Delta One, Part 1

Written by  on July 29, 2002 

Delta One, Part 1 Cover

These are the voyages of the newest Starship Enterprise

Written by Michael B

Stardate 76302.5
Release 29 Jul 2002

Stardate 62475.1 (June 23, 2385)
City of Ra’tleihfi, Romulus

The city had seen better days. At one time, she had been the home to millions, her streets immaculate and polished, her architecture standing tall and imposing, striking fear and submission into the hearts of those who walked amongst them. But today, the once-proud capital city of the Romulan Star Empire lay under a perpetual pall of dust and decay. The pockmarks of weapons fire marred the facades of the most revered buildings from the city’s imperial past. Walls that once gleamed from the efforts of thousands of imperial laborers were now desecrated with graffiti and tattered propaganda posters. The streets were different now, and not just from the rubble of fallen buildings and statues that blocked many an alleyway.

Today the numbers on the streets were sparer, the people winding their way about the ruins looking more weary, tired of the war and oppression of the past. But among the young, there was a lightness in their bearing that would have been unthinkable in public during the glory days of the Empire. They knew that change had come, and with that change a brighter future would rise from the ashes.

But all of that was irrelevant to Annika Kim, as she sat anxiously in the dingy waiting room, oblivious to the cityscape spread out across the window behind her.

"Why must they keep us waiting in this manner?" she asked pensively. "I thought that everything had been arranged prior to our arrival."

"Hey, take it easy, honey," Commander Harry Kim said softly as he looked over to his wife and stroked her back gently. "I’m sure everything is going to be just fine. They just have to find a baby that’s right for us, that’s all," he said reassuringly. "You know how much it upsets me to see you get worked up like this. I just know that everything will work out."

"This should have been dealt with via subspace," Annika said harshly, trying to get a grip on her fluctuating emotional state. "To force us to travel here when so much was left uncertain…"

"Honey," he said, trying to allay her anxieties. "You’ve seen it out there. I think you know a subspace communiqué wasn’t really an option." He watched as her momentary coolness faded and the warmth flooded back into her face. Even after all these years of being a loving and caring wife, she would sometimes lapse into her familiar Borg defense mechanisms whenever her emotions threatened to get the better of her. It was a coping mechanism that she had learned to control since the two had settled into their life together. But like all survival traits, it was a difficult habit to break.

"I am sorry, Harry," she said gently. "These circumstances are just so trying for us. I simply cannot bear the thought of our disappointment should we be rejected once again." She let her hand reach up to caress the one that he had placed on her shoulder. Watching her delicate hand on his, he could barely see the remaining Borg exoskeletal framework leave its outline beneath the synthetic dermaplastic skin of her left hand.

The arch of her original Borg cyber-optic implant, having long been replaced by a conventional biosynthetic eye, no longer obscured her face. Many of her internal implants had also been removed, particularly those redundant systems that regulated regeneration, something that was becoming increasingly infrequent, and might one day be unnecessary.

The surgeries, while uncomfortable for Annika, had all been her choice. She wanted to fit more easily into human society, but it was her hope that by reducing the number of Borg implants, she might lower the nanoprobe threshold in her body to allow an ovarian clone graft and thus restoring her fertility. And indeed, the graft procedure had proven successful, leading to high hopes that the young couple would be able to start a family of their own. Unfortunately, their hopes were dashed when it was revealed that the nanoprobe level inside of her, while much lower than before, was still of sufficient potency to act as an effective immunity agent against any foreign biological material, particularly an implanted fertilized ovum. Efforts to countermand their programming proved unsuccessful, and especially heartbreaking after three miscarriages.

It was with great anguish that the Kims accepted that Annika’s unique physiology would thwart their attempt at starting a family naturally, forcing them to consider adoption. However, every adoption agency they went to would put them low on the list of potential candidates. Considering that the well-being of the child was their paramount concern, the agencies were skittish about approving a former Borg drone as an adoptive mother, a fact made worse by the Kims’ likely relocation to Harry’s current assignment aboard the USS Titan.

Just as it had seemed completely hopeless for them, a miraculous announcement came through. The Federation relief missions to Romulus spoke of thousands of unwanted orphans left in the wake of the Romulan Civil War without any family to claim them. Among Romulans, one’s status was closely determined by one’s family lineage, and an orphan without a claim to family had no status whatsoever. Hence the crying need for off-world families to volunteer to take them in, and with less stringent standards than those employed in the Federation.

Harry eased himself into the seat next to his wife and put his arm around her, holding her close to him. "By this time tomorrow, we’ll be a family. You’ll see." He tried to say whatever he could to raise her spirits. He knew that deep down, Annika saw her inability to be a mother as the final hold that the Borg still had over her, the remaining obstacle to her being completely human. In Harry’s eyes it was complete nonsense. She was as human to him as anyone else he knew.

The sound of the door sliding open caused them both to sit up with expectation, but their excitement waned when the persons entering the room proved all to familiar. "Oh, it’s just you," said Harry dejectedly.

"Hey, thanks a lot, buddy," said Tom Paris as he strolled into the room casually, his wife coming in right behind him while holding their seven-year old daughter Miral. "This is the thanks we get for flying you two out here?"

"Harry intended no disrespect, Tom," said Annika. "We were hoping that…"

"I know, I know," Tom chuckled jovially. "Just having a little fun with you, that’s all. So buck up, Annie. This is supposed to be the happiest day of your life."

Harry laughed at his friend’s audaciousness. Only Tom Paris could get away with calling the formidable Doctor Annika Kim – physicist, engineer, winner of the Angossian Physics Prize, and former Borg drone – a nickname like ‘Annie.’ "Your insight is always of value, Tom," said Annika wryly.

"Yeah, now try telling my wife that," he replied with a grin. B’Elanna shot her husband a less than appreciative glance.

"Daddy!" cried out little Miral as she bounced over to her father in her gingham coveralls and leapt up into his arms, "Mommy said I wasn’t allowed to go outside and play! Can I, huh? Can I? Can I?"

"Uh, I don’t think so, peanut," Tom said hesitantly, lifting up his daughter up to eye-level. "If Mommy says no, then…"

"Then she means ‘no,’" said an exasperated B’Elanna. "What did I tell you, young lady, about running around the halls without a grown-up?"

"Aw, Mom!" the seven-year-old pouted. "This place is boooring! I just wanna play!"

B’Elanna sighed wearily and looked askance at Harry and Annika, a crooked smile on her face. "Are you sure you two really want to do this? This is your last chance to back out if you know what’s good for you."

"I believe that Harry and I will see the process through, B’Elanna," said Annika.

"I’d think carefully," Tom chuckled as he put Miral down. "Once you’ve got one of these little monkeys, you can just kiss your…" He then quickly covered his daughter’s ears as he continued, "…S-E-X… life goodbye."

"S-E-X," Miral spelled out gleefully. "That spells ‘sex’! I know what that is! That’s when the mommy and the daddy…"

"Miral!" B’Elanna gasped. "Language!" The innocent child just giggled at her mother’s embarrassment. Tom rolled his eyes and looked over at his friends. "I’m really starting to regret telling her about the birds and the bees."

Harry and Annika smiled together at witnessing this family moment. He reached over to squeeze her hand gently. Soon, he thought to her as though they shared a telepathic bond, this will be us.

"Who’d have thought it?" Tom laughed, looking on with pride at his child, instinctively stroking his daughter’s auburn hair, brushing it aside from her forehead to allow her brow ridges to show prominently, displaying her part-Klingon heritage. "I mean, look at us, Harry. We’ve come a long way since those carefree days on Voyager, haven’t we?"

Indeed, they have, Harry thought. Here he was, a commander in Starfleet, recently posted as first officer aboard the Titan, a far cry from those long ago days as a green ensign when he had first met Tom. Now Tom himself was a father, and settling in from his wild days as a privateer to the somewhat more respectable profession as a writer. The years had certainly passed for both of them, he silently acknowledged. Tom’s sandy hair was starting to thin in front, whereas Harry recalled seeing a few flecks of gray at his temples the last time he looked in the mirror.

The hissing of the door, and the entry of new faces into the room cut his inward reflection short. A party of three walked in, the first of whom Harry recognized from their conversations via subspace, a silver-haired Vulcan male dressed in modest tan and black robes.

"Dr. Sodan," Harry greeted the newcomer. Annika anxiously stood up and came over to her husband, bracing herself for whatever was to come next.

"Commander, Dr. Kim," he replied coolly, looking them both over. "I am relieved to see, Commander, that you chose to not wear your uniform."

"I’m on leave from Starfleet," Harry answered. "And they warned me that wearing my uniform on Romulus might be problematic."

"Your discretion is most appreciated, Commander," the elder Vulcan answered. "The Romulans are a proud people. The Federation’s relief efforts here are seen by those of a more… intemperate… disposition as a humiliation and an excuse for occupation during these troubled times. The sight of Starfleet officers walking the streets of Ra’tleihfi in full uniform would only reinforce such paranoia. The Republic is still quite fragile and the efforts to create a more progressive society here on Romulus would be undermined should agitators lead the people to believe that the new leaders are nothing more than Federation quislings."

Harry glanced to Sodan’s side to see his two companions, male and female, obviously nurses. He thought them to be Vulcan at first, but he soon realized that they were both Romulans. They both looked young, probably no more than their twenties or so, but it was hard to tell with beings so naturally long-lived. For all he knew, these two could have been older than his father.

"Doctor Sodan," Annika spoke up, "what is the status of our adoption? Will we be permitted to see our child?"

Sodan nodded seriously, as any Vulcan would. "A child has been selected among the ones we have here at this facility. She has just awoken and is being changed. She will be brought to you momentarily."

"She?" Annika seemed to tremble at the news. They would have a daughter! "Then…we have been approved? We may take her?"

"Yes, Dr. Kim," Sodan answered. "As you are well aware, were she to remain on Romulus, she would be forced to live in a state facility with only the most rudimentary of prospects available to her upon maturity. The child’s future will be far more promising raised among humans than it would be here. Furthermore, your references among Starfleet Command have vouched for your character, and your history with the Borg is not a concern to us."

Harry and Annika held each other, almost unable to contain their joy. Tom and B’Elanna each gave them a congratulatory hug. It was happening at last, the family they always wanted. "I…" Annika tried to speak, but could not, so overcome with emotion she was. Calming herself down, she tried again. "Doctor, what of the child? She is…healthy?"

"Yes, quite healthy," the Vulcan physician replied, showing clear discomfort at the outright emotional display of the humans. "The child was malnourished when we first discovered her five weeks ago, but she has been completely nursed back to health."

"Where did you find her, Doctor?" asked Harry, concerned about the child’s possible heritage.

"Relief crews discovered her and a dead Romulan woman buried beneath the rubble of one of the former imperial ministries bombed during the Praetorites’ last stand in Ra’tleihfi. Subsequent tests revealed the woman to be the child’s mother. We believe they were trapped beneath the ruins for some time before they were found. From what we can determine, the mother was of low birth with no living parents, nor apparently, a husband." Sodan allowed that information sink in, with all its implications for the child’s well being within the context of Romulan society. The child would bear the double stigma of being without lineage and born out of wedlock, all the more reason why she would do better off-world.

"And…there’s no chance that a relative could step forward years from now and contest the adoption?" Harry asked, still worried about losing this one chance for a child.

Sodan sighed in that exasperated manner that only a Vulcan could manage. "By local standards, the child has been effectively abandoned. A bond of adoption cannot be broken, other than through death. You need not fear your daughter being taken from you." The physician then impatiently glanced at his PADD, checking his records. "If you will excuse me, I have rounds to make. Nurses Dhael and Galan will remain to answer for you any questions you may have regarding your child’s needs." And with that, the Vulcan turned to leave the room, leaving the couple to enjoy their good fortune.

"Commander," said the female nurse, her forced cheerfulness starting to fade after the Vulcan left, revealing a previously hidden sadness, "may I ask you and your wife a question? And please don’t take any offense by it."

"I…uh, sure. What is it?"

"Commander," Dhael asked nervously, "how exactly do you plan to raise the child?"

Harry’s eyebrows went up in surprise at the question. It was a deeply personal thing to ask, especially considering that he wasn’t sure what exactly the nurse meant by it. "Excuse me? I don’t follow you. We’ll raise her in an environment of love and caring, of course."

"That’s not what she was asking," said Galan. "And please don’t repeat this to Dr. Sodan. It’s just that… most of the orphans being kept here…they’re being sent to families on Vulcan. They’ll be raised as Vulcans, to think as Vulcans do."

"With no emotions," B’Elanna said solemnly.

"They won’t be Rihannsu anymore," said Dhael urgently, stressing the Romulan name for their own people. "I know that they have no future here, not until things change. But still, to lose their culture, to be raised as something else…I know that we have no right to ask this of you both, but… we ask only that if you intend to care for this child, that you not keep her ignorant of her heritage, that you raise her as much a Romulan as you can."

"I…" Harry stammered, unsure of how to answer such a request. But it was now beginning to dawn upon him just how big a responsibility he was taking on, raising a child from another race, another society.

Dhael was about to speak, when her communicator pin chirped softly. "The child is here," she said, her weak smile growing brighter. "Would you like to see her now?"

The human couple didn’t even have to answer, the looks on their faces saying it all. A new nurse entered the room, her arms filled with a bundle wrapped in a blanket.

"Is that the baby?" Miral squealed, urging Tom to lift her higher. "I wanna see!"

Annika trembled as the nurse brought the baby close to her, Harry having to practically hold her steady. She was close enough to see the gentle cherubic face of the infant poking through her wrappings. "Would you like to hold her, Doctor Kim?" asked the nurse.

"I…I would," said Annika, as she extended her arms, allowing the delicate transfer of the newborn. Many years of practice with Miral and Harry’s little cousins had taught her how to properly hold a baby, but despite her near-total recall, her excitement almost caused her to forget how it was done. Harry stood by her, steadying her hands, awed by the sight of this child, their daughter. It was official now. The paperwork and the legal formalities, none of that mattered. This moment was what truly made the Kims a family.

The little one looked up from her swaddling, not showing any fear at her new surroundings. If anything, the baby seemed to display an almost instant bond with the woman now holding her. She cooed up at Annika and Harry, as the three spent an eternity bonding together as one.

"She’s adorable," said B’Elanna proudly, as she stroked the cheek of her own daughter in Tom’s arms.

"She’s beautiful," said Harry softly in reply, his eyes never wavering from his new daughter.

As for Annika, she could say only three words to describe this child, her baby. "She is… perfect."

14 years later…

Stardate 76302.5 (April 21, 2399)
Telford Docking Station, Beta Antares Shipyards

"Are we there yet?" the girl asked excitedly. "Can we see it from here?"

"Take it easy, princess," her father chuckled. "We’ll be living there for the next few years, at least. Pretty soon, you’ll have more of that ship than you can stand."

"I know," Katrina Kim replied, briefly embarrassed by her juvenile enthusiasm. "It’s just…when am I going to get another chance to see her from the outside like this?" She brushed aside a lock of long dark hair, sweeping it behind her pointed left ear.

"You’ve seen enough holograms of the ship already, Katrina," her mother spoke up from the front of the shuttlepod. A slender Siamese cat rested comfortably in her lap, which she stroked absentmindedly. "And your father has taken you to view the assembly drydock eleven times by now."

"The real thing is even more impressive," said Harry Kim, getting up from his seat and joining his wife at the front of the small craft. He eased into the forward seat next to her, watching her gaze out across the expanse of stars. They had just undocked from the main habitat at Telford Station and were coasting past the terminator of Beta Antares One, the cratered airless ball of silicates and metal that Telford Station and the rest of the Beta Antares complex orbited. Harry could glimpse at the distant blinking lights of the other habitats and drydocks in varied orbits around ‘The Cannonball’ as the planet had been nicknamed. And somewhere, just past the horizon, among those docks, was his ship, their ship.

There was no need to watch the display panels. The shuttlepod was completely automated, capable of flying to any point within the Beta Antares Shipyard complex, but either one of them could assume the manual controls if needed. And the autopilot was already guiding them towards one particular cluster of lights, one that was just starting to clear the planet.

"Is everyone on board yet?" Katrina asked, joining her parents at the front of the cockpit.

"Most of the Starfleet crew," Harry replied, his eyes scanning the heavens towards that growing cluster of light. "Vorik and the engineers are running last minute tests on the bubble core, and Naomi’s got her hands full on the bridge. The Klingon and Romulan crews should be arriving over the next day or two."

"Romulans," Katrina gasped softly, absentmindedly running her fingers along her ears. "What will they be like?"

"The Romulans?" Annika said, turning to her daughter. "I imagine that they will be individuals like any other."

"I know, Mom. It’s just…I’ve never met another real live Romulan before. I wouldn’t know what to say."

"If I might make a suggestion," her mother said with an arch of her eyebrow. "Perhaps you should start by saying ‘hello.’ It’s been my experience that that is the preferred greeting among most species."

"Real funny, mom," Katrina frowned at her mother.

Harry chuckled at his wife’s teasing, reaching down to scratch behind the Siamese’s ears. "What your mother’s trying to tell you, princess, is that you’ve got nothing to be nervous about. Culture aside, people are all basically the same deep down. If anything, you’ll probably make them more nervous than the other way around."

"Me? Make them nervous?"

"You are the captain’s daughter," Annika responded, "are you not?"

Captain Harry Kim looked at his family and a great feeling of pride swelled within him. After spending months at a time apart from his wife and daughter while commanding the Houston, these past three years working and living together on the Delta Fleet project had been a dream assignment. Now they were about to depart together on the grandest mission of exploration since the days of James T. Kirk, and he would be commanding the largest, most advanced starship ever commissioned.

The starship Enterprise. NCC-1701-F. Not Picard’s Enterprise, nor Kirk’s or Garrett’s or Harriman’s or even Archer’s. His Enterprise.

Harry was a modest man by nature, but even he had to admit to some feeling of pride at the grand honor that Starfleet had bestowed upon him. He was almost as proud as he was of his own family.

He looked on warmly at the two of them, his wife and daughter. Katrina was maturing into a bright and articulate young woman, sharp as a tack and always one step ahead of him. I suppose I can thank her mother for that, he thought wryly as he glanced over at Annika. His little princess was no longer that helpless Romulan infant they had held so many years ago. She had grown, but then they had all grown so much over the years.

"Enterprise to incoming shuttlepod," came a familiar female voice over the intercom. "Please identify."

Harry smiled as he took the call. "Enterprise, this the captain speaking. I trust things are well on the bridge, Lieutenant?"

"Captain!" the young woman blurted out in surprise. "I’m sorry, sir. We weren’t expecting you to board until tomorrow…"

"Relax, Naomi," he chuckled. "I’m just taking the family out for an afternoon joyride. We’ll be boarding tomorrow as scheduled."

"Yes, sir," came the crisp reply. "Commander Vorik is down in Engineering running tests on the core. I can patch him through…"

"That’s all right, Lieutenant," said Harry affably. "I’ll review the status reports when we come aboard. I’ll want to go over them with Commander Kalan when he arrives."

"Aye, sir."

Katrina’s eyes widened as she saw the latticework of the huge drydock grow larger in the cockpit window. "Hey, Dad! I see it!"

Harry leaned over, nestling his head down between Annika and Katrina. "Yep, there she is all right," he said proudly. "Enterprise."

The young Romulan girl gasped as they approached closer to the docked starship. She had seemed so small from a distance, but as the shuttlepod came closer, Katrina could get a sense of just how large this new vessel was. Being the daughter of a Starfleet officer, she had seen starships up close many times before. She had once believed her father’s old ship, the Houston, had been the most awe-inspiring sight ever. But that ship paled in comparison to this new starship, one that would be her home for the next several years.

"Just think," she said, glancing over at Harry, grinning playfully. "My dad is the one who’s going to be commanding that ship." She then turned back to the viewport to see the Enterprise loom larger before them. "Way cool."

"Just cool?" Harry chuckled.

"Oh, it’s better than cool," said Katrina. "It’s…slee’mah."

"Slee’mah?" Harry laughed at the expression. "Is that what kids are saying these days?"

Annika leaned forward with a knowing grin of her own. "I’ve been informed that Andorian phraseology is now considered fashionable among young people this year." Turning next to her daughter, she then addressed her more seriously. "Katrina, I presume that you are aware of the Enterprise‘s vital statistics, other than the fact that it is…slee’mah."

Katrina sighed and rolled her eyes. She loved her mother, but it really annoyed her when she put her through these impromptu pop quizzes to test her knowledge. "USS Enterprise," she recited listlessly, having committed this information to memory many times over. "Discovery class, registry number NCC-1701-F. 1,798 meters long, 700 meters across, 42 million tons mass, 54 decks, and a total personnel of 2840 officers, enlisted crew, scientists and civilians." She then arched an eyebrow, a mirror image of her mother’s expression. "Do you want me to quote the slipstream performance, or the shield capacity next?"

"How would it look for the captain’s daughter to be ignorant of her father’s vessel?" Annika stated calmly, meeting her daughter’s glare halfway.

"OK, you two," Harry said as he put a hand on each of their shoulders. "Can’t we just enjoy this? I mean, when’s the next time we’ll have a chance to see the Enterprise from the outside like this?"

The shuttlepod was now close enough to the drydock to make out the navigation lights and windows studding the sleek surface of the huge starship.

"So what do you think Commander Kalan will be like?" Katrina asked, seemingly from nowhere.

Harry sighed, his mind still undecided on that matter. "Well, he’s got an impressive record. He personally fought back two Breen incursions into Klingon territory. A third level Dahar acolyte. He’s even lectured at the Ty’Gokor Military Academy on interspecies military tactics, so I guess that makes him the perfect choice to serve on a mixed crew starship."

Katrina looked askew at her father. "I’m sensing a ‘but’ there, Dad."

Harry shrugged his shoulders, and sighed. "A human captain and a Klingon first officer. I just hope he and I will be able to work well together, that’s all."

"Well, you did choose him, didn’t you?" said Katrina. "I mean, you’re the captain. You’ve got a say as to who’ll be serving under you, right?"

"I chose Kalan," said Harry. "But let’s just say my choices were from a limited pool of applicants."

"Limited pool?"

"Politically limited," Annika added, the bitterness in her voice starting to creep in. "Joint Fleet Command clearly wanted a Klingon to serve in the executive officer’s chair. Your father had to make his choice from those candidates the Klingon Empire deemed acceptable."

"Yeah," Harry added. "Mostly a lot of councilors’ sons and nephews. With all the corruption Chancellor Martok’s been able to clean up, it’s amazing how much nepotism there still is in the Empire. At least Kalan was a real quality candidate."

"That doesn’t seem right," said Katrina. "I mean, Starfleet doesn’t staff its ships to fill any species quotas. Why should the Delta Fleet have to be that way?"

"Like your mother said, princess. Politics. With so many governments collaborating on this project, there’s a lot of egos that have to be soothed."

"At least your father had the privilege of having some choice over his executive," Annika said bitterly. "I was not given such a luxury."

"Honey," Harry groaned as he caressed his wife’s neck. "Try not to be so upset about this whole Mahat business. She’s a published scientist and her work has been cited…"

"I am the Director of Science on this mission," she flared at him. "I should be granted the privilege of choosing my own associate director, one who is actually a qualified scientist and not a…religious zealot."

"Look, just because Dr. Mahat also happens to be a deacon in the Hebitian Order, it doesn’t mean the two of you can’t work together," said Harry. "Just give her a chance. Just let her know how you expect things to be run and I’m sure she’ll respect that."

Annika tilted her head, and a smile grudgingly formed on her lips. "Is that advice from my captain or my husband?"

"Both," he replied with a smile of his own.

Katrina, seeing an opportunity, leaned in to take advantage of the generous mood. "So, while we’re on the subject of giving people a chance…have you decided about Miral yet?"

Harry and Annika turned to her in unison, their faces both displaying their displeasure at the question. Harry was silent, but Annika did not hesitate to speak. "Katrina, you are well aware that it is inappropriate of you to pressure your father regarding a command decision."

"I know it’s just…"

"Miral didn’t ask you to lean on me, did she?" asked Harry.

"No, of course not," said Katrina. "It’s just…it would be way slee’mah if she were to transfer to the Enterprise. I mean, she really wants this, and she’s such a great pilot, and…"

"Katrina," Annika said, her tone a warning.

"Okay, okay," said the girl. "I’ll back off. Man, try and have an adult conversation around here…"

"I know, I know," said Harry warmly, putting his hand on her shoulder affectionately. "I understand how much you’d love to have Miral aboard the Enterprise. Believe me, part of me wants the same thing."

"But part of you doesn’t?"

"I…I have to think it over some more, that’s all," he said somberly. It was an issue that he was avoiding, but he couldn’t put it off for much longer. Enterprise would be launching in two days, and he would have to decide if the daughter of his best friends would be at the helm or not.

"What about the Jem’Hadar?" Katrina piped up. "When are they expected to be here?"

"Sometime tomorrow afternoon," said Harry with noticeable disquiet.

"Wow, real Jem’Hadar on our ship," said Katrina. "I heard that they’re supposed to be part of a new breed, that the Founders are making them more independent now."

"That’s… something we’ll have to see for ourselves," said Harry nervously. "Look, let’s not talk about that. We’re coming around for another pass over the drydock."

At this point, the shuttlepod was now upon the great starship, coasting silently above the flank of her huge primary hull. Long and streamlined like a dolphin, the USS Enterprise had a grace and elegance in her design that enhanced her power and size. She was built to soar at slipstream speeds, able to cross the galaxy in a matter of weeks rather than decades. She carried enough firepower, armor, and shielding to go head on with the most powerful Borg starships known, and carried a small fleet of auxiliary craft equal to a small Starbase. Every new technology had been crammed in to give her and her sister ships every advantage during their long, multi-year missions. She was, quite simply, among the most powerful and advanced starships ever built, the first of fourteen starships that were to be launched to the Delta Quadrant and resume the brief period of exploration that the starship Voyager had begun quite by accident nearly thirty years earlier.

But to the Kims, it was also home.

Lieutenant Naomi Wildman sat comfortably at her station as messages came routed to her from all over the ship. The bridge was a hive of activity as crewmen and technicians darted about their duties, making the last-minute fixes and tweaks to get the starship Enterprise ready for her upcoming launch. Naomi watched on her personal HCARS display as the Kim’s shuttlecraft departed from view to return to Telford Station. Unlike the older LCARS display still used on some smaller vessels, HCARS took advantage of integrated holoprojection units to create a free-floating customizable interface for any workstation. Thus, one’s control panel was no longer limited to the physical space at one’s station, but could be as large or as small as necessary, even at an entirely different location. And as Operations officer, all matters regarding the ship’s readiness were her responsibility, even if she wasn’t the senior-most officer on the ship.

She glanced over at the Tactical station to see the other senior staff member hard at work. Lieutenant Cyrus Krell was the ship’s security officer and technically her superior officer. But he had been content to see to his own duties since coming aboard yesterday, leaving the readiness of the ship to Naomi and Commander Vorik. Other than his still incomplete security staff and a few cursory status reports to Vorik, Krell had barely spoken to anyone since his arrival.

He was a strange one, Naomi thought. Tall and solidly built, he was dark-skinned with a cool detached way about him. He had seemed most…comfortable was the best word for it…with Commander Vorik, almost as though he could be more relaxed around a Vulcan than his fellow human beings. Naomi supposed it made sense. According to Krell’s service record, he had been raised on Vulcan since childhood, an odd upbringing for a human to say the least. Even more unusual was his leaving Vulcan at eighteen to tramp his way across the frontier until hooking up with a band of privateers for a few years before enrolling into the Academy.

But the most noteworthy thing about Lt. Krell had to be his eyes. She knew they were artificial, that being obvious from their intense golden glow. The effect was disconcerting, and she wondered if the effect had been deliberate, intended to unnerve an opponent in close combat.

Naomi heard the bridge doors swish as a new voice entered the bridge. "I heard we almost had a visit from the captain."

She looked up to see the broad grin of the ship’s counselor, Lieutenant Commander Finnegan Bartok, or ‘Finn’ as he insisted on being called.

"Not quite," she answered affably. "He was just giving Katrina a last minute tour of the outside before boarding."

"Oh yes. I’m sure once they get settled in that young Katrina will have her hands full, getting to meet new people and making new friends. And all before we even start making contact with people in the Delta Quadrant. That’s when the real fun begins."

"It won’t all be fun and games," Krell spoke up from his station, much to everyone’s surprise. "The way I read it, we’ll be facing plenty of hostiles where we’re going."

"Well, I suppose that’s the challenge, isn’t it?" said Bartok. "Trying to make friends where enemies once stood."

"And I thought that kind of idealism died out during the Dominion War," said Krell gruffly. "More power to you, counselor." He grudgingly smiled before turning his attention back towards his instruments.

Naomi considered the two men and how Bartok seemed in many ways to be Krell’s exact opposite. He was at least fifteen years the security officer’s senior, smooth-headed and broad with a trim salt-and-pepper beard. Where Krell seemed to have a permanent neutral scowl on his face, Bartok glowed with a perpetual smile. Maybe that was why she seemed to interact with him so comfortably, thought Naomi. He reminded her so much of Neelix.

"I suppose, Lieutenant, that you’d know better than anyone here what we’re in for," Bartok said to her. "After all, you were born out in the Delta Quadrant."

"I wish I could say with confidence," she replied. "But Voyager left the Trans-Nekrit Expanse sectors when I was still a baby. The earliest bad guys that I remember clearly were the Borg."

"Yes, well, I’d say we all have had our share of experiences with them." Naomi noticed how for just a brief moment, at the mention of the Borg, Bartok’s smile seemed to momentarily fade. But the counselor quickly recovered and was his old grinning self.

The comline chimed, and Naomi quickly answered the hail. "Wildman, here."

"This is Crewman Tava, Lieutenant," came the soft reply over the intercom.

"Talk to me, crewman," the Ops officer said crisply. "What’s the status on Level 21?"

"Everything’s fine here, Lieutenant," said Tava. "I just wanted to remind you that you said you’d be coming off duty at 1700 hours."

Naomi drew a blank at the crewman’s remarks, until it dawned upon her what she meant. Sabrina! Tava had been the junior who had volunteered to babysit her daughter. How could she have forgotten that? Well, things were just so crazy getting the Enterprise ready to launch on time and until the civilian support staff came aboard and the ship’s day care facilities were running smoothly, she had to barter with off-duty crew to watch over her six-year old.

"Um, right, Tava. I’m sorry, it’s just…we’re a little backed up here on the bridge. I’ll try to make it down…"

But she was interrupted by another voice on the bridge, this one coming from Tactical. "Lieutenant," said Cyrus Krell, "we’re getting a hail on the Klingon priority channel. It’s the transport from Qo’noS."

"Commander Kalan?" Bartok answered with confusion. "Wasn’t he scheduled to arrive tomorrow?"

"Apparently he’s shown up early," came Krell’s terse reply. "They’re entering the system now. They should be in dock within the hour."

"I…um…. tell the transport to dock at Hanger Twelve. I’ll inform Commander Vorik." She stammered to speak, reestablishing her professional composure, realizing that once again her career would have to come first before her personal life. She turned back towards the open comline, where Crewman Tava was still waiting for her. "Crewman, the new XO will be arriving shortly. I’d appreciate it if you could stay with Sabrina another hour or two. I’ll be down to pick her up as soon as I finish meeting with him."

"Lieutenant, I have to go on shift in fifteen minutes," Tava said desperately.

"Well, just…find someone. Someone you can trust. I’ll hail you as soon as I get a free moment. Wildman out." And with that, she severed the comline. She looked up, ready to contact Engineering, only to see Counselor Bartok giving her a skewed glance. He was still smiling at her warmly, but his eyes held just the faintest hint of disapproval.

"Is there something you’d like to talk about, Naomi?" Bartok prodded gently.

"No, nothing at all," she answered sharply. "I get busy. My job. Sabrina understands. She knows what I do is important. It’s not as though I don’t love my little girl any less."

"Of course she understands," he replied gently.

Krell just plugged away at his station. His eyes, of course, revealed nothing.

The Romulan Star Republic transport vessel Ghaleen sped its way at Warp 7 towards the Beta Antares Shipyards, flanked by two small Starfleet escorts, the Molokai and the Rhode Island. At one time, a Romulan starship flying so casually through Federation space would have been a noteworthy event, almost a crisis. But these were different times, and the leaner and far less intimidating Ghaleen reflected those differences.

The main mess hall was a hive of gossip and conversation between the crew and passengers. The two groups were easily distinguishable, the Ghaleen’s crew dressed in the gray and black uniforms of the Star Republic Navy, while the passengers wore the pseudo-Starfleet uniforms marking them as a part of the Delta Fleet, complete with the official insignia patches of the Republic on their arms. Almost all of the passengers were congregated into their various cliques and social circles, all abuzz with excitement over their upcoming assignment. Almost all, except for one woman, who sat by herself in a solitary lounge chair near the largest observation window, her attention focused on the PADD in her hands. Dr. Tila Saldeed tried to shut out the babbling around her, but the enthusiasm around her kept intruding on the wall of solitude that she tried to erect.

"When my grandfather first heard I was going to be serving on a ship full of humans and Klingons, he nearly had a stroke!" said one voice from a cluster of especially young-looking officers at the nearest table.

"Yeah, my great-grandfather’s the same way," came a second voice, half-laughing. "He and his cronies are always sitting around the corner café, sipping ale, and toasting the glorious old Empire and telling old war stories."

"Glorious Empire?!" a third sniggered. "I say if our grandparents want to toast those old power-hungry Praetorite fools, then it’s a waste of good ale!"

Saldeed rolled her eyes at the impertinent youth. How flippant the young were these days, and how fuzzy their memories were. These children barely remembered the Empire and how ruthless it could be to its enemies, both within and without. Even with its dying breaths, the Romulan Star Empire had been a brutal beast, and like most Rihannsu under the century mark, she did not mourn its passing. But, thought Saldeed, these callow youths – like most of their generation – were dangerously shortsighted to dismiss the old empire as run by incapable jesters doomed to failure against the onslaught of superior Republican ideals. She was old enough to know better.

"Here, here," cheered a fourth. "I propose a toast of our own. To us!" Saldeed looked up to see an assembly of six impossibly young officers hoisting their glasses of synthale, all wearing the multi-colored uniforms that Starfleet seemed to favor. "Today we are sub-centurions of the Republic! Tomorrow, we shall be…" The youth then trailed off as he tried to pronounce the unfamiliar word in the human tongue of English. "…Ensigns!" he managed to articulate, to the laughter and clinking glasses of his comrades.

Two of them were dressed in blue, matching the medical colors that Saldeed herself had on beneath her overcoat. She hoped that the Elements would grant her the favor that none of these feannae were to be posted to Enterprise with her.

She wanted to turn back to her reading, but a shadow came forth, blocking her view of the celebrating young officers.

"Excuse me," said the man, a mature officer wearing the uniform of a Republic centurion. "I don’t mean to disturb you, but you look familiar to me somehow. Have we met before?"

Saldeed grew pale for a fraction of a second, before regaining her calm outward expression. The last thing she had ever anticipated was that someone after all this time might know her face. She didn’t know the centurion. It was more likely than not that he had simply mistaken her for someone else. But just to be safe, she had to throw the curious centurion off her trail.

"Really now, centurion," said Saldeed slyly. "Do you always accost your female passengers like this?"

Now it was the centurion’s turn to look nervous. "I…I beg your pardon…" he struggled to address her, trying to find a clue to a proper honorific, until a quick stare at her collar and uniform revealed the pips and color of her rank and station. "Doctor?"

"And to use such a shamelessly obvious pick-up line. Why, even a Ferengi would show more subtlety," she continued with added flourish, letting her voice increase in volume just the tiniest bit.

"Doctor, I think there…that is…I think I’ve made a mistake. I…I believe I’ve confused you with someone else."

"Perhaps you have, centurion," said Saldeed, playing it to the hilt.

"I…apologize for disturbing your privacy, Doctor. Good day." And the centurion beat a nervous retreat, looking about the room, hoping that no one had witnessed his conceivably inappropriate behavior.

Saldeed smiled quietly and returned to her reading. She hoped the centurion would try and put this embarrassment out of his mind as quickly as possible, but she doubted he would ever be able to place her face, assuming he ever really had seen her before. She had gone to too much effort to conceal her past to be fouled up by such a random encounter. And the centurion had an increasingly narrow window in which to do anything. By this time tomorrow, she would be aboard Enterprise; a day after that, she would be safely in slipstream, far beyond the reach of any harm or consequences.

All she wanted now was to put as much distance between herself and her past. And you couldn’t get any father from Romulus than the Delta Quadrant.

Lieutenant Commander Vorik stood crisply at attention in the main vestibule for Hangar Bay 12. Naomi, Bartok, and Krell stood solidly at his side, waiting for the airlock light to switch from red to green, indicating a successful disembarkation.

"So, what kind of man do you think Commander Kalan will be?" Bartok asked Naomi, leaning over as her spoke.

"Your speculations are pointless, counselor," Vorik commented stoically, overhearing the question. "We will be meeting the commander soon enough, at which point your questions will be answered."

Straight and to the point, Naomi thought. When she considered how the people she knew and cared about from her days on Voyager had changed so much since those days in the Delta Quadrant, it was amusing to her just how little Vorik had changed over the past 23 years.

The airlock doors slid open with a large dramatic whoosh, and a figure emerged into the lit vestibule. He was Klingon, tall and powerfully built, even more so that Krell. He had the full beard of a warrior, and long hair that was tied back from his face. He was also dressed in the red shirt and black slacks of command division in Starfleet, but he wore the added accouterment of a black and gold sash worn diagonally across his chest, a mark of his House and status. Also noticeable was the fierce intensity in his eyes and the lean expression on his face. He was looking about, sizing up everyone in the room, like a wolf among the sheep.

"Commander Kalan," Vorik stepped forward. "Welcome aboard Enterprise. I am…"

"Lieutenant Commander Vorik," Kalan answered with a deep, resonating voice. "I’ve familiarized myself with the entire senior staff and their service records already, Commander."

"Then there would be no logic in introductions," Vorik acknowledged. "I will then formally transfer command of the vessel over to you, pending the captain’s arrival."

"Captain Kim is not on board?" Kalan inquired.

"No sir," said Vorik. "The captain, Dr. Kim, and their daughter are scheduled to board ship at 0930 tomorrow, prior to the arrival of the transport from Romulus. The civilian support staff is expected to complete boarding by 1800 hours."

"Strange that the captain would not board his own ship at the earliest opportunity," Kalan remarked. Naomi wasn’t sure she liked the tone of his inference.

"The Kims will be meeting with several VIPs from Starfleet and the Federation this evening. Given your own background, Commander, I am certain you can appreciate the fact that politics is a necessary adjunct to such a highly profiled mission of this nature."

Kalan nodded somberly at the Chief Engineer’s carefully chosen words. "More than you know, Commander. In that case, I will want to be as fully briefed on the ship and crew’s current status prior to Captain Kim’s arrival."

"Yes, sir," Vorik nodded. "Lieutenant Wildman has overseen most of the ship’s system tests and bridge operations during my oversights of the final engine shakedown."

"Then I’ll want to sit down the both of you and go over your status reports at once," said Kalan forcefully.

Naomi realized what the first officer was asking, and how she’d be leaving Sabrina longer than she had planned. "Commander, are you sure you wouldn’t like to settle into your quarters first. I can have an ensign show you where…"

"I know where my quarters are, Lieutenant," Kalan said with narrowed eyes at the young woman. "My personal needs are secondary to ensuring that this vessel and her crew are fully prepared for the mission at hand."

In other words, she thought, it’s an order. "Yes, sir," she sighed. Once again, duty had come before her time with her daughter.

"Very well," Kalan replied, before turning to Krell and Bartok. "I’ll expect to meet with you afterwards, Mr. Krell. Have your status reports prepared and be ready to answer my questions."

"Yes, sir," Krell replied, clearly ready for whatever his commanding officer was prepared to throw at him.

Kalan nodded and then turned to Bartok. "Depending on how my time with the rest of the staff proceeds, counselor, I’ll want to speak with you as well. I understand that you served previously with Captain Kim."

"That’s right," said Bartok. "I was Chief Counselor aboard the Houston. When the captain received this opportunity to command the Enterprise, he requested me to transfer here."

"So, you consider the captain to be a friend?" Kalan asked, his eyes narrowing, his face inscrutable.

"Yes," Bartok answered unfazed. "Both him and his wife. I’ve known them for nearly ten years."

"Commander," Vorik spoke up, "if you consider the matter to be an issue of importance, then you should be aware that I too consider myself a long time acquaintance of the Kims, as does Lieutenant Wildman."

"Really now?" said the Klingon officer, his lips curling into an expression that was neither a smile nor a scowl. "Then I’ll definitely want to be speaking with Mr. Bartok later."

Bartok chuckled at Kalan’s words, quite unintentionally. "Do you find something I said amusing, counselor?"

"Well, to be perfectly honest, Commander," said Bartok, keeping his grin in place, a bold thing indeed. "I’ve worked with your people before. I can definitely say that this is the first time a Klingon has ever had any kind of use for me or my counsel."

"I think you’ll find, Mr. Bartok, that I don’t keep my mind closed to any tactical resources," Kalan said, folding his arms. "If you know the enemy and know yourself," he seemed to quote, "you need not fear the result of a hundred battles." The executive officer then gestured Vorik and Naomi out the door, leaving Krell and Bartok to ponder their new commander.

"Large and in charge," said Krell as soon as the doors slid closed.

"I beg your pardon?" asked Bartok.

"Commander Kalan," said Krell. "There’s a man who likes to make his presence felt."

"I won’t disagree with you," said Bartok. "He’s not quite what I expected. But still, I’m not sure how his command style is going to mesh with the captain’s, not if he’s going to be quoting Kahless left and right."

"Kahless?" said Krell, showing bemusement for the first time. "You thought that quote was from Kahless? Those words were from Sun Tzu."

Now it was Bartok’s turn to show surprise. "Sun Tzu? From a Klingon? I don’t believe it!"

"Believe it," said Krell, showing the slight trace of a smile. "This fellow is definitely more than what I expected."

"To the Enterprise!" exclaimed the joyous voice of Admiral Kathryn Janeway as she raised her champagne glass high, "and her noble crew!"

"Here, here," said the small assembled crowd of friends, gathered at the Observation Lounge at Telford Station, the setting of a special private reunion of old friends and colleagues. Harry and Annika looked on with joy as their good friends raised their own glasses to celebrate the voyage to come. Admiral Janeway looked at them with pride, her frosted white hair giving her a steely dignity that added to her already legendary status as the captain who brought her crew back from the Delta Quadrant. Chakotay stood by her side – as always – in his modest gray and tan suit, his hair silvered and face lined, giving his facial tattoo extra texture.

"And to her captain," joined in Tom Paris, holding aloft his own glass. "Here’s to a man who, after spending so many years trying to fight his way out of the Delta Quadrant, would be damn fool enough to want to go back!"

Harry laughed at the good-natured joke offered by his best friend. But then what else would he expect? Despite a receded hairline and some middle-age spread, Tom was still the same happy-go-lucky guy Harry had known since their days on Voyager together. B’Elanna smiled on with him, her hair graying, but still a handsome woman. Also looking on proudly was Neelix, whose whiskers and mane were now a ghostly white, his spots beginning to fade, and growing plump with age.

In contrast, Tuvok and his wife T’Pel were almost untouched by the passage of time, as was the individual formerly known only as the Doctor, but was now famous throughout the quadrant as the holographic rights activist and author, Dr. Jonathan Doe.

"And a toast to the Enterprise‘s new Director of Science," said the hologram, holding a glass of real champagne in his hand. "May she be a sterling example of accomplishment to many." He then looked on slyly at young Katrina Kim standing by her parents with her glass of ginger ale. "Especially those among the younger generation."

"I’ll drink to that," Harry said joyfully, sipping again at his glass. Annika, of course, drank only a non-alcoholic substitute, her tolerance for the real thing still low after all these years. He looked on with amusement as Jonathan then offered his glass to a lovely young buxom blonde at his side, his new wife Lana. Harry and his wife shared a conspiratorial grin between them. They were both happy that their friend had finally chosen to settle down after spending so many years in the public eye as a notorious playboy, even though Lana bore a rather eerie resemblance to a young Annika.

"But in all honesty, Harry, Annika, Katrina," said Chakotay, stepping forward. "We’re all very proud of you. Our hopes and prayers will be with you on this mission. Other than my own companion," he said with a smile as he glanced at his wife, the Admiral, looking on affectionately at him, "I can’t imagine anyone else more capable of leading this mission, just as I know you’ll all succeed brilliantly."

"In that, we’re in complete agreement," said Admiral Janeway. "I knew that young ensign I met nearly thirty years ago would become an officer that would make history one day. And now it seems that day is upon us."

Kim considered the task for which they had all placed such high confidence in him. According the mission plan, Enterprise would leave a few months ahead of the rest of the Delta Fleet, where they would re-establish contact with the planet Talax and determine the current state of affairs there. Because of then-Captain Janeway’s previous establishment of good relations with the Talaxians, and as the Federation happened to have a Talaxian delegate on hand, Neelix would then arrive on a later mission to serve as the Federation ambassador and testify as to the fleet’s good intentions. Should the Talaxians prove amenable, a beachhead would be established in their system, Starbase Delta One, which would serve as a central nexus for a hyperlink communications relay and a clearing point for the other thirteen vessels of the fleet and future arrivals from the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.

"Here, here," said Neelix proudly in response to Chakotay and Kathryn’s well wishing. "I’m only sorry that Naomi couldn’t be here with Sabrina."

"I’m afraid that is unlikely, Neelix," said Annika sympathetically. "Commander Kalan arrived earlier than expected and is tapping her expertise to be brought up to date on the ship’s launch status."

"Really now?" asked Tom. "How’s that going to look, the first officer toiling on his ship while the captain parties the night away with his friends."

"One of the prerogatives of command, Tom," Janeway commented slyly. "Besides, you wouldn’t want Harry to leave the party and offend an admiral, would you?"

"Well, personally," said B’Elanna, "considering how political the choice was, I think you lucked out in getting Kalan. Everyone back on Qo’noS is practically betting on him to be Chancellor in another ten or twenty years."

"Oh?" said Harry curiously. Since she and Tom had settled down from their wild frontier days, B’Elanna had moved on from her involvement in colonial politics and was now an advisor to the Federation embassy to the Klingon Empire, frequently making trips to their homeworld and meeting with their highest officials. "So tell me, Madame Attaché," he said jokingly, "have you ever met the man himself?"

"No, but I have met his uncle, Councilor Hirak," she replied, the distaste on her face quite evident. "A real slick operator, that one. Let’s just hope for your sake that Kalan takes more after the father and not the uncle."

"Yes, I heard that his father was a great hero during the Dominion War," Harry remarked.

"Just a hero?" B’Elanna laughed. "Harry, we’re talking about Kritus, son of Talankar, hero of Operation Return. He personally rammed his Bird-of-Prey into a Jem’Hadar attack cruisers during the final stages of the engagement. They say his sacrifice made it possible for the Klingon forces to help the Federation take back DS9 from the Dominion." Her expression then went sour as she continued on. "And his dear brother’s been milking his reputation for all its worth. Even married Kritus’s widow to boot."

"If Kalan’s that ambitious, I wonder why he’d want to be so far away from the High Council?" asked Harry.

"Maybe he’s trying to carve out his own path," said B’Elanna. "Besides, there’s a lot of honor being attached to a mission like the Delta Fleet. Not to mention the chance to go into battle against the Borg. What Klingon wouldn’t want that? If I were you, Harry, I’d be more worried about having a troop of those damned Jem’Hadar on board than one Klingon."

"Did someone mention Klingons?" said a light-hearted voice from the entrance to the room. All eyes turned around to see a slender young woman enter the observation lounge. She had light brown hair, and the distinctive forehead ridges of someone with Klingon ancestry in her blood. She also wore the red and black uniform of the command division, and the distinctive pip on her collar of a newly minted ensign.

"Miral!" Katrina exclaimed joyously, as she ran up to the woman. The two hugged with sisterly affection.

"Hey there, elf!" Miral joked, tussling the younger girl’s hair. "I told you I’d make it for the party."

"I knew you wouldn’t want to miss it, turtlehead," Katrina laughed back.

"Hey you," Tom called out to his daughter. "You think you’re too big to kiss your old man hello?"

One by one, Miral Paris came over to greet and kiss her parents, Jonathan, Neelix, Chakotay and her Aunt Annika. When she approached the Starfleet officers of the crowd, her approach was more tentative.

"Relax, Miral," Janeway laughed gently. "I think that for tonight we can all be family and friends, not officers."

"Yes, Admiral," Miral stammered, "I mean, Aunt Kathryn." Eyeing Tuvok warily, she inquired. "Does that apply to you as well, sir?"

"I am no longer your instructor or proctor, Ensign," Tuvok stated with a nod of his head. "A fact that has allowed for a greater degree of tranquility in my mental bearing."

"Oh come now, Tuvok," Tom sniggered. "Even you have to admit that my little peanut is the best damn pilot you’ve ever had as a student."

"Dad!" Miral groaned, wanting to crawl into a hole somewhere and hide.

"Her talents and capability are beyond question," Tuvok replied. "As for her more independent characteristics, those I am certain will be tamed by her next commanding officer, hopefully an individual with far greater patience than I."

A few eyes darted over in Harry’s direction. It seemed that more than a few people present knew of Miral’s request for a transfer to Enterprise.

"While on the subject of talent and capability," Tuvok continued as he turned to Harry, "I trust that Lieutenant Krell has settled into his post."

"I’ve only spoken with him a few times directly," said Harry, "but he seems like a capable officer. His reports are thorough and his references are impeccable, of course."

"I would expect no less for him, Captain Kim," Tuvok said formally, as they were discussing official Starfleet matters. "Mr. Krell was a most accomplished student with a firm grasp of tactical science. T’Pel and I have known his adoptive parents for many years and I considered it a privilege to sponsor him for the Academy."

"Yes, you’ve told me so many times before," said Harry. "There’s something about him though. He seems so driven and isolated."

Tuvok nodded silently. "The Vulcan way of life is a demanding one for those not born to it. I was not surprised by his decision to run off and wander the frontier to find himself before enrolling into the Academy."

"Well, that isn’t what concerns me," said Harry. "It’s in his service record, the Aragorn deep space survey mission. I’ve found nothing but glowing reports from the people who served with him. But my requests for interviews with some of his former crewmates have been hard to track down. It’s like everyone who served on that mission has scattered to the four winds."

While the conversations continued among the adults, Katrina found herself increasingly shut out. All of it had to do with Starfleet business, of which she had no part or control. Even Miral, who she had hoped to be able to catch up with, was off talking with her mother. And so Katrina broke away from the main party, and wandered over to the primary observation window, watching as the distant drydock where Enterprise was berthed came into view, lit up by its flashing navigation markers.

"Cosmic thoughts?" came a warm familiar voice from behind her. Katrina turned to see an amused Admiral Janeway behind her, sharing her focus towards the outside view.

"Oh, nothing major, Aunt Kathryn," she said. "I was just thinking about the Enterprise, that’s all."

"And you call that ‘nothing major’?" the admiral smiled in amusement.

"Well, maybe it is kinda important," laughed Katrina. "I guess its all starting to hit me just how big a deal this mission is."

"They wouldn’t entrust it to just anyone," said Janeway. "Starfleet believes in your father. Not just to command a Discovery class, but to bring so many different cultures and mold them together into a single crew. He’ll need that talent if he’s going to forge any new alliances in the Delta Quadrant."

"Like you did, when you commanded Voyager?"

Janeway smirked at the young girl’s remark. "Nothing so grandiose, believe me. My main concern was getting my crew and ship home safely. Voyager‘s mission, extraordinary as it was, was just a fluke, the kind of tale that historians like to argue over the finer details." Then the Admiral’s attention grew starry-eyed as she gazed out upon the distant drydock. "But Enterprise, that’s going to be a mission about which they’ll all agree, the turning point that marked Starfleet’s return to exploration." The older woman then looked back to the youngster, and smiled with grandmotherly affection. "How I envy you and your generation, Katrina, to come of age at this time. For the last quarter century, we’ve been a society with broken dreams and limited visions. Your father’s generation and mine had so many of their ideals crushed, between the Borg Incursions, the Dominion War, and all the other conflicts. This project, the Delta Fleet, it’s like something out of the first days of starflight. It’s like we’ve begun to dream again." She beamed at the young girl. "You’re an eyewitness to history."

"I…never thought about it that way," said Katrina. "A lot of people say that the Discovery-class ships were just built to fight Borg. That we’re only going there to face them down on their home turf."

"I hope it won’t come to that," said Kathryn Janeway to her young namesake. "But those are the risks that come with exploration. The fact that your father remains committed to the ideals of Starfleet is one of the reasons they wanted him to command this mission. The Enterprise needs more than just a soldier or an explorer. It needs…a visionary."

Seeing the faraway look on the woman who had been grandmother, godmother, and favorite aunt to her while growing up, Katrina was struck with an insight beyond her years. "You wish it was you, don’t you? You want to be on that ship. You want to go back there."

Janeway let pearls of gentle laughter escape her lips. "You’re definitely your mother’s daughter; full of insight and willing to speak your mind." Turning back to the view of the ship, Janeway watched as more ships came in to dock, watching the activity build up to the moment of anticipation that was to take place in another 36 hours. "I suppose there is a part of me that wants to go back. Revisit some old friends, right some old wrongs. Get that old explorer’s fire back again…" But the elder woman smiled a sad, longing smile and returned her focus to the young one beside her. "But that’s not going to happen," she said with a long sigh. "My time has passed. As a wise individual once told me many years ago, my part in this tale is now over. It’s time for me to step back and pass the torch on to the next generation. Your father’s, your mother’s…and yours."

"Sir?" a voice spoke from just over Kim’s shoulder while he was talking to Neelix. "I’m sorry to interrupt, but I was hoping I could have a few minutes of your time."

Harry nodded grimly at Ensign Miral Paris as he excused himself and led her aside to a quiet corner of the room. He tried his best to ignore his daughter looking on and giving the thumb’s up.

"Sir, I…"

"I thought the Admiral said this was a night for friends and family?" he said, trying to lighten the young woman’s mood.

"Oh, I think you’ll agree that this is a ‘Captain Kim’ question, not an ‘Uncle Harry’ question," she answered with a determined but earnest look.

"You want to know my decision regarding your transfer request, is that it?"

"Yes, sir," she answered, lowering her eyes.

Harry took in a deep breath, knowing that he could not defer this decision for much longer. "Tell me the truth, Ensign. Why do you want this transfer so badly? You’ve already made the cut for the Delta Fleet and a position on the Atlantis. Why Enterprise?"

Miral stood ramrod straight, her arms folded behind her back, the glint in her eye showing absolute certainty. "Because she’ll be the first, sir."

"Why should that matter to you, Ensign? Being first? Atlantis will be along in another four months. Isn’t that soon for you?"

"Permission to speak freely, sir."


Miral tried to keep her mask of composure while she spoke. "Captain, out of all the trillions of beings living on all the known worlds, there are only a few hundred rated to pilot the Discovery-class ships. And out of those hundreds, only two-dozen or so are fully qualified for both combat tactics and slipstream navigation. And out of those few…" she then trailed off as she revealed the same confident grin she had inherited from her father, "I’m the best. Sir."

Harry folded his arms, looking at the young officer with skepticism, bordering on amusement at her cockiness. "Is that so, Ensign?"

"Sir, I know that I’m the best of the best. My instructors knew it, my CO on the Atlantis knows it, and I think, sir, that you know it too. And if the Enterprise is going to be the first ship out there, then you’re going to need the best. Captain, you’ve known me long enough to know that I’ve been preparing for this mission my whole life. Ever since my folks told me my first story about the Delta Quadrant, I knew that it was my destiny to go there one day. And when I first learned about the Delta Fleet, I knew that Starfleet was where I wanted to be. This is what I was born for, Captain. You know this is right!"

"Watch your tone, Ensign," Kim said sternly. "I’ve been keeping track of your Academy record. You’ve developed quite the reputation as someone who plays fast and loose with the rules."

"I’m sorry, sir," Miral replied, "it’s just that the Delta Quadrant is a place where the rules can’t always apply. An explorer needs to be able to improvise and fly by the seat of their pants, if need be."

"That may well be. But if you’re looking for someone who’ll show you favoritism, then you’ll be disappointed. I don’t take kindly to outbursts from my officers."

"I’m sorry, sir. It’s just…" And then the realization of what was just said then hit her. "Wait a minute. Did you say…your officers?"

Harry sighed, showing a smile to creep past the professional exterior. "What can I say? For all your rough edges, Ensign, you are the best. And it wouldn’t be a trip to the Delta Quadrant without a Paris at the helm."

"I…thank you, sir. Or is it ‘Uncle Harry’ I should be thanking?"

"About that…" said Kim. "I think that from this point out you should assume that it’s ‘Captain Kim.’ I’ll let you know when it’s otherwise."

"Yes, sir," she said, smiling. "Um, sir. If I may ask…the reason you didn’t select me…it was because of my parents, wasn’t it?"

Harry said nothing, but nodded his head in reluctant agreement.

"Do you think you’re going to have any problem with them about this?"

He reached out to grip her right shoulder and smiled broadly. "I think your mother might be a bit upset at first, but I know your father will understand. And so will she, once she gets used to the idea. You’re their daughter. You represent what’s best in both of them. If they know you, then they’ll know that this is what you want."

The big day had finally arrived, Katrina thought excitedly as the shuttlepod moved into dock, the day they would board the Enterprise. By this time tomorrow, the countdown for launch would begin and soon after, they would be on their way to the Delta Quadrant.

She stood silently by her parents as they waited for the docking collar to lock into place and the airlock to slide open. After several interminably long minutes, the rear doors of the pod whooshed open.

The Kims had no luggage, their non-replicated personal effects being brought over during the night. The only things they carried were Katrina’s personal pack and Annika holding Petra. They entered the vestibule to see an assembled procession of crew and staff standing at attention. Vorik, Naomi, and Bartok stood at the front of the assembly.

"Captain on deck!" Naomi called out as she stood stiff as a board.

"At ease," Kim said amiably.

"Captain, Doctor, Ms. Kim," Vorik said as he stepped forward, "welcome aboard the Enterprise. Sir, I trust that you will find everything to your satisfaction?"

"Yes, I’ve read your reports. You and the crew have done an outstanding job prepping the ship for launch." He visually scanned the room, clearly intent on looking for someone. "Is Commander Kalan on board?" asked Kim.

"Actually, Commander Kalan is still on the bridge," said Vorik uncomfortably. "It was his opinion that there were still matters on the bridge that demanded his attention."

So this is how it begins, Harry thought. So much for broader worldview. A first officer not greeting his captain was a major faux paus in Starfleet. But among the Klingons this type of behavior was quite common. Clearly he was being challenged, his reaction being a benchmark of his worthiness as a captain.

"I see," said Harry coolly, trying to keep a calm exterior in the face of such an obvious slight. "I understand the transport from Romulus will be here shortly."

"Yes, sir," Vorik reported. "The Ghaleen is expected to dock within the hour."

"Excellent. And the Dominion vessel?"

"It is en route and should arrive by 1500 hours."

"Very good," he nodded. "Have the engines prepped for final prelaunch countdown. Lieutenant Wildman, see to it that my family is well situated. I’ll be on the bridge. Mr. Bartok, you’re with me."

"Yes, sir!" said Vorik, Naomi and Bartok in unison before going their assigned directions.

Harry turned to wife before departing. "I’ll probably be all day getting up to speed. See you at dinner tonight?"

"Of course," said Annika.

As Harry and Bartok made their way to the nearest turbolift, Lieutenant Wildman approached her, standing at attention, almost to the point of exaggeration. "Doctor, Ms. Kim, if you like I can direct you to your quarters now. I’ll have one of the junior officers bring your cat to your new quarters."

"Actually, Mom," said Katrina, "I’d like to do a little exploring, if that’s okay?"

Annika furrowed her brow at the request. "Very well. You may have four hours of exploration time. I will meet you at the Galleria lower level food kiosk at 1300 hours. Do not forget to requisition a combadge for yourself so that I may contact you if necessary."

"Yes, mom," she groaned.

"And if you should lose your way, simply call up an HPADD for directions…"

"I know, mom," sighed Katrina, rolling her eyes.

"Of course," Annika replied before turning to Naomi, her voice taking on an exaggerated degree of emotionlessness. "Shall we go, Lieutenant? I would like to go by the Science Deck before seeing the rest of the ship."

"Yes, ma’am," Naomi responded crisply as she turned on her heel and led the older woman towards the turbolift. They both entered in silence.

As soon as the doors slid shut behind them, Naomi kept her face as she addressed the woman next to her. "Doctor," she acknowledged, nodding her head.

"Naomi Wildman," said Annika in turn, her voice mimicking the neutral tone of a Borg drone.

This was apparently too much for Naomi, who could no longer keep a straight face. The stiff military stare quickly twisted into a burst of laughter, which triggered a mirrored, albeit more muted reaction from Annika.

"That Borg voice always kills me!" said Naomi. "Poor Katrina must have thought we were fighting or something."

"I highly doubt it," said an equally amused Annika Kim, snorting in a manner that passed for laughter with her. "She is much too observant for that."

"Speaking of which," she added heartily, "I hear that Katrina and I won’t be the only second-generation Voyager survivors on board."

"That is correct," Annika said proudly. "Harry…I mean, the captain…has approved Miral’s transfer."

"Should make life interesting around here. I feel terrible about missing the reception last night," Naomi said.

"There is no need to apologize," said Annika. "Everyone there knows the life of a Starfleet officer. They understood completely. In fact, they are all quite proud of the officer you have become." She then reached over to place her hand gently on her younger friend’s shoulder. "As am I. Just as your mother would no doubt be."

The mention of her mother hit Naomi especially hard, in light of how questionable she felt her parenting skills had become lately. "I wish she were here. I miss her so much."

"As do I," Annika acknowledged sadly. "Have you been in communication with your father?"

"He…he called from his yesterday. Wanted to wish the best to Sabrina and me. I guess he mustered up as much emotion as he could."

"That is not a fair judgment, Naomi," said Annika sympathetically. "Your father took her death very hard. It is only natural that he would choose to repress his emotions. I know the feeling all too well."

"So he decides to run away and take command of a deep space survey and leave me and Sabrina behind?!" the young officer snapped. "I needed him and he left us!" Naomi stopped herself as she realized she was venting at her long-time friend. "I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…"

"As I said, you need not apologize. Nor should you doubt yourself. You are an outstanding officer and a far better parent than you realize." She then leaned in to take Naomi’s hands into her own, a gesture that would have been unthinkable when she had first come to know her as a small lonely child so many years ago. "And you are most certainly not alone."

The turbolift ride to the bridge was a silent one, despite Bartok’s attempt to make the time pass smoothly.

"You know, I’ve been thinking of starting up another choir here on Enterprise," he said with forced cheerfulness. "Maybe I can broach the subject with Annika as soon as she’s settled in."

Harry nodded, his expression midway between neutrality and displeasure. "She’ll probably be too busy for a while. You know how she is when she gets a new project."

"I know," chuckled the counselor. "So, how do you plan to handle things with Kalan?"

"You mean, am I going to rant at him or chew him out in front of the entire bridge crew?" Harry answered sardonically as he turned to Finn. "No, I’m not. My ego isn’t that fragile. But if he wants to get into a spitting contest with me, then that’s his baggage. I intend to make it quite clear that this ship will be run according to the protocols established by Delta Fleet Command, protocols that his government agreed to."

"Good," said Bartok with a grin of satisfaction. "He’s at least a head taller than you. Personally, I don’t think you could take him if you had to handle him Klingon-style."

In spite of his earlier foul mood, Kim chuckled lightly at his friend’s remark, just in time for the lift doors to slide open. He stepped out into the large circular command center, only dimly hearing an officer shout out "Captain on the bridge!" as he stepped forward.

Harry looked about the bridge, noticing the activity and readiness as the ship was prepped for tomorrow’s launch. The Discovery-class ships had a bridge that looked superficially similar to those of older Starfleet vessels, immaculately clean yet more spacious than that of a Sovereign class ship. A sunken level in the center of the room was surrounded by a railing, at the back of which were the captain and first officer’s chairs, along with an observer seat on either side. At the front of the recess was the lone helm station, a trend that was becoming more widespread throughout the fleet. At opposite ends of the front of the bridge were the Stellar Cartography and Engineering stations, while Tactical and Ops stations were more towards the back.

Harry recognized the man at Tactical, the one who had identified him earlier. It was Cyrus Krell, the new security officer. Harry looked about the room, seeing the crew standing at attention, waiting for his acknowledgement. He also noticed the large Klingon standing by the captain’s chair, awaiting his command.

"Commander," said Kim as he came over to the first officer, nodding his head in a calm wordless greeting. He quickly noted that the Klingon was indeed more than a head taller than him. Hopefully Kalan was not expecting his commanding officer to strike him for disrespecting him.

"Captain," Kalan replied in kind. "Enterprise is on target for launch at 1300 hours tomorrow. I have met with the senior officers on board and I am satisfied with the ship’s preparedness."

"Thank you, Commander," Harry acknowledged. "I’ve received the status reports. Shall we go to my ready room to discuss them more completely?"

Kalan grunted an "aye, sir" in assent, and followed Harry into the next room over. The ready room was spacious and comfortable, far more so than the one he used on the Houston. Another difference was the absence of a desk console, being completely replaced with discreet holoprojectors. Sitting in his chair behind the desk, he expected Kalan to sit down across from him. But the Klingon remained standing, his arms behind his back, his face a stony mask. Harry disregarded the intimidating pose and called up an HPADD to view the latest ship’s status readout, keeping the commander waiting. Harry figured two could play at the same game.

"Sir," said Kalan after several long seconds, "there is a matter regarding ship’s personnel that I feel must be discussed."

"Oh? Anything or anyone in particular?" asked Harry.

"I am referring to your recent approval for transfer for this…Ensign Miral Paris," he said with distaste. "I feel she is completely unsuited for the Helm."

"And how do you figure that, Commander?"

"Her Academy records show her to be insolent and insubordinate," Kalan stated harshly. "She represents an unknown quantity into the make-up of this bridge crew, one that I feel will be disruptive when we go into battle."

"We need a top-notch pilot and someone who can improvise flight plans on a moment’s notice," said Harry evenly. "Surely that makes her qualified for the job."

"And your personal relationship with her isn’t a factor?" said Kalan, folding his arms as he went on.

At that remark, Harry stood straight up, trying to stare Kalan down even from an uneven altitude. "What’s your point, Commander?"

"Captain, my duties as first officer require me to point out any potential threat to this ship or this mission," he stated conclusively. "For instance, there is the matter of the Jem’Hadar. Can this ship consider itself secure with thirty-seven of those…creatures…within our midst?"

"Commander," Harry glared from across the table, "the Jem’Hadar contingent assigned to each ship in the fleet is part of the Dominion’s contribution to this project. They’re here to fight with us, not against us."

"If it is warriors that are needed, there is no lack of fighting spirit within the Klingon Empire. I see no need for us to import genetically engineered machines from the Gamma Quadrant to do our fighting for us."

"This decision has already been made by Fleet Command," said Harry. "It’s out of your hands, so I expect you to live with it, regardless of your personal feelings. Do you have any other concerns you’d like me to know about?"

"Yes," he said boldly. "What I see as the greatest threat to this mission is the degree of familiarity that exists among the senior officers you’ve selected. You’ve known both Lieutenant Wildman and Ensign Paris since birth, not to mention your already overfriendly relationship with Commanders Vorik and Bartok. To say nothing of the fact that your own wife is the Director of Science…"

"I’ve chosen the people that I feel are the most qualified for the positions in question, and who I think will work effectively together as a team," Kim said, his voice cool and controlled. "Are you one of those people, Commander?"

"I felt it was my duty to point out my concerns privately, Captain," said Kalan. "I’ve served under far too many captains in the Klingon Defense Forces who only wanted to hear what pleased them, rather than the truth. I thought you would appreciate honesty over politics."

"I do, Commander. Your concerns have been noted."

"Whatever my personal feelings, Captain Kim," Kalan continued, "I will support your orders and will not dishonor you by disagreeing with you in front of the crew."

"Thank you, XO," said Harry, taking his seat once again. "Where we’re going, we’ll be a long distance from our respective governments. I have to know that my first officer will put the mission and the goals behind it first and foremost."

"That I will do, or die in the effort," said Kalan, showing a toothy feral grin that more than anything else unnerved Harry. "Sir."

Ensign Miral Paris stood over her bed in her temporary quarters on Telford Station, packing away the rest of her personal possessions into her duffel bag. Most of her clothes and uniforms could be easily replicated once she was assigned quarters on the Enterprise, but the personal effects she put away – photos of her parents, a wrench given to her by her dad, a necklace from an old boyfriend from the Academy, her lucky polymorphic pool cue – these were one of a kind items that she could never duplicate.

The chime of the door interrupted her musings, and she bade the computer to let her visitors in.

"All packed up, I see," said her father, as she turned around to see her parents standing at the door. She could see her dad giving her a forced smile of pride and happiness. Her mother was far less successful at hiding her emotions.

"Yep," she answered. "I was on my way over to your quarters to say goodbye before boarding."

"I still can’t believe your uncle Harry let this happen," B’Elanna said in dismay, shaking her head.

"Mom, don’t be mad at Uncle Harry," said Miral, as she hoisted her duffel over her shoulder. "This is what I want. I was already accepted aboard the Atlantis. Whether it’s tomorrow or four months from now, I’m going to the Delta Quadrant."

"I’m not mad at him. It’s just…just why?!" B’Elanna pleaded. "Why is this so important to you? Do you think this’ll make you a hero? I don’t care how powerful a starship you may be traveling on. The Delta Quadrant is filled with nothing but danger and trouble!"

"B’Elanna," Tom sighed, "do you have to talk to her like a child?"

"Tom, don’t contradict me in front of Miral! Now, I…"

"B’Elanna, listen to yourself!" Tom shouted her down. "Whether you or I like it or not, Miral’s an adult and she can make her own decisions. Hell, isn’t that how we raised her, to think for herself? This is what she wants to do with her life, and we have to respect that and support her."

Miral flushed warmly at her father’s show of support. Although she cared for both her parents, she had always shared a special bond with her father. Tom Paris had always tried to be as much his daughter’s friend as he was her father. Her relationship with her mother was always more contentious, alternating between close bonding and stressful arguments.

"Mom," Miral added, putting her arm on B’Elanna’s shoulder. "This is more than just about me going to the Delta Quadrant. It’s about me joining Starfleet. I thought we were okay about this."

"We are," B’Elanna sighed. "And I’m not knocking Starfleet. It’s just…I’m a mother. I want my daughter to be safe. Is there anything wrong with that?"

"Mom, have you taken a look at recent history? The Dominion War, the Borg Incursions, civil war on Romulus…even Earth has been attacked more than its fair share of times. Just where in the galaxy is it safe anymore?"

"I know, I know…" B’Elanna said with resignation. She would not win this argument, she knew. Her daughter was going away. Nothing she could do would stop that. "For all the bickering we do, I can’t stand the idea of you being so far away."

"Mom," Miral laughed, "it’s not like it was in your day. We’ve got slipstream and hyperlink now. I can call you as soon as we’ve set up the Delta One relay. Hell, with the holocoms, it’ll be like we’re in the same room together. You’ll probably be hearing from me more often than when I was at the Academy."

"Yeah," said her mother, trying her best to keep her tears in check. "So, I guess this is it."

"Well, you could walk with me down to the docking bay," said Miral.

"We wouldn’t have it any other way," said B’Elanna, as she leaned in to kiss her daughter’s cheek. "Just promise me that you won’t take any unnecessary risks out there."

"I promise," said Miral, groaning at the parental advice, as she and her family walked out the door together.

"And try not to embarrass us," laughed Tom, putting his arm around his daughter’s shoulder. "We Parises have a reputation out there to protect."

"No embarrassment?" Miral chuckled. "This coming from the man who called me ‘peanut’ in front of people?" She then turned to her mother as they headed down the corridor to the nearest turbolift. "So, any last minute advice from you, Mom?"

"Yes," said B’Elanna, looking past her daughter and grinning wickedly at her husband. "If you should ever come to a planet made entirely of water, don’t tell anyone there that your last name is Paris."

In contrast to the frenzy that buzzed throughout the rest of the ship, the Science Deck was an island of calm and tranquility. Few uniformed crewmembers were working on this level of the ship, the Science department being primarily the domain of civilians. It was another political compromise that had been necessary to make the Delta Fleet work, as most of the other participating governments did not have the same integration of scientists and the military the way Starfleet did. In this one case, it was a compromise that Annika approved of.

Naomi took Annika through all the cursory visits to the other sub-departments before leading him to her office.

"So, does the office meet with the good doctor’s approval?" Naomi jibed as she watched the way she inspected the room with a nod of approval.

"Everything appears to be…"

"Efficient?" said Naomi with a laugh.

"I was going to say ‘well organized’," Annika commented wryly, clearly pleased that everything was neat and in its place, exactly the way she liked it.

"Mommy!" a jubilant young voice shouted out from the entrance. Naomi turned to see the bouncing bundle of joy that was her daughter jump into the room.

"Well, hello sweetie," Naomi gushed as she leaned in to embrace the six-year old. "Were you a good girl today?"

"Oh, she was a delightful child," said a soft, lilting voice from the hallway. "I hope you don’t mind, Lieutenant, but I took Sabrina to the observation deck to watch the Romulan ship come into dock."

Annika looked up from her examination of her new desk to see a young Cardassian woman entering the room. As was typical of her people, she was dark-haired with a gray leathery complexion. But her hair was worn long in a twisted braid, matching her light, summery garments, with an odd furry shoulder pad. Of course, Annika recognized the woman instantly.

"Oh, that’s fine," said Naomi to the woman as she came up from her hug. "Professor, I can’t thank you enough for looking after Sabrina today and yesterday. I hope it didn’t take too much out of your day."

"Oh, it was my pleasure," said the Cardassian. "And please call me Yola." The woman then turned to notice Annika standing at her desk and came towards her. "And you must be Doctor Kim, I presume? I’m so delighted to finally meet you in person."

"Oh, I’m sorry," said Naomi. "Annika Kim, meet…"

"Professor Yola Mahat," said Annika coolly as she visually inspected her new associate with the same eye for perfection that she required of her office space. "I am quite familiar with you, and your work with the Union Institute of Truth."

As she spoke, she also noticed that the furry pad on Mahat’s shoulder was moving. "Professor, what is that…thing…you are carrying?"

"That’s Quozl!" Sabrina said proudly.

"You brought a pet to your place of work?" said Annika with a disapproving glare.

"Quozl isn’t a pet," said Mahat genially. "He’s my animal companion and friend."

Annika arched an eyebrow as she saw the furry mass uncoil and start to chirp, revealing a long supine form with at least a dozen stubby legs and two large black orbs for eyes. "There is a difference?" she asked pointedly.

"Animals do not exist to serve those of us who seek truth," said Mahat with the politeness of a schoolmarm. "They exist to reveal Shaya Hebita’s wisdom to us."

Annika looked sternly at the younger Cardassian woman. "However you choose to define your…companion," she commented, "it is a violation of Fleet regulations to bring an animal to a working area of the ship. See that you do not do so in the future."

Mahat simply smiled in response, not appearing to be perturbed at all by the harsh lecture. "If that is what you wish, Doctor. You are in charge of the Science Division. From now on, Quozl will stay in my quarters. I’m sure he won’t mind."

"Indeed," said Annika coldly. "I would also insist that you leave your religious bias in your quarters as well, Professor. I have read what passes for scientific papers at your Institute’s journals, and I see them as little more than superstitious dogma masquerading as research."

"I believe, Doctor, that you’ve been misinformed about the tenets of the Hebitian faith," said Mahat patiently. "We seek only truth and the reality of the universe, so that we may know and revel in the glory of Shaya Hebita’s works. In that regard, the means and methods of science and religion are complementary."

"Professor, Fleet Command has seen fit to assign you to this post against my personal objections. So be it. But if you are to report to me, then every scientist will pursue his or her research with the express goal of revealing knowledge as truth within itself, not as a means of justifying religious mythology. We will perform science here, is that understood?"

"Understood," said Mahat, her face calm and unreadable. "I assume that I’ll still be permitted to practice my faith on my own time?"

"You may spend your free time as you wish, Professor. It is of no concern to me."

"In that case, Doctor, I thank you for being so gracious," said Mahat, her words clearly intending sarcasm even if her tones indicated graciousness. "Lieutenant, little Sabrina, I trust I’ll see you again tomorrow. If you’ll all excuse me, Quozl needs his rest." Nodding her head slowly, she turned and withdrew to the corridor.

Naomi turned to Annika, looking both puzzled and shocked. "Why’d you have to jump on her like that? I know how demanding you can be when it comes to your work, but I haven’t seen you that harsh with anyone for…well, a long time."

"I wanted to make it clear to Professor Mahat just how I intend to administer this department, and that I will brook no corruption of the scientific method," Annika replied stiffly. "I am responsible for seeing that everything runs…"

"Efficiently?" said Naomi pointedly. "I guess that reports of Seven of Nine’s demise have been greatly exaggerated."

Katrina wandered off through the corridors of the Enterprise, taking in her new surroundings. As remarkable as the ship had been from the outside, she was just as impressive on the inside. There were the usual corridors and turbolifts, of course. But the ever-present availability of holoprojectors made navigation around the ship easy, even without the use of a combadge.

"Attention," came the voice over the intercom. "Republic Transport Vessel Ghaleen now docking at Hangar Bay Two. All assigned hands please report…"

Romulans, she thought excitedly. Forget the Galleria, she thought. This was something she had to see for herself.

After navigating through the turbolifts, she made her way to Hangar Bay Two, where the Romulan transport had started offloading crew. Of course as a civilian, she wouldn’t be allowed onto the hangar deck itself, which meant she would have to wait in the outer vestibule just outside the docking ring. Liaison officers were there to greet the arriving crew, issuing them their combadges and instructing them where to report for orientation. She watched with fascination as the Romulans disembarked from the docking corridor, this being the first time she’d ever seen Romulans this close up before.

They look just like me, she thought with amazement as she watched the soldiers step past her with their dark hair, pointed ears, and heavy brows.

Her attention focused on one woman in particular who came out last after the trail of Romulan officers. Katrina couldn’t tell how old she was. She looked to be in her thirties, but given the Romulan lifespan, that could easily be misleading. She seemed, well, not lost but…alone. She didn’t seem to want to talk to anyone, or seek the help of the liaison officer to get situated. She seemed to know exactly where to go and what she wanted to do. Katrina’s stare was so intense that she didn’t realize that the woman had glanced over and noticed her stare.

"Ssuej-ao’ thlom?" said the woman in a language unfamiliar to Katrina.

"Um," she stammered in embarrassment, wishing she had bothered to take a combadge with a universal translator. "I…I don’t…"

"Ssuej-d’ arhva?" the woman asked again. Her words were a mystery, but the annoyed expression on her face transcended any language barrier.

"I’m sorry, I don’t…" Katrina answered nervously as the woman walked over to her. "I don’t suppose you speak English at all?"

"Yes, I speak English, child," said the woman, surprisingly without a trace of an accent. "Apparently better than you."

"Oh, I…" Katrina jerked back in surprise. "I didn’t expect you to…"

"To not like being stared at?" said the woman. "Who are you, child? And how is it a Rihannsu can’t even speak her own native tongue?"

"I’m sorry," said the girl. "I didn’t mean to stare. It’s just…" She then stood up straight and extended her right hand. "Hi, I’m Katrina Kim."

The woman looked down at the offered hand, her expression one of puzzlement. "Kim? As in Captain Kim?"

"My dad," said Katrina proudly. "You must be one of the new doctors. I can tell from the uniform."

"Very observant," said the Romulan dryly. "Dr. Tila Saldeed, Republic Medical Corps." Looking over the girl, she shook her head in bewilderment. "The way you’re dressed, the way you talk. You’re one of the foundlings, aren’t you? You’d be about the right age. Oh child, just what have they done to you?"

Katrina didn’t know how to answer that question. Was there something wrong with her? How was she supposed to be?

At that moment, a familiar voice roused her from her introspection. "Katrina Kim, you were supposed to be at the Galleria thirty minutes ago." She looked past Dr. Saldeed to her mother and Naomi Wildman arrive, bringing little Sabrina in tow. "You were also supposed to outfit yourself with a combadge."

"Mom," said Katrina. "I’m sorry. I just…I was watching the Romulan ship unload."

"And watching the Romulans as well," Saldeed cut in. "You’re the mother?" she said to Annika.

"I am," came the reply. "Dr. Annika Kim. Dr. Saldeed, I presume? I recognized you from the profile your government sent over. I hope that Katrina was not disturbing you. No doubt you have much work to do familiarizing yourself with Sickbay."

"Indeed, Dr. Kim," said Saldeed as she turned to leave. "As for your…daughter, she’s quite the phenomenon, isn’t she?"

Both Annika and Katrina watched as the Romulan doctor went down the corridor, not certain how to interpret that last comment.

"Well, it could have been worse," Naomi spoke up, watching as the Kim women watched Saldeed walk away. "Katrina could have gone with the captain to watch the Jem’Hadar boarding. I just got the word the Dominion ship pulled into Hangar Bay Four."

Harry stood in anticipation with Kalan and Bartok, waiting for the airlock door of Hangar Bay Four to slide open for the ship’s newest crewmembers. Unlike the Enterprise or the Ghaleen, the Dominion transport had no name, only a number. The Founders did not share the same fascination with names that other species did. Lt. Krell was there also, along with four security officers, just in case. Of course, should anything go wrong, he doubted that four officers would be sufficient against thirty-seven armed and aggressive Jem’Hadar soldiers.

"I thought they’d be arriving later today," said the captain.

"They made better time from Bajor than they first reported," said Krell, standing at the ready with his team. "That’s how they think, the Jem’Hadar. They like to keep their enemies guessing."

"What would be the point of that?" asked Bartok. "We’ve been at peace with the Dominion for over twenty four years. Aren’t we all on the same side, now?"

Kalan snorted in derision at the counselor. "You clearly have much to learn about the Jem’Hadar, Mr. Bartok. They are on no one’s side, other than their Changeling masters. As for their loyalties, the shapeshifters keep their own counsel."

"At ease, XO," said Harry with exasperation. "You’ve made your feelings about this clear. Starfleet weighed the Dominion’s offer to take part in the Delta Fleet, and considered the risks involved. The matter’s already been decided. They’re convinced of the Founders’ sincerity. The Dominion has just as much to lose as we do if there’s a Fifth Borg Incursion."

"Are you certain of that, captain?" said Kalan, the corner of his mouth curled in a wicked smile. "How would one go about assimilating a Changeling?"

Harry wasn’t sure if he even wanted to speculate if such a union was possible. Hopefully, that was something that these new Jem’Hadar would be able to prevent.

"Sir," said Krell, as he observed the airlock light blink green. The airlock doors slid open, with several bright piercing eyes reflecting back the vestibule light through the darkness. Heavy footsteps stomped in rhythmic formation as two perfect rows of reptilian beings marched out from the docking accessway into the main vestibule. A single Jem’Hadar soldier strode powerfully at the head of the procession between the two rows. The small army moved steadily like machines until stopping short just before Harry and the other assembled officers.

"Captain Kim," said the lead soldier in a deep booming growl. "I am First Jor’Marak of the Jem’Hadar. We pledge our service and loyalty to the Founders and to this vessel. And to you, Captain."

Bartok raised a quizzical eyebrow while Kalan’s eyes narrowed with a steely gaze. Harry gathered himself together, carefully measuring his response. Starfleet had prepared him for this, that the Jem’Hadar would bypass the hierarchical command structure of the ship and declare their direct loyalty to him as they would a Vorta. It was something ingrained into the Jem’Hadar way of thinking, something that would have to be overcome gradually. "Your oath of service has been noted, First Jor’Marak. I know that you and your men will serve me and my ship well."

"As the Founders have commanded, so shall we obey," Jor’Marak replied with a subservient nod. "What task will you have of us, Captain?"

"I have no task for you at this time, First Jor’Marak," said Harry respectfully. "I trust you and your men have familiarized yourself with the Enterprise‘s command structure."

"We have studied all aspects of this ship, Captain," said the Jem’Hadar First.

"Then you and your men may go to your compound, until you are summoned," said Harry. "Is there anything that you require?"

"We require nothing, Captain," said Jor’Marak. As he spoke, the last of the marching formation emerged from the docking accessway. Harry noticed how each of the soldiers were carrying bulky barrel-like containers under each arm.

"What are those men carrying?" Kalan demanded as he saw the new cargo being brought onto the ship.

"Our equipment," said Jor’Marak matter-of-factly. "Gifts from the Founders so that we may help protect this ship."

"Weapons?" said Krell as he stepped forward. "Exactly what kind of weapons? I need to know everything that comes aboard this ship."

"We are soldiers," said the Jem’Hadar. "We bring with us exactly what is needed to defend this ship."

"Sir," said Cyrus, his face showing calm concern, "I’d like to inspect these containers to see what they’re carrying. If they intend to deploy weapons without standard security features…"

"They are disassembled, Captain," said Jor’Marak. "The ship is in no danger from them. When we are ready and called upon to fight, then they will be ready." The engineered soldier then turned to the security officer. "Then you will see what the Founders’ gifts can do."

Harry nodded. "Mr. Krell, if you and your team will escort First Jor’Marak and his men down to Deck 30, Section 5, we can have our latest additions to the crew ready and under way."

"Aye, sir," said Krell, as he eyed Jor’Marak warily. "If you’ll follow me," he said.

One by one, the Jem’Hadar soldiers followed Cyrus out into the hallway, the other security officers following behind. As the last of them flowed out from the hangar bay vestibule and the door closes behind them, Bartok let out a whistle of both amusement and relief. "I never thought I’d see those fellows this close ever again in my lifetime."

Kalan looked at Bartok with surprise, clearly taken aback by this unexpected information. "You have fought the Jem’Hadar, Counselor?" he asked.

"On Salazar Four, during the Dominion War," he replied gravely, his smile fading for the first time that day. "I was a field medic with a Marine unit back then, before I transferred into the counseling program. And I wouldn’t call what I did as fighting, Commander. More like keeping my head down and trying to keep as many of my teammates in one piece without getting killed. Not very honorable, I suppose."

"On the contrary," said Kalan. "You saw the Jem’Hadar up close and lived to tell about it. That alone would earn you a round of bloodwine in many a Klingon saloon."

Harry smiled wryly as he reflected on his own circumstances. "What about a man who has his own squad of Jem’Hadar soldiers at his command? What would he receive, Commander?"

"Difficult to say, Captain," said Kalan, his gallows humor matching Harry’s own. "Before you, the only ones to ever command the allegiance of any Jem’Hadar were Changelings and Vorta."

"It’s an awesome responsibility, sir," said Bartok. "How do you plan to handle it?"

"Hopefully," said the captain with a sigh, "as infrequently as possible."

Before anyone else could offer a response, Harry’s combadge chirped loudly. "Kim here," he answered.

"Sir, we’re having some problems with one of the new arrivals at Docking Bay Six."

"Which new arrival would that be?"

"Um, it’s the Grand Proxy, sir. He’s demanding a complete VIP reception before disembarking from his shuttle. Sir, he’s threatening to complain to Grand Nagus if he isn’t…"

"Relax, crewman," said Harry with a sigh. It was just one headache after another on this ship, and it still hadn’t left drydock yet. "I’m on my way down. Gentlemen, you’re with me. A man of the Grand Proxy’s importance has got to warrant at least three senior officers, am I right?"

As they turned to leave, Bartok looked over at Kalan and grinned once again. "Now you know why they included a counselor on this mission."

One thing that Cyrus Krell noticed right away was that a hallway would clear in record time when you had thirty-seven Jem’Hadar marching right behind you.

"We’re here," Krell announced, as the procession arrived at a large, double-shielded security door at the end of an isolated corridor. Level 30, Section 5 was well away from any of the crew decks or civilian facilities It had originally been designed as an auxiliary hangar bay until the Dominion requested inclusion onto the Delta Fleet project. Then an alternative use had been found for the space as the ship was built.

A quick biometric scan identified him as the chief of security and the doors slid open to reveal a second set of doors behind an armored airlock assembly. An additional security check unlocked the second set of doors, opening up to a large observation room with several unsecured hatches leading into other rooms.

"I don’t suppose you guys would like a tour?" said Krell, as he gestured towards the open doorways, allowing the Jem’Hadar to enter.

"Unnecessary," said Jor’Marak. "We have studied the deck plans for the facilities created for us, and know where everything is located. We are self-sufficient."

Krell looked out into the central observation room, so he could see a large panel of bay windows looking out into a circular training room, complete with equipment and mock weapons as per the specifications requested by the Dominion. "No beds, no mess hall. Just three gyms, an arena, a holosuite, and some work stations. Hardly sounds like comfort," he said, trying to strike up some kind of response from these stoic beings.

"We have no need for comfort," said Jor’Marak, taking a deep hit from the tube jutting out from his meaty neck to the small tank on his uniform front. "We live for combat, or to prepare for combat. For us, there is nothing else."

"Whatever," said Krell. "As long as you’re not planning to literally kill each other down here."

"No," said the Jem’Hadar brusquely. "Your leaders have made it clear that you do not want your ship to support breeding facilities for additional soldiers. Out training methods and tactics have been altered accordingly to minimize deaths and conserve our numbers."

"Glad to hear it. Accidental deaths just make my job harder," he commented. "You okay for that stuff?" he asked, gesturing towards the tube snaking out from the Jem’Hadar’s neck.

"Our supplies of the White are sufficient for the next several weeks," he answered. "When we require more, we will contact your Chief Medical Officer."

"Glad to hear it," said the security officers. "And those crates?"

Three of the Jem’Hadar stepped forward and opened up the containers they had carried. They revealed nothing but an assortment of components and machine parts, most of which involved new technology that was unfamiliar to Krell. Probably developed by the Founders since the war, he thought to himself. The Dominion had been frustratingly stingy with their technology, offering to share only a few tidbits with the Alpha Quadrant powers, keeping their best secrets to themselves. Perhaps now they were willing to share a bit more, seeing as how they now felt they too were in potential danger.

"That’ll do for now," said Krell. "Maybe I’ll stop by later to take a more detailed look," he said, a casual attempt at intimidation.

Of course, such an approach was useless against a Jem’Hadar. "Do as you will, Lieutenant. We are here to serve this ship. We have nothing to hide."

"Like I said," answered Krell with a shrug as he and his team made their way out of the secured compound, "Whatever." He had found it necessary to call upon his old Vulcan training to keep his outward emotional state hidden behind a mask of relaxed calm. He didn’t want to admit it, especially in front of his team, but the Jem’Hadar were as unnerving to him as they were to everyone else on board. He certainly didn’t trust them, but then he had more reason not to than anyone, except maybe Commander Kalan. After all, he had access to more intimate details about their creation and design than most crew on board.

Especially as his former superiors had come very close to wiping the species out during the Dominion War.

"Be careful with that, you buffoon!" a shrill voice cried out as Harry and company came around the corner towards the ruckus at the end of the hallway. "The contents of that valise are worth more than your entire education!"

There were six crewmembers trying to placate one very bellicose and agitated Ferengi, while two unsavory-looking Naussicans stood behind him with their arms crossed. The Ferengi was short and squat, even for one of his kind, dressed in fine gold and crimson silks. He also bore a large staff with a golden head molded onto the top. The head was an unmistakable symbol of authority, that of the Grand Nagus himself, as vested through his Grand Proxy, Quag. Harry groaned inwardly, not letting his displeasure show. He generally got on well with most Ferengi. He even considered Captain Nog, the captain of Enterprise‘s sister ship Victorious, to be a friend. But Quag was clearly a Ferengi of the old school, one who had been granted a position of authority due to political patronage and was now determined to let everyone in earshot know that he had it. He and his entourage had arrived at Beta Antares last week and tried to corner Harry and Annika at three different receptions. With any luck, Harry thought, he’d have his hands full for the next five years and he and Quag would never have to cross paths. Well, they weren’t off to such a hot start, were they?

"What seems to be the trouble here, ensign?" Kim asked the officer of the deck as he, Kalan, and Bartok came upon the scene.

"Sir!" a Klingon security officer shouted at attention, his youth and inexperience apparent by his smooth, hairless face. "I was performing a standard background check…"

"Captain Kim!" shouted the Ferengi. "This is an outrage! First I’m insulted by not being greeted personally by the ship’s commanding officer, then I’m told that I can’t bring my own personal effects on board!"

"Sir," said the Klingon ensign. "He has over forty different containers in his personal manifest, and he hasn’t declared all the contents."

"Sorry, your Excellence," said Harry with a smirk. "Rules are rules. We have to know everything that comes aboard this vessel, that includes your personal effects as well as anything added to the mission manifest."

"List my possessions like I were a common criminal?" Quag sputtered. "Surely you don’t expect a person of my importance to have to discard my wardrobe just to satisfy some foolish bureaucratic requirement?" He then leaned in, offering Harry a broad toothy grin. "Captain, surely we can come to some kind of arrangement? Rules are meant to be circumnavigated, after all."

"Sorry, Mr. Quag," said Harry with subtle disapproval. "I’m afraid that’s the best I can do. I can only bend regulations so far."

"Bah!" Quag spat. "This is intolerable! Need I remind you, Captain, of the arrangement my government has made with Delta Fleet Command, of our willingness to contribute our resources and expertise in exchange for giving the Ferengi Alliance the freedom to negotiate new business opportunities?"

"I’m well aware of Ferenginar’s contribution to the Delta Fleet, Mr. Quag," Harry continued, trying to placate the obstinate little man, "and we’re all grateful for it, I assure you. I hope that you’re also aware that your ‘freedom to negotiate’ is subject to certain conditions, as your government also agreed to."

"Indeed, Captain," Quag growled, before looking back over the piles of containers behind him. "But what certain…trade items…listed as part of my manifest?"

"I suggest, Mr. Quag, that you take inventory and submit that list to my security people. I’m sure a person of your importance wouldn’t think to transport anything that might need to be confiscated. But if you should find yourself in need of any extra…trade items…then I’m told there are some excellent and entirely legitimate shops in the Galleria."

"The Galleria?" Quag gasped. "Surely you don’t expect a Grand Proxy to buy…off the rack?!"

"Sir," the Klingon ensign spoke up, "there is still one other matter that needs resolution. Mr. Quag’s…hired help…failed the security background check."

"Is that so?" said Harry, as he looked up at the two brutish-looking Naussicans. They both gave him a combined stare of challenge in return.

"Aye, sir. They both have criminal records. A total of six assault convictions on three different worlds."

"Captain, captain," Quag said ingratiatingly. "Surely you must understand that bodyguards have to acquire their experience from somewhere?"

"And surely, Mr. Quag, you must know that I can’t allow convicted felons to serve aboard my ship, even if it is in the employ of a civilian. Besides, I don’t think that bodyguards are going to be necessary. If your safety is a concern, then my security people are more than up to the challenge."

"Yes, I can see how up to the challenge they are," the Ferengi snarled. "As baggage handlers!"

"Mr. Quag," Harry said with a deep intake of breath. "I’m afraid your Naussican friends will have to go back. But look at it this way. If you feel you need any extra security measures, I can always ask some of the Jem’Hadar to lend a hand."

The mention of the fearsome race of engineered soldiers caused to the shrill bureaucrat to silence himself while his skin went pale. Harry smiled inwardly, feeling that the moment, however fleeting, had been worth it. He quickly turned to Kalan and Bartok, who were both staying as far back as possible during the diplomatic tango, leaving the disposition of Quag’s effects to the junior officers.

"Grand Proxy," Kalan said disgustedly. "Listen to that pompous little pahtk spout on about himself and his creature comforts like he were the spawn of Kahless himself! The Nagus has over two hundred Proxies in his employ. They hand those titles out like candy to children."

"Unfortunately, it’s a time honored tradition among the Ferengi," said Bartok. "You want to get rid of someone, appoint him as a Proxy and send him off to the farthest corner of known space to negotiate trade contracts with the locals. If he succeeds, he comes back a hero with his pockets full of latinum. If he fails, it’s just one more excuse to be rid of him." He then sighed as he looked on to see the unpleasant little man continue squabbling with both the security guards and the Naussicans. "I’m guessing our friend Quag must have stepped on more than a few toes to be sent all the way out to the Delta Quadrant."

"Well, I’m going to need someone to deal with him directly," said Kim. "I can’t be bothered by every little complaint about how his pillows aren’t soft enough. Someone’s going to have to keep him away from the rest of the Senior Staff."

"Who do you suggest, sir?" asked Bartok.

"Well, Finn," Harry grinned slyly. "Seeing as how your responsibilities dovetail so nicely with diplomacy, I thought that this might just be up your alley."

Bartok’s dark face suddenly went whiter than a Vorta. "Excuse me, sir, but…I’m not sure…"

"Oh, come now, Finn," said Harry with a chuckle. "You’ve always been the optimist, always willing to see and bring out the good in people. Just consider this your biggest challenge."

"Sir," said Kalan in a hushed tone while offering a wolfish smile, "we could always arrange for an accident. Such things have been known to happen on starships."

Harry Kim looked over at his first officer with mild concern, not entirely sure if he were joking or not. "I think, Commander, that it might be best to avoid any potential interstellar incidents." He then turned to Bartok, his tone more serious. "Look, Finn, I won’t order you to do this. If you feel that Quag will take you away from your other duties, I can assign someone else."

"No, that’s all right, sir," said Bartok, his regular good cheer returning to his face. "What’s life without challenges?"

"Thank you, Finn," said Harry. "Remember, your regular duties come first. If Quag tries to monopolize your time, just say the word and he and I will have a talk. Now, if you’ll both excuse me, I’ll go tell the Grand Proxy that we’ve assigned him a new diplomatic liaison. After which, I have a staff meeting to prepare for."

As he left, Bartok turned to Kalan with some urgency. "Commander, you weren’t serious about arranging an accident for Quag, were you? I mean, it was a joke, right?"

Kalan gave the counselor a fearsome smile that revealed his sharp and gnarled Klingon teeth. "Let’s see how it goes with the Ferengi, and then we’ll talk."

If there was one beverage that Annika Kim had still not developed a taste for after all these years – other than alcohol – it was coffee. Naomi Wildman, by contrast, had developed into a coffee addict on par with Admiral Janeway herself. Annika only hoped that the vile brew didn’t take a similar hold of Katrina as she watched her friend and her daughter sipping at their cappuccinos.

"One old-fashioned lemonade for the little lady," said an amiable voice from behind the waitress placing a large beverage glass on the table.

"Say ‘thank you’ to Mr. Fontaine, sweetheart," said Naomi.

"Thank you, Vic," said Sabrina dutifully as she grabbed for her glass and started guzzling away.

"And a peppermint tea for the boss lady," said the hologram.

"Thank you," said Annika as she leaned back in her seat to glance about as people walked by.

The Kims and the Wildmans were sitting out on the terrace of the Delta Cafe, a place that was already one of the most popular after-hours hangouts of the ship’s Galleria. The cafe occupied a large area of the lower level of the two-tiered cavernous section of the ship dedicated to civilian shops, food courts, and entertainment facilities. Much of the Cafe was located ‘indoors’ with a nightclub-type atmosphere, but the ‘outside’ featured a landscaped terrace where people could sit out for coffee and drinks while watching the scenery. In this case, the surrounding view was that of civilian staff and crew families setting up their shops and establishment in preparation for tomorrow’s launch. Overhead, the curving atrium roof of the Galleria was obscured by a holoprojected sky, which today featured a soft orange sun and a dim red dwarf companion shimmering through artificial clouds.

"I swear, Doc," chuckled Vic Fontaine, the cafe’s proprietor, as he leaned over smiling at Katrina, "that kid of yours is lookin’ more grown every time I see her."

"That she is," said Annika proudly. She and Harry had known the sociable hologram for many years, ever since their return to the Alpha Quadrant over 23 years ago. Physically, he had not changed one bit in all that time, as was to be expected with a hologram. Even his trademark 20th Century style tuxedo remained identical to that of his old Las Vegas lounge act. It was a personal affectation that he took great pride in, despite living for so many years as a fully participating member of 24th Century society. The only change on his person was the small mobile emitter worn on his left lapel, the standard accouterment of any modern Emancipated Hologram.

Katrina just looked away shyly. Why did they have to talk about her like she was a child? Wasn’t she already grown up?

"You and the Cap, you’re gonna have your hands full with her," Vic laughed. "She’s gonna be a real heartbreaker, this one."

"Vic!" Katrina gasped. "Don’t say things like that in front of my mom!"

"Oh, sorry, kid," Vic said with a smirk. "Tell you what? How’s about I throw in a little tiramisu with that cappuccino to make things right?"

Before Katrina could answer, Annika cut her off. "I think not, Vic. It is too close to dinner for her to be having sweets."

"I can have sweets, can’t I?" Sabrina piped up.

"No, you can’t," Naomi said sternly.

"I think I’d better let the moms handle things from here," said Vic. "Annika, you and the hubby want yourselves a nice romantic dinner, you just say the word. I’ll set you up with the finest table in the house."

As the holographic restaurateur withdrew to the inner sanctum of his establishment, Naomi looked out at the rest of the shopkeepers setting up their wares. "It’ll be nice now that the support staff is on board. I’ll finally have some decent day care while I’m on duty."

"Not to mention the ship’s schools being in place," Annika added, before turning to Katrina. "When your father is no longer busy with launch preparations, we will have to discuss with him your course curriculum for the year. I am certain that with your grades transferred from Telford Station, you will easily make placement in the accelerated program."

Katrina barely listened, as she was more interested in learning more about the Romulans on board ship. "About that, Mom. Do you think that maybe I could take some language classes this year?"

"Language?" said Annika with surprise. "You have never expressed interest in linguistics before. Surely your course load is sufficient as it stands?"

"I know," said Katrina. "It’s just…I’d like to learn a language or two this year. Maybe some more history courses too. You know, not so much science and math this time."

"What has prompted this decision?" asked her mother with concern.

"I don’t know. I guess…I just wanted to learn more about Romulans, that’s all."

Naomi leaned forward as she took notice of the conversation. "This wouldn’t have anything to do with you meeting Dr. Saldeed, would it?"

"I guess," replied Katrina. "What’s her story, anyhow?"

"Another political decision," said her mother. "The Romulans wanted one of their own people for Chief Engineer, but Starfleet felt that Commander Vorik’s expertise on the project was essential. So it was agreed to have a Romulan as Chief Medical Officer as a compromise."

"Apparently she’s one of the few experts in interspecies medicine among the Republic Medical Corps," added Naomi, "but beyond that, much of her earlier career was supposedly with the military."


"Well, with the civil war and all, records are pretty sketchy," said Naomi.

"She seemed like she didn’t want me around when I was talking to her," said Katrina glumly.

"I suppose it just took her by surprise," said Naomi hesitantly "seeing a Romulan girl raised…well…"

"Like a human?"

"Do not feel offended, Katrina," said Annika reassuringly. "Romulan culture is quite intricate to those not raised within it. It is also highly parochial. Your upbringing simply represents a manner of diversity that Romulans are unaccustomed to."

"Yeah, whatever."

"Katrina," Annika added gently, "you should not be made to feel inadequate in any way. You are perfect precisely as you are."

Katrina blushed and smiled at her mother. "I know you’re supposed to say that. You’re my mom. It’s just…I guess there’s this whole part of my life that’s got nothing to do with you or dad. I just want to find out more about it, you know, where I come from. All my life, you and dad and grandma and grandpa and everyone, you tried to make me feel as though I belonged, like I wasn’t any different than the rest of you. But I am different. I’m a Romulan. I just need to learn what that means."

"I understand," said Annika softly.

"You do?"

"Indeed," she said. "I know of the importance of exploring one’s birthright. It was a necessary step in the regaining my humanity. I agree that you would benefit from a greater understanding of your biological and cultural heritage."

"Are you sure it’s okay?" Katrina asked. "I mean, I don’t want you to think…well, that I’m trying to make you feel like you’re not my real mother or anything."

"That is not possible," said Annika, holding her daughter’s hand affectionately. "We are family, are we not?" She then looked up and there was a knowing smile that was shared between the two mothers, as Naomi meanwhile stroked her own daughter’s shoulder with tenderness.

Sabrina Wildman just kept slurping away at her lemonade. Moms could be so weird sometimes, she thought.

Only after the ship’s final check for the night was Harry was willing to leave the bridge and go to his quarters for the night.

It was the first time since boarding that Harry had a chance to see where he and his family would be living for the duration of the mission. The family-sized quarters had been specifically designed for the Kims once they had been guaranteed their place aboard Enterprise. Their ‘home’ included a main living area, two adjoining bedrooms, a separate kitchenette/dining room, and a separate entertainment room. And, thankfully, two separate bathrooms.

He entered the living area to see Annika sitting gracefully in the main lounge couch as she always did, reading an HPADD that floated in mid-air before her. Petra was curled up on the rim, luxuriating in the attention, as Annika unconsciously stroked her back and scratched behind her ears. She glanced up from her reading and smiled at her husband.

"I was wondering when you would return," she said. "You have an early day tomorrow."

"Don’t I know it," he chuckled as he stood over her and lightly massaged her shoulders. Annika immediately arched her back in response to his ministrations. "Any messages?"

"Several," she answered. "Your parents, Tom and B’Elanna, Captain Maylice and the rest of the Houston’s crew, and a personal message from Kathryn. There are also a number of letters of congratulations from heads of state and important persons…"

"Oh, boy," said Harry as he rolled his eyes. "I hope no one expected an immediate reply. I could be up all night reading those."

"I have already gone through the ones addressed jointly to us," she said, as she moved over to make room for him to join her.

"Where’s Katrina?"

"She has already gone to sleep."

"This early?" he answered with a surprised laugh. "Is this for one night only or the beginning of a trend?"

"She had an exhausting day today," said Annika with increasing disquiet. "She has had much to adjust to."

"Don’t we all?"

"We…had a conversation today," she said. "The presence of Romulans aboard Enterprise has piqued her curiosity about her origins. She wishes to learn more about who she is."

"I see," he said, his tone mirroring Annika’s own concern. "Well, we knew that one day she’d want to know more about herself. I guess coming aboard ship, all these new faces, it was just a matter of time. What did you tell her?"

"That we would encourage her," she said. "Naomi and I even saw her attempt conversation with Dr. Saldeed."

"Oh," he grunted. "I finally had the chance to talk with the good doctor after the briefing. Not exactly the warmest of people. I just hope her bedside manner is more developed than her people skills."

"Indeed," said Annika. "Dr. Saldeed did not appear to take to Katrina. I am concerned that the other Romulan crewmembers may respond similarly."

"I’m sure that won’t happen," Harry replied with a more positive tone. "You and I both know that our little girl is the sweetest and most wonderful person in the whole universe. I’m sure she’ll make a whole army of friends once classes start and she gets into a routine."

"I suppose," she said. "Of course, you do realize that some of those new friends may be male. Vic Fontaine pointed out today that our Katrina is no longer a little girl anymore, but rather is becoming a…heartbreaker."

"Heartbreaker?" said Harry with nervous laughter. "Katrina? Honey, she’s so young!"

"Not so young as you believe, Harry," said Annika, her smile just starting to show.

Harry looked over at his wife, silently giving thanks for the good fortune that had been bestowed upon him. He came back from the Delta Quadrant those many years ago with the love of his life and a career that had granted him the respect of his peers and the opportunity to do well by others. It all could have turned out so differently. He wondered if he weren’t perhaps tempting fate by going back to the well a second time.

"Well, if Katrina is a heartbreaker in the making, then she gets it from you, my dear," he said playfully.

"Me? And just whose heart did I break?"

"Every man on Voyager, my dear," he teased, "not to mention poor ol’ Jonathan, when you fell head over heels with me."

"Jonathan has apparently recovered quite nicely," she replied quickly. "And I would not be so conceited were I you, Harry Kim. As you well know, it was you who fell ‘head over heels’ with me first. Not to mention that others might easily have received my attentions."

"Oh, like who?" he smirked back at her. "Neelix? Or maybe Tom and his receded hairline?"

"Or Chakotay," she teased mercilessly.

"Chakotay?" he blurted out as a guffaw. "You ever discuss this with the Admiral?"

"Perhaps I have," she added with a wicked grin. "He does possess many admirable qualities,"

"Okay, it’s not funny anymore," said Harry.

"No, but perhaps that will teach you not to take my affections so lightly," she said with a subtle laugh. She then looked at his seriously and stroked his cheek. "The truth, Harry, is that I would not trade the life we now have for anything. We are together, we are doing important work for the benefit of all, and we are a family. I could not ask for anything else."

"And I couldn’t think of assuming command of this mission if you and Katrina weren’t here with me," he said as he reached up to touch her hand. "I’m not going to get a full night’s sleep tonight, am I?"

Annika flashed a naughty smile at her husband. "I believe, Captain, that there remains one vital component of the ship’s support systems that has yet to be adequately tested."

"Oh, and just which component is that?" he asked slyly with a raised eyebrow.

"The bedroom," she answered with a wide, toothy grin. "Shall we give it a proper shakedown now?"

The following morning saw all of Telford Station abuzz with excitement as hundreds were gathered on the main observation deck. Important dignitaries from across three quadrants were there in attendance to see the launch of the newest starship Enterprise.

Tom Paris and his wife were sitting in the special VIP section with other invited civilians, looking about at the various heads of state from each of the participating governments sitting serenely. Chancellor Martok of the Klingon Empire sat back comfortably like a lion in winter, surrounded by a quorum of advisors and councilors. The First Speaker of the Romulan Star Republic was there, along with the Cardassian High Legate of the Detapa Council and her religious counterpart, the Archon of the Hebitian Synod. In his own viewing box sat Grand Nagus Rom and his wife Lady Leeta and their advisors. Various ambassadors and representatives from friendly governments were in attendance, including a trio of Tholians watcing from their environment box.

They were all watching the President of the United Federation of Planets upon the room’s central podium, making a congratulatory speech to all those who had helped make the Delta Fleet possible. President Morningstar Vog-Iruk was a spindle-thin Betelguessian cloaked in red and purple robes to conceal the anti-grav units that made it possible for her to stand up in human-normal gravity.

"And now," chirped the President in her melodic voice, "I would like to present the vice-chair of Delta Fleet Command, hero, and former captain of the first vessel to return from the Delta Quadrant, Admiral Kathryn Janeway."

The room broke into thunderous applause as the silver-haired admiral sat up from the row of Starfleet flag officers seated behind the podium. Janeway waited for the room to settle before making her opening remarks.

"Ladies and gentleman," she began, "seeing the excitement and the anticipation of so many gathered here, I’m reminded of the recordings I saw in school of the heady days of Jonathan Archer and the first starship Enterprise, when my people first began their trek amongst the stars."

Janeway glanced over shoulder to Admiral Riker and his wife. She knew how much a reference to the legendary name of Enterprise meant to him, having served as first officer aboard the Enterprise-D and -E. Looking about the room, she noticed how many other Enterprise alums were in attendance. Captain Beverly Picard of the Pasteur, and Captain Geordi LaForge and his wife, former captain of the Challenger, now retired. Ambassador Worf and his son sat proudly with the Klingon entourage. Even the famed Jean-Luc Picard had been brought there, and he seemed to hold his head up high at the mention of his former command. But it saddened Janeway when she saw that the clarity in his eyes was only momentary as his attention drifted once again. The former captain-turned-ambassador had not fared well these last few years and his caretakers had hoped that seeing the launch of the newest Enterprise might do his heart some good.

"Many have questioned the wisdom of having a crew from so many diverse backgrounds and traditions," continued Janeway. "I say that such diversity is not only to be welcomed, but is in fact a vital necessity for this mission. The crew of Enterprise will be, as we say on Earth, wearing many hats. Their goal, our goal, is not just scientific or exploratory, nor is it just military or strategic or diplomatic. Our mission is all of these things, and none of them.

"What we are – more than anything – is a presence. We are going to the Delta Quadrant, first and foremost, to make a statement. We are saying to the galaxy, to both our friends and to our enemies, that we, the allied peoples of the Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Quadrants, not only can come together out of desperation, but out of inspiration as well.

"This is the message of the Delta Fleet, ladies and gentlemen. And the brave crew of this first ship that we salute today are the messengers."

It was 0830 hours and everything was in place and ready for the morning’s launch. Now it was time for the senior officers of the USS Enterprise to work together as a team. The words of the admiral’s oration were played out over the intercom throughout Enterprise. Everyone, from the bridge crew on down to the engine room felt a great swell of pride as they heard themselves referred to as the messengers of unity and cooperation. No one felt more pride than Captain Harry Kim himself. Of course that wasn’t the most encouraging of metaphors, thought Harry privately. After all, wasn’t there a long tradition about shooting the messenger?

He sat in his command chair at the heart of the bridge, looking upon his crew. At his right sat Commander Kalan, his arms folded as he sat back watching the assembled crew like a hound watching over the flock of sheep in his charge. Either that or the wolf readying to prey upon his next meal. To his left sat his wife. As Director of Science, Annika had no military rank and was not technically an officer. But as befitting her position, she did sit in on staff briefings and offered her input and recommendations as needed.

At the front of the ship at the helm station, Miral Paris sat comfortably in her chair. With a wave of her hand, the HCARS display materialized as a meter wide translucent gird floating before her. Her arms gestured fluidly through the holographic display, feeling and interacting with the variables, adjusting both with her hands and through computer assistance. Unlike other station displays, the helm HCARS interface allowed for a greater physical interaction with its data. Starfleet psychologists had confirmed what pilots like Miral and her father had known all along, that a pilot is most effective when he or she feels they have direct control over their vessel, to actually manipulate something rather than blandly touching a panel. Although the HCARS display did not create actual solid controls of the kind that Tom Paris might have preferred, it generated enough feedback for Miral to feel the ship as an extension of her own hands.

Harry watched them go about their duties, all of them confident in their abilities to get their jobs done. Deep down, he too shared his first officer’s concern that perhaps he had chosen too many familiar faces for this mission. But he had wanted the best, and like it or not, the best happened to be people he had known quite well over the years.

But when it came down to it, could he give an order that could send Miral or Naomi Wildman to their deaths? Or for that matter, his own wife?

"Beta Antares traffic control reporting in," said Krell from Tactical. "We are Go for launch."

"Clear all moorings," Kalan stated boldly.

"Moorings are clear. All ship’s systems on standby," said Naomi. "Awaiting your command, captain."

Annika and Kalan turned their eyes to Harry, as a smile curled up across his features. It was all leading up to this moment. Now it was his time.

"Ensign Paris," he commanded, "ahead maneuvering thrusters. Take us out of drydock. It’s time to set sail."

"Aye, sir," Miral replied with a broad grin on her face. A quick twist of her hand, and the viewscreen shifted to the forward view of the ship’s movement. Slowly, Enterprise edged her way from the support scaffolding of the drydock, until it was out of view completely.

"We’re clear of drydock, sir," announced Krell.

"Ahead one quarter impulse," Harry commanded. At with that, a soft rumble was heard as the ship quickly accelerated to one-sixteenth the speed of light in less than two seconds. To the inertial dampeners, such surge of speed meant absolutely nothing.

"Path ahead is clear, sir," reported Krell.

"Engineering reports impulse reactors operating at one hundred percent efficiency," Naomi reported proudly.

Harry smiled proudly. So far, the ship was performing just as well as she had during her initial shakedown cruise. He watched the aft view of the ship on his armchair monitor, and saw as Telford Station and the drydock, along with Beta Antares I itself, shrank slowly into the distance against the field of stars.

"Bride to Engineering," said the captain into his armchair intercom, "how is the bubble core?"

"The core is functioning well within our predicted parameters," Vorik reported. "We are prepared to engage warp drive on your command."

"The command is given," Kim declared. "Ahead to Warp Factor 1."

Miral pulled her hand forward through the HCARS field, and with a soft, smooth whine, the vessel accelerated forward and hit the light barrier, the stars streaking forward to mark the great ship’s passage.

"Warp field holding steady," Miral announced.

"Helm," said the captain, "maintain this heading and accelerate to slipstream threshold." He then turned to the intercom once again. "Mr. Vorik, are we prepared to engage quantum slipstream?"

"Sir," came the chief engineer’s voice, "the core is at optimum power efficiency and the delformer is online and charged."

"Captain," announced Krell, "we’ve cleared the Beta Antares system. Stellar Cartography reports a clear flight path for slipstream engagement."

"Continue with acceleration, Helm," said Harry, his eyes glued forward onto the viewscreen, watching the stars accelerate faster towards them. He barely noticed his wife reaching over to touch her husband’s hand.

"Warp 2," Miral called out, sharing Harry’s fascination. "Warp 3…Warp 4…Warp 5! We have achieved slipstream threshold!"

"Slipstream delformer activated," reported Naomi.

"Engage," Harry commanded.

Slowly, the streaking stars on the monitor appeared to melt into a blue-shifted blur, until it had melted into a bluish, translucent tunnel before them. The ship wasn’t in slipstream yet, but was forming it’s own gateway into subspace before them by prying spacetime apart. The slipstream tunnel then enveloped the Enterprise, marking their reaching critical slipstream velocity. When the threshold was within 25 meters of the prow, the ship’s arrays emitted a powerful diode pulse which thrusted the ship into it’s own subspace bubble. This appeared as a faint blue glow on the screen, then flaring into a bright neon flash. When the glow faded, the monitor showed the tunnel as completely enveloped within the slipstream tunnel. The ship was now completely within a transwarp state, appearing as a ghost to the outside universe.

"Slipstream velocity achieved," said Naomi. "We are now steady at Warp 5.1."

It was done. They were now officially on their way to the Delta Quadrant. The mission had now begun.

"Accelerate ahead to cruising slipstream velocity," said Kim. "Maintain heading toward the Talaxian system." He then stood up from his chair, looking out at his crew, proud of their successful launch. "Attention all hands. Some of you already know each other," he announced, striking a balance between authority and accessibility. "A few, I’ve known for their entire lives. Others, I’ve only just come to know. But as this mission progresses, I know that I’ll get to see what each and every one of you is capable of. And that you will all make proud this ship and those who made this mission possible."

Thousands of light years away from the Enterprise, in the farthest reaches of the Delta Quadrant, a much more modest starship had just begun its own launch sequence. The freighter Nexine had just cleared through orbital space control around the planet Talax, and was now moving at impulse speeds to a safe vector from which to engage warp drive.

"Are you sure about this, Bax?" said the scrawny flight engineer, hunched over his control display. "I’ve really got a bad feeling about this mission."

"Will you stop worrying, Willix?" said his huskier friend, sitting comfortably in the pilot’s seat in the cramped two-man flight bridge. "Outside of the Assembly, no one knows about this trip. Even the port authorities think this is just a freight run to the Bomari Belt mines. We’re completely covered."

"Easy for you to say," said a nervous Willix. "You’re used to your mother roping you into these assignments. Me, I just want a nice quiet life of hauling luxury goods from Talax to the outer stations. Is that too much to ask?"

"Come on, Willix," laughed the young Talaxian, "where’s your sense of adventure? Besides, you’re never going to enjoy a life of peaceful commerce with the whole sector at war the way it is. That’s why this mission is so important."

"So you’ve told me," sighed Willix, "endlessly. I swear, Bax, you’re talking more like your mother every day. Next thing you know, you’ll be running for office."

"Just try to relax, will you?" Bax chuckled. "This is a milk run. Three weeks to Caal’ree, we make the pickup, and three weeks back. The only challenge will be sharing the bathroom with our passenger. How hard can that be?"

The Kazon pilot sat at the helm of the small Raider, watching the Talaxian freighter prepare for its acceleration into warp. They were too far from Talax for a ship this small to be spotted, and even so, it had been outfitted with the gift of advanced stealth technology. No one knew they were following, not even the crew of the Nexine.

"Maintain a steady distance," the Raider commander ordered from behind. The command center of the ship was small and cramped, with room for only four officers. "Don’t let them see us, and don’t you dare lose them. The Grand Maj will skin us alive if we should fail."

"When do we attack?" the impatient navigator spoke up.

"Follow orders, fool!" spat the commander, his hand poised to strike the insubordinate officer. "We wait until we know what the freighter’s mission is. Once they’re on their way back, then we attack."

"Capture or destroy?" asked the burly gunner.

"Both," said the commander with a dangerous smile. "We take the ship intact and report back with it. The Grand Maj himself has something in mind for it. As for the crew…" he said with a cruel chuckle, "I think I’ll enjoy having a Talaxian-skin rug for my quarters."

To Be Continued…

Category : Delta Fleet

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