Archive for the ‘Log Entries’ Category

It was my last day in sickbay when I awoke to see Himself standing above me.  As it turns out, it was only himself—that is, Admiral Quinn, the other old man—magnified by the last of the drugs in my system.

“Good morning, Lieutenant,” he said, in that deep voice of his, hands behind his back, looking down at me dispassionately.

For a moment, I considered replying with an entirely appropriate hello sir, nice to see you sir, how are you doing today sir, but I’d been confined to that bed for far too long and was feeling restless.

“I’m sorry, sir.  But the wake’s been postponed.  On the positive side, Admiral, you can relieve me of command of the Ardent while I’m still alive.”

He sighed at that and, in the too-bright lights of the sickbay, he looked a little old.  Something seemed to sag.  “Let me give you a piece of advice, Lieutenant, because, somehow, against all odds, I actually like you.  And this is it: sometimes less is more.  I know you have a reputation to maintain, and reputations are important, but you don’t always have to push so hard to be so clever.  If you push too hard, you’ll end up right back in this bed, not because an Undine put you there, but because you didn’t know your own limits.”

I wasn’t totally certain what that last point had to do with me, but it was the most the old man had said to me in one go since we met.  I took it in with the reverent silence it deserved.  “Yes, sir.”

He smiled and suddenly looked as solid and enduring as ever.  “If I had known a speech like that could shut you up, I would have tried it before.”  He leaned back against the adjacent bed.  “I’m not here to relieve you of command.  Far from it.  We were very pleased with your performance.”

“If I had known my getting nearly killed made you so happy, I’d have tried it before, sir.”

“Indeed.”  He straightened up, looking down at me with one eyebrow raised.  “I’m here to give you your next opportunity.”  He held out a PADD.  “You’re to proceed to Argelius II.  The details are in here.”

I took the PADD but barely glanced at it.  “Argelius II?  That brings back some memories…”

“You’ve been there before.  We know all about it.”  He paused for a moment and I thought I saw the corner of his mouth draw up in a slight, ever so slight, smile.  “All about it.  That’s why we’ve chosen you for this assignment.  That and it may call for your unique brand of…diplomacy.”

That ellipsis was probably the biggest compliment the old man could have given me.

Over the next several days, now up and around, I supervised the repairs to the Ardent, confined to her own sickbed within Spacedock.  I was back to cajoling, prodding, and occasionally cursing the bureaucrats infesting the Starfleet Supply Corps.  And I took every opportunity I could to visit an observation lounge and spend some time looking up at the Ardent, framed by spotlights and gantries.  Gradually, her wounds disappeared and I thought I sensed the same growing restlessness in her that had begun to gnaw at me in sickbay.

Reviewing the briefing for our next assignment—making contact with an Orion servant of one of the Klingon Great Houses who claimed to have special intelligence on her masters’ war plans—I also found myself making additional forays into the past.  As I’d told the old man, I had been to Argelius II, or more properly the mongrel, corroded, lawless chaos of a scrap heap trading station that orbited it.  During my days on the Death Star, it was one of our ports of call for the same reason that it drew most of the other independent and often struggling traders in the quadrant—there was plenty of latinum and few questions.

The last time I visited Argelius, I’d left under…less than friendly circumstances.  I’d made it back to the Star with most of my person intact.  Later, I’d heard a few stories about my hasty exit and the circumstances that lead up to it, though none as good as the ones I told to rapt audiences myself.

Of course, I omitted this bit of history from my application to the Academy.  The old man must have had his own source of information.

Now, tomorrow, I’ll be going back.  But who exactly is returning?  The engineering mate on a third-rate freighter, or the captain of a Starfleet vessel?


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I could see the protest in Johnnie’s eyes before the shimmer of the transporter beam consumed them.  Within a moment, we were on the bridge, the sounds of the birds and the breeze and the creaking of the wood buildings replaced by the everpresent-rumble of starship engines and the pings and beeps of equipment.

For their part, Vala’s own eyes widened when she saw me.

Johnnie turned to her.  “He needs to get to sickbay.”

“I’ll be down in a moment, doctor.”  I half stumbled to the captain’s chair and eased myself down.  “Damage report,” I said to no one in particular.

A voice behind me—I couldn’t place it, possibly because of the drugs streaming through my bloodstream—said, “Long range sensors are back online but warp drive it still out, sir.  All other major systems are operational.”

Vala glanced back—she had taken her usual position at the conn.  “We’ve been updating Starfleet on events, sir.  They say help is on the way, if we can hold out.”

“Raise shields and tell Starfleet we’re engaging the Undine.”

For the next quarter hour, we danced around the Undine ship, trading shots.  Vala teased every last bit of performance out of the Ardent.  Still, we were no match.  We lost out photon launcher a few minutes in.  Shortly after, our primary targeting system went offline, and Vala had to switch to manual control.  Our shields hovered on the verge of collapse.

I barely heard Vala shout “They’re here” over the claxons and alarms.  Suddenly, the limb of a saucer eclipsed the Undine ship on the viewscreen, shield’s flickering wildly at its edges as it took a shot meant for us.

The small fleet that had warped to our rescue managed to get the better of the Undine quickly, or at least it seemed so to me as I sagged in the Ardent’s captain’s chair.  Shortly after we moved away from the battle, there was an enormous flash.

“We’re being hailed by the USS Kirk, captain.”

I told Vala to put it onscreen.  It took a moment before I placed the face I saw.  “Thank you for the help, Captain Thelin.”

The Andorian smiled.  “Thank you, Captain O’Kennedy.  I’ve owed you one since you helped save the Khitomer.  I’m glad I could repay the favor.”  Thelin had been an engineering officer aboard the USS Khitomer at Vega when the Borg attacked.  I’d met him there.

I saw Thelin glance down and his expression become more serious.  “You look as bad as your ship.”

“So they tell me.”  And then everything went dark.

The next thing I recall is the ceiling of sickbay.  It was, I was willing to wager and still am, a sight I’d likely see more than a few times in the years ahead.  I tried to sit up and a bolt shot through my chest.  I collapsed back onto the bed with a grunt.

Johhnie appeared above me.  “And stay down,” she said.  Some of the lightness was back in her voice.

I looked down at myself and saw a series of small, blinking devices attached to a thin pad laid at an angle on my chest. 

Johnnie anticipated my next question.  “Apparently, you don’t pull cures for an Undine-inflicted wound off the shelf.  This is the best that Starfleet medical and Saisei could come up with.”

“Saisei?”   It hurt slightly to talk and I began to notice what felt like a low-grade fever.

She nodded.  “The only way to take care of the Undine cells that were spreading inside you was with modified nanoprobes.  Way outside my area, but they look like they’re working.”


“Yes, captain.  You’ve got a small army of nanoprobes inside you.  But not for too much longer.  They’ve been programmed to self-terminate when the job’s done and, from what I can tell, that’s already started to happen.”  Her lopsided grin grew.  “You’ll urinate bright orange for a few days.  Aside from that, you’ll be fine.”  I couldn’t tell if she was joking about that.  I found out later she wasn’t.

She placed a hand on my arm.  “I’ve got some work to do, but if you need anything, just let me know.  I’ll be right over here.”

I nodded.

She started to move away, then stopped.  “You know, you almost died.  You do anything that stupid again, and I’ll finish the job.”  This time I knew she wasn’t joking.

“Yes, sir,” I croaked, doing my best to imitate a smile.

I saw a lot of that ceiling and of Johnnie and the rest of the medical staff for the next few days.  Out of sheer boredom, I began to play with a bit of verse.  For posterity’s sake, I’m recording my latest creation here:

P’Jem was not what we thought
All our hopes for tranquility shot
By Klingons galore
And an Undine, we swore
So beware of a Vulcan who’s not

All I can say—and this is from first-hand experience, now—better advice was never given.

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Sokketh was standing at the bottom of the steps.  Gone was any shred of Vulcan dispassion.  Instead, he sneered openly.  I readjusted the phaser rifle in my arms.  “Well, well, ambassador.  Funny meeting you here.”

“I do not see how you can exist in this fragile form.”  He looked down at himself in disgust, then looked up at me with the same expression on his face.  I thought I recognized it.

“Now, what is it you hoped to accomplish here?  Or were you just out to do some sightseeing?”  My finger slid toward the trigger.

“I doubt you could understand.  Rest assured that nothing you have done affects out plans in any way.”  I blinked several times as he spoke—his outline seemed to be wavering, as if he were underwater.  As he spoke, I swore he grew an inch or two, his head elongating and flaring out, his limbs snaking obscenely out of his clothes, turning grey and bony.  I forced myself to watch as his face as it shrank, his twisted sneer disappearing at the point of a bulbous triangular head.  He—or it reared up on the third leg that had reached the ground behind it, reaching up with skeletal fingers to rip away the robes that hung off its bladelike shoulders. 

As it changed, I’d nodded to Shu.  One of his men leapt off the temple’s porch one side, rolling and coming up with their weapons trained on what obviously was an Undine.  The other made the same manoeuvre in the opposite direction.

Paying no attention to either, what had been Ambassador Sokketh rushed directly at me and Shu.  I won’t try to describe that sight, that creature lunging toward me with its unnatural three-legged gait.  I’m ashamed to say that I froze for an instant, and that was enough for it to lope nearly all the way up the steps.  It was also enough time for Shu to step in front of me, his rifle up and firing.  I saw the flashes as two additional phasers struck it from either side.

The thing seemed not to notice.  It swept Shu away with the back of its hand.  He landed hard on the ground, but was up within an instant, firing again.

I raised my own rifle, but the thing ripped it out of my hands and flung it away.  And then something I never expected—evidence that I’d learned something at the Academy.  My hand-to-hand combat training took over and I aimed a low kick at one of its front knees.  It reacted to that, off kilter for a moment, more I think because I caught it off guard than because I did any real damage.

In reply, the thing slashed down with its fingers.  I felt an explosion of hot pain in my chest, cutting through me.  My sight blurred and I dropped down to my knees. 

The next few minutes were a blur.  The pain of my wound became a dull throb, though I still struggled hard to breath.  Forms moved into and out of my field of vision.  I heard the screech of phaser rifles and Corporal Shu shouting something.  Above everything else was the wind in the trees and the sunlight playing off the leaves.

Everything snapped back into focus and I saw Johhnie kneeling beside me, withdrawing a hypospray from my neck.  “What…?”

Johnnie loaded the hypospray with another shot and pressed it to my neck again.  “You’ve been hurt.”  Her voice was flat.

“Well, I think I’ve figured that out…”

Shu’s face, smudged with dirt, appeared in my visual field.  “It’s gone, sir.  It beamed away to somewhere.”

I nodded, trying not to grimace.  With the increased clarity, the pain in my chest had begun to intensify.  “Thank you, Corporal.”

Johnnie frowned as she waved a medical scanner downward from my left shoulder.  “You need to get back to the ship.  Now.”

Ardent to Captain O’Kennedy.”  Vala’s voice sounded very far away.

I did my best to smile at Johhnie.  “When it rains it pours.  Go ahead.”

“We detected a transporter beam, sir.”

“It was our guest, Vala.  He beamed somewhere.  Are there any other ships nearby?”   Johhnie gave me yet another shot, and the building pain subsided almost immediately.

“No…wait.  Yes, sir.  It’s…it looks to be an Undine ship.  It must have beamed the ambassador away.  It’s closing on our position.  We need to get you all up here before we raise our shields.”

I put a hand on the stone beneath me and tried to push myself up.  Shu was there in an instant, ducking under my arm and helping me to stand.  “Beam us directly to the bridge.”

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The Klingon ships were gone, but, according to the life signs on the planet, they were still down there.  I informed the ambassador what was happening, dispatched a quick report to Starfleet command, ordered a security team to transporter room one, gave Vala the Conn, and stepped into the turbolift.  I was at least aware that there was no call for me to be heading to the surface.  I should have sent Vala and stayed to direct the repair efforts, in case there were more cloaked Klingons out there.  But my blood was up and, I have to admit, I was looking to continue the fight.

When I arrived at the transporter room, Chief Peale was there.  To one side of the control panel, Corporal Shu was standing at attention with two of his marines, fully armed and ready to beam down.  To my surprise—and eventual chagrin—Johnnie was also there with one of her medics.

“Doctor, were you planning on joining us?”

She held up her medical kit by way of explanation.  “You’ve got a planet-full of Klingons and Vulcan monks.  Don’t you think someone’s going to need medical attention?”

“Don’t you think the crew could use your services up here?”

“Oh,” she said in a sweetly innocent voice that I would shortly learn never to trust, “I suppose I could head up to the bridge and, I don’t know, maybe command the ship.”

“Point taken, doctor,” I conceded.

I nodded to Corporal Shu, he handed me a phaser rifle of my own—it had a solid feeling as it slapped into my palm—and we all stepped onto the transporter pad.  After that typical moment of disorientation, the lot of us were standing in the middle of a clearing, surrounded by trees and high-roofed wood buildings.  I could hear birds (or what I imagined to be birds) singing and the wind rustling the grass.  And the occasional whines of disruptor fire.

Johnnie saw the cluster of our monks off to our left before I did, huddled next to one of the buildings, and ran over.  Shu, his men, and I followed.  When we arrived, we saw one Vulcan sitting on the ground, a gash in her head, and dried green blood caked to the side of her face.  Johnnie was scanning her.  Even from behind, I could detect the frown on her face.  Shu and the other two fanned out to provide us with some measure of safety.

One of the standing monks, his features entirely too serene for the situation, gave me the traditional salute and inquired pointedly about the safety of the artifacts.  I almost suggested he should be more worried about his friend with the hole in her head, but instead reassured him they were safe and asked what had happened here.

“Klingon soldiers arrived several hours ago.  They have been patrolling the monastery grounds ever since.  I do not know what they are looking for.  They seem to be focused on the main temple at the top of the hill.  This is where the artifacts would have been taken.  I believe our abbess is still there.” 

I hailed Corporal Shu and told him where we were heading.  He nodded curtly from across the clearing and signaled to his fellows to move out.  I took Johnnie’s arm—she resisted only for a moment to use a hypospray on the injured monk, and then followed along with her medic in tow.

The fight to the top of the hill was not an experience I’d want to repeat any time soon.  We encountered several Klingon patrols.  Shu and his men did a fantastic job, swift and professional.  I cannot say the same for myself.  At one point, there was so much disruptor fire, I couldn’t tell where it was all coming from.  At another, I took refuge behind a tree, only to have it explode into splinters a few inches above my head.  A few of our skirmishes turned into hand-to-hand struggles.  I’d never seen a Klingon warrior up close and it is not an experience for the faint hearted.  At first, there was a certain satisfaction in the crunch of my rifle against their skulls, but that sound became slightly sickening as the day wore on.  By the time we reached the main temple, my rifle butt was slick with Klingon blood.

When we—by which I mean mostly Shu and his men—cleared the main temple grounds, we entered to find another cluster of monks.  It was easy to spot the abbess.  Possibly the oldest Vulcan I’d ever seen stepped forward, cradling her arm at an odd angle, and thanked us for coming.  She too wasted no time in asking about the artifacts and, again, I testified to their safety.  For her part, Johnnie was at her side instantly, examining what was probably a severely broken limb.

Ardent to Captain O’Kennedy.”  Vala’s voice rattled around that cavernous room, bouncing off the rafters, and making me jump nearly as high.

“O’Kennedy here.”  I realized as I said it that this could only be bad news.

There was a long pause, which meant it was worse than I’d thought.  “It looks as if the Klingons might have been right, sir.  We’ve had an … incident with Ambassador Sokketh, or whatever claimed to be him.”

“What happened?”

“We were monitoring the area for any other Klingon ships and detected some strange transmissions from the ambassador’s quarters.  I was worried that the Klingons’ had found some way on board and sent down a security detail.  They never reported in and we found them unconscious and the ambassador gone.  The next we knew, Sokketh showed up in one of the transporter rooms, assaulted two crewmembers there, and beamed down to the planet.  He’s disabled the transporter, sir.”

I could hear the tension in her voice.  “Where? ”

“We’re working to fix it, but we can’t beam him or you back yet.”

“Where did he beam, Vala?”

There was a pause.  “He’s just a few meters from your coordinates.”

I took a moment myself to sigh.  “Lovely.”  I caught Shu’s eye and motioned for him to follow me outside the temple.

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The next day we were off to P’Jem, a jaunt around the corner in galactic terms.  Unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones who’d decided to stretch our legs.

As soon as we emerged from warp, a Klingon vessel hailed us.  It’s captain, named B’Kor, informed us that our passenger, Ambassador Sokketh, was not, in fact, a Vulcan but was rather an Undine.

“In the name of the Empire, I demand that you hand it over.”

“Why many thanks to you now, Captain B’Kor.  I knew that third leg was a little odd.  I’ll shove him into one of our torpedo tubes and shoot him in your general direction without delay.”  At last, my first intergalactic incident.

B’Kor’s eyes narrowed and if I thought for a moment that he might reach through the viewscreen to grab my throat.  “Federation nejpu’ p’tach!  No wonder you are losing the war.  Do you value your own life and the life of your crew so little?”  That was a fair question, and I felt a twinge of regret for my instinctive flippancy. 

“I’ve seen no evidence that Ambassador Sokketh is anything other than what he claims to be.”  I worked hard to sound certain.

“Your Federation has not proved adept at recognizing the shapechangers, have they?”

I glanced down at Vala at the conn and she nodded subtly.  I knew she was beginning to do what quietly the Klingons were doing outright—preparing for a fight.  “I have to point out, captain, that whatever the true identity of our guest, you are in Federation space.  If you do not leave now, I will consider your intrusion an act of aggression…”

“I will never understand how Klingons could have ever believed we had anything in common with you.  I see now you are too blind to understand.  Spare me your lectures.  What you call ‘Federation space’ will soon be part of the Empire.”  With a quick sneer, his face melted into static.

And with that, we were in our first battle with Klingons.  Two birds of prey decloaked behind us and opened fire while B’Kor’s ship pummeled our forward shields.

These were not Orion raiders.  Within moments, our rear shields were in tatters and one of the secondary consoles on the bridge showered sparks.  I head Rodney’s voice feeding a steady stream of bad news to the bridge.  Rather than stay put, we leapt ahead, past B’Kor’s vessel, trading shots with him as we flew by.  Vala managed to swing us around in a tight turn, bringing our forward phasers to bear on the two other Klingons chasing us.  While Darial jammed the one’s targeting sensors, we gave the other everything we had.  Within a few seconds, it erupted into fireball.  It’s partner veered away to avoid the explosion, as did B’Kor’s bird of prey, which had come around for another shot at us.

I was frankly surprised how well the Ardent and her crew performed.  We had a moment to regroup after the first bird of prey went up, and from then on out, the battle seemed to turn in our favor.  The two Klingons had gone their separate ways, which allowed us a few seconds to deal with one at a time without having to worry about their focused fire.  We managed to severely damage one and then found ourselves facing B’Kor once again.  He took the Ardent’s forward shield down before we could score a decisive shot, one that turned his shield emitters to charcoal.  We offered him a chance to surrender, and he answered us with a hail of disruptor fire.  Reluctantly, and not unaware of the irony, I fulfilled my initial promise, though with an actual torpedo and not with the ambassador.  The photon struck his ship’s underside just inside the right wing, and, an instant before the viewscreen dimmed the blinding flash, I saw its belly rupture in a blaze of white light.

We’d taken our share of punishment at well.  There was a hull breach on deck 10 and several major subsystems, including long-range sensors and warp drive, were offline.  Still, we had it in us to limp to P’Jem.

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The next morning I was in transporter room one, alongside a security detail, there to take the chest of artifacts to a protected hold, and our new transporter chief, Jennifer Peale.  Several times over the last few days, she’d been on duty when I either left the ship or came back, and we were making small talk when the ambassador signaled he was ready to come aboard. 

Save for Chief Peale, the lot of us walked with the chest to its temporary home, then I offered either to have the ambassador escorted to his quarters, if he wanted to rest, or to take him on a tour of the ship.  At the latter, his eyes lit up a little and he said he’d be interested in seeing the Ardent.  With that, we were off.

Our first stop was the shuttle bay, mostly because it looked nearly the same as it had on the twenty third-century Ardent.  I thought, given the Vulcan lifespan, the ambassador might have found this bit of constancy in a changing universe interesting.  He did not.

We next stopped at the engine room, where the ambassador did become curious.  He’d been asking about the methods used to refit the Ardent and her sister ships—even knew that it involved nanotechnology.  I was surprised by that, though I assumed at the time he’d had a high enough security clearance to be privy to such details.  Still, I had enough doubt that I did my best to tactfully dodge as much as I could.

As soon as we stepped into engineering, his queries increased.  When I noticed our new assistant chief engineer, I headed in her direction in the hopes of some relief.  She’d come aboard the day after we returned from aiding the Azura, and I’d already had several chances to talk with her.  Her original name was Deena, still the identification recorded on some of her older personal files, but she now went by a new one—Saisei—that she’d chosen after she was rescued from the Borg.

I introduced her to the ambassador, and—this might again be my hindsight playing tricks on me—I thought his questions skipped a beat.  He looked at Saisei with an odd expression on his face and asked in a hard-edged voice, “You are Borg?” 

Now, if Saisei felt anything unusual in the way he posed this, she didn’t react to it, so perhaps it was never really there.  She simply explained her background in that singsong voice of hers.  She was nothing if not polite—and, at the same time, there was an insistence in her curiosity.  After a few minutes, she was matching his questions with her own—not about the particulars of the ambassador’s mission, but about his background, his family, his tastes in food and literature.  I might have stopped their exchange sooner if the ambassador hadn’t gotten quieter the longer it went on, as if the back and forth were tiring him.  As it turned out, I didn’t have to step in.  Saisei must have noticed the ambassador’s behavior and excused herself.

Our next destination was sickbay, where our new chief medical officer, Ginger Dorian, was—as she explained—attending to an unfortunate crewman who’d contracted Levodian flu.  These new surroundings revived the ambassador’s inquisitiveness, in this case about the medical research being done on board.  If he hoped to plumb the depths of cutting-edge research, however, he’d chosen the wrong source.  However, what Johnnie—her first official command upon beaming on board had been that anyone who called her either Ginger or Doctor Dorian would be banned from sickbay—what she lacked in specialized knowledge, she more than made up for in a down-home charm, threats notwithstanding.  Her off-kilter smile and her easy laugh brightened my day, and even the ambassador appeared to relax.

Given the ambassador’s interest in on-board research, I thought a subsequent stop at some of the science labs was in order.  We walked in on yet another new member of the Ardent’s command staff—our chief science officer, Ensign Darial Adzian.  We found her dressing down a crewman who hadn’t had the good sense to conduct a data analysis exactly as she’d specified.  Darial was arguably the most gorgeous woman in Starfleet, but she also had something of a hard edge.  In the day or so that I’d known her, I’d experienced none of it and I doubted I would.  It seemed entirely reserved for those unfortunate to be her subordinates.  It was a management style so radically different from my own, I wasn’t certain yet how to react to it, and I didn’t know yet if it would become a problem.

Her frown—and she was beautiful even when she did—evaporated the moment she spotted me.  She greeted us warmly and, within a few moments, she and the ambassador were engaged in a discussion that stretched my scientific vocabulary to its breaking point.  Instead of trying to follow, I contented myself with the happy task of watching.

Soon, I had to end their exchange and escort the ambassador to our final two sights—the lounge, in which he showed little interest, and the bridge.  Vala was waiting as we finally stepped out of the turbolift.  I caught a glimpse of her sitting in the captain’s chair before she popped up at the sound of the doors—she’s had the Conn a number of times now, but I had yet to actually see her sitting in the chair.  I found her trepidation in that regard cute.

I dispatched her to show the ambassador to his quarters, checked up on a few pressing matters—it was with a sigh of relief that I noticed a case of gel packs had finally found its way on board, followed by a short mental list of what needed to be done next—and then it was time for the first meeting of the Ardent’s new command staff.

The only as-yet unmentioned addition sitting at the conference table was our chief engineer, Ensign Rodney Aariak.  This was our first encounter, and he seemed somewhat dour.  But even if he didn’t smile much, from what I gathered he appeared to know an isolinear spanner from reverse-ratcheting routing planer, and that was good enough for now.  The meeting itself was mostly details, though it ended with an open invitation from myself to everyone to meet in the lounge later that evening for a more informal conversation.

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We’d been back from our rescue of the SS Azura for three days, using the time to do some fine tuning on the Ardent and to take on new crew members, including the remainder of the command staff. 

I’d beamed over to Spacedock to deal with some misfiled paperwork—up to this point in my command career, I’d battled many more bored functionaries, harried requisitions officers, and foul-tempered bureaucrats than Klingons or Romulans.  Apparently getting half a dozen bio-neural gel packs for the Ardent’s secondary waste recycling system was a more serious matter than saving the galaxy.

I was seriously contemplating beaming the packs I needed out of the gravitational regulation subsystem that kept everyone in the Starfleet Supply Corps Offices on the deck when Admiral Quinn hailed me.  Apparently, an Ambassador Sokketh needed a ship to transport himself and a collection of ancient Vulcan artifacts to the monastery at P’Jem—and yes, I might be a dirty heathen by Vulcan standards, but I’d heard of the place.  I was to meet him early the next morning and make the necessary arrangements.

I had to pause at the enormity of the occasional.  I was about to be promoted from bureaucrat to taxi driver.  I didn’t tell this to the old man.

At least it meant taking the Ardent out into space again.

I was back at Spacedock bright and early, and found our passenger-to-be meditating in one of the reserved rooms in the cultural annex, just across the hall from a ritual Tellarite mud bath.  He was standing when I entered.  Now, the only light was from several candles.  So what I recall next might have been a trick of the flickering light.  Or, equally likely, given what happened later, it may be hindsight reading too much into a muscle spasm or stifled yawn.

When the ambassador turned to face me, I swear now that he looked me up and down, then gave a little and un-Vulcan-like sneer as if I didn’t come close to measuring up.  A moment later, his expression was completely blank again and he gave me a monotone greeting paired with the Vulcan salute that always makes my hand cramp up.  I returned it just the same, smiled, and explained my presence.  There was not a thing peculiar about the subsequent exchange—we agreed that, after making some arrangements dockside and calling ahead to P’Jem, he and his artifacts would beam over the next day—but—and again, this is in retrospect now—all I wanted to do was back out of there, slowly.  I would have leapt into the Tellarite mud bath if I had to. 

What kind of captain gets nervous around a Vulcan ambassador?  Well, maybe one who’s told a few lies in his day and can smell out a fellow liar at 10 paces.  Or maybe one that wasn’t getting enough sleep.  Time told which was right, now—but no getting ahead of myself.

There were still a few fires to put out—and a few to start under the appropriate backsides—so I hailed Vala and gave her the details.  I also scheduled a staff meeting—our first—an hour after the ambassador was to arrive.

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