Authors: Eric Thomson
"Yes, and the good Admiral tried her damnest to see me discredited."
"Desperate measures, Siobhan. Kaleri knew why I sent you to command the
. I can only assume that stronger measures, such as ensuring the ship's total loss, were beyond what remained of her honor, thankfully. The SSB was the greatest danger, but it appears their agent, Major Cayne, waited too long to act. Again, thankfully. Their scheme is over now. The tender and its crew are in custody and will be facing serious charges. I have no doubt some will turn and provide enough evidence to satisfy the Judge-Advocate General. Unfortunately, the SSB ship which acted as receiver of stolen goods has vanished."
"Yes, that was its name at the time of your interception, though by now, both her name and that of her skipper have changed, as will her appearance. You must have given them serious pangs of fear when you held her under your guns. But there was little you could do at the time."
"My actions with the
did give my crew an indication I was not part of the scheme and was serious in my intentions to find answers. Some knew what she was, having seen her before." She gazed thoughtfully at the softly ticking clock. "In that, if nothing else, the smuggler served our purposes."
"Indeed. Well, that completes the tale I think, sordid as it was. It has cost the lives of good people, but at least you salvaged your crew, gave them back their pride and wiped the stain of Helen Forenza's command. No doubt some other dashing frigate captain will attempt to break your kill record, but it will be safe for a long time to come. And you have the citation."
"What about Forenza?"
"The Disciplinary Board met, considered the available testimony, suffered the pressures of a politically well-connected family and recommended she simply be retired from the Service. Which I endorsed, being unable to do more. She is a civilian now, beyond the reach of a court-martial. Or rather was a civilian. Ex-Commander Forenza died in a traffic accident on her second day back on Earth." From the expression in Nagira's eyes, he did not believe it was an accident.
"Who drove the hover car? Starfleet Counter-Intelligence or SSB?"
"That too, we will never know."
"So what happens now?"
"Your crew is safe, sheltered from any accusations of perjury or participation in the misdeeds of your predecessor. There is a movement afoot to quash this story because of the bad publicity and effect on morale, not least civilian morale. We still have a war to prosecute. I find myself agreeing with the idea. The principal actors are all dead, the others are beyond our reach and your ship is now a heroic figure in the public eye."
With mixed feelings, Siobhan shrugged. Her desire for revenge, for seeing Kaleri and Forenza face a firing squad had died along with them. She had her ship and a fine crew. It was probably best to leave it at that. As Nagira said, they still had a war to prosecute. Which brought up the most important question.
"What about the
?" Siobhan feared the answer, just as much as she needed to hear it, and know their collective future.
"She will be de-commissioned," he held up his hand, "in due course. At this stage, Starfleet cannot afford to retire ships without an immediate replacement at hand. Your ship will be the last of the Type 203s to go, but not yet. You will get a limited refit, enough to permit you to carry out internal security duties although I fear she will never sail the line again. Still, there are enough pirates, smugglers and Imperial infiltrators to give you a hot time, and you will free a less damaged ship for patrol duties in the war zone." He studied her face for a few moments. "This pleases you. You expected to lose her right now. I understand perfectly. Enjoy your time aboard the
. She is a fine lady, worthy of another fine lady. After her?" He shrugged. "We shall see."
Nagira rose and carefully replaced the coffee mug on the waiting tray. "I would ask you for a tour of the ship, but you have too much to do, and I fear the memories would not place me in a happy frame of mind. This, believe it or not, is the finest time of your career. Command of a frigate is many times better than an Admiral's desk on some starbase."
"Oh," he stopped and turned around to face her, "Lieutenant-Commander Holt gives you his best. Unfortunately, he is no longer here to greet you personally. The moment your report reached my desk, his superiors in Counter-Intelligence thought it best to remove him from Starbase 31, for his own safety. Lieutenant Drex was not the only one to owe his advancement to Admiral Kaleri, and apparently, he was feeling some adverse pressure from several senior staff officers, including Flag Captain Jadin, who will find his next posting less to his liking, let alone the fact that he will never be promoted again."
Siobhan's face must have registered surprise, for he continued. "I said the story would be quashed, not that Starfleet would let all those connected continue life in peace. We will take care of them. The 31st Battle-Group is about to experience a rare shake-up. Though that will not concern you once this base has repaired your ship. You are, as of now, assigned to the 39th Battle-Group, based at Isabella Colony. Rear-Admiral Quintana is a harsh task master, but he is also a most remarkable commander. You will find your time under him interesting, to say the least." An impish smile briefly crossed Nagira's wizened features. "I hope you will also make
Siobhan saw Vice-Admiral Nagira over the side with the trill of bosun's pipes and the stamp of the quarter guard presenting arms. Then, she was once more the sole master aboard the
. Her ship. At least for a while.
Lieutenant-Commander Pushkin stepped into the airlock as the guard headed back to their quarters, to change into work uniform. "We'll be warped to the dry dock within the hour, sir. I've been assured that our refit will be reasonably fast, then we can be quit of this place. Though internal security duties?" He shrugged. "I guess it's better than the knackers' yard." He touched the bare bulkhead with surprising tenderness. "It's strange how much this old lady's grown on me in the last while. I'd have been sorry to see her go just when she got her reputation back."
"I entirely agree, Number One." Siobhan smiled. "We have a fine ship and a great crew. Let's keep it that way for a little bit longer, eh."
"Aye, aye, sir." Gregor Pushkin smiled back, and for the first time, Siobhan no longer detected even the faintest hint of bitterness in his eyes. "So what did the Admiral have to say?"
"Ah," Siobhan grinned impishly, feeling free for the first time in a long time, "that's another story which requires an attentive audience over a brace of cold beers."
Pushkin snapped his fingers, pretending to suddenly remember something. "I nearly forgot, skipper," he twisted his lips in a wry grin, "the wardroom would like to extend a permanent invitation for you to eat and relax with your officers, starting with," he glanced at his timepiece, "right now, it being supper time. We promise to let you eat before we ask you to tell tall tales for your meal."
She laughed. "Lead on, then, Number One. I find my appetite and thirst have become overwhelming."
Siobhan Dunmoore touched the bulkhead in passing, a warm glow of pleasure relaxing her tired sinews. Her ship.
Damn right she is!