This story is set in 2381 (well, the framework for it is, at any rate), a few months after events in Deliverance.
I want to give HUGE props to Ocelotekatl over at SimTrek, who was kind enough to give me his discontinued (and since resurrected) shuttlecraft helicopter to play with when I needed a shuttlecraft with an open door for the Orion flashbacks. Thanks, Oce! 😀
Program complete – enter when ready!
For what had to be the twentieth time that morning, Irina Ivanova checked her appearance in the mirror. Just like two minutes before, not a seam was askew and there wasn’t a speck of dust on the perfectly smooth black uniform jacket. The belt sat snugly around her waist and her rank insignia was perfectly straight, gleaming along with the gold piping on her jacket.
Her rank insignia. No longer the four pips that she had worn the better part of her career, but two pips in a frame. For she was no longer Captain Irina Ivanova, commanding officer of the USS T’Lau, but Rear-Admiral Irina Ivanova, Deputy Chief of Starfleet Tactical – and today, she would take possession of her new office, meet her staff… and start cleaning up the considerable mess that Commodore Maurice Tsongo had left behind when he so ignominiously had fallen from grace a few months earlier.
As always, the thought of Maurice Tsongo carried along with it the thought of what had led to his demise. Grimacing, Irina shook her head; she was not going to think about what had happened on the USS Strangelove or of how utterly idiotically Yelena had behaved, not today of all days! Again, she began to smooth her uniform jacket, but froze in mid-movement. Speaking of idiotic behaviour, she thought wryly. Fidgeting like this, you would think she was a pimpled ensign fresh out of the Academy and not a grown woman with twenty-six years of starship command under her belt. Forcing her hands to remain still at her sides, she pulled herself up and gave her reflection the same kind of stern look that had been known to put the fear of Your Supreme Being of Choice into many a junior and quite a few senior officers over the years. Get a hold of yourself! she mentally chided the woman in the mirror. You’re just going to take command of an office, for crying out loud, not the newest ship of the line! Granted, taking possession of this particular office meant that she would have more people subordinated to her than she had had in total during her entire career, but it was still just an office. And yet here she was feeling an anxious trepidation she hadn’t felt in years. Not since the very beginning.
“Esteban to Ivanova? I’ll see you in my ready-room, now!”
Puzzled, and more than a little startled by the Captain’s uncharacteristically aggravated tone, Irina cautiously tapped her communicator. “Acknowledged, sir,” she confirmed as she quickly got up from the centre chair that she had been occupying in the Captain’s absence.
Turning in his seat, the Bolian Operations Officer gave her a curious look.
“Care to elaborate?”
Spreading her hands, Irina shook her head. “I wish I could…”
The Bolian grinned. “If he breaks you back to ensign, can I have your office?”
Irina just rolled her eyes at that. “You have the bridge, Lt. Commander Arlin,” she firmly informed her subordinate. Then she took a deep, steadying breath, and went into the lion’s den.
Captain Javier Esteban was sitting behind his desk when Irina entered. His arms folded and a scowl on his face, the Captain greeted his XO with such an angry glare that she almost turned tail and ran. She was growing more alarmed by the second. This wasn’t the good-natured CO she had served under for four years, and she had no idea what could have happened to bring on this change.
“Is there a problem, sir?” she asked, not quite able to keep her voice from trembling slightly. It was only with effort she managed to remain at ease; Captain Esteban’s forbidding scowl made her want to snap to attention and salute. She racked her brain, trying to think of what she could have done, or what the crew could have done that she had missed, to make the Captain this angry, but she kept drawing blanks. Every department was operating at peak efficiency and just the week before, a very satisfied Javier Esteban had complimented his XO on the crew’s exemplary performance in the battle readiness drills they had been conducting. And yet…
“A problem?” Esteban repeated in a flat voice. “Oh, there’s a problem, all right! Do you have any idea what you’ve done, Commander? Any at all?”
Irina was beginning to grow desperate. “Captain, I don’t know what-”
“Well, I do!” the Captain snapped. “And I’m not surprised – I always knew this day would come.” He angrily shook his head. “I’ll tell you this, Commander Ivanova: you richly deserve what’s coming to you!”
Irina’s heart was pounding hard, and when she spoke, her voice was shaky. “Captain, please believe me, I don’t know what’s happened here, but whatever it is, surely there must be some way-”
“No,” Esteban said flatly. “There isn’t.”
With a flick of his wrist, he tossed a PADD to his XO that the rattled Irina almost didn’t catch. At a commanding nod from her CO, she shakily started to read out loud:
“‘To Captain Irina Iva-”
Convinced that she must have read it wrong, she began anew:
“To Captain Irina…” The hand that was holding the PADD slowly dropped as she raised her eyes and just stared at Captain Esteban, who now was grinning widely at his shell-shocked XO. All traces of his angry scowl were gone from his face.
“Go on,” he urged her.
Irina had to swallow hard before she could continue. “To Captain Irina Ivanova, Executive Officer, USS Atanasoff. Stardate 32084: you are hereby requested and required to take command of the USS Mintaka as of this date. Signed, Rear-Admiral Jacob Kisanga, Starfleet Command.”
Still grinning, Esteban pushed his chair back and got to his feet. “Congratulations, Irina,” he said warmly.
For a moment, all Irina could do was stutter. “I… I’m… I… for goodness sake, sir!” she exploded, “you scared me half to death! I thought you were about to break me back to crewman!”
“Fooled you, did I?” Esteban chuckled. “You should see the look on your face.”
“But I…” Closing her eyes for a moment, she took a deep, steadying breath. “I didn’t think I would be up for promotion for another year at the very earliest.”
“Well, normally,” Esteban agreed, “but then they needed a skipper for the Mintaka and they asked me if I could recommend someone. So I recommended you. Stupidest thing I ever did,” he added wryly, “since it means I lose one hell of an XO. But you do deserve it.”
Irina swallowed. “Sir, I… I’m… I don’t know what to say.”
“I don’t suppose ‘no thank you, I want to stay here?’ is an option?” Esteban asked hopefully. His grin grew wider when Irina just gave him a pained look. Pulling himself up, he held out his hand. “Well, in that case, congratulations, Comma- I mean, Captain Ivanova.”
Smiling back, if a little weakly, Irina took his hand. “Thank you, sir.” She frowned. “But… if I’m to assume command on 084, that’s just two weeks from now; I’ll barely have time to pack, let alone select my senior officers…”
“I’m told most of them are already in place – if you’ll have them, of course,” Esteban told her, sitting back down and motioning for her to take the chair on the other side of the desk. “But you will need to choose a Chief Engineer, and an XO.”
Irina gave him a sly smile. “Do you think Lt. Commander T’Leia would like a change of scenery?”
“Oh no, you’re not taking my Chief Engineer!” Esteban glared. “Find your own!”
Irina sighed; it had been a long shot, but it had been worth a try. “What about Lieutenant Hobbes?”
The Captain rolled his eyes in exaggerated exasperation. “You know, if I had known you were going to rob me of my officers, I never would have suggested you to the brass.” But after a moment’s consideration, he nodded. “All right. You can have Hobbes – but tell me that you want Chell Arlin for XO and I swear I will break you back to crewman!”
“Actually…” Irina hesitated. “Do you know who Richard Upton is?”
Esteban frowned for a moment. “A lieutenant-commander, right? Ops officer or somesuch on the Potemkin?”
“Science officer,” Irina corrected. “But yes.”
Captain Esteban gave his XO a stern look. “So now you’re going to rob the Potemkin instead, is that it?”
He paused for a moment. Then he grinned. “I see no problem with that.”
“We served together a few years back,” Irina explained to him, “on the Artemis, and I’d trust him to watch my back in a heartbeat. Of course,” she added almost as an afterthought, “I will be considering other candidates as well…”
“No, you won’t,” the Captain told her with a wry smile. “I know that look; you’ve already made up your mind.” He sighed. “I’ll talk to Captain sh’Tran, tell her to expect your call.” Then he gave his XO a curious look. “You know, to come up with two senior officers in about fifteen seconds… you’ve been thinking about this for a long time, haven’t you?”
Irina smiled sweetly. “As someone once told me, sir, a good officer prepares for all contingencies.”
Esteban’s look was decidedly suspicious. “I was the one who said that, wasn’t I? I really need to learn to keep my mouth shut,” he snorted when Irina nodded, “it gets me into all kinds of trouble.” Then he looked at her, all jocularity gone from his face. “You’re one of the best officers I’ve ever served with, Irina,” he told her in complete earnest. “You’ll make a damned fine captain – and some day, I know you’ll make a damned fine admiral.” Then he smirked. “But right now, you’re still my XO for two more weeks, and I’m going to make the very most of them. Be prepared, Commander – I’ll be running you ragged!”
“And that will be different from my usual job how, exactly, sir?” Irina dead-panned.
Captain Esteban just gave her a long-suffering look at that.
“Get out of here,” he told her sternly, but with a gleam in his eye. “Make sure Chell hasn’t run my ship into anything while you’ve been gone.”
“Aye, sir,” Irina replied with a smile and got to her feet. Halfway to the door, she stopped and turned around. “He wondered if he could have my office, you know,” she told the Captain with a thoughtful frown on her face. “He will, won’t he?”
Esteban smiled. “Why do you think I don’t want you to spirit him away to the Mintaka?” he asked in return. “Dismissed, Commander.”
Twenty-six years in the future, the rear-admiral shook her head at the memory, both wryly and wistfully. The Captain of the Mintaka had been so young and so confident, and she had been… happy might be pushing it – as Irina’s babushka Aleksandrova used to say, happiness wasn’t a Russian trait – but she had at least been content. Good grief, Irina thought with a grimace, but she had been naïve. She wanted to grab the young woman she had once been by the shoulders and shake some sense into her.
The young Irina had had no idea what life would bring her or what she would have to face. No idea how many disappointments she would suffer, how many losses. How many demons that it would take her half a life to exorcise.
Sighing deeply, Irina slowly shook her head at her reflection. Her demon. Patrick O’Neill. He was gone now, only haunting her memories and no longer hovering like a shadow at the fringes of her life. It was strange, Irina thought. Patrick O’Neill had been the worst mistake she ever made, but from that mistake had come the most precious thing in her life. So very precious… and so very hard.
“Commanding officer, Orion, arriving!”
Standing in the aft section of the shuttlecraft, Irina watched her crew straighten to attention as the yeoman blew her pipe. She waited for a moment whilst Commander Upton walked over to stand at ease by the small podium that had been placed in the middle of the shuttlebay; then she climbed down from the shuttle with brisk movements and followed in his wake to step onto the podium. She knew the words on the PADD in front of her by heart, but she still looked down and pretended to read from it.
“‘To Captain Irina Ivanova, commanding officer, USS Mintaka. Stardate 41852: you are hereby requested and required to take command of the USS Orion as of this date. Signed, Rear-Admiral Thomas Llewellyn, Starfleet Command.’” She paused for a moment, looking out over her attentive crew. “I will see the senior officers in the Observation Lounge in fifteen minutes. Dismissed.”
Some of the crew looked a little surprised, but most of them did not; they had served under Irina before and knew she wasn’t prone to long-winded speeches. Even so, Irina knew that she probably should have said something more, if only a token “welcome aboard”, but her head was throbbing and her nerves were frayed and all she wanted to do was just to sit down for a few minutes, somewhere where it was quiet and dark and she could be alone. Not that it was very likely to happen, she thought with a frown as she saw something move in the corner of her eye. Yelena had done nothing but whine, whimper and throw tantrums all day, and by the sullen look on her face as she clambered down from the shuttle, she wasn’t finished by far.
But Yelena wasn’t the only shadow hovering at the edge of Irina’s field of vision.
“Something on your mind, Commander?” she asked curtly as she stepped down from the podium. Richard Upton hadn’t said anything, but then again, he didn’t have to; she knew the look on his face far too well.
“That was probably the shortest welcoming speech in Starfleet history,” the XO observed.
“Not now, Yelena,” Irina said without looking at her daughter. “What,” she snarled at Richard and then immediately regretted her tone, “was I supposed to hug them and tell them how happy I was to see them? I saw most of them on the Mintaka less than a week ago. I said, not now, Yelena!” she repeated as the child again wailed her “mother”. This time she couldn’t keep the irritation from her voice.
“That might be, but some of them are new,” Richard patiently pointed out. “Your Ops officer, for example.”
“Yes, thanks to sh’Tran, who stole my old one.” Irina snorted. “I think she’s getting back at me for-” Then she felt something tug at her sleeve. “Yelena, not now!”
But unlike Irina’s crew, the child didn’t obey orders. “Mother-” she plaintively began.
“I won’t tell you again,” Irina warned her in a hard voice, still without looking at her daughter. The child’s whining was making the throbbing in her head worse by the minute. “And I am aware we have some new people on the senior staff,” she told Richard a touch impatiently, “that’s why we’re having a brief-”
“But Mother, I want to go home!”
“We’ll go to our quarters in a minute,” Irina said firmly. “Now, Commander, I-”
“I don’t want to go to there!” Yelena wailed. “I want to go home!”
For a second, Irina closed her eyes as she took a deep, steadying breath. “This is home, Yelena.”
“No, it isn’t!” the child screamed, and now the tears started to run. “I don’t like it here! I don’t want to stay here! I want to go home!”
Furious, Irina spun around to face her daughter, but before she could say or do anything, Richard Upton took a quick step forward and crouched down in front of Yelena. He gave her mother a quick look before he turned to the child and gave her one of his warmest smiles.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said, “if you’re a good girl and go to your quarters like your mother asked you to, then after the briefing, you and I will go and see Sellia in Engineering and look at the new warp core. You haven’t seen a Galaxy-class warp core before, have you? But I bet you would like to?”
Wiping her eyes, Yelena nodded.
“Then will you let me finish talking to your mother? Good girl,” Richard said when Yelena nodded again, and then affectionately ruffled the child’s hair before he got up. When Irina motioned him aside, he grimaced ever so slightly; he recognised the look on his CO’s face. This wouldn’t be pleasant.
“I have asked you before not to encourage her engineering whims,” the Captain said in a cool voice.
“Yes, you have,” her XO agreed, “but right now, she needs some encouragement, as well as something to look forward to, or you’ll have a little mutiny on your hands. She needs time to adjust,” he went on, for once speaking over Irina’s objection. “This isn’t as easy for a seven-year-old as it is for you and me. To you, becoming Captain of a Galaxy-class is a step up on the career ladder, but to Yelena, it’s just some strange ship that isn’t home. Give her some time.” Giving his Captain a thoughtful look, heabsently ran a hand over his close-cropped red hair. “I’ll tell you what; why don’t I take her to your quarters, and in the meantime, you can inspect your new ready-room. Maybe catch your breath for a couple of minutes before the briefing?”
Irina hesitated for a moment. She didn’t know whether to curse him or to bless him for knowing her so well. Then she nodded. “Yes. Yes, that… that would be good.”
Still with that thoughtful look on his face, Richard waited for a few seconds to see if Irina would say anything else. When she didn’t, he nodded.
“I’ll see you in the Observation Lounge, Captain,” he simply said.
Yelena’s sullen face brightened when she saw Richard approach.
“Are we going to go to Engineering now?” she asked hopefully as she grabbed the hand he held out for her.
“No,” Richard told her, “we’re going to your quarters first; I’ll collect you after the briefing.”
The child’s face immediately grew dark again.
Richard gave her a sly look. “You know, Joshua is going to be really jealous when I tell him how big your room is…”
Yelena perked up when she heard the name of her chief competitor for Richard’s affections. “You think?” she asked eagerly, not noticing that Richard had started walking towards the exit and that she was following.
“Oh, I know he will,” Richard assured her about his youngest son. Yelena smiled triumphantly.
Folding her arms tightly, Irina watched the shuttle bay doors close behind her daughter and her Executive Officer. She took another deep, steadying breath, but she still couldn’t help screwing up her eyes in pain. She couldn’t do this. She had no idea how to do this. And she couldn’t understand how being the Captain of a starship with a crew of more than a thousand people could be so much easier than being the mother of one single child.
Seventeen years in the future, the rear-admiral was standing with tightly folded arms and tightly closed eyes. Some truths died much harder than others, she thought. She had been in Starfleet for thirty-seven years. She had captained three starships, seen three wars… and yet that precocious and wilful child, that had grown up to be just as precocious and wilful a young woman, was the hardest challenge she had ever faced.
“You silly girl,” Irina murmured. “You silly, silly girl.” She wasn’t sure whether she meant it for Yelena, or for herself.
Then she heard a sound from somewhere that she didn’t quite recognise. Odd, she thought, it sounded almost like a doorbell ringing… and then she realised that was exactly what it was. But why would somebody be calling on her today, she wondered as she hurried into the hallway, and when she had to leave for work in less than half an hour? Automatically, she smoothed her uniform jacket, and then took position by the front door.
“Open. Open!” she repeated with a touch of irritation in her voice when nothing happened. Then a slightly sheepish look spread over her face, and she walked up to the door and turned the handle.
“You sure took your time getting here,” Lysia Haro observed when Irina opened the door.
“I… was in another room.” Never in a million years would Irina admit to anybody, not even to one of her oldest friends, that she had forgotten that the door to her apartment opened manually and not by voice command like the doors on a starship.
“That’s not what I meant, Admiral Ivanova,” the Deputy Chief of Starfleet Medical said with a wide grin on her blue Bolian face as she gave her slightly startled friend a warm hug. “I was starting to think I’d never get to call you that, you know.”
“Thank you for that vote of confidence,” Irina said dryly.
“Oh, it wasn’t that I doubted your abilities,” Lysia assured her. “Just your career decisions.” Taking a step back, she gave Irina a sly look. “So I thought I’d better come here and make sure you hadn’t got cold feet and beamed back to the T’Lau or something.”
“If Captain T’Sera has been doing her job, the T’Lau should be passing the Epsilon Eridani system by now,” Irina pointed out. “A distance of four light years is somewhat out of transporter range.”
“So then you’d steal a shuttle instead,” Lysia said with a grin as she followed Irina into the living area. “Provided that you haven’t lost your pilot’s licence after all these years letting other people do the piloting for you, that is.”
“Have you lost your medical licence after all these years letting other people do the doctoring for you?” Irina asked rhetorically.
“Touché.” Lysia smiled. “You know, I was a little surprised to hear you had got a place here; I thought you would be staying in Russia.”
“And I will be, over the weekends,” Irina told her. “But I’ll stay here in San Francisco on weekdays; commuting wouldn’t work very well.”
“What, don’t they have transporters in Russia?” Lysia snorted.
Irina sighed. “They do, but there’s a fourteen-hour time difference between San Francisco and Novosibirsk.”
“So, don’t they do Planetary Standard Time in Russia?”
“That doesn’t change when the sun rises and sets, Lia,” Irina patiently pointed out. “Standard time or not, the planet is still round.”
“I guess that is kind of hard to work around,” Lysia agreed. She curiously looked around the living area of Irina’s apartment, taking in the light walls and white wood furniture with a disapproving frown on her face. “I see you’ve decorated just as colourfully as usual,” she dryly observed.
“Unlike some people, I prefer not to live in a carnival,” Irina retorted.
Lysia rolled her eyes. “I do not live in a carnival!” she objected. “And my office is practically austere!”
“Lia, you have a little green man on your desk,” Irina pointed out.
“That’s a case study in anthropology!”
“I beg your pardon?”
“That’s what humans used to think aliens look like, you know.” Lysia chuckled. “You didn’t get it quite right, now did you?”
“Have you been to the Orion sector lately?” Irina dryly wanted to know.
“Those aren’t little green men,” Lysia disagreed, “those are big, green pains in the behind.” Then she gave Irina a curious look. “By the way, have you met your aide yet?”
Irina shook her head. “I’m meeting him later today. How so?”
“Just wondering.” Then Lysia tilted her head. “So, how does it feel?”
“How does what feel?”
“Going ashore after almost forty years in space,” Lysia suggested. “Wearing those stars on your collar. Having a desk job.” She smiled. “Take your pick.”
“It’s… less traumatic than I expected it to be,” Irina admitted.
“Which part?” Lysia wanted to know.
“All of it.” Irina smiled wryly. “Even though I must admit it feels a bit strange, waking up with the exact same view outside my bedroom window every morning.”
“You could always get several apartments in different parts of the city,” Lysia suggested, “and then alternate between them when you get bored.” She chuckled at Irina’s long-suffering face for a moment before she gave her friend a serious look. “So, no regrets, then?”
Irina hesitated only for a moment. “None.”
Even though she didn’t quite look as she believed it, Lysia didn’t say anything. Instead, the Bolian turned her back on her hostess and strolled over to the office nook, where the awards cabinet with Irina’s medals was hanging innocuously on the wall above the desk.
“You’ve only got two of those?” she asked with mock surprise, pointing at Irina’s Christopher Pike Medals of Valour. “I thought you’d have at least half a dozen by now. What have you been doing out there all these years?” She grinned. “Except dodging promotions to admiral, I mean?”
Irina’s only reply to that was a pained look.
“By the way,” Lysia went on, seemingly oblivious to her friend’s grimace, “your actually deciding to accept it this time… it doesn’t have anything to do with your old paramour Patrick O’Neill, does it? And the fact that he’s no longer with us?”
“It has to do with the fact that I was offered a promotion and felt it was time to move on,” Irina told her firmly.
By the look on Lysia’s face, she didn’t believe that either. “Why do you keep this here,” she wanted to know with a nod towards the cabinet, “and not in your office where people might actually, you know, see it?”
Irina shook her head. “I don’t like showing off.”
“You’ll be the only one at Headquarters, then.” Lysia snorted. Then she frowned. “You may want to rethink that, you know; if you don’t flaunt your medals, the boys over there might think it’s because you don’t have any.”
“In that case, they can just check my service record,” Irina firmly told her old friend. Then, before Lysia could say anything further on the matter, she made a pointed motion towards the door. “I don’t know about you, but I need to be at work in about fifteen minutes…”
“Is that your way of saying that you want me to leave?” Lysia asked with a mock hurt look on her face.
“Well, I most certainly aren’t giving you a key.” Now it was Irina’s turn to snort. “That one time I gave you access to my quarters on the Persephone, you reprogrammed my sonic shower to play Klingon opera!”
“And you shorted out the entire shower system trying to reset it,” Lysia remembered with a giggle. “I thought the Captain was going to have you dishonourably discharged on the spot!” She chuckled. “Well, I guess engineering is the one thing Irina Alekseyevna Ivanova ever failed at…”
Irina looked away. “No,” she said quietly. “It’s not.”
She was very grateful that Lysia, even though there was a frown on her blue face, didn’t ask anything further, but instead almost meekly allowed Irina to usher her out.
They headed to the nearest TransFrancisco transporter station – and wasn’t that an utterly ridiculous name, Irina thought with disdain; granted, the Novosibirsk transporter system wasn’t much better, but at least Trans-Siberia had some historical connotations. At the station, they parted ways, since Starfleet Headquarters, where Irina was going, and Starfleet Medical, where Lysia’s practically austere office was located, had separate transporter stations – but not before Lysia had made Irina promise they would meet for lunch later in the week.
It was strange, Irina thought as she passed a large fountain and made her way towards the main entrance of the towering building that was Starfleet Headquarters. She had always thought that the HQ would seem less… imposing when it was your workplace, but somehow, it looked more threatening now than ever. It’s just an office building, she firmly reminded herself. Nothing else.
She was so preoccupied as she walked through the immense foyer that she didn’t notice the short, rotund and slightly shaggy-looking officer who, with his arms crossed and a belligerent look on his face, was waiting by the turbolifts.
“Admiral Ivanova?” he demanded. “Admiral Ivanova!” he barked again when Irina was on her way past him. “That is you, isn’t it?” he went on when Irina skidded to a halt and turned towards him with a slightly embarrassed look on her face. “The Deputy Chief of Tactical? I’m Lt. Commander Geb. I’m your aide. Admiral Rezka thought I’d better meet you – and a good thing he did, too, since you don’t even seem to know your own name! Starfleet Command must have been desperate to promote somebody like that to flag rank!”
At first, Irina just stared; then she almost burst out laughing. It was suddenly very obvious why “pain in the behind” would have made Lysia think of Irina’s aide.
“You’re a Tellarite.”
“You know Xenobiology 101,” Geb snarled. “I hope you’re not expecting me to be impressed!”
Irina nodded sombrely. “Yes, definitely Tellarite,” she observed. “For a moment, I thought they had given me an overfed targ for an aide. You don’t just look like one, you make the same garbled noises as well.”
For a moment, Geb glared at her darkly enough to make Irina worried that she had made a mistake – after all, it had been some time since she had last bandied words with a Tellarite – but then his porcine face transformed into a broad grin.
“I think we’ll work well together, Admiral,” he declared. “Maybe you aren’t as stupid as you look after all!
“That Tsongo idiot kept trying to write me up for insubordination,” he happily chatted on as he ushered her towards the turbolifts, “can you believe it? I told him that if anything, I should be writing him up for showing stupidity unbecoming of a Starfleet officer – and I wouldn’t have been that far off, would I? We’ll take this one,” he went on, practically shoving her through the just-opened doors of a freshly arrived lift. “We’ll see Rezka first, he’ll want to have a word with you, and then I’ll take you to meet the rest of your staff…”
“You are sure about this?” T’Sera asked as they stepped off the turbolift.
“I am a certified pilot, T’Sera,” Irina reminded her XO – well, former XO – for what must have been the hundredth time. She had to turn her head to look at the Vulcan; despite Irina’s urgings T’Sera still walked a step behind her, like she always had.
“And I am aware of that, Admiral,” T’Sera replied, “but I still do not think it is appropriate for a flag-officer to pilot her shuttle herself-”
“I have no idea when I’ll get the chance to pilot anything again, be it shuttle or starship,” Irina gently interrupted her. “So, please. Indulge me?”
After a moment’s consideration, T’Sera nodded reluctantly, the four pips on her collar gleaming. It was not in her nature to argue with her Captain – for Irina would always be that to her, no matter how their actual roles and ranks might change.
In all the years they had served together, T’Sera had never entered a room before her commanding officer and she wasn’t about to start now. When they reached the door to the shuttlebay, she made sure to slow her pace so that Irina would walk through the door first. The fact that this also cut off her escape route wasn’t lost on Irina.
The shuttlebay was filled to bursting. Irina would have preferred to do this with just the senior officers, if it had to be done at all, but as T’Sera so succinctly had put it, some pomp and circumstance was required. Besides, she had added with a flash of that sly humour that could still surprise Irina even after all these years, without the command codes, it might be difficult to get the T’Lau to recognise her new commanding officer’s authority.
“Attention to orders!” the Vulcan commander who was going to be T’Sera’s XO barked as Irina took the podium. Nodding for them to stand at ease, Irina took a moment to let her gaze sweep over the assembled crew before she looked down on the PADD in front of her. Much to her irritation, she had to blink a couple of times to clear her suddenly blurry vision. She didn’t understand why it was so hard this time; she had done this twice before and it should all be routine… and yet it never was. But it had to be done. She cleared her throat and began to read:
“‘To Rear-Admiral Irina Ivanova, Commanding Officer, USS T’Lau. Stardate 58713: you are hereby requested and required to relinquish command of your vessel to Captain T’Sera, Executive Officer, USS T’Lau, as of this date. Signed, Vice-Admiral Tholos th’Zarath, Starfleet Command.’”
Raising her head, Irina looked out over the crew that once she had spoken the next few words no longer would be her crew. “Computer, transfer all command codes to Captain T’Sera. Authorisation Ivanova Tau zero-two-zero.”
“Transfer complete,” the computer voice confirmed. “The USS T’Lau now under command of Captain T’Sera.”
For a second, the T’Lau’s now former commanding officer closed her eyes. Then she pulled herself up, and stepped down from the podium to face the new Captain.
“Admiral,” T’Sera said formally. “I relieve you.”
“I stand relieved.” With a slightly wistful smile, Irina held out her hand. “Take care of her,” she said in a low, husky voice. “She’s a good ship.”
Arching an eyebrow, T’Sera grasped the outstretched hand. “I have never been able to understand the human predilection for bonding emotionally with inanimate objects,” she observed.
Irina smiled a little. “You will. Trust me.”
“Always,” T’Sera said simply. Then she took a step back. “Atten-tion!”
As one man, the crew clicked their heels together and pulled themselves ramrod straight, which earned them a faint smile and a nod of approval from their old CO. Then, with a final nod for T’Sera, she turned on her heel and quickly headed for her shuttle before anybody could see how bright her eyes had suddenly become.