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Maintenance drones, engineering rigs and work-bee’s swarmed around Gibraltar as she rested at her mooring at the end of one of DS9’s lower pylons. Temporal Investigations had finally concluded their exhaustive debriefings of the crew. Having sworn them all to absolute secrecy regarding the details of their mission to the Pierosh system, TI had pulled a number of strings to have the starship’s repair and refurbishment made a Level-1 priority.

The other captains of larger and more noteworthy ships grumbled about having been bumped down the repair schedule by a ninety-year old escort while they simultaneously spun wild theories about why the ship’s mission and the nature of her damage had been so completely classified.

*****

“...and the timeship was taken aboard a specially outfitted Temporal Investigations transport vessel, escorted by two Defiant-class ships no less, and shipped presumably to the Terran moon.” Olivia Juneau’s alter ego completed her report as she observed the scarred face of her superior on the viewer.

Their communication was filtered through several layers of encryption, and Section 31 computer overrides would ensure that no trace of the conversation would remain.

“So, TI has custody of the craft. That’s good.” Her handler, Gennaro Laurent would have offered a relieved smile, if his wreck of a face could have mustered one.

“Good?” Juneau shifted uneasily in her chair, seated in her junior officer’s cabin aboard Gibraltar.

“Very much so. The Federation is now in possession of an incredibly powerful time travel mechanism. I much prefer the DTI having control of it than a foreign power, most especially a government hostile to Federation interests.”

Juneau directed a disapproving look at Laurent from across the lightyears. “I would have thought you’d want us to be in possession of such a device.”

Laurent smiled patiently, but Juneau saw the gesture as a ghoulish tightening of his lipless mouth. “We don’t have the resources to properly study such a complex temporal craft. We’ll let TI do the leg work for us. Eventually, they’ll puzzle it out, label the timeship ‘dangerous’ and seal it away in some deep bunker on Luna. If and when we should need use of the device in defense of the Federation, we’ll know right where to find it.”

Juneau chuckled lightly and remarked, “Of course. I should have known.”

Laurent cocked his head to the side and gazed at her approvingly. “You’ve done excellent work under difficult circumstances. And amazingly, you’ve also managed to maintain your cover. I hadn’t expected you’d last this long.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Well, that’s a backhanded compliment.”

“Not at all. It’s very hard to keep your shell in the dark when taking control of her body for as long a time as you did.” He inclined his head appreciatively. “Your last two missions have proven successful, and I’ve decided to extend your stay aboard Gibraltar.”

Juneau nodded. “Thank you. It’s nice to have even the illusion of stability for a while.” She deactivated her terminal and crawled back into her bed as she surrendered her consciousness once again. As the alter-ego submerged, she wondered how long Juneau’s fragile psyche could withstand the memory gaps. No matter how cleverly hidden, there were little untidy pieces after every episode that didn’t add up. And how would she resolve the dissonance between her uninspired everyday performance and her reported moments of brilliance that she could not recall?

*****

Laurent terminated the transmission. He leaned back in his office chair and stretched, then reached up to deactivate the holographic collar beneath his shirt. His face, or more accurately the image of his old, burned features, vanished to reveal a surgically flawless and youthful visage.

Thanks in part to S31 and Starfleet, a catastrophic threat to Federation security had been thwarted. Such things were Laurent’s stock in trade, of course, but he still marveled at how seemingly common such mortal dangers had become in recent decades. As the Federation grew and its influence spread, more and more species took notice, took measure, and took umbrage.

He buttoned the collar of his formal business tunic to conceal the holomatrix beneath, and deactivated the subspace scrambler hidden in his wrist chronometer. He instructed the opaque windows to clear and let in the brilliant mid-afternoon Parisian sunlight while he activated his comm. “Datrella, you can send in my next appointment.”

“Yes, sir. Your fifteen-hundred meeting is with the Talarian ambassador. We’ve had to push the Minister of the Exchequer back to oh-nine-thirty tomorrow.”

“Very well.” Laurent stood and prepared to offer the ambassador the customary Talarian greeting as the Section 31 senior operative returned to his day job as Chief of Staff to the President of the United Federation of Planets.

*****

The crewman took the carryall from Sandhurst’s hand and placed it atop the transporter pad before he stepped back to his station at the console. Ramirez and Lar’ragos stood with the haggard looking captain at the base of the steps as they said their goodbyes.

Sandhurst extended a hand to Lar’ragos, who held his grip firmly and spoke volumes of concern for his friend with his eyes. “You’re going to be fine, Donald. Your ship and crew are in good hands.”

The captain nodded distractedly in response and stepped up onto the dais. A sudden, intrusive thought occurred to Sandhurst, who looked to his security chief. “Pava, what happened to Kutav? I promised him that I wouldn’t have him locked up in a Federation penal settlement.”

Lar’ragos replied stoically, “I kept that promise for you, Captain.”

Sandhurst nodded and appeared vaguely relieved. He glanced at his exec and sent a meaningful look Ramirez’s way, a final reminder of the obligations she’d sworn to assume. She bobbed her head in acknowledgement, and gave the order to energize.

As the captain vanished in the transporter beam, Lar’ragos let out a long sigh as his shoulders slumped. “I hope they can help him.”

“Amen to that,” Ramirez said quietly. She turned to the transporter operator. “Chief Towsend, can we have a minute?” The man nodded and left the room as Ramirez turned to find Lar’ragos appraising her cautiously.

The El Aurian looked slightly perturbed. “I’m guessing this can’t be good.”

“You probably won’t think so, at least at first.” She offered him the padd that she had been holding discretely since they’d escorted the captain to the transporter room. Lar’ragos took it hesitantly and his eyes darted over the contents as his expression darkened.

Ramirez continued, “You’re a good man, Pava, and an asset to this ship. That being said, your behavior of late has been completely unacceptable and is adversely affecting the performance of your department.”

Lar’ragos looked up from the padd with hooded eyes. “I’m fine, Commander. I’ve buried my demons, and I’m ready to return to duty.”

The exec clasped her hands behind her back. “I disagree.”

He shook his head and Lar’ragos’ hands tightened on the padd as his knuckles whitened. “You want me to get my head shrunk, fine. But not by her.”

Ramirez quirked an eyebrow. “Lieutenant Dax is a capable, fully licensed counselor and therapist.”

Lar’ragos growled, “She’s also my friend. It’s inappropriate.”

“Uncomfortable for you, you mean?”

His lips drew into a tight grimace. “Sure. Fine. Uncomfortable works.”

The exec nodded understandingly. “Good, you need a little discomfort right now. You said you’d buried your demons. That’s not good enough. I want you to confront and banish them.”

Lar’ragos struggled to reign in his emotions. “And if I refuse?”

Ramirez gestured to the padd. “I’ve taken the liberty of drafting transfer orders on the chance that you’d fight this. Captain Amasov has an opening for a tactical officer aboard Endeavour.” Her expression was coldly neutral. “They’re slated for a deep space exploration assignment coreward of the Tevrian Gap. It should prove quite challenging.”

He focused his senses on her and probed for chinks in her armor, vulnerabilities he could exploit as he’d done with Ixis. “I’m not the only one around here with issues, Commander. Not by a long shot.”

Her face reddened and Ramirez stepped into him. She looked up into his face with focused anger. “You can knock that off right damn now, mister. You try playing head games with me and I’ll throw your ass in the brig for the duration.” Ramirez’s face clouded with a derisive scowl. “The very fact that you’d pull something like that with me only demonstrates how far out of balance your priorities are.”

Lar’ragos blanched, caught flat-footed by the truth of her words. “I… I’m sorry, sir.”

“Dax may be your friend, but she’ll have no problems calling you on your self-deluding bullshit, Lieutenant. She’s also the only therapist I can think of that can possibly have a real understanding of what centuries of psychiatric scars can do to as long-lived a species as yours.”

He nodded numbly and his eyes took on a far away cast. What had he been thinking? He’d been stuck in a fight-or-flight mode for months now.

Ramirez extended a hand and placed it on the El Aurian’s shoulder. Her demeanor downshifted to one of concern as she spoke softly. “I want the old Pava back. The one I could go to with my concerns and doubts. The one the whole crew could always count on in a pinch. I’m sure you remember him.”

He stood rooted in place. His mind tracked back over his behavior for the past weeks as he called up example after example of anger, hostility, and downright abusiveness. “Maybe you’re right…”

“Maybe so,” Ramirez echoed and moved to the doorway. She turned back. “You’ve got your first appointment with Ezri in one hour aboard the station. Your orders, Lieutenant, are to locate and recover one Pava Lar’ragos and bring him home.”

He took a deep breath. “Aye, sir.”

*****



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