USS Oregon: Inquiry

Introduction:

Captain Joshua Jackson sat idly on the bridge of his ship, the USS Oregon, as it raced through the stars towards Starbase 12. There were about eight hours away after traveling for nearly a week from the Neutral Zone. It had been a long three weeks, complete with nearly getting killed on the Romulan world of Quinterex V. Thanks to the effort of his guest, the former Romulan Centurion Saehir Aelhih, the Oregon had managed to not only escape, but shred her opponents in a vicious battle.

His actual mission, which had been an utter failure, was to set up a planetary listening device. Those orders had come directly from Starfleet Command and no one else had seen them. Only Josh, his crew, and a few select individuals around Starfleet, most of them fleet admirals, knew what their mission was. Ideally, they would have gone in, planted the array, and then gotten out with no one the wiser.

Unfortunately that is not what happened. Josh, Ax, and the late Mark Rubio accidently came upon small Romulan task force who were trying to kill Saehir. This and Mark’s ensuing stupidity led to the battle that left four warbird hulks burning in space and a fifth one shot away from destruction. So much for secrecy.

Jackson had no doubt that Pelliad’s faction would complain to the Federation about the blatant infraction of the Neutral Zone and the overt act of war. Given that only a very few admirals knew why he was there, Josh was somewhat uneasy about returning to Starbase 12.

Still it had been a very stressful first mission and Josh could use some unwinding. Basketball had certainly helped, but there was still the daily task of running a starship. He spent many of his hours shifting through reports and the occasional request that Jon sent up to him for approval. There were some things that he simply needed to go through so that he could keep apprised of what was going on in his ship.

“Josh, were getting a Priority One message from Starbase 12. It’s Admiral MacCray for you,” Ensign Shras th’Zarath, his Andorian helm officer.

Josh sighed heavily. He knew this was coming. “Very well Ras, I’ll take it in my ready room,” he stood up and into his private office.

“What the hell have you been doing?!” Admiral Gregory MacCray’s thick Scottish accent boomed at Josh. “You disappeared for nearly a month and I’m told not to worry about it. That’s okay; things have been a little on edge and I willing to loan a ship every now and then. But now I’ve got half a dozen messages from the Romulans calling for your head. I also have just been informed that there is a JAG committee on its way to look into your actions at Quinterex V. You do know that’s on the wrong side of the Neutral Zone, right?”

“Yes admiral,” Josh admitted. “If it means anything, I was simply following my orders.”

“Your orders?” MacCray boomed. “Did I not give you specific orders to not start a war? If it wasn’t for the fact that they are currently fighting a civil war, we’d have the entire Imperial Starfleet breathing down our necks by now. I’m not sure they won’t anyway.”

“Yeah, you did,” Josh replied. “But it wasn’t my fault; they weren’t supposed to be there.”

“Weren’t supposed to—,” MacCray sputtered. “They’re Romulans, in Romulan space. Who the hell did you expect to be there? You weren’t supposed to be there.”

“Starfleet command said differently,” Josh defended himself.

“Your orders to violate the Neutral Zone came directly from Starfleet Command?” MacCray calmed down for a moment. “What specifically were you doing?”

“I can’t say and I doubt you will get Starfleet command to admit it,” Josh answered.

“That’s going to make your case more difficult, especially since you destroyed a warbird,” MacCray told him.

“Four, actually,” Josh winced as he said that.

“Four!” MacCray’s eyes went wide. “How many were up against?”

“Five,” Josh told him. “I’m sorry I can’t give a full report, but I am under strict orders of silence.”

“You destroyed them?” MacCray asked and Josh nodded. “You do know that goes against Starfleet peacetime engagement protocols. Lethal force is not to be used.”

“Look I was half-a-day deep in Romulan space with 5-1 odds against me,” Josh explained. “I’m not particularly pleased about it either but in my judgment lethal force was necessary to get me and my crew out of there. Dead men—”

“—don’t shoot back,” MacCray finished Josh’s oft repeated maxim for battle. “I know Josh and I agree with you, but Starfleet officers are supposed to be explorers, not butchers.”

“The explorers need the warriors to protect them on their adventures, which may sometimes require us to tap into our inner Klingon. Otherwise you’ll have neither,” Josh pointed out coolly.

“Alright, you’ve somewhat convinced me,” MacCray resigned. “Look, I’ll see what I can do, but the situation is stacked against you unless Command comes to your rescue.”

“Thanks admiral,” Josh nodded. “By the way, I’m bringing home a present.”

“Oh?” the older man raised an eyebrow.

“A real, live Romulan defector,” Josh informed. “Apparently no one over there wants her.”

“Well that is good,” the admiral rubbed his hands together excitedly. “Good work, captain. That should help you case a little. Contact me when you get here, MacCray out.”

“Aye, admiral,” Josh ended the communication and leaned back. Nope, there was no relaxation for him on this trip to Starbase 12.

Chapter 1:

“Hello I’m Lieutenant Commander Jessica Larant from the JAG office sent here by Starfleet to investigate the Quinterex V incident,” a bright, perky blonde human with bright blue eyes introduced herself to Josh, who tried his best not to roll his eyes. “Do you understand the charges that are being investigated?”

“Let see: misappropriation of Starfleet equipment, going AWOL with my ship, violation of Starfleet combat protocols by the use of lethal force in peacetime, and the dozy: violation of the Treaty of Algeron by crossing the Neutral Zone and engaging Romulan vessels. Did I leave anything out?” Josh looked down at the woman.

“No, that’s about it,” Commander Larant confirmed looking at her PADD. “You will be confined to the Starbase until my inquiry is over, at which time I will present my findings to a committee and they will decided whether or not to court-marital you. If not, you will return to your ship and active duty with this inquiry on your record; if court-martial is warranted, you will be taken into custody and taken back to Earth for your trial.”

“Oh goody,” Josh could no longer resist the urge to roll his eyes.

“Captain, sarcasm and condescension will not help your case,” the smiling girl said. “A case that needs all the help it can get.”

“Huh?” Josh looked confused.

“I don’t like butchers,” she told him coolly. Then with a cheery smile back on her face she added, “Here is a list of information I need and the times for interviews with you and your crew. I expect you to be punctual and honest and your full cooperation. Have a good day, captain.” With that, she turned on her heel and walked away, leaving a depressed Josh in her wake.

“Well she’s a bundle of cheer,” an irritatingly familiar voice spoke up from beside him. Josh looked left and down and saw Saehir standing there looking at the bouncy blond.

“You armed?” he returned his gaze to down the hall.

“No,” Saehir’s V-ed eyebrows scrunched together in confusion.

“Then what are you doing here?” he demanded.

“Can’t be friendly?” Saehir raised an eyebrow.

“You want to kill me, so no,” Josh answered.

“Perhaps, but I don’t feel like it today,” she gave him a wicked grin.

“How comforting,” Josh harrumphed. “So what are you doing here?”

“On my way to meet with Starfleet Intelligence,” she sighed. “They want to pick my brain and find out all kinds of fun things in there. You?”

“Spending my days with Miss Sunshine,” Josh gestured towards the hallway where the blond had disappeared down.

“Oh, are you in trouble?” Saehir rubbed her hands together with giddiness.

“Yeah. Apparently our little stunt did not go over well with Starfleet,” Josh sighed.

“How fun!” Saehir exclaimed. “Too bad I’m not going to be around to see it.”

“So you are no longer my charge?” Josh sounded somewhat hopeful.

“Yes, dear captain, I fear this is good-bye,” she turned to face. “I do want to thank you for saving my hide, even if it does end up costing you your life.”

“Don’t mention it. Ever,” Josh answered.

“Don’t worry. We wouldn’t want to the think that the mighty Captain Jackson had gone soft, now would we?” On impulse, Saehir stood on her tip-toes and kissed him on the cheek before heading down the hall.            Shaking his head, Josh turned in the opposite direction towards Admiral MacCray’s office. That woman drove him nuts and not in a good way.

“Josh, my boy, welcome back,” MacCray boomed as Jackson stepped through the door. “Glad you’re in one piece so I can personally tear you apart.”

“Good to see you too, admiral,” Josh sighed. This was going to be a long day. “I take it Starfleet has denied any involvement with my little excursion.”

“Worse,” the Scot informed from behind the desk. “They’ve said, and I quote, ‘we are looking into it.’ Looks like not much help there, though they said the same thing with the Sovereign was gone for three weeks. ‘Frisco too. It looks like the fellas upstairs were up to something, but because I just a lowly sector admiral, I’ve been uninformed. Of course that doesn’t mean you won’t get charged. Unwittingly, you might have ended up as the fall guy.”

“Joy,” Josh sat down. “Well, it was a fun command while she lasted. How’s the prison in New Zealand these days?”

“I think you’ll be okay yet,” MacCray encouraged. “This hearing comes from the JAG office, not Command directly. If they get their bureaucratic heads out of their bureaucratic asses, they’ll bail you out with something. Perhaps say that your mission was to retrieve the defector and that lethal force was authorized or something like that. It was, right?”

“Not in so many words,” Josh admitted. “Hey, we were going deep into Romulan territory, so I took it as implied. Besides intelligence said that it was an out of the way system, uninhabited, so we weren’t expecting any company.”

“Oh boy Josh, you’ll never make it as an administrator,” MacCray rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Always read the fine print. Still, they obviously intend on keeping this secret if they won’t tell me anything so they have to bail you out with something, especially since you hold the wild card by having a copy of the orders. You do, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” Josh recalled, thinking of the beat-up PADD in his quarters that had somehow managed to survive the hectic three days.

“Good, well I’ll keep stalling the JAG office to give Command figures something out,” Gregory informed his dejected officer.

“Meanwhile, I get to spend quality time with Bundle-o-joy,” Josh groaned. He knew he had a preliminary meeting with Commander Larant in an hour.

Please,” the admiral begged, “please try to cooperate, Josh. These JAG people are Starfleet bureaucracy who don’t understand life outside their office. All they understand are codes, rules, and regulations, a bunch of which you managed to break. ‘Starfleet is a peaceful organization that does nothing but explore.’ They can’t understand why you would ever need to kill. This Larant woman, from what I know, is as stereotypical as it gets and she has made it her personal mission to sink the ‘bloodthirsty and barbaric’ Captain Jackson. Don’t give her a reason to hang your hide.”

“Don’t plan on it,” Josh nodded. “I’ll curb my sarcasm and be as cooperative as possible. Besides, I have a get out of jail free card.”

“Be very careful with that Josh,” McCray warned. “Starfleet command won’t like you outing their highly illegal operation over the border. Think of the fallout from among our allies.”

“Well, then I suggest that you mention that to them next time you speak with them,” Josh answered coldly.

“You could get court-martialed for that,” McCray raised an eyebrow.

“Unless they intervene or I play my little trump card, I’m getting court-martialed anyway, so what’s your point?” Josh waved him off.

“You don’t know that,” Gregory countered.

“Admiral, I am guilty of violating the Treaty of Algeron plain and simple. I can’t deny that fact and unless I can give justifiable cause, i.e. direct orders, I’m headed to the highest security penal colony we have,” Josh sighed. “I’ve got nothing to lose.”

“A man with nothing to lose is a dangerous man,” the admiral observed.

“Look, if they have a sincere problem with it, then they can rush to my rescue or simply classify the whole preceding,” Josh leaned back. “They may not like me forcing their hand, but I don’t like being on trial for their dirty work.”

“I see,” McCray pursed his lips. “I will pass that along to Starfleet Command. May I have a copy of your orders to confirm your story?”

Josh thought about that for a moment. He was certain of the legitimacy of his orders. After all, a good friend had delivered them and Jon was no idiot. He would not have passed them along if he did not consider them valid. But could he trust McCray with that for now? Did he have a choice? No, probably not.

“Very well, admiral,” Josh agreed. “I’ll have Ax get on that right away.”

“Thank you captain,” McCray checked his schedule and noted that Captain Irall was probably waiting outside. “I’ve set you up with quarters here on the station while the inquiry is going on. The quartermaster will let you know. Dismissed captain and Josh,” McCray stopped Jackson on his way to the door.

“Yes?”

“Good luck.”

“Thank you sir.”

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

Six days earlier the T’rel limped weakly into Algorab and docked at the orbiting space dock for repairs. The commander disembarked and headed towards an office or throne room, depending on your point of view. Inside sat an aging Romulan who was obviously of very high rank. This was Admiral Pelliad.

“Lord Admiral,” the T’rel’s commander bowed at the waist before his leader.

“Welcome, commander,” Pelliad motioned for the frightened commander to sit. “I have a question about your report. You said that you were defeated by a single ship, this Oregon. Is that correct?”

“Yes sir,” the commander kept his eyes down. “They were assisted by former Centurion Aelhih. She has defected to them after she tried to betray us to Terrik.”

“She had been working for Terrik the whole time,” Pelliad corrected. “I was simply waiting for her to try and escape back to him. She hung in there longer than I expected.”

“You knew she was a spy?” the commander was shocked.

“Of course,” Pelliad allowed a slight grin. “Once I realized that information was being leaked, it took little time to figure out who it was. Since then, I’ve been feeding her either disinformation or useless information and waiting for her to bolt for home and lead us there. You are to be commended on your ability to track down and defeat Terrik. No worries on being given the slip; no one could have foreseen the backdoor. However, a lesson for you is that you must always press your advantage and give the enemy no quarter. As for your disastrous defeat at Quinterex V…”

“I am deeply sorry, my lord,” the commander expected the worst.

“While humiliating, it also could not have been foreseen. The Federation shouldn’t have been there, though you must be much more prepared for the upcoming war with the Federation if we are to be victorious,” Pelliad pressed his fingertips together and stared down at the younger Romulan. “But there are more pressing matters, such as the defection of Saehir. As soon as the T’rel is repaired, I’m sending you on a mission to take revenge.”

“Admiral?” the commander instinctively looked up.

“You heard me, commander,” the old admiral told his subordinate. “War is inevitable and Terrik is hanging by a mere thread. We cannot risk her divulging any information to the Federation about our operations. She must be taken out. A bonus is that Captain Jackson is Starfleet’s most skilled tactician, so taking him out helps our cause. I’m assigning the Dureal, Sha’adan, and Myreal to assist you. Do not fail me this time, commander.”

“Yes, my lord admiral,” the commander bowed and left the room. A wicked smirk was pasted on his face.

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

Chapter 2:

“Captain Jackson, your report is quite a read,” Larant smiled cheerfully as he sat down across the simple table from her. “It borders on the fantastical, so if you could answer a few questions to help me understand what happened.”

“I’ll certainly try my best,” Jackson answered slouching down in his chair. This whole preceding was going to be a royal point.

“First, it says that before you crossed the Neutral Zone, you visited Quebec Outpost VI, however you didn’t explain what your purpose there was. What did you do there?”

“Well, as was in my report, the original orders that were delivered to me by Captain Gardner, instructed us to proceed to Outpost VI to get further instructions and pick up the necessary equipment to complete our mission,” Josh answered.

“How were you to get further instructions?” Larant checked her notes.

“The first set of orders gave a description of an individual I was to meet who would hand them to me,” Josh explained.

“I see,” the JAG officer nodded. “Did you meet this individual?”

“Yes, it was exactly as the orders indicated,” Jackson confirmed. “The man gave us the equipment and our next set of orders.”

“And those were the orders that sent you across the Neutral Zone, I presume?” the commander kept checking her notes, which Josh was certain was just doodling.

“Correct.”

“What was the equipment that you picked up at Outpost VI?” she queried.

“It was a planet-based listening array,” Josh supplied. That was fairly bland, not giving anything away about the nature of the array.

“An array that you managed to stuff in a runabout? Captain, please,” Larant raised an eyebrow and looked back at him.

So much for that, Josh sighed. “It was a recently developed, compact array that could be covertly deployed and set up far behind enemy lines,” Josh explained, knowing that he was probably violating his non-disclosure agreement.

“No such thing exists,” Larant glared. “Lying is not a wise idea.”

“Officially, no it doesn’t,” Josh admitted.

“You wouldn’t happen to have it, would you?” she asked.

“Uh, no,” Josh shook his head. “It was destroyed in the crash.”

“Too bad for you,” Larant’s cheerful grin returned. “But we’ll come back to that later. Now about your orders, you didn’t find them odd?”

“Not really,” Josh shrugged. “I mean, our most imminent threat has just collapsed into a civil war with one side virtually declaring war on us even before they win. It makes perfect sense to keep an eye on things.”

“So you didn’t question them or ask for confirmation?” Larant’s smile was growing. Josh knew he was getting in trouble.

“We were to undergo silent running for the duration of the mission,” Josh explained, a pit forming in his stomach.

“You didn’t find that odd that you were given orders to violate the Treaty of Algeron and then told to not ask for confirmation?” she pressed.

“Again, no,” Josh replied. “We were crossing the Neutral Zone. If we had done anything that had given the Romulans one whiff of what was going on, we’d have been dead and a war on our hands. Since these orders were carried by hand, they were obviously sensitive enough that discussing them over subspace was not an option.”

“I see,” Larant’s smile increased. “Who gave you these orders?”

“Fleet Admiral Alynna Nechayev and Vice Admiral Fujisaki of Starfleet Intelligence were the ones who issued the orders. All the command codes checked out, which was good enough for me,” Josh answered.

“And violating the Neutral Zone didn’t bother you at all?” Larant cocked her head. She had him.

“Honestly, no,” Josh sighed and leaned back.

“Even though such actions are a clear violation of Starfleet Protocol?” Larant leaned forward.

“Starfleet Protocols are nice guidelines when things are as they should be,” Josh defended, “but the truth is that things aren’t always as they should be. There is a very strong possibility that we will have a full out war with the Romulans in 18 months. If we are going to fight and win with the fewest casualties as possible, we need to know as much as possible. Therefore this mission was completely justifiable. We weren’t attacking anyone; simply go in, set up the array, and get out.”

“So you admit to consciously violating the Treaty of Algeron?” she smiled.

“Yes, commander, I do. I did so under orders, orders that I stand by. I can submit both sets of orders to you as evidence of this,” and with that, Josh thought, goes my career.

“Very well,” Larant cheerfully nodded. “That’s all for this session. Have a good day, captain. Stick around.”

“Do I have a choice?” Josh could not resist the parting shot as he exited the room.

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

“State your name and rank,” a cheerless bald man greeted Saehir Aelhih from across the table.

“Saehir Aelhih, former centurion of the Imperial Romulan Starfleet,” Saehir answered in an almost bored tone. This part she was not looking forward to.

“Centurion Aelhih,” the man droned, “what was your position in the IRS?”

“I was the second tactical officer on the IRW T’rel,” she supplied lazily. “Look, aren’t there more important things you want to discuss than a bunch of stuff that you can look up in Captain Jackson’s report?”

“Uh, I suppose,” the man was caught off-guard with her pointedness. “Let’s see, uh, let me check my notes here.”

“Take your time,” Saehir slouched back.

“Uh, here we go,” he finally looked up. “Could you describe the state of the Empire?”

“What Empire?” Saehir scoffed. “It’s a disaster right now. As you know, I’m certain, there are two basic sides fighting: Admiral Terrik and Admiral Pelliad. The relevance to you is that Terrik is pro-Federation and Pelliad is decidedly anti-Federation.”

“How long has this ‘civil war’ been going on?”

“About five or six months now,” Saehir pondered. “It’s hard to pinpoint the exact time it started. There were a bunch of skirmishes before things got completely out of hand.”

“Which side did you take?”

“Now there’s a question,” Saehir allowed herself a grim smile, sitting upright finally. “Officially, I was in Pelliad’s fleet. However, I was planted there by Admiral Terrik as a spy. Once the war started, I was basically stuck until I attempted to escape.”

“Interesting,” the man jotted down some notes on his PADD. “Since you were involved with both sides, could you tell me the prognosis for the war?”

“Not good for you guys,” Saehir informed. “Terrik is outnumbered more than five-to-one, and that’s a conservative estimate. His position has not been very popular. It’s only a matter of time before he’s beaten and Pelliad gains complete control of the Empire. Then you’ll have a war on your hands.”

“I see,” the Intelligence officer nodded. “And what is your estimation of the Empire’s available strength for such a conflict?”

“Stronger than you think,” Aelhih shook her head. “Understand that the Empire has a far different philosophy on its fleet than you. The IRS has always been primarily a military force, unlike Starfleet which has traditionally been an exploration organization. They have been building up their fleet at a high rate, especially since they broke their silence a decade and a half ago. As such, there are tens of thousands of warbirds behind the Neutral Zone. Pelliad has most of them, only half of which he is devoting to fighting Terrik. The rest he is using to prepare for the invasion.”

“So war with the Empire is inevitable?”

“Pretty much, yeah,” Saehir confirmed. “By the way, I think I need to give this information to Commander Jessica Larant.”

“Why?” the man raised an eyebrow.

“Because it’ll probably help his case and I sort of owe him,” she explained. “You boys do to.”

“I don’t know about that,” the man evaded. “Very well, you may testify for Captain Jackson’s tribunal. Now, could you explain so Romulan tactics for us?”

“Sure,” she sighed and began explaining the intricacies of Romulan tactical procedures.

***********

“So you didn’t find the orders to cross the Neutral Zone odd?” Larant was now questioning Commander Ax’Chadgic.

“Sure,” the Royadainian shrugged. “I mean I’ve never been ordered across and that was a big no-no.”

“Did you voice your concerns to Captain Jackson?” she pressed.

“No,” Ax answered. “I wouldn’t call what I had concerns really. I certainly didn’t question the orders. It was just unusual, that’s all.”

“So you had no problem with crossing the Neutral Zone and violating the Treaty of Algeron?” Larant clarified.

“It isn’t like we were attacking an outpost or anything,” Ax replied. “It was simply get in, set up the array, and get out. That’s all. Our intel told us that there wasn’t even going to be anyone nearby.”

“How unfortunate that someone did happen by,” Larant smiled. “So to be clear, you had no objections to the orders?”

“None,” Ax answered casually flicking his tongue. “They weren’t violent in nature and had all the correct codes. If we didn’t follow orders, where would we be?”

“Probably not at war,” Larant commented. “Captain Jackson said that he ordered Lieutenant Rubio to withdraw once you encountered Romulans. Is that true?”

“Yeah,” Ax confirmed. “Unfortunately Mark opened fire and the next thing we knew, our engines were knocked out.”

“At which point you attacked?”

“I’d call it more of a defense, but basically,” Ax clarified. “Not much of a choice.”

“You could have surrendered,” she suggested.

“After we fired?” Ax flicked his tongue. “The end result would have probably been the same.”

“So Jackson felt it justifiable to fight?” Larant continued.

“Of course,” Ax shrugged. “It gave us the best chance of survival. Josh’s the best in battle, so even with the nasty odds, it was a better bet than trusting the Romulans to be nice. Besides, it also gave us a chance to rescue the girl, which is turning into one of the biggest intelligence coups of all time.”

“Interesting,” she studied her notes. “According to both of your reports, Captain Jackson ordered you to kill your pursuers by use of your venom. Is this accurate?”

“Yes,” Ax bristled.

“Could you describe how the venom works?” she requested.

“Essentially, it’s a fast-acting neurotoxin that causes the victims nervous system to freeze up. From there, the victim suffocates to death,” Ax explained.

“Sounds brutal,” she commented. “As I understand it, using your venom on sentient beings is culturally taboo. Would this be why you objected?”

“Yes,” Ax’s scales started darkening.

“Why is it culturally taboo?” she looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

“Because it considered barbaric and animalistic,” Ax answered.

“So it would be considered inhumane to kill in such a manner?” Larant pressed.

“I suppose,” Ax admitted his skin now was jet black.

“In other words, he violated Starfleet Protocols in regards to both humane treatment of sentient beings and Protocols on cultural sensitivity,” Larant stared down the black lizard across the table.

“Now wait just a minute,” Ax raised his voice. “I suppose perhaps he did, but a captain’s first duty is to his crew and those under his command and their well-being, above that of cultural sensitivity and humane treatment of people trying to kill us. While I didn’t like it, it was the right thing to do at the time. My unique abilities with stealth and venom gave us the best chance to keep the Romulans off our tail. It worked and that is how we are here today.”

“A captain’s first duty is to the Federation,” Larant smiled cheerfully, knowing she had nailed him. “If he cannot be trusted to follow its protocols, then he cannot be trusted to protect it. Thank you Commander, if we need anything more from you, we’ll be sure to let you know.”

Furious, Ax stood up and started for the door before pausing. “It may seem so cut and dry inside your little cubicle at Paris,” he glared at her. “But in the real galaxy, things are a lot grayer. So before you pass judgment on those who protect you, perhaps you should see what it’s like.”

“Dismissed, commander,” for just a moment, Larant’s smile disappeared.

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

“To be sure that I understand you correctly, commander,” Larant questioned Jonathan Jackson, “you were ordered to cross the Neutral Zone, with a warship, in case something went wrong?”

“Correct counselor,” Jon answered tersely.

“Care to explain why,” she challenged.

“Quite simple, really,” Jon shrugged. “If we came looking for a lost runabout, it would be much more believable that it was merely a piloting error than if we did nothing to help.”

“I see,” Larant’s tone indicated what she thought of that. “So when Captain Jackson didn’t show up after a couple days, you went after him?”

“Again, correct,” Commander Jackson. “It seemed prudent to go rescue my captain.”

“And your brother,” Larant added.

“He is my brother, yes,” Jon’s eyebrows went up. “Where is this going?”

“Well one may question your judgment since he is such a close family member. The only one you have, I believe,” Larant continued to press.

“While he is my brother, he also is a big boy that can take care of himself. If he had ordered me to stay away, I would have. It might have killed me, but I trust his judgment,” Jon’s voice dropped to an icy tone. “My record speaks clear enough of that.”

“Indeed,” Larant smiled. “Now about the decision to stand and fight. Didn’t that seem reckless to you?”

“Not really,” Jon shrugged. “It was only 5-1 and we have a powerful little ship. Plus Josh and I are good enough that we could easily handle those guys.”

“What about the use of lethal force?” the JAG officer continued. “While I’m certain that didn’t bother you, judging from your record, it seems unnecessary, given the fact that you could flee.”

“You know nothing about me,” Jon snapped. “Just because I’m very good at killing doesn’t mean that I like it. I do it to keep paper-pushers like you safe in your little cubicle. And after the countless times I’ve put my life on the line for you and the things that I’ve had to do so that you can play with your paperwork, you have the gall to come here and lord over us as if you know how we should do our jobs. Get out of your bubble and get a dose of reality.”

“That’s enough commander!” Larant, who hated her toughness being questioned, shot back, losing her composure for just a moment. It was enough.

“Sensitive, lieutenant commander?” Jon annunciated, giving her a cold grin.

“Answer the question,” she gritted out.

“It seemed necessary to have a clear shot back and a couple of them were preventing our escape. Plus, it sent a message,” Jon explained.

“A message?” Larant requested clarification.

“Simple,” Jon began, “by ourselves with one ship, we shredded five of theirs with ease. This is a warning for them that they should be very, very careful when picking a fight with us. It’s a psychological thing.”

“It could also push them over the edge,” Larant observed.

“True, in which case they act before they want or they’re ready. Such hastiness leads to mistakes. Either way, we win,” Jon finished.

“Sounds risky to me,” Larant commented. “That’ll be all for now, commander.”

“Right, lieutenant commander,” Jon stood and strode out.

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

“How long until we reach New Holland and Starbase 12?” the Romulan commander asked his navigation officer.

“It will be another three hours, sir,” the young Romulan at the helm answered.

“Good. Any indication that they are aware of our presence?” the commander queried his operations officer.

“No sir,” the officer replied. “In fact the Oregon is the only ship in orbit.”

“Excellent,” the commander’s face gave way to a grin. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

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

“Lieutenant Commander, are you okay?” Jessica raised her eyebrows. Rio was busy organizing the four PADDS on the desk by color and size in a descending order. This was the third time she had done that in the last ten minutes.

“Sorry, I just get distracted with organizing things,” she put her hands tightly in her lap and focused on the JAG officer. “What were you saying?”

“I was asking about Captain Jackson’s choice to fight and destroy four warbirds,” Larant repeated sweetly. This girl needed to be put as ease, otherwise they would not get anywhere.

“Uh, well, technically it was a violation of Starfleet’s engagement policies,” Rio answered.

“Did that bother you?” Larant questioned.

“Of course it did,” Rio answered. “I’m a scientist, not a warrior.”

“How would you characterize Captain Jackson’s demeanor on the bridge during the battle?” Larant continued.

“Coldly efficient,” Rio summarized glancing at the PADDs.

“How would you describe the battle, particularly Captain Jackson’s action?”

“Brutal, ruthless, but ultimately effective,” Rio finally gave in and started to rearrange the PADDs.

“Was he unnecessarily violent?” Larant asked ignoring for the moment Rio’s arranging.

“I don’t think so,” the Oregon’s Ops officer looked up for a moment. “I mean it was five to one, so you don’t have the luxury of playing by the rules. I suppose the captain would say that the only rule is do what you have to do to get out alive.”

“And if the captain felt that destroying those ships was what he had to do, you wouldn’t question it?” Larant was surprised. Rio was supposed to be her clinching witness that Captain Jackson was overly aggressive and violent, but here she was agreeing with him.

“Yeah,” Arden started stacking the PADD’s. “He’s got the four pips for a reason and he has more battle experience than most of the crew put together, so I trust that he knows what he’s doing.”

“Even if that means violating Starfleet Engagement Protocols?” Larant demanded.

That got Rio’s attention. She put down the PADD’s, straightened her uniform, and glared at her counterpart. “You don’t have much space travel experience, do you?” she returned.

“No,” Larant admitted, irked that this was coming up again. “A fact that has been pointed out to me repeatedly.”

“I thought not,” Rio continued. “Captain and Commander Jackson attended the Academy with me. We’re the same age, yet they are leaps and bounds ahead of me in their career. You want to know why?”

“Okay, I’ll humor you,” Larant replied.

“In case you hadn’t noticed, I crave and need order,” the Bajoran woman continued. “Everything needs to be in its place. Things must follow a certain procedure. Deviation from that procedure makes my skin crawl. Hence I like Starfleet protocols. I almost worship them like I do the Prophets because they give my life order.”

“I fail to see the point of this,” the JAG officer cut in, but Arden held out her hand.

“Captain Jackson is the opposite. It is not that he loves chaos, but he despises the restriction of things like protocol. He’s what the humans call a maverick, one who plays by his own rules. Protocols were made by people sitting in some office on Earth where life is simple and easy. It isn’t like that out here. Things aren’t black and white. We find ourselves in situations every single day that the protocols don’t have answers for. To command a starship, you can’t be bound by the protocols. You need to know when and how to apply them and have the courage to defy them when necessary. And that’s the difference between me and Captain Jackson. That’s why he’s got the four pips and I probably won’t.”

“So just to be clear, you’re saying that a good Starfleet captain ignores protocol when he or she decides its best?” Larant was floored. “What if they’re wrong?”

“Good captains aren’t wrong very often,” Rio continued to stare down the JAG officer. “Captain Jackson is many things: arrogant, cold, and yes, even ruthless. But wrong? That is something I have yet to see him be.”

“So you agree that Captain Jackson’s actions at Quinterex V were an appropriate breach of protocol?” Lieutenant Commander Larant wanted this to be absolutely clear.

“As much as it pains me to say, yes I do,” Lieutenant Commander Rio Arden nodded the affirmative.

“Dismissed,” Larant said icily.

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

Chapter 3:

“So what are you saying?” Lieutenant Commander Jessica Larant was shocked.

“I’m saying that Admiral Pelliad was going to attack the Federation whether or not the Oregon had crossed the Neutral Zone,” Saehir leaned back twirling a stray lock of hair.

The JAG officer was getting more and more frustrated with these preceding’s. This was supposed to be an open and shut case. Captain Jackson illegally crossed the Neutral Zone and destroyed four Warbirds, two major violations of Starfleet regulations. But then the waters got muddied with the possibility that it was a mission from Starfleet Command.

Add to that the fact that the crew sided with their captain, claiming that all of his actions were justified. They were simply setting up a listening array, a prudent measure given the situation they felt.  They were not going to start a war. All in all, it was rather ambiguous findings. Certainly not the smoking phaser she was looking for. Her witnesses were not on her side and so she did not feel confident that they would help her case against Captain Jackson.

And then now this Romulan shows up and tells her that whether or not the Oregon had showed up would have ultimately made no difference. The Romulans would have still gone to war. She had the basic facts on her side, but the reality of the situation was more confusing. Were Starfleet field operations always this grey?

“I really don’t understand this whole thing,” Saehir continued. “You people don’t think. You have all these regulations that think for you. In a way, they make life easier for you because it makes it black and white. But the problem is that the universe isn’t black and white; it’s grey. Everyone knows this. Your rigid rules can’t work in a fluid universe. But when someone comes along who realizes this and bends the rules to protect you, you persecute him.”

“Those rules are there for a reason,” Larant countered.

“Oh I don’t disagree that they give a lot of useful principles for what to do when,” Aelhih assented. “But principles are not applications. There can be no hard and fast rules out here because nothing is hard and fast. Maybe if you spent time out here you would understand that. From what little I know of Starfleet rules, Captain Jackson followed the principle of Starfleet Protocols to the letter, but not the application. Not that in the end it would have made any difference.”

“You’re saying that Jackson’s actions make no difference on whether or not there will be a war?” Larant needed to be sure.

“Pretty much.”

“I’m curious,” Larant raised an eyebrow, “Both Jackson and Ax’Chadgic’s reports indicate that you two don’t like each other, at all. Why are you defending him?”

“That’s a great question,” Saehir had been wondering the same thing herself. “Perhaps because if it weren’t for men like Jackson, you would be speaking Klingon or Romulan or whatever it is the Dominion speak. Or you would be working away on some Cube. Point is that if it weren’t for men like Jackson who plays by his own set of rules, but is staunchly loyal to his people, the Federation would have lost all of those wars. Jackson is a rare one, one that you would be idiotic to throw away. Since I’ve thrown my lot in with the Federation, I want to see that it is well protected.”

“So because of his skill, we should just give him a free pass?” Larant was a little taken aback.

“I’m saying that unless he does something that is clearly detrimental to the Federation, leave him to do his job,” Saehir clarified. “None of his actions would have made the slightest difference to what happens next, except to put the fear of God into Pelliad of this deadly warrior named Joshua Jackson. That helps you, by the way.”

“Is that all, Miss Aelhih?” Larant wanted her out of there as fast as possible.

“I suppose,” Saehir nodded with a slight grin. “Be nice to him for me, will you?”

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

“Hey, commander, I’m noticing something funny here,” Rio was looking hard at her sensors.

“What is it?” Jon sighed as he walked over to her console. It had been a long three days of interviews and he was looking forward to getting off in half an hour.

“There are these faint readings that keep fading in and out,” the Bajoran pointed to her screen. Every five seconds, like clockwork, a faint shadow appeared. Three shadows appeared, to be exact. Jon squinted hard at them for a moment. There was something about them that was chillingly familiar.

“Were you scanning when you saw these?” Jon asked.

“Yeah,” Arden cocked her head.

“Tachyon scan?” Jon pressed.

“Yeah, that’s what’s so odd. It would have never showed up otherwise,” Rio answered. “Why?”

“Oh crap,” Jon breathed. “RED ALERT! BATTLE STATIONS!”

“What is it commander?” Rio was confused.

Before Jon could answer, a pair of warbirds decloaked and opened fire. One immediately turned on the Oregon, which shook as it absorbed a salvo of disruptor fire.

“Shields?” Jackson queried.

“80%” Tim Ackerman, the tactical officer on duty, reported.

“Helm, go MVAM pattern Alpha,” Jon ordered, wishing Josh was here.

“Aye,” Ras nodded, taking the helm from some other ensign. “MVAM engaged.”

“Fire full spread at the attacking warbird,” Jackson ordered. “Shields status?”

“60%, 100%, and 80%,” Rio reported.

“What is that other warbird doing?” Jon asked.

“It’s attacking the Starbase!” Rio was shocked. This was barbaric; the Starbase was filled with civilians.

Jon was not nearly as surprised. There were two other ships, both science vessels and next to useless, but the Warbirds had ignored them. Commander Jackson had also noted that they had attacked the section of the station that most likely housed Josh and Saehir. They were after revenge.

“Helm put us between both warbirds in omicron patter and prepare for starburst on my mark,” Jon ordered as Ras maneuvered the three pieces of the Oregon between the two warbirds. “Tactical, target the warbird attacking the station and fire.”

The Oregon’s phasers and torpedoes blazed away as they hammered the strafing warbird, which turned its attention to them. Moments later, disruptor was unleashed from both warbirds.

“Starburst now!” Jon commanded. Ras sent the ship splitting off in three different directions.

Unfortunately, the Romulans had prepared for this. Even as it had fired, the warbird that was formerly attacking the station had jetted away. They had no intention of hitting the Oregon, just wanted her out of the way. The other warbird’s disruptors pounded into the station.

“Get behind them and tell the station to return fire!” Jon growled, knowing that he had been out maneuvered for once. Nodding, Ras did as he was ordered.

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

“What are you doing here?” Josh was genuinely surprised to see Saehir exiting Larant’s torture chamber.

“Giving her a Romulan point of view,” Saehir smirked. “Hope Federation prisons are nicer than Romulan ones.”

“Joy,” Josh moaned as he headed into for his second bout with the JAG officer. That Romulan was pure evil he decided.

“So what can I do you for?” the forlorn captain asked Larant.

“You have the orders?” she asked.

“Certainly,” Josh replied producing a battered PADD. Jessica held out her hand expectantly and Josh handed it over.

“Thank you,” the sweet smile that had come to annoy Josh so much returned. “Looks like its seen its fair share of action.”

“I suppose, but good luck opening it,” Josh explained. “Only me and Ax can open it and only together.”

“Okay,” she appraised the PADD. “Well, we’ll have to—”

She never finished the sentence. At that moment, the station was rocked by the attack. Both of them were picked up out of their chairs and thrown across the room. Just as Josh picked himself up, another blast shook him down again.

“What is going on?” a terrified Jessica Larant gasped. Josh looked out the window in time to see a flurry of green balls of destructive energy come careening towards them.

“DOWN!” Josh commanded as he threw himself and the JAG officer to the floor.

The disruptor blast hit with a vengeance. It ripped a hole through the station, exposing the room they were in to space. Josh could feel the vacuum sucking him towards the emptiness of space, but just as thought he was lost, the pair crashed into the emergency force field.

“I think we’ll have to continue this later,” Josh picked them up and pulled the stunned woman after him. He knew he had to get back to his ship and that was where he intended to go.

To his surprise, he exited to find Saehir standing there. “What are you still doing here?” he demanded.

“I could ask you the same damn question,” she shot back. “We got to get out of here.”

“If the promote people in the Empire for stating the obvious, you’d have made admiral,” Josh retorted. “Now get your ass to the emergency civilian bunkers where you’ll be safe.”

“Right, since you’re right behind me,” Saehir scoffed. “As I recall, you’re suspended from active duty, which basically makes you a civilian.”

“Who says I’m not?” Joshua countered with a shooing motion.

“Because I know you, despite the fact that we met only three weeks ago,” Saehir stood firm. “You’re going to do exactly what I would do: go to my ship and fight.”

“Maybe, but it’s my ship and it’s my fight,” Josh shrugged.

Our fight,” Saehir glared back. “You know that they after us. Both of us, which makes this my battle just as much as it does yours. We’re in this together, whether we like it or not. Besides, you’ll need me.”

“Did fine without before,” Josh pointed out. “Better in fact. Without you, I wasn’t court-marshaled.”

“Jury’s still out,” the Romulan wobbled as another blast shook the deck. “Now we can stand here, argue, and get blown to pieces or you can let me come with you.”

“Fine,” Jackson capitulated. “Larant, get your tail to the bunker center station now.”

“Wait, you can’t go to the Oregon!” Jessica protested. “You’re still suspended; you can’t resume command.”

“We’re standing here, getting shot at by at least one warbird, and you want to quote rules!?” Aelhih thundered at the other woman. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“We can’t violate principles,” Larant countered as an EPS conduit blew and showered sparks around them.

“We don’t have time for your bureaucratic bull crap,” Josh growled. “Oregon, three to beam up.”

“Wait—,” Jessica was cut off mid-wail as the three of the disappeared from the corridor in a blue stream.

********

“What’s the situation?” Josh queried as he walked onto the bridge.

“We’ve bloodied their noses,” Jon informed, “but the keep cloaking. It’s drawn them away from the station, but they’re not letting us get a clear shot.”

“Reinforcements?”

Sovereign’s the closest and she’s still a couple hours out,” Jon sighed. “We’re it for the foreseeable future.”

“Us versus two warbirds,” Josh allowed a tight smile. “It almost doesn’t seem fair.”

“If they’d show their faces,” Jon shook his head. “Warbird one, the T’rel we think has its rear torpedo tube. Shields are weakening, but they must be fixing that when cloaked. ”

“Saehir, you know where the cloaking device is located?” Josh asked.

“Of course,” she indignantly answered. “What kind of Romulan would I be if I didn’t?”

“One that isn’t worth our time,” Josh retorted, “Oh wait, you aren’t.”

“Watch it smart ass,” Saehir returned. “You need me to level the field.”

“Just don’t miss,” Josh grunted in reply.

“Never do,” she smiled back.

“Hold on,” a small voice called from the back of the bridge.

“Romulan decloaking aft!” Rio warned.

“Helm bring us about fleur-de-lis, tactical lock on and fire maximum spread,” Josh commanded. The Oregon’s bottom two sections curled back while the command section did a twisting arc backwards, just in time to miss the salvo of disruptor fire. A bright green beam shot from the top of the warbird’s head, right into the command section.

“Direct hit, command shields down to 75%,” Rio reported. “They’re firing again.”

“Me first,” Saehir growled. Bright red lines raced from the dagger heads of the Oregon’s three sections, driving into and then through the warbird’s shields. It managed to get off one burst from the disruptor beam before that was destroyed by the Oregon’s phasers. Aelhih launched a burst of torpedoes as the ship turned and cloaked.

“Shields at 70%,” Rio reported.

“I told you to take out the cloaking device,” Josh informed Saehir.

“I know, but the disrupter beam was a more immediate problem,” the Romulan explained.

“I suppose, but next time, do as I tell,” Josh sighed. “Good thinking regardless.”

“Was that a compliment, Captain?” Saehir gasped in mock shock. “I’m so flattered.”

“Are all Romulan women this damned obnoxious?” Josh groaned.

“Just me,” she winked.

“Whatever,” Josh waved her off. “Just do you job, which is to do exactly what I tell you.”

“Aye sir,” Saehir gave a mock salute.

“Excuse me,” the small voice repeated, again ignored.

“Josh, warbird decloaking on the far side of the station,” Rio called out.

“Helm bring us there alpha pattern maximum impulse. Tactical, Jackson-2 and this time shoot that blasted cloaking device,” Josh ordered.

“Got it captain,” Saehir was not going to cross him twice.

Ras whipped the ship around and Saehir blazed a path with the phasers. But instead of turning to engage, the ship started an orbit around the station, before cloaking. Just then, the other warbird decloaked on the other side and began to fire.

“They’re trying to run us around,” Josh noted. “Ras, bring Alpha over the station and Beta and Gamma around on opposite sides, maximum impulse. Tactical, lock on and fire.”

The two nodded and executed the maneuver. Whoever was commanding the Romulan vessel was not expecting this and froze for just a moment. That moment gave Saehir all the time she needed to punch through the shields with the Oregon’s powerful Type XII phasers. Lining up the torpedoes, a small volley of quantums finished it off. The wounded ship limped back deeper into space.

“Alright, let’s finish it,” Josh commanded. “Jackson-2.”

“You can’t!” Larant finally made her presence known. “It’s against engagement protocols. The ship is disabled and withdrawing, you have to let it go.”

“This isn’t you cubicle back on Earth,” Josh patiently, yet forcefully explained. “Dead men, and dead men only, don’t shoot. Therefore, we finish them. Ras, lay in pursuit course and Saehir, prepare to fire.”

“Belay that, or you’ll all be court-marshaled. Captain Jackson has been relieved of duty and so by following his orders you’ll be subjecting yourselves to charges of mutiny,” Larant threatened.

Outwardly, Josh did not flinch. Inwardly, he raged. There were few things he tolerated. One was being threatened and intimidated by an idiot. Another was having his crew threatened and intimidated by an idiot. But there was nothing he could do. The warbird would keep if left alone and it was not worth getting his entire crew court-marshaled. Thankfully, the T’rel commander came to his rescue.

“Captain, the T’rel is hailing us,” Rio was a bit confused. “Audio only.”

“Let’s hear it,” he continued to glare down at Larant.

“Well played captain and Saehir,” the same smug voice. “Don’t bother trying to track this; it won’t help you. You managed to escape from our bombardment on the station and disable one of our ships. But the game is up now. Unless Captain Joshua Jackson and former Centurion Saehir Aelhih surrender themselves, we will destroy the station. You have five minutes to comply.” The audio clicked off.

“He’s not bluffing captain,” Saehir recognized the certainty in the commander’s voice. That kind of certainty only came when you were holding all the cards. “He’ll do it.”

“But that’s not possible,” Jon protested. “He’d have to do that in one shot and his ship is far too damaged to do that.”

“It’s not his ship,” Rio spoke up. “There were three signatures we detected, remember.”

“That’s a detail you forgot to mention,” Josh grunted.

“It shouldn’t matter,” Jon shook his head. “The only way even a healthy warbird could do that was if it was…” Jon’s eyes got big as he met Josh’s and they both had the same thought.

“Rio, active tachyon scan now,” he ordered.

“Sir, I’m getting a signature from inside the station,” Rio’s face scrunched up. “My scanner must be off.”

“No, it’s right on,” Saehir sighed, reaching the same conclusion as the twins. “He parked on of those things inside the space dock. Guess we don’t have much of a choice.”

“We always have a choice,” Josh retorted. He was not done yet, not by a long shot. “Bridge to Ax.”

“Ax here.”

“We need to use the tractor beam, can we do that in MVAM?” Josh queried.

“Negative,” the Royadainian replied. “What are you planning on tractoring?”

“A warbird,” Josh answered flatly. “We’ll need you up here.”

“On my way, as soon as we rejoin,” Ax acknowledged.

“Helm, put is normal mode. Ops, hail the stations command center,” the captain ordered. A moment later, Commander Matthew Graff’s face appeared on-screen.

“Captain?” the young man was more than a little surprised. “I thought you were suspended?”

“He is,” Larant sulked from behind.

“Desperate times, desperate measures and all that,” Josh informed. “Commander, open all your space doors. We think you’ve got a Romulan warbird hiding in there.”

“Seriously?” Graff responded. “How’d they get in?”

“While cloaked,” Josh impatiently explained. “Just do it or you’re all dead. We’ve got less than two minutes, so move it.”

“I’m not sure I can take orders from you,” Graff hesitantly responded.

“If you don’t now, in 90 seconds you won’t ever be taking anyone’s orders!” Josh’s voice was clear and iron-strong. Graff relented.

“Thank you. Oregon out,” Josh cut the channel. “So where are they in there?”

“My guess is there,” Saehir pointed to a section in the corner. “It gives them the best escape route to open space. It’s what I would chose if I were them and I am a Romulan.”

“Alright, Ras, you’re going to fly us straight through there at maximum impulse. Saehir, you’re going to fire a full-spread at them, but I don’t want you to destroy them. We’d end up taking the whole station. As Saehir lights them up, Ax you lock on a tractor beam and will pull them out of there. Understood?” Josh looked at his officers.

“Understood sir, but that is going to take every ounce of piloting skills I have and then some,” Ras shook his head. It was an impossible task.

“We don’t have much of a choice,” Josh replied. “But noted and I won’t blame you if we crash into the station.”

“Thirty seconds, captain,” Rio informed them of their time limit.

“Engage,” Josh took a deep breath. This was nuts even by his standards.

Larant knew this was the end of her. If it was not, there was absolutely no way she would ever leave Earth again. She swallowed hard and watched as the Oregon leapt forward.

The dagger-shaped ship raced through the vacuum of space. Ras aimed the nose perfectly through the suddenly narrow opening. Inside the dock, Saehir aimed her best guess and fired a full spread of phasers and two torpedoes. Everyone held their breath for a millisecond.

Directly in front of them, a Valdore­-class warbird materialized as the weapons tore through her defenseless hull, obliterating her cloaking device. Explosions lit up the space-dock like fireworks on New Year. Ax paused for a moment as the Oregon slid under the surprised vessel and then locked on his tractor beam.

“Got it,” he informed as everyone felt a lurch. The Oregon pulled the unfortunate vessel towards the open doors on the other side. Ras wanted to close his eyes, but willed himself to remain calm as he squeaked through the doors, towing the warbird out behind them. A jolt shook them as one of the wings tore a hole in the side of the door.

“Captain, warbird approaching dead ahead!” Rio yelled. “Firing!”

The warbird that they had “disabled” just minutes before came streaking in, disruptors blazing.

“Disengage tractor beam. Helm evasive maneuvers now!” Josh, usually calm and cool, shouted. Ax shut down the tractor beam, hurling the Valdore forward and Ras arced the Oregon away from the impending fire.

Somewhere in the shadows, the T’rel’s commander looked on in horror as the defenseless Valdore was shredded by its own ship. Moments later, the fiery mass slammed into the firing warbird, creating a massive explosion that rocked the entire battleground.

On board the Oregon, people were picking themselves after the supernova blast as klaxons sounded. Josh was seeing double and found a hand offered. Grasping it, he found himself helped up by Saehir. Shaking his head to clear the cobwebs, he brushed her off.

“I’m fine,” he commented. “Damage report.”

“Warp engines are offline. Impulse engines are offline. Lateral sensors offline. Long-range sensors offline. Shields down to 20%. Torpedoes offline. Phasers, port dorsal array is the only functioning one. MVAM offline. Structural integrity down to 50%. Hull breaches on decks 13-16, 9, and…” Jon paused his report and looked at his brother, “7,” he finished. Sickbay.

“Go, the bridge seems fine. Give me a casualty report when you get there,” Josh ordered.

“Yes sir,” Jon nodded gratefully and headed for the turbolift.

“Ax, how we holding up?” Josh looked at his chief engineer.

“We’re alive, so that counts for something,” the Royadainian sighed. “Had to shut down both Alpha and Beta warp cores. Gamma can’t sustain the ship on its own, not that there’s much of a ship to sustain. We’ll be here for probably a month effecting repairs, assuming the station isn’t too badly damaged. That was one hell of a blast.”

“Biggest I’ve ever seen,” Josh agreed, “and I’ve seen plenty of big ones.” For the first time, Josh to a moment to scan the shattered bridge. Predictably, it was a complete mess, as they had had courtside seats to the event and were decidedly in the splash zone. Conduit, panels, chunks of duranium, even a couple chairs were strewn everywhere. About a third of the stations were functional.

“Rio, communications still work?” he queried his ops officer.

“Barely, audio only,” she answered. “Just enough to communicate with the station. Long range stuff is gone.”

“Tell the station that we’ve got lots of wounded and be prepared for casualties, lots of ‘em,” Josh instructed. “Then help me assess the wounded and get them to sickbay.”

“Aye,” Rio nodded. Just then, her console beeped. “Captain, it looks like a ship just went to warp, but sensors can’t get a clear reading on what it was.”

“The T’rel,” Josh sighed. This time the bugger had slipped out from his fingers. Not that he could do much with one functioning phaser anyway.

“It left a message. Shall I play it?” she asked.

“No, later, we got work to do,” Josh shrugged it off.

“Commander Jackson to Captain Jackson,” Captain Jackson’s communicator beeped.

“Go ahead.”

“Sickbay’s okay,” a very relieved Jon informed. “Casualties are coming in from all over the ship. We’ve got 34 seriously wounded, 47 wounded, and four dead. Recommend that we evacuate the seriously wounded to Starbase 12.”

“Agreed, Ax transporters?” Josh queried.

“Negative and shuttle bay is shot to hell,” the lizard sighed.

“Rio, tell Starbase 12 our status and that we can’t transport the wounded. Have them communicate with Dr. Jackson on how to move them,” Josh ordered and sighed. His head was pounding, probably concussed, again and his arm hurt. Looking down, he noticed it looked kind of funny and was probably broken. Surveying the scene once again, he was more depressed. His first command was not going at all the way he would have liked, despite the two victories.

“Hey Josh, where’s blondie?” Saehir stood beside him. He had not noticed that he did not see the irritating JAG officer. “Maybe you got lucky and she was killed.”

“People get killed is never funny, even people like her. So don’t ever joke about it,” Josh snapped at the Romulan. He was having a very bad day.

“I know,” Saehir sobered. “I’m sorry, it’s a defense mechanism. Let’s find her.”

It took a couple of minutes to find her hiding under a tossed chair next to the conference room door. Other than being badly shaken and a few cuts, she was fine.

“This is why we destroy ships, instead of disabling them,” Josh chided her.

“If you can get over your cowardice, we could use your help with people who really need it,” Aelhih added harshly. She had never liked the perky JAG officer that seemed so high and mighty. For her part Jessica shivered but got and grabbed a tricorder and started helping out.

“Ah,” Saehir nearly fell. Josh caught her with his good arm and braced her as she took a couple hobbling steps.

“It would seem that you’re hurt,” Josh remarked.

“Did they promote you for stating the obvious?” Saehir smirked while she gritted her teeth. “More than seems.” Looking down, they noticed her ankle was twisted wrong. Scanning it confirmed that it was indeed broken.

“It’s no big deal,” Saehir grunted. “I’ll be fine.”

“You can barely walk,” Josh countered. “That needs to be set and you’re not going to be a high priority.”

“Because I’m a Romulan?” Saehir questioned.

“No, because you’re not bleeding to death,” Josh shook his head.

“Exactly, no big deal,” Saehir tried to limp away, before falling back into Josh’s arm. “I wonder why I didn’t feel it before.”

“Adrenaline probably,” Josh shrugged. “Let me set it for you. May not be as good as my sister-in-law, but I’ve got some basic first aid training.”

“Hold on, your arm isn’t looking so good either,” Saehir held him at bay. It was really starting to throb, Josh admitted to himself. Before he could do anything, Saehir snatched the tricorder out of his hand and scanned him.

“Broken and needs to be set,” Saehir commented. “Three, two, one.”

“It’s not that bad,” Josh said right on que. “I can barely feel it,” he lied.

“So you can’t take your own advice,” she challenged.

“Fine, I’ll make you a deal,” Josh groaned, “I’ll let you set my arm if I can set your ankle. It will cause each other excruciating pain, which is always fun for us to inflict on each other.”

“Sounds good, simultaneously then?” she agreed.

“Yep,” Josh nodded. Saehir hefted her leg onto a console for Josh to set and he gave her his arm.

“One, two, three,” they counted and twisted.

“AHHH!” both groaned as the bones were snapped into place.

“Captain, you and Miss Aelhih should report to the infirmary on the station. We have things covered here,” Rio came up behind the grimacing pair.

“Good idea,” Josh panted and the two of them shuffled to the turbolift.

Chapter 4

“So you ready to play it?” Josh asked Saehir in his temporary quarters on Starbase 12. Despite the fact he had saved everyone, he had been restricted to quarters until the hearing was over.

“I guess,” the Romulan shuddered slightly. “He gives me the creeps.” Josh shrugged and pressed the play button. A smug Romulan face appeared on the screen.

“Well played Captain and Centurion. The three of us are developing quite the rivalry, aren’t we? Rounds 1 and 2 go to you, I suppose, but this is far from over. My lord Pelliad has been forced to move up his timetable because of you so we shall be seeing much more of each other soon. Next time, I plan on taking much more than just five of your officers, count on that. From where I sit, I am several thousand in your debt plus six warships. You have made this personal and know I will hit you where it hurts the most. So until we meet again, Captain and Centurion, Mandukar Arrhae out,” the message blipped out.

“Well, at least I have a name to go with the face,” Jackson sighed. “Calling him ‘the commander’ was getting really old.”

“He means it, you know,” Saehir sat there, much less amused. “He will hunt us down. Once Arrhae gets his sights set on something, he will chase it around the galaxy until he gets it. And he has his sights on revenge against us.”

“I know, but we’ve crushed him in the last two battles,” Josh shrugged, not nearly as worried as Saehir. “So I figure we can keep doing it until we kill him.”

“He’s smarter than you think,” Aelhih warned. “There’s a reason he’s Pelliad’s favorite. It is only a matter of time until he figures you out.”

“That has yet to happen,” Jackson pointed out.

“I’ve got you pegged,” Saehir allowed a tight grin. “You play your enemies off each other. Line up two or three warbirds in a wall and you’d be toast.”

“Don’t be so sure,” the captain cocked an eyebrow. “You’ve only seen me in two battles. There are a few more tricks up this sleeve.”

“Let’s hope you get a chance to use them,” Saehir sighed. “Looks like we’re on the same side.”

“Enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Joshua quipped. “Old earth saying,” he explained to a confused Saehir.

“Oh,” she said and extended her hand. “Well, captain, looks like you get to keep your skin for now.”

“Thanks for the comfort,” Josh sardonically replied, but had a smile on his face as he took her hand.

“Captain Jackson,” his communicator cheeped.

“Jackson here,” he sighed.

“The committee is here to review your hearing,” the voice on the other end, some office lackey, informed him. “Your presence is requested in courtroom 4e.”

“Thanks. On my way,” he answered. “Well Saehir, this is probably it. After my little stunt out there, I’m going to spend the rest of my career in New Zealand. Good luck against Mandukar and whatever you do with your life.”

“Thanks Josh,” she answered and gave him a quick hug. “Good luck.”

**********

“This inquiry into the actions of Captain Joshua Jackson from stardate 5643.7-5694.9 has officially begun. Captain Jackson, you stand accused of violating the Treaty of Algeron, inappropriate use of Starfleet resources, taking your crew AWOL, and disobeying Starfleet peacetime engagement protocols. Do you understand these charges?” the lead judge, a Vulcan woman, asked the captain.

“Yes ma’am, I do,” his back was ramrod straight as he stood at attention. For the first time since he could remember, he was nervous and tense. His career and freedom were on the line here.

“Very well,” the judge nodded to the perky blond that had given him such a headache. “Lieutenant Commander Jessica Larant, please give your report.”

“Certainly,” she stood up cheerfully. “Captain Jackson and the crew of the USS Oregon did in fact cross the Neutral Zone into Romulan space. They claim that they were acting under orders of Starfleet Command, but this has yet to be substantiated. While in Romulan space, Jackson aided a Romulan defector and in the process destroyed four warbirds in Romulan space. The captain and his crew feel that their actions were justified, as they were outnumbered five-one. As for crossing the Neutral Zone, their alleged orders were not invasive in nature and therefore they felt them appropriate to carry out. So from a technical standpoint, Captain Jackson is guilty.

“However, as has been demonstrated in recent experiences, there are times when the rules need to be bent for the greater good. What makes Captain Jackson such an effective Starfleet officer is knowing when to bend the rules and when to be rigid. A captain of his skill and caliber, especially in light of the coming war, is a necessity. With that in mind, I suggest that the charges of violating Starfleet peacetime engagement protocols be dropped.”

“And the charges of violating the Neutral Zone?” the Vulcan queried.

“Since it has not been substantiated whether or not Captain Jackson and his crew were acting under orders or not, he stands guilty of that. Even if he was, the captain should have known better than to cross the border. Despite the fact that the Romulan defector has suggested that his actions will make little difference in the end, that does not justify him crossing the border. It was reckless and entirely too aggressive and those decisions resulted in placing the crew in great harm and the death of Lieutenant Mark Rubio. I therefore recommend that Captain Jackson be court-marshaled for that.”

Josh’s heart sank. Starfleet had not come to his rescue. The set of orders that were his trump card had gotten sucked out into space. He had no legs left to stand on. There goes my career, he sighed. Well, at least it was fun while it lasted. It was at that moment that a young lieutenant burst in carrying a stack of PADDs.

“Excuse me,” he interrupted, “but Captain Jackson and his crew are hereby cleared of all charges and to resume active duty effective immediately. The contents of this hearing and Commander Larant’s report are to be sealed and only those with Omega-9 clearance may access them.” As he explained, the man was passing out a set of PADDs explaining the situation.

“You don’t have the authority to shut down these proceedings,” Jessica glared. She was this close to getting Josh condemned.

“But I do,” a woman’s voice called from the doorway. Everyone spun around to see a blond woman in her late sixties, early seventies standing there. On her collar were five pips in a box: Fleet Admiral Alynna Nechayev.

“Admiral,” Josh nodded with visible relief. He had just been saved by the same person who he believed had hung him out to dry.

“In addition, Captain Jackson and his crew are to be commended for their actions, especially in procuring the Romulan defector,” she continued inclining a nod to the relieved captain.

“So it’s true?” Larant was stunned.

“Every word,” Nechayev admitted. “But none of you ever heard that. Captain Jackson, you are free to go. Apologies for the delay on getting to you.”

“Thank you admiral,” the 6’8” man stood a little taller as he walked out, vindicated.

***********

Somewhere on the other side of the station, Saehir was sitting in front of her own board of inquiry. Her fate was being decided on whether she would be officially accepted into the Federation or deported back to the Romulan Star Empire, where she would shortly be executed. In reality, she knew that she was going to be accepted. But the butterflies were still there.

Then of course there was the question of what to do next. Saehir had grown up in the military and knew no other life. Being a civilian would, as well as a Romulan in the Federation, was going to be painful. Perhaps she could get accepted into Starfleet. Of course, what crew would have her? What crew would trust her?

“Centurion Aelhih, after reviewing your case, we would like to welcome you into the Federation,” the bald man smiled for once.

“Thank you sir,” Saehir herself smiled. For her whole life, she had hated the Federation. But now that she had gotten to know some of them, she found that she liked them. And they were the only people who wanted her. “What do I do now?” she asked the most pressing question on her mind.

“That is entirely up to you,” the man shrugged. “However, on behalf of Starfleet, we would like to offer you a commission. We feel that your experience and training suit you for us. Your rank translates to the equivalent of a lieutenant, if you’re willing.”

“Yes sir!” she beamed. “When do I start?”

“Well, there is some paperwork to fill out and some openings to apply for,” the man answered her. “As soon as you get a post, then you begin.”

“I think I know exactly where I’m going,” she said to herself.

**********

Josh sat by himself in the Nimitz Lounge enjoying a celebratory glass of cold water. He was free and was going to stay that way for the time being. Something told him that the JAG office was going to have their eye on him from now on. A presence jerked him back to reality. It was Admiral Nechayev.

“Congratulations captain,” she said as she sat down opposite him.

“Thanks, though you guys made me sweat a little more than is healthy,” Josh flatly answered. He was less than pleased with Command at the moment. For the last two weeks he had been on the edge of losing everything while they had sat back and done nothing.

“Sorry about that,” she admitted. “We were swamped with reports from our intelligence missions. But at least it all worked out in the end.”

“I stuck my neck out for you guys on some many levels,” Josh growled. “You guys couldn’t spare a few minutes to confirm my story and get me off hook?”

“Careful captain,” Nechayev raised a warning eyebrow.

“After the hell I’ve gone through in the last month and a half for you, I’ve earned more than a little leeway,” Josh glared.

“I suppose,” conceded the admiral. “Are you always this insolent?”

“Worse, usually,” Josh stood up to leave. It was suddenly feeling very crowded. “Next time you send me to do your dirty work, I expect you to be right there to bail me out. Serious consequences could follow if you don’t.”

“Is that a threat, captain?” Nechayev returned in an icy tone that befit a Fleet Admiral.

“A warning that I might not be so inclined to keep my silence,” Josh answered. “I must protect my crew, whatever the cost. So you protect me.”

“I will consider that, captain,” she looked hard back at him.

“Don’t forget what being captain was like,” Josh warned.

“Admiral MacCray to Captain Jackson,” his combadge spoke.

“Jackson here,” the captain tapped it.

‘Report to my office immediately,” the Scot ordered. “There are some matters we need to deal with before you head out again.”

“On my way,” Josh closed the channel. “Remember what I’ve said,” Josh told the admiral as he strode out of the lounge.

“I will,” she promised.

A few minutes later, Josh walked into MacCray’s office. To his shock, he found Saehir standing there in a Starfleet uniform.

“What is she doing?” he pointed and glared, the glare of which was returned.

“Captain Jackson, I’d like you to meet your new tactical officer, Lieutenant Saehir Aelhih, the first Romulan in Starfleet,” Admiral MacCray smiled mischievously.

“You’ve got to joking,” Josh deadpanned. This was not happening to him. His day had been going so well.

“Quite serious, captain,” MacCray continued to grin. “Don’t worry, I’ve made sure she understands that killing the captain is strongly frowned upon here.”

“Thanks, I’m sure that will make a huge difference,” he glared at Saehir. “Miss Aelhih, your first action is going to be to make an arrest.”

“Really captain,” her green eyes sparkled. “Who?”

“Me,” Josh answered as his glare turned on the admiral, “for assaulting a superior officer.”

 

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