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The Gift Horse Part 2

Posted on Mon Oct 17th, 2022 @ 2:13pm by Captain Akiva ben-Avram & Captain Mrazak & Lieutenant JG Ryland Dedeker & Lieutenant JG Jaya Maera Garlake & Ensign Nandi Chakma & Lieutenant Colonel Storr Garlake & Commander Arianna Frost & Lieutenant Commander BaoJun Qiao & Lieutenant Sophie Xiong & Ensign Khaiel D'hikatsi & Lieutenant Calderon Jarsdel & Lieutenant Commander Leonora Wolf MD & Lieutenant Teejay & Warrant Officer Laena ben-Avram & Gregorio Emanuel de Castillo-Bartres

Mission: S1E5: Symphony of Horror
Location: USS Phantom
Timeline: MD 5

Akiva stepped out of the conference room onto the bridge of the Phantom. He stopped after only a few steps and assessed who was present. A few people seemed to be missing. He walked over to the nearest console and looked for the communications system.

"This is Captain ben-Avram speaking. All field team members and administrative support staff are to report to the bridge immediately."

Just as Akiva cut the channel, Mrazak finally left the conference room where they both had been been debriefed by Admiral Tau. The timing gave the appearance that Mrazak had just followed a direct order from Akiva, earning a scowl from the Vulcan Without Logic.

Ryland swiveled around in the helmsman's chair. "Something up, boss-mang? We're passing through the worst of the plasma storms right now and will be docking at Overwatch within the hour."

Mrazak brushed past him and assumed the command chair, leaving Akiva to stand.

"Let's wait for everyone," Akiva said. "There's a lot to go over and I don't want to start from the middle."

Khaiel turned in his chair on the Bridge to face the man.

Leah arrived moments later, a PADD in hand. The scene in front of her felt staged, the new Captain who'd just arrived, ben-Avram was his name if she recalled correctly, looked like he didn't want to be there, Mrazak definitely looked like he didn't want him to be there either and Ryland just seemed amused.

"Don't believe we've met yet," Leah opened, "Lieutenant Commander Leonora Wolf, Captain. I was temporarily assigned to SF Med stationed at Belmont before Captain Mrazak here decided I would do better with Theta here." She'd considered mentioning that she had been the one that made the initial request to get Theta to Corvus Prime to begin with, but it felt redundant. ben-Avram would surely know that by now.

"Yes, we received your request for a special investigation," Akiva said cordially. His thoughts were far and away from the bridge at the moment, what with the past few days and the uncertain future ahead. But, still, that wasn't Leah's fault. "Welcome aboard," he said with as much warmth as he could muster.

With a clatter, a nearby panel fell to the floor and out of the access tube behind it emerged Sophie, a few wisps of hair pulled loose from its tight knot and a smear of something gray across one cheek. “I can either fix the ship or attend a meeting,” she complained, getting to her feet and brushing herself off. “Remember that later when you want to know why I’m half an hour behind schedule.”

Storr stood against the wall to the right of the command chair, catercorner to the turbolift. He had been one of the last to transport back to the Phantom, though "last" might not have been the right word given the time-variances experienced throughout the last hour. Regardless, his battle with the Klingons in lower engineering was brief and bloody. Unfortunately, it had also already been so between the Klingons and four engineers, the Starfleet men's gold and black uniforms soaked with blood. Lt Col Garlake had placed himself on burial duty after order had been restored--partially out of survivor's guilt and partially because he had experience with the grisly task--and only moments before entered the bridge to report the completion of his somber and heartbreaking assignment. It seemed that his report would need to wait.

Without fanfare or open introduction, Teejay stepped onto the bridge and took up a position across from Storr. During the battle, he'd been down in sickbay, defending a doctor, a Corvan child and a heavily pregnant Deltan from the onslaught of Klingons, but that was behind them now and the bruises were faded memories. With a curious expression, the Vulcan-human hybrid regarded the bigwigs before him in the main stage of the bridge. He turned as the lift doors opened to admit another - the one he'd heard stories about. Jarsdel - the fella who seemed to be without a rank and yet not without some merit it seemed. The two exchanged briefly polite nods and adopted separate stances to either side of the nearest console.

Bao slipped back onto the bridge, having been in sickbay. Adrenaline and necessity had finally given out and the injuries sustained in the crash landing and the subsequent excessive physical activity caught up. Nothing that couldn't be handled, even by the spartan level of care possible aboard the Phantom, but it had taken time. He slid into the primary science console and grimaced in anticipation of what horrific calamity would be visited upon them next.

Conversely, Gregorio, not being a Starfleet officer was, nevertheless, present as he had (to what he presumed was a great deal of annoyance) taken over Mrazak's ready room while the two captains had been being debriefed. He had a rather large amount of paperwork, and grumbling to deal with of his own considering the stunt he'd given ben-Avram the cover to pull. The litigation alone would likely drag out for a decade or more if the financial ruin of Pathos didn't cause INS to cut their losses before the legal fees exceeded recovery. He'd slipped back onto the bridge as well, figuring he might as well be present since he presumed Akiva would announce his existence officially.

Well, it would have to do. "Well, first thing's first," Akiva said. "This week has been a dog. We managed to survive the admiralty's inquest, though not completely unscathed. Namely, we have an official from the Federation State Department who will advise us on the political considerations and ramifications of our investigations."

Mrazak let out a terse, "Bah!" but otherwise allowed Akiva to continue unobstructed.

Gregorio gave the Vulcan a superior smirk, but merely acknowledged Akiva's words with a brief step forward and bow to the room at large, allowing him to continue. There'd be time enough to deal with the Vulcan and his poor attitude later.

"By now you're all familiar with the attack on DS9 which we were instrumental in thwarting," Akiva said. "What you might not know is that we were instrumental in rescuing two members of the admiralty who were abducted by the Trill Liberation terrorists. The results of the past few days have stacked up pretty intensely. On the one hand, the Theta-Corvus system is facing a humanitarian crisis that Starfleet is addressing only through the assistance of civilian partner organizations. But, on the other, Memory Theta repelled two threats against the Federation--one foreign, one domestic--in the form of the Klingon Secret Inquisition and the aforementioned TLA. In recognition of Memory Theta's actions, I have been informed by Admiral Tau that he is ordering a mandatory shore leave on Risa. Once we get back to Overwatch Station, we will conduct our standard post-mission tasks and then prepare for some much needed rest and relaxation." He managed to smile a bit. There was more to say, but it was nice to deliver some good news for a change.

Sophie rolled her eyes. Risa. Risa! That was not her idea of a relaxing vacation. No history, no local culture, nothing interesting to learn at all, not even a library! Just a bunch of sand and beaches and pools and blah! It looked like she would have to take some PADDs to study. “Great,” she said, sounding mostly flat, but also slightly sarcastic. “Can I go back to fixing the ship now, or did you want me to leave it broken for the duration?”

Leah nodded her eyes drifting to the side, observing the others for a moment, her eyes settling on the half-Vulcan in the back for a brief moment. Wolf gave him a nod and a smile before returning her attention to the more likable Captain.

"No, you may not," Akiva said to Sophie rather pointedly. "Because I have more to announce. First, however, I'll underscore that while Admiral Tau did not expressly say the shore leave was mandatory, he did use the word 'order'. If that is the particular hill you want to sacrifice your Starfleet career on, then by all means put it to the test. He said not to look his gift horse in the mouth, so I advise that we do not."

The Lagashi couldn't help but laugh. "Captain, I presume she meant BEFORE shore leave started. Some of our systems are still being held together with paperclips, good intentions, and some overworked AIs. I am sure Miss Xiong can supply the specific ratios, but surely it is within the spirit of Admiral Tau's orders for us to make it to Risa and back in one piece?" OK, that might not actually be true, come to it, but Bao felt it undiplomatic to say as much. "Regardless, I presume you have more to say?"

Normally Akiva would take brazen criticism in stride without dignifying it with a response, but his nerves were all but fried. "It seems that working under Captain Mrazak has made you pick up some more of his charming personality traits, Commander Qiao. Hopefully shore leave will cure you of them."

"He should be so fortunate," Mrazak said with a scoff, either not detecting the sarcasm or not caring.

"As I said," Akiva went on, "we won't begin shore leave until after our standard post-mission protocols, which includes ship maintenance. If anyone wishes to coordinate plans, then I will leave that to a capable volunteer. Otherwise everyone will be free to pursue their own interests."

Jaya was just about to raise her hand as volunteer, but she was interrupted by a very enthusiastic pilot. Storr was glad, as he held her hand tight because A) wanted Jaya all to himself, not off playing cruise director and B) she needed to take care of herself because she was fit to burst. Deltan and human pairings were a complete unknown, so gestation time was anyone's guess. If Storr was going to, it would be two weeks, tops.

"Hells yeah!" Ryland shouted. "I have a record to beat if you know what I mean." Remembering that Sophie was present with whom he had an on-again-off-again relationship, he shot her a cat-ate-the-canary grin. "Sorry, babe, but it's Risa!"

As Sophie’s eyes did another circuit in their sockets, a thought flitted through her mind that if she rolled them anymore, she would likely sprain them. “Whatever,” she replied. She would likely not leave her room and spend her time reading or playing mind sharpening games. She sincerely hoped this wouldn’t be a long shore leave. Maybe she’d get lucky and there would be some sort of symposium scheduled while they were there. Anything would be better than endless sun. As long as she could avoid sunburn, she didn’t much care what anybody else did.

The usual reaction to a trip to Risa was excitement, but Akiva could forgive his people for their underwhelmed demeanor. In truth, he did not feel much for leisure himself. Perhaps that was the reason for shore leave and a sign one needed it most. "At any rate, I will update everyone on the specifics just as soon as they are available. Any input or concerns will be welcome in my office." Well, that was as good of a segue as any, so Akiva took it. "Speaking of my office, I have one further announcement to make. Overwatch Station will be receiving a deputy administrator who will assist me in my duties. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea who it will be, as the position had not been filled when I was first informed. However, I am told the individual has just arrived at the station before us, so it is likely we will be greeted on arrival."

Mrazak visibly bristled at the speech, but otherwise, he faced the viewscreen as if he were not listening. The passive-aggressive gesture prompted Akiva to say what he had intended to leave unsaid.

"We don't know this person, but they were assigned to 'assist' me, not the field team, so this is my problem, not yours. While I work out the finer details of the new administrative structure and workflow with my new deputy, I am asking everyone to be cordial and respectful above and beyond the requirements of professionalism. This person might be a snake in the grass or they might be a victim of circumstance like many of you were in your assignment to Memory Theta. Give them no cause for offense." Akiva scanned the bridge. "Any questions?"

Leah nodded her head in acknowledgment, "are Lieutenant Teejay and I to assume that we're staying with Theta for the time being?"

"Since the Field Team Leader formally conscripted you, the letter of the protocol states that you remain seconded to Memory Theta at his pleasure," said Akiva, "but since I have not had the opportunity to push it through, I can send you back to Belmont Station if you wish, though you would never be permitted to disclose the events of the past few days or Memory Theta's hand in them on pain of court-martial and other severe punitive measures."

"You're giving them a choice?!" Mrazak snapped his head around from the center chair. "Captain ben-Avram, a word with you in private!"

Akiva shook his head. "No, Mrazak. What will be will be."

Facing forward, Mrazak resumed his silent grumbling that promised certain comeuppance.

"Sir, I'm fine staying," Leah said with a frown at the sudden turn, "merely seeking clarification on whether the secondment was temporary or permanent." She said.

"Permanent!" Mrazak shouted. "And I will not be gainsaid on my own ship."

Gregorio quirked an eyebrow. "Captain Mrazak," he said levelly. "Do remember that it is Captain ben-Avram who is the administrator of Memory Theta, and not yourself, and therefore, that it is he, and not you, who is responsible for the paperwork. Do contain yourself, as such unbecoming outbursts have played a large part in why the Federation Council has felt it necessary to expend time and resources to oversee this initiative. I suspect Starfleet has similar feelings in regards to why Captain ben-Avram, Colonel Garlake, and now the new deputy administrator have been necessary," he finished lightly, but his gaze lingered around the room in an unsubtle hint that he was also speaking to the room at large and not just the intemperate Vulcan.

"You justify your role, I'll justify mine, and we'll see who is still standing," Mrazak said. "You aren't even Starfleet, so get off my bridge."

Garlake wasn't very aware of who the small bureaucrat was but he liked him; anyone able to get under Mrazak's skin playing his own game was a positive in the Marine's book.

"Overwatch, this is Phantom on primary approach. Make ready because she's been rode hard and gettin' put up wet."

The pause from Overwatch Station seemed longer than normal. "Lieutenant Dedeker, we talked about this. Please don't. Just... don't."

"It's just an expression," Ryland said. "About horses, I think. Anyway, ready or not, here we come!"

"... acknowledged, Phantom. Primary docking pylon is ready and station command is alerted to stand relieved."

As the channel closed, Akiva couldn't fight back a pang of anxiety. It was hard enough doing his job without people standing over his shoulder. But, then again, this Gregorio de Castillo-Bartres had proven helpful after their rocky introduction. Whatever happened, Akiva determined to meet it with a stiff upper lip.

But when the ship finally docked and the airlock released, the person standing next to Master Mayhew, acting Commandant in Storr's place, was the last person Akiva had expected to see.

"G'day mates, I'm Commander Arianna Frost, Deputy Administrator, welcome home." Frost said in a professionally cheerful tone, giving the group a quick look.

"It's..." The air sucked from Akiva's chest so hard he could barely speak. "It's you." The world began to spin into a whirligig that dragged Akiva under. When he passed through the airlock onto Overwatch Station, it was not in a conscious state. His body fainted to the deck with eyes rolled back.

Frost blinked, watching the event unfold, "wow, that worked better than it does on my targets." She said in a dry tone as several people rushed to help the falling Captain. She however made no move.

Leaving Storr's side, Jaya was among the first to check Akiva over. Her glance at Ari was rather telling--excitement, joy, suspicion--though her attention was reserved mostly for Akiva.

Jaya bolting to Akiva was expected, though her rush of concern nearly made Storr take a knee himself. It had been some time since she had blindsided him like pheromonally...he didn't care that that likely wasn't a word. Blinking, he shook his head at the entire situation. Why was Arianna here in this capacity? He groaned at the implications and impending drama outbreak.

Leah kneeled down next to Jaya, reaching out to feel the back of ben-Avram's head. "Might be a bruise forming." She said to Jaya, "we should get him to Sickbay. Or Infirmary...whichever we have around here."

Ari stood aside as the more physically able members of the group went to assist the Captain. "Alert the infirmary to expect the Captain. Meanwhile, the rest of you should go on through."

Bao blinked. "That was a most unexpected reaction," he mused as he stepped through the airlock. He looked at Frost and shrugged as he passed by.

Gregorio, still lingering at the end was similarly shocked. "Here I was hoping that Captain Mrazak would be the one to have an aneurysm and collapse," he mused, perhaps just a little too loudly. "I would say it lovely to see that you strike such terror into the hearts of men, Commander Frost, but it appears you have targeted the wrong man."

"Shhh, I'm playing the long game," Arianna threw Gregorio a smirk and a wink, before glancing around. "Come on guys, let's keep it going."

She herself still needed to finish her meeting with Mayhew and finish getting herself signed into the system.

"Where is Laena?" Jaya asked, looking around in search of the Orion woman, though she spared a warning glance at Ari. The tension between her and Akiva was hard to miss. "Someone ought to let her know that Akiva will be receiving care in the Infirmary."

"Oh you have got to be kidding me." Jaya's words felt like a slap to the face. After all that had happened, that's what he went and did? The other part was grateful to her friend for it. Great, more eggshells to walk on.

"Yes, please alert Mrs ben-Avram to the fact," Ari recovered quickly, hoping that the gutpunch she felt wasn't visible to others.

Garlake smiled and gently shook Arianna's hand. "Good to see you again, though it seems that your entrance was...less than expected. Mister Mayhew," he said, switching tone and targets. The man had performed admirably yet suffered much in Storr's absence on the station and he felt conflicted over the man's injuries; he should be proud that Mayhew had fought Cal well and come away with a motivational injury but at the same time, it was significant damage and a bear of recovery. Snapping himself from his thoughts, the Commandant continued. "I'll take over the inprocessing, thank you for your assistance and work here on the station. You deserve your rest."

Ari shook Storr's hand firmly and returned the smile, glad at least someone was happy to see her. "We were just in the middle of my sign-in when you arrived. I can have Mister Mayhew go when we finish?"

And then Mayhew sighed before turning about. "Let's get on with it," he muttered as he walked away.

Ari looked after Mayhew for a moment, before nodding to Storr. He had this in hand. "Colonel, everyone...welcome back. I'll see you all later." With a nod to everyone still present she exited just as the medical team finally arrived to help Leah and Jaya with the unconscious Captain.

"Qurban!" shouted Mrazak as he boarded the station without regard for anyone else. "Wait till you hear about this mission!"


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