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Chapter Notes: Chapters can be quite large - they will be divided for ease of reading.

CHAPTER ONE

Stardate 55713.3
U.S.S. Enterprise – NCC-1701-E
Standard Orbit of Benecia
Bridge



He leaned back into the familiar comfort of the command chair and looked up to the viewscreen to see the black expanse of the space which lay before him. The proverbial blank slate.

He took a deep breath in and exhaled just as deeply, soaking in the perfection of the moment, just like Anij had taught him.

The ship had just broken orbit of the planet Benecia after a quick stop to deliver medical supplies to the colony. His smile became impossible for him to hide and Riker had noticed it. “Glad to be back sir?” asked his First Officer who peered over to him from the position to his right.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard turned his contented face to his long-time Executive Officer and nodded. “It’s been far too long, Number One, don’t you agree?”

Commander William T. Riker stole a glance over to Counselor Deanna Troi who also appeared at ease in her chair to the Captain’s left. Her dark hair was pulled back loosely, giving him an unobstructed view of her incredible black eyes. He smiled broadly when memories of the night before flooded forward. We’re back to exploring and Deanna is mine! Does life get any better than this?!

“I do indeed sir,” Riker answered with a broad smile. He stroked his face where his beard used to be and he thought twice about how he could approach Deanna about his desire to re-grow it. He liked his beard and he missed it. His CO’s voice grabbed his attention once more.

“Set a course for the Nyx Nebula, Ensign. I understand we’ll be lucky to catch the birth of a bouncing baby Class O star.” Picard smiled with his order.

“Only if we engage at warp three or higher, Captain,” informed Lieutenant Commander Data, sitting in his usual spot at the Operations console, his bright yellow android eyes resting on Picard in the factual-yet-assisting manner that Picard had become accustomed to many years before.

“Then make it warp three point five, Ensign. I wouldn’t want to be late.” He grinned.

“Aye sir,” responded the flight controller as his hands moved across the panel. “Course laid in and ready sir.”

Exhaling a sigh that contained all of his excitement and joy, Picard leaned forward in the chair and looked to the viewscreen, anxious to see what lay ahead. “Engage.”



Stardate 55713.3
U.S.S. Panther – NX-90261
Patrol of Cardassian-UFP border near Bajor
Captain’s Ready Room



There was a slight chirp from the PADD when the DNA analysis was complete. She read the orders. Then read them again. She rubbed her eyes softly then read them once more.

Captain Antoinette Steele couldn’t pull her searing green eyes away from the PADD in her hand. The orders seemed surreal to her. “Thank you Reed.” She shook her head. “I guess you don’t know anything about this either?” she addressed her counterpart from the Steamrunner class ship which sat off the Panther’s port bow.

Captain Reed Carson stood in front of her in the ready room with an annoyed expression plastered across his ruddy face. “You got that right, Toni. All Jellico did was summon the Appalachia to Earth. When we got there, I was called to his office where he handed me my orders to hand that PADD directly to your hands in private and then leave. Nothing else.”

Steele set the PADD face down on her desk then pushed her chair back, stood and walked around to Carson. “Well, I wish I could ask you to stay for dinner Reed, but it appears we’ll be moving on. Give my best to Claire.” She smiled.

“I will Toni. You take care – whatever this is about okay?” Smiling, he extended his hand in return.

She took it in hers. “Will do, Reed. Thanks for your trouble.”

Captain Carson turned on his heel then left the ready room of the sparkling new defense ship.

Steele picked up the PADD once more and clicked her combadge. “Captain to Malek, report to the ready room, please.”

"Aye sir,” a male voice replied.

Within moments, the door to her ready room slid open and a vivid-blue Andorian man entered. His antennae stood straight from his forehead and a shock of pure white hair. They swiveled gracefully from side to side, taking in his still relatively new surroundings. He bore three small gold pips on the collar of his Starfleet uniform. The red color of his collar appeared to glow against the sapphire hue of his skin. “Captain?”

Steele smiled and moved towards him as he entered. She sighed heavily and handed him the PADD. “Tell me what you think of this, Malek.”

Her Executive Officer removed the PADD from her hand and reviewed it. His head pulled back and his antennae lifted with confusion. “But it’ll be two weeks before we can catch up to them, and that’s at high warp. Why would they call us? Isn’t anyone closer?”

Steele nodded in agreement. “That’s what I thought too. But look further…we aren’t the only ones being moved. We’ll be meeting up with the U.S.S. Jaguar as well.”

Malek’s eyes flew back to those of his new CO. “The Jaguar? Now what’s so important that the Enterprise needs to be escorted home by two Panthera class ships?”

Steele moved back to her chair and sat, her eyes never leaving those of her XO. “I have no idea Malek. The one thing I do know? Picard will not be happy.” She finally broke her gaze from her XO and rubbed her eyes again tiredly. “I have never met the man, but by the time we reach them they’ll be long past the Megaran system and heading out for the Nyx creation nebula. Being pulled back to the Sol System under escort will not be an easy pill for him to swallow.”

“I gather not.” He handed the PADD back to her. “After everything they’ve been through, I understand that many of the crew were looking forward to rekindling their exploration duties.”

“Exactly. I have a good friend on her crew and I know he has been itching to get back to the unexplored sectors.” She sighed again heavily, set the PADD back on her desk and pulled her straight, long, jet-black hair behind her head then let it loosely fall back. “Well, no sense in wasting time. Set a course for intercept of the Enterprise and engage at warp eight.”

Malek nodded quickly. “Aye sir.” He departed the ready room.

Steele sat back in her chair and stretched her neck, her eyes roamed the room. She loved her new ship and it already had felt like she had become a part of it. She appreciated its tight and aggressive design.

She rested her eyes upon an unusual painting behind her desk and she smiled. The painting was filled with the impressionistic image of a light brown and sandy countryside butted up against a distinctly powder blue and cloudless sky. The rolling landscape bore dark green patches of what resembled bushy trees. Very few colors were used to paint the picture yet it sang to her all the same. It was a painting of a desolate, dry and lonely place to most, but to her it was a painting of everything familiar and home.

Slowly, her eyes found the photo on the bureau behind her desk. A pocked, scarred and rugged face smiled back at her from within the frame. His black hair and dark eyes seemed to calm her. She smiled and briefly touched the photo and whispered to it. “Well Paul, this should be interesting.”

She turned towards her desk once more and resumed reading reports of the day.


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