Summary: Sent to the Volnar System to salvage key components from the remains of a Starfleet task force, Lieutenant Jachim must deal with the ghosts of his previous ship--which is one they must search through.
Categories: Expanded Universes Characters: None
Genre: Angst, Drama, Tragedy
Warnings: Adult Situations
Series: Star Trek: Orion
Chapters: 1 Completed: Yes
Word count: 8491 Read: 1253
Published: 19 Mar 2016 Updated: 19 Mar 2016
Takes place in late-May 2374.
1. Chapter 1 by Bry_Sinclair
Chapter 1 by Bry_Sinclair
Volnar. It was a very deep, very fresh wound for Aleksander Jachim. His last ship, the U.S.S. Evanescence, along with almost two hundred of his friends and shipmates had been lost there. Now he was being forced to revisit it onboard his current ship, the Orion. It was a ship unlike any other he had served on and one he’d had no desire to go near, as almost everyone else was incompetent, ill-disciplined, or just plain unsuited to being in Starfleet—had it not been for the war, then none of them would’ve lasted much longer. Unlike the men and women he’d served with under Captain Ushaal, all of who had brought honour and dignity to the uniforms they wore. Being back in the system that served as their grave, with this crew was some kind of cruel cosmic joke.
One he hoped he could escape very soon. Rumour had it a new wave of ships would be available within the next couple of weeks, which meant his chances of being reassigned to something more fitting of his service record were greatly improved. That would mean leaving the Orion without such an experienced and trained ops manager, but that wasn’t his problem.
The boatswain’s whistle sounded through the intercom. “All senior officers report to the conference room. All senior officers to the conference room.”
With a sigh, Jachim pulled on and zipped up his uniform jacket then grabbed his PADD before leaving the pokey room that was his quarters—which were immaculately clean, neat and organised; he may have been forced to live among animals but that didn’t mean he was going to become one.
This day would mark the second month he’d been onboard the Orion, whilst it would be nine weeks and four days since he was last in the Volnar System. Only this time he wouldn’t be going into battle against Dominion and Cardassian forces, holding them back to give the colonists on the sixth planet time to evacuate. No, this time he was going in to pick over their graves. The thought sent a shiver down his spine.
From his quarters on deck five, it was a short though noisy ride on the turbolift up to deck two, where the conference room was located. He marched with purpose to his step, face set in such an expressionless manner than many Vulcans would’ve been put to shame. Though he may have a negative outlook on his current ship and crew, he had only ever voiced them in private and even then only just to one person—mere minutes after he’d first set foot onboard.
He entered the domed meeting room and quickly took stock of who else was present. Lieutenant Commander Clarissa DuMont was seated at the table, staring absently into the mug of tea in her hands; Doctor Baxx sat beside her, collar open wide and wearing a lab coat in place of the grey-and-black jacket everyone else wore; Lieutenant j.g. D’Kehra was next, stretched out in her chair, looking far too relaxed; opposite her was the traitor, Chief Ramirez; then Lieutenant j.g. Enan Lanali, who sat with a stack of tablets in front of her. Only the Captain was missing from the meeting, though seeing as he was on shift, he’d no doubt be organising whoever would be covering him on the bridge as he took the meeting—not an easy task as there weren’t many to choose from.
Jachim took his customary seat, opposite DuMont, and waited. There was some chatter going on between Baxx, D’Kehra, Lanali and Ramirez, but he paid no attention to it, focusing on the PADD he’d brought, which had their full orders displayed on it, familiarising himself with them for the eighth time since they’d come through. He cast a quick look over the top of the device at the ship’s first officer, who looked bored as she sat waiting for the meeting to begin. She was a tough one to get a read on, as she never showed any strong feelings or gave any impression that anything that happened to them left much of an impression on her. On more than one occasion, when reading her watch report after he took over for gamma shift, he’d found her logs so succinct and to the point that he was beginning to wonder whether she’d achieved kolinahr and wiped out all emotions from her psyche.
The doors opened and Reihyn hurried in. “Apologies for the wait, I had to bring Lieutenant Myza up to speed on our status.”
Arranging to get a counsellor onboard was possibly the smartest decision Reihyn had made over the last two months. If there was one crew that needed mental and emotional support, it was this one.
He took his seat at the head of the table and quickly got this started. “Now, you’ve all read the mission orders and know why we’re here, so I won’t bore you with the details. The crew will be divided up into several teams, each with their own objectives, seeing as how time is a factor here.
“Lieutenant D’Kehra, you will focus on securing ordinance: torpedo magazines, phaser coils, shield emitters, as many as you can get your hands on. Lieutenant’s Jachim and Lanali, you’re primary concern will be salvageable systems and technology—whatever wasn’t destroyed in the battle. Chief Ramirez and his people will be after materials; any metal panels, struts or debris that is structurally sound. Doctor, we won’t get the chance to recover every body, but you can at least make a start at identifying and storing them for transport home. Commander DuMont, your team will look for usable equipment that might be in armouries or cargo bays. I’ll be co-ordinating everything from here.”
Baxx scoffed, drawing looks from everyone around the table.
“I feel like a frelling Angosian vulture, picking over the corpses. It just isn’t right.”
“I know, Doctor, I don’t like it either,” Reihyn admitted. Not for the first time his blatant honesty surprised Jachim, most Captain’s would keep such opinions to themselves—though most Captain’s weren’t just three years older than a Lieutenant of twenty-eight.
Under normal procedure, for dealing with the site of a large scale battle, the bodies would be recovered first, so that the next of kin could make funeral arrangements, before teams were sent in to salvage what they could from the ships; but with the war only heating up and fighting getting more intense, there just wasn’t the chance to get the two objectives done separately. Especially now, with a war tearing the Quadrant apart, they couldn’t risk leaving Starfleet hardware floating around for pirates and smugglers to get their hands on.
“We will make recovering the dead a top priority, and I’ll spare as many people as I can, but we might not have the luxury of time here.”
“Huh, when have we ever?”
Jachim couldn’t fault the elderly Bolian. Every job they’d been given over the last two months would typically have needed days or weeks to complete, but they had only been given a fraction of that time—made all the more difficult on a ship that barely worked and a crew of just ninety-three.
Reihyn gave the CMO a sympathetic look, but his hands were tied by orders from the Admiralty—they say ‘jump’, he says ‘aye sir’. “Believe me, I tried to get us more time, but they won’t have it. Two days maximum is all we have though, depending on when the next shipment makes it to Starbase 257, that could be cut to thirty hours.”
“Damn brass,” Baxx began before his muttering grew too quiet for others to hear, except for the occasional swear.
“Anything else?” he asked, looking around the table. No one else spoke up. “Alright, let’s get everything prepped; we’ll be in the system in an hour. Dismissed.”
* * * * *
Christchurch, Evanescence, Infinity, Kollani, Nezka, Tamerlane, Zet. Lanali had memorised all the names of the ships, classes and general specs. She’d also mentally prepared herself for what they’d find, this wasn’t a SAR-op, where their focus was on the living, this time they were picking over the dead. But the looks on faces of some of her crew told her they hadn’t thought about how bad it would be, coming face to face with the frozen or torn up remains of fellow Starfleeters. Torlin had already vomited in his EVA suit and had to be sent back to the ship to get cleaned up.
She’d be lying if she said she was okay with seeing the bodies. It was the eyes that got to her, wide open and glassy, staring out at nothing. She blinked back tears.
To help try and speed things up, and to keep them from tripping over one another, each team had been assigned to a different ship. They had a few hours to see what shape each damaged vessel was in and what could be recovered—though the one thing they all did was pin a transporter tag onto the corpses they found, so they could be beamed back to the Orion, where they’d be stored in cargo bays seven and eight, which had been converted into makeshift morgues.
Lanali, Jachim and a team of ten engineers and operations techs were onboard the Intrepid-Class U.S.S. Infinity, the newest ship in the graveyard, as such she had the most advanced technology—which made her the most likely target of scavengers. DuMont was on the New Orleans-Class Christchurch, Baxx was onboard the largest ship, the Ambassador-Class Zet, D’Kehra was on the Akira-Class Tamerlane, and Ramirez was on the Excelsior-Class Kollani.
She headed for the engineering computer core, to check up and help the team that was recovering bio-neural gel packs, her inspection of main engineering revealing nothing of use—an overload in a plasma conduit had fried most of the other key components and fractured the warp core. Had it not been for the fact the core was off-line at the time then the ship would’ve been all but vaporised. She rounded a corner and found herself looking out at space. A weapons blast had gouged into the hull and exposed the entire stardrive section to vacuum—only those in airtight compartments would’ve been saved from the explosive decompression. Who knew how many bodies would be floating outside the ships.
Her older brother was a minister for the Faith of the Guiding Light, and a deeply spiritual man. After she’d joined Starfleet and immersed herself in so much science and technology, whenever she returned home to Rigel VI and met up with him again they would debate the merits of his path against hers, neither one wanting to relent to the other. She had never believed in any of his ‘superstitions’, unable to hand over her life, fate and potential happiness to some higher power (just as how he could never live a life without the belief in something greater than themselves); but at that moment, she found herself wishing she had some words for the dead, for the bodies they may never be able to find.
“Lieutenant Lanali, respond,” Jachim snapped over the comlink, not for the first time by his tone.
“Lanali here, go ahead.”
“What was the status of engineering?”
“Main engineering is a write-off, sir. A series of explosions and overloads took care of anything that may be of use. I didn’t see anything of note for the other teams. Eleven tagged for transport.”
“Understood. I’ve heard back from Petty Officer K’Prra, she’s had about as much luck from the secondary computer core—only a handful of gel packs that haven’t been compromised. The main core was in better shape, as were the impulse engines and primary deflector. D’Kehra should be able to get something from the weapons array. Though I’d say for us there isn’t much else we can do here.”
Still looking out at the emptiness of space she nodded. “Agreed.”
“Very well. We’ll move onto the next ship.”
“Sir,” she spoke up, turning away from the belly wound the Infinity had suffered, “that will be the Evanescence.”
Though Jachim wasn’t the most sociable among the crew, with less than a hundred onboard the Orion, people got to talking about everyone else, so everyone knew he’d been in Volnar when the battle had taken place. He’d been one of only eighteen survivors from his last ship, the one they were about to head too.
“I’m aware of that, Lieutenant,” he replied, his tone as level as it always was. “Return to the beam-in site, I will meet you there.”
A moment later he called all the team back to where they had materialised. She slowly headed back the way she came, the route now a little more familiar to her. As she clumsily walked (she’d never been very graceful during EVA training at the Academy, and the same was still true) she couldn’t help but wonder what the prospect of returning to his old ship might do to Jachim. Despite her best attempts, he had shown no interest in being friends, their relationship was, at best, colleagues, though was often more superior and subordinate, so she couldn’t judge just how badly affected he might be. It was an area she herself had little experience to draw upon, having only been in one ‘battle’ during her three years of service, and even that was just against a pair of Maquis raiders. He had been through much more than she had and survived it, though seemed emotionally cut off or distant. As much as she looked like one, he did a far better impersonation of a Vulcan.
She just hoped that he was a resilient as he appeared to be, as he’d soon be facing the remains of old friends.
* * * * *
It had only taken a couple of days for Lieutenant j.g. Myza to realise just how desperately a counsellor was needed on the Orion. She hadn’t even had a single appointment in that time, wanting to read through the last batch of psych assessments they’d had. What she’d read had been eye opening and a little daunting. This was definitely a troubled crew, from a Captain promoted very quickly (some might even have said too quickly) through the ranks, an XO who’d failed to impress pretty much ever superior she’d had, a Security Chief who’d been demoted for some ‘incident’ no one onboard had clearance to know, a senior non-com who’d quit Starfleet to join the Maquis, not to mention the sheer number of rookies, or crewmembers with some serious reprimands against their names.
Some may have questioned her own sanity for accepting such a posting, but it was easy to help the well-adjusted and mentally strong individuals on the bigger or more important ships. This was where a counsellor was well and truly needed. Though her orders were only on a short-term trial period, her own reports to Starfleet Medical would hopefully show that she would be needed onboard for longer than they had originally intended.
For now however, she had to leave her counselling duties to one side, and focus on being an officer first and foremost—seeing that over half the crew were off the ship, working amidst the ruins of the Volnar task force. She couldn’t help but feel a little concerned for Jachim and just what he would be going through; though she had tried to talk with him about it, he’d shut her down pretty quickly. She could only help if the person suffering wanted it, trying to force therapy on others didn’t work, some would fight it and the sessions would hit a duranium bulkhead, and he was definitely one of those people. So she had done all she could, telling him she was there is he needed to talk.
It was one of the platitudes she hated dispensing, but sometimes it was also effective. When people reached the point where they needed to unburden, they would seek her out and start babbling. It took time, patience and training to cut through all the waffle, until she could get to the route cause and begin to address that. Some patients came to therapists to go through things they wanted to talk about, it was a good counsellor who got them to open up about the things they didn’t.
She just wasn’t sure that Aleksander Jachim would ever be one to unburden himself on her. The comm system chirped and she looked at who was contacting them. Speak of the devil, she realised before turning to the centre of the bridge.
“Captain, incoming signal from Lieutenant Jachim.”
Reihyn looked across at her and nodded. “Put him through.” She tapped in the sequence and nodded at him. “Orion here, go ahead.”
“Sir, we’ve finished out check of the Infinity. There isn’t much we can get from here, though D’Kehra might have a little more luck.”
“Understood, I’ll inform her.”
“We at the beam-in site. Requesting transport to the Evanescence.”
The Rigellian-Enex paused, shooting a look at Myza, the concern evident on his tattooed, canary-yellow face. “Are you sure about that, Lieutenant?”
“Of course, sir, we have sufficient air supply and transporter tags for a second inspection.”
It wasn’t lost on Myza or Reihyn that the human had deflected the real source of their shared concern. Of all the crew, Jachim was definitely one of the mentally strongest, so if he said he was alright to continue she had to give him the benefit of the doubt. Though she doubted he’d ever show any of them that he wasn’t.
The Captain’s expression asked her the one question he’d been dwelling on: was Jachim ready for this? She gave him a slow nod in return.
“Understood. We’ll beam you over in a few moments. Orion out.”
When the channel closed, he rose from his seat and moved over to mission ops, where Myza sat and perched on the edge of the console, arms tightly folded across his chest, looking at her intently. “Are you sure, Counsellor?” he asked quietly. “I don’t know if I could handle going into a situation like that.”
“Jachim’s psych profile is one of the strongest among the crew, even when he was assessed after the Evanescence survivors were recovered there was a slight deviation, but nothing drastic. He’s not the kind of person to admit he can’t do something, but I do think he’s the kind of person who can compartmentalise and work through whatever ghosts may be waiting for him over there. You’d have a bigger problem from him if you tried to pull him from this one.”
Reihyn paused and thought for a moment, before he ultimately nodded. “I’d have to agree with you on that. Signal transporter bay one to beam them to the Evanescence.”
“Aye sir.” Reihyn pushed off the console to return to his seat, when she placed her hand on his forearm, stopping him. He looked down at her. “For what it’s worth, Captain, I think you’d be just like Jachim in this situation.”
He gave her a weak smile. “Thank you, Counsellor.”
As he headed back to his place on the bridge, she relayed his orders to one of the large emergency transporters they were using for the salvage mission, then alerted the team to prepare for transport. As she worked she silently hoped that she was right about the mental fortitude of the Ops Manager.
* * * * *
Jachim had thought he was ready for returning. He wasn’t.
They beamed into the hangar bay on deck six, being a wide open space from which they could set forth, gather together parts to either be beamed back to the Orion or brought over by shuttle. It was two decks above them, in main engineering where he’d been found by the rescue ship. In the middle of the battle both the chief and assistant chief engineers had been killed, so he’d headed below to take charge, his relief, Ensign McAllister, taking his place on the bridge. From there he had done everything he could to keep their shields up and weapons firing, at the expense of everything else, including warp drive and life-support—just like the other seven ships assigned to safeguard the evacuation convoy.
But for all his grafting, for all he had given, it hadn’t been enough. The Evanescence had fallen, her hull punctured with multiple breaches, her power all but depleted, torpedo magazines empty and most of her phaser emitters either burnt out or targeted by the Jem’Hadar, whilst only twenty-three of her two-hundred and three crew had survived—though five of them would die of their injuries before the Britannic arrived and saved them.
He had lost so much on this ship. More than he’d wanted to think about. Standing on her once again brought it back, hard. His breathing was shallow and he found it hard to pull air into his lungs, his heart thundered in his chest, his legs felt weak (made worse by the lack of gravity), whilst tears blurred his vision.
He had failed them all. They had been relying on him to get them through and he hadn’t managed it.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry, he repeated to himself, over and over.
Pressure on his bicep made him look around. Lanali stood beside him, her hand place on his arm, her big, blue eyes looking up at him and on seeing his expression through the faceplate, they welled up with tears of her own. She opened her mouth, as though to speak, but no words came. The Rigellian-Tomal was only twenty-four, but in that moment she looked like even younger. This was his burden to bear, not hers.
Clearing his throat, he kept his back to the rest of the team, not wanting them to see his moment of weakness. “We took heavy damage during the battle. I doubt D’Kehra will find anything of use here. Our warp core was off-line during the battle but intact, the antimatter pods were also in good shape. Environmental systems were a different story. The deflector dish took a little damage, though I never did ascertain just how much and the computer was fully functional. We’ll start with those systems and work from there.
“Rhodes, T’Ven and Prr’ke, make your way to the deflector pod. You’ll have to use the crawlspace through the nacelles, run a cursory check of the warp coils as you go. K’Prra and de Haan, you’re with me, we’ll take the computer core. Everyone else with Lieutenant Lanali, check over the warp core and also check what can get from the other systems, see if there’s anything else we can get.”
He looked over his shoulder and saw them all milling around a little uncomfortably. Before he could snap at them, Lanali stepped forward. “So what are you waiting for? Let’s get to it!”
That got them moving, picking up their toolkits and pattern enhancers, before heading for the exits. He sought out the engineer’s face and gave her a faint smile, thankful that she was stepping in to help him—even if she didn’t need too.
“We’ll report in every fifteen minutes, sir,” she told him, even though that was standard procedure, before heading after the rest of her team.
He looked at the remaining two and signalled for them to follow him, leading them deeper into the crypt where many of his friends floated in endless rest.
* * * * *
Mecell Koen found it a little odd whenever D’Kehra wasn’t beside him. Though she was exotic and pretty intense at times, not to mention being an Orion, a race with a very poor reputation, he found her to be a steadying presence next to him. Over the last two months, she had taught him a few little tricks he hadn’t quite grasped at the Academy, or things they’d missed out entirely. She was a good teacher, patient but hard when she needed to be. Even away from the bridge, she had encouraged him to join her in the mess, even taken him to the gym a few times to lock down a suitable workout routine, even offering him the chance of a sparring session—though he knew she’d probably scoff at his ‘unfocused’ technique.
Whilst she was leading a salvage team, Ensign Echar jav Moq sat beside him at tactical. The two had been at the Academy though had never shared any classes or social circles—not that he’d had many in the way of friends during his time on Earth. Even though they’d both been posted to the Orion, with two others from their graduating class, they hadn’t spent any time together, both on different shifts and responsibilities of their own to attend to. Over the last few hours, they’d sat in relative silence, speaking only about operational matters though even they had been kept very brief.
Since the ship was at station keeping, there wasn’t much for a conn officer to do, just keep an eye out for any debris that might head towards them and, if necessary, use the RCS thrusters to gently move them out the way. So he kept looking at the sensor board, aside from floating junk there wasn’t much else to see. Every so often a shuttle or workbee would move from the ship remains back towards the Orion, to offload what it was carrying before heading back out. Part of him wished he was piloting one of the shuttles, as he’d at least be helping out, but as it was they were manned mostly be security personnel.
A quick glance at the chronometer above the viewscreen showed that it wasn’t long until his shift ended. Though he hadn’t done much over the last seven hours, sitting still, hunched over an almost static sensor display made him stiff all over.
An alert from every sensor panel changed the atmosphere on the bridge in an instant. His eyes snapped to the display just as Ensign Josephine Fitzgerald (another of his former classmates who preferred to go by ‘Fitz’) called out from ops, “Captain, a ship has just entered sensor range. Bearing two-seven-two-mark-zero-eight-five, heading our way. Closing fast.”
For their mission to Volnar they were operating on their own, so the appearance of any ship was a surprise. It went from surprising to terrifying when Moq looked back at Captain Reihyn.
“It’s Jem’Hadar, sir. A single strike ship.”
“ETA?” the Rigellian-Enex asked, his voice amazing calm as Mecell felt panic creep up his spine, spike his heart and cloud his mind.
“Seven minutes at present speed, sir,” Fitz told him.
“Moq, sound red alert. Myza, get me the salvage teams.”
“Aye sir,” the Benzite replied, sounding equally as calm as the Captain, as Mecell paused numbly, unable to think about what he needed to do.
* * * * *
Lanali had given her team their tasks to see to and gone to make a full inspection of the M/ARA, starting with the deuterium storage tanks and injector assembly up on deck one. The tanks were all still intact, even with the hull damage the deck had taken, and even the injectors were in good shape—a few dents but nothing that would impede their performance or integrity. She’d disconnected the tanks and logged them as a secondary target, something to salvage if there was space available or time left to retrieve them. The injectors were a top priority, though she would need another pair of hands to get it ready for transport—she’d get Crewman Doren up once he was done booting up the diagnostic system.
Satisfied that everything at the top of the core was sound, she faced the long climb down to deck eight, at the bottom of the primary hull, to check the antimatter containment pods, generator and injectors. Just as she was about to close her tricorder, it beeped. She tapped on the controls, her thick gloves making it a little awkward, bringing up the new reading. A life-sign; eighty meters away and four meters below her, putting it in the forward section of deck two. No one was meant to be there, at least not yet.
“Lanali to Navix. Who’s left engineering?”
“No one, Lieutenant,” the Edosian's shrill voice replied.
She frowned and expanded her scanning radius. The team should’ve comprised of herself and eleven others, the ill Torlin having been replaced with de Haan, but she was picking up twelve other life-signs. She was about to tap her comlink and contact Jachim when it chirped with an incoming signal from the Orion.
“All salvage teams, prepare for immediate retrieval.”
She hit the panel on her chest piece. “Negative, Captain. I’ve got an active life-sign!”
“What?” Reihyn and Jachim asked simultaneously.
“I have a human life-sign in a forward section of deck two, very faint,” she told them already heading for the ladder, cursing the bulky spacesuit under her breathe as she descended.
“Do you have anything else, Lieutenant?” Reihyn asked, sounding hopeful.
“Not yet, I’m heading down now. I’m not even sure where on deck two they are—it would need to be sealed as it’s open to space.”
“There is a Jem’Hadar ship, closing fast. We’ve only got a little under seven minutes until they reach us. The Orion is no match for it.”
“I know, sir,” she replied. She was the one who’d got the Orion from limping to sprinting in under two weeks; she, more than anyone else onboard, knew just what the old ship could and couldn’t deal with.
Lanali stepped onto the engineering section of deck two, a monitoring room dominated by the dull warp core in the middle, with a couple of workstations, a Jefferies tube hatch and an exit. She slapped on the manual door release and pushed the panels open, wide enough for her spacesuited ass to squeeze through. Once in the corridor she checked her tricorder again.
“Forward section, portside,” she told them. “I should be able to get them out, beam the rest of the team back.”
“We’re pulling everyone out now,” confirmed Reihyn.
“Captain,” Jachim began, breathing heavy, “request permi—”
“Granted, Lieutenant. Provide whatever assistance Enan needs.”
She passed laboratories, a holodeck and emergency transporter room, scanning all the time. The distance between her and the life-sign shrunk slowly, as she waded through the weightlessness in her cumbersome suit. Just as she neared an access panel in the deck, she saw it pop loose before being propelled upwards at surprising force, followed quickly by the helmet of Jachim’s suit. As he shimmied through, his grav-boots deactivated, he looked around until he spotted her.
“Where?” his steady tone was gone, replaced with one of desperate hope.
She pointed down the corridor towards the front of the ship. “What’s down there?”
“Hydroponics, a mess hall and…escape pods!”
He pushed off against the bulkhead and flew down the corridor ahead of her. She would’ve done the same, but as bad as she found walking in zero-g, swimming though it made her ill, but she did all she could to pick up the pace, catching up with him as he was at the escape pod controls.
“It looks like the ejection system was damaged in the battle. They couldn’t get free from the ship.”
As soon as she got to the hatch she scanned in more detail. “Why didn’t the rescue ship pick them up?”
“The dorsal phaser array is just fifteen meters behind us. The Jem’Hadar took it out with their assault; the radiation that produced would’ve obscured any life-signs from this section.”
“It’s a human male, he looks to be unconscious, possibly in a coma from these readings—the pod’s probably been on minimal life-support for weeks, prolonging what little he had left. Though if he was badly injured that could well have made it worse.”
“Lieutenants, you have four minutes thirty. What’s your status?”
Jachim looked at her, a haunted look behind his eyes. “He’s in an escape pod that failed to launch, but it’s stuck inside the housing. We can’t get it open from here. I…I recommend you beam us back.”
“What?” she asked aghast.
He fixed her with a look. “We can’t get to him and he’s unconscious. The Jem’Hadar will be on us in four minutes. We have to withdraw, there’s no point risking everything for one life.”
“Frell that!” she exclaimed, opening her toolkit.
“Lieutenant—” Jachim began.
“I agree with her sentiment,” stated Reihyn over the comlink. “I can give you three minutes thirty to come up with a solution. Use that time.”
She opened the panel under the screen and quickly looked at the circuitry inside. Nothing leapt out as being obviously wrong, no reason why the escape pod shouldn’t have blasted free of the ship as it was designed to do during emergencies. So what was the problem? She grabbed a calliper and was about to start poking a little deeper when it flew from her hand and stuck to inner workings of the panel.
“What the hell? The bulkhead has become magnetised.”
“How did that happen?” Jachim asked, crouching next to her. He reached for the tool and tried to pull it free, but couldn’t make it budge. “Maybe some problem with the gravity grid or shield generators, both systems are only a few meters away.”
She frowned. “Possibly. It would definitely explain why the pod couldn’t get free.” There were moments in her young life when inspiration struck, ideas and notions that came out of nowhere; sometimes they came fully formed and ready to implement, other times they needing some thinking to get off the ground, other times she got the spark and figured out the rest as she went along. The latter came to her in that moment.
Without saying another work, she set to work, with nothing more than her tricorder and standard toolkit as her only supplies. She needed to depolarise the section of hull that was keeping the pod from being free, and since their phasers would take too long to heat it, she would have to use an alternating current or find a magnet of the same polarity but greater mass. She looked back at the hatch he’d emerged from.
“Were there any powerlines in that section?”
“Yes,” he replied, before spinning and propelling himself back the way he came.
She pulled out some wiring, ripping several free and connecting them to her calliper, running them through her tricorder and waiting for the power cables. With the Evanescence is such bad shape, her power levels all but depleted, Lanali wasn’t sure is this would work but she wasn’t about to abandon anyone—not after they’d struggled this long to survive.
Jachim returned with several conduits, all still active from various different systems. No single line would’ve been enough, but all five together could be just what they needed. As she fiddled with the cables, cursing her gloves yet again, she just hoped that the deities her brother believed in were smiling on her.
“What stage was the launch in?”
“Stage one.” That meant the clamps that kept the pod secure in its housing had been released, but that explosive bolts that propelled it out hadn’t been activated. “The system is logging the failure as a problem with the clamps, stage two ready to activate but on hold.”
Thank you gods, she silently prayed for the first time in her adult life.
Her tricorder chirped. It looked as though she was as ready as she could be.
“You’ve got thirty seconds. Tell me you have something.”
“Captain, we’re going to launch the pod, someone needs to be able to lock onto it and beam it onboard.”
“I’ve got Chief Ramirez on the controls and ready to go. You two need to get out of that section as well, we can’t get a clear lock on you.”
“Standby,” Jachim told him, looking at her. “Now.”
She tapped the control on her tricorder. Before it gave any signal, whether her plan had worked or not, he grabbed her, slapped her grav-boot controls off and hurled them both down the corridor, away from the radiation of the damaged phaser bank. Her stomach lurched and heaved with the loss of her equilibrium, made ever worse by the spinning in her head. He took several sharp corners which made her feel even more queasy, but she kept her mouth closed—which kept her from objecting, but also allowed her to focus on keeping her last ration pack down.
Just as she thought she was about to lose the battle between her will and her stomach, she heard the whine of a transporter beam all around her. As she dematerialised from the remains of the Evanescence she regained enough of her faculties to wonder if it had work, though wisely kept her mouth shut.
* * * * *
“Who is it?” Aleksander Jachim asked as soon as Doctor Baxx emerged from the examination room.
“Dammed lucky,” the wrinkled Bolian told him.
“Who?!” he snapped then winced at his own tone. “Sorry Doctor.”
Baxx smiled however. “Lieutenant Vincent Okonedo.”
“Vinny,” he gasped, feeling so giddy with euphoria he laughed. “Well if anyone was going to cheat death, it was going to be him!”
“Good friend of yours, I take it?”
“We were roommates at the Academy together our first year. We stayed in touch after we graduated and were assigned to the Evanescence within a month of each other; he was head of stellar cartography, he’d have been in one of the labs on deck two during the battle. I thought he’d been killed in action when I couldn’t find any sign of him.
“I…I can’t believe he was so close and I missed him!”
Baxx rested a steady hand on Jachim’s shoulder, still encased within his EVA suit; he hadn’t bothered to take it off, after getting Lanali to a medic, he’d lost the helmet and gone to see the ship’s physician and find out who had been in the pod.
“He’s stable, a little malnourished and dehydrated, but alright otherwise. He’s going in and out of consciousness right now, so you might get a chance to say hello, though not much else.”
“Thank you, Doctor.”
Baxx scoffed. “I just checked him over, it’s that poor kid you dropped off in sickbay you should be thanking.”
Jachim gave him a nod then slipped around the wiry doctor and into the private room just off the main ward where Vinny was lying. Inside, monitors beeped softly with the steady rhythm of his heartbeat. The man on the bed was thinner than he remembered, though nearly ten weeks in an escape pod would do that to someone, not that Okonedo had been a big man before; whippet thin, he kept in shape through running, with marathons being his passion—he had the distinction of being the only human to finish the Brikar Capitol Marathon, where the high gravity caused most others to pull out well before they made it quarter of the way.
He moved to the side of the bed and looked down at his old friend, feeling tears fill his eyes for the second time that day. When Okonedo opened his eyes a crack, Jachim felt them roll down his cheeks.
“Alek?” he crocked.
“Hey Vinny,” he replied, setting his shaking hand on the man’s shoulder as he wept.
* * * * *
Okonedo had slept for two days solid, his body provided with all the fluids and nutrients it needed to regain its strength intravenously, so by the time he awoke he was in much better shape, at least physically. Jachim had insisted he be the one to tell his friend what had happened to the Evanescence and just who had survived, so they had shared in their grief and mourned as the Orion headed for the nearest station. However, they were both career-minded officers, so they knew that life in the uniform could come to an abrupt end.
After being told of what had happened over the last ten weeks, Okonedo had needed a little time to digest the news. Counsellor Myza had made herself known to him, offering her services should he need them. Though, like Jachim, he declined them. Captain Reihyn had surprised him by giving him a few days of leave onboard, so as to help his friend. Had it been anyone else but Vinny, he would’ve turned it down, but the two had been inseparable at the Academy and just the same when they’d served together. Though neither would forget the battle or its aftermath, they did try and move on, talking about all other matters, knowing that when one of them needed to speak about it, he would when he was ready.
What surprised Jachim the most was Vinny’s wonder at the Orion. Whilst he saw the faults and problems it presented, Vinny appreciated its history. It was something he’d never thought of until Vinny had brought it up, so that night he’d looked into the history of the ship he now served upon. Reading up on the old ship surprised him, all the sectors she had charted, species she had made contact with, battles she’d been engaged in—it was a history that even the Enterprise would’ve been proud of. But Vinny always was a ‘glass half-full’ kind of guy, always one to look for the positive in things.
The morning after perusing the ship’s archives, he’d found Vinny in the mess hall, sitting at a table across from Lieutenant Lanali, deep in conversation. Vinny caught sight of him entering the mess hall and waved him over to their table. As he approached, Lanali moved to stand up but he waved for her to remain seated.
“Vinny, Lieutenant,” he said, sitting down, feeling a little awkward with Lanali there—seeing as how he’d never made an attempt to socialise with her, or anyone else, since reporting aboard.
“Why did you not tell me I owed my life to such a beautiful woman? I’m now indebted to her—though I’m sure a date or two might make us even.”
Lanali laughed, a lyrical sound that carried across the few other tables that were in the room. “Nope sorry, I saved your life, so you own me at least that in return.”
“You sure, my first dates are legendary across six systems.”
“Because they never go beyond the first date,” Jachim found himself adding immediately, without thinking.
She laughed again as Vinny gave him a good natured scowl. “At least I have first dates, unlike some.”
The intercom whistled. “Engine room to Lanali.”
She tapped her combadge. “Go ahead.”
“Sorry to disturb you, Lieutenant, but that problem with the SIF has cropped up again during the night.”
“Understood, I’m on my way. Lanali out.” She looked at the two of them, then shrugged her shoulders. “You’ll need to excuse me, duty calls.”
“Of course,” Vinny said with a grin and wink.
“Do you need a hand, Lieutenant?” he asked.
“No, that’s alright, sir. We’ll get it sorted.” With that she picked up the wrappers from her breakfast, binned them, then headed for the exit.
Jachim watched her leave, but when she reached the doors, he rose. “Excuse me a minute, Vin.”
He trotted after her, catching up just a few meters down the corridor. “Lieutenant,” he called after her. She paused and looked at him, a puzzled expression on her delicate features.
He stopped in front of her, suddenly feeling a little foolish. “I wanted to first apologise for making you a little queasy, back on the Evanescence.”
She smiled. “That’s quite alright, you were saving my life—I think that’s worth a little vertigo and nausea.” As she spoke she looked a little unsteady, until she rested a hand on the bulkhead. “Tomal aren’t great with zero-g, it’s something to do with our inner ears. I’m generally alright if I’m vertical, but as soon as I go completely weightless, I’m not much use for anything.”
“I’m still sorry for it. You risked a hell of a lot, trying to devise a plan to help Lieutenant Okonedo.”
“I’ve never been big on that whole ‘needs of the many’ stuff. One life is just as important as a hundred; if we forget that then what are we fighting this war for?”
He found himself smiling. For someone her age, she was surprisingly insightful. “And thank-you for saving him, he’s like a brother to me—or at least a cousin I’m fond of.”
Lanali chucked before resting a hand on his arm. “You may want to rethink that, he’s told me quite a few stories.”
“Has he now? Such as?”
“April Fool’s Day, 2364.”
Jachim felt his cheeks burning as he averted his eyes, hoping that this was part of some wind up on Vinny’s part, that he’d just told her to say that and not gone into the details. Looking back up at her face, he noticed a little smirk, which she quickly wiped away. That clinched it, he’d told her.
“It looks like your work was in vain, Lieutenant, as I may have to kill him now.”
“I wouldn’t worry, sir, my lips are sealed. Besides, a strapping man like yourself must have nothing to be ashamed of,” she told him unable to keep from grinning. “If you’ll excuse me, sir.”
As she walked away, she briefly glanced back at him over her shoulder, before turning a corner and vanishing from sight. He watched her go, then turned back to the mess hall. Vinny sat where he’d left him, grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
When he returned to the table, before he could ask just what Vinny had told Lanali, his friend interrupted. “You can’t tell me you have a problem with all the crew onboard? Enan is a charming, funny and a very sharp cookie.”
“What did you tell her?”
“Just a few stories, she was curious about you—though I don’t know why she would be.”
Jachim felt himself blush again. Of course he’d noticed how attractive Lanali was and their recent assignment had proven just how bright she was, but he wasn’t looking for anything like that from her or anyone else onboard. This was a temporary posting and he told Vinny that.
“Why? Because it’s not most advanced ship in the fleet? Because the crew have character? You’re the Second Officer, the sheer variety and volume of work you get onboard will show anyone with a pair of eyes how versatile and diligent you are, plus you’ve got people who will go to bat for you no matter the odds! How many others would’ve risked everything for just a single life? I for one am glad of this old girl, if it weren’t for her or the likes of Enan, I wouldn’t be here. Maybe you should appreciate what you have instead of what you wish you had.”
He frowned. “Have you been taking counselling training when I wasn’t looking?”
“If this ship had a science contingent onboard, I’d be proud to serve with these people.” He glanced at the chronometer. “And speaking of counselling, I have an assessment with Lieutenant Myza. I’ll catch you later, Alek.”
As Vinny headed out of the mess hall, Jachim was left at the table deep in thought about the Orion. For the first time in two months, he was genuinely thinking about the old starship and just what it offered him.
* * * * *
After two more days spent with his best friend, the pair had had to say their goodbyes when they reached Starbase 360. As they offloaded all the materials and equipment they’d managed to salvage before the Jem’Hadar had chased them away, it came as quite a shock to the station staff when they received another survivor from the Evanescence. Though science officers weren’t in high demand in the fleet under present circumstances, he would be issued a new billet and ship out within the week.
Only an hour after they’d parted at the airlock, agreeing to meet up later before the Orion left for her next job, Jachim received a communique from the personnel office on the station. The U.S.S. Xavier would be arriving in two days in need of a new Operations Manager, the post was his. He just had to contact them and accept.
He’d been on shift when the offer came through, so excused himself and slipped into the ready room to return the call. His link went through and almost instantly the pinched face of a human lieutenant commander appeared.
“Personnel office, Commander Nielson here. How can I help you?”
“Lieutenant Aleksander Jachim of the Orion. I was offered reassignment to the Xavier a short time ago.”
“Ah yes, Lieutenant. Captain Ordash is very keen on having you onboard as soon as they arrive—”
“I’m sorry,” he interrupted. “But I won’t be accepting the offer. I actually wanted to take my name off the transferral list; I’ve decided I wish to remain on the Orion.”
“I see,” she said simply, sounding unconvinced. “May I ask why?”
“This is where I need to be. Please pass along my apologies to Captain Ordash.”
Nielson’s face scrunched tighter, before she let out a heavy sigh. “Very well. Be advised that if you change your mind, it will be some time before you could receive another offer.”
“I’m well aware of that, sir. Thank you. Jachim out.”
* * * * *
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