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Kuiper Belt: Approach to Sol System, United Federation of Planets

Stardate: 53360.2

Three flashes preceded the appearances of the Pershing, Nelson, and Nevsky as they dropped out of warp. Two Defiant Class escort ships were already waiting for them just outside of Pluto's orbit.

"Open hailing frequencies," Captain Quan said from her center seat.

"Aye, Ma'am," Lieutenant Advolia, her security said from Tactical. "Channel Open."

"USS Trident, this is Captain Quan of the Starship Nelson with USS Pershing under escort…"

"Captain Quan," the face of a Bolian officer greeted her from the bridge of the lead escort. "I am Commander Matros. Admiral Paris thanks you and the Nevsky for your assistance. We will take charge of the Pershing and bring her into port."

"Commander Matros," Quan said annoyed at this officer's curtness. "I was hoping that we could accompany Pershing all the way into dock. It's been a long trip, and I would hate for something to go wrong at the last moment…"

"I assure you, we have things quite in hand," Matros said with a smile. "Please hold here. You will receive your instructions from Starfleet Command very shortly. Safe travels. Trident out."

The transmission suddenly disconnected. It was obvious Geist was on a separate channel because the Pershing continued forward at full impulse. The Trident and the other escort ship formed up adjacent to her nacelles as they continued toward the third planet of the Sol System.

"Ma'am," Advolia said, "Captain Tarn is hailing."

"Onscreen," Quan said very irritated.

"Shu Yin, do you know what the hell is going on?" Tarn asked equally upset on the bridge of the Nevsky. "If they really are going to court martial Dan, they're certainly being obtuse about it. I have contacted every single guy and gal I know in Starfleet Operations, and the only response I get is, 'Don't Ask.'

"I have no idea, Belen," she said drumming her fingers on her armrest. "But I intend to find out."

****

Tigranian lay on the padded bench inside the Pershing's brig with his back against the metal bulkhead. His uniform jacket was unzipped and he flipped through the pages of a worn paperback novel entitled, "The Grapes of Wrath."

The outer doors parted and Annabeth walked inside. The security officer standing watch acknowledged her as she walked towards the active forcefield.

"Could you give us a few minutes, Caruso?" she asked.

"Yes, Ma'am," he said excusing himself to the corridor.

"Shouldn't a captain be on the bridge as her ship approaches spacedock?" Tigranian said sarcastically. He didn't take his eyes of the book. "Hope Phil doesn't hit anything. That'll be hard to explain."

"I should be saying the same thing to you," she replied crossing her arms in front of her. "Phil's forgotten more about piloting a ship than I'll ever know. Besides, we both know that this arrangement is only temporary."

"Temporary, but necessary, Number One," he said flipping another page. "Are Shu Yin and Belen still flying with us?"

"No, Murphy sent a pair of his sentry ships to take over. Our two acquaintances are being told to hold out past the Belt. We were just passing the Saturn Marker when I came down." She paused as she examined his reading material.

"I thought you told Laria you didn't want any reading material during your stay in Hotel Le Brig?"

"I did," he said with a side glance. "This little gem came from your wife during her mandatory, 'check the prisoner's medical status' visit yesterday. She said I would enjoy it based on our current predicament."

Annabeth cocked her head to the side to examine the title.

"I've heard of that one, but I've never read it. What's it about?" she asked curiously.

"It's about good people trying to make a life for themselves under the yolk of terrible people," Tigranian said raising an eyebrow. "Makes me glad we've moved beyond capitalism in the Federation."

Annabeth leaned against the side of the forcefield's metal frame. She stared through the transparent wall of energy.

"Are we supposed to be the good people or the terrible people, Dan?"

"I think we'll find out soon enough, Annabeth," he said closing the book. He gave her a once over. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm not puking my guts out yet if that's what you're asking," she said shaking her head. "A little more tired than usual, I'm pissing like a race horse, and these are a bit tender," she said pointing at her chest.

"A bit too much information, Number One," Tigranian replied.

"You're the one who asked," she said with a haughty chuckle. "I'm just being honest. Thought you'd respect that."

"From you, Annabeth, always," he said returning her smile.

The two of them felt the ship decelerate, followed by the gentle bump of magnetic moorings engaging.

"We've docked," she said glancing up at the ceiling.

"Yup," Tigranian said climbing to his feet and zipping up his jacket. "Got to look presentable if I'm going to court-martialed," he said adjusting his uniform.

"Are you going to beam down alone or do you want me to come with you?" she asked calmly.

"Probably best if you stay aboard at first. I'm sure Pete will send a team to grab me in a few minutes."

"Where are they going to take you?"

"Probably Starfleet Headquarters in San Fran."

Annabeth reached over and deactivated the forcefield of Tigranian's cell.

"Hopefully you'll be able to reach Rellas on that transmitter we left behind," Annabeth said as Tigranian stepped out of his confinement.

"In any case, I'll deliver his message as promised," Tigranian said rubbing his face. "Should I shave?" he asked turning towards her.

"I would," she said furrowing her brow. "That is, if I had a beard."

He laughed as he went in search of a razor.


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