For the first time in weeks, Rachael Meyer seated herself amidst Neelar Drayge, Bator and Erin Keller around their customary table for breakfast. Today was the day she had been looking foreword to for quite some time—her return to duty. Doctor Hartman had given Rachael permission to return to duty at her checkup last night, and the Marian had been waiting in anticipation ever since.
The return to duty meant that Rachael would finally reclaim some amount of normality in her life. She would be back, doing what she loved: counseling. Whatever inhibitions she had toward working at the science station had vanished in the weeks since the accident. She would remind herself to never succumb to the lure of the science station again…
Making the transition from vegetable in sickbay to active duty was easy, since Rachael readily noted that the conversation picked up right where it left off—absolutely nowhere.
“Brian is such a jerk!” Erin exclaimed, slamming her hands on the surface of the table as she went off on her brother’s latest misadventure. From what Rachael could gather, Erin’s brother was some sort of explorer, though he didn’t serve on a Federation starship. “His ship was heavily damaged by an ion storm last week in the Calandra Sector. I told him not to go there, but does he listen? No! Now he’s stranded on Deep Space Nine waiting for some guy named Morn to deliver him a particle emitter for his deflector. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be waiting around for some guy named Morn for any reason!”
“The sultry men on Risa are more her style,” Rachael quipped. “They all have such cute butts!”
Erin hesitated for a very short, curious moment before snapping out of her trance. “Yeah,” she lied.
In her mind, Rachael could just barely detect the lie. And within a few moments, she lost whatever telepathic link she had with Erin. Rachael decided not to mention this incident, but couldn’t help but wonder why Erin would lie about the men on Risa. She usually jumped at the chance to praise their good looks.
“So how are you feeling, Rachael?” Neelar cut in before anyone else could speak.
Rachael glanced over to Erin, and noted she looked somewhat relieved in the change of topic. Something is up, she assumed. “I’m feeling a lot better, though I’m not too terribly fond of taking peridaxon every single day for the rest of my life.”
“Better safe than sorry,” said Erin.
Rachael nodded. “I guess so. My head is still ringing, my bones ache, and the last few months are all a bit hazy, but Doctor Hartman assures me that it will pass.”
“That’s good,” said Drayge.
Rachael saw his lips parting to speak again, but no words came out. The Bolian was distracted by something behind her. And it was infectious. Soon, Bator was looking at the same spectacle. Slowly, Rachael turned around to see Captain Christopher entering the mess hall—and coming their way. “This is a surprise!” she exclaimed.
Erin blushed ever so slightly. “I guess I invited him to join us,” she admitted, pulling up another seat from an adjacent table and handing it to the Captain.
He took it, and inserted himself between Bator and Erin. As he sat down, Rachael saw the Captain catch the unnerving gaze of Matthew Harrison from across the room. He was sitting with Kendall, Lucas and Jayla, all of whom were still locked in some sort of conversation. Rachael ignored Harrison, and turned her attention back to Alan.
At least she knew why Erin had been resistant to the Risan men. But there was something more. Rachael had invited Alan to breakfast on countless occasions, and not once did he bother to show up. And now, presumably on Erin’s first inquisition, he magically appears. Rachael forced a smile on her face, and rejoined the conversation.
“Oh! You didn’t get anything to eat,” Erin grimaced as she looked at Alan.
“I’m fine,” he insisted.
“—is the most important meal of the day,” he finished. “I know. I ate before I got here.”
Erin sighed. “You don’t come to breakfast and not eat! It’s impolite!”
Alan quickly looked over his companions, and his gaze immediately fell upon Drayge. “Neelar isn’t eating,” he protested.
“I don’t eat breakfast,” admitted the Bolian.
Confused, Alan shifted his gaze back over to Erin. “I don’t seem to be following your line of reasoning. It’s impolite of me to eat and then not eat, but Neelar can not eat at all and get away with it…”
Erin followed through the Captain’s preamble, nodding intently along the way before concluding with a big, conclusive nod. “It sounds to me like you get it.”
“Trust me, I don’t.”
Matthew Harrison clenched his jaw and sighed as he watched the banter between the Christopher and Keller. It made him convulse. “Those two appear to be getting quite friendly,” he grumbled.
“It’s probably nothing,” said Lucas Tompkins in his usual, stern demeanor. “You know Erin, she’s a very friendly person. How could you not be friendly around her?”
Matthew shifted his gaze over to Lucas. “You don’t know her like I do,” he said softly. Their feud went all the way back to the Phoenix Project of years ago, a long, treacherous journey that resulted in more pain and suffering than anyone wanted to recall, including Harrison.
He folded his arms nodded, unable to accept the events that were unfolding around him. Harrison readily noted that Kendall Johnson held a similar, disgruntled look on his face. The Captain was after all, encroaching upon territory that Kendall had only dreamed about.
For years, Kendall Johnson had dreamed of a romantic night with Erin. And when he finally was rewarded that night, it ended in the worst possible way—rejection. Johnson hadn’t been too bitter about it, until now. Harrison could see the look of disgust on the Lieutenant’s face. He understood completely.
Suddenly, a considerable bout of laughter emanated from Keller’s table. Harrison peered on, seeing the Commander’s face practically falling into the Captain’s lap as she doubled over. The Captain grinned, and gently patted Keller on the back
“You call that nothing?” Harrison demanded of Lucas once the laughter started to die down.
He shrugged indolently. “Does it really matter?”
Whether it did or not, Harrison was too blinded by his anger to think clearly in the first place. Though he didn’t respond—there wasn’t time.
The red alert klaxon suddenly made itself known.
Quickly, everyone vacated the mess hall and proceeded to their stations.
“Report,” demanded Christopher as he emerged from the turbolift with the rest of the command staff following closely behind.
Christopher stopped in tandem with Harrison at their respective seats, and turned to the tactical station, awaiting Bator’s report. Given the look on the Phobian’s face, it wasn’t good.
“One Gorn heavy cruiser is on a direct intercept course,” he said. “Their shields are up and their weapons are armed.”
Christopher’s eyes widened. “Lovely,” he muttered. The Gorn had never been friendly with the Federation, but aside from a brief skirmish on Cestus III, they had never been openly hostile. And since they were dozens of light years away from Gorn space, Christopher knew this wasn’t some random attack. They had to have some good reason for coming this far.
Another sensor alert.
Again, Christopher turned to Bator, and again, the Phobian was thoroughly perplexed. “One Ka’Tulan science vessel is decloaking off our starboard bow.”
And suddenly, the situation’s magnitude grew by leaps and bounds. Obviously, the Gorn were pursuing the Ka’Tulan ship, and being a member of that species, Christopher couldn’t help but wonder why. “Hail them,” he ordered.
“They are hailing us,” said Bator before he could comply with the Captain’s order.
Christopher turned on his heel to face the view screen. “On screen.”
Seconds later, two Ka’Tulans popped into view, one male and one female. The male was in his forties with a mangled mat of wiry, thinning brown hair and a physique that was less than perfect. His eyes were a pale shade of turquoise that seemed to glisten when he smiled, revealing his set of almost perfect teeth.
The female was a petite young woman with dark, shoulder-length hair and a winning smile, but her most noticeable features were her blazing pink eyes, which looked very relieved upon seeing Christopher. “Captain!” she exclaimed. “My name is Tallera. This is Navek,” she said, motioning to her partner. “We need to seek refuge on your ship. There’s no time to explain, but it is a matter of utmost imp—”
The transmission abruptly ended, replaced by an image of the massive Gorn cruiser locking the small Ka’Tulan craft in the green maelstrom of a tractor beam.
“The Gorn are emitting a rotating EM pulse,” said Keller from ops. “They’re jamming our transmission.”
“What is the Gorn vessel’s armament?” inquired Harrison.
“They are heavily armed,” said Bator with due haste. “They have superior firepower, however their maneuvering abilities are limited. If it comes to blows, both sides would take a beating.”
Christopher pulled in a lungful of air, and slowly began to pace before his command chair. Tallera’s plea for help sounded urgent—and she was a Ka’Tulan. This matter with the Gorn just became personal. Tallera and Navek would get all the help they needed…