These are the voyages of the starship Surefoot. Its ongoing mission: to do what a thousand other vessels like it in Starfleet do. We don’t explore strange new worlds. We don’t seek out new life and new civilisations. We don’t boldly go where no one has gone before. That's for the guys with the TV shows and movies. We deliver the cargo, we maintain the buoys, and we train the next generation of Starfleet. You want war, time travel, cosmic entities, Borg invasions, spatial anomalies, holodeck malfunctions, and gimmicky crossovers and cameos? Go elsewhere.

These stories are set in the decade before the start of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The universe of Star Trek belongs to CBS/Paramount; all of the original characters here belong to me. There is no explicit sexual content, but there may be instances of profanity, and discussions of adult subject matters.

I suggest starting with the first chapter of the first story, The Universe Had Other Plans

Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Fast and the Furriest - Part 4 of 4: Trials


“First Officer’s Log, Stardate 36534.44, Commander T’Varik, in temporary command of the USS Surefoot: Dr Ling has saved Captain Hrelle’s life, and has downgraded his status from Serious to Fair. The cadets who were injured during their time on the Ferasan vessel have fared better, and have made full physical recoveries. Reports on the incident have been collated and transmitted to Starfleet Command and Starfleet Academy. I have also completed and submitted a formal protest to the Ferasan government regarding the criminal actions against our commanding officer and crew members, though given the diplomatic status of Consul Tresherr, I do not expect efficacious results. The Impala remains in proximity, as does the Bloodstained Shroud, for the time being.”

*

Captain Arrington stood before Tresherr, her arms folded across her chest. “Consul, don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes.”

Tresherr sat behind his desk, dressed in his finest ceremonial clothes, the picture of innocence. “Wool? That’s a Terran clothing material, isn’t it?”

“And don’t try to deflect the issue. I was present when I heard you order your men to kill Captain Hrelle!”

He opened his arms to her. “He was trying to kill me, Captain! He had already crippled the second son of a prominent Pridemaster on the Council! Emasculated him!”

Arrington bristled. “You can get him fixed- I mean, repaired-”

“No! Word has spread about what that maniac Hrelle did to him! He’s been eternally dishonoured, cast out from his Pride, worse than dead! Did you not see the bodies your fellow Starfleet Captain left in his wake?”

“I saw, Consul. But what I want to know is what set him off? Why were you two meeting? I’ve received evidence from the Surefoot that he was challenged to some sort of duel-”

“A harmless custom among our people, that’s all. I invited the Captain and his charming wife to a dinner to apologise for the disruption. But then he started ranting and raving, and attacked us. Our medics attempted to assist him, but he resisted.”

She frowned. “You still haven’t told me what would have set him off like that.”

“I wasn’t certain at first either, Captain,” Tresherr informed her. “Until my people began investigating. Then we learned of Captain Hrelle’s murderous past.”

“Murderous? What are you talking about?”

Tresherr frowned, gnashing his fangs. “You are not aware? They kept that from you as well? Well, I don’t suppose I can blame Starfleet Command for that. Who would want to serve with a brutal killer?”

“You’re being cryptic, Consul. I hate cryptic.”

“So do I. Allow me to be straightforward, then.” He reached to a control on his desk. Seconds later, on the screen behind him, an image of a younger, emaciated, savage Hrelle grappling with a Klingon in a pit, as the sound was dominated by cheering. “We found extensive recordings like this on the Orion market: your psychotic Captain had made a name for himself as a fighter. A killer. He did well, I hear. They called him the Beast.”

Arrington watched in horror as the image of Hrelle gouged out the Klingon’s eyes, and to a crescendo of cheers from the unseen spectators, sank his teeth into the Klingon’s throat, ripping away flesh and sending blood spurting, a recall of the events of the day before on this very ship. “My God…”

“Yes,” Tresherr agreed gravely. “Captain, I realise that mine is hardly the most pacific of peoples, but at least we live by a code of honour, something humans can certainly appreciate. I would never have let Hrelle onboard my vessel if I had known about this horrific past - and I am frankly shocked that Starfleet would let someone like him run around free, let alone in command of a starship - and in command of young and impressionable people. And your superiors must have known; Starfleet Intelligence would have been made aware of it.” He turned off the video. “But then with some thought, it becomes obvious how he managed it.”

“What do you mean?”

Tresherr shrugged. “The Caitian government no doubt applied pressure to keep Hrelle in Starfleet, to give him a command, and to suppress the truth.” His gaze narrowed. “If you don’t mind my saying, Captain, I am pleased to see your disapproval of this situation. Starfleet has a reputation throughout the Alpha Quadrant for integrity. I would be loathe to see that reputation tarnished because of this… Beast.”

Arrington tensed. The thought that Hrelle’s murderous actions could damage Starfleet’s reputation gripped her, almost as much as witnessing that scene, and how much it reflected in the present-day incident on this Ferasan vessel. The warnings of the Captain Spaulding projection returned to haunt her. “I can assure you, Consul, I was not aware of Hrelle’s past, nor I suspect does anyone else outside of certain circles in Starfleet Command. And I certainly do not approve of this. In fact, I will be making a formal protest to my superiors about Hrelle.”

Tresherr nodded sagely, before rising to his feet, lifting up a datarod and offering it to her. “Here are copies of all the Orion recordings we collected. Perhaps you could use it?”

She stared at it, before accepting it. “Thank you, Consul. Yes, I believe I could.”

*

USS Surefoot, Deck 4, Sickbay Recovery Unit:

Kami entered, wondering who she would find here this time. Since Hrelle had recovered enough to be taken off the Critical list and moved into the Unit, the cadets had organised themselves into a ceremonial guard, with one or more of them always here, constantly watching over their Captain until he wakes up. It was an old tradition, she had learned, and though technically not something in the Regulations, she had recommended to T’Varik to allow the cadets this visible show of support for Hrelle, an emotional release for them after what had happened.

Kami had been counseling many of the others following the Ferasan incident, as part of her duties - and to keep herself busy while she waited for Esek to awaken. The cadet who was here now was one she hadn’t counseled yet, but was one she most wanted to speak with. “Sasha.”

The girl had been sitting there, reading from a PADD to him, but now set it aside and rose. “Counselor-”

The Caitian drew up and hugged the girl, nuzzling the side of her cheek, her people’s equivalent of a kiss. “We’re a bit past that, sweetheart. Call me Kami.”

Sasha hugged her back, with no sign that she had broken her arm less than forty-eight hours ago. Then Kami moved to the side of the still-unconscious Hrelle, who lay still, with a salmon-pink sheet drawn up to his armpits. She leaned down and purred against his ear. “Hurry and wake up, you bastard, and I’ll let you eat all the fried shuris steak and bacon cheeseburgers you want.” She straightened up again. She didn’t ask how her husband was doing; any change would have been brought to her attention already. “What have you been reading to him?”

Sasha flushed a little as she nodded to the PADD. “Something from Neraxis, a collection of the filthiest jokes I have ever encountered. I’m blushing in places I never knew existed. How are you doing?”

“Super, thanks.” She watched the slow, steady rise and fall of his chest and belly as he breathed in and out. “Yes, I’ve not slept or eaten or been able to focus on anything for more than a minute or two without thinking about him, but apart from that…”

“I meant, after what you- well, what happened on the Ferasan ship.”

Kami looked at her again. “You mean, when I killed that Ferasan?”

Sasha paled. “I’m sorry- I mean, it must have been horrific for you. And who does our Counselor turn to for counseling?”

She nodded towards Hrelle. “Well, when Papa Bear isn’t being a lazy kussik lying about like this, it’s T’Varik; she graciously mind-melded with me to help me cope, at least temporarily, so I can focus on the rest of you.”

“Has it helped?”

Kami breathed out, her heart quickening, just a little, at the memory of her teeth in the Ferasan’s throat, at her rage over how the other one had injured Sasha returned, and she’d went for him too, fully prepared to kill again. But the mind meld had managed to distance herself from the trauma, let her see it more objectively. 

Not that it wasn’t still a terrible, terrible part of her life now, and always would be, but… “Yes. Yes, it has. You know, I've counseled your father and others who have killed, told them all the things they needed to help them deal with what they’ve done. All the things I’d been trained for. But I never fully understood how it felt, until I killed someone myself.” She swallowed. “I have no regrets about what I did, but I wish I never had to do it, and pray I never have to do it again.”

“I- I never thanked you,” Sasha whispered, tears welling her eyes. “You saved my life.”

Kami drew her into another embrace. “You’re my daughter too now, girl. You were before I married your Dad.”

“H-Hey…”

Both women turned to see Hrelle staring up at them with lidded eyes, and rushed up to either side of the biobed, Sasha exclaiming, “Dad!”

Kami was panting with excitement as she gripped his hand. “Beloved!”

He swallowed weakly, gasping, “Ch-Ch-Cheeseburger…. you promised…”

*

“USS Effort, Captain’s Log, Stardate 36544.85, Captain Esek Hrelle Recording: I’ve awakened. I remain on Medical Leave for the time being. None of the cadets have been seriously injured, for which I’m grateful. Now come all the legal entanglements that follow an incident like this. Suspecting how this is going to end up, I think I’d rather be back in the coma.”

*

“Are you fucking serious?” Kami exclaimed with outrage as she slammed the table with her fist.

On the screen in the briefing room, the figure started as if the woman could leap across the light years and throttle him. “Kami, I know it’s a cliché, but please don’t kill the messenger because he brings bad news.”

She leaned forward, shaking off the hand that Hrelle, sitting beside her, set on her forearm. “After all Tresherr and his cronies have done - almost killing my husband, injuring his daughter, threatening her and me with rape, with death - you’re just going to let them walk away?”

“Kami,” Craig Whitham, Attaché to the Federation Judiciary Council, repeated, looking as sympathetic as he could. “We will be filing a formal protest with the Ferasan government on behalf of Starfleet Command, and taking steps to remove their licence to seek out trade within Federation space. But Tresherr and his staff have immunity - at least, to a limited degree.”

Hrelle looked up at his old friend. “What do you mean by that, Craig?”

“A Consul is not like a Diplomat; their immunity from prosecution while in foreign territory only extends to activities directly involved with their work.”

“Then why aren’t they being arrested right now? You have our testimonies, you have forensic evidence-”

On her other side, T’Varik spoke up now. “The testimonies are insufficient to make an immediate arrest. And while we have obtained Ferasan DNA from the claw wounds inflicted on Cadet Hrelle’s face, we have no data to confirm that it was from Consul Tresherr - and I suspect he would be reluctant to provide a DNA sample.”

“To say the least,” Whitham agreed sombrely. “Captain, I hate to only ever be talking to you when I’ve got bad news but… there’s something more you need to be aware of.”

Hrelle leaned on his cane as if he was getting ready to rise. “Not your fault, Craig. Just spit it out.”

The man nervously stroked his Van Dyke moustache and beard. “There’s been a formal protest filed by a Captain Lucille Arrington of the USS Impala regarding your fitness to command, especially with a ship of cadets.”

Hrelle grunted, allowing his wife to react openly. “What? That witch!”

Even T’Varik appeared disconcerted by the news - as much as a Vulcan could. “This action would be in keeping with her general attitude towards Captain Hrelle.”

“What’s going to happen, Craig?” Hrelle asked tiredly.

“You should be receiving official word shortly from Starfleet Command of a preliminary hearing to address her charges against you. I’ll be in remote attendance, given my prior experience at your retrial, as will Admiral Greg Quinn at Starfleet Operational Support Services, the Caitian Embassy, and of course the Academy Superintendent. It will most likely be held on the Impala.”

“What, to make it easier to arrest me?”

“No one’s arresting you, Esek,” Kami assured him, gripping his forearm.

“Indeed,” T’Varik agreed. “The most negative outcome for this would be your suspension from duty pending a full disciplinary hearing.”

“T’Varik!” Kami snapped, sounding exasperated.

The Vulcan raised an eyebrow. “I do not suggest that this will be a likely outcome, Counselor.”

“We know, Commander,” Hrelle guaranteed her softly, looking up at the screen. “Talk to you later, Craig. Surefoot out.”

Whitham’s image frowned as the screen went black.

Hrelle continued to stare at it, as Kami focused on him, saying, “T’Varik, would you give us a moment, please?”

She nodded. “I will return to the bridge.”

As the Vulcan departed, Kami crouched down beside him, leaning on his lap and looking up at him, her concern evident. “Esek, you need to talk to me. Since you woke up, you’ve been withdrawn, resigned, dispirited-”

“You sound like you’re surprised at that,” he muttered.

“I’d be surprised - and alarmed - if you weren’t all those things, after what you went through-”

“Not just me, though. You. Sasha. The other cadets. Hurt, terrorised, threatened. Because of me-”

“Because of Tresherr,” she corrected firmly, gripping his hands in hers. “Victims blaming themselves for what happens to them is a primary reaction-”

“Yes, I remember - we’ve been on this road before.”

“Yes we have - and you know better than to let yourself get here. Now you, me, Sasha, and the other cadets have survived, we’ll all recover, and before you know it, we’ll have this business with Lucille Arrington behind us and we can focus on happier subjects.” She smiled up at him. “Boy or girl?”

“What?”

“Boy or girl? Which would you prefer we had?”

“Neither.”

“It doesn’t work that way, Esek, we’re not Axanars-”

He looked at her. “I’m not having children now.”

The room went silent.

Her hackles rose. “You’re serious. What could make you change your mind so profoundly?”

“Do you really have to ask?” He leaned forward, his expression narrowing. “Do you know how many Ferasans I killed and maimed over there? What I b-became?”

“Yes. You did what you had to do, to survive, and to try and rescue Sasha and me-”

“That B-Beast lives in me! Just under the s-surface!” He was panting now, smacking his thigh. “Not some quantum counterpart, but ME! And you’d trust me with an infant?”

“Yes!” she exclaimed. “Absolutely I would!”

He stared at her sadly. “But I wouldn’t. I’m sorry, Kami, but… if I was father material once, I’m not anymore.”

He rose. Kami followed. “Esek, you’re still recovering, it’s understandable that you might feel this way-”

“Sure, sure.” He started towards the door, hobbling on his cane. “Excuse me, Lil’ Kitten, I have work to do.”

“You’re on Medical Leave, Esek, there’s no work for you.”

“Then excuse me, Lil’ Kitten, I want to be alone for a while.”

“Esek-”

But he didn’t stop.

*

USS Impala, Briefing Room:

Lucille looked in her element, evenly dividing her attention between Hrelle, Kami, T’Varik and several other crew and cadets from the Surefoot, to the four figures on separate screens on the main wall: Craig Whitham; Admiral Quinn, an older, snow-haired human male; the Academy Superintendent; and Captain Sa’Rahn from the Caitian Embassy. “Our cadets are our future. How they’re shaped and guided will affect untold millions throughout the Federation. It is of paramount importance that they are inspired by the best.”

She nodded with disgust at Hrelle. “That man is far from the best! I witnessed what could only be described as a horrific display of savagery from him, a display that left six Ferasans dead, twice as many injured, and a number of Starfleet cadets also injured, almost killed, when they disobeyed my orders to not get involved in the incident!”

“Excuse me, Captain,” T’Varik spoke up calmly. “But the cadets in question were following my orders, issued before we lost contact, and I quote: ‘Stay together, protect each other’. Clearly they interpreted that to include Captain Hrelle. And rightly so.”

“Regardless of what you might have said, Commander, I gave them a direct order not to risk their lives!” She pointed at an ashen-faced Jonas. “That cadet assaulted me and led the others to attack the Ferasans!”

From her screen, the Superintendent spoke up. “Cadet, stand up.”

Jonas rose to his feet, aware of all eyes on him, his anxiety obvious in his expression as he swallowed and replied, “Deputy Squad Leader Jonas Ostrow reporting as ordered, Ma’am.”

“Is Captain Arrington’s accusation correct?”

He swallowed again. “Not... quite, Ma’am. I wouldn’t have considered what I did an assault. I merely… pushed her to one side.”

“Excuse me, Ma’am.” Sasha, sitting beside Jonas, rose as well, standing at attention. “Squad Leader Sasha Hrelle-”

“Oh, I remember you, Squad Leader. You have something to add to this?”

“Yes, Ma’am: I believe my Deputy Squad Leader wasn’t attempting to assault Captain Arrington, but merely trying to ensure that she was out of harm’s way before coordinating a rescue effort for our Captain-”

“What?” Arrington glared, aghast. “You lying little bitch!”

“Captain Arrington!” the Superintendent snapped. “I strongly advise you curb that tongue and allow me to continue!” The older woman focused on Sasha again. “Squad Leader Hrelle, according to the reports you were not present during this incident. How would you know what Mr Ostrow’s intentions were?”

“Because I know Mr Ostrow, Ma’am. There isn’t a malicious bone in his body. He has proved to be a superlative and considerate leader; his grades and records will support this.”

“A superlative and considerate leader might have thought better than to lead their people into a dangerous situation, or to respect the orders of a superior officer.”

“Ma’am, if I may speak freely: my own personal history has proven that dangerous situations come our way whether we’re veteran officers, Starfleet cadets, or ten-year-olds attacked in their classrooms. And while I appreciate the importance of respecting orders, had my fellow cadets followed Captain Arrington’s orders, Captain Hrelle surely would have been killed, as would Counselor Hrelle and myself, and the rest of you may never have learned the truth. I believe that any infractions my fellow cadets might have committed would be more than mitigated by the benefits obtained as a result of said infraction.”

“Squad Leader,” Whitham quipped, smiling, “If you ever want to give up Starfleet and study law, look me up.”

“If I may speak,” Sa’Rahn interrupted. “Captain Hrelle took on this mission on behalf of the Caitian government, and with the authorisation of Starfleet Command - namely myself. He expressed concern at involving the cadets, but I assured him that the danger would be minimal, that they were merely there passively gathering intelligence. I take full responsibility for this-”

“Thank you, Captain Sa’Rahn,” Quinn replied quickly, “But there is no need to accept responsibility. This meeting is not about the incident with the Ferasans, nor is it about the alleged insubordination of the cadets - on the contrary, I would reiterate Commander T’Varik’s commendations for them - but rather to determine the fitness of Captain Hrelle to command a starship. Captain Arrington, we’ve read the statements and examined the medical evidence, and so far, all I’ve seen is a veteran Starfleet officer who had been drugged and threatened and was defending himself and his family. His actions speak for themselves.”

Arrington turned to his image. “Admiral, with all due respect, they most certainly do not!” Now she looked to Hrelle. “Tell them! Tell them of your career as the Beast! Or are you too ashamed?”

“Yes,” he answered simply. “I am ashamed, Captain Arrington.”

She waited for him to say more. When he didn’t, she returned to the remote audience. “I saw the rage, the glee, with which he tore into his opponents, making no effort to minimise injury! And it’s not just this incident! He’s had a history of savagery! The Orions made a fortune off of him!”

She moved to the PADD on the table, as T’Varik asked, “What is the purpose of this, Captain? Captain Hrelle’s past experiences are already on record.”

The woman activated a command on the PADD. “Those are mere facts and figures. You have to see what he’s capable of.”

Hrelle looked up, his heart quickening. “Captain Arrington, please- don’t-”

Kami rose to her feet, glancing at the screens. “Don’t let her do this!”

Another screen came to life beside the others; Hrelle knew it was being transmitted to the remote members of this hearing, as well as being shown to those assembled here. His gaze averted.

So he listened to the gasps and the protests from the others, in particular Whitham. “Captain Arrington, for your own sake you need to turn that recording off now.”

“Mr Whitham is correct, Captain,” Quinn agreed gravely. “Turn that off, that’s an order.”

“Get that obscenity off our screens, Captain!” the Superintendent exclaimed. “ Immediately!”

Arrington looked at them, before turning off the recording. “I realise that it’s upsetting to view. You can only imagine what it was like for me to see it happening before my very eyes-”

“Captain Arrington,” Whitham started, looking pale. “How did you get hold of that recording?”

“The Ferasan Consul, Mr Whitham. You all needed to see-”

“Captain Arrington,” Quinn followed up darkly, “Starfleet Command was already fully aware of the nature of the terrible acts Captain Hrelle was forced into committing by the Orions. It was already judged that he wouldn’t be held responsible for them.”

She stared up at his image. “That’s not possible; I wasn’t aware of it.”

“Why would you be? You weren’t involved in the hearings that confirmed Captain Hrelle’s fitness for command! It was none of yours or anyone else’s damn business!”

“Captain Arrington,” Whitham continued. “You must have been aware that Orion Deathmatch recordings are contraband within Federation space? There are serious penalties for possessing them, not to mention disseminating them - as you’ve just done by transmitting them to us!”

Arrington looked to him now in disbelief, her face turning a deep shade of scarlet. “Why are you focusing on that? The real threat sits before us!” She indicated Hrelle. “Here! A murderous animal! They’re all like that!”

“Captain,” Kami started, looking concerned as she stared at the woman. “You’re becoming irrational, perhaps we should pause these proceedings-”

“Don’t play the innocent, Counselor! I saw the blood on you when I walked into Sickbay! You’re all savages under your uniforms!”

“I’ve heard enough.”

All eyes turned to one of the screens on the wall, towards Sa’Rahn, though it was a female voice that had spoken. Then they saw him being pushed out of view, replaced by an elderly Caitian female with ash-grey fur and Ambassador’s robes. Though a figure of extreme age, there was still a fierce fire in her eyes and in the sibilance of her voice as she glared at them. “I’ve heard quite enough.”

Hrelle straightened up, eyes wide with naked admiration, along with Kami and Rrori and the non-Caitians in the room who recognised her. Mother’s Cubs, it was really her: the first of them all in Starfleet, the one who paved the way for all who came after! He never thought he would be in her presence, even remotely!

Though Arrington obviously wallowed in ignorance. “This is meant to be a Starfleet Only hearing, Madam.”

“Don’t ‘Madam’ me, you arrogant little cub! You’re speaking to Ambassador M’Ress! Formerly Admiral M’Ress! And I was helping save the Federation when your father was still suckling his mother’s teats! And I’ve never heard such blatant bigotry from a Starfleet officer in all my years! If anyone needs a hearing to determine their fitness for command, it’s you, Captain!”

“I have to agree with the Ambassador, Captain Arrington,” Quinn announced. “I was already prepared to admonish you for breaking your assigned patrol route for what turns out to be an obvious obsession with Captain Hrelle; your own words are only condemning you further. We need to discuss your actions and attitude privately-”

“NO!” She faced Hrelle again, eyes wide. “YOU did all this! You did! Captain Spaulding said you were the threat!”

“Captain Spaulding?” T’Varik asked curiously. “I am unfamiliar with-”

“SHUT UP!” Arrington cried out, looking confused and panicked now - her hand moving to the phaser on her belt.

“Captain!” Quinn yelled from the screen.

“Nobody move, nobody say anything,” Hrelle murmured softly, staying still, eyes fixed on the woman from his side of the table, talking carefully to her, keeping her focused on him and him alone. “Lucille… you’re absolutely right. We’re all savages under our fur - or skin. I did kill, readily, and probably would again. But I did what I did to survive, or to protect my family, just as my wife did what she did to help save my daughter, and my cadets did what they did to help save me. Just as I’m sure you would do the same for those you love and care about.

I’m not saying it was easy, or that I didn’t give it a second thought afterwards. It stays with me, constantly: the pain, the trauma, the guilt. And it always will. As will the knowledge that if I had to do it all over again… I would.

That doesn’t make me evil. That doesn’t make me an animal. So long as I recognise that it’s only a part of me. It’s not me.”

“Captain Arrington?”

She turned to the briefing room door, looking confused now. “McMahon?”

Her First Officer drew up to her slowly, cautiously, his round, hairless face looking concerned, sympathetic. “Captain? Why don’t you accompany me to Sickbay? I think this hearing is done.”

She stared at him, looking thoroughly lost, adrift, before finally nodding sheepishly, keeping her eyes away from the screens and the occupants of the room as she followed McMahon out, letting him disarm her and handing the phaser to a guard.

*

“USS Effort, Captain’s Log, Stardate 36556.78, Captain Esek Hrelle Recording: Captain Lucille Arrington has been relieved of duty pending a formal psychiatric evaluation, and her First Officer has been temporarily promoted. I know some might think I should feel satisfaction at this turn of events, given the years of hostility we shared.

No. I watched the life of a fellow Starfleet captain unravel, collapse, before my eyes. I sincerely hope she recovers soon.

Admiral Quinn had ruled that I remain fit for command, and I expect we will soon be back to our previous mission, as will the Impala - and the Ferasan ship. Knowing that Consul Tresherr has lost the licence for his people to trade in this sector doesn’t seem justice enough, given what he did to Sasha and Kami and myself. But I’m old enough to know that the best we can hope for in this life is Some Justice.”

Hrelle sat alone in the briefing room, his back to the door, looking out at the ships in view. He heard the door slide open, of course, and his nose picked up the first person to enter. “I thought I said I was busy, Commander.”

“Yes, Sir. However, an urgent matter has arisen with a member of our crew, one that requires my adjudication - and your participation.”

He never turned, but heard others enter the room as well - including Kami. Now he shifted in his chair, to see a dozen cadets from each of the three Squads, and his First Officer, and his wife, who now sat nearby, her feet up on the table as if she wasn’t a part of all of this, let alone the obvious instigator. “Get out. All of you. That’s an order.”

T’Varik folded her hands behind her back. “You are still on Medical Leave, Captain. Shall we continue? This matter involves a highly valued member of our crew who believes he is unqualified for a particularly important role. The cadets assembled here will provide evidence to the contrary.”

Hrelle looked to Kami. “I’ve made up my mind. This is pointless.”

She shrugged. “Don’t look at me, I just came in for the view outside.”

“If this is pointless,” Sasha noted with a slight smile. “Then there’s no harm in listening, is there?” Without waiting for an answer, she looked to the end of the group. “Rina? If you would?”

Rina Chaudri blushed a little, shifting uneasily before finally starting. “On my first duty shift, I sat at the helm on the Bridge, ready to do what I dreamed of doing all my life: piloting a starship. Except... I couldn’t. I froze. I forgot everything. But my brain still worked, at Warp Ten, telling me that I was going to fail, be sent home in disgrace, maybe even court-martialled for insubordination. I was panicking.

But then you came over to me, knelt beside me, calmed me down, assured me everything was going to be okay. You taught me the pre-flight mnemonic that brought back all my training.” She smiled. “You made me laugh. You gave me confidence again. I never thanked you for that.”

Beside her, Jonas shrugged self-consciously. “I never knew my Dad. I never thought I needed him, or anyone like him. Before I realised it, I found myself opening up to you, getting advice, getting support when I was ready to… to do something stupid. And you treat me like an adult, offering without ordering. I told the crew of the Rising Star that you were like a father to many of us. I didn’t lie.”

Beside him, Nancy Yeager looked a little disgruntled. “You… you weren’t afraid to tell me I was wrong, and to tell me why. And you gave me a second chance to make good again.” She scowled. “Someone else say something now.”

Giles smiled at that. “You saved my life - literally. And when you knew I was being made to spy on you by my father, you didn’t turn me in, you didn’t confront me, you gave me the chance to redeem myself. You stood up to my family to protect me.” He blushed a little. “Also, you haven’t killed me for being Sasha’s boyfriend.”

“Yet,” Hrelle added dryly.

Beside him, Eydiir straightened, looking both vulnerable and proud. “Many here know that I defied Capellan tradition when I joined Starfleet to practice Medicine instead of Security, and paid for it by being disowned, my tribe’s colours taken from me. My friends tried to support me, telling me it did not matter. They meant well. But they did not understand. You did, though.”

She raised her chin. “You contacted the High Teer of the Ten Tribes - the High Teer himself! - spoke highly about my courage and honour, the lives I had helped save, my victories.” A slight smile raised the corners of her lips. “And you threatened to adopt me as your own child if my people continued to be so foolish as to disown me.” She raised her arm, allowing a dark green silk sash to unfurl from her hand. “Not long after that, this was sent to me. I am proud to serve under you.” She tied the sash around her waist, her smile broadening. “And if you had kept true to your threat and adopted me… I would have been even more proud.”

Glenqom Orogg, the Saurian Security Specialist of Gamma Squad, raised his reptilian head, his salmon-pink skin darkening as his bronze oval eyes nictitated. “When my hatch mother was called in for an emergency operation to replace her subaltern heart, I stayed up all night waiting for a subspace message on the outcome. My Squad, Commander T’Varik, the Counselor, they all offered to stay up with me, but I turned them down. You, however, insisted on remaining with me through the night: getting us coffee, disassembling and reassembling phaser rifles, teaching me K’Gressor martial moves. You distracted me, until the good news about my mother arrived in the morning - and ensured I was given the morning shift off to catch up on sleep.”

Bill Beadine of Gamma Squad spoke up now, flushing. “I didn’t tell anyone about the crush I had on Charlie Ingalls. I thought I had to keep it to myself, never working up the courage to approach him. I still don’t know how you figured it out... but you did, and you not only gave me tips on what to say, but you taught me to cook his favourite meal! How did you know?”

Hrelle shrugged, trying to act insouciant. “It’s food related, cub. Look at me.”

Beside Beaudine, Neraxis stared at Hrelle with unabashed admiration. “When we were rescuing those Malurian children, all that time, all I could think about was my own little brothers and sisters, how it could have been them, trapped in some Hraxor-forsaken hold, sick, suffocating. Dying.” Dark violet tears welled up in her eyes, quickly wiped away. “I tried to hold it in, stay strong and do my job like everyone seemed to be doing. But I- I was cracking, crumbling inside. I thought I kept it hidden.

But somehow you saw. You called me over, said you needed help getting blankets from Stores. Instead, when we were alone in there, you just talked to me, reassured me that it was okay. And when I just broke down and started bawling like a baby, you didn’t scold me and talk down to me or tell me to pull myself together. You gave me time to do that myself.”

Hrelle felt himself blush under his fur. “You know that all of what you cubs have said is just part of what any commanding officer would do?”

“I disagree,” T’Varik assured softly. “These actions go above and beyond the job description of a starship Captain; having assisted 32 Starfleet officers in reaching that position during my career, I believe I am qualified to confirm that. I can also confirm that none of them have ever referred to those under them as their ‘cubs’.”

He frowned. “I’ve only ever said it once or twice.”

“You have made 244 references to it in my presence.”

His frowned deepened. “I think you make these figures up half the time.”

Sasha laughed softly. “Well, I've known you longer than anyone else here. I still remember that evening 12 years ago when you first walked into our quarters on Salem Four, and I realised you were going to be more than just a visitor to the station. You were an intruder, one who seemed intent on taking over Mom’s attention and affection from me. I met you with unrelenting resentment and hostility.

You, however, returned unrelenting patience and fondness. You brought my shields down. The Intruder became Uncle Esek, then Papa Bear… and then Dad.” She let the tears flow freely down her cheeks. “And I would hate for any cub of your own to miss out on what you have to offer.” She laughed again as she wiped her face. “Especially when you’ll have a ship full of sitters on hand.”

Hrelle was swept up in the emotions at play, and looked to his wife. “This was a rotten trick of yours. You know that, don’t you?”

Kami shrugged unapologetically, idly playing with her tail. “Told you once before, Captain, Sir, that when it comes to helping those I love, I’m a no-holds-barred, dirty bitch fighter.”

“I would not argue against that,” T’Varik added dryly, as the cadets tittered. “Captain, the fact remains that, though I may sometimes question your overfamiliarity and overemotional approach to the cadets and crew, I cannot deny the positive effect you have on them, both academically and emotionally. So I would reiterate Squad Leader Hrelle’s words, and point out the illogic of denying others the magnificent influence you would have as a father to them.” She looked to the cadets. “I believe we are done here.”

“Wait.” Hrelle rose to his feet, leaning on his cane as he hobbled around the table to stand before them. “Thank you. All of you. Now get back to work or there’ll be no bedtime story.”

As they laughed - or in T’Varik’s case, raised an eyebrow - and departed, Hrelle approached Kami, who stood up now and regarded him with a smile. “Feeling better?”

“Feeling like a self-pitying ass.”

“That’s a good place to start.” She put her arms around him and purred against his throat. “And to carry on with our lives and put all this business behind us.”

He started at that, and reluctantly turned to glance out the window again, at the Ferasan vessel.

She watched him. “Forget about them, Esek. We can’t touch Tresherr, not without physical evidence.”

He smiled a little. “No?”

*

Bloodstained Shroud:

Hrelle left his cane behind as he beamed into the Promenade with T’Varik and an armed security team. The Vulcan gripped her tricorder. “I must advise against this course of action, Captain. You are not yet fully recovered.”

“You’ve already done that. Getting senile in your old age?”

“I have not yet reached old age. And should you pursue this gambit, you might not either.”

“Who said Vulcans don’t have a sense of humour?” To Lt. Abed he ordered, “Take no action until ordered by me - or Commander T’Varik if I’m killed.” He enjoyed the reaction on his security officer’s face as he led the way towards the large table in the Promenade, where Tresherr and a collection of Ferasans sat and feasted on what looked like the remains of animals that had been alive moments before. “Sorry to interrupt your picking on tiny defenceless creatures, Tresherr.”

The Consul shifted in his seat to glare with open contempt at the new arrivals. “What are you doing here, Fat Man? I didn’t give permission to let you onboard.”

“It is allowed, Consul,” T’Varik informed him. “As part of our continuing investigations into the assault on members of our crew.”

“We won’t be long.” Hrelle walked up to the table, looked at the other Ferasans. “Thought you might have changed your mind about giving us a DNA sample?”

Tresherr grunted. “Go to your Seven Hells, Caitian scum.”

“It’s a painless procedure; you don’t have to be afraid.” He leaned in closer. “Is that it? You’re afraid? Oh I know, you need to hear the Magic Words.” He cleared his throat and announced in an overly melodramatic voice, “Across the Feckless Veld I have journeyed to stand before you! I challenge you, Consul Tresherr! In the name of the Pattycake, I challenge you to fight me!”

The other Ferasans tensed and went silent. But Tresherr just smiled mirthlessly up at him. “No, Hrelle. I won’t take the bait that easily. Just how stupid do you think I am?”

“Oh, I don’t think we have enough time to go into that.”

One of the Ferasans sitting nearby leaned forward. “Why don’t you just take your plant eating Vulcan and run along back to your-”

Hrelle suddenly turned and snapped at him, making the young Ferasan yelp and almost fall backwards in his chair, and the others surrounding him almost follow.

He looked into their eyes - and saw their fear. And he knew why. His voice returned to a low growl. “Maybe one of you would like to face me? Come on, cubs. Don’t you want to follow in SecondSon’s tracks? How’s he doing, by the way?”

They averted their eyes.

And Hrelle leaned in even closer. “Spread the word among your people: anyone else come looking to make a Name for themselves by fighting me will end up like that neutered kussik. Even your females. I swear on my cub’s life I’ll make it happen.”

Then he glanced at Tresherr, who sat there, making a show of trying to ignore the intruder.

Even when Hrelle casually reached out and tipped Tresherr’s cup off the edge of the table. Then the remains of Tresherr’s meal into the man’s lap.

“Run along, Captain,” the Consul chuckled.

“Captain,” T’Varik prompted. “Perhaps we should return to our ship?”

Hrelle straightened up, made a move towards her, before facing the back of Tresherr. “Maybe you’re right, Commander. I shouldn’t antagonise them like this. It’s like my grandmother used to say: ‘Never piss off a Ferasan’.”

Tresherr grunted in satisfaction, as did several of his comrades.

None of them saw Hrelle unfastening the front of his uniform and reaching inside, enjoying the reaction from T’Varik. “‘It’s so much more satisfying to piss on them’.”

Tresherr froze as he felt the hot stream hit his neck and the back of his head before his astonished fellows.

He shook, as if the liquid had been ice cold. He rose to his feet, his chair falling to one side, his limbs shaking with rage. “I’LL SPLIT YOU IN TWO!”

Hrelle tucked himself away again. “That’s what I told your mother last night, Tresherr.”

The Consul spun and torpedoed into him, sending him sprawling, his claws out and his jaw opened to rip into the Caitian. But Hrelle was ready for him despite his still-infirmed condition, his own claws raking fur and flesh. The air filled with shouts of protest from both sides.

Very quickly, Hrelle realised that in his current state, he was hopelessly outmatched. “T’Varik!”

He filled the residual sting of a phaser on a stun setting as it struck the Ferasan over him, sending him to one side, shaking but still conscious, as the security team kept the other Ferasans at bay.

Hrelle caught his breath, holding up his bloodied hand. “C-Commander-”

The Vulcan was kneeling at his side, her tricorder whirring with activity. “It appears your stratagem for voluntarily obtaining a DNA sample from Consul Tresherr was successful; it matches the sample obtained from Sasha’s wounds.”

He nodded. “Grab him and let’s get back. I have a wife waiting to kick my ass for this stunt when she finds out about it.”

*

“First Officer’s Log, Stardate 36567.40, Commander T’Varik, Recording: Consul Tresherr has been arrested and detained in the Impala’s brig, to be taken to Starbase 84 following their escort of the Bloodstained Shroud to the border with Ferasan space. I have returned command to Captain Hrelle and am finalising reports and debriefing involving the events of the week.”

T’Varik knew something was wrong; she had worked with the Superintendent long enough to discern the changes in her demeanour, even via the viewscreen in her office. However, she chose to finalise her reports first; it was only logical. “The cadets have been fully cleared by our Chief Medical Officer, and our Counselor has found that, far from suffering any long-term emotional trauma from the incident, that their esprit de corps has strengthened. Although, of course, I shall endeavour to find safer methods of galvanising their group loyalty than combat with Ferasans.”

“I’m not amused, Commander.”

T’Varik looked up, setting aside her PADD. “That is regrettable, Ma’am. May I enquire as to-”

“Do you know how easily one of our cadets could have been killed?”

“Yes, Ma’am. But none were.”

“But they could have been.”

T’Varik straightened up. “Squad Leader Hrelle was quite correct in her reply at the hearing; mortal danger is not exclusive to those who have graduated from the Academy. During this year I believe four cadets on Earth died from various accidents and illnesses. It is of course a tragedy, but it is not an entirely unavoidable situation-”

“You are correct, Commander. At least, the ‘entirely unavoidable’ part. That does not mean we should be reckless with those in our charge.”

“Superintendent, I did not mean-”

“There are three other vessels involved in the AWE Program: the Shrysia, the Revere and the Gavvl. They repair communications modules, deliver supplies, salvage wreckage. None of them have reported incidents involving Nausicaan slavers, disintegrating space stations, telepathic attacks, suicide attempts, militant Twenty-Second Century humans or lethal Ferasans.”

“Ma’am, it hardly seems fair to make comparisons. Under slightly different circumstances, these incidents could have occurred to any of the other vessels-”

“Commander, I have the utmost respect for Captain Hrelle’s history, ability and personality, and sympathy for what he has undergone. But I ask you, honestly: would the Ferasans have approached your vessel and eventually put the lives of your cadets as risk if it had been commanded by anyone other than him?”

T’Varik stared at the screen. “It… seems unlikely.”

“Don’t get me wrong, Commander. I’m not questioning the AWE Program. It’s Captain Hrelle I’m concerned about. I have to seriously consider whether he should continue to be a part of it next year. I will of course inform you if any changes are to be made.”

“Superintendent… please do not make any rash judgements. I admit to having developed a… personal bias in favour of Captain Hrelle-”

“I recognise that, Commander, and it speaks well of the man that you would do so. I promise you, my judgement will not be rash.”

The viewscreen faded to black.

*

USS Surefoot, Deck 4, Sickbay:

Dr Ling set down the control unit. “There you go: your implants are deactivated, you can now conceive. And thanks for giving me something non-critical to do for a change. Happy Fertilisation.”

“Thanks, Juliet.” Kami slipped an arm around Hrelle’s and led him out into the corridor. “So, shall we head back to our quarters and get going?”

“Going? There’s too much work ahead of us. We’ll be reaching Starbase 154 in 3 days, there’ll be extended refittings and leave for the cadets and crew, we have a transport to get to Cait for your son’s wedding, clothes and gifts to replicate, orders to authorise… we might not have sex for weeks.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Yes.” He quickened their pace to their quarters.

*

USS Impala, Captain’s Quarters:

Edward McMahon completed the last of the orders as quickly and efficiently as ever, doing the work of First Officer as well as Captain. Not that there was much difference, from an administrative viewpoint, but if he was eventually permanently promoted to Captain - as he expected he would, given his influence with Starfleet Command -  he would inevitably have to appoint someone to take his current place.

But unlike his former Captain, he’d be keeping a better eye on his Number One. “Well? Are you satisfied?”

Across from him, the Ferasan Telepath stared with amazement at the figures on the PADD in his hand. “More than satisfied. Astonished. I did not realise my talents would be valued so highly.”

“And that’s only the beginning, my furry friend,” promised the monochrome isomorphic projection perched on a nearby chair, puffing cigar smoke into the air. “Stick with us, and you’ll dine on the finest fish heads and have a gold plated litter box to call your own.”

The Ferasan looked up in consternation. “Excuse me?”

McMahon glanced up, wishing ‘Captain Spaulding’, his contact with the Inner Circle, was more straightforward, at least until the latest recruit to their organisation grew accustomed to the projection’s anachronistic jokes and references. “Never mind him. You had ample opportunity to probe Hrelle’s mind.”

“Yes, the orders from my former employer were to be most thorough.”

“And you can definitely confirm he knows nothing of the Bel-Zon’s activity in this sector?”

“If there was, it certainly wasn’t at the forefront. His main concerns were my people, his guilt over his violent past, his marriage and the prospects of imminent fatherhood.”

“Marriage and fatherhood are fine institutions,” Spaulding quipped, “But who wants to be put in an institution? I was married once. Actually it was twice. It was bigamy. It was big of my wives as well.”

The Telepath glanced at McMahon bemusedly. “Are all your organisation’s leaders like this?”

“He’s an avatar of a 400-year-old Terran humourist. You’ll never meet our leaders, but all you need to know about them is that they are magnanimous to those who are loyal, merciless to those who are treacherous... and they rarely display a sense of humour.” He leaned forward. “You are certain Hrelle is not aware of Operation: Damocles?”

“I did not see that reference in his mind.” The Ferasan scrutinised his PADD again. “So much wealth at my disposal now. I could buy my own Name from the Council.”

“You will not be returning to your people,” McMahon informed him, rising to help himself to some Aldeberan whiskey from Arrington’s drinks cabinet. “You don’t need them anymore. Call yourself whatever you like. We’ll continue to support you. The telepathic suppressants I gave you earlier, are they working?”

He nodded. “Yes. I cannot read your mind, or anyone else’s. It will be most pleasing to have a good night’s sleep without the unwanted thoughts of those nearby.”

McMahon smiled; it would be even better for him, knowing the Telepath couldn’t read his now. The plan to oust Arrington from command, using a secret Thought Maker to induce a constant distracting pressure, as well as the assistance of Captain Spauling, pretending to be a member of Section 31, went almost without a hitch. 

It was unfortunate that Tresherr ended up in the brig, thanks to Hrelle, but still, the gambit’s main objectives - gaining control of the Impala and recruiting the Telepath - were met. Tresherr, of course, would be found to have committed suicide before facing questioning from Starfleet Intelligence. “I never met Captain Hrelle before now. To hear tell of him from my associates, I expected something more... formidable.”

“Do not discount Captain Hrelle so readily.”

McMahon looked across at Captain Spaulding, expecting another non sequitor - but then straightened up as he saw the change in the voice and body language, recognising the new operator of the projection. “Sir… why don’t we just kill him? It can be easily done in any number of undetectable ways.”

The projection shook his head. “No. We have an open-ended contract to make him suffer for the rest of his life. Killing him would be merciful, compared with what we could put him through... via his loved ones...”

THE ADVENTURES OF THE SUREFOOT WILL CONTINUE IN…

CAITIAN HOLIDAY