computer alert the senior staff to a meeting in ten minutes,” Josh ordered.

“Don’t you want to know where I got it?” Saehir asked.

“Why ask questions I already know the answer to?” Josh called back.

“It doesn’t bother you that what I did was illegal and possibly unethical?” Saehir was confused.

“I don’t care how you get your results; just that you do,” Josh replied. “You had a hunch, explored it and it panned out. That’s called doing your job. Now get your briefing ready.”

“That’s about as close to a compliment as you’ll ever get,” Ax shook his head as they left the captain’s quarters. “I suppose we have work to do.”

*************

“What’s going on?” Ras moaned sleepily as he took his seat next to Rio.

“Your uniform is wrinkled,” she whispered to him.

“It’s 0200, sue me,” Ras growled.

“Alright people,” Josh called the meeting to order. “Saehir and Ax have found something that needs our immediate attention. Saehir.”

Saehir place the tetryon compositor on the conference table.

“Isn’t that the object you stole from the Anslem?” Rio gasped. “Captain?”

“Let her explain,” he ordered calmly and gestured back to Saehir.

“During our repairs, I became increasingly suspicious that the Anslem’s cargo was less than legal,” Saehir began to explain.

“So you decided to break into their cargo hold and steal their cargo, which is definitely illegal,” Ras snapped at her. “Captain?”

“Enough of the interruptions,” Josh growled. “Let her finish. This is important.”

Both Rio and Ras slouched in their chairs and glared. “Yes, I did,” Saehir admitted. “As it turns out, it was a good thing that I did. I found this, which Ax has helped me identify as a tetryon compositor, which as most of you ought to know is primarily used in Romulan cloaking devices. Since I have served for quite some time on Romulan starships, I am quite familiar with them and this is the design used in D’deridex and Valdore class warbirds.”

“So what, these guys were smuggling parts to a cloaking device to the Romulans?” Ras was dubious.

“That is the most probable explanation,” Josh confirmed.

“What about the Klingons?” Jon questioned.

“I already checked,” Josh answered for Saehir. “The Klingons have their own facilities that produce tetryon compositors.”

“So why does this mean the Romulans are getting these?” Rio posed. “Shouldn’t they have their own facilities?”

“No, those have been destroyed during the beginning of the civil war, courtesy of Admiral Terrik,” Saehir explained. “That has actually been a worry of both sides, or at least it was.”

“Why?” Rio was still a little lost. “Can’t they just replicate them? And why do they need so many?”

“For it to work in a cloaking device, it has to have a specific configuration,” Ax answered for Saehir. “There are two drawbacks to this design: one, they have a limited life span and burnout after about six months or so. I suppose it was only a matter of time before they ran out. Secondly, they cannot simply be replicated, but have to be carefully manufactured.”

“So how do we know that this is the Romulans?” Ras asked the question that most of them were thinking.

“Who else?” Josh answer with a question. “Who is going to have that kind of need? Who is going to have that kind of cash?”

“Plus,” Saehir tapped a few keys on the display, showing a ship’s flight path. “They’re heading to Romulan space.”

“What’s that?” Rio asked tersely.

“I planted a tracking device on their ship when I reconned the compositor,” Saehir succinctly replied.

Josh, remembering the layout of the ship, chucklingly asked, “Where exactly did you plant it?”

“Their bathroom,” Saehir shrugged causing Jon and Josh both to laugh a little.

“Still this is all circumstantial evidence,” Rio pointed out. “We have nothing to arraign them on. And Saehir definitely broke the law.”

Josh eyed the lieutenant coldly for a moment. “Lieutenant Aelhih followed up suspicious activity with an investigation, albeit unorthodox, and got results. In short, she did her job, which is more than I can say for you. I don’t give a damn about your personal feelings regarding Lieutenant Aelhih until they start interfering with us doing our job, which at this point is catching a ship full of traitors. Have I made myself clear?”

“Yes sir,” Rio dropped her eyes under Josh’s glare.

“Should we even arrest them?” Jon piped up. “What’s to say that these compositors are going to Pelliad? If they’re going to Terrik that’ll give him a huge boost, one we want.”

“No,” Saehir countered with a shake of the head. “It has to be Pelliad behind this. Terrik would have used Captain Gardner, or at least alerted him, if he was going to run an operation like this. But more than that, Pelliad has the old families, the ones with money, backing him. Terrik simply does not have the funds to pull of an operation of this caliber.”

“There’s still the problem of proof,” Rio reminded.

“True point,” Josh turned back to the screen. “As a Romulan, where are they going?”

Saehir regarded the map for a moment. “Here,” she pointed, “the Carraya system. It is uninhabited by a warp civilization, close to the Neutral Zone, and far away from both starbases.”

“Ax, could the Beta section beat them there?” Josh asked his engineer.

“Easily,” Ax shrugged. “That’s a pretty old freighter.”

“Okay then,” Josh swiveled around to face his staff. “Jon, you take the Beta section to the Carraya system and hide there and wait. Catch them in the act and then transmit their trajectory back to us. We’ll set up a subspace rift to trap them again, arrest them and go to our new home. Sound good?” His proposal was greeted with nods of approval around the table.

“Okay good,” Josh dismissed them. “Jon, your crew?”

“Right,” Jon scanned the room for a moment. “Ras, Saehir, you’re with me. Let’s go.”

*************

Chapter 5

“I can’t believe Josh is going along with this,” Rio talked to Ras as he headed to the second bridge. “I mean this is a clear violation of protocol.”

“You know Josh,” Ras shrugged. “Results are what matters, not how you get there. Besides, he’s broken more laws than we’ve probably heard of, so it’s not he can complain. That’s why I like him; as long as you get the job done, he stays out of your way. And he gets the job done. With the strong likelihood that these guys are traitors, we’ve got to follow up, no matter how unpleasant it is.”

“I suppose his maverick streak has gotten us out of more scrapes than I’d care to remember,” Rio admitted. “I just hate it that he’s making you take her with you.”

“That pisses me off too,” Ras agreed. “But it’s Jon’s decision. Besides, whether I like to admit it or not, she’s good at what she does and we might need her.”

“I suppose,” Rio sniffed. “Do try to come back in one piece. Whenever she’s around, it seems like my friends end up getting killed. And watch your back; I don’t trust her.”

“Who does?” Ras shrugged. “We’ll be fine. It’s a simple spy mission, no big deal.”

“Right, just a simple spy mission,” Rio repeated.

“I’ll be back in time for dinner,” the Andorian smirked and sauntered off.

Across the way Josh was giving his brother last minute instructions. “Remember Jon, your job is to get the smoking gun, nothing more,” he was saying. “Whatever you do, do not engage the freighter or the Romulans. We’ll handle that.”

“No worries,” Jon laughed. “I’ll bring her back in one piece. Just make sure the trip wire’s ready.”

“Already on it,” Josh clasped Jon’s shoulder. “Take care, alright.”

“I will,” he smiled back. “I’d hate to think of what Kirsten would do to you if anything happened to me.”

“Me too,” Josh chuckled. “See ya.”

“See ya.”

***********

Six hours later, the Beta section of the USS Oregon was hovering over the north pole of Carraya 3, the place Saehir tabbed as most likely for the transfer, if there was going to be one at all. They were all tired, having not gotten much sleep the previous night. It didn’t help that the Beta, as she was affectionately called, was operating with little more than a bridge crew and a couple of people in engineering. Saehir privately wondered how everyone who was normally here was coping being shoved off into a random corners of the Alpha and Gamma sections.

“Anything yet?” Jon asked for the eighth time that hour. He was less patient than Josh.

“Nope,” Saehir sighed from tactical, which was doubling as an ops station.

“Any chance you guessed wrong?” Ras asked from helm.

“That’d make you happy, wouldn’t it?” Saehir snapped. Admittedly, she was starting to second guess herself.

“Since spending six hours in a cramped bridge with you in the middle of nowhere is so exciting,” Ras retorted.

“Children, enough,” Jon held out his hand. “It’s been a long day for all of us. For your sakes, don’t make it any longer for me. Saehir?”

“Of course it’s possible,” she growled. “I was put on the spot to give my best guess, which is here. This is the most likely rendezvous point, but there are dozens of possibilities.”

“And of course we can’t track them all,” Jon sighed. “Well, that freighter was a hunk of junk. We’ll stay another hour before going hunting.”

“Good, ‘cause your chauffer doesn’t like sitting park all day,” Ras grumbled.

“We got something incoming,” Saehir called out from tactical. “Looks like our freighter, just like I said,” Saehir shot Ras a smug look.

“Yeah, yeah,” Ras waved off. “Still missing the Romulans.”

“And right on cue,” Saehir gestured to the screen which showed the shape of a Romulan warbird shimmer into view.

“Stay alert people,” Jon ordered. “We scanning them?”

“Of course,” Saehir answered. “Patching through transmission now.”

“You’re late,” a cold and calculated voice came over the com system.

“Had some engine trouble,” the Markainian captain explained. “Some Starfleet ship came around and helped us out otherwise we wouldn’t have made it at all.”

“Starfleet!” the Romulan’s voice jolted. “Did they search you? Do they know?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Tosh snorted. “They were their courteous selves. Didn’t pry or ask, just fix us up and go. Simpletons.”

“Be more careful,” the Romulan chided. “Are you ready to transport?”

“One moment,” Tosh replied. “Here you are.”

“We have received the shipment,” the Romulan. “Your payment is commencing.”

“We’ve got it,” Tosh’s voice smiled. “Pleasure doing business with you.”

“Until next time,” the Romulan replied. “Tell your employers that I expect promptness from them if they wish to keep our business.”

“Will do,” Tosh replied and then cut the transmission.

“Romulan’s cloaking,” Saehir

“That’s the smoking gun folks,” Ras smirked. “So what now?”

“We trail them long enough to get a fix on their trajectory and leave the rest up to Josh,” Jon shrugged.

“They’re preparing to warp,” Saehir reported from her station. “And… WHAT THE HELL?!” she yelled in astonishment.

The bridge crew’s collective heads snapped to the view screen just in time to see the warbird decloaked directly in front of the freighter and fired. It happened so fast that no one had time to react. One moment the freighter was there, the next there was only a burning wreck and a disappearing warbird.

“I take it Romulans don’t like paying their bills,” a stunned Ras whispered.

“Usually we’re pretty cool about it,” Saehir’s eyes were wide.

“Let’s get out of here,” Jon slammed his fist into the console. “Damn it Josh is going to be pissed.”

I’m pissed,” Saehir snarled.

“Setting return vector,” Ras growled. “Ready on your mark.”

“Maximum warp,” Jon ordered. “En—”

“Warbird decloaking!” Saehir cut him off, raising shields.

“Evasive action!” Jon immediately ordered. In response, Ras banked a hard left to dodge the hail of green disruptor bolts that grazed the shields.

“Good thing this thing can move,” Ras commented as he kept banking them around.

“Firing disruptor beam,” Saehir informed. “Direct hit. Shields down to 57%. Regenerating.”

“What?” Ras asked. “I thought our shields were stronger than that.”

“They are,” Jon answered, “when we are all together. We’ve thirded our shield strength, so shots hurt more.”

“Incoming,” Saehir called out again. “Ras do something about that beam.”

“Why don’t you shoot the damn thing?” Ras retorted from the conn. “That’d make my job a hell of a lot easier.”

“Bring us right 87 degrees and keep us away from those damn disruptor cannons,” Jon ordered. “Saehir target their disruptor beam. Fire!”

Saehir lit up the warbird’s shields by rotating through phaser arrays as Ras rolled them to help Saehir line up her shots.

“Cut their shields in half, but the disruptor beam is undamaged,” Saehir reported. “Line up rear torpedo tubes.”

“Lining up,” Ras acknowledged.

“Firing,” Saehir reported, sending a pair of blue orbs racing towards the top of the warbird. At the last moment, the warbird lifted its nose and the front shields absorbed the punishment.

“Front shields down to 20%,” Saehir reported. “They’re firing all weapons.”

“Taking evasive action,” Ras didn’t bother to wait for an order as he threw the Oregon-Beta into a violent downward spiral, evading the disruptor bolts and most of the beam fire.

“The photon has a lock,” Saehir reported as the red dot trailed them.

“I can’t shake it,” Ras tried jinking to lose their unwanted tail, but to no avail. The photon torpedo persistently closed the distance.

“Ras got to full impulse and arc us around and up 180 degrees,” Jon ordered as his brows furrowed.

“Aye,” Ras pulled at them with the hard turn.

“Torpedo still on our tail,” Saehir reported anxiously.

“Set collision course with disruptor beam,” Jon ordered as Ras rolled away from disruptor bolts.

“Jon!” Saehir gasped.

“Tactical prepare aft torpedoes to fire and lock phasers on the beam,” Jon ignored her protest.

The disruptor beam fired as did a second torpedo the raced directly towards them. Saehir took manual control of the phasers and with a precise shot, blew the torpedo apart, to the astonishment of them all.

“Warning: collision in five seconds,” the computer warned.

“Fire phasers,” Jon ordered sharply. “Pull up hard and fire torpedoes…NOW!”

In the space of a few breaths, the crew flawlessly executed their commander’s orders. The end result was a warbird that had a gaping hole in its head.

“Report,” Jon demanded.

“Enemy down shields down to 10%,” Saehir reported from tactical, taking a deep breath. “One more shot should…Damn it. They’ve cloaked. They’re gone, Jon.”

“It’s just as well,” Jon sat back down into the center chair. “They’ll catch hell for it with their superiors, I’m sure. Ras, take us home.”

“Gladly sir,” Ras punched in the coordinates. “And Saehir, good shooting,” he shot her an approving grin.

“Good driving,” Saehir nodded back.

************

Chapter 6:

The next day, just after they had dropped off the ambassador, Saehir with a sigh went to the main lounge. She walked in, expecting the same routine: suddenly hushed conversation, followed by awkward stares, and finally her scurrying off to some corner for peace.

“Hey Saehir, over here,” Ras’s blue hand caught her attention. Saehir looked confused, but Ras beckoned her over again.

“How’s it going?” he asked with a patented Andorian grin.

“Uh, fine,” Saehir looked dubious. “You okay?”

“None the worse for wear,” he shrugged. “So I was just telling the gang here about you shooting a photon out of the sky. Not sure if even Jon could have done that.”

“Actually he has,” Rio corrected. “Twice.”

“Whatever,” Ras waved off. “Point is, it was a hell of a shot. Oh hey let me introduce you. This is Askan of Moria,  Ridan of Bajor, my fellow Andorian Sacks, Tim of Earth, and of course you know Rio of Vulcan and Bajor simultaneously.”

“Nice to actually meet you,” Saehir cocked a dubious eyebrow. “Pardon my asking, but why are being nice to me?”

“Look Saehir,” Ras’s face grew serious., “I’m really sorry for all that crap I gave you. I blamed you for Mark’s death and then you took his place, plus you kept trying to kill the captain and, well I’ve been taught to distrust Romulans that I really never gave you a chance.”

“Us too,” Tim spoke for the rest.

“Seriously?” Saehir’s suspicion meter was running.

“Seriously,” Ras looked her in the eye. “I know it wasn’t really your fault. And from what Josh’s said, it looked like you wanted to die. Point is, after what you did at Carraya, I had to give you a chance. Truth is, you’re a damn good officer and I’m glad you’re on my side. I guess I just needed to see it for myself.”

“You did?” Saehir looked quizzical.

“Yeah and you passed with flying colors,” Ras grinned. “A toast to Saehir Aelhih! The best damn tactical officer in the fleet!”

“Here! Here!” the others, even Rio, raised their glasses in salute.

“Thanks guys,” Saehir joined her glass to theirs. Something Josh had told her tickled the back of her mind.

“Sorry guys, but did Josh tell you to be nice?” she asked.

“No,” Ras raised his eyebrows and smirked, “not his style. Believe me, this is real.”

“Yeah, thanks,” Saehir’s voice was distant. “I’ve got to go. I’ll see ya later.”

“Sure, no problem,” Ras nodded.

“Computer, locate captain Jackson,” Saehir demanded on her way out.

***********

“You’re an ass, you know that, right?” Saehir accused walking into the holodeck.

“It’s been remarked once or twice,” Josh didn’t bother to turn around. Instead he took another shot at the hoop. “And what do you want now?”

“I want to talk,” Saehir answered. “For real this time.”

“Anything important to talk about,” Josh amended tiredly.

“Yeah, me,” Saehir jumped in front of Josh and stole the ball.

“I would appreciate you giving that back now,” Josh glared.

“You’ll have to earn it,” Saehir gave him an evil smile.

“Fine, I give,” Josh sighed. “Talk.”

“So you knew exactly what was going on, didn’t you?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Oh don’t give me that ignorant bullcrap,” Saehir snorted. “You knew all along how Ras and Rio insulted me, derided me, and treated me like crap in general.”

“With all your whining, how could I not?” Josh retorted.

“I only complained once,” Saehir corrected. “For most of the last week, I’ve had to sit there and take it. But you did nothing.”

“Like I said,” Josh answered, “personal relationships are none of my affair.”

“Oh but they are, dear captain,” Saehir smirked. “You see, I realized that personal relationships are going to necessarily bleed over into professional ones. Yet you didn’t lift a finger.”

“Guilty,” Josh sat down on the bleachers and motioned Saehir to join him. “Here’s the deal: You’re a Romulan, you’re the reason Mark, who was for some unknown reason popular, is dead, then you took his place. Add to that you tried to kill me, that’s a lot of prejudice built up against you. Plus, you’re like me without being in charge. You’re stubborn, independent, follow your instincts regardless of the rules, and you have a sense of integrity. In addition, you’re having to adjust to a new culture. That’s a lot to overcome.”

“And you did nothing,” Saehir growled. “How helpful.”

“I couldn’t, no matter how much I wanted to,” Josh sighed.

“You wanted to help me?” Saehir was more than a little dubious.

“Shocking I know,” Josh chuckled. “Truth is I don’t like bullies and what Ras was doing to you was being the worst kind of bully. But I couldn’t do anything because that wouldn’t have helped.”

“I know, now,” Saehir agreed.

“You know?”

“I’m not an idiot Josh,” Saehir flashed a smile. “If you had told them to play nice, they would have on the surface. But underneath they would’ve never accepted me; their resentment would’ve sooner or later boiled over. You knew that. You knew that they would never have simply accepted me as part of the team; it was something I had to earn. So you made me earn it.”

“Yeah,” Josh leaned back. “It would seem that you did. Good shooting from what I hear, by the way.”

“Thanks,” Saehir grinned. “From what I hear, I’ve been put in some rarefied company.”

“You’ve earned it Saehir,” Josh sincerely told her. “And for what it’s worth, in my mind you’ve already earned your place on this crew. There’s no one I’d rather have a tactical than you.”

“That means more than you can imagine,” Saehir’s heart glowed.

“Now can I have my ball back?” Josh held out his hand.

“Got to beat me for it,” Saehir smirked and took off towards the hoop.

 

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