This story is set in 2381, between SimTrek’s USS Strangelove RPG’s Mission 2 and Mission 3. Therefore it leans a little more heavily on events in the RPG than previous stories, but you should still be able to follow it even though you can’t read up on what happened in the RPG since the forum is now gone.
Program complete – enter when ready!
Captain Irina Ivanova softly hummed along with the music playing in the background as she watched the swirling sparks of the replicator morph into a steaming cup of tea. She loved the Boldaric masters, but her sense of pitch was on par with her engineering abilities and she knew she must be horrendously out of key. Then again, she thought, there was nobody else in her quarters to hear it except for the computer, and that thing hardly counted.
Still humming and with her fresh cup in hand, she returned to the living area. This, the hour or so in the morning before her shift started, was her favourite time of the day. She loved her work more than anything, but she had learnt over the years that she also needed to relax from it when she wasn’t on duty, to be able to be at her very best the moment she stepped onto the Bridge. And so the mornings had become the time when she allowed herself to forget about all her Captain’s responsibilities just for a little while, before the day began with all its chaos and hubbub.
She had just sat down on the sofa and was about to start her crocheting again when the doorbell rang. At first, she ignored it – everybody knew that the Captain’s mornings were sacrosanct and that, unless the ship was facing imminent destruction, she was not to be disturbed – but when the bell persisted, she put her crocheting down with a heavy sigh and got to her feet. After all, maybe the ship was facing imminent destruction.
“Can’t this wait half an hour, Commander?” she testily demanded as soon as the visitor walked through the door following her reluctant “enter.”
Commander T’Sera didn’t bat an eyelid, nor did she raise an eyebrow; she was well aware of what her Captain thought about intrusions upon her mornings.
“I am sorry to disturb you, Captain, but I do not believe this to be something that you would want to discuss on the Bridge.” She paused, and for a second, she seemed uncertain of how to continue. “I have heard something, ‘on the grapevine’ I believe is the appropriate human colloquialism, that I think would interest you.”
“I don’t listen to gossip, T’Sera,” Irina sternly told her Executive Officer.
“I am aware of that, Captain, but this particular piece of gossip concerns you, albeit indirectly. It is about Admiral Patrick O’Neill.”
Irina snorted. “Now what did he do? Blow up another planet?”
The word “another” made a questioning Vulcan eyebrow go up, but that was the only reaction. “No, Captain. He passed away.”
“Say again?” Irina asked incredulously. She didn’t know what she had expected to hear, but it wasn’t this.
“Apparently, he suffered a myocardial infarction whilst on vacation on Risa.” T’Sera said. “He was found dead in his hotel room.”
“Are you sure about this?” Irina frowned.
“My husband is an instructor at the Academy, Captain,” T’Sera pointed out. “Admiral O’Neill was teaching there part-time for the last two years, although it was at another department.” When Irina didn’t say anything, she went on. “I could ask him for further detail, if you wish to-”
“No. That isn’t necessary.” Irina smiled a little. “But thank you. I’ll see you on the Bridge in half an hour.”
If the abrupt dismissal surprised the Vulcan, she didn’t let it show. She simply inclined her head, and left.
When the door had closed behind T’Sera, Irina sat back down on the sofa and picked up her crocheting again. For a moment she looked at it with a frown on her face, as if she weren’t sure what she was supposed to do with it. Then, slowly, almost numbly, she put the crocheting back down and just sat there, staring blankly into space.
Patrick O’Neill was dead. For years, she had wished that he would disappear from her life; not necessarily that he would die, but that he would just… be gone. And now that he was, she had no idea what she was feeling. She had no idea what she should be feeling. Relief? Regret? Remorse? Confusion? Or maybe she shouldn’t feel anything at all?
Twenty-five years ago O’Neill, then a rear-admiral, had come to her ship – the USS Mintaka, it had been back then – with a heart-wrenching story about a disease-stricken planet in the non-aligned Coremma system to which the Federation was delivering a critical vaccine under the supervision of Starfleet Science. He had been very convincing, very sincere, and she had blindly believed every word he told her because she had had no reason to think he wasn’t telling her the truth… or maybe because she had only seen what she wanted to see.
From the moment he had sat foot on her Bridge, it had been a battle of wills and of wits. He had challenged her intellect, and that had always been something she relished. He, on the other hand, had seemed pleasantly surprised by the fact that even though she had been captain for only a year, she wasn’t intimidated or cowed by the presence of an admiral on her Bridge – because it was her Bridge, and she was well aware of it – and also wasn’t afraid to disagree with him. And so she had done, too, quite frequently.
On his second evening on board, she had invited him to her quarters for dinner, not with any ulterior motives – or at least she didn’t think she had had any ulterior motives – but because he was a flag officer who was a guest on her ship and because she enjoyed their verbal sparring. He hadn’t left her quarters until the next morning, and after that, he had spent every night there until he left the ship five days later.
On the bridge, they had kept a professional attitude towards each other. Irina’s only slip had been on that very first morning when she, as O’Neill entered the bridge a few minutes after her, with perfect aplomb had asked him if he had slept well. It had almost made him choke on his morning raktajino, and she had pleasantly informed him that even though rank did have its privileges, she didn’t allow beverages on the bridge.
Other than that, their behaviour had been perfectly professional when they were in public – but the second they were alone, all pretence of professionalism had gone out the airlock. It had been a madness that had defeated all sense, all reason and it had not been about love – only pure lust. Never before, and never after, had Irina lost control of herself, or allowed herself to lose control so completely. And never before, and most certainly never after, had she so utterly failed to consider the possible consequences of her actions. But there had been consequences. Six weeks later, she had known with absolute certainty that there had been consequences. Ten weeks later, she had known that everything she thought she knew about Rear-Admiral Patrick O’Neill had been lies within lies.
She hadn’t contacted him to tell him about the baby. She couldn’t bear facing him again – and besides, she was certain that he had heard the gossip she knew must have spread like wildfire as soon as she had informed her superiors of her condition. The news that the prim Irina Ivanova was pregnant had caused quite a stir in the service, even more so since she refused to say who the father was.
But the father had found out even so. About seven months after Patrick O’Neill’s visit, the Mintaka had been docked with engine problems at the starbase where the annual Admiral’s Banquet was being held. Like most of her fellow captains Irina avoided usually the painfully boring things like the plague, but this time there had been no getting away – quite literally, since their warp drive had been shut down for repairs. There also had been no making excuses, since the vice-admiral who was sector commander and the host of the thing was well aware they were docked at his station.
“I can go instead of you,” Richard Upton tried.
Irina shook her head. “That’s very kind of you, Richard, but it’s my responsibility. And you know Vice-Admiral Varrek; short of my going into early labour, I don’t think there’s any excuse for my not being there that he would accept.”
“There will be talk, you know,” Richard pointed out.
“I know.” Irina sighed. “But there will be even worse talk if I don’t go – not to mention that the admiral probably will have me court-martialled for insubordination,” she added wryly. “Don’t worry; I’ll only stay long enough to make sure Varrek has seen that I’m there like a good little grunt. I’ll get out as quickly as I can.”
Richard smiled a little, but his smile turned into a frown as something hit him. “You don’t think… I mean, he won’t be there, will he? It is an Admiral’s Banquet after all…”
Irina shook her head with absolute confidence. “There’s no risk of that; he hates the things even more than I do. He’s probably made sure he’s on the other side of the galaxy right now.”
That had appeased her Executive Officer somewhat. And so Irina had gone to the Banquet – after replicating a new dress uniform to accommodate her new, round silhouette.
At first, everything had seemed to go well. Yes, there had been curious looks and even more curious whispers, but Irina had ignored them. After a while, she had barely noticed them – either because they were subsiding or because she was getting immune. She had even been looking forward to telling Richard Upton that he had been wrong and that her coming here hadn’t at all been the mistake he had been so worried about… and then, as she had turned to put her empty glass on a passing waiter’s tray, she had spotted him. Standing across the room, scrutinising her with a look on his face that was equal parts shock and dismay, was Rear-Admiral Patrick O’Neill.
Irina had felt nauseous, and she had known from the slightly worried looks she had got that she must have gone white as a sheet. What was he doing here? He wasn’t supposed to be here! Automatically, she had pressed her hand to her belly, where the baby suddenly had begun kicking wildly as if she could feel her mother’s distress. Then, not caring how highly irregular it was for her to leave before the host, Irina had fled from the room.
To O’Neill’s credit, he did hurry after her.
But she ignored him.
“Captain, wait!” Then, when she still ignored him: “Irina, for God’s sake, stop!”
She had used to love the way he pronounced her name with that faint Irish burr of his, but now it made her furious. How dared he take her name into his mouth! Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she stopped and slowly turned around to face him. As if she wanted to protect the frail little life moving in there, she unconsciously crossed her arms over her round belly.
When O’Neill caught up with her, at first he didn’t seem to know what to say. He looked her up and down as if he wanted to make sure he wasn’t just imagining her condition, whilst Irina defiantly glared back at him. Finally, he slowly shook his head.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Irina snorted. “What, so you could step up and take responsibility? Don’t make me laugh!” That made O’Neill look a little taken aback; he obviously hadn’t expected that kind of animosity. “Besides,” Irina dryly went on, “surely you must have heard the gossip!”
He shook his head. “I heard you were pregnant,” he admitted, “but I didn’t realise how far along you were. I thought…”
“You thought,” Irina repeated flatly. “You thought. How dare you!”
“What was I supposed to think?” O’Neill snapped. “How was I supposed to know, when you didn’t tell me?”
“Subspace signals go both ways.” Irina wasn’t going to let him get away with playing the martyr. “You didn’t contact me, either.” She snorted again. “But I can understand it, in a way. I wouldn’t have dared, either, had I been in your shoes. You see, I know what you are, Admiral,” she told him in an icy voice. Before, she had always called him by his first name when they were alone, but she would never do that again. “I know exactly what you are! Do you understand?”
But he didn’t. “If you know that,” he said equally coolly, “then you must also know that the mission I was on was top-secret and that I did not have authorisation to reveal its true nature to anyone, not even the Captain of the ship I was on, and-”
“I’m not talking about that,” Irina cut him off. “Do you really think I’m that unprofessional? That I couldn’t accept that an admiral might not be able to explain everything about his mission to a mere captain? I’m not that far gone, Admiral! And I don’t care what division you’re really with, whether it’s Science or R&D or the Latrine Cleaners’ Union!”
“Then I don’t know what you-”
O’Neill’s face was impassive. “Section 31 is a myth,” he told her in a slightly patronising voice that made her want to slap him.
“Don’t insult my intelligence!” Irina spat. “I have seen the evidence. I have seen evidence of exactly what you are and exactly what you have done.” She snorted with disgust. “You make me sick. By all rights, you shouldn’t be wearing that uniform, and you most certainly shouldn’t be wearing that rank!”
But O’Neill slowly shook his head. “Irochka…” he said softly. “Who told you all this?” His smile was just a touch less patronising than his voice had been. “Someone has been playing tricks on you, don’t you see that? That’s a very cruel thing to do to you, especially now, when you’re in this condition.”
“My ‘condition’ doesn’t have anything to do with it,” Irina snorted. “I may be pregnant because I’ve been a fool, but I’m not a fool just because I’m pregnant!”
Her turn of phrase brought an ever so faint smile to O’Neill’s face. “I never thought you were a fool, Irina,” he said almost gently. Then he pulled himself up, suddenly every inch the admiral. “All right, Captain. If you have such solid proof that I’m affiliated with an organisation that doesn’t exist – what do you want from it?”
Was that an admission that she actually was right? Irina didn’t know, nor did she care. “I know exactly what I want. I never want to see you again. I never want to have any contact with you, I never even want to hear your name. Because if you ever come near me again, Admiral, if you come near us, then I will expose you. Do you understand?”
“But not before?” O’Neill arched an eyebrow. “Are you granting me a reprieve, Captain? Why?”
“Don’t think I’m doing it for you,” Irina snapped. “Don’t flatter yourself. I’m doing it for her. For my daughter. I will do anything to protect her – and unfortunately, that means I also have to protect you. If I expose you now, it will destroy her future, and I won’t let that happen. I won’t let you do that to her. So yes, I’m granting you a reprieve, as you so succinctly put it. But you will stay away from us. I won’t have you interfering with our lives, with her life. I won’t let you corrupt her.”
That actually made him look hurt, but Irina didn’t care. He had hurt her. Section 31 was anathema to everything the Federation and Starfleet stood for, and that made Patrick O’Neill anathema to everything that she as a Starfleet officer had sworn to uphold and protect. And this man, she had trusted, believed in. She had taken him into her confidence and – God help her – into her bedchamber.
For a moment, O’Neill just looked at her, and for a moment – but just for a moment – Irina thought he looked sad. Then he nodded curtly.
“If that’s what you want. You won’t have to hear from me again – and neither will your daughter.”
He put an ever so slight emphasis on “your.” He looked at her for a moment longer. Then he turned around and started to walk away.
As she watched him leave, Irina realised there was something she had to know before she let him go. “Coremma VII,” she called after him. He stopped. “Did you do it on purpose? Botch the weapons test that destroyed the planet?”
Now O’Neill turned his head and gave her a look over his shoulder. “I’m not that depraved, Captain.” Then he walked away.
And he had stayed away. She had to give him that much. In twenty-five years, he hadn’t attempted to contact her, neither privately nor professionally, and to the best of her knowledge, he had also left Yelena alone. And he had never told anyone that he was the mysterious father of Captain Ivanova’s child.
Yes, he had stayed away from her – and she had stayed away from him. Twice, she had turned down a promotion to admiral because she couldn’t stand the thought of serving in the same chain of command as he, knowing what she knew – and because she couldn’t risk giving him an excuse to go near Yelena. She had to keep him and his Section 31 rot away from her daughter at all costs, even if it meant sacrificing her career and the admiral’s stars she had coveted since she was a cadet.
And now he was dead. She could barely believe it. He had been hovering like a shadow on the fringes of her life for so long, it was hard to grasp that he actually wasn’t there any more. Granted, he had been older than she, but not that old… and that made her very suspicious. Could it have been a mistake? Or worse – a ruse? Someone in the higher echelons of Section 31 could certainly stage his own death if needed, or convince a doctor to sign a phony death certificate…
No, she decided. She wouldn’t, and couldn’t, believe he was dead until she had proof. She knew where she could most likely get it, but right now, it would have to wait; her precious morning was almost over and her shift was about to start. With a sigh, she neatly put her crocheting away. Then she got up and put on her uniform jacket, tugged it straight, and left for the Bridge.
About an hour and a half into the blessedly quiet shift, Irina did something she seldom did otherwise: She left the bridge in Commander T’Sera’s capable hands and went to her ready-room. Sitting down behind her desk, she activated her desktop monitor.
“Computer? Open a secure channel to Starfleet Command, Rear-Admiral Lysia Haro.”
It was only moments before a round, blue Bolian face filled Irina’s screen.
“Ira!” the Deputy Chief of Starfleet Medical warmly greeted her long-time friend. “I’m so glad you called; I’ve been meaning to contact you.” Her pleasant face creased with a worried frown. “I heard about what happened on the Strangelove. Is Yelena all right?”
“Except for the fact that she’ll be very lucky if she isn’t court-martialled, you mean?” Irina snorted.
Lysia grimaced. “Well, I can’t condone a mutiny,” she said, “but Ira, you know as well as I do that Maurice Tsongo was out of control. He had to be stopped.”
“Yes,” Irina coolly agreed, “but not that way. You can take a stand without destroying the chain of command.”
“You can.” Lysia gave her friend a thoughtful look. “But what do you do when the chain of command already has been destroyed?” Then she smiled. “Well, except for the fact that she’s lucky if she isn’t court-martialled for participating in a mutiny – how is Yelena?”
“She’s fine.” Irina shook her head. “Stubborn, wilful, defiant and as usual refusing to listen to any kind of common sense, but fine.”
“Stubborn, wilful and defiant,” Lysia repeated with a grin, “I wonder where she gets that? It certainly can’t be from her mother…”
“Very funny.” Irina snorted. Then she took a deep breath. “Lia, I’m sorry I have to ask this, but… I need a favour. I… I need you to pull a file for me.”
Lysia frowned; coming from the by-the-book Irina Ivanova, it was a very unusual request. “What kind of file?” she wanted to know.
“An autopsy report.”
Lysia shook her head. “That’s confidential information, Ira, you know that.”
“Autopsy report,” Irina stressed. “The person in question is deceased.”
“That might be, but confidentiality still holds. The only people who can legally request it are the patient’s physician and next of kin.” She put no particular emphasis on “legally.”
“Next of kin can request it?” Irina repeated sharply. That made Lysia roll her eyes.
“Ira, if you’re a relative, why didn’t you say-”
“I’m not,” Irina interrupted her. “But I… know somebody who is.”
Now Lysia was getting curious. “Whose autopsy report are we talking about here?”
Irina closed her eyes for a moment. “Admiral Patrick O’Neill’s.” Just saying the name almost made her nauseous.
“That’s odd.” Lysia frowned. “I didn’t think he had any living relatives. Who’s his next of kin?”
Lysia looked at her friend as if she thought Irina had taken leave of her senses. “Yelena?” she repeated. “How can your daughter be Admiral O’Neill’s…” Then she trailed off, her eyes becoming saucers. “You’re joking!”
Irina mutely shook her head.
“Patrick O’Neill was…? You mean that you and he…? He and you…? You’re joking!”
“I’m not,” Irina said irritably. “Now, can you pull the file for me or not?”
But Lysia didn’t seem to hear. “Never in a million years would I have guessed that,” she said, shaking her head in amazement. “I wouldn’t have thought he was your type – or you his, for that matter, I thought he liked his women with bigger bosoms and smaller brains.” She gave her friend a thoughtful look. “To be honest, I always thought Rick Upton was Yelena’s father.”
“Richard?” No it was Irina’s turn to stare. “Lia, he was my exec, for crying out loud! He’s my friend – not to mention married, with children.” She shook her head. “Now, can you pull the bloody autopsy report for me or not?”
“Strictly speaking, no,” Lysia said with a brief shake of her head. “You’re not next of kin; your daughter is, yes, but she isn’t the one requesting it.” She sighed. “But I don’t need the report to tell you what Patrick O’Neill died of.”
“A heart attack?” Irina said.
Lysia nodded. “In layman’s terms, yes. And you didn’t hear this from me, but it wasn’t his first one,” she added when Irina looked sceptical. “He had a congenital heart condition; that’s why he retired part-time two years ago. His doctor had been trying to talk him into having a heart replacement, but he refused.” She shook her head. “She should have been more persistent.”
“And you’re absolutely sure it was him?” Irina demanded. “It couldn’t have been a mistake? Somebody else who was staying in his hotel room, perhaps, or somebody who just looked like him?”
If Lysia had had hair, or eyebrows, her eyebrows would have gone up into her hairline. “I’m absolutely, completely sure,” she firmly told her friend.
“And you trust the physician who performed the autopsy?”
“Ira, I’m the physician who performed the autopsy! You do remember that I’m a doctor, right?” she added with a roll of her eyes when Irina looked surprised. “I’d been to a conference in a neighbouring system, and since it’s not every day that a four-star admiral literally drops dead whilst on vacation, the C-in-C wanted me to handle it. To make sure there wasn’t any foul play involved.”
“And was there?” Irina asked intently.
Lysia shook her head. “No. It was a massive MI, pure and simple.”
“Who was with him?” Irina wanted to know.
“Who was with him when he died?”
Again, Lysia shook her head. “No one. He was alone when it happened. He didn’t even have time to call for help,” she added with a grimace.
“Patrick O’Neill? Alone? On Risa? You don’t think that seems strange?”
“Apparently, you would know that better than me,” Lysia said slyly. “But no, I don’t think it’s strange – it’s quite possible he wasn’t feeling well, you know. Besides, Starfleet had his hotel room thoroughly examined; there was no trace whatsoever of another person having been there. No,” she said firmly, “he died of natural causes, and he died alone. Satisfied?” she added with a curious look at her friend.
Irina nodded. “Quite satisfied. Thank you, Lia. I owe you one.”
“And I’m going to collect, be sure of that,” Lysia assured her with a smile. “We’ll see what we can do about it when you get to San Francisco.”
“I have no idea when I’ll be able to visit Earth,” Irina said with a shake of her head.
Lysia grinned. “From what I’ve heard, it might be sooner than you think. Take care, Ira. Haro out.”
And by right of rank, Lysia closed the channel on her old friend, leaving Irina staring at an empty screen. What had she meant by that last comment? Irina wondered. Surely Lysia wasn’t suggesting…? No, she decided with a grimace, that wasn’t possible. She had burned those bridges… hadn’t she?
Smoothing her uniform jacket, she got up from her chair. She would know soon enough what her friend had meant – and right now, it wasn’t important. The important thing was that Lysia Haro had provided Irina with the proof she had sought. Proof that, after twenty-five years, there was no longer a shadow hovering over her, hampering her. Proof that she finally was free. Irina took a shivering breath. Now she knew what she was feeling, and what she was supposed to feel: a relief so strong that she could almost cry.
Commander T’Sera immediately vacated the centre chair when Irina entered the bridge. “Is everything all right, Captain?” she asked with a questioningly arched eyebrow.
“Yes, Commander.” Irina smiled, one of her rare, warm smiles that completely transformed her usually stern face. “Everything is just fine.”