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USS Panther
Ready Room


“Glad to see you back Captain.” Malek smiled after he entered the office. “We’re underway and are awaiting the Enterprise.”

Steele nodded tiredly. “Good. Have Ensign Reegath set a standard escort position for now. We won’t be breaking free from the group for awhile yet,” she stated.

Malek nodded once and his antennae dipped slightly. “Captain, are we really going to let them go at the Argolis Cluster?” He shook his head in disbelief. “If anything happens on the other side we won’t be able to get to them…”

“I’m aware of that.” Steele confirmed. “This ship can’t avoid the gravimetric shear like the Defiant could so going through at high speed will be impossible…but we will get to them if necessary. We’ll find a way.”

Malek smiled. “Of course we will.”

Steele allowed herself to smile back, glad to see his confidence return. “By the way Malek, I’ll take my picture back.” She turned to look at the space behind her desk. Where once hung the painting of the dry and arid landscape, now hung a painting of a starkly frigid, barren and ice-covered plain. She laughed weakly, “…if you don’t mind.”

Malek was glad for her smile. “It’ll be back by the time you get back Captain.”

Steele looked to her First with confusion. “What do you mean when I get back?”

Malek pursed his bright blue lips together and his antennae arced forward with slight aggression. “Commander Riker told me that you got very little sleep. I’m still in command until I am relieved, which, technically you haven’t done yet. So I am ordering you to bed and I have ordered Dr. H’rim to come in and check on you beforehand. Like you said, we won’t be breaking free from them for awhile, a week to be exact. I think the bridge can go without you for eight hours or so.”

Steele opened her mouth to argue and looked to his serious dark eyes and knew that he was no longer in a joking mood. It was then she realized she was too tired to argue with him and she nodded her head. “Fine Commander,” she stood from her chair and walked around her desk. “To tell you the truth I’m surprised H’rim wasn’t waiting at the mooring bay door when I came back.”

Malek grinned. “I made a pact with him. I told him he could see you when I sent you to your room and he promised he wouldn’t pounce on you the moment you returned.”

“He didn’t actually say pounce, did he?” she looked shocked.

“He did Captain.” Malek raised his hand as if he was swearing, knowing that the Caitian’s use of the term was meant to humor her.

“Fine. Have the big fur ball meet me at my quarters.” Steele smiled and lifted her hand and rested it heavily on the Commander’s shoulder. “Thanks Malek.”

“See you tomorrow Captain. Sweet dreams.”

Steele looked to him with a saddened expression and she tried to nod her head but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. “I’ll try.”



USS Jaguar
Bridge


Captain Nathaniel Hunter sat back in the command chair with focus and determination. He looked to the viewscreen to see the Enterprise back away gracefully from her mooring point and turn to move alongside the Jaguar.

He turned to look at his XO. He was still getting used to her but he was finding that her style was right up his alley. They were beginning to make a good team. Commander Bridget Claussen was a short human woman with short, sandy-blond hair and an uncanny knack for appearing timid. He knew better however, as there was very little timidity about her.

“Commander? Is everything and everyone in its place?”

She smiled smartly. “Aye sir. We’re all packed away.”

“Good.” Hunter turned his eyes back to the ship on the screen. “The Enterprise looks ready.” He turned his eyes to her. “Well Commander – here goes nothing. Hail them and the Panther please.”

“Aye sir,” responded Claussen.

Within a moment, the viewscreen reflected the faces of Picard and Malek. Hunter acknowledged them both. “Ready gentlemen?”

“Ready.” They both replied.

“Fine then. Picard, if there was anything we could offer to help…”

“Unfortunately it’s too late for any of that now I’m afraid.” Picard responded.

“So it would seem.” Hunter replied. “Well, we’ll be next door for a bit. Don’t be afraid to knock.”

Picard nodded. “Thank you Captain,” he looked to Malek. “Commander. Picard out.”

Malek nodded once to Hunter and the transmission cleared from his screen.

Hunter sighed heavily and rubbed his chin. “Well Admiral. This should be interesting.”

Jellico stepped forward onto the bridge with a serious stare and nodded. “Indeed Captain, leave it to Cardassia to keep things from getting boring.”

__________



Stardate 55731.9
USS Jaguar
Morgue


Thomas felt strange.

He felt thick…heavy…even…balanced. He felt…real.

He swallowed but what surprised him was the presence of saliva. His mouth was no longer dry. He drew on his salivary glands and let the spit roll over his tongue, taking a surreal pleasure in drawing up an entire mouthful before swallowing once more.

He drew in a deep, cool breath through his nose.

The heat’s gone. It’s nice and cool here.

Odd, sounds started to enter his ears. Soft, gentle murmurs of people talking quietly came from a place off to his left.

He waited to hear her voice, but it wasn’t there. There was a female voice, but it wasn’t Nekrit’s. It was still familiar though.

He took another cool breath in, relishing how clean it felt. How sterile. The place even smelled clean.

Cardassia didn’t smell like this. The torture rooms reeked with the stench of fear.

No. This was a different place. Cool. Sterile. Clean. Odorless.

He took in his surroundings without opening his eyes. He was on a biobed of some kind but the padding was thick and deep. He had been provided a pillow and even more strangely, a blanket. He was wearing a gown of some kind but, was still covered and comfortable.

What is she playing at? Allowing me to feel human? Letting me feel some kind of dignity?

He could still hear the gentle voices. He listened hard.
“Commander, I want to thank you for making this space more livable. I’m aware of reasons we must use this space, however it doesn’t mean any of us should have to be constantly reminded its true use. I can’t imagine that it would be anything but psychologically detrimental for my client,” said a male voice with a resonant vocal quality. He had a voice of calm authority.

“Agreed Captain,” said a gentle female voice and Thomas’ heart began to race.

It’s her?

He knew he had asked this question once before, but for some reason this time it felt more…possible. He felt more real, could she be?

“Excellent,” the first voice replied. “Admiral Jellico would like to begin questioning as soon as you believe he’s coherent enough to assist,” he chuckled lightly. “I don’t anticipate that the questioning sessions will be long. Just enough to see if we can make determinations of those who may have been involved.” He then sighed heavily again and Thomas thought his nasal breathing pattern was that of someone who wasn’t human. “His testimony is crucial and we need to find a way to elicit his knowledge without it harming him any further. There’s so little precedent for these types of things…”

There was another male voice, it was also deep and gentle and peculiarly familiar. “Captain, I have added the legal materials you have requested directly into my data matrix. I have also taken the liberty of adding the complete transcripts of all Dominion War trials held to date on Earth, Bajor and Peliar Zel. I thought they might be of some use to you.”

There was a slight, audible gasp from the first man. “Lieutenant Commander. You mean to tell me that you have all of that right at your fingertips?”

There was a moment of quiet before the second man answered. “The information can be easily accessed if that is what you…”

“Oh Data! Do you have the ability to analyze those rulings with questions that might arise for us? To be able to prepare briefs and protective orders without having to read all that…”

“Of course Captain. Is that not why you requested my assistance?”

There was a soft laugh from the woman and the first man allowed a louder chortle. “How wonderful! Mister Riker will be getting the best defense team I have been able to muster in a decade!” the first man said and Thomas jolted with the sound of his name. Again there was a moment of quiet. “Now all I can do is wait and hope that when he wakes, he’ll have the mental capacity to help us.” He sighed heavily. “He’s been sleeping for over three days now. I was hoping he would have been...”

Thomas took a deep breath. “What? Able to talk?” he bellowed. “I’m not mute.”

He heard a scuffle of feet and then he heard her voice once more. “Thomas?”

He closed his eyes tighter, afraid that if he opened them and didn’t see her…

“Thomas.” Her sweet, gentle voice filled his ears. “It’s me. You’re not dreaming nor are you hallucinating. It’s me. It’s Deanna.”

He knew he had heard her voice before but again, this time it felt real. He parted his eyelids and gazed into the black pools of Deanna Troi’s eyes. “How?” he asked, stupefied.

“Thomas. We have a lot of work. You have a lot of questions. We will need to start slow. It’s important that we start slow,” she said and then she smiled. Her smile was the most wonderful thing he had seen in years.
He nodded gently, knowing that if he agreed, he would continue to see that amazing smile once more.


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