EPISODE 5.49 - “For Better or Worse”
written by Travis Cannon
Norman Craig looked up at Dr. Braga.
“Are you kidding?”
“No,” Braga said, cocking his head slightly. “You just seem nervous.”
“Well it's not everyday someone gets married, now is it?” Craig retorted.
Captain Kelsoe stepped in.
“Will you two break it up,” he said jokingly with a smile. “Here she comes.”
An awe came over the collective crowd gathered in the ceremony room aboard Deep Space Five to witness the marriage of Lieutenant Norman Craig and Ensign Tracy Carson. Everyone was decked out in their dress uniforms. Tracy, however, was going for a more traditional look, wearing a white wedding gown, a mixture of Bajoran and Earth design. Craig stood with a straight back in his white dress uniform. Braga, as best man, stood besides him.
Everyone watched as Tracy, escorted by her father, Captain Roger Carson. Malia Boliou, her Bajoran mother, stood beside Lt. Commander Joanna Withrome as one of the bride's maids. Craig's father, Derek, and mother, Elizabeth, in the front room along with his brothers, Derek, Jr., and Brian, and sister Haley. Both his father and mother were beaming with pride. Presently they turned to watched Tracy come down the aisle with her father.
A hush grew across the room, as Captain Carson and Tracy arrived at the raised dais, where Captain Roger Carson presented his daughter to Lieutenant Norman Craig.
Admiral Kawamura stepped up from behind a podium, looking masterful in his dress uniform. Commander Connor Burt and Commander Tuff exchanged glances and took their place with Dr. Braga as the groomsmen.
The Admiral inhaled softly and beamed at the two officers. He then stepped aside to allow Captain Kelsoe to stand before his two crewmembers. He paused for a beat before he began.
“Since the days of wooden sailing ships, ship captains have had the privilege and honor of uniting two people. It is one of the few perks that comes with the jobs,” Kelsoe added, jokingly. The gathered audience chuckled softly. “Today,” he continued, “we are gathered to witness and celebrate the joining of Norman Eugene Craig and Tracy Malia Carson.” He paused for beat.
“Lieutenant Craig,” he directed his attention to Craig. “Do you take Tracy Malia Carson as your lawful wife, to cherish, protect, and love for as long as you both shall live?”
“I do,” Craig said, and smiled. He turned and took the wedding band from Braga and slipped it onto Tracy's ring finger. Burt and Tuff grinned proudly.
“Ensign Carson,” Kelsoe said, turning to Tracy. “Do you take Norman Eugene Craig as your lawful husband, to cherish, protect, and love for as long as you both shall live?”
“I do,” Tracy said smiling. Then she too placed a wedding band on Craig's ring finger.
Kelsoe nodded, approvingly. “Then by the authority granted to me by Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets, I hereby pronounce you man and wife.” He leaned forward. “You may now kiss the bride, Lieutenant.”
Craig grinned and the happy couple embraced while the gathered witness cheered in celebration.
The DS5 mess hall had been converted in a reception hall. The tables had been cleared in the center of the room to allow those in attendance to celebrate in dance. Tracy's father had arranged for a tradition Russian band, how played traditional wedding celebration music. Afterwards, Kelsoe had asked Captain Carson about the choice in music. Carson had replayed by explaining he had Russian ancestry and had always found the Russian to be good party goers.
Captain Kelsoe and Commander Connor Burt watched the festivities from the bar. Kelsoe had a glass of Romulan ale in his hand, a gift from Admiral Truman for the wedding celebration. Burt looked out at the couple having the traditional first dance.
“I wonder,” Burt pondered aloud. “Well we ever be doing that, Ben?”
Kelsoe took a swig of the Romulan ale and laughed.
“We're too busy to find love, Connor, you know that,” Kelsoe said.
“Come on, Ben!” Burt protested. “Don't tell me you have already forgot about Sarah Tellening?”
Kelsoe gave Burt a harsh look.
“I try to,” Kelsoe said, remembering the passionate affair he had had with his former commanding officer when he was her first officer. It was a relationship that we against regulations. But that when he was her subordinate. That was no longer the case. They had met again, a couple of years ago, when Admiral Anton was selected as the new Commander and Chief of Starfleet, a title which had been changed to Starfleet Commander. Politics had decreed that only the Federation President be the Commander and Chief of Starfleet. It was a silly matter, all relating to a title, not the actual job requirements.
“Come on, Ben!” Burt interjected on Kelsoe's thoughts. “You're not longer bound by regulations to ignore your feelings for Tellening.”
“What if I've moved on,” Kelsoe said. “I married Anne.” That brought back the sorrow of losing her to the Borg. He took a long sip of the ale. “And look our that turned out.”
Burt leaned back on the bar. “I now, man,” he said. “Things have been tough on you. First Tellening, then Anne... now your feelings for Joanna.”
“What!?” Kelsoe nearly spit out his ale.
Burt jabbed him with his elbow.
“Come on, Ben,” he said in his sly Texan drawl. “Don't think I don't know. We've been friends for like ages. I know your mind. I know how you tick. That's why I was such a good first officer.”
“Oh?” Kelsoe gave an exaggerated humph. “And look how that turned out.”
“Hey, I can't help it if I've got medical problems,” Burt said. “You know, Braga and Coddle were wrong. I wasn't insane.”
“They never called you insane, Connor,” Kelsoe replied. “Maybe slightly mental unbalanced, but not insane.”
“Funny one, Ben,” Burt chuckled. “I'm glade you've kept your sense of humor.”
Kelsoe shrugged. “Sometimes its hard. But this is nice,” he gestured towards the party. “This is a nice distraction.”
“Distraction,” Burt said. This time it was his turn to give an exaggerated humph. “Lieutenant Norman Craig over there, dancing with his blushing bride, Ensign Tracy Carson, have just began a new life together.”
Becoming annoyed with the conversation, Kelsoe shifted topics:
“So how did you convince Starfleet to allow you to come back to work?” Kelsoe asked.
Burt's eyes dimmed. “It wasn't too hard,” he explained, taking a swig of his own glass of Romulan ale. “With this goddamn war between us and those damned scalys. Starfleet needs everyone they can get.” He paused. “Besides, I'm Starfleet's resident expert on scaly politics.”
“Hell, Ben, Starfleet's so desperate for good leadership,” Burt ragged. “They've even offered me a command of my own.”
“What?” coughed Kelsoe.
“That's what I said,” Burt lied.
“And what have you said?”
“I haven't decided yet,” Burt said. “The way I had been forced into early retirement before they brought me back. That mental thing, you know. Not crazy. But still, one never knows what choice one can make under tense situations.”
“Look,” Kelsoe said, trying to bolster his friend's confidence. “You've handled tough situations before, and you've always pulled through.”
“Sure,” Burt sighed. “Starfleet Medical has had a look at me. You know, trying to explain what happened. I mean, hell, Braga never spotted it before.” He paused for a sip of ale. “I saw Rear Admiral Owen Leland, himself. The good doctor did run some tests and looked over everything in my medical and duty records. And he found something.”
Kelsoe's eyebrows raised. “He found something.”
“Yeah,” Burt nodded. He leaned with his elbow against the bar. “Remember when I was inhabited by that strange quantum being.” Kelsoe nodded. “Well,” Burt continued, “it appears that Dr. McRoye had detected something that he couldn't explain while I was inhabited by the damn thing. Next time ole Doc gave me a physical it was gone. He just shrugged it off. Admiral Leland compared the two scans, and apparently being possessed by that quantum thing did something to my brain connections. Messed with the electrical output or something, don't ask me to explain it, I didn't understand half of what Leland told me, but suffice it to say, he thinks he can repair the damage.”
“And that's why Starfleet's offering you a command?” Kelsoe asked.
“Apparently so,” Burt responded with a self-satisfied look on his face.
Kelsoe was just about to ask the barkeeper for another ale, when he noticed Tolorev, the Andorian ensign, who had served briefly aboard the Pioneer as the ship's Starfleet Intelligence representative. Tolorev looked around the room and spotted them. He made his way through the dance floor and stood before them.
“Captain Kelsoe,” Tolorev said, the urgency in his voice could be heard.
“Admiral Truman is requesting your presence in the SI-5,” Tolorev said.
Kelsoe nodded and placed his empty glass down on the bar counter and gave Burt a look that said talk to you later. He then stepped away from the counter and followed Tolorev. Along the way he signaled to Tuff, who was dancing with Ensign Jeri Manon.
Tracy held Craig tight as they danced around the dance floor. She looked over his shoulder and saw her parents enjoying themselves. Commander Tuff was to their right, dancing with Ensign Jeri Manon. Over to the left, Joanna was trying to instruct Ensign Kavoc the proper way to dance. Tracy smiled and leaned against Craig's chest as he led. Craig bent down and kissed her head.
“And you never thought I had it in me to ask you,” he said softly, so only she could hear.
“Oh, I knew,” Tracy said. “I just never admitted it.”
They continued in quiet for a while, allowing the music to carry them along.
“What's up with the Russian music?” Craig asked.
“I have some Russian ancestry on my father's side,” Tracy said. “They've always had upbeat festive dance music. Beside, Lieutenant Valdez seems to be enjoying playing with the band!”
Craig only smiled in reply. He spun her around with the change in tempo from the band, and when she returned he saw the color blue out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head and saw Ensign Tolorev enter the room and make his way across the dance floor. The Andorian was presently speaking with Captain Kelsoe. A moment later the captain stepped away from the bar and signaled Commander Tuff, who stopped dancing with Manon and followed.
“I wonder what's going on,” he mutter softly to no one in particular.
Tracy had followed his gaze and had seen it all, too. She leaned closer to Craig and laid her head on his shoulder.
“We are at war, remember?”
Kelsoe and Tuff walked briskly behind Ensign Tolorev. They crossed the Nexus in short time and entered SI-5. The mass of computer terminals was still manned and standing at the control station was Admiral Truman who was speaking with Admiral Kawamura; both looked up when they entered and Kawamura nodded gravely and left. As he stepped down from the control station, Kelsoe spotted Qupec, the Admiral's Vulcan assistant, walking behind him carrying a box of what appeared to be Admiral Kawamura's personal effects. Kelsoe and Tuff exchanged a confused look, wondering what was going on.
They passed Kawamura and Qupec in silence and shortly arrived at the control station, where Admiral Christopher Truman was monitoring the consoles from a swiveling chair.
“Gentlemen,” Truman spoke in his usually gravely voice. “Thanks for coming.” He turned to Tolorev. “That'll be all Ensign.”
Tolorev saluted the Admiral and left, returning to his supervising station amongst the rest of the intelligence panels.
Kelsoe and Tuff stood silently, waiting for the Admiral to speak.
Truman scanned a bit of text on the screen before him before returning his attention to them.
“Sir?” Kelsoe spoke first. “Where is Admiral Kawamura going?”
“He's been recalled to Earth,” Truman said bluntly.
“Recalled?” Tuff questioned.
“Admiral Sudhir has unexpectedly passed away,” Truman explained. “Starfleet needed to fill his post, and Admiral Anton felt that Admiral Kawamura would fit the bill, so to speak. So, yes, Admiral Kawamura been reassigned to Starfleet Science.”
“A promotion, in other words,” Kelsoe interjected.
“Yes,” Truman said, partly annoyed. “A promotion.”
“So who will be in command here?” Kelsoe inquired.
“Me,” Truman said, rather pleased with himself. “I am now in-command of both the Third Fleet and all current Starfleet Operations in the Oralian Sector. Captain Anthony will resume is post as commander of DS-5, taking care of the day-to-day station operations, while I focus on my own duties as both Fleet Commander and Sector Commander.”
“I thought Curtis was in-command of SI-5,” Tuff said.
“Yes, he was,” Truman nodded. “But I felt he was better suited to his previous post of station operations.”
“So who's in charge here? You?”
“God no,” Truman grinned. “I already have enough on my plate, thank you very much.” He paused for a beat. “I've reassigned Lieutenant Albert Buerk. He will now be in-command of SI-5, and oversee its operations. I believe you highly recommended him, Commander Tuff.”
Tuff nodded. “When SI-5 was originally being set up, yes. I believed him to be the best qualified.”
“We would have taken him as our new Tactical Officer, if you hadn't intervened,” Kelsoe said.
“Seems my decision was well founded then,” Truman said. “Lieutenant Buerk will make a fine addition to SI-5.”
“I have no doubt about that, sir,” Tuff said.
“I'm just a little confused, sir,” Kelsoe said. “Why was Kawamura really promoted to Starfleet Science?”
Truman's eyes narrowed as he glared at Kelsoe. “I tell you why,” Truman grunted. “He couldn't handle the war. Toshio was never one for war, and Starfleet Command knew that when they assigned him here. They were hoping that his diplomatic skills would help out here, but they didn't.”
“Does this have anything to do with what happened with the Boolran?” Kelsoe asked, but it sounded more like a demand.
“Yes,” Truman said curtly. “Let's face the facts, Captain. He screwed up. We should never have allowed the ugly bastard Brue convince us to go. We should have locked him up and threw away the key.”
“But we did learn things,” Kelsoe said. “We now know definitively that the So'jan Mass Driver technology is alien in origin.”
“We already knew that, Captain,” interrupted Truman. “We need not have confirmation. The So'jan are not that advance.” He paused for a while, calming his temper. “Besides, we have bigger fish to fry.”
“We've just received word from Ru'mal and his rebellion operatives hidden within the Coalition government,” Truman explained. “Admiral Da'note has just returned from off-world with an treaty of alliance with the Di'gan Order. And we have now received word from the front that Di'Gan ships have joined So'jan ships in battles... thankfully the Breen have become satisfied with the territory they have already taken, but we never know. They could decide to expand even further.”
Kelsoe took a deep breath.
“This is bad news,” he said softly.
“You're damn right,” grunted Truman.
“What exactly do you want us to do, sir?” Kelsoe asked, a little reluctant.
“As of now,” Truman said, narrowing his eyes. “Nothing.”
“Sir!?” objected Tuff.
Truman shrugged. “There is nothing we can do at the moment that will change anything. The best course of action is to do nothing and see what happens. The Pioneer is still under repairs and I've given the order to have the ship's weapons and shields enhanced with new technologies, including the stealth technologies developed with the Covert-class ships.”
“Deflective plating can only do so much, sir,” Kelsoe responded.
“I has worked so far,” was Truman answer. “We've been able to get close to Mass Drivers, and the Ares was able to remain in orbit of Boolran for quiet sometime without being detected.” Truman looked at them both, annoyed. “Dismiss.”
Kelsoe and Tuff both saluted and left the SI-5 complex. They made their way across the nexus to the wedding reception, stopping midway as Commander Connor Burt approached them.
“Hey guys, what's all this hubbub about?” Burt inquired.
Kelsoe gave him a quizzical look.
“FNN has just announced that Koma's been hit hard by a Di'gan lead offensive,” Burt explained.
“They've joined the war, Connor,” Kelsoe said. “And not on our side.”
“Damn scalys are converting everyone against us,” Burt said.
Both Kelsoe and Tuff nodded in agreement.
“Not everyone,” came a familiar voice.
Commander Peter Bradford shuddered.
The first thing he noticed was the cold. He tried to move, but he was restrained. He tried to speak, but when he opened his mouth, nothing came out. His throat was dry, and his lips chapped. His eyes burned, his lids heavy with fatigue.
Someone pushed him on to his side. For a moment he was relieved, but then he remembered what had happened.
He had been captured by the Boolran, and then taken by Tyson Calok, after that he could not remember. He tried to look around, but the room was dark and the concrete floor was cold.
He could feel the other person's presence in the room, but they remained silent. Again, he tried to speak. Nothing. All he could make was a croaking sound. Moments later came the soft chuckle of an eerie voice. Bradford strained to see who was making that laugh, but he did not need light to know who was in the room with him.
It was the cold blooded killer himself, Tyson Calok.
Bradford tried to move again, sit up, but the restraints made it impossible for him to move. He stared in the direction form whence came Calok's laugh. Then he saw them, the two glowing red eyes, fade into view as Tyson Calok leaned forward.
“Commander Bradford,” Calok spoke, now in few view. “You are quite an interesting man.” Calok leaned back and the lights in the small room rose to a dim illumination. “You're a man who wears his emotions too close to his sleeve.”
“So?” Bradford managed to croak.
“Precisely,” Calok hissed. His red eyes narrowed and they seemed to glow with the fierceness of a booming fire.
Bradford clutched his head in-between his hands, feeling an intense pain in his skull. Calok leaned forward, keeping his glare.
“Feel the burn, Commander,” Calok said. “Feel it, and embrace it.”
Bradford let loose and bellowed with pain.
Tyson Calok merely leaned back, and smiled.
Outside the cell, Commander L'mar stood rigid, listening to the screams of the Starfleet officer. It was a raw and terrible cry. A cry of pain and sorrow. L'mar lowered his eyes, remembering former times he had witnessed the Tal Shiar torturing prisoners.
The cell door hissed opened and L'mar stood back as Calok stepped through into the light.
“Calok,” L'mar bowed his head. “What are you doing with him?”
Calok turned to him. “I don't have to answer myself to you, Romulan!”
L'mar shifted uneasily. “No need to be so harsh, Tyson,” L'mar spoke softly. “You know where my loyalties lie.”
Calok paused and turned, pressing the button to close the door cell. “Yes, Telek, I know. My apologies, I'm just distracted... thinking of the plan.”
“The plan will work,” L'mar said.
“What plan?” came the voice of Xojo Manjala, the Tealuian.
The pale skinned, four-legged alien stepped out of the shadows. Calok's eyes glared red, and Xojo shrunk away.
“Don't try to use you telepathic powers on me, fool!” Calok bellowed, his rage clear.
“But... but... but I'm with you!” protested Xojo.
L'mar stepped forward, looking grim. Xojo looked back and forth between the two. He tried to read L'mar thoughts, but a mental barrier had been put up, blocking him.
“You're blocking his thoughts from me, aren't you?” Xojo questioned Calok.
Calok nodded. “Of course.”
“But... why... why?” stammered Xojo.
“Because I have other plans that do not involve you,” Calok said, and with that he released his mental grip on Xojo and left, L'mar trailing him.
Xojo Manjala slumped down to the floor and leaned against the wall. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
Both Commander Tuff and Commander Burt remained speechless, it was Captain Kelsoe who spoke first.
“Commander Takaram,” Kelsoe said, extending his hand.
The Romulan cocked his head and relented to shaking hands.
“Silly human custom, if you as me,” he grinned.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Burt questioned.
“Starfleet invited me,” Takaram said, inclining his head towards Admiral Truman.
“That we did,” Truman said, who had just emerged from SI-5.
Kelsoe and Tuff turned towards the Admiral.
“First it was the Dominion, now it's the Coalition,” Takaram spoke. “Once again, the Federation seeks our help.”
“Is this true, Admiral?” Burt demanded.
“Contain yourself, Commander Burt,” Truman said, stiffening his back, and pausing for a beat before adding, “It is an option we are keeping open.”
“You can't be bloody serious, can you?” Tuff inquired, turning to look back at the Romulan; Takaram merely shrugged.
“It does not hurt to explore such options,” Truman continued. “As I presume our Romulan friends feel.”
Takaram nodded. “The Romulan Star Empire has recognized that the Federation is useful... some of the times.”
“Some of the times,” humphed Burt. “You hear that, Ben? They try and clone you and they act all superior.”
“We never tried to clone Captain Kelsoe,” Takaram insisted. “Traitor L'mar was working on his own accord. Sub-commander Terrok, L'mar's second has been severely punished for his part in the crime.”
“Really?” Burt said, stepping nose to nose with the Romulan commander.
Maiek Takaram grinned.
“You quiet paranoid for a human,” Takaram said. “You must have Romulan ancestry.”
“Look at that!” huffed Burt, turning back to Kelsoe. “A Romulan who admits that their just a bunch of paranoid bastards.”
“Commander, that is enough!” bellowed Truman, causing the entire room to become silent. Truman glared out across the floor, and everyone quickly got back to work. He gripped the arms of the command chair and pulled himself up. He rubbed his goatee covered chin in frustration. “Commander Burt, I do not approve of Starfleet Command's decision to return you to active duty. Since I cannot override HQ on that matter, I will simply have to tolerate you... and suggest you visit the medical bay. Have Dr. Coddle give you a sedative or something, but I want you to be calm and controlled the next time we meet.”
“Sir..., yes, sir!” Burt said through clenched teeth and stormed off.
Tuff shook his head as Burt passed him and turned back to Takaram.
“So what do the Romulans think of our position?” he inquired.
Kelsoe nodded. “Good question.”
Takaram shifted, appearing unease.
“Officially I cannot comment.”
“But unofficially?” Kelsoe nudged.
“We are optimistic that your forces will prevail,” Takaram admitted.
“So the Romulan Star Empire is rooting for the Federation?” Kelsoe said with a smile.
“I never thought I'd live to see the day,” Tuff said with a chuckle.
“Indeed,” Takaram said with a curt nod.
Craig and Tracy stood in front of a large frosted wedding cake. Craig looked across the top, where a pair of wax figurines that were suppose to represent him and Tracy stood, at his father.
“It's not lemon cake, is it, Dad?” Craig inquired.
“Heavens no, of course not,” Dr. Craig said, exchanging a mischievous look with Commander Elizabeth Craig.
“Well go on, Norman,” she said. “Cut the cake!”
“Its lemon,” Craig muttered.
“Why?” Tracy whispered. “What's the matter with lemon cake?”
“It's not exactly my favorite,” Craig whispered. “Mom and Dad know that, but they always give me a lemon cake on every special occasion. Let's just say its their favorite, so they think its mine... even though I've told them its not about a million times.”
“Come on! Stop the fuss and cut the cake, bro!” cried Derek, jr., the senior fo the Craig brothers. He and Brian chuckled.
“Well, you heard them,” Tracy said. “Let's cut the cake.” And then she added, with a wink, “Don't you want to get this reception over with?”
“Gimme the knife!”
“What are you looking at, Mr. President?” Admiral Anton stood at the head of the President's desk.
President Korvin Mot turned around from the window, his eyes glazed over.
“Um... just taking in the Eiffel Tower, Admiral,” was his response.
Anton nodded, he could tell that the war was beginning to take its toll on the President. He'd seen it before in other men; some where not meant for war.
“Yes, so we were discussing the border skirmish between the Shadowcat and the Persephone,” Mot said, looking down at his notes.
Anton inclined his head in the affirmative.
“I take it that it did not bold well for us,” Mot said, depressed.
“I'm afraid so, Mr. President,” Anton said, shuddering. “Captain Graham, being half-betazoid had sensed the ill thoughts of the advancing Coalition vessels, but in the end two starships and half a dozen fighter wings were not enough to prevent the So'ja from gaining ground.”
“Five!?” Mot sunk back in his chair. “Fighter pilots, I presume?”
“Yes, and one CONN officer.”
Mot look up questioningly.
“Only minor injuries, sir.”
Mot nodded. “I'd like to send their families my condolences.”
“Already taken care of sir,” came Rodney Brickenhouser's voice.
Admiral Anton turned around to see the Chief of Staff standing in the doorway. Brickenhouser grinned, and stepped all the way inside, the door closing behind him. He slumped down in one of the chairs before the President's desk.
“You don't have to worry about a thing, Mr. President,” Brickenhouser said, his voice projecting confidence. “All such details are handled by the secretary pool.”
“I would prefer to write the condolences myself,” Mot responded.
“Oh, I'm sure you would, Mr. President,” Brickenhouser said leaning forward. “But what you need to understand, sir, is that there are going to be a lot of condolence letters being sent out of this office. We are at war.”
“I am quite aware of that, Rodney!” Mot frowned.
“Yes, sir.” Brickenhouser said, nodding.
Anton shifted and laid down the PADD he was holding on the President's desk. “Here's a full report on this mornings briefings,” he said. “Contact me if you have any questions.”
“Thank you, Admiral,” Mot said, picking the PADD up.
“Mr. President.” Anton nodded and then made his exit. Brickenhouser hopped to his feet and followed the Admiral.
“Back to HQ, Admiral?” Brickenhouser inquired.
“As you said, Mr. Brickenhouser, we are at war,” Anton said curtly.
“Yes, I did, didn't I,” smirked Brickenhouser. He then reached out and stopped Anton in the middle of the hall. Two ensigns passed, followed by a clerk and a couple of secretaries. “Look, Admiral,” Brickenhouser was now dead serious. “Mot can't handle it. You've seen him. Hell, you've been giving him all his briefings. You could have let Admiral McCloud do that, but no, you had to do it yourself, why?”
“I am in command of Starfleet, Mr. Brickenhouser,” Anton said, glaring at Brickenhouser. “It is my duty to keep the President informed.”
With that said, Anton brushed Brickenhouser aside and continued down the all.
“He can't handle it, Admiral!” Brickenhouser called after him. “And you know it!”
Anton continued, ingoring the blasted man. God how he hated bureaucrats.
Kelsoe, Burt, and Tuff sauntered back into the wedding reception, they had missed the cake, but the band had picked up again, and people were dancing again. Burt made his way over to the bar. Tuff and Kelsoe remained in the doorway. Kelsoe was looking at Craig and Tracy, dancing, hand-in-hand, in the center of the floor. A tear formed at the edge of his eyes. He quickly whipped it away, but not before Tuff noticed.
“Remembering,” Kelsoe replied. He paused. “I almost feel sorry for them, knowing what could happen if something befalls one and the other survives.”
“You can't do that to yourself, Captain,” Tuff spoke softly, as to not be over heard. “They know the risks, we all do. You cannot blame yourself for the death of your wife.”
Kelsoe looked over at his first officer. “I should have been there.”
“But you weren't, and there's not point in rethinking the past,” Tuff said, putting a hand on Kelsoe's shoulder. “What's done is done, and we can't change that.”
Kelsoe managed a small grin. “Yeah,” he gave a weak chuckle. “Thank God for the Temporal Prime Directive, eh?”
“Aye, sir,” Tuff said, nodding. “Thank God, indeed.”
They looked up and saw Burt at the bar, he waved at them, and they made their way through the throng of dancers. Burt handed Kelsoe a glass of syntheholic bourbon. Kelsoe accepted the glass and took a big swig.
“You okay?” Burt said inquisitively.
Tuff leaned his back against the bar and huffed.
“Romulans,” Kelsoe quickly said, wanting a change of subject; over the years he had heard enough from Burt on the subject of Anne.
Burt gave a nod, and raised a hand.
“Oh Sam, I think will have some more bourbon this way,” Burt called.
Sam the Bartender nodded and turned to replicate the order.
“So?” Burt turned his attention back to his friends.
“The Romulans have a vested interest in the outcome of this war,” Tuff said, taking a long sip from his glass.
Burt nodded, remembering his temper with Takaram. “I guess those pointy ears do notice when some bully shows up on the corner.”
“The So'ja are more than just a bully, Connor,” Kelsoe said, taking a seat on the stool and leaning back against the bar counter.
“I know, Ben, but come on, the So'ja have been baring their reptilian fangs for quite some time,” Burt continued. “I'm just saying I'm amazed that the Romulans finally noticed it.”
“It's not like that So'ja have actually threaten the Romulan Star Empire, though?” Tuff pointed out.
“Yeah?” Burt questioned. “Then why do they care who wins this war, huh?”
Kelsoe took a deep breath and leaned closer to Burt.
“It's all about the economic aftermath,” he explained. “The Romulan Senate wants to make sure that their economy isn't affect by a So'jan victory, which would mean loss in imports from the Oralian Sector for the Romulans. They want the raw minerals that are found in the nebulas in the region. And they have the know-with-all to see what would happen to their economy if the So'ja should win this war. So they are secretly planning to ally themselves with us.” He paused for a beat, to catch his breath. “Now, enough about business. This is supposed to be about Norman and Tracy. Let's try and enjoy ourselves, shall we?”
The curtain the covering the window shuddered in the soft breeze coming up from the valley.
Commander L'mar, a Romulan living amongst So'jan, stood behind the curtains, peering out at the square below the palace. The sun was setting and the crowds were dispersing. His pointy ear twitched when he heard the door close. He turned on his heal to see the red eyes of Tyson Calok coming out of the shadows.
“L'mar,” Calok nodded in greeting.
“Calok,” L'mar returned the greeting. He stepped away from the curtain and towards the living area. “You bring news, I presume?”
“You presume correctly, L'mar,” Calok grinned widely as he took a seat.
L'mar followed his example and sat. He reached over to the side table and picked up a glass bottle holding a blue liquid.
“Some Romulan Ale, Calok?” L'mar offered. “It took some doing... getting some smuggled out of the Empire, but I managed to convinced some of my old colleagues to send me some via Breen traders.”
Calok shook his head, declining. “I never acquired the taste for it, no thanks.”
L'mar nodded, and popped the cork, filling a glass and taking a swig.
“It is an acquired taste, I will agree.”
Calok shifted. “Yes.”
L'mar finished his drink and sighed, satisfied. Calok sat there, waiting patiently. When L'mar finally finished, Calok leaned forward.
“Xojo suspects nothing,” Calok said. “I have spent the past few hours with the cretin convincing him to divulge the security codes for the sensor net.”
“The fool gave in and spilled it all,” grinned Calok.
“Including the codes for the planetary array?” L'mar inquired.
“The government codex?”
“Yes. We have it all, Telek, do not fret... you sound like an old woman,” Calok chuckled. “Besides, Xojo is a weak minded fool, easily distracted. It was no trouble to pull the codes from his head.”
“So with all the codes...,” L'mar started.
“With all the codes, the Tealuian Alliance will fall as easy as pie,” Calok smirked. “Da'note will send the ground force down and we will have all the knowledge the Tealuian possess.”
“The collective knowledge of an entire race,” L'mar looked off in awe.
“One more step closer to our goal, my friend,” Calok cooed.
“May I?” L'mar gestured towards his Romulan ale.
Calok looked up a nodded.
L'mar filled his glass and raised it into the air.
“To the fall the Minark!” L'mar toasted.
Calok concurred with a nod. L'mar threw back his head and took a big gulp.
Tuff stood in the hall, still in dress uniform. He peered around the corner and saw Captain Kelsoe and Admiral Truman talking with Commander Takaram. Kelsoe looked up and saw Tuff. He turned his attention back to his conversation with Truman and Takaram. After a moment, he said his good-byes and walked over to Tuff.
“Rob,” Kelsoe gave a curt nod. “The reception still going strong?”
Tuff nodded in the affirmative. “Roger and Derek have begun a sing-off, not exactly the greatest thing for the hearing, but it sure is entertaining.”
“I'm sure it is,” Kelsoe said, amused. “So why'd you leave?”
Tuff gave the hall a cursory check with his eyes, and then focused back on Kelsoe. “After our assignment aboard the Ares, I contacted an old friend at Utopia Planetia. He supervises the release of ships for active service.”
Kelsoe grinned. “I'm assuming this has something to do with the new Covert class?”
“Right,” Tuff smiled. “Well, I told him to contact me with their is any major release and guess what... yesterday he received orders from Starfleet Command, straight from the Head of Starfleet Operations.”
“Let me guess, we're getting some reinforcements,” Kelsoe interjected.
Tuff nodded. “You bet, but not just any reinforcements, the cream of the crop.”
“Yes,” Tuff affirmed. “Tomorrow Utopia Planetia will be releasing a squadron of Covert class ships, dispatching them here to DS5 to fortify the frontlines against the new Di'gan offensive!”
“That's terrific!” Kelsoe said, now excited. “You know what, I think we should rejoin the party. This is certainly some news that demands some celebration.”
Admiral Da'note stepped out of the Chancellor's office with a large grin on his face. The Di'gan treaty had been worked out perfectly. Everything was preceding precisely as he had planned. And what made everything better was the fact that Tyson Calok was in the dark.
Da'note took some stepped down the dim hallways of the palace and after several paces he found himself pulled off his feet and rammed against the stone walls, hidden in the shadows. He blinked, stunned by the sheer force which had been exerted to pull him off the ground. Within seconds his eyes adjusted to the darkness and he spotted the familiar glowing eyes of Tyson Calok.
“What is the meaning of this Calok?” he demanded.
“Silence, dur'jak!” Calok growled. “If I could have may way, without disrupting the plans I have put in place, I would kill you for what you have done.”
“What are you talking about?” Da'note insisted. “I am ignorant to your anger.”
Calok narrowed his eyes and Da'note felt red hot hands grip around his throat. He looked down put saw nothing. For the first time Da'note realized that Calok was not touching, that all this time Calok had been using his mind powers to pull him off the ground and hold him up against the wall.
“I know,” Calok spoke softly. So softly that it was frightening.
“I do not...” Da'note could not finished his sentence.
“The Di'gan!” Calok ragged. “You have made an alliance with the Di'gan.”
“It was ill advised,” Calok explained. “They will betray you.”
“But for now they can help,” Da'note shot back. “Those Breen pu'tak took what they wanted and stopped. They were your allies, not ours.”
“We are allies.” Calok said. “Use logic, stupid logic, but use it. We are allies. I am allies with the Breen. Therefore, the Breen are also allies of the Coalition.” He paused. “I admit, that type of logic is, for a lack of a better word, stupid and silly. But what you need to understand is this... I know everything that needs to be done to achieve the goals that have set by this Coalition, and the Di'gan were not there. You most understand this, I have already made an arrangement with their government. They know the true goals of this alliance and they will do what they see best, but believe me when I say this: They involvement or lack of does not change the eventually outcome of my plans.”
“That I do believe,” Da'note said. “But you most understand this, Tyson Calok, I must do what I most to ensure the goals of the So'jan people and the Coalition.”
“Do as you like,” Calok declared. “But next time I expected to be consulted. That is, after all, why I'm here, to advise you.”
Calok released him and he collapsed on the floor. Calok turned to leave but stopped and turned back.
“Oh, and Eyota will be working directly under Commander L'mar now,” Calok said. “His knowledge is being wasted by your Senate sub-committee.”
With that said, Calok left, leaving Da'note rubbing a sore neck.
Admiral Ru'siy adjusted his sash as he sat down on the bridge of the Se'wara, the newest hybrid ship to come out of the shipyards. Supreme Admiral Da'note had given him it to command as the flagship of the 2nd Command Group, which possessed one of the Mass Drivers amongst its manifest of ships.
Ru'siy scanned the bridge and grinned as he looked out at the view screen and saw the planet of Koma below them, the two Di'gan warships hovering off to the right. How he hated working with their kind. He turned to his second-in-command, Colonel Ruz'fur.
“Report!” Ru'siy barked.
Colonel Ruz'fur turned and bowed his head slightly. “The fleet is getting into position, sir.”
“And the Federation?”
“Nowhere to be seen,” Ruz'fur reported.
“Any sign of a planetary shield, like Turcia?” Ru'siy inquired, remembering how futile it had been to attempt the land bombardment of Turcia without a Mass Driver.
He had watched helpless as the U.S.S. Ticonderoga penetrated their blockade and delivered supplies to the Turcians. It was not until a Mass Driver could be brought up that they were able to penetrate the planetary shield, only to find that another shield, closer to the planetary body had been set up. The Mass Driver was having difficulty with this second shield. He was about to call the So'ja High Command and ask for an additional Mass Driver, when orders came to divert to Koma and subdue the Ascendancy.
Admiral Ru'siy now stood up and gripped the railing that surrounded the command area on the bridge. He leaned forward. He grinned.
“Begin bombardment,” he ordered.
“I don't think you fully understand what I'm trying to tell you, sir,” Rodney Brickenhouser blurted out, exacerbated by President Korvin Mot inability to see the point he was attempting to make, a point which he thought was rather clear.
Also in the room was the Secretary General Bill Jordan. Jordan merely blinked as he watched Brickenhouser and Mot discuss the possibility of making an alliance with the Romulan Star Empire.
“Starfleet's not up for a war, sir,” Brickenhouser spout. “They could hardly handle the Dominion. And remember, we even had to ask for their help there!” Brickenhouser ended his sentence punching the air with his index finger.
Just then the doors opened and Starfleet Commander Admiral Anton, accompanied by Admiral Dustin McCloud entered the President's office.
“Mr. President,” Anton nodding, handing the PADD he was carrying to his aide, Commander Jovan Diggs.
Both Anton and McCloud took the remaining seats, Anton seating next to Jordan, and McCloud taking the seat next to Brickenhouser.
“What have we missed, sir?” Anton inquired.
“Rodney is trying to convince me to make contact with Ambassador Solius,” Mot said, shifting in his chair.
“Rh'vaurek Solius!” huffed McCloud, chortling. “That bastard's ancient, isn't he.”
Anton nodded. “Mr. Brickenhouser has a point though.”
“Admiral?” Mot leaned forward.
“The Romulans have already made some overtures to a possible alliance against the Coalition,” Anton said. “In fact, Commander Takaram of the Romulan Navy is currently in talks with some of our people on DS5.”
“Can we relay on them?” Mot asked.
“Hell ye...!” Brickenhouser began, but Anton cut him off.
“No,” Anton said.
Everyone looked around at each other, seemingly in agreement, apart from Brickenhouser.
“Bill?” Mot asked of the Secretary General.
“The Admiral's right,” Jordan asserted. “The Romulans cannot be trusted. But I concur with the general assessment that we need their help in dealing with the So'ja. We are not exactly winning this war, sir.”
Mot took a deep breath.
“Is it really necessary?” he asked out loud, not to anyone in particular.
“Yes,” Anton said, who then nodded towards Admiral McCloud.
McCloud leaned forward. “As you know, Mr. President, the test flight of the prototype Quantum Slipstream Drive or QSD, resulted in a major explosion aboard the U.S.S. Guanine, causing the death of the XO, the engineering staff, and Admiral Hayes. The Cosmos-class starship is still just a prototype. And we need them if we'd have any chance alone against the Coalition. However, since the accident, we have halted production.”
“You're proposal, Admiral?”
“Resume the tests of the QSD, aboard both the Guanine and the Cosmos,” McCloud replied.
“I agree,” Anton said. “The Cosmos-class would be a major advancement in our fleet capabilities.”
“What about the Covert-class?” Brickenhouser inquired. “I thought Starfleet was getting a surge with their production.”
“Coverts are small vessels, Mr. Brickenhouser,” Anton explained. “Their primary function is reconnaissance, not combat.”
“But they can fight, can't they?” Brickenhouser interrupted.
“If necessary, yes,” Anton asserted.
“So..., if they can fight... can't you just...,” Brickenhouser was going to berate them with a long spiel on why the Covert-class starships were being underused.
“Well you shut up you, damn it!” McCloud blasted, flustered. “You know nothing of warfare. You're as blind as a Tiberian Bat when it comes to the subject. Let military minds deal with military topics. You can stick to your politicking.”
“Well said, Admiral,” Jordan said, nodding.
Brickenhouser fumed, but remained silent.
“I know its merely tradition, but we need your go ahead, Mr. President,” Anton explained.
“To resume testing?”
“So ordered then.”
Anton and McCloud grinned.
“And with the Romulans?” Mot inquired.
Anton exchanged a look with Bill Jordan and nodded.
“Send a message to Ambassador Spock,” Anton suggest. “Have him make contact and see where they stand.”
“All right,” Mot said. “Let's get to it then.”
Tyson Calok stepped out into the hanger bay of the 3rd Command Group on Ka'al, several miles from the capital city. Alongside him was Commander L'mar. Calok walked at a brisk gate, and L'mar kept pace nicely.
“Is there a reason we are leaving Xojo behind?” L'mar inquired.
Calok over his shoulder at his friend and grinned.
“All good things come to an end...,” was all he said.
They walked up to a So'jan transport shuttle, stepped up the land steps into the craft. Once inside, Calok popped into the cockpit to give orders to the flight crew. Moments later he was back in the passenger seating area, joining L'mar on the cushioned seats reserved to V.I.P.s.
“Word came from Da'note,” L'mar said, as Calok sat down. “The 3rd Command Group is getting into position and is waiting for us.”
Calok nodded, he reached over and pushed the intercom button. “Now if you will, Major.”
“Yes, sir,” came the reptilian voice of their pilot over the intercom.
The shuttle doors hissed closed.
Calok leaned back and closed his eyes. He listened to the engine ignite and warm up. Within moments they would be lifting off and heading for their rendezvous with the 3rd Command Group.
Rodney Brickenhouser stood patiently outside of the Secretary General's office. His arm firmly wrapped around his chest. He had been waiting for several hours, but he had still to see the Secretary General of the Federation Council. Finally the door hissed opened and Admiral Pavoc of Starfleet Intelligence stepped out followed by Lieutenant Janice Pelar. Brickenhouser had begun seeing her more often accompanying Admiral Pavoc around. He shudder as she passed. He could swear that her pearl black eyes were probing his mind. He never liked telepaths, especially betazoids, they always unnerved him by emitting this warm and sensual aura around them.
“Mr. Brickenhouser, you may enter,” came the soft London accent of Bill Jordan, the Secretary General of the Federation Council.
Brickenhouser enter swift and meet the six foot five inch tall Jordan face to face.
“Mr. Secretary General,” Brickenhouser said as they shook hands.
“Bill would be just fine,” Jordan said, returning to his seat. Brickenhouser reclined himself on one of the chairs positioned in front of Bill Jordan's desk. He glanced up at the Federation Flag draped off to the side on a pole.
“I'll get straight to the point, sir,” Brickenhouser said, tucking in his vest. “The Federation is sick, and only you can cure it.”
“Me?” Jordan said in that damn soft voice of his. “Its been a while since I practiced medicine, Mr. Brickenhouser.”
“Yeah, funny, sir,” Brickenhouser said, cocking his head. “I'm dead serious.”
Jordan leaned back.
Brickenhouser sat up on the edge of his chair.
“Mot's weak, sir,” he spoke bluntly. “I've known it from the beginning, but I saw the polls, as did you, he was appealing to the voters.”
“So you jumped on the bandwagon, Mr. Brickenhouser,” Jordan filled in that bit for himself.
“Yes,” nodded Brickenhouser. “Mot's about peace, but this is not a time of peace. It's a time of war and we need a man of action and decision.”
Jordan leaned forward, narrowing his eyes.
“What exactly are you getting at?”
“A vote of no confidence in Korvin Mot's abilities,” Brickenhouser said with a wave of his head. “Get the damn Bolian out of office and replace him with the Vice President.”
“Kaenar Korban,” Jordan nodded. “A man of action and decision.”
Brickenhouser inclined his. “Absolutely.”
“And what? You want me to put forth the motion?”
“Precisely, sir!” Brickenhouser said, punching the air with a raised finger, which was followed by an awkward silence. “Well?”
Bill Jordan leaned back in his chair with a hand on his chin, deep in thought. He looked over at the Federation flag and then back at Brickenhouser.
“I suggest you leave now, and we'll forget this meeting ever happened.”
Brickenhouser scowled, but did as he was told.
Craig bumped his head against the doorframe. All Tracy could do was laugh. He took a deep breath and shifted, maneuvering his way into the room. He looked down at her in his arms.
“I've carried you across the threshold, okay,” he said. “Can I just put you down now...”
“Carry me to the bed, Norm!!” Tracy giggled.
Craig huffed and puffed.
“You know what?” Tracy smiled.
“I think you need to work out more,” she said. “I'm really not that heavy.”
“Yeah, well,” Craig was at a lost for words, he was so focused on not dropping Tracy that he nearly missed the bed and dropped her on the floor. Fortunately, his concentration held on long enough to make the bed.
They toppled over each other on the bounce downy of the mattress.
“Well, Mrs. Craig,” Craig said, running his fingers through her golden locks. “I think today was a good day.”
“You beat your ass it was!” Tracy chortled.
And with that they embraced.
“Look at this, Brax,” slurred Burt. “Look out the water and glass reflect the light from the candle... it's... well, it's damn beautiful is what it is.”
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” came the calm unemotional response of the Pioneer's chief science officer.
Commander Burt, Commander Braxis, and Captain Kelsoe were setting alone in the empty officer's lounge, enjoying some catching up time as Commander Tuff oversaw the refilling of supplies aboard the Pioneer.
“You know what you're problem is?” Burt jabbed Braxis with a finger to the chest.
“What problem?” Braxis asked, as if he was surprised he could have any problem whatsoever.
“Um... er...,” Burt furrowed his brow in thought. “Er... uh... yeah! You've got pointy ears! Yeah! That's you problem.”
“I fail to see the relevance of physical characteristics of my ears, Commander,” Braxis returned.
“Ah.... never mind,” Burt said, waving his hand in the air, clearly annoyed.
It was at this point that Kelsoe burst into laughter.
“What?” demanded Burt, jokingly. “What's so funny about me making a rather obvious observation about our green blooded friend here?”
Kelsoe could speak. He just kept laughing until he had tears in his eyes. He reached out and gripped Burt by the shoulder.
“It's good to see you, Connor,” Kelsoe said. “I've really needed your company. You're not going to believe it, but I've actually missed your sense of humor.”
“That is true,” confirmed Braxis.
Burt grinned, ear to ear. “Well, I'm glade I could lighten your day, Ben.”
The lounge door hissed opened and Admiral Truman came striding in, a PADD tucked under his arm. All three stood up. Truman stepped over to them and inclined his head in a curt nod.
“Orders from Command,” Truman said, pulling ou the PADD and looking down at it. “Against my better judgment, it seems Operations as approved your promotion Commander Burt.”
“Sir?” Burt seemed confused.
“Drunk are we?” Truman raised an eyebrow.
“Well, I am off duty,” Burt asserted.
“Not for long, Captain,” was Truman's response.
“Captain?” Burt inquired.
“Yes,” Truman handing him the PADD.
Burt glanced down at the screen and gave its contents a cursory look.
“It says here they I'm to return to active duty,” Burt said, smiling. “Granted, I've got to take a regimen of medicine, but hey, we've all done that before.”
“Congratulations, Captain,” Truman said. “You've been assigned to the U.S.S. Stefansson, registry NCC-2818.”
“The Stefansson?” Burt inquired.
Before Truman could open his mouth to respond, Braxis spoke up: “An Emperor-class starship. One of six. The U.S.S. Emperor, the U.S.S. Amerigo, the U.S.S. Horizon, the U.S.S. Tacitus, and the U.S.S. Octavian. The Emperor, under the command of Captain Nadem...”
“Oh, Ole Three Arms, eh?” Burt interjected.
“Again, I fail to see the relevance,” Braxis cocked his head.
“Yes, this is all so very exciting,” Truman said sarcastically. “Do let us get back to business.”
“Yes, sir?” Kelsoe complied.
Truman nodded a thank you.
“Captain Burt, you are to report to Starfleet Headquarters to begin the selection of crew and inspection of your ship,” Truman said. “I hope you don't screw up this time, Captain.”
And with that said Truman gave them all a curt nod and went on his way.
“Well, how about that, Connor,” Kelsoe said. “A captain. I never thought I'd see the day.”
“Me neither,” Burt said, obviously shocked and overwhelmed.
“I would concur with both assertions,” Braxis said, taking the PADD from Burt, who handed it off, and giving the orders a run through.
“Connor?” Kelsoe asked, concerned.
Burt looked up and locked eyes with Kelsoe, his eyebrows angled. “I'm back, Ben,” he said. “For better or worse, I'm back.”
The So'jan shuttle landed without a hitch. A small greeting party had assembled and awaited their V.I.P.s. The passenger door swung open with a hiss, and a small bit of stream foamed around the opening as the atmospheres adjusted to one another. From inside the shuttle out came Tyson Calok, followed by his lieutenant Commander L'mar.
Calok bound down the shuttle's landing steps and into the gathering retinue of So'jan sycophants.
“Colonel Ba'dal,” Calok nodded to the highest ranked So'jan officer, who immediately step beside Calok and matched pace.
“Sir?” Ba'dal acquiesced.
Calok glared at him, noticing the hesitation.
“Orders, sir,” Ba'dal explained. “We have not received any from High Command for weeks.”
“That's because you are under my command, Colonel,” Calok said, continuing to pace.
Ba'dal stopped for a moment, but then quicken his pace to keep up.
“I understand, sir,” he said.
“Do you?” Calok asked rhetorically.
Colonel Ba'dal was about to answer, but decided not to when he saw Calok's expression.
“Is the weapon ready?” Calok demanded.
“Yes,” confirmed Ba'dal.
Calok stopped and grinned, looking around the hanger deck at all the So'jan warriors at his command.
“Good,” Calok spoke softly. He turned to Ba'dal. “Charge up the main batteries then, Colonel, and have the fleet set a course for Minark.”
“Snap to it, Colonel!” Calok smirked.
Colonel Ba'dal snapped his feet together and saluted. He turned and pointed at his entourage haughtily, shouting out orders in So'jan tongue. Calok and L'mar stepped aside and watched. Calok turned to L'mar and nudged him with his elbow.
“Tonight I shall reign hell's on fury down onto Minark,” Calok breathed. “And punish them for their many years of arrogance!”