T’Leia was six years old again, still hidden behind the marble pillar while she listened to the accusations heaped upon her father. The words never ended, and her father’s distress would not stop. He argued so vehemently against sending aid to the Romulans, because he genuinely believed the threat was not real. It brought nothing but regret and shame to himself, his family and his people, while billions of Romulans paid the price.
T’Leia slowly opened her eyes, and it took her a moment to realize she was staring at the ceiling of her darkened quarters. It was a dream, of course, the same dream she has had all her life. It was a private nightmare that she wished she could remove from her psyche, but even with advanced meditation techniques it persisted. T’Leia had since learned to live with it, to accept that it was a part of her being, a memory that defined who she was.
She sat up in bed and reflected that the frequency of that particular dream has increased, likely resulting for the latest assignment: The USS Hastings was enroute to Dewa III, now called New Romulus, to deliver a shipment of construction materials, lab and medical supplies to aid the nascent Romulan Republic. These were the people her father failed — Vulcan failed — and now she was doing what little part she could to help. To redeem her father and her own people. She would do anything for that opportunity.
At that moment amber lights suddenly flashed to life along her quarters’ ceiling, followed almost immediately by a ship-wide announcement. “Yellow alert. Yellow alert. All senior staff report to the bridge.”
Training kicked in; in a flash T’Leia was out of bed and changing into her duty uniform. Redemption would have to wait.
Unlike the venerable USS Warden, the USS Hastings was a brand new ship when T’Leia came on board two years ago. She was state-of-the-art when launched, one of the twelve third-generation Vesta class vessels to boast the latest 25th Century technologies. Despite this T’Leia still remembered the teething problems they encountered during their shakedown cruise to Memory Alpha; over the years the crew have modified and tuned the Hastings to exceptional efficiency — T’Leia herself made extensive modifications to the weapon arrays, partly to maximize firepower, but mainly to compensate for the ship’s inherent weaknesses.
Yes, the ship had weaknesses inherent in her design. No amount of tinkering would overcome that, so T’Leia was always considering these weaknesses before they entered a firefight… for all her technologies, the Hastings was a sleek vessel with a light hull; she was never designed to engage in a sustained firefight. T’Leia found herself already pondering this as she stepped on to the bridge.
About half the senior command staff were already present: First Officer Commander McKinney and Science Officer Anon were just taking up their respective positions, but the captain hasn’t yet arrived. T’Leia headed straight for the tactical station, relieving the nightwatch officer ensign. She quickly brought up the main tactical displays, checking weapon statuses, power settings, a quick count of torpedo inventory, and fired off a request for flight deck to report in. All this was done efficiently, honed from years of training and experience until it was second nature.
“Captain on the bridge,”
At the announcement, Commander McKinney rose from the captain’s chair and yielded it to the CO. T’Leia turned her head and exchanged a quick look with Captain Daniels — his demeanor was grim, but even then he flashed her a brief smile before he took his seat.
“Ship-wide broadcast,” He told the communication officer, before tapping the panel on his armrest. “This is Captain Daniels. We have just received a level one distress call from New Romulus; the Romulan Republic is under attack by a massive alien fleet consisting of both space and ground forces. I have already ordered maximum warp, our ETA to New Romulus is now under two hours. I want all departments to be ready for battle in one. Good luck, Daniels out.”
“Status report,” The captain smoothly continued to the bridge crew.
“We are currently traveling at Warp 9.9,” The helmsman was the first to report. “Deflector shields are at capacity.”
“Engineering reports impulse engines are primed and ready,” The First Officer noted.
“All auxiliary ship systems are optimal,” Lt. Commander Anon added.
“Communications with New Romulus is still intermittent, captain,” The comm officer noted. “It looks like they are being jammed.”
“Of course they are,” Captain Daniels tapped his panel a few more times. “Advise Starfleet of the situation, and request any reinforcements they could send.”
“All weapons are on standby. Torpedo bays are ready. Unlocking auxiliary cannons.” T’Leia reported, pausing only to read the latest report that came in from flight deck. “However, the extra supplies we are carrying will slow down attack-shuttle launch.”
“Any idea what we are up against?” McKinney jumped in.
T’Leia studied the fuzzy images included in the Romulan distress signal. “I cannot make a positive identification of the alien force based on these images, but the general configuration of this particular vessel displays some similarity to the alien ship designated “Target Alpha” by the Romulan Republic. Working with that assumption, I could review Target Alpha’s specs and determine countermeasures specific to the alien design.”
“Maybe they just wanted their ship back,” McKinney supposed wryly, to which Captain Daniels shook his head.
“Do it, commander,” The captain told T’Leia. “I want a status update from everyone in 30 minutes.”
There was no need to acknowledge that last general command; everyone knew what they had to do. For T’Leia, her immediate task was to scan through the Romulan report on Target Alpha, looking for anything that would help them in the coming battle. In the back of her mind, T’Leia privately wondered if her redemption would come today, after all.
T’Leia stepped into the captain’s ready room, and found Captain Daniels standing, looking out the narrow window while the starfield zipped by. He was clearly in a sober mood — rightly so, as in another eighteen minutes they would be in battle.
“I have gone over the specifications of Target Alpha,” T’Leia came to stand before the captain’s desk, hands held behind her back. “The alien weapons are destructive, but slow to charge. For defense the ship relies primarily on its shielding; structural engineering is comparatively weak, which I believe we can exploit.”
Captain Daniels turned his head to regard T’Leia, and broke into a wry smile. “I’m sure you got it covered, Commander, but that’s not what I want to see you about.”
T’Leia quirked a brow curiously, but held her tongue and allowed the captain to continue. “I wanted to talk about you. Well, us.” He clarified, sounding just a little awkward.
“Captain, this is perhaps not the best time for this conversation,” T’Leia replied simply.
Daniels shook his head, and turned to face T’Leia. “It isn’t. And it never is.” Again he paused, as if gathering his thoughts. “But the latest report we received from New Romulus is their home fleet is barely holding the line. We’re heading into a battle at a major disadvantage, and there are things I want to say when I still have the chance.”
T’Leia pursed her lips, her brows furrowing slightly. There was little doubt in her mind what this was about: she and the captain have had this unresolved issue that both chose to ignore. It needed to be resolved one way or another, so she nodded. “Very well, captain.”
Daniels stepped closer to T’Leia, and she could see his features soften. “T’Leia, I know we agreed long ago that we should keep our relationship purely professional. And I know you have said it’s the logical thing to do, since I am your commanding officer. Don’t get me wrong, I still think that was the right thing to do — but it hasn’t been easy.”
T’Leia listened. Once or twice she opened her mouth to speak, but ultimately did not interrupt. What could she say, after all? Everything he said was true. The attraction between Daniels and herself was mutual and immediate, and it took over a year before he ever divulged his feelings… and that was only because they were stranded together after the shuttlecraft accident. Although they both decided a romantic relationship was inappropriate, and chose to forget the whole conversation, things were never quite the same again. T’Leia suspected that human emotions would make it far more difficult for Daniels to deal with, but she trusted in his professionalism. Still, a new tension existed between them ever since, an invisible boundary which they constantly had to be mindful of, a boundary that they should not cross.
“Thing is, T’Leia,” Daniels reached up to scratch awkwardly at his forehead. “After all this time, I’m still attracted to you. That’s just how I feel; I can’t help it.”
T’Leia frowned again. “Captain, our attraction to each other is irrelevant; we agreed to that. I am your chief tactical officer; in your official capacity as captain of this ship, you may need to make the difficult decision to put any member of your crew at risk, including me. A personal relationship would be inappropriate, perhaps even detrimental to the welfare of the entire crew.”
Daniels smiled weakly. “You don’t think I can make that difficult call, if I needed to? Sacrificing someone I love to save the ship and the crew?”
“On the contrary, I believe you can.” T’Leia answered with a nod. “I simply do not wish to put you in that position. I have learned that regret is an emotion that is extremely difficult for humans to cope with.”
“Your concern is touching,” Daniels had to laugh. “But listen: you have served aboard the Hastings for two years with distinction and valor; you and McKinney are like my left and right hands. As loathed as I am to lose either of you, Starfleet has requested every starship captain to recommend promising candidates for command positions…”
“Command?” T’Leia couldn’t quite hide her surprise at the seeming abrupt change of topics.
“…Yes, command. The first ships of the expansion program will be commissioned within six months; they are screening for command staff now. I’ve been planning to recommend both McKinney and you.”
T’Leia pursed her lips momentarily. “I am grateful. But, you have brought up two disparate topics; surely there is a connection.”
Daniels nodded and scratched his forehead some more. “Yes, well. If and when you are no longer under my command, I assume we would no longer have this potential conflict of interest, that we can perhaps pursue a more personal relationship.” He hastened to add. “If that is alright with you, that is.”
T’Leia observed Daniels closely, gauging him. “I would hope that this was not the motivation for your recommendation, captain.” Her Vulcan logic reasserted itself. “Because that would be a prime example of conflict of interest.”
“Hell no,” Daniels shook his head vehemently. “I suspected you might ask that, but no. You’ve earned my recommendation fair and square, based on your professional performance and history. Remember, when you’re the captain of your own ship, we won’t be seeing a lot of each other. That’s hardly conductive to developing a personal relationship! No, if I had no professional integrity whatsoever that I’d pull something like this, the last thing I would do is to send you off to the opposite end of the galaxy.”
T’Leia had to agree it was a logical explanation. “I apologize. I did not intend to imply you would compromise your professional integrity, Captain. I have worked with you for two years, that I should know better.”
“No harm done,” He waved it off, then ran his fingers through his short brown hair. “Between the two of us, I don’t have a good feeling about this fight we’re about to join. Like I said, I want to let you know while I still have a chance.”
T’Leia nodded slowly, silent and contemplative for a moment as she studied Daniels’ face. As captain of the vessel, he has trained himself to put on a brave face for his crew, and it was only to her that he showed worry and doubt. Perhaps it was his mix of stern public demeanor and genuine private vulnerability that attracted T’Leia, a quality that no Vulcan man possessed.
“I appreciate your doing so, Captain.” She paused. “Jack. Perhaps you are correct; perhaps future circumstances will be so that a personal relationship between us can be pursued. I would find it…. agreeable.” T’Leia reached out to lightly take his hand, a gesture that seemed to surprise Daniels. It was a human gesture meant to reassure, and T’Leia has learned that it provided emotional support for humans at difficult times.
“We will survive today.”