Starfleet Command, Episode 1: The Cheapest and Most Common Quality of Human Nature, Part 5

The mountain chill bit into Eden’s skin the moment the glow of the transporter released her, crisp and icy air that had poured all its water down into the crystalline lake spread out below her burning in her lungs. No matter how perfect her memory was, she was never ready for the sheer scope of Mirror Lake – the ancient volcanic caldera near the spine of the Blackfoot Range had torn its top away in an explosion of incomparable violence a few hundred thousand years before, and the lake that now filled it had been gaining a few centimeters of water every season since. She turned slowly, letting the shivers under her folded arms hold back the cold a few minutes more, and looked down past the south rim toward the vast ebonywood forest that stretched all the way down across the glacier-cut Sonoma Valley to the mile-long falls of Tucker’s Gorge seventeen kilometers away. The obsidian sand that lined the river glittered up between the branches of the trees, a smothered field of stars in the moonlight, and the sky above her was a vault of alien constellations undisturbed by any hint of civilization’s lights.

Sol is so bright here… when looking at it from even this short distance, it is hard to believe how much has changed there. I can see why Carson would choose to live here… two seas of stars, one above and one below. Sonoma is one of the great natural wonders of the Centauri system… dangerous and beautiful, with no resources that would encourage its exploitation in an era of replicators and warp cores. The glass is a wonder… ranging from grains small enough to be caught up by a stray breeze to shards three inches long, strewn widely enough by an ancient glacier that anyone walking through the valley needs thick boots or shoes with special soles to avoid serious injury. It also means that there are almost no large, ground-dwelling animals in Sonoma – there are haired lizards the size of a shrew that forage for nuts, but the large predators are aerial or arboreal. Curl-tailed tree-cats, large gliding amphibians that begin their lives as fishlike creatures in the pools of water formed in the great leaves of the basin trees before climbing out to swoop down on the lizard-squirrels, creatures the size of a large eagle that resemble an Earth pterosaur with a single long, venomous barb on the tip of the jaw, that soar below the treeline with an agility that would startle even the most dextrous hawk. An animal with the overall body plan of a chimpanzee but a chitinous exoskeleton like that of a locust rather than fur, a segmented tail that can retract into its body, and that will eat anything organic that it can grab with its clever-fingered hands. If I wanted to live on a planet, I’d likely live here.

Eventually, cold drove her up the narrow path to the formation of rock and dark wood which only close inspection and a keen eye for reflective glass would have identified as a house without the slender streamers of smoke that spilled from its spire-like chimney. The door opened at her touch, keyed to recognize her, and when she opened it the thick warmth of a house heated by an old-fashioned stove instead of some more modern, sensitive alternative. She smiled at the feel of natural fire, stepping entirely past the door to allow it to slide closed again, and rested her hand on the wall next to it. “Carson… are you home?” 

“Cooking, but I’ll be with you in a moment. Take a seat in the sitting room – the parlor’s closed up for the night, it’ll be freezing by now.” Carson’s voice was as warm as the room, though she could taste his surprise and pleasure in the air at the unannounced visit. “Make yourself at home, Eden.”

“Thank you, sir.” Eden blushed lightly at the instinctive honorific – she now outranked Carson Reese, but long habit and deeply held respect drew the word out without thought. “I think the river has brought more obsidian downstream… the valley seemed uncharacteristically bright tonight.”

 “We had a rockslide a few weeks ago upstream – I took some readings and forwarded them to the University of New London, assuming they still have a geologist on staff to look at them. Nature likes her little surprises. It’s a bit late for coffee, Klingon or otherwise – will hot chocolate do?” She could hear the soft hiss of the stove, and the gentle click and bubble of pots and pans as he worked, and hung her uniform jacket in the hallway next to a well-worn coat and her boots beside a thick pair of hiking boots with the polymer soles specifically designed to fend off the cutting floor of the valley below.

“Hot chocolate sounds quite good. I’ve had enough raktijino for one day already… as well as enough excitement.” The chair nearest the stove gave comfortably under her weight, not soft enough to make her feel as if she might drown in it but not so hard as to enforce alertness. “I arrived to a message from Havel asking me to meet with her, and, until I got to Sonoma, my day has continued to go downhill from there.”

“How is Masako, these days?” A tall, lean man in a plain blue synthetic shirt and dark wool slacks carried two well-laden trays in from the kitchen, setting one on the small table beside Eden’s chair and the other beside the larger chair just a little farther from the stove, then doubled back for a fresh mug of hot chocolate and a tall glass of some sort of spice tea she couldn’t have named from the smell but suspected was Vulcan. Carson Reese might be well past eighty years old, hair laced with white, skin lined with a lifetime of grief and tanned by a thousand distant suns, but he still carried himself with the erect dignity of a Starfleet officer; his vividly blue eyes were still as fiercely intelligent and as unyielding as the first time Ensign Eden Enigma had met her Captain’s father, and his smile a great deal more relaxed than it had been then. If there was a shadow of pain that lingered on the sense of him like a sheen on water, he seemed to pay it no mind. “Still reading too much Thatcher and Carlton?”

“She’s… herself. I think I’ve made certain that she won’t have me killed in the next two years or so, though.” Eden leaned forward to take her drink from Carson. “How long do you expect it to be before she decides to run the Federation from the foreground instead of the background again?”

“Could be tomorrow, could be never.” He offered her a small, rueful smile as he settled into his chair, touching his mug to hers. “Would it make any real difference in how policy is made?”

“Not really. The woman’s going to run the Federation until she dies.” Eden lifted her mug in a toast before sipping the chocolate. He always has the best cocoa. “I suppose we could do worse.”

He shook his head, sighing softly, and stared into the ruby glow of the grate with distant eyes. “I suppose she could fairly describe herself as a patriot, which is better than some. Of course, ‘fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim,’ so that isn’t quite all the recommendation we might wish for.”

Eden brushed her finger against the handle of her mug. “How have you been, Carson?”

“Checking up on me?” He quirked a small smile at her, setting down his tea and picking up his fork to start on the eggs, bacon and potatoes still warm on his tray. “I walk in the valley most days, and I’ve nearly finished Turmak’s Histories. I’ll likely reread Samuel Clemens next, with perhaps a sampling of Jane Sykes to keep him company. I see a few friends now and then, though not many. I listen to the mountains.” He paused to take a bite, chewing and swallowing it carefully, and then offered Eden a very gentle smile as he dredged a few more old words from his memory – a habit he’d shared with his wife and passed on to his daughter. “‘And here, too, one learns that the world, though made, is yet being made; that this is still the morning of creation.’”

“I will have to join you on one of your walks, soon.” Eden set her cup aside, resting her hands in her lap. “If I could, I would do so in the morning, but I have to start my work then.”

Pointing to her tray with his fork, Carson arched an expectant eyebrow at her and waited until she picked it up before speaking. “And you, Eden? Are you taking care of yourself?”

Eden smiled at the food for a moment before speaking. “As well as I can, though my day today convinced me that perhaps the healthiest thing I could do would be to retire.”

“Trying to set a personal record for overwork, or did something else change your mind?” As much as Carson affected carelessness in phrasing the question, she could feel the way his chest tightened in concern. I, his daughter-in-law, am his only living relative… he lost his wife at Earth, where she gave her seat on an evacuation transport to a young woman and her daughter. His children were all killed in the war as well… Charles at the Thedas V colony, when the Borg bombed the primary settlement to destroy the control systems for the orbital defenses before beaming drones down to assimilate the outlying settlements, Richard on Starbase 14 when the fusion generators overloaded while trying to compensate for a Borg cutting beam attack, Grant on the Merrimack when the stardrive section self-destructed less than a kilometer from a sphere to allow the saucer time to escape into a vernion nebula, and Alexandria… my wife… on Sovereign. I don’t want to answer this question… but he’d know if I was hiding this.

“Terran assassin. Feathers and my new adjutant stopped him.”

“Terran?” His eyes sharpened as he took in the shock of it, the finely honed tactical instrument behind them that even years of retirement hadn’t rusted already dissecting the situation for new information. “For you, specifically, in spite of the fact that as far as we know nobody outside of the inner circle at Starfleet Command and the Council knew about your promotion before you arrived in-system. You didn’t even send me a message until Columbia dropped out of warp.” His lips tightened. “Not a good sign.”

“I don’t think the assassin was meant to succeed. It wasn’t an attempt on my life. It was a message, delivered by way of phaser beam. ‘We know everything. We are everywhere.’ That’s what she was telling us.” Eden sighed. “Our intelligence on them is horribly inadequate, and they know our most deeply-held secrets.”

“‘She’?” Carson picked out the single unintentional revelation with a single word, as adroitly as one of the clever-fingered apes of the valley would have snatched up a meal.

“I… really don’t want to think about that part.” Eden sighed. “What the assassin said… there’s only one person who would have known to push that particular button with me. It’s Alexandria’s counterpart… the leader of their Starfleet.”

Carson was very still for a long moment, breathing through the shared pain that welled up in the warm shadows of the room, and then fixed his eyes on her. “She’s not going to be an easy opponent – not least because she knows how to get under your skin. What do we…” Another breath, and another careful squeeze of his fingers against the curve of his mug. “What precisely do we know about her?”

“She’s ruthless. As brilliant as… brilliant. Loyal to the Empress… we have evidence that the two of them are lovers, with a relationship more… more like would be expected on our side of the veil than on theirs. She’s Sato’s right hand, and she holds true control over Starfleet.”

His pain was a dagger in both their chests, but he bore down on it and kept his eyes on hers with the crystalline focus that had made him one of Starfleet’s finest tacticians in the War. The same bloody-minded, stubborn single-mindedness that in his daughter’s hands had saved the USS Sovereign and her crew a dozen times over. “That’s one point of leverage – if she cares about Sato enough to be loyal to her, she’ll overreact to any threat to her. What else matters to her – family? Proteges? Enemies?”

“We really don’t know.” Eden closed her eyes for a long moment. “As I said, our intelligence is scarce.”

“Then it sounds as if you’re going to have your work cut out for you.” Carson reached out and took her hand, and the gentleness of his smile broke the hard shell of his concentration. “Which means you’re going to need plenty of rest. Why don’t you stay down here as often as you can get away? I know I’d be glad of the company, and I suspect you’ll sleep better here than you would there.”

“I certainly won’t refuse that offer.” Eden smiled softly. “I think this would be an easier place to relax… at the very least, I feel safer here than on Starbase 01.”

His smile warmed, and he let her hand go with a light squeeze and a gentle chuckle. “Not to mention that I’ll certainly feed you better.”

“True. Your cooking is much better than the replicator’s.” Eden laughed softly. “I might even cook for you, on occasion.”

“Be still, my heart.” Carson finished his potatoes with a few careful bites, then crooked a grin at her that was all fond amusement. “Believe it or not, I even know a man who can get me real cayenne, oregano and thyme. I trade him onions out of my garden for spices, and we both live more comfortably for it.”

“I’d love to meet the man who can get cayenne to grow in Centauri soil… I’ve not seen a real cayenne pepper, apart from my dried reserves that ran out two years ago, in ten years.” Eden shook her head with a smile. “Amazing.”

“I’m fairly certain that if I introduce him to an attractive young woman who actually knows her spices, Douglas will be showering me with free vegetables for a year.” Carson’s eyes twinkled, and he finished the last of his tea with a glow of satisfaction to his sense as warm as the stove in front of them. “Finish your food, Eden.”

“Yes, sir.” Eden carefully cleaned her plate, a small smile resting on her face as she settled deeper into her chair. I could get used to this… and I suppose that this could be home, after a fashion.

When Carson collected her empty dishes and tucked a blanket across her shoulders, she barely stirred, and he chuckled softly into the close warmth of the room. “Rest, Eden. It’s been too long since you did.” Still shaking his head in amusement, he tidied up the kitchen before weighing the merits of carrying her upstairs to a bed. In the end, he settled for tucking a pillow gently under her cheek and leaving her be.

No father could have kissed his daughter’s forehead more tenderly than he did before he finally started up the stairs to bed.

Starfleet Command, Episode 1: The Cheapest and Most Common Quality of Human Nature, Part 4

How did such a… frightened… little man reach the Admiralty? Eden shook her head as she walked away from the office of Admiral Leonard Pinkens, Chief of Starfleet Research and Development. Perhaps that is why we’ve been building so many escorts… they’re the only new starships he could reach the controls of. “Intelligence is next, I believe.”

“Aye, Admiral.” Tysair Syet checked the PADD in her hand, then offered Eden a weary smile that had just a spark of laughter to it. “Your slave-driving habits have gotten us through nearly the entire Admiralty in one day. I have to admit that I’m impressed.”

“The Admiral does not believe in letting the prey escape over the horizon.” Feathers, who Pinkens’s staff had nervously persuaded to stay outside for the interview, eased up out of the comfortable crouch she’d been waiting in and fell in beside her Admiral with a satisfied snap of her jaws. “It is something I have always liked about her.”

“I find I get more honest reactions from people when they’re surprised to see me. Though this lot…” Eden shook her head. “Starfleet used to train all its admirals in at least the basics of telepathic defense. I could read everyone except Admiral Sutek effortlessly.”

“I’d be more worried about that if more of them seemed to be actually running their departments.” Syet’s lips compressed into a narrow line that conveyed disappointment even more effectively than her sense. “Did you notice how often they had to consult their terminals to answer your questions, Admiral?”

“There is that,” Eden admitted. “Though at least most of them seem to have some interest in the work they’re supposed to be doing. There are a few of them who I’m rather glad appear to be handing most of their work over to the bureaucrats… can you imagine Starfleet Medical if Yadris were actually running it?”

Feathers clicked her teeth in what the translator would have rendered into a sneering laugh, if it had been programmed to render such things. She swiveled her head, lifting it on her long neck, and looked into Eden’s eyes with both of her own. “They are all there to defer to the matriarch by bowing their heads as low as possible.”

“‘Seasons don’t fear the Reaper, nor do the winds and the summer rains.’ They simply let themselves be, and try not to grow tall enough to be cut down. In hopes that the harvest never comes, they never ripen.” Eden shook her head. “So they stand, weak, not seeing the storm on the horizon. Unripened grain that can’t be harvested before the season changes is worthless.”

Tysair glanced at her, and couldn’t quite fight down a fresh well of laughter. “Admiral, have you ever considered that you missed a promising career as a poet?”

“Metaphor, I can do. Verse escapes me.” Eden stopped at another door. “If memory serves, and it always does, this is Starfleet Intelligence. I doubt anyone there will voice a problem with you joining me, Feathers.”

Feathers bared her teeth in answering humor. “Counting the number of times they have tried to recruit me, I think not.”

“Computer, open door. Authorization Enigma Beta Bet…” The door slid open. “Oh. Thank you.”

The slender Cardassian Lieutenant who stood in the doorway smiled pleasantly – or at least, what looked like pleasantly – and waved her inside. “Rear Admiral Maret will see you in her office, Vice Admiral Reese-Enigma. If Captains Ssthrx’kel’sh*lekxper and Tysair will accompany me, I will see that they receive appropriate refreshment during your meeting – their security clearances are still being processed. May I bring you anything while you are with the Admiral, Vice Admiral?”

“No thank you, Lieutenant.” Eden crossed the room quickly. At least Intelligence knows my preferred form of address. Now, if they know the leaders of two Great Houses and the Emperor of the Romulan Dominion, I’ll be impressed.

The inner office door hissed open without any prompting from her, admitting her into a warm, dark office whose decor was spartan at best. The middle-aged Cardassian woman seated behind the desk stood when Eden entered, offering her a respectful salute and waving her to a chair. “Raktijino with a twist of mint, Vice Admiral? I plan to have a glass of kanar, myself, but I understand that you drank with the President this morning and I will not attempt to compete with her larder.”

“A raktijino would be wonderful. Thank you, Admiral.” Eden took a seat opposite the Cardassian. “It’s likely to the best that you didn’t offer me the kanar… I appear to have developed a slight intolerance for rak’tir sugars in the last few years.”

“How unfortunate.” The hollows just under Maret’s cheekboness made her features even more serpentine than those of most Cardassians, as well as giving her entire face a slightly hungry cast that made her smiles more than a little disconcerting. She replicated the raktijino and poured her own kanar with a long-fingered grace worthy of a professional conjurer, then settled back into her seat with a slight tilt of her head that was probably meant to look inquisitive rather than sinister. Probably. “To what do I owe the pleasure of the visit, Vice Admiral?”

“Social call.” Eden leaned forward, reaching for her coffee. “Getting to know the new neighbors.”

Maret’s lips peeled back across her teeth in a laughing smile. “I am always happy to entertain visitors – we Cardassians are famous for our social graces. Shall we discuss the school reports of my children, or your father-in-law’s health?”

“I would prefer to discuss the health of Emperor Aurelian.” Eden sipped her coffee before folding her hands in her lap. “Being the only humanoid in a ruling tribunal with two changelings should be significantly more unhealthy than it has turned out to be.”

“It seems that he has been able to obtain certain assurances from his … guests. Something to the effect of the sudden, violent collapse of his government if anything untoward were to happen to him. As a result, they appear to be very concerned with his well-being.”

“I didn’t think anyone save for perhaps Ben Sisko could effectively hold something over a changeling’s head. Apparently I was wrong.”

“Aurelian is a very competent survivor. His talents in that area are worthy of a Cardassian.” Maret’s expression might have been mistaken for a sort of admiration, if her eyes had not been quite so cold. “Speaking of survivors, have you had the opportunity to do any reading about Master Grax?”

“Twelve assassination attempts, the destruction of six starships with him aboard, two hunting accidents, three stabbings in personal combat that we know of, and enough war wounds to fell a Rish matriarch four times over. And every time he goes into an infirmary, he comes out with another minor House and two more scores of mercenaries following him.” Eden shook her head. “A generation ago, his House was on the edge of being dissolved. Now, he may be on the edge of taking leadership of the High Council through force of arms.”

“Not bad for the son of a woman who once married a Ferengi.” Maret shook her head in something just shy of wonder and not quite loathing. “Fourteen assassination attempts, actually. Four of which were ours.”

“If there’s one thing the rise of the Republic should teach us, it is to never underestimate the Ferengi. Perhaps Grax carries some of his mother’s ex-husband’s blood, and that is what has kept him safe.” Eden smiled thinly. “Grax isn’t going to take the Empire, though… there’s too much passionate opposition to him. If need be, Martok’s sons will put aside their blood feud and destroy him.”

Maret reached for her kanar, lingering over it before looking up at Eden again. “There is a more… disturbing possibility. We have unreliable reports that Grax may be attempting to court one of Martok’s daughters – or Kurn, the son of Worf. Or both.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me. Grax is remarkably willing to learn from other cultures… perhaps he’s been reading about the Lagashi between battles. That willingness is the source of both a great deal of his strength and of much of the opposition to him.”

“It would be a very dangerous alliance, should it come to pass.” Maret clicked her teeth together lightly. “I was preparing an operational suggestion to move against it for Admiral Sinclair before his unfortunate death.”

“Has station security made any headway into the investigation into Sinclair’s death?” Eden tilted her head. “My predecessors have had remarkably short lifespans. I intend to live to a ripe old age, and knowing who killed Sinclair would ease my mind a great deal.”

“It appears that it was a personal matter. A civilian from Alpha Centauri known to have connections among those who manage gambling halls and more … interesting entertainments.” Maret’s lip curved in distaste. “It appears that the Vice Admiral suggested that, because of his station and influence, he had no need to repay his debts. The sentiment was not shared by the civilian or his friends.”

“A gambling debt? Well, at least I have little to worry about there. No debt, and the only gambling I do is poker with friends.”

“At which, I understand, you usually turn a considerable profit.”

“I believe I will forgo playing with you, Admiral. I get the feeling that you would know my hand before I have drawn it.”

Maret spread her hands, and her smile warmed into something approaching good humor. “A matter of professional pride, Vice Admiral. I’m sure you understand.”

“I quite understand professional pride.” Eden took one last drink of her coffee before setting the empty cup aside. “As I am certain you know.”

“Of course.” Maret inclined her head in a traditional Cardassian gesture of respect. “Is there anything else neighborly which Intelligence can do for you, sir?”

“I have spoken with the President about increasing our activities in the Mirror Universe, and she has agreed. I’ll need to meet with you at some point in the coming week to work out the details.”

“Ah, yes. Your theory about the faithful paladin of the Terran Empress.” Maret leaned forward, her eyes suddenly very intent. “That information did not come from one of my reports, or from one of my agents. We have, in fact, been able to assemble virtually nothing about the present composition of Imperial Starfleet Command. Which leads to me to the question, Vice Admiral, of how you know so much more about the workings of Terran high politics than any of our intelligence agents?”

“We had a transporter accident on Enterprise in 2404. Two of my crew were traded with their counterparts, and gave a report on the Terrans’ activities on their recovery. Since then, I’ve maintained a small group of operatives in the Empire. It’s been a high-risk job, and the amount of intelligence gained has been less than satisfactory, but my people have done as well as can be expected with limited resources.”

“And without any official sanction.” Maret sounded something between horrified and impressed. “I hope you do not plan to continue cutting intelligence out of your operations as thoroughly in the future?”

“Only when I have to. One thing that I learned in the initial intelligence gain – unlike us, the Terrans have had no difficulty at all with infiltration across the divide. Which means that we’re in a situation in many ways not unlike the time before the Dominion War, except that the infiltrators are genetically and biologically identical to us – there is no blood test to locate them. I understand that someone in R&D took my warnings to heart and is working on a quantum scanner that can identify people from other timelines, but that is untested and requires a rather thorough scan.”

“Impractical for invisible screenings, in other words.” Maret’s lips compressed in a tight frown, and she drummed her fingers lightly on the table. “You realize, of course, that if what you are saying is correct I must consider the possibility that you yourself are a Terran infiltrator, and this is a plan to disrupt our counter-intelligence efforts.”

“Of course you must. The only species that has any real protection at all from being replaced is one that is sadly scarce in Starfleet. The Terrans can’t replicate Lagashi cybernetics. If you did not worry that I am a Terran infiltrator, I would be more worried that you were one.” Eden shook her head. “I’ll have Enterprise release all intelligence we have gathered to you as soon as possible. Even if we don’t trust each other, acting like we do might throw the Terrans off.”

“Foolish actions do sometimes fool a clever enemy.” Maret flashed Eden a dark, sharp smile. “I suppose it is good to be conspiring with you, Vice Admiral.”

“I expect you’ll find me a skilled co-conspirator.” Eden smirked. “One of the things that has kept me alive.”

“I will see to it that what can be done to increase our intelligence gathering efforts on the other side of the dimensional barrier will done. Will that be sufficient?”

“It will. I’ll be assigning additional resources to Starfleet Intelligence for use in operations against the Terrans. Of particular interest to me is the location of their test facility for bringing starships across the barrier.”

“That appears to be a very closely guarded secret indeed. I wish you luck in your efforts.” Maret smiled again, and it was not so different from the way Feathers sometimes bared her teeth in anticipation. “Perhaps the one who finds it first will buy the other something truly enjoyable to drink.”

“I would be willing to take that bet.” Eden offered Maret her hand. “It was good to meet you, Admiral.”

“And you, Vice Admiral.” Maret returned the handshake with the care of someone still not quite accustomed to the gesture. “Please give my regards to Rear Admiral Reese, when you see him. He did the State a great deal of service.”

“I will.” Eden rose to her feet. “Thank you for your time.”

Maret rose with her, and offered another formal Cardassian salute. “Service to the State, Vice Admiral.”

Eden returned the salute before retreating quickly to the corridor, gesturing for Feathers and Syet to follow. “That was… enlightening.”

“Not what I’d personally call a visit to the snakepit, but glad it could be useful.” Syet’s face suggested she’d bitten into something bitter, though she kept her voice light and civil. 

“Maret is loyal. I’m just not certain what loyalty means to her.” Eden started down the corridor, stretching her legs with the easy athleticism of a woman unused to long hours in comfortable chairs. “Preservation of the State, of course, but who that State is embodied by is an entirely different….”

Feathers’s warning roar came a fraction of a second before the phaser shot that gouged a half-meter channel in the corridor wall behind her, and Eden had a single heartbeat to thank Syet’s quick reflexes in pushing her out of the way and wonder which of the various people who could be shooting at her actually were before the plating of the floor knocked most of the air out of her lungs. She rolled quickly, reaching for a phaser pistol that wasn’t there. Admiral Torm in Engineering made me leave the pistol behind before meeting with her… The rush of fear among the others in the corridor made pinpointing the aggressor with her empathy impossible, so, against the scream of every primal urge she had, she did the only thing she could do.

She stayed down.

There was a wet, messy crunch, a longer grinding sound that mostly eclipsed a shrill scream, and the sound of several people being violently ill. Syet’s sense trembled with horrified nausea, but she had her phaser in her hand and her body between her Admiral and the shooter when she found the presence of mind to slap her own combadge. “Tysair to Security, the Rish is a friendly! I repeat, the Rish is a friendly, do not engage!”

“If you can, take them alive!” Eden called out the command for the benefit of station security. Feathers is probably the most experienced Rish in history at taking foes alive.

A low, resonant growl rippled through the half-clear corridor, and the translator took a moment to clear the noise of it before rendering Feathers’s words. “He is secure for interrogation, Admiral.”

Eden pushed herself to her feet. “I want every phaser in this corridor set to stun. Security, eyes out for other shooters.” She pushed her way past two engineers who had been huddled against the wall until Feathers spoke and to the Rish’s side. “Let’s see what we have here.”

Lucan Pyrel, still wearing the same uniform she’d seen him in this morning, lay gasping for air on the deck with his legs a bloody ruin and Feathers’s claws digging agonizingly into the meat of his shoulder. The phaser pistol he’d used to try to shoot her lay a dozen feet away, as smashed as the fine bones of his wrist, and he was already turning pale with shock when he lifted his eyes to see her and his lips twisted in a snarl of cold anger that she could not have imagined on those gently cheerful features before that moment. He tried to speak, gagged, then smiled around a mouthful of his own blood. “Admiral Enigma. Not as pretty as I remember.”

“I’ve always heard I’m at my least attractive right after someone tries to kill me. Though I somehow doubt that’s what you’re referring to.” Eden tapped her combadge. “Reese-Enigma to Maret. I need you to locate Lucan Pyrel. No arrest or interrogation needed; I just need to know if he’s still on the surface.” She looked down to Pyrel. “Poor fool.”

He opened his mouth to answer – perhaps to spit blood in her face – and then went rigid with a soundless cry that bowed his back and emptied his eyes. His lips moved for a moment, soundlessly, and then he spoke in a very clear voice that was so soft that only she, Feathers and Tysair could make it out. “Congratulations on your appointment. Give my love to your sister, pet.”

Less than three seconds later, he was dead.

“She knows.” Eden pushed herself to her feet. “Security, get the corpse to Medical. Don’t let them do anything with it until Admiral Maret’s people give the okay.” She breathed out slowly. “Terrans on Starbase 01, here to deliver a message to me within hours of my promotion. Things are worse than I thought. Captain Tysair… get to the Pit. I’ll need a secure line to President Havel by morning. Make sure that whoever’s job that is isn’t in bed.”

“Understood.” Tysair was on her feet and moving down the hall at a brisk clip in under ten seconds, in spite of the post-adrenaline shaking that was starting to shake her hands. Feathers nosed the corpse once and growled, clearly unsatisfied with its state of being.

“How did you know which was the shooter?” Eden tilted her head toward Feathers curiously.

“The Ensign smelled wrong. “ Feathers, muzzle still smeared with blood, tilted her head in her equivalent to a shrug. “He also had a weapon. When I looked toward him, he began raising it. It was sufficient to charge him. Then he targeted you. That was sufficient to take him down.”

Eden brushed a hand along the Rish’s snout. “Thank you, my friend. Your keen senses and loyalty have saved me once again.”

“I could not allow harm to come to you.” Careful of the blood and gore, Feathers dropped her head to rub her delicate plumage against Eden’s hand. “I do not have enough good friends to let people shoot them.”

“I don’t think anyone has enough friends to let people shoot them. You’re just better at preventing it than most.” Eden sighed. “I think I’m about ready to call it a day. One assassination attempt per duty shift is quite enough, thank you.”

Feathers rumbled a throaty laugh. “Especially when you don’t let me eat them.”

Starfleet Command, Episode 1: The Cheapest and Most Common Quality of Human Nature, Part 3

“Good afternoon, Chief.” Eden stepped off the transporter pad, brushing her fingers over her torso as she went. I hate when I’m thinking about quantum uncertainty at the moment I dematerialize… it always makes me wonder exactly how many particles I lost or gained to it.

“Hello, Admiral. I think you might have lost weight…” The transporter chief winked.

And it seems that transporter chiefs always know when I’m worrying about that. I swear that working that console gives people a special kind of telepathy they can only use to make me uncomfortable. With some effort, Eden brushed the thought off as she stepped through the door, leaving the transporter room behind in favor of the corridors of Starbase 01.

The low rumble that passed a Rish for laughter brushed across the back of her neck as her flag captain slipped silently into place behind her – a silence all the more impressive and disconcerting considering her bulk. “You should have waited for me to arrive. The chief turned pleasantly pale.”

“You get too much joy from terrifying your fellow officers sometimes, Captain.” Eden folded her hands behind her as she walked. “I hope the Pit is larger than the schematics made it seem… otherwise, it may be a tight squeeze for you.”

Feathers snorted eloquently. “It is not my fault that they are frightened of me, Admiral – it is hardly unjust for me to take pleasure where I can find it. As for the Pit, it cannot be smaller than the bridge of the Enterprise.”

“You’d be surprised. Starfleet has, on occasion, decided that its model for designing bridges for explorers is expansive enough that, for any other purpose, all rooms built for use in space must be significantly smaller. I hope the last renovation of this section didn’t happen during one of those times…”

A sharp spike of fear, surprise and anticipation broke through the general unease that was so normal in a corridor through which she and Feathers were passing, and when Eden’s eyes automatically followed it to the curve of the corridor that led toward the Strategic Operations Center – colloquially known as the Pit – she found a dignified Bajoran woman in a Starfleet Captain’s uniform who was composing herself with what was visibly a considerable effort. Clear violet-blue eyes, black hair that was still free of any trace of gray despite the noticeable lines of care and age etched into her face, strong square shoulders and a stubborn set of the jaw that had come through even in her Starfleet personnel file – Tysair Syret was a very recognizable woman, and one obviously possessed of enough nerve to face down the novel sight of a Rish padding along behind her new Admiral with only a few seconds of shock. 

She was, in short, exactly what Eden had been hoping for.

“Captain Tysair… I was hoping to meet you.” Eden offered a wide smile. “Have you been at Starbase 01 long?”

“Two days, Admiral.” The Bajoran captain braced to attention, offering a more cautious smile in reply. “Artemis has a very strong helm team at the moment, so we made good time. I’m afraid I still don’t know why I’m here, though – I’m hoping it isn’t to receive an official scolding for my last run-in with the Andorians.”

“No, no scolding. Between you and me, I’m actually quite happy with you for that – we’re not going to reunite the Federation by standing back and watching the Coalition’s ships drift into neutron stars. No, you are actually here because I have an open position that I need to have filled, and I think that you are the person to fill it.”

“Admiral?” Again that cautious smile, and a glance over her shoulder at the unreadably inhuman face of the Rish behind her. Her expression was as strong a poker face as Eden could have wished for, but her sense was a great deal more eloquent: Please let that position not be as dinner, if it’s all the same to you.

“I need an adjutant.” Eden spread her hands. “And, after looking over your files, I was nearly certain I wanted you for that position. Now that we have met, I’m entirely certain.”

The way the Captain’s stomach dropped at the suggestion implied she might have preferred being suggested as dinner. She took a deep breath, giving her a moment to steady her own voice, then looked Eden squarely in the eye. “Is the offer non-discretionary, Admiral?”

“Say your piece.” Eden rested a hand on the wall.

“I worked hard to get command of Artemis, Admiral. If you’ve seen my file, you must have some idea how hard.” Tysair took another steadying breath, then went on when the world failed to collapse on her head. “I don’t want to trade command of a starship for a desk, and if I absolutely had to do so then Starbase 01 is the very last place I would want that desk to be. Ma’am.” It was a very polite explanation, all things considered. Her emotions were a great deal more vivid: I would rather shake hands with a whole ship of Verachians than take a post in this snakepit.

“I understand. On the other hand…” Eden sighed. “I’m new to this posting, and even when I’m not, I expect that there will be as many people on this starbase working against my goals as with them. I need someone I can trust to be my eyes where I cannot be, someone who shares the same general aims I have and is competent enough that I can allow them to act in my name in my absence. I need someone who risks demotion to save a shipload of Andorians, who faces down a Rish who terrifies her without taking a single step back, who understands that things are wrong today and that they need to be made right. I need you, Captain. If I’m to do what I intend to do – bring the Federation back together, and keep Alpha Centauri and Vulcan and Bajor safe from the Dominion and the Terrans, I need you. There’s no one else who matches your qualifications. Even if there were, they’d be as hesitant to leave the bridge of their ship as you are – the kind of person I need doesn’t want to leave starship command.”

“Admiral….” Tysair trailed off, looking into the bottomless brown of Eden’s eyes and seeing the steel there, and her voice faltered. She recited to herself a dozen reasons she’d carved in stone to fend off promotion, on the distant chance that she’d ever been faced with the choice, and found every one of them rang hollow against the weight of that conviction. There is something terribly wrong with the Federation, and she is asking me to help her fix it. Isn’t that what my oath demands of me? Prophets help me, do I really have any other choice?

It took a long moment for her shoulders to slump, and her lips to quirk in a weary half-smile. “You know, Admiral, if you don’t pull this off… I’m going to find a way to get back at you for this, Rish or no Rish.”

“If I don’t pull this off, I’ll likely be dead. Still, you and I both believe in an afterlife, so I have no doubt you’ll have your vengeance there.” Eden smiled. “I would like a list of recommendations for new commanders for Artemis by the end of the week. She’ll be assigned to close defense of Centauri and Vulcan, along the Coalition border, with a stated humanitarian slant. She will also be available to you for use when needed in the course of your duties.”

A weight seemed to roll off the Bajoran’s shoulders as she spoke, and by the time she finished speaking Tysair’s body was practically shaking with amused outrage. She spluttered a couple of times, shook her head, and then cracked her first real, unrestrained grin. “Remind me never to play cards with you, Admiral.”

“Never play cards with a Betazoid or a Vulcan – Vulcans bluff perfectly, and Betazoids know what’s in your hand.” Eden winked. “Shall we go meet our staff?”

“Aye, ma’am.” Falling in next to Eden as the Admiral resumed walking, Tysair threw a very cautious look at Feathers and caught her insignia. “I presume we’ll be working together as well… Captain?”

“My friends call me Feathers, Syret.” The Rish dropped her head slightly in a gesture of greeting, her gem-like eyes glittering behind their double lids. “I think that we will be friends.”

“It certainly beats the alternatives,” Tysair muttered under her breath, and mustered a smile.

“And here we are.” Eden stopped outside a door. When did Starfleet stop labelling doors? I don’t think I’ve seen a sign on a door on a starship or military starbase my entire career. “Computer, grant access to myself, Captain Flutter, and Captain Tysair. Authorization Enigma Beta Beta Three. Open door.” After an affirmative beep, the door slid open.

The Pit – how it had acquired that sobriquet was more than a little unclear, though it dated back at least to the first of the Klingon Wars and had survived no less than three official renamings of what was now the Strategic Operations Center of Starfleet Command – was not, as it turned out, nearly as small as it looked on the blueprints. A five-tiered amphitheater of desks and consoles descended from the door toward the central operating floor, and every last one of them faced the massive viewscreen that presented the current status of every world, fleet, starship and starbase that the Federation could presently call its own, as well as up-to-date intelligence assessments on every other power within ten thousand light years. Reduced it might be, but the Federation was still the mightiest power in the explored galaxy, and the sight of the full majesty of it spread across a single display was as overwhelming as it was painful. At least Feathers will fit here… Eden leaned forward against one of the guardrails, gazing down at the map. It’s perfect. Whoever designed this room deserves a commendation… it’s perfect. The air, just cold and sharp enough to encourage alertness and just dry enough to keep eyes clear and easily focused, drew a small rise of goose flesh across the back of her neck.

“Admiral on deck.” A brisk, resonant soprano broke over the quiet activity of the room, and the hundred and twenty experts, analysts, administrators and tacticians who made up the staff of the Pit came to ragged attention at their desks with the air of a group of schoolchildren dragged unwillingly from their work. The speaker, a lean shadow in the heart of the operating theater, turned and braced herself against the nearest console before offering a salute that was no less crisp for being almost invisible.

It was not the most hostile room that Eden had ever stepped into in her life, but it was definitely in the running.

“Don’t all get up at once.” Eden started down the steps toward the central map. “I’m sure I’ll have enough time to earn everyone’s anger with me when it comes time to meet with you individually, or at the first staff meeting, which, by the way, is tomorrow at 0900. Captain Ziade, will you be able to assemble a report on the team’s current priorities by then?”

“Yes, Admiral.” There was a hard, wary brittleness in Rasha Ziade’s voice as she pushed away from the console supporting her, her spine defiantly straight in spite of the pronounced limp that slowed her progress to an unsteady walk. She had probably been a beautiful woman a decade ago – could still have been, if she’d used a bit of make-up to hide the deep lines of pain and stress that the last fifteen years had seared into her face and had her uniform adjusted to take into account the weight she’d lost since a two millimeter length of hull fragment had punched through her knee and ended her spacegoing career. That she chose to do neither, and likewise left the delicate strands of gray that were beginning to collect at her temples uncorrected, said a great deal about her priorities. The way that she was looking at Eden at the moment, which could charitably have been described as a brisk tactical assessment, said more. “With your permission, I’ll dismiss the staff to their work?”

“Granted.” Eden turned back to the monitor. Tough woman. Everything about her, except that leg, belongs in space… before the Borg, that leg would have been replaced, and she’d be somewhere near Cardassia finding new worlds. Most people with wounds that bad left the service entirely… that she stayed on means she’s here for principle. The question is what ‘for principle’ means in her case.

“You have an impressive set-up here, Captain Ziade.” Tysair’s eyes swept the room, taking in the implicit structure of the long rows of desks and consoles before returning to the overhead screen. “How accurate is the data on the…” she paused, tilting her head.

Ziade’s lips tightened in irritation, but she made her voice politely formal with a tangible effort. She didn’t, somewhat to Eden’s surprise, seem overly bothered by Feathers’s presence – even if in dim light the Rish looked even more like something out of a small mammal’s nightmare. “We call it the Big Board, Captain…?”

“Tysair. Tysair Syret.” The Bajoran offered her hand briskly, making an effort of her own not to bristle at the other woman’s tone. “The Admiral’s adjutant, recently of the Artemis. With your permission, I’d like to take a look around.”

In spite of her flare of irritation at the thought, Ziade restricted herself to a short nod. “Try not to interrupt anyone, Captain.”

Tysair, to her credit, didn’t escalate the situation with a reply.

Well, that’s one heart and mind I’ll have to win. Eden brushed her fingers over the emitter for the map. Probably most of this room, apart from the political cronies. Which might be most of the room.

“Shall I show you and your…” Ziade flicked a look at Feathers, then tightened her lips into an approximation of a smile, “your flag captain to your office, Admiral?”

“That would be quite agreeable, Captain.” Eden gestured for Ziade to lead the way. The older woman’s lips twitched with a hard edge of bitter amusement at the barbed courtesy, and started up the stairs as briskly as the injury to the nerves of her leg allowed. The hot throb of pain that was working its way up her thigh by the time they reached the top tier and the door to what was apparently the Admiral’s office was enough to give Eden a headache, but the captain gave no hint of it beyond a slight shortness of her breathing and a subtle twist at the right edge of her lips that could have been mistaken for a sneer. 

Vice Admiral Sinclair’s personal things had been cleared away, leaving the broad center desk almost bare, but the generous selection of plush furniture and the not inconsiderable collection of unreplicated art that decorated the room – not to mention the well-stocked liquor cabinet in the corner and the plush carpet underfoot – gave more than enough evidence of the sort of man he’d been. Feathers made a low sound of displeasure as her claws caught on the thick woolen loops of the carpet, a growl that really ought to have had more of an effect – Ziade contented herself with a single glance that was seemingly meant to ensure the reptilian alien didn’t intend to eat her on the spot, then limped to the chair in front of the desk and came to a parade ground attention so sharp Eden could have cut herself on it.

Eden took the seat behind the desk, and made a face at the sensation of it folding around her. Did Sinclair sit in this? It’s so… soft. There’s something seriously wrong when a Starfleet officer is sitting in a chair that seems better suited to the lounging spaces of a twentieth century capitalist. But, at the same time, getting rid of it would be… wasteful. Maybe I can find someone who will take it, and get myself something more becoming an officer. “Sit, Captain. To be honest, I expected that leaving the Pit would be a relief… there was enough dislike and distrust of me in there that I felt as though I could have waved my arms and lifted myself into the air, floating on a bed of animosity. Yet now we are here, and the unpleasant feelings have subsided only a little.”

Ziade seated herself with an almost-silent grunt of relief, carefully straightening her leg before squaring her shoulders, and let the comment pass with only a slight lift to one eyebrow. Unfortunate you have a problem, it seemed to say. Perhaps you should solve it.

“Sinclair was a fool. He had the makings of a good man, but he let comfort get in the way of competence and spent too much time reading the official press and not enough reading field reports.” Eden pushed herself up in the chair. I feel like it’s trying to eat me… is this what the other officers feel when they look at Feathers? “I intend not to repeat his mistakes. Further, I intend to actually stay awake during staff meetings and to read every report that you or Captain Tysair mark as being worth my time. There’s a great deal of trouble afoot, and I’ve never been terribly good at keeping myself uninvolved in trouble. Work with me, you’ll find me a steady ally and absolutely devoted to making things better. Clash with me, I’ll find you a posting on one of the old K-type deep space stations somewhere near the southern Klingon border where your skills can be put to use keeping the civil war out of our hair and you can be kept out of mine. I prefer the first – everything I’ve seen of you thus far tells me you’re someone I want on my side.”

She tasted a wave of surprise on the back of her tongue, and Ziade visibly stalled for time to process the one-two combination of Eden’s unexpectedly frank criticism of her last commanding officer and the equally frank statement of her options. “To be honest, Admiral, I expected you to want to put your own …” Rasha paused, swallowed the word lackey, and went on in a more even voice “… an officer of your own choice in my post. James was a drunk and a waste of a good uniform, but his singular redeeming feature as a boss was that he kept out of our way more than not. Nothing I’ve ever seen about you in the press suggested you for the hands-off type.”

“I’m not the hands-off type. I hope you can learn to appreciate that about me, rather than finding it a thorn in your side.” Eden offered a small smile. “You know the Pit better than anyone in the fleet, you know the military situation better than I do, your record has more citations for bravery and skill than Jim Kirk’s, and you’ve served the Federation far better than it’s served you. I’d be a fool to give you up willingly.”

“Admiral….” Tears welled up at the corners of the older woman’s eyes, and they seemed as much a surprise to her as they were to Eden. She looked away for a long minute, fighting down the tangle of emotion that seemed to be trying to choke her, and when she finally managed to speak again it was in a voice that trembled in spite of its strength. “‘The courage of a soldier is found to be the cheapest and most common quality of human nature,’ ma’am.”

“Edward Gibbon. My father-in-law is fond of that quote.” Eden folded her hands on the desk. “I’m looking forward to working with you, Captain.”

“I… suppose I’m looking forward to working with you as well, Admiral Enigma.” Rasha Zidae’s smile was almost reluctant, but there was a grudging warmth in her sense that suggested she meant every word of it. “I can have a full update on our current operations and the most important intelligence information ready for you by the end of shift, if you like – around 1800.”

“That would be perfect, Captain. And… Reese-Enigma.” Eden smiled. “I’m a married woman.”

Starfleet Command, Episode 1: The Cheapest and Most Common Quality of Human Nature, Part 2

The familiar tingle of the transporter deposited her on a wide street before the white enormity of the residence of the President of the United Earth. The receiving area was marked off with a blue square painted onto the pavement of the walkway, flanked by three guards. Before Haval’s first term in office, the guards to the leader of Humanity had always been supplied by Starfleet.

Now they were Earth militia, armed with weapons no alien had ever touched.

“Admiral, you will submit to a full scan before leaving the receiving area.” The man leading the guards – a Lieutenant in the blue-and-white of United Earth’s military – raised a tricorder.

“One moment. It will save effort if you scan my entire party at once.” Eden smirked. “And the rest of my party should be here about… now.”

The shimmering blue-white light of the Endeavor’s transporter deposited twelve feet and six hundred and twenty pounds of scale, feather, muscle, bone and tooth onto the reception square, and all three guards had their weapons up and their fingers on the contact triggers before the last spark of the transporter had released Captain Ssthrx’kel’sh*lekxper of Rish – Feathers, to her friends – from quantum-uncertainty induced stillness. Her gleaming, gem-like cobalt eyes examined them with cold detachment, her long jaws carefully and inoffensively closed, and she lifted a single delicate four-clawed hand to tap the four gold boxes of a Captain’s rank on her Command Red and black equipment harness. It was, admittedly, hard to make out against the deep, vivid crimson and black of her own scales – the Rish frame, which most resembled something out of an Earth mammal’s primordial nightmares, was camouflaged for concealment against sands of basalt and red sandstone far darker than even the Martian surface. The only sign of her tension was the subtle flare of the violet and black feathers that framed her face and either side of the long black spines that rose like a crest across the back of her head, long neck and spine – all the way down to the long, thick tail that was tracing slow side-to-side arcs in the air.

“Y… yes, ma’am.” The Lieutenant’s hand shook, and he nearly lost his grip on the tricorder. “If you and the… Captain… could move to the center of the receiving area?”

“Certainly, Lieutenant.” Eden took two steps closer to Feathers, brushing her hand along the Rish’s flank. “Proceed with your scan.”

It took the militia officer four tries to enter the proper sequence of scan profiles into the tricorder, and nearly five minutes to make certain that he had scanned all of Feathers’s person – a time that could have been cut in half had he been willing to stand less than three meters away from her jaws. “Scan shows them… unarmed.” He couldn’t quite take his eyes off the long claws on the Rish’s three-toed foot, and the four no less wicked claws that tipped fingers which were only delicate by comparison with the rest of her bulk. “No weapons.”

“Very well. I suppose that is permission for us to go in, then? The President is expecting me.” Eden’s voice was the very image of friendliness.

“Of… course, Admiral. I’m sorry for any inconvenience we might have inflicted on you, Captain.”

“No inconvenience, Lieutenant.” Feathers dropped open her jaw in a vague imitation of a human smile, displaying three long, parallel rows of teeth the length of a big man’s hand. “If I had been forced to disarm your men to avoid injury, that would have been inconvenient.” 

The Lieutenant made a mewling sound in his throat that was not quite an acknowledgement.

Eden stepped past the other guards – all of whom seemed frozen with a combination of primal terror and delight that they were not the ones who had to approach Feathers armed with nothing but the law and a tricorder – and through the gates. “I’m not sure you’ll fit through the door…”

Feathers made no direct comment, but – as it turned out, and possibly very fortunately for the interior decorators of Cochrane House – she did. The inside scale, laid out on a relatively regal scale, accommodated her more easily than most Federation starships did. Fortunately, too, because most Federation starships didn’t line their walls with irreplaceable art and sculpture. The two officers wound their way through the labyrinth of rooms and corridors until they located the President’s office, and Eden stared at the door for a long moment. Has a conversation between Havel and I ever ended well for either of us? “I expect the President would be happier if I went in alone. Could you wait for me here? Feel free to break through the door if you hear phaser fire.”

“I will make myself comfortable.” Feathers turned her head at an angle that would have been profoundly uncomfortable (if not fatal) to a humanoid, looking back over her own shoulder. “I think the security teams have drawn the appropriate conclusions.”

“I’ll see you when I get back, then.” Eden drew in a long breath before activating the door chime, and, when it opened, stepped through.

In contrast to the opulence of Cochrane House, the President’s personal office was a surprisingly stark space – severe, square lines with only a handful of pieces of traditional artwork decorating the walls. A square oak desk dominated the room, solid and time-scarred, and the data terminal set up beside it indicated it had not been embedded with any hint of modern convenience or efficiency. The left wall of heavy, polarized security glass opened onto a verdana which offered a breathtaking view of the Blackstone mountains, and when she stepped into the office Havel was visible through an open panel – a square, solid woman of Russo-Asian extraction, her hair graying at the temples and her deep blue eyes cast out toward the horizon, her tea forgotten in her hand and her plain civilian suit parted at the throat as if she’d opened it in momentary relaxation and then forgotten about it. It gave her the look of the elder statesman her supporters liked to paint her as, and Eden fought down an unwanted surge of sympathy and anxiety. She looks … tired. Worn. She cleared her throat quietly, as much to chase the thought away as to draw the President’s attention. “Madame President.”

“Vice Admiral Enigma.” The cool, clarion ring of Masako Havel’s voice had been one of her greatest political assets during and after the Borg War – the sort of voice that raised dashed spirits and put steel in the spine of doubters who might otherwise have cringed from the hard-war policies she’d championed. Eden had heard some of her post-war subspace broadcasts and knew very well how easily that voice could convey warmth, sympathy, intimacy, regret and steely determination, just as she knew from bitter experience how well it could convey venom and an acid displeasure that was as difficult to bear as close-range exposure to a badly shielded warp core. At the moment, however, it offered her none of those things – Havel might as well have been greeting a distant acquaintance over dinner at a party. Her sense was every bit as uninformative, and she didn’t turn away from the vista spread out in front of her to offer Eden any hint of what might be on her face. “You made excellent time from the Fourth Fleet.”

“Reese-Enigma. A fast runabout and a message saying that the person I was replacing had been assassinated, and that their successor needed to be in place immediately, will get a woman to Alpha Centauri in times that are difficult to believe, Madame President.” Eden rested a hand on the desk. “It’s a bit strange to be back at the capital, ma’am.”

“You have done a very thorough job of not coming back in the last decade, haven’t you?” Havel took another sip of her tea, discovered it to be cold, and quirked her lip subtly in distaste before walking back into the room and depositing the cup – cold tea and all – into the small stand-alone replicator set up near the open panel of the window-wall. “One might almost get the impression you didn’t like it here, Admiral.”

“No personal disrespect intended, Madame President, but I’ve found that I am generally fond of neither planets nor politicians, and the Alpha Centauri system suffers no scarcity of either.”

“Ah, of course. The legendary Enigma political neutrality.” Havel shook her head slightly and seated herself behind the desk, offering Eden a dry smile that dispensed with any pretense of being friendly but at least offered the comfort of familiarity. “Don’t worry, Admiral – I don’t have any designs on your political virginity today.”

“That’s good, Madame President. I doubt you’re my type, anyway.” Eden settled into one of the chairs in front of the desk. “If I might ask… why did you call me here?”

Havel’s lips quirked upward just a little more. “You don’t think it’s just a social visit? I understand a round of those are traditional when a new Chief of Starfleet Operations is appointed – a stop by every major Council delegate’s office, a visit with the head of the Diplomatic Service, a quick chat with the sitting CinC….”

“If that is the case, my first act as Chief of Starfleet Operations is to end that tradition, effective immediately.” Eden smirked. “I doubt, however, that even if that tradition does exist, that you called me here simply for social reasons. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you leaving a meeting with me and sensed joy and accomplishment from a pleasant conversation rolling off of you in waves. We don’t much like one another.”

“And yet I’ve just appointed you to the second most important position in Starfleet.” Havel folded her hands almost meditatively, resting her lips against her fingertips. “Perhaps you’ve misjudged my opinion of you.”

“I doubt it.” Eden leaned forward, a thoughtful expression on her face. “The death of Admiral Sinclair left a rather… sizable… vacancy at Starfleet Command, one that absolutely had to be filled with someone capable of doing the job. The Betazoid colonies in the Val Rosh cluster have begun agitating about the idea of leaving the Federation for the Republic. The triannual protests in the Council about the glass ceiling experienced by your political opponents has begun once again. And I am far more concerned with the safety of the Federation than with who’s winning the political maneuvers in New London.” She smiled. “You have a great many reasons for choosing me for this posting, regardless of whether or not you like me. Though I imagine that the generally-short lifespans of those who have accepted it since the end of the war did not hurt your opinion of the idea of promoting me much at all.”

“You see?” Havel’s lips pulled back in a dry, almost fond smile. “You can do political analysis rather well after all. Though it might all have gone for nothing if the Admiralty Board hadn’t promoted you at such an … interesting moment. Starfleet, I suppose, will be Starfleet.”

“The Admiralty Board has been feeling rather useless the last few years, between my tendency to keep Enterprise out of contact with Command and your tendency to offer positions to officers then let the Admiralty Board approve them after the officer is already doing the work. I imagine that being able to take action independently that would cause us both some consternation was quite appealing to its members.”

“Indeed.” Havel’s smile widened another micron or two. “Something ought to be done about that, don’t you think? Flowers, perhaps.”

“Perhaps. We could have my flag captain deliver them.” Eden laughed softly. “Business?”

“Your flag captain.” Havel’s emotions twitched with a shiver of distaste, but she knew a lost battle when she saw one and was past the point of throwing good money after bad. “Given the abrupt nature of your appointment, I thought a … frank exchange of views on what policies you might pursue in your new post might benefit us both. To avoid any misunderstandings later.”

“I intend to largely continue what my predecessor has done, at least to begin with. Diplomacy with the Republic, and likely some work on mending ties with the Coalition, in an effort at avoiding armed conflict with them while the Dominion is building its fleets. Increased patrols of the Romulan border. There are a few Klingon Houses that I intend to recommend an increase in economic aid to – their enemies tend to be our enemies, and anything that keeps House Margol and House Sh’rin fighting defensive battles rather than offensive ones keeps us from losing our ships and colonies in the Klingon civil war.” Eden rapped her finger on the desk. “Though there is one area of our operations that I have been able to get very little information about, and I very much hope that this lack of information is because my security clearances aren’t fully updated yet, because the alternative is that we have very little work happening on it, which would be… bad.”

Havel leaned back in her chair and gestured for Eden to continue, ignoring the lese-majesty. She knew the younger woman well enough to recognize the animation and emphatic gestures as an extension of her thought process, and there was no audience to be interested in the theatrics. Whatever criticisms one might make of the President, a lack of self-confidence and personal security would not have been among them.

“The Terran Empire. If the list of active intelligence actions against them that I have is complete, or nearly complete, we are vastly underestimating them, and it will be disastrous if we continue to do so.” Eden folded her hands in her lap. “The Terrans have enough ships to overrun not just Starfleet, but every major power in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. They rule half a galaxy, and are fully militarized. There are ways to bring objects of any size across the divide between the universes, and the Terrans are decades ahead of us in understanding how that divide works and how it can be breached. If they learn to bring ships here, with our current intelligence operations in the Mirror Universe, we will have no warning and our main political and industrial centers will be overrun in hours.”

“That seems….” Havel paused, tapping her own fingers slowly against the desk as she bit down on the harsh dismissal she would usually have dealt out. Remember the olive branch, Masako. “All of the reports I have read suggest that is a very pessimistic assessment, Admiral. Both on the technical front, where even decades of research by our people would seem unlikely to unravel a solution to the problems in the process and where we enjoy a considerable advantage in research capabilities, and on the political front as well. Would it not be the case that any even briefly successful military campaign on that scale would produce a level of internal disorder in the Empire that would ensure its collapse in short order?”

“Under normal circumstances, that would likely be true. However, things are different in the Empire now.” Eden shook her head slowly. “Sato IV has been the reigning Empress for forty years, and she has sufficient control over the bureaucracy and military to withstand efforts on our part to induce a political collapse. Then there’s the leader of the Terran military… extremely competent, ruthless enough to deter any efforts at removing her, and, seemingly unique in Terran military leadership, possessed of limited ambition and a great deal of personal loyalty to Sato herself. Right now, if we face the Empire, we’ll face it in the most unified form it has ever held.”

Havel’s lips twisted as if she’d bitten into something bitter, and she leaned back harder in her chair than she might have wished. “Diogenes would have been impressed – I would have thought that the Terran Empire was the last place one was likely to stumble onto an honest woman. Who is this paragon of virtue that I’ve somehow not come across in my reading?”

“My wife.” Eden breathed out slowly. “Or, rather, her counterpart. Vice Admiral Alexandria Reese, Chief of Starfleet Operations.”

It had been a long time since anyone or anything had rendered Masako Havel speechless. 

“We don’t know who’s in charge of the project to open the way between their universe and ours wide enough to send a fleet through – all we know is that whoever it is, they’re good. We do know who will be commanding that fleet when it comes through, though. The Terrans may be a distant threat, but I think we all remember what happened the last time we underestimated the probability of a distant threat becoming immediate.”

Havel took a deep breath, gave a single sharp nod, and finally found her voice again. “What will you need?”

“For now, intelligence assets. We need to expand our operations in the Mirror Universe by at least a factor of three. I’d also like to begin construction, within a year, of a second flight of Century-class starships – Enterprise and Century are the most effective ships of the line we currently have. An increase in production of high-capacity science vessels as well… whatever method they use, they will cause significant disturbance to subspace, and we may be able to locate their test facility by searching our side. Finally…” Eden breathed out slowly. “I need to increase diplomatic outreach to the Republic and certain Klingon Houses. If we’re to face the Terrans, we will need allies – we can’t build enough ships to fight them. I don’t expect the Dominion to be trustworthy, and the Coalition’s fleets wouldn’t be as great an asset as those of the Republic. So the Republic and what Klingons we can bring into the fold will have to do.”

Havel frowned, folding her fingers, and then shook her head slightly. “Either the new Century ships or the science vessels – both would cost us too much in escort production over the medium term. As for diplomatic outreach….” she paused, clearly on the verge of saying no, then fixed Eden with a penetrating glance and smiled narrowly. “Unofficially.”

“I’ll take the science vessels.” Eden let a thin smile cross her face. “If we can find their test facility, we may be able to destroy it and take their work with it. Set them back by years, and buy ourselves time to build your escorts and my battleships.”

“Very well then, Admiral. New science vessels it will be.” Havel’s chuckle was tight, but there was at least a hint of real warmth to it. “Good to be doing business with you.”

“This may be the start of, if not a beautiful friendship, at least a mutually profitable animosity.” Eden offered a wink, and Havel took her up on it with a quiet laugh.

The tension in the room tangibly dropped a few notches. 

“We may make a politician of you yet, Admiral.” Still chuckling, Havel opened one of the drawers of her desk and took out a very old, slightly dusty bottle of whiskey. “Can I interest you in a drink before I throw you to the wolves?”

“If there is one thing that I have learned, it is never to turn down a glass of whiskey older than the last ship I commanded.” Eden smiled widely. “I will accept your offer.”

Havel poured two glasses with the smooth efficiency of long practice, then slid one over the desk to Eden and offered her a dry, private smile. “You know, Admiral – as much as it would distress my advisers to hear it – I think you’re going to make things around here a great deal more interesting. As strange as it may sound, I think I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Eden took her glass, draining a long drink of it. “It may be more dangerous than taking Enterprise on a long tour of the border with the Dominion, but I think that, with proper arrangements, we can make things work out for the Federation.”

“Wasn’t it a Starfleet Captain who said ‘Risk is our business’?” Havel’s eyebrow lifted in a gesture that could have meant anything in the world, and Eden smiled around the set of her teeth. Definitely more dangerous than the Dominion. ‘Oh brave new world, that has such people in it.’

She threw back the last of her drink, savoring the hard burn of it, and tried not to think too loudly about how far the world had fallen.

Starfleet Command, Episode 1: The Cheapest and Most Common Quality of Human Nature. Part 1

“Admiral, incoming message from New London. President Haval would like to see you at your earliest convenience after our arrival in the system.” Ensign Lucan Pyrel, recently of Enterprise and now on a brief leave before a pending promotion and transfer to serve as Chief Helmsman of the Odyssey, turned from his seat at the helm of the runabout Copernicus with a sardonic smile on his face. “Shall I inform her that your earliest convenience will be some time in the mid-2420s?”

So I haven’t done a good job of hiding my dislike of the Once and Future President of the Federation. Vice Admiral Eden Reese-Enigma, who would see no leave at all during her own transfer, shook her head. “Let’s not start our time here by making enemies… or by reinforcing old feuds. Tell her that I will transport. from Starbase 01 to the Cochrane House after we have docked and I have had a sonic shower in my quarters.”

“Yes, ma’am. And on that note…” Pyrel leaned forward. “We just crossed heliopause. Slowing to Warp 1. Disengaging warp drive on arrival at the ecliptic in 3… 2… 1…” The hull of the runabout shook almost imperceptibly in response to the shift into normal space, a symptom of a problem with the inertial dampeners that Enterprise’s engineers had never quite been able to coax out of them and the reason Copernicus was chosen for this trip.

Centauri II filled the viewports, a world nearly half again as wide as Earth. As Copernicus moved closer to the planet, Pyrel spoke, sounding like he was reciting from a memorized guidebook entry. “New Montana, the second planet of the Centauri system, orbiting Alpha Centauri B at a distance of 1.02 astronomical units. 11.3 degree axial tilt, mild seasonal changes over most of the planet, a full set of climate zones and nearly every type of terrain you would expect to find on an M-class world, though it has a distinct shortage of deserts. In spite of its significantly larger size than Earth, its low-density iron-copper core gives it a gravitational force of approximately 0.8 Gs. The planet’s ozone layer is thick and complete, and its magnetic field is slightly stronger than Earth’s, leading to significantly lower exposure to solar and cosmic radiation than most colonized worlds allow. The local flora is generally highly toxic to humans, though Andorians have imported a large number of species to their worlds – Centauri salad is a very popular dish among them. Planetary population is 6.2 billion, with the greatest concentration on the western supercontinent of Columbia. The surface is 79 percent water. The oceans are fresh water – salt is extremely rare on New Montana. The capital of both the United Earth and the Federation is New London, located on a large protected bay on the west coast of Columbia…”

“That will be quite enough, Ensign.” Eden offered a warm smile to take the sting off the interruption. “Though I suggest you stay out of New London and spend your leave in Vegas City. New London is all government; when Zephram Cochrane saw the Vegas Mountains for the first time, he decided to set them aside as a place for the enjoyment and pleasure of the people who would travel the stars. If there’s something you enjoy doing and can find anywhere in the system, you’ll find it there.”

A woman’s voice – slightly synthetic, and overlaid across an almost subsonic rumble that a resonated off the viewports of the cockpit – emerged from the passenger cabin with a note of dry humor that only Eden knew how much programming had been required to capture. “Hunting is not permitted there without a permit. I expect I would have trouble obtaining one.”

“The mountains would not be a pleasant place for you to hunt anyway, my friend.” Eden cast a fond look toward the aft cabin. “The great plains of Centauri IV, on the other hand… I understand the herds of Elrosh beasts have entirely recovered, and there is no regulation of who can hunt there, only rules on how many kills you can make in a given period of time in a given grid square. That is where I would suggest you spend your first leave.”

The deep growl of satisfaction that made Pyrel shiver slightly in spite of familiarity translated itself into a rich laugh when the universal translator finished with it. “You think more and more like a Rish every year, Admiral.”

“That is the deepest compliment I can imagine receiving from you, Captain.” Eden leaned forward in her seat. “Thank you.”

“We’ll be in view of Starbase 01 in a few moments, Admiral.” Pyrel smiled widely. “I’ve never seen it, you know… I studied at the Academy satellite campus on Bajor. I hear 01 is the most impressive station in Federation space.”

“I’d give that to Deep Space Nine, or perhaps the Vulcan-built science facility at Mariposa.” Eden smiled. “But of Starfleet’s bases, Command certainly ranks highly.”

The runabout’s impulse engines gave one final burn before settling into silence, allowing the small starship to run on momentum alone, and the leading edge of the station usually referred to as Starbase 01 came into view. The second base of the new Presidium design, 01 was significantly smaller than the Spacedock-type starbase that had previously borne its designation. A central spire nearly a kilometer long was capped at each end by a wide dome, and each dome held a set of space doors and an interior space large enough to house two of Starfleet’s largest cruisers and allow a great deal of space for equipment. Extending from the spire, about a quarter of the distance up its length from the lower dome, were four slender stalks, each of which held a single pod as large as the habitable areas of one of the old Regulus stations. In the case of Starbase 01, these pods were used as the administrative offices of various divisions of Starfleet Command, and were equipped with a single docking port and four runabout pads each.

Pod 4 held Starfleet Operations, and would be Eden’s home for the foreseeable future.

“How many quantum torpedoes does that base hold, Admiral?” Lucan’s eyes locked on one of the large turrets affixed to the stalk.

“That number is classified… and far larger than it needs to be. There is a point of diminishing returns on arming a starbase, and 01 is far beyond it.” Eden shook her head. “A symptom of Starfleet thinking immediately after the fall of Earth. Bring us to Pad 4-2, and contact Centauri Fleet Yards. I’d like to get someone who can fix the inertial dampers on Columbia, if they can be fixed. I rather like this ship.”

“It is too small to be comfortable, but adequate.” The voice from the passenger compartment gave the compliment grudgingly, then wandered from the topic at once. “Arming a starbase at all is questionably sound. It would be trivial to drag an asteroid large enough to be impossible for the station’s weapons to disassemble into the outsystem, accelerated it to relativistic speeds, and render the entire defensive structure of the base obsolete. Starbases, like planets, cannot dodge.” 

“Starfleet once thought that way, and in most cases it is quite sensible to arm starbases lightly – to fend off enemy fighters and offer support to a fleet – or not at all. However, the Dominion crisis changed that thinking – the wormhole was a choke point, a very rare thing in space, and the Federation needed to arm a starbase sufficiently to defeat an incoming fleet at that choke point, and had very little experience doing so. Apparently, Starfleet R&D decided that getting the practice in case they needed to do so again was worth the wasted resources. Compound that with the tendency after Earth’s fall to double the number of torpedoes carried by every ship in the Federation…” Eden shrugged. “You end up with 01’s armament.”

Eden’s flag captain contented herself with a skeptical snort which the translator didn’t bother trying to render.

“We are entering the starbase’s controlled zone. Decelerating to one-tenth impulse and switching to maneuvering thrusters only.” Lucan shook his head. “And now I’m bored… the starbase’s computers have linked with Columbia and are piloting us to the pad.”

“Autonomous piloting.” Eden shook her head. “Sulu would have been nauseous at the thought.”

“My stomach’s a bit unsettled at it myself, Admiral.” Lucan shrugged.

“I could arrange for the autopilot to suffer an inconvenient accident,” the voice from the passenger compartment noted pleasantly.

“How does a computer suffer a… never mind. I don’t want to know.” Lucan shook his head with a laugh. “Just don’t do it right now… I’m not sure the computer would give me back manual control. We might have to get out and push.”

“Perish the thought.” Eden rose to her feet. “We’ll be on the pad soon enough. I’m going to get my bag from the cabin.”

“I’ll do the same… I’m certainly not needed at the helm.” Lucan followed her from the cockpit, squeezing through the passenger compartment as the runabout’s third occupant eased forward into the cockpit past her. He fought another shiver down, glancing over his shoulder, then picked up his pace to catch up with Eden. “The Commander… excuse me, the Captain seems to be in a particularly good mood. Promotion agrees with her.”

“She’s deserved it for a long time, Ensign… I’m rather frustrated that it took me so long to convince Starfleet of that.” Eden retrieved her bag from near her bunk, slinging it over her shoulder. “Time for you to go to Vegas, Ensign, and for me to go meet the Reaper.”

“Aye, Admiral.” Lucan fought down a mixture of relief and regret as he grabbed his own bag and headed for the transporter. He’d served under the Admiral and the Captain for the best part of two years now, and that was long enough to develop more than a little personal loyalty, but they’d never pitched into anything out of the rim of the Corridor that was nearly as dangerous as what the two of them were headed into now. He considered himself better off to be out of it, and it shamed him slightly that it didn’t bother him more to shake the Enterprise’s dust from his sandals.

He dialed the coordinates for the Vegas preserve into the transporter, and put it resolutely out of his mind. 

“Feathers…” Eden paused at the runabout’s hatch. “Would you like to join me on the way to the residential level of Pod 4, or beam to your bridge and visit with your new ship, then meet me at the Pit later?”

“I wish to meet my new command, but I will coordinate my beam-down to the planet with yours.” There was just enough stubborn emphasis in the words to make clear that, Admiral or not, her flag captain was giving Eden her marching orders. Diplomatic or not, Feathers planned to accompany her on her visit to the President of United Earth’s new residence.“With that in mind, take your time in your shower.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Eden smiled widely, stepping out of the runabout and into the corridors of Starbase 01. President Masako Havel. First President of the Federation elected after the fall of the Borg, currently President of United Earth. No one who has any involvement at all in Federation politics has any delusions about who the Federation’s leader really is, though – Havel chose Martin Lees to replace her, and he owes her his entire political career and knows that what the Reaper giveth, the Reaper taketh away. Her political allies have taken to calling her the Iron Lady in reference to Thatcher, and her enemies call her the Reaper. They say that it’s because, if you cross her, you’ll have to bury your career, but then you count the deaths… never the person who crossed her, never a member of their immediate family, but always just enough to put them in line. She’s probably, apart from perhaps the Changelings on Nova Roma, the most dangerous person in the Quadrant today.

Habitation Unit 4-01 was assigned to Eden, and she stopped at its door. “Unlock. Authorization Reese-Enigma Alpha Alpha Four.” The door slid open, and Eden stepped through into the spacious living area. They definitely don’t deny the Admiralty their luxuries. I could take every bit of decoration I had in my quarters on Enterprise and add in the gifts from various planetary leaders that I’ve had put into storage or quietly given away over the years, and I think these walls would still look bare. She set her bag on the floor, retrieving from it two items. The first, a small portable holoemitter, she placed onto the low coffee table at the center of the room and activated, letting a nostalgic smile cross her lips at the tall, dark-haired woman in a Command dress uniform who appeared. The second was a silver crucifix a foot in height, which she affixed to the wall next to the door leading into the bedroom. Alexandria… you’d likely laugh at these rooms. A soldier isn’t meant to have this much decadence… and in space, no one should have this much room to themselves.

Enjoy it while it lasts, the rich, chiding alto from her memory echoed in the empty room, because you never know what might happen tomorrow.

Shedding both uniform and memory, Eden stepped into the shower. Everyone has their losses. Family, loved ones, entire worlds and cultures and tradition, ships and possessions. Things that can never be replaced or regained, that never should have been lost in the first place. Things the Borg took. A wife… there are people who would say that I am fortunate, that all I lost was my wife and my father. I would have traded worlds to save her, had I any worlds to trade. But I am a daughter of the stars, and even if I had worlds, the Borg were uninterested in barter. The low vibrations of the sonic shower thrummed through her, agitating the particles of dust and sweat and forcing them from her skin. The humans lost Earth. The Coalition and the Lagashi say that losing Earth broke Humanity. It certainly changed them… I wonder if the fact that I am not human helped me remain myself. I wonder if most humans think they stayed themselves… I wonder if I can find something more productive to do with my thoughts until this shower finishes.

The Federation is broken now. The power that calls itself the Federation – that kept Starfleet and the Humans and Vulcans – is here, its heart on Alpha Centauri, its people concentrated in the Corridor that runs from the ruins of Sol to Cardassia. Humans, Vulcans, Bajorans, Verachians… Eden trembled in a hint of primal fear at the mental image of those swivelling, venomous mandibles. And Cardassians. Plus dozens of other, less powerful races, and members of species whose homeworlds and home governments have left the Federation, like Feathers. Then you have me… no homeworld, no member government to claim me in spite of the efforts of United Earth, half-Betazoid and half-Human. Some of the Cardassian political operatives seem convinced I’m going to break in half vertically, take half my secrets and half my skills and run off on one leg to the Republic to join my mother’s people.

The Republic… Lagash, Ferenginar, Betazed, Tzenketh, and a close alliance with Breen. The Federation considers them the most immediate threat, and who can blame them? In the battle for the hearts and minds of the far colonies, the Republic is beating us, and their rate of shipbuilding and recruitment rivals ours as well. Then there’s Lagashi Cardassia – Cardassian colonies, in the old Cardassian Union, that the Lagashi reestablished contact with before the government on Cardassia Prime could, and offered their protection to. There are nearly as many Cardassian citizens in Lagashi space as in the Corridor, and the Detapa Council wants those colonies returned. The Republic, meanwhile, sees the Federation as an autocratic power, and their values don’t allow them to hand people over to tyranny. “Freedom forever” is their rallying cry.

But if it was just the Republic and the Federation, ties could be made. Haval and her people could be convinced that, if left alone, the Lagashi and Betazoids would eventually come back into the fold. The Coalition is why that can’t happen – Andoria, Tellar, and Rish left the Federation in protest of new security policies, and the Reaper took it as a personal insult to her that they would go. Insulting President Haval is a very bad way to ensure your future survival, and that is true whether you are a person or an entire species. The Federation is going to move against the Coalition – there’s no avoiding that, as long as Haval is in power, and no one’s going to take her out of power – and when it does, that will be sufficient provocation that, if we aren’t already at war with the Republic, we will be. If there’s one thing the Lagashi military seems to leap to do, it’s shed blood on behalf of others, and they’ll jump into a fight with the Federation with both feet to keep the Coalition from falling to ‘tyranny,’ and in doing so will destroy any chance that we could ever have had of reunifying the Federation with a minimum of bloodshed. Haval and the Lagashi… I expect we could survive one or the other.

Then there’s the Klingons, the Dominion, and… The showerhead buzzed, and Eden shook her head. No time for musing. I need to meet with the Reaper. She pulled her bag open, retrieving a fresh uniform, and had it on with the comm badge in place in under two minutes. She was out the door in three. “Enigma to Feathers… I’m on my way to the transporter room. Meet me at the security post outside Cochrane House.”

“Understood, Admiral.” There was a fierce, hungry pleasure in her flag captain’s voice that – she hoped – had nothing to do with the chance to pass within a few hundred meters of the President of Earth. “Endeavor is in exquisite condition. A prime hunting vessel.”

“I’m glad to hear it, and look forward to seeing her in person.” Eden closed the channel as she stepped into the transporter room. Transporter room four doors down from the Admiral’s quarters. The entire focus of this layout is to cater to the powerful. “Chief, I’m going to Cochrane House. Transport me to the receiving area, and clear Endeavor’s transporters for access as well.”

“Aye, ma’am.” The Vulcan woman standing at the transport controls gazed at Eden for a long moment, her eyes probing. “I consider it an honor to serve under you, Admiral. Your record is impressive, and you carry yourself as one who has earned respect.”
“Thank you, Chief.” I don’t know the names of any of the junior staff assigned to this section. I need to rectify that… they’re all inherited from my late predecessor. “Energize.”