Back for another holonovel, eh? Good!
The year is now 2367, elevn years after events in In the Beginning. With apologies to Robert Frost:
Program complete – enter when ready!
With eyes that were wide with reverent awe, ten-year-old Yelena Ivanova watched the pulsating blue glow of the warp core. She loved it here; Engineering was her favourite part of the ship and she tried to sneak in here as often as she possibly could. Strictly speaking, children weren’t allowed in Engineering, but somehow nobody seemed to think it should apply to her. Nobody except her mother, that was – but Captain Ivanova seldom came down to Engineering, much to her Chief Engineer’s relief. Technology didn’t seem to agree with the captain; whenever she stopped by, something always malfunctioned, or short-circuited, or just plain blew up.
Lt. Commander Sellia Rosh smiled as she spotted the small visitor.
“Why, hello there,” she greeted the child. “Does your mother know you’re here?”
Biting her lip, Yelena hesitated for a moment. Then she reluctantly shook her head.
“But Yelena,” Sellia gently chastised her, “you know you’re not supposed to come here without the captain’s permission.”
“But she always says no!” Yelena protested. “She won’t let me go down here if I ask.” She gave the Chief Engineer a pleading look with big, brown eyes that looked very much like those of a sad puppy. “Please let me stay, Sellia? Please?”
Sellia Rosh knew she really shouldn’t, if only to keep the captain’s wrath from descending on her and the child, but she just couldn’t say no to those eyes. “Well, I guess it won’t hurt if you stay here a little while.” She smiled. “I was just about to run a warp core diagnostic; want to help?”
“Yes!” Yelena exclaimed, happily clapping her hands. Sellia couldn’t help laughing; if only her engineers could be that enthusiastic about a simple diagnostic…
Even if Captain Ivanova seldom came down to Engineering, she seemed to have a sixth sense for when her daughter was being disobedient. Suddenly, she was just there, standing at the end of the diagnostics table, with her arms crossed and a disapproving frown on her face.
“You know you’re not allowed to be here, Yelena.”
“I’m afraid that’s my fault, Captain,” Sellia quickly stepped in. It made her heart ache to see how the child visibly deflated at the captain’s words. “I drafted her to help me with a diagnostic.”
Irina raised an eyebrow. “I very much doubt you’re the one who made her come here in the first place, Commander” she said coolly. Then she looked sternly at her daughter. “Go to our quarters, Yelena; you have homework to do.”
“But I’ve already finished it,” Yelena tried.
“Then do your homework for the next day. Commander Rosh needs to work.”
“Do I have to make it an order?”
Yelena’s head drooped. “No, Captain,” she whispered. She waited for a dismissive nod from her mother before she left, walking with heavy steps.
“I don’t mind her being here, Captain,” Sellia said. “She isn’t any trouble.”
“She knows she isn’t allowed to,” Irina said curtly. “Now, would you mind telling me why my ship is only doing warp 7.8 even though I’ve ordered warp 8?”
Sellia suppressed a grimace. “That’s the diagnostic I was just about to run, Captain.” If the captain had come only thirty seconds later, the diagnostic would already have been under way, but just as she had a sixth sense for when Yelena wasn’t obeying, she also had a sixth sense for when her subordinates needed to snap to it.
“Good; we are on quite a tight schedule. Carry on, Commander.”
Sellia slowly shook her head as she watched the ramrod straight back walk away. She freely admitted that she didn’t know much about children, but she really couldn’t understand why the captain had to be so hard on her daughter. Yelena was such a sweet kid and she was a delight to have around; she was curious and eager to learn, and she absorbed knowledge like a little sponge. Sellia was willing to bet her right hand – or her left, for that matter; she was ambidextrous – that Yelena was going to grow up to be an engineer… if Captain Ivanova let her. But that, Sellia wasn’t prepared to bet as much as the nail of her little finger on.
“Commander Upton? A word?”
The Executive Officer could barely contain a grimace when he heard Sellia call; he had just gone off duty and had been looking forward to having a nice dinner with his family, and on time, at that, but he had a nasty feeling that was about to go out the airlock.
“Can’t it wait until tomorrow?” he asked hopefully, but Sellia adamantly shook her head.
“No, it can’t. I’m having a… a personnel problem.”
A personnel problem, Richard Upton thought with surprise, that’s a first; Engineering was usually the smoothest running department on the ship. Suppressing a sigh, he nodded.
“Walk with me. Well?” he prompted as they started moving. “What’s the problem?”
“It’s about… about one of the civilian crew, sir.”
Which didn’t make any sense whatsoever. “Sellia, you don’t have any civilians on your crew!”
But Sellia ignored that. “I know it isn’t any of my business, and I know I don’t have a clue about how you bring up a child, but… don’t you think the captain is being a bit hard on Yelena? I mean, she’s the sweetest kid, but the captain is treating her like she’s some sort of juvenile offender! You should have seen the look on her face when the captain threw her out of Engineering earlier…”
“Children aren’t allowed in Engineering for their own safety,” Richard by rote said what he knew the Chief Engineer already knew. Sellia glared at him.
“Yelena is allowed. Besides, I feel a lot safer with her in Engineering than I do with the captain.”
Richard couldn’t help smiling; Sellia’s predecessor had firmly believed Captain Ivanova could cause a warp core breach simply by strolling through Engineering. Then he quickly became serious.
“You’re right, it isn’t any of your business. It isn’t any of mine, either.” He grimaced. “I do agree that the captain seems to be hard on her daughter sometimes – but maybe she feels she has to.” He smiled faintly. “Yelena does have a mind of her own, you know…”
Sellia’s look clearly showed she didn’t believe him. “And for how much longer do you think Yelena will keep having a mind of her own if the captain keeps this up?” she asked pointedly.
Running a hand over his close-cropped red hair, Richard sighed heavily. He knew the only thing it would accomplish was to make Captain Ivanova angry, and no sane officer would voluntarily subject himself to the wrath of his CO, particularly not this CO… but Yelena was his god-daughter. He had been there when she was born, and he loved her like one of is own. Reluctantly, he nodded.
“I’ll try to talk to her.”
Relieved, Sellia flashed him a quick, grateful smile. Then she seemed to think of something.
“How long have you served with the captain?”
“Twelve years. I was her First Officer on the Mintaka as well.” Richard frowned. “How so?”
“Twelve years…” Sellia repeated. “Then you must know who Yelena’s father is.”
Richard gave her a sharp look. “Don’t go there, Sellia,” he warned. “I mean it.”
But Sellia didn’t frighten that easily. “Was he an engineer?”
“Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” Sellia went on, undaunted by Richard’s flat voice, “but Yelena’s got quite an aptitude for engineering things, and nothing in this Universe can make me believe she got it from her mother. And that sort of points to the other half of her genome.” She gave Richard a curious look. “So he wasn’t an engineer. Was it you?”
Richard stopped dead. “Are you out of your mind?!”
“I was just asking,” Sellia muttered.
“First of all, I’m-” Richard angrily began, but then quickly lowered his voice as a pair of junior officers approached. “I’m happily married, thank you very much,” he hissed, “and even if I weren’t, I’m a member of the crew! The captain would never fraternise with a subordinate!”
“So he’s another captain or an admiral, then,” the Chief Engineer concluded.
“I didn’t say that!”
“Not in so many words.” Sellia frowned. “It would be easy enough to find out, you know. Who he is, I mean.”
“Yes, it would,” Richard agreed. “But not from me.”
Sellia pondered this for a moment. Then she gave the XO a long, thoughtful look with eyes that
widened slowly as she realised something she hadn’t seen before.
“You’re in love with her, aren’t you? With the captain?”
It was only with effort that Richard managed to keep his facial muscles under control. “I’m married,” he firmly reminded the Chief Engineer. “And you’re very close to crossing the line, Commander.”
“Sorry, sir,” Sellia said, but without sounding it. Even so, she thankfully seemed to back off – for now. “You’ll talk to the captain, then? About Yelena?”
Richard nodded. “For all the good it will do.”
“I’m sure you’ll get her to listen.” With a nod, Sellia turned and started walking away – but then she stopped, and gave Richard a look over her shoulder.
“You know… you never answered my question.”
Richard met her look with a level stare; then he turned around, and walked off in the opposite direction.
In her ready room, Irina Ivanova had just got a steaming cup of rooibos tea from the replicator when a cheery chirp from her computer announced an incoming subspace signal. Irina muttered darkly; sometimes, she wondered if there was some sort of regulation against starship captains getting a moment to themselves. Still muttering, she walked over to her desk and carefully placed the cup next to her computer before she sat down and schooled her features into a neutral mask.
The aged Andorian face that came into view was not one that Irina had expected to see, and she couldn’t keep the surprise from trickling into her voice. “Admiral th’Raaz!”
“Captain Ivanova,” the vice-admiral returned her greeting with a smile. “I hope this isn’t a bad time?”
Even though the Andorian was known for being considerate to his subordinates, Irina thought it a slightly ridiculous question. If an admiral thought it was a good time to talk to a captain, then it was a good time, and that was that – but of course, she couldn’t say that. Instead, she smiled faintly.
“Of course not, sir.”
“Excellent. Then I’ll get right to the point. As you’ve probably heard, Admiral Jenner is retiring as Chief of Starfleet Science in a couple of months. Her deputy Admiral Selak will be replacing her – which means that Science will be needing a new deputy chief.” He smiled. “Any chance I can interest you in that position?”
Irina blinked; surely he wasn’t suggesting…?
“I appreciate the gesture, Admiral,” she said cautiously, “but I’m just a captain; deputy chiefs always have flag rank.”
“Quite right,” th’Raaz agreed. “The Deputy Chief of Starfleet Science is a rear-admiral, upper half.” His smile widened. “Any chance I can interest you in that position?”
Looking down for a moment, Irina closed her eyes.
“You’re offering me a promotion,” she said in a low voice. It wasn’t a question, but th’Raaz seemed to interpret it as one. He chuckled.
“I believe I just said that, Captain.”
No, Irina thought with desperation. Please, no. It didn’t really come as a surprise; she had been getting hints that this might be coming, but she had hoped those hints would be wrong, that they just would be misinterpretations by overly enthusiastic colleagues. Because she wanted this, she wanted this more than anything. But…
“Admiral, as I said, I appreciate the gesture… but I’m afraid I’ll have to decline.”
This obviously wasn’t what the admiral had expected to hear.
“I beg your pardon?”
“It’s a very gracious offer, and I am grateful, but I cannot accept it. I’m sorry, sir.”
Th’Raaz looked as if he thought Irina had taken leave of her senses. “Are you going to offer me an explanation?” he asked incredulously.
“I would prefer not to, sir.”
The Andorian’s face darkened. “That is your prerogative, of course,” he reluctantly acknowledged, “but I won’t pretend it makes any sense. You do realise that this offer won’t come again any time soon?”
“I do, sir.”
“But you still wish to decline.” It wasn’t a question.
“I do, sir.”
“That, of course, is also your prerogative.” There was a slight edge to th’Raaz’s voice. “I just hope you know what you’re doing, Captain.” He paused for a moment, giving Irina one of his famous Looks. Then he snorted. “Th’Raaz out.”
And Irina suddenly found herself staring at the Federation seal instead of at the admiral’s blue face.
Slowly, she leaned back in her chair and took a couple of deep, steadying breaths before she pushed the chair back and got to her feet. For a moment, she just stood there, looking down at the desk and its piles of PADDs. Then, in one swift movement, she reached for her mug and flung it into the wall with such force that it shattered in an explosion of broken pieces and tea. And she swore, sulphurously, in the Russian she hadn’t spoken since she was a child.
Throughout her career, Irina Ivanova had been striving towards two goals. The first one was to get her own ship, and that she had achieved at age thirty-one. The second one was to attain flag rank – but that, she knew that she would never, could never achieve… not as long as he was still there. She could not serve in the same chain of command as someone who had wilfully defiled everything Starfleet and the Federation stood for, and that meant she would have to expose him for what he really was – but if she did, and if people actually believed her, it would mean destroying her daughter’s future. And if they didn’t believe her – which they most likely wouldn’t, so preposterous was her claim – then she would be destroying her own.
Eleven years earlier, Patrick O’Neill, then a rear-admiral, had come to Irina’s ship, claiming to be on a classified mission to oversee the delivery of an important vaccine to the disease-stricken planet Coremma V. His personnel file had said he was with Starfleet Science – oh, the irony! – but that, as was almost everything else about Patrick O’Neill, had been a lie. His mission to the Coremma System had been classified, that much was true, but he hadn’t been going there to deliver vaccines to Coremma V, but to supervise a top-secret weapons test on Coremma VII. For in reality, O’Neill was an expert with the weapons development division of Starfleet R&D – but that was just as classified as most of the projects he worked on, and his top-secret work was also the reason his personnel file had so little to do with reality.
Irina could accept that the an admiral might need to keep the true nature of his mission a secret even from the captain of the ship he was on. She could also accept that this admiral had to tell the captain in question a cover story to explain why he had to go where he was going. But even though she could acknowledge the professionalism in it, she found it slightly harder to accept that he had kept his secrets even after they had become lovers – but then again, that part had hardly been part of the mission. Or had it? She wasn’t sure any more. She wasn’t sure it hadn’t all just been a clever ruse to keep her occupied and keep her from asking questions – and it had succeeded, too, probably far better than was ever intended. Six weeks after Patrick O’Neill had left her ship, she had known that she was pregnant. After ten weeks, she had known that she had gone to bed with the devil.
But no matter how much she hated Patrick O’Neill now, and no matter how furious she was with herself for believing him, for falling for him, she couldn’t deny that something good had come from it all. Because she had Yelena. She had her precious, precocious, brilliant little daughter that she loved more than she ever had thought possible.
She loved her daughter – and yet she found it so very hard to show it. For there wasn’t a day when she wasn’t afraid for Yelena. Afraid that the girl’s curiosity would make her go, or climb, or run somewhere she wasn’t supposed to and that she would get injured. Afraid that her stubbornness would make her defy all cautions and warnings and regulations so that she would hurt herself down in Engineering. Afraid that her always insisting on doing things her own way would make her not listen to advice the one time everything depended on it. Afraid… that she would grow up to be like her father. Irina could already tell Yelena had some of Patrick O’Neill’s traits, such as his technical abilities – and that frightened her. She had tried to quench them again and again, but to no avail; the second she turned her back, Yelena would sneak down to Engineering where she would play with isolinear chips or crawl around in the Jeffries tubes, or just happily sit and watch the engineers work. And that made Irina even more afraid for her – afraid that she would follow in her father’s footsteps. For if she devoted herself to the science of engineering that she already loved so, then she would be vulnerable. If she became an engineer, she would enter his domain, and that would give Patrick O’Neill the chance to lure her into his web. To become like him.
Irina loved her daughter, and she wanted her to be safe – but Yelena would never be safe as long as Patrick O’Neill was out there. And that meant that Irina had to protect her, against him, and against herself, no matter the cost.
No matter how many admiral’s stars she lost in the process.