Hello there. It’s good to see you!
If you haven’t read any of my other holonovels and want to know more about the relationship between Yelena and Sellia Rosh, I recommend having a look at The Road Not Taken, but it is by no means a requirement, of the service or otherwise. You will be able to follow the story anyway, I promise.
The year is now 2374, eight years after “The Road…”.
Program complete – enter when ready!
“Cadet? Get these to the Chief Engineer right away.”
“Yes, sir!” Cadet Fourth Class Yelena Ivanova responded with a grin as she received the three PADDs from the Science Officer. Delivering PADDs wasn’t exactly the most exciting job on a starship, but if it meant getting her down to Engineering, she would happily take it. The Chief Engineer of the USS Artemis wasn’t too pleased about having a group of raw cadets assigned to him, and did everything he could get away with to keep them as far away from the ship’s engine room as possible – but this time, Yelena had a reason to enter his domain he couldn’t argue with, and she intended to make the most of it.
“Commander ch’Zaar? I was told to bring you these PADDs?”
“Uh-huh.” The Andorian Chief Engineer shrugged, looking neither at Yelena nor at the PADDs. Instead, he was intently studying what Yelena thought looked like the ship’s warp field alignment, and she couldn’t help moving a little closer to have a peek.
Now ch’Zaar did look at her – or rather, glared.
“Do you know anything about warp field dynamics, Cadet…?”
“Ivanova, sir. And of course!”
The Chief Engineer looked extremely sceptical at that.
“I mean other than ‘Engineering 101: Warp Core Breaches Are Bad’.”
Yelena smiled. “Well, I more or less grew up in a Galaxy-class engine room, sir.”
But ch’Zaar still looked sceptical. “Really? Whose engine room?”
Now the Andorian’s stern, blue visage brightened considerably.
“You know Sellia? Really?” Then his eyes widened as it dawned on him: “You’re Yelena Ivanova, aren’t you? Sellia’s protégé?” He grinned when he saw the surprised look on Yelena’s face. “I’ve known Sellia since the Academy; she’s told me everything about you.” He lowered his voice a little. “Including the fact that you don’t want it widely known who your mother is. Don’t worry, Cadet,” he added with a smile, “your secret’s safe with me. Still, I think we should be able to find you something slightly more interesting to do than delivering PADDs.” He nodded towards another engineer standing a little farther away, peering at a screen on the wall. “You can start with helping Kigawe over there with the diagnostic he’s running.”
Yelena beamed. “Sir, yes, sir!”
On her way over to Lieutenant Kigawe, Yelena passed one of her fellow freshmen, who was sitting with his forehead perilously resting on a computer console. She couldn’t help grinning.
“Careful so you don’t eject the warp core like that, Al.”
But the other cadet didn’t stir. “I want to die!” he moaned.
Yelena grinned even wider; Cadet Alberto Pacelli didn’t just believe he was Your Divine Power of Choice’s gift to women, he also believed that he, by the Power of the Divine Y Chromosome, indistinctly knew more about everything technological than any female cadet ever could. Before they left Earth, he had boasted that he was born to be in space.
“You’re looking a little green around the gills,” she said cheerfully. “I guess you’re spacesick again, huh? I hear it can be a real pain. A friend of mine couldn’t keep a single thing down during his first tour; he must have lost ten kilos by the time he returned to Earth.” This was a complete lie, of course, but the loud moan it invoked from Pacelli was quite satisfying. “But don’t worry,” she went on, giving her fellow cadet an encouraging pat on the back, “it will pass eventually. It does for most people, anyway.”
Now Pacelli raised his head a few centimetres.
“’Most people’?” he repeated in a weak voice. “What do you mean, ‘most people’?”
But Yelena was already walking away, trying very hard not to laugh out loud.
“That was cruel, Cadet,” Lieutenant Kigawe observed when she reached him. He had overheard the entire thing – and he, too, was grinning. With his know-it-all attitude, Cadet Pacelli had managed to rub quite a few of the engineers the wrong way, especially since he stubbornly refused to admit that he in fact didn’t know it all, even when the evidence was overwhelming.
“I know,” Yelena grinned back. “Commander ch’Zaar said you needed help with a diagnostic?”
Kigawe raised an eyebrow. “Really? You must be good, then,” he noted. “Usually, Che only lets cadets fetch-”
“-fetch PADDs, I know,” Yelena finished the sentence. “But it turns out we have a mutual acquaintance. I sort of grew up on starships,” she added when Kigawe looked surprised.
“Starfleet brat, eh? Me, too; I was born and bred on a Miranda-class.” He smiled. “My dad was Chief Engineer, so I guess I’ve followed in his footsteps. Or try to, anyway.” He gave Yelena a curious look. “What about you? Your parents engineers, too?”
Yelena was very relieved when her communicator chirped.
“Cadet Ivanova,” she heard the captain’s voice. “Report to my ready-room.”
“On my way, ma’am,” Yelena immediately acknowledged.
“Now what have you been up to, Cadet?” Kigawe chuckled. “Don’t worry; unless the Captain kicks you off the ship, you can still help me with the diagnostic when you get back.”
“Thanks, sir,” Yelena said dryly. Then she hurried out.
“Cadet Ivanova, good. Come in.”
Yelena did as ordered, but when she stopped in front of the captain’s desk and straightened to attention, Captain Jeanne Deladier much to her surprise nodded towards the visitor’s chair.
Alarm bells went off in Yelena’s head. Cadets did not sit in the presence of a commissioned officer, least of all in the captain’s, and they certainly weren’t asked to do so – they were ordered. Now what did I do?
Captain Deladier waited until Yelena was seated before she spoke.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news, Cadet. I’ve just learned that the USS T’Lau was caught in a Jem’Hadar ambush two days ago, when on their way to join the Fitfh Fleet at Starbase 375. They managed to escape, but the ship was badly damaged and they suffered heavy losses. Many officers and crew have been critically injured. Her captain among them.”
Yelena just looked at Captain Deladier. Since the war started, she had wondered how she would react if and when she got news like this… but now that it had finally happened, she didn’t feel anything, even though she knew she should. For the captain of the USS T’Lau was Irina Ivanova. Yelena’s mother.
Slowly, Yelena became aware of Captain Deladier’s looking at her. The captain seemed to be expecting her to say something, ask something, and after a few moments, her numb brain managed to come up with what she thought was a suitable question.
“How bad is it?”
The captain shook her head.
“It’s bad. Very bad. Right now, they don’t know if she’ll… well, they don’t know. She’s been taken to Starbase 515,” she went on. “They’ve got the best medical facilities in the quadrant. Your mother is in very good hands.” She gave Yelena a brief, encouraging smile. “Did you know that your mother and I served together? It was many years ago, on the Arecibo. She was an excellent officer already then, but she was also one of the most stubborn people I have ever met. If anybody can get through this, she can.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Yelena responded by rote. Then she frowned. “What happened? If there was risk of an ambush, my mother never would have…”
Captain Deladier shook her head again, more briskly this time.
“Bad intel. There wasn’t supposed to be any Jem’Hadar in that sector – but there were. And they thought they should take a chance and try to take out a Sovereign.” She smiled curtly. “More the fools them.”
Yelena didn’t say anything.
“Now, I’m afraid I can’t grant you leave to go to Starbase 515,” the captain went on, “but if you’d like to take a day or two off…”
“No. No, ma’am,” she repeated. “I’d prefer to work – and my mother would never want me to abandon my post on her behalf.” Her face turned hard. “The requirements of the service don’t make allowances for personal problems.”
“As you wish, Cadet. But let me know if you change your mind.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Yelena paused for a moment, trying to think of something else to say but without coming up with anything useful. “May I be excused?”
“Of course.” The captain nodded. “You’re dismissed, Cadet Ivanova.”
Yelena was almost at the door when Captain Deladier spoke again.
“One more thing, Cadet. The T’Lau survived because her captain kept her cool in a situation where many others would have panicked. Your mother will get the Pike Medal for this.”
Yelena smiled a little, sadly.
“Yes, ma’am. But it isn’t much use if it’s posthumously, is it?”
Irina Ivanova would have had the head of any cadet who responded like that, but Jeanne Deladier took it for what it was.
“Dismissed, Cadet,” she repeated.
Yelena slowly walked to the turbolifts that would take her back to Engineering, but when she reached them and the turbolift doors opened, she just stood without moving, staring blankly into space. Before the war began and Captain Ivanova made her daughter leave the ship to stay with one of Irina’s friends on Earth, Yelena had lived on the USS T’Lau for two years, ever since her mother had taken command of what had been one of Starfleet’s first Sovereign-class vessels. She could picture the T’Lau just as clearly as she could see the closing turbolift doors in front of her; she knew every deck, every bulkhead, every Jeffries tube… and since she’d always had a knack for technical things and had grown up under Sellia Rosh’s watchful engineer’s eyes, she also knew where the ship was vulnerable. She could vividly imagine which sections had been damaged, and how badly – and she could imagine who had been in those sections, and who might have been injured. Who might have been killed. And no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t chase away the image of her mother being crushed under a falling bulkhead, or being burned to a crisp when a console blew, or being blown into space through a hull breach, or-
She clapped her hands to her mouth, trying but failing to stifle a desperate sob. If her mother died… if she never got to see her again…
The last time she had spoken to her mother had been several months earlier, when the T’Lau briefly had put in to Spacedock and Irina Ivanova had visited her daughter at Starfleet Academy. The day before, Yelena had declared her major – and even though it couldn’t have come as a surprise, Irina had been furious.
“Engineering!” she had spat. “Are you telling me you actually are going to choose Engineering?”
“I told you I would,” Yelena had tried, but Irina, as usual, hadn’t listened.
“Tomorrow morning, you are going to go to the Commandant,” she had instead told her daughter in that ice-cold voice all her subordinates feared. “You will tell her that you have made a mistake, and you will ask to be transferred to Command School; then you will-”
For the first time in her life, Yelena had gainsaid her mother. Irina had stared at her in utter disbelief.
“What did you say?”
“I’m not going to change majors.” Yelena’s chin had come up. “I’m not going to Command School. I’m going to be an engineer.”
Irina hadn’t been able to believe what she was hearing.
“Are you telling me you want to become some kind of glorified caretaker who spends her days tightening nuts and bolts? Is that what you want for your Starfleet career?”
“There’s a little more to engineering than that, mother.”
For a moment, Irina had just stared at her. Then she had shaken her head.
“All right. If this really is what you want, then by all means, go ahead. But understand this, Yelena: I wash my hands. If you do this, you’re on your own – I won’t help you.”
“I’ve never asked you to help me!” Yelena had exclaimed, exasperated. “And I’ve never expected you to, either.” Then her voice had hardened. “Because you never would have, and we both know you never will.”
She had regretted the words the moment they left her lips, but Irina had furiously turned on her heel and had left Yelena’s dorm room before she could say anything. When the T’Lau had left Spacedock a couple of days later, Captain Ivanova hadn’t said good-bye to her daughter, and Yelena hadn’t contacted her mother. They hadn’t spoken since… and now it might be too late. Now Irina Ivanova might die, still furious with her daughter – and still thinking her daughter was furious with her. And that, Yelena knew she would never be able to forgive herself.
She returned to Engineering in a daze. She didn’t notice Lieutenant Kigawe’s increasingly concerned looks as she helped him with the diagnostic, efficiently, but without saying anything and barely responding to Kigawe’s attempts at small talk.
She also didn’t notice it when Lt. Commander ch’Zaar came up behind her and motioned for Kigawe to leave.
The sudden sound of ch’Zaar’s voice made her jump.
“I’m afraid I’ve got some very bad news,” the Andorian said quietly. “I’ve just learned that the T’Lau has been in an ambush. Your mother got the ship out of there…”
Yelena began to say that she already knew, but ch’Zaar went on:
“…but Sellia was killed. I’m sorry.”
“Sellia?” That couldn’t be right, it had to be some kind of mistake. “Are you… are you sure?”
“I’ve just seen the casualty list. I’m sorry, Cadet. I’m very sorry.”
Yelena began to tremble. Irina Ivanova would say that the life and death of a Starfleet officer were subject to the requirements of the service, and that was that. Sellia Rosh, on the other hand, would say that was a load of targ manure. For her mentor, Yelena could do what she couldn’t do for her mother: she broke down and cried.
A month later, Yelena was back on Earth. Some of her friends at the Academy thought she seemed to be a little more subdued than before, but other than that she seemed to be more or less back to her usual, cheerful self. She was also attacking her studies with a new and quite successful frenzy, that pleased her instructors even though they believed that she sometimes was thinking a little too far outside the box.
Also back on Earth, or at least in orbit around Earth, was the USS T’Lau, docked at Earth Station McKinley for repairs. Her captain was now back on board; as battered and bruised as her her ship, Captain Ivanova wasn’t yet back on active duty, but she was well enough that Starbase 515 had let her to return to the T’Lau and continue her physical rehabilitation there. And now Yelena was going there as well, to see her mother for the first time in months.
She felt a little nervous as she approached the corridor where Irina’s new quarters were. She had no idea what physical shape her mother would be in, nor in which mood, but she did know one thing: no matter what her mother said or did, she was never again going to leave her angry or with saying something she would regret once she had calmed down. From now on, everything was going to be different. She rang the doorbell.
Irina, out of uniform wearing only her red uniform shirt, was just emerging from the dining area of her quarters when Yelena entered. She greeted her daughter with something that very closely resembled a smile.
“There’s tea for you in the replicator,” she said without preamble. “I’m afraid I can’t get it for you; my left arm still hasn’t healed fully.”
Yelena swallowed. Her mother was moving slowly, obviously still in some discomfort. She both was paler and thinner than before, and if you looked at her closely, you could still see the faint scars on her cheeks and forehead. For a brief moment, there was a flash of pain in Irina’s eyes that Yelena knew had nothing to do with any physical injuries, and she wanted to walk up to her mother, to hug her and be hugged – but she didn’t. She knew that Captain Ivanova never would forgive herself for having shown weakness, nor would she forgive her daughter for seeing it.
Even so, Yelena couldn’t keep her voice from trembling.
“Mother, I’m sorry!”
Irina looked nonplussed. “What in the world for?”
“Before, when you came to San Francisco, and I said… I shouldn’t… I didn’t mean…”
“I didn’t raise you to say things you don’t mean, Yelena,” Irina said sharply.
Yelena’s head drooped. “No, Captain,” she whispered.
Irina hesitated. “But… maybe I shouldn’t have been so harsh with you. You were right,” she went on when Yelena looked up in surprise, “you did tell me you were going to choose Engineering. I should have listened to you.” She sighed. “But I do wish you had chosen something else.”
“Like Command?” Yelena said with a grimace as she went to get her cup from the replicator.
“Yes,” Irina agreed. Lowering herself onto the sofa, she nodded for Yelena to take one of the armchairs. “Engineering is a slow career track, you know.”
Yelena hid her smile behind her cup. Making plans for her daughter’s career before Yelena had even completed her first year at the Academy was very much like Irina Ivanova. That part about her hadn’t changed.
Taking a sip of tea, she looked around the room. This was her first visit to the smaller quarters Irina had switched to when Yelena had moved out. The furniture was the same as in their old quarters, and the display case with Irina’s awards was in the same place above her desk it had been before. At first, Yelena’s eyes just passed over it, but then they went back with a jolt. Residing in splendid isolation below the Decoration for Gallantry and the Grankite Order of Tactics that Irina had been rewarded with earlier during the war, was an award that hadn’t been there before.
“You got the Pike Medal!” Yelena exclaimed.
“Yes,” Irina said simply.
But Irina shook her head.
“I lost some very good people, Yelena, and I almost lost my ship. There isn’t anything ‘wonderful’ about that.”
“But still…” Yelena gave her mother a thoughtful look. “You could make admiral now, couldn’t you? Won’t they offer you a promotion after this?”
“They already did,” Irina said matter-of-factly. “I turned it down. I can’t twiddle my thumbs in some cushy San Francisco office when my fellow officers are fighting and dying in the trenches!” she snapped when she saw the stunned look on her daughter’s face. “It’s bad enough as it is now…”
Yelena hesitated. This almost, with a little twisting, gave her an opening – but she was afraid of how Irina would react. And of how she herself would react when she heard the answer.
Taking a deep breath, she put her cup down.
“Mother… there’s something I need to ask you.” She swallowed. “Sellia… did you… I mean, was she…”
“Did I order her to stay behind even though I knew she would be killed?” Irina finished the sentence in a hard voice. “Is that what you’re trying to say?”
“Yes.” The words were hardly more than a whisper, but Yelena still forced herself to look her mother in the eye.
“No. I did not.” But for the first time, Irina was the one to look away. “We had taken heavy damage. The section Sellia was in was about to decompress, but the automatic force fields were inoperative. Without them, if the section blew…”
“It would take out half the deck,” Yelena whispered.
Irina nodded. “I don’t have to tell you what that would do in a combat situation. But Sellia… she believed she could get the force fields up manually. So she told her engineering crew to get off the deck, just in case she failed, and stayed behind to do the work by herself. I did not order her to do so – but I also didn’t order her to leave.” She smiled, faintly and wryly. “I knew she wouldn’t have obeyed the order anyway.”
For a moment, Irina closed her eyes, but when she looked up, her gaze was steady as it met Yelena’s.
“She managed to get almost all the force fields up in time. Only one compartment decompressed – the one she was in. It was the one least crucial to structural integrity, so she waited with that one until last. I didn’t order her to stay behind,” she repeated. “But understand this, Yelena: if I had had to do it to save my ship, I would have. Make no mistake, it’s the hardest order a commanding officer can ever give – but every captain knows that there might be a time when the survival of her ship and crew depends on it and if and when that happens, she has to be able to give the order without hesitation. Otherwise she has no business sitting in the centre chair. Can you understand that?”
Now Yelena looked away. For what felt like an eternity, she stared out of the window and at all the little automated maintenance craft swarming around the T’Lau’s battered hull like bees around honey. Then she turned to look at her mother.
“No,” she said in a low voice. “I can’t. I can’t understand it. And I don’t want to become a Starfleet officer if it means I have to become a cold-hearted monster!”
“Is that what you think? That I’m a monster? Because I’d do my duty to my crew?”
“No, because you’d do it without feeling anything!”
“Ah.” Looking as if Yelena had just proven a point for her, Irina leaned back in the sofa. “So that’s what this is all about. You think I don’t miss Sellia, is that it?”
“You just said you would have ordered her to die!”
“If I had to, to save the lives of the rest of my crew!” Irina bit off the words. “As usual, you only hear what you want to hear, and what you think justifies your…” She broke off with a grimace. “Sellia was my friend, too,” she went on in a low, hard voice. “She was my Chief Engineer for twelve years, on two ships. But hard as it might be for you to realise, my roaming the halls weeping won’t bring her back, nor will it help the rest of my crew. My duty as captain is to see to the living, not to the the dead. We honour their memories by continuing to do the job they would have wanted us to – not by burying ourselves in grief and self-pity. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Cadet, but there’s a war going on. Mourning our dead will have to wait.”
Yelena stared at her mother. Sellia had taught her everything she knew about engineering, and she had been more of a mother to her than Irina herself ever had… and now Irina was saying Yelena wasn’t allowed to mourn her?
“You know, mother, I used to think you’d make a perfect Vulcan, but I was wrong. They have feelings, they just hide them, but you… you don’t. And the only thing that matters to you, the only thing you ever loved, is your precious duty.”
“I haven’t dismissed you, Cadet!” Irina’s stern voice warned as Yelena stumbled out of the armchair and headed for door.
Yelena spun around.
“So court-martial me, Captain!”
Sobbing, she stormed out of her mother’s quarters. She left too quickly, and was too upset, to see how Irina blinked hard a couple of times and then closed her eyes to keep them from filling with tears.