Her contemplation was interrupted the sharp crack of branches, and she turned to see a figure stumble through the thicket at the trailhead several a dozen meters back from the ledge. She recognized the Admiral. He waved her at ease before she could completely rise and rested his hands on his knees, bent over, taking deep even breaths.
“Are you alright Sir?” Lahn asked with some concern as she got to her feet. She may not have to stand at attention, but she wasn’t going to lounge. Her equilibrium twisted at the sudden motion and she split her focus for several seconds between remaining upright and on the condition of the Admiral. His skin was slightly pale for a Tellarite, though the bodyguards on alert from a discrete distance seemed scarcely winded. Unlike the Admiral, they moved with a professional grace around the terrain. The lead gave her a shallow nod – recognition among professionals, she supposed, even as she took note of his weapons.
“I was told,” The Admiral rasped between breaths. “the doctors pulled enough Borg hardware off you to make an exocomp and name it Lahn. I was also told, you were instructed to take it easy.” He held up a hand to silence Lahn’s protests. “And yet, here you are hiking the mountains of Bajor.” He slapped away the invasion of twigs and leaves from his uniform.
“I transported here, Sir.” Lahn kept her tone innocent, having mentioned the trail before transporting down, precisely to let the tangled Bajoran trails defend her from unwanted guests.
The Admiral stopped mid-breath as his face screwed up into a scowl. “Fine.” He slowly straightened, gazing down the long, twisted trail that Bajoran guides called ‘challenging’ and then across the ravine. “This would be gorgeous if I didn’t feel like puking.” His attention turned back to Lahn. “Your doctor says you’re recovering well.”
Lahn sat up a little straighter, as if to emphasis the doctor’s assessment. “I’m eager to get started. Captain Myles received a communication from the photonic Yassal a month ago, to join her near the Kremin system when they could.”
“Yes, that was in her report. I hope you find out how the photonic made it through the Jenolan sphere. Between the full quarantine and the anti-borg protocols--” He shook his head letting his tirade drain away. The tone of his voice switched with the topic. ” You know you can’t take the U.S.S. Grungnir to Delta. We need it for other operations.”
Lahn paused, her jaw set. She nodded, expecting that once the faux federation ship made by the Iconians had been recovered, Starfleet priorities would change -- her personal stake in things would be conveniently forgotten. Still, she kept her tone crisp and professional. “The Grungnir is a top grade destroyer, and the Iconian situation takes precedence. We’ll go where you need us.”
“I said the Grungnir is going. I’m putting Commander Grupiro in command.”
Lahn swallowed. She’d anticipated being beggared off the mission, but not to lose command of the Grungnir. “I see.” She said, forcing her gaze back to the cloudbank to buy time to consider the Admiral’s motivation.
“I don’t think you do, Captain. Losing a quarter of the fleet was a serious blow. We can make ships far faster than we can train people to crew them. Academy graduates are starting out as Lieutenants, commanding ensigns and enlisted that have only seen action on a holodeck. They need support and leadership, which means promoting those with any experience at all and redistributing them to balance those who don’t. It dilutes our talent, but there’s no other way. At the same time, there’s your photonic, who is no insignificant threat. I need to you resolve this, but I can’t commit a Destroyer. Hell, I can’t even commit Captain Myles and she practically begged to let her go with you the moment we figure out how to pull out her – whatever he is – out of the ship and into a proper body. You’re to meet up with Captain M’Resh of the U.S.S. Curare. It’s a Mercury class, about the size of the San Paulo you commanded. His orders are to get you to Delta, assist you in completing your mission objectives, and bring you back safely.”
“What about the Grungnir?”
“The Grungnir is outside your mission scope.” The admiral’s answer was brief, but Lahn could fill the silence. Delta was far from stable and between the Borg, the Voth, the Vaadwaur and hostiles as yet unknown, the less Lahn knew about federation fleet movements the better. Need to know. But the Admiral’s words were an icy cut that separated her from her crew – those she had taken care of and been taken care of. Those she may never see again.
A hasty comm call lead to a guard whispering to the Admiral quickly who departed without and additional word. She was alone with the Bajoran wildnerness again, but the feeling was gone. She’d hidden and been found. The location was spoiled. She transported to the Grungnir first. Grupiro was sullen in the Captain’s chair and handled the transfer of duties with monosyllabic efficiency, as they walked the ship, weaving around technicians completing repairs started at DS9. Panels remained dark, pulled out of their niches to offer a glimpse of the tangle of conduits that were hidden by pristine walls on every deck. Sparks and curses – a ship under repair. Lahn paused occasionally – pretending to examine some patch or repair – to rest before the next leg. While the crewmen might have been fooled, Grupiro was not, and added her own pauses and points of interest when she felt Lahn needed a break. Given enough breaks, Lahn appeared competent enough crossing the bridge to her – Grupiro’s Ready Room.
The Ready Room wasn’t empty. Captain Myles was there, and was across the room as soon as the door closed, hugging Lahn so fiercely she thought her ribs would crack. She returned the embrace to hold off the instinct to struggle, claw, and get free – consulmed by the the wild panic that coursed through her very being. Myles’ cold skin that had an acrid, mineral scent. Her faceplate dug into Lahn’s neck with the same force as her metallic fingertips. The faint whirr of Myles’ machinery forced forward the memories of her own assimilation. Lahn conjured warmer memories of Captain Myles – Andrea – to put everything into a better, safer place. Andrea had no such conflict, and her grip was pure. Lahn tried to match the abandon, but the gap between being loved and the memory of loving was too great. Lahn was relieved at being released.
Andrea was Captain Myles again, standing much more primly. “You are looking well, Captain.”
“Far better than when you last saw me, but there are only two Captains here.” Lahn said, with a nod toward Myles and Grupiro, who scowled.
“I wanted a command. But not this way. Rattatoskr—“
“Is gone.” Lahn said with finality, and they were silent. “I cannot think of anyone I would want commanding Grungnir in my place.” Lahn paused to see that Grupiro was at least somewhat mollified. She didn’t trust herself on the topic, and turned to the other captain to complete the course change. “How is Helm?”
“Adapting.” Myles replied. “At first, I think, he was desperate to get back to a more humanoid form – we both were -- but he’s settling into the ships systems. I think with some gelpack overlays we can make the ship’s systems more…neurological, to turn the ships sensors into…”
“Something more like sensation.” Lahn finished. Myles regarded her briefly with her silver, pupil-less eyes, then briefly nodded, finding the description sufficient.
“It certainly changes the relationship.” Grupiro in a knowing tone.
Myles responded with a slight tilt of her head. “Why do you say that?”
Grupiro glanced worriedly at Lahn, who responded with her own headtilt and a faint smile. Grupiro would find no rescue from her. Grupiro stammered, her blush starting at her lobes and flowing across her cheeks. “You two had found a certain – accommodation…”
“Accomodation.” Lahn repeated approvingly. Grupiro’s blush deepend and she burned a brief glare at Lahn.
Captain Myles drew herself up a little taller, straightening her tunic. Her tone was aloof. “My Accomodations are my own.”
Lahn took the moment to lower herself to the couch with a shaky breath. She stared at Myles hard enough to draw a curious stare in return before she asked, “Why don’t you tell me about the parts of Yassal’s message that weren’t in your report? Oh, don’t look at me in that tone of voice. We spent most of our time creatively editing our reports.”
Myles sat across from her, again her eyes flicked over Lahn, her hands flexing slowly as she did so. “I left very little out – I saw no reason to do so.” She held up her hand to cut off Lahn’s response. “But – the message used a carrier phase similar to that used on Borg drones. It didn’t seem unusual at the time, but I have since seen Cooperative signals. This carrier was produced by borg technology but is neither Borg nor Cooperative. It is a carrier I do not recognize.”
Lahn sat back slowly on the couch, her brow knit in thought. There was certainly enough Borg debris in the Syllerran Sector to salvage usable technology to establish subspace communications. She stood. “I should get to the Curare.”
Myles caught arm, looking up, her concerned expression punctuated by the cold silver of her eyes. “Lahn, be careful. It wasn’t just the carrier I didn’t recognize. What I forked from the Lester device should have been a copy of Yassal, but it didn’t feel like the Yassal I remembered. I very much regret my part in all of this – I can’t tell you how long I’ve wanted to tell you how Sor-“
Lahn shook her head, slowly rising, and not too proud to take Myles’ offered arm. “You were Yassal’s friend. You did what I – what Yassal asked. Perhaps I could have found a way to reach her, back then, so she hadn’t felt the need to take things so far. There are things I wish had turned out better, but I regret nothing. I’ll find the photonic Yassal created. I’ll help her, heal her, or destroy her. Whatever is necessary.”
Transporting to the Curare put her right into the dim confines of Captain M’Resh’s ready room. The Caitain before her was a good head taller, and lean, but his nose was punched in, giving his face a round, almost chubby look. His ears were laid back far enough to blend into is inky fur, his as he regarded her with narrow, amber eyes.
“Captain M’Resh.” Lahn said with crisp efficiency. “I look forward to—“
“I do not.” M’Resh said simply. His nostrils flickered, and his voice was a barely concealed snarl. “Let me be plain. Your rank is captain. I am the Captain. You will not give orders to my crew without my prior consent. In the event of an alert, you are to go to your quarters, so that my crew can do their job. You will not hamper, detain, or otherwise occupy my crew from their duties. Am I clear?”
Lahn remained crisp, even as she felt anything but. “Perfectly. You are to head to the Jenolean gateway. From there we will head into the Delta Quadrant.”
M’Resh abruptly turned away to his desk, her presence clearly a bother. “What is your destination, Captain?”
Lahn felt a chilly suspicion creep over her. “That is classified. You will be informed on your heading as you need to know.” She shifted her stance to convey far more ease than she felt as he looked up from his desk. “You have your orders, Captain.”
M’Resh snorted. “I do. Doesn’t mean I have to like them. I’d rather be fighting the Iconians, not ferrying the Butcher of Thierrull II around.” Lahn’s passive facade was wasted on M’Resh whose attention had already returned the ghostly lights of his desk console. “Of course I know about that. I was stationed on New Romulus about that time. Classified orders. Classified locations. Classified targets. The only thing that wasn’t classified were those left behind. So don’t tell me where we’re going, Captain Lahn. I don’t need to know where we’re going to know I won’t like it. No one will."