Star Trek: New Horizons Season 4, Episode 7 (The Chains That Bind) by captaintigranian
Summary: Dr. Kayla Kirby, a psychiatrist with Starfleet, arrives on the Pershing to conduct a study of the psychological toll of the War.
Categories: Expanded Universes Characters: None
Genre: Angst, Drama, Family, Friendship
Warnings: Adult Language, Adult Situations, Character Death, Violence
Challenges: None
Series: Star Trek: New Horizons
Chapters: 7 Completed: Yes Word count: 11059 Read: 1620 Published: 20 Aug 2017 Updated: 20 Aug 2017

1. Chapter 1 by captaintigranian

2. Chapter 2 by captaintigranian

3. Chapter 3 by captaintigranian

4. Chapter 4 by captaintigranian

5. Chapter 5 by captaintigranian

6. Chapter 6 by captaintigranian

7. Chapter 7 by captaintigranian

Chapter 1 by captaintigranian
Imperial Romulan Navy Deuterium Refinery: Makar III, Romulan Star Empire

Stardate: 53380.3

Makar III was once a beautiful world: rich in minerals and resources. The native inhabitants used them to create beautiful artwork out of metal and colored glass. Until two centuries ago, the most advanced pieces of technology known to the Makarians were the magnetic compasses diviners used to find new veins of iron and nickel buried deep inside the craggy peaks of the southern volcanic range. Then, the Romulans came looking for plunder.

At the northern tip of the Southern Continent, a giant expanse of white limestone formed where seawater had once flowed inland. Twenty million Earth years ago, the waters receded leaving untold trillions of microscopic sea-creatures fossilized in stone. Their bodies had long since turned into a rich deposit of deuterium trapped inside nearly microscopic pockets inside the porous rock. The Iron Age Makarans had no idea why the off-worlders were so obsessed with the worthless pieces of white, chalky stone, but the pointed-ears lusted after it like it was made of gold.

A massive pit-mine had been established on the hot, dusty surface of the expanse. Chemical explosives were used to blast chunks weighing over one metric each from the sides of the quarry, then pneumatic hammers would break the large chunks into pieces small enough to be loaded into mining carts. Forced laborers would then push the carts up a large ramp made of a mining slag to the refinery on the top edge of gaping hole: a wound in the very flesh of Makar III itself.

The refinery ran night and day. Choking clouds of black smoke emanating from smokestacks often obscured the light of the sun, keeping the pit in a constant state of horrid twilight.

It was brutal, dirty, dangerous work. Almost a metric ton of ore was required to create one liter of refined deuterium. Luckily, the Romulans had a never ending supply of workers: the Makarans themselves. The once proud civilization of artisans, poets, and engineers now lived in chains mining the resources of their own planet to appease their alien overlords.

An entire garrison of Romulan troops lived at the edge of the pit. They took great pleasure in using their electro-prods to keep the Makarans furiously working. Sometimes, they would arrange for a worker to have "an accident" to keep the others in line. On certain days, a poor Makaran would not move fast enough and be crushed by a falling boulder of limestone. On other days, a worker would fall into the massive maw of the rock crushers at the edge of the refinery. Somedays, they would just push a Makaran in front of a railway car carrying rocks out of the pit. The horrors the natives suffered had become a game to the military overseers, and a tour on Makar had become a prized assignment to legionnaires seeking a break from the monotony of the fleet.

The sun was beginning to set over the mine. The last rays of the sun made the haze from the refinery shimmer orange as the light cooled into night. However, furious heat still radiated from the bare rock walls. The last train of mine carts from the day shift was making the long journey up the slag ramp on a pair of worn steel rails. They had already moved five trainloads that afternoon and they were on the brink of passing out. Their Romulan overseer, anxious to get to the bar next to his barracks, was not sparing any of his charges from his electro-prod.

"Get moving you worthless slime suckers!" he screamed at the reptilian Makarans. Their long, black tongues flicked in and out of their mouths desperately trying to expel some of their built-up body heat. It was burning days like this that a lack of sweat glands definitely proved to be an evolutionary disadvantage.

A Makaran at the head of the cart finally collapsed in total exhaustion. He lay on the burning slag, praying to the ancient gods to finally take his soul to the Pools of Paradise. The Romulan cursed under his breath as the carts ground to a halt.

"Get up you lazy piece of scaled filth!" He shoved his electro-prod into the Makaran's leathery skin. The pain was gruesome, but still the Makaran didn't move. Two of his fellow miners ran forward and tried to lift him. "I said get up!" the overseer commanded again. He was even angrier that the cart would lose two more pushers to this man. He was about bash the poor man's skull with the blunt end of his prod, when he noticed a tall figure appear out the haze a few meters in front of him.

The figure was tall and dressed in grey robes from head to toe. He appeared to have some kind of staff in his right hand. The Romulan immediately noticed the skin of his hands and face were blue. The stranger's yellow eyes stared at him with quiet ferocity.

"And just who the hell are you?" The Romulan overseer said reaching for the disruptor on his pistol belt. He never got an answer.

The figure heaved his staff which extended into a spear mid-flight. The point slammed through the Romulan's chest and flung him backward into the mining cart. The weapon pierced the thin metal sides and pinned the Romulan upright as the last breaths of life exited his twitching body.

As the other Makarans saw the white rocks in the car turn green with flowing blood, they looked back to Rellas and smiled.

"PERIMETER BREACH!" the loundpeakers arranged around the maw of the pit screamed to life. "PERIMETER BREACH!"

Dozens of guards poured from their barracks in various states of dress only to be immediately cut down in a hail of disruptor and phaser fire. They dove for cover as the craggy hillsides around them came to life with the army of the Soldiers of Akarath. A few Romulans managed to take cover and begin feebly returning fire, but a hail of heavy flashes blew through the sheet metal wall they cowered behind. The blast tore their bodies to pieces.

On the hillside, a two and half meter tall Aquinosian lept forward, firing an automatic pulse disruptor from his hip. His bluish-green skin glistened in the fading light. He flared his gills open, looked back over his shoulder, and roared for his fellow Soldiers to follow him. The sight of his massive maw filled with razor sharp teeth caused the remaining Romulans to flee in utter terror.

Down in the pit, the situation descended into chaos. The overseers were distracted by the frantic transmissions in their earpieces begging for help. The Makarans armed with pneumatic hammers saw their opportunity and leapt on their guards. A few pushed them to the ground while the others shattered their skulls into green chunks using the powerful tools the Romulans themselves had placed in their hands.

The Soldiers of Akarath seized the Imperial Romulan Navy's largest deuterium refinery in less than fifteen minutes. A few of the Romulan guards managed to escape into the surrounding mountains, but without water or shelter, the planet itself would finish the job by next mid-day.

Just a few months before, Rellas and the others couldn't even dream of getting near this system. However, Starfleet Intelligence was kind enough to provide them with the access codes for the planetary defense grid.

After disabling all the machines and setting fire to the refinery, Rellas ordered his forces to see if any of the Makarans wished to join his army. He was sure many of them would be leaving the planet with them.

Grisgok's platoon had been dispatched to raid the now vacant barracks for useful equipment and weapons.

"Should we destroy the building as well, Rellas?" he had asked his leader.

"No, leave it standing as a message," Rellas replied. "But be sure to let them know who did this."

As the liberators took the emancipated to their waiting transport shuttles, a new banner flew over the building where the Romulan Raptor once proudly waved. The new pennant was black and emblazoned with a red Klingon tri-foil. However, the script beneath was written in Romulan, not tlhIngan Hol. It was one phrase, taken from the Apocrypha of the Trials of Kahless:

"Swear to follow me, and I will show you salvation."
Chapter 2 by captaintigranian
Celtris System

Stardate: 53381.2

"Entering Sector 24187," Lieutenant Sulu said examining his navigational scope at the Enterprise's helm. The flashing lights of the duonetic controls on his black panel illuminated the worry lines of his face.

"Keptin," Ensign Chekov said from the tactical station. "Starfleet Intelligence reports the presence of possible Klingon battlecruisers in the area."

"Scopes read negative at this time," Mr. Spock said from Science. He rose from his controls and adjusted his light blue tunic. "However, it might be logical to raise defensive screens and arm phasers. Several civilian ships have reported encounters with Klingon raiding vessels in the past six months."

The black leather captain's chair spun around towards the viewscreen. Annabeth sat tall in her gold command minidress. Her blonde hair was raised in a tall beehive and bullion captain's braid circled her wrists.

"Steady as she goes, Mr. Sulu," Annabeth said crossing one black leather thigh boot over another. A female ensign in a red operations minidress walked over with a tray of tea in Styrofoam cups. She handed one to Annabeth. "Thank you, Yeoman," she said with a smile.

"No problem, Captain," the young woman replied. "If there's anything else I can do for you, please don't hesitate to ask." She winked as she flashed a little thigh from under her skirt.

"I'll…try…to remember that," Annabeth replied with a grin trying to match the staccato speech pattern of the 1701's most famous commander.

Alex was pulling a night shift in sickbay, which meant Annabeth had the whole evening alone to play…

"Captain!" Mr. Sulu shouted from the helm. "Three Klingon cruisers decloaking ahead!"

"Ready phasers, Mr. Sulu, deflector screens up."

"Aye Captain."

Annabeth pushed her black heels into the deck and rose to her feet.

"Sensors detect a strange energy signature emanating from the lead Klingon ship," Mr. Spock warned. "It could be some kind of new weapon."

"They're firing!" Chekov shouted. A strange, white pulse discharged from the bulbous head of the first D7 cruiser and slammed into the Enterprise. The entire bridge crew awkwardly dove to the left and then to the right in unison. Annabeth loved the primitive inertial dampeners on these old 23rd century ships. They made everyone appeared like they were jumping on cue.

"We appear to be trapped in some kind of energy dampening field, Captain," Mr. Spock said calmly. "All power is being drained from our systems."

Annabeth fell back into the captain's chair dramatically. A strand of hair fell loose from her beehive and she blew it out of her face. She slapped the intercom on the arm of her seat.

"Scotty, I need all the power you can muster, Mister! Full reverse on the warp engines!"

"I'm giving her all she's got, Captain!" the chief engineer's voice shouted back at her through the crackling speakers.

The Enterprise shook violently, but ultimately could not break free from the enemy's grip.

"Hull stress at 120 percent of normal, Captain," Mr. Sulu said looking into his control scope. "She'll tear apart if we don't shut down the energizers."

"To the devil with it!" Annabeth cursed. "All stop, shut her down."

Sulu complied.

"Lieutenant Uhura, hail the Klingons."

"I have their leader onscreen, Captain," the communications officer replied after pressing several, glowing crystalline buttons.

A smooth-headed Klingon with slicked-back black hair and a grey tunic grinned at her.

"Well, if it isn't Captain Annabeth Geist of the USS Enterprise," he said crossing his arms. A strange orange creature with a bulbous orange body and four skinny arms purred on the back of his chair. Annabeth randomly remembered that the Klingons called it a "glomeH."

"If it isn't Captain Koloth of the IKS Groth. Funny running into you on OUR side of the Neutral Zone," she replied.

"Oh, Captain Geist," he said shaking his head. "This area will soon be a part of the Klingon Empire anyway. Why worry about trivial borders?"

"Not if I have anything to do with it," she said firmly. "Release my ship!"

"Of course, Captain. Once you surrender to us, that is."

"Surrender is not in my vocabulary, Koloth! Now…"

"Tigranian to Geist…" her real ship's intercom cut into her suspension of disbelief.

"Computer, freeze program," she said. "This is Geist, go ahead, Dan," she said collecting herself as the world stopped around her.

"It's 2030 hours. Aren't you forgetting about our passenger from the USS Exeter?"

"Scheisse!" Annabeth cursed under her breath. She had completely forgotten about the message Dan had put out during that morning's sync meeting.

"Something wrong, Number One?" Tigranian asked. "Did you already change back into civvies?"

"No…" Annabeth said looking at her historical costume. "I'm still in a uniform…"

"No worries, then. They just pulled alongside and the transport isn't for another five minutes. You've got plenty of time. I'll meet you in Transporter Room 2. Tigranian Out."

The comm disconnected before she could come up with an excuse. Annabeth shut her eyes and took a deep breath.

"Great, this is happening…" she muttered. "Computer, save program and end."

The bridge of the Enterprise 1701 disappeared and she was alone on the holodeck dressed only in an antique skirt that revealed a good ten centimeters more thigh than modern concepts of decency allowed. She looked down and groaned as she also realized the tiniest bit of pregnancy belly was starting to show.

"It doesn't matter," she said pulling her tower of hair back into rigid place. "I'm captain of the Enterprise." She threw her shoulders back and walked out the doors. Her high-heeled boots clicked against the metal decking plating with every step.

****

In the transporter room, Tigranian stood uncomfortably next to Counselor Yuvich. It was because of her, the Pershing was receiving this unexpected guest.

"I thought Captain Geist was coming," Yuvich said glancing at the doors.

"She's on her way," Tigranian said curtly. "Any signal from the Exeter?" he asked Chief Carter.

"Not yet, Sir," he replied checking his instruments, "but we're ready."

The doors parted and Annabeth walked in. All three individuals stared at her in surprise.

"Ma'am," Yuvich said looking her up and down. "That outfit is…"

"Not a damn word for any of you," Annabeth said confidently turning towards the pad.

"Nice boots, Number One," Tigranian said under his breath. Annabeth shot an angry look in his direction.

"Sir, transporter lock from the Exeter," Chief Carter said. "One to beam over."

"Energize," Tigranian commanded.

A sparkle of blue light shimmered on the pad and a Starfleet Commander wearing medical greens appeared. She carried an away bag indicating a longer than normal stay.

"Welcome Aboard, Doctor," Tigranian said with a nod of his head. "I'm Captain Daniel Tigranian."

"Sir," she said walking forward with a smile and outstretched hand. "Doctor Kayla Kirby: Starfleet Office of Psychology," she said. Tigranian uncomfortably shook her hand.

"Olga," Kirby said wrapping her arms around Doctor Yuvich. The two women hugged.

"I interned under Doctor Kirby at the fleet hospital on Cestus III before the war," Yuvich said.

"One of my best students," Kirby said before turning towards Annabeth and raising her eyebrows.

"My first officer, Captain Annabeth Geist," Tigranian said clearing his throat.

"Doctor," Annabeth said shaking the physician's hand.

"I must say, Captain Geist," Kirby said examining her golden frock, "I didn't realize the minidress was still an authorized uniform, but then again, I don't get off Earth that often anymore."

Annabeth held back another groan.

"Laundry day today," Annabeth tried to pass it off as a joke, "nothing else clean."

"Ma'am," Kirby said holding up a hand. "I'm a psychiatrist. You don't have to explain the benefits of holo-fantasy in blowing off work related steam."

Her reassurance seemed to calm Annabeth a bit.

"Well," Tigranian said trying to move things along. "While onboard, you will have full access to my staff and the ship's facilities per my orders from Starfleet Command. You can work with Doctor Hunter to set up an interview schedule with anyone you feel meets the criteria of your study."

"Thank you, Captain," Kirby replied. "This is the largest examination of the effects of combat related post-traumatic stress on Starfleet personnel ever completed. It has the potential to help tens of thousands of people."

"Well, I'm glad to be of help, even if it was unexpected…" Tigranian said.

"But your ship volunteered to be one of our subjects?" Kirby said confused.

"Yes," Tigranian said turning towards Yuvich and glaring. "We apparently did."

"I see," Kirby said looking at Yuvich as well. The counselor glanced away from them innocently.

"In any case," Kirby said. "The high concentration of veterans on the Pershing makes it an ideal test case. However, in light of this new information, I promise to disrupt your operations as little as possible. I understand how starship captains can feel about counselors getting in the way."

"Oh really?" Annabeth said skeptically.

"Doctor Kirby is command rated," Yuvich said proudly. "She's one of only four counselors in all of Starfleet to have passed the Bridge Officer's Test."

"I was senior counselor on the Atlantis at the Kalandra Front," Kirby explained. "We were very understrength. I knew every officer needed to step up. So, I did."

"That was a very rough place," Tigranian said, immediately seeing Kirby in a new light. "You saw some real action."

"Most of Starfleet is trying to deal with the war with varying degrees of success," she said looking to Annabeth and Tigranian. "It's the brave men and women I worked with that makes me want to help."

The captains softened a bit.

"In that case, our ship is your ship, Doc," Tigranian said with a grin. "Doctor Yuvich will show you to your quarters. You can use her office for the duration of your stay. I'll have the computer grant you access to our crew database."

"Thank you, Captain," she said with a nod.

The two counselors walked out of the transporter room and Tigranian shook his head.

"That was unexpected," Annabeth said with surprise. "In my experience, most counselors are egg-heads who don't know the difference between phaser leads and impulse manifolds."

"Unexpected?" Tigranian chuckled. "Look who's talking, Captain Old School."

"Shut up, Dan," Annabeth said. "How many times have I seen you dressed as a god-damned Klingon pirate after hours?"

He laughed as they departed the transporter room. Chief Carter merely shook his head and muttered:

"Officers…"
Chapter 3 by captaintigranian
Two weeks alone. No subspace contacts, no signs of other pods, no indication that anyone knew she was alive deep in the vastness of space. The Trinity was gone, her friends were gone, and the love of her life was vaporized in a 10,000 degree anti-matter explosion.

Katie stirred on the escape pod's upholstered bench. She was out of water, her emergency rations were gone, and her life support system had started to fail. The air was fast becoming toxic with high levels of carbon dioxide. Her own breathing was beginning to kill her.

She drifted in and out of consciousness. Probably for the best considering the internal temperature of the pod was now over 30 degrees centigrade and climbing rapidly. Condensation covered all the viewports and she now felt more than ever that this 3 cubic meter box would become her tomb.

Through some miracle, she had avoided the Jem'Hadar ships that had destroyed the Tenth Fleet and conquered Betazed for the Dominion. She had no idea if it was dumb luck or they just didn't want to waste their time with one Starfleet officer drifting off alone into the void.

She was too exhausted to care anymore. Death was only a few hours away. She would simply fall asleep and that would be it. In a few decades, a deep survey ship or star freighter would detect a tritanium signature and tractor the pod in for salvage rights. The idea made her laugh. There was absolutely nothing of value inside the pod, except maybe her engagement ring. In any case, even that was only made of a few karats of gold and diamond. Substances that could easily be acquired of one a thousand asteroids scattered through the quadrant.

The aliens would find her decomposed remains. A quick DNA scan would reveal she was once human, and they would begin to ponder what had brought her to this terrible fate.

"Another casualty from that war so long ago…." They would mutter in whatever language they spoke to one another. She briefly prayed that it wouldn't be Vorta.

Suddenly, anger filled her broken body. Katie didn't want to be some unknown victim. No, she was determined to let those strangers know who she was and what she died for.

She rubbed her dry tongue across her chapped lips to work up enough spit to speak.

"Computer…" she labored to speak with a heavy chest. "Begin Recording: To anyone who finds this message, my name is Lieutenant Junior Grade Katherine Stone. I was born in Long Beach, California on the planet Earth. I am an officer of the Starfleet of the United Federation of Planets and survivor of the starship, USS Trinity, lost at the Battle of Betazed during the Dominion War.

Please inform whatever entity currently represents the interests of Starfleet on Earth that my remains have been found and how I died. Please return the golden ring found on my left hand to any surviving family of my parents, Maxwell and Julia Stone, and commit my physical remains to space as befits an officer of Starfleet.

Also, please inform the family of Pamela Montgomery of Fairfax, Virginia, Earth, that I last saw her son, Lieutenant Junior Grade Paul Montgomery, acting with heroism and valor as he rescued as many survivors of our ship as possible without regard for his own life or safety…."

She paused as her dehydrated eyes somehow produced tears.

"And tell her, that I loved her son with all my heart. I'm coming, Paulie…" she muttered as her head began to sink back into blackness, "I'll see you soon…"

The entire escape pod lurched as an unseen force grabbed it. The humming vibration of a tractor beam caused the entire hull to shudder. She thought she had to be imagining things. Either that, or the Jem'Hadar had finally found her.

Maybe they would kill her and get it over with. Maybe, she had survived all this time only to slowly die of starvation and disease in a Dominion Prison Camp. Either way, she would look her captors in the eyes. There was still plenty of fight left in Katie Stone, and she would not give those grey-skinned, rhino-nosed bastards the pleasure of capturing an unconscious, unresponsive woman.

She used her last bit of strength to push herself off the bench and towards the fogged over porthole on the starboard side of her pod. With a trembling arm, she reached up and wiped away the condensation with one stroke of her palm.

A huge saucer stared her back in the face. The light of a nearby sun brilliantly illuminated the white and grey tritanium of her hull plating. The starship's two massive nacelles glinted against the brilliant light, it's yellow and black deflector dish pulsed against the black background. She couldn't believe it. Someone had found her. She was a tiny speck adrift in a dark, endless ocean, but someone had found her.

She focused her eyes, trying desperately to make out which crew had pulled off this miracle. Finally, the name of the vessel appeared in bold black lettering against its hull:

"USS ENTERPRISE

NCC-1701-E"


****

Katie bolted awake with a stifled scream. Phil briefly stirred in his deep slumber, but quickly rolled back over into quiet sleep. Katie fought to bring her panicked breathing back into calm rhythm.

Slowly, she pushed her way out from under the covers, grabbed a towel from the nightstand, and wiped the sweat from her face and neck. She stumbled over to the window on the far side of room and stared out at space rushing by.

She gritted her teeth and cursed only loud enough for her to hear. Every time she thought she was breaking free, every time she thought she was beginning to conquer the terrible demons of her past, they found a way to push back into her mind.

Katie Stone had been a brawler her whole life. She trained to fight enemies with everything from a starship's phasers to her own fists. However, she still couldn't figure out how to fight her own warped brain.
Chapter 4 by captaintigranian
Kora System: Republic of Cardassia

Stardate: 53382.1

"Ok," Tigranian said leafing through his notes for the morning sync. "We've covered the intelligence dump from Starfleet Command, mandatory ship wide Ventaxian Influenza inoculations, and our course correction towards the Krebalb Nebula," Tigranian said checking off his list of talking points. "Border is pretty quiet right now as far as we can tell…"

"Probably because the spooners blew their load with that last round of troop exercises," Katie said fighting back a yawn. "They'll be spending the next two months running their second-hand ships through overhaul."

Alex took note of her fatigue. It usually meant that Katie was recovering from one of her problem nights. However, the Doctor kept her concerns to herself.

"Still, there's at least eighteen warbirds we know of that could still be in Cardassian State Territory ready to go," Annabeth added.

"And those are the ship's we've identified," Laria said. "Even with our long range sensors, they keep cloaking and recloaking so often there could be twice as many out there."

"I'm not going to jump to any conclusions, People," Tigranian said shaking his head. "Guessing at the number of ghost ships is exactly what they want us to be doing. We're better than that.

I'm confident we've set the conditions for transition of our sector. We'll debrief the situation and conduct relief in place when the Nelson arrives here next week."

"So, it's confirmed?" Scharr said from the other end of the table.

"It is, Tren," Tigranian said leaning back into his chair. "The other sisters are up and operational and Admiral Paris says we're ready to begin the fleet rotations. In two weeks, we'll be back in Earth spacedock for a month. Nevsky is heading to the Romulan Neutral Zone, Shran will be patrolling the core systems."

"Thank, God," Phil said with relief. "I was afraid those other crews would never remove their heads from their fourth point of contact and get their arses out here to the frontiers of freedom..."

"You know, Mr. Lexington, some of those crews are friends of mine and have been doing this job a little bit longer than you," Tigranian said steepling his fingers.

"Sir, I didn't mean to imply that they were incompetent, I meant…"

"Sounds like that's exactly what you were trying to do, Lieutenant," Annabeth said joining in the fun.

"Ma'am…I…" he began to stammer.

"Back in my day," Scharr said stretching out his antennae, "When a lieutenant copped an attitude like that, we took him to the cargo bay after midnight and beat his ass."

"Exactly what day are you talking about, Sir?" Katie said skeptically. "I don't believe hazing and grabass was ever part of Starfleet life. Life on your little ice cube maybe, but not in the fleet."

A smile crept across Tren's face and he began to laugh. Soon, Annabeth and Tigranian joined in.

"Relax, Phil," Tigranian said through his chuckle. "We're just screwing with you, but in all seriousness, watch what you say around more senior officers. Not everyone wearing this uniform is as tolerant of free opinions as we are."

"Yeah," Annabeth said shaking her head. "And her name is Captain Shu Yin Quan…"

"By Kahless, Number One," Tigranian said rubbing his eyes. "Don't bring her up."

"You implied, I merely stated," Annabeth muttered in reply.

"Well, if that's all, I think we can all go about our day…" he said getting ready to push back from the table. The others readied themselves to rise as well.

"Um, Sir?" Alex said pushing a PADD towards him. "Doctor Kirby?"

"Baktag, you right, Alex," Tigranian said plopping back down into his chair. A collective groan emanated from the other officers directed at their CMO. "For those of you that haven't meant our guest yet, Doctor Kayla Kirby from Starfleet Psychology is aboard conducting a study about the effects of the war on veterans…"

"Laria," Scharr interjected, "Feel free to stay in your room."

A few laughs were stifled around the table.

"Anytime, anywhere, Old Man," Laria said confidently sitting up in her seat.

"DAMMMMNNNN" Phil and Katie said in unison.

"Looks like our little girl is all grown up," Scharr quipped. "I'm soooo proud," he replied condescendingly.

"Alright, At Ease…" Tigranian said curtly.

"That means shut the hell up when C-O is talking!" Annabeth said angrily. "This is still a Federation starship, not a party barge!" The table immediately fell silent once more.

"As I was saying, you group of motherless veQ," Tigranian continued, "Doctor Kirby has completed group interviews with the crew and the marine detachment, but she wants to sit down with each of the senior staff one on one."

He held up the PADD Alex passed him.

"Each of us has a block with her, and we all do our part." Tigranian checked the roster and found his own name. "2100 tomorrow night?" he said as his eyes grew wide. "Qu'vath guy'cha baQa!"

"You did promise her your full support, Sir," Alex said crossing her arms across her chest.

"And she did say she wasn't going to get in the way of the ship's duty hours…" Annabeth added.

"Yeah, instead she's getting in the way of my Klingon exercise program…" Tigranian muttered. "In any case, he said trying to compose himself. "You don't have to say anything or speak with her if you don't want to. However, I say again, you will show up on time, and at least sign the form that says you do not consent to an interview."

"That's all we gotta do?" Katie said hopefully.

"It's a completely voluntary study, Katie," Alex said, "but it has the potential to really help a lot of brothers and sisters in uniform still struggling with their experiences."

Katie looked down into her lap and pretended like she didn't hear the doctor's statement.

"Who's the shrink's first victim?" she finally asked.

Tigranian put the PADD on the table and slid it towards her.

"You are," he said shrugging his shoulders. "Tonight at 1800 in Doctor Yuvich's office. Don't be late."

Katie grumbled.

"Alex will have the schedule. Be sure you check it before you head out to your duty stations this morning." He rose to his feet and the room followed in kind. "Dismissed."

****

Katie pressed the chime on the outside of Doctor Yuvich's office. After a few seconds, a confident, yet unfamiliar voice answered her call.

"Come in, Katie."

The tactical officer bristled at this shrink's sudden and unexpected friendliness. However, she had a mission. With a final deep breath, she opened the door and stepped inside.

Katie was very familiar with Yuvich's office. She had spent many hours here and wasn't really relishing the opportunity to spend any more time inside the sterile, artificially calming walls. She immediately noticed Kirby had rearranged the furniture. The couches were pushed against the walls and two large chairs faced each other next to the window. Gone were the candles, motivational posters, and ridiculous "calming" artworks that had marked this place as a counselor's office.

Kirby sat with her legs crossed and stared directly at her from across the room. Katie immediately noticed she didn't have a PADD, but an actual pencil and leather bound notebook.

"Welcome, Katie," Kirby said finally breaking the awkward silence. "Please, have a seat," the doctor said gesturing to the chair across from her.

"Hey, Ma'am," Katie said walking over. "I don't want to sound like an asshole, but I was told that if I didn't want to talk you, I just had to show up and sign a release form."

"Is that what you want to do?" Kirby said cocking her head to one side.

"Well…yes," Katie replied as if it was obvious.

"That's your right, Katie," Kirby said reaching behind her and pulling out a traditional Starfleet electronic personal access device. She put it on the coffee table and slid it towards the lieutenant.

"That's it?" Katie said skeptically. "You're not going to lecture me on how it's my duty to help Starfleet improve the lives of others? How's it's my job to be courageous for them?"

Kirby started laughing.

"Wow, you have been through a lot haven't you?" the doctor said shifting her weight in her chair. "To answer your question, Ms. Stone, absolutely not. And if any counselor has told you that in the past, they didn't have your best interests at heart. We only help people who want to be helped. Otherwise, we're just psychological voyeurs."

That last comment actual elicited a smile from Katie. The doctor then produced a small, white cardboard box from her pocket and a lighter.

"Since it seems like I'm going to have two hour break once you leave, I'm going to relax a bit."

She opened the lid of the box and pulled out a small, paper tube with a paper filter on the end.

"Cigarettes?" Katie actually said in total shock.

"If you prefer," Kirby said bemused, "I'll wait to light up until after you leave."

"No, no it's fine, Doc," Katie replied. "It's just you don't see those very often anymore. Just how the hell did you hack a replicator to make you those?"

"Replicator?" Kirby said putting one of the smokes between her lips. "Hell no, if I'm going to poison myself, it's going to be with the real deal. One my colleagues retired to Axtell IV and started a tobacco farm. He has a small but dedicated clientele." The doctor clicked her lighter and ignited the end of the cigarette. She then blew a very satisfied puff of smoke in Katie's direction.

Katie's eyes grew wide and Kirby grinned.

"You want one, don't you?"

"Yes, Ma'am, I do." Katie laughed. Kirby extended the box and Katie plucked a stick from it. Kirby then held up her lighter long enough for Katie to ignite the end of her smoke.

"Oh, God," Katie said taking a deep drag. "Those are some good carcinogens."

"You know, I always found it funny," Kirby mused with another puff. "They'll order you to charge into a black hole, expose yourself to toxic theta radiation, stare up the business end of a hostile alien's disruptor cannon, but because some wuss on Earth in his sterile office building wants to live to 150 instead of 140, they say we can't have these…."

"If Captain Tigranian ever heard you bad mouth Federation civilians like that, he might throw you off this ship," Katie said blinking her eyes.

"I don't work for Captain Tigranian. He doesn't have a choice that I'm here," Kirby chuckled.

"Ok," Katie finally couldn't take it anymore. "Just who the hell are you? Cause you certainly can't be a Starfleet Counselor. If you're just trying to play buddy buddy with me so I'll spill my guts like a Calbrosian Vomit Flower, you're barking up the wrong tree…"

"Starfleet Counselor is one of my titles, Katie, but it's not the only one. I'm also a researcher, a Commander in Starfleet, and an advocate for veterans like you."

"Veterans like me," Katie laughed cynically. "You mean veterans who are so screwed up they need a fistful of medication or a Klingon acupuncture needle in the spine just to fall asleep. Veterans that people are afraid will go ballistic and carry a phaser rifle into a fast food joint or mail a pipe bomb to the Federation News Service…"

"You done?" Kirby said blowing smoke out through her nose. "Because I don't waste my time with lost causes. You're not screwed up, you're not broken, and if I thought you were dangerous, I would've stunned you with a phaser the second you walked through the door."

"Ok," Katie said taking another drag and blowing the smoke towards the doctor. "Since you seem to know who I am, who am I?"

"You're Katherine Stone," Kirby said calmly. "A woman from Earth who volunteered to serve her country, and experienced a terrible loss in the process. But you didn't let the bastards kill you because you're a warrior, and you still wear that uniform with pride. That's who I think you are."

Katie didn't know how to respond to that.

"Since you don't want to tell me your story, how about you hear mine?" Kirby said. Before Katie could protest, she started speaking.

"I joined Starfleet to be one of those counselors you loathe so much. EXACTLY like one of them. I towed the line, spewed all the touchy-feely psychobabble, you can get over anything with love, power of positive thinking, bullshit that was in my textbooks. I spent ten years training a legion of counselors that sang the same party line with amazing fluency, including your own Olga Yuvich.

Then, against my wishes, I was assigned to the fleet when the war started. They needed the mental health professionals with the troops. My new captain wanted me to take the Bridge Officer's Test because we only had three other officers on our senior staff. Kalandra was a long way from the replacement depots. You remember those days? People were being lost faster than they could be trained.

Well, I passed after ordering a holographic security officer to his death to repel a simulated boarding party. I thought I was the greatest officer ever to wear medical green because I aced a holo-simulation.

Then, one night when I was on watch, three Jem'Hadar fighters appeared out of nowhere. I followed procedure, I completed the checklist, I did everything right. Then, one of them broke formation and rammed us in a suicide charge."

Katie slowly pulled the cigarette from her mouth as she listened to Kirby's labored words.

"Through some miracle, our helmsman was able to turn so they just clipped our secondary hull, but crew members were in the jefferies tubes that were vented to space. I kept the ship going long enough for the captain to come and fight them off. I was recognized for my actions with a medal and a commendation, but four people died under my watch.

I started having nightmares. I would get furious at my friends for no reason. I never could relax, not even when I was alone in my quarters. Every time I closed my eyes, all I could see was that Jem'Hadar ship coming straight at us and how powerless I felt to stop it."

Kirby leaned forward and looked her right in the eyes.

"I was supposed to help people, Katie, but the only things keeping me going were two separate anti-depressants and a sleeping medication that could knock out a Ligorian Mastadon.

Eventually, I made it back to Earth. I met a lot of good people. I got a lot of kind looks, a lot of handshakes, a lot of "thank you for your service," but not a single person who wasn't wearing this uniform had any clue what I was fighting through. It took almost two years of work, but I finally started to realize that maybe it wasn't my fault. Maybe I didn't make a mistake. Maybe I was just a normal person in a horrific situation that needed help."

Katie still remained silent.

"So you see, my desire to help Starfleet personnel with post-traumatic stress is not completely altruistic. I'm still fighting it myself. So, now do you want to tell me what you're going through?"

Katie briefly shut her eyes. Calmly, she took a final drag on her cigarette, flicked the last bit of burning ash into a ceramic bowl on the coffee table, and then dropped the butt next to it.

"Thanks for the cigarette, Doctor," Katie said walking towards the doors. "Really appreciate it."

"Katie," Kirby said from behind her. Katie glanced over her shoulder. "I noticed you haven't signed this," she said holding up the release form. "I'll be onboard for another three days. If you decide that really trusting somebody is better than suffering alone, I'll be right here."

The young officer paused, unsure if she wanted to say anything.

"Enjoy the rest of your break, Doctor."

Katie quickly disappeared out the doors and into the corridor. Kirby dropped back into her chair, concerned she had pushed her too hard. After a few silent moments, she realized that maybe Katie Stone's problem was that people were too afraid of hurting her to push hard enough. She didn't have a lot of time left on the Pershing, but she promised herself that if that young lieutenant did decide to walk back through those doors, she wouldn't make the same mistake. With the tiniest of smirks, Kirby lit another cigarette.
Chapter 5 by captaintigranian
Katie was already in bed by the time Phil returned from his session with Doctor Kirby. She barely said three words to him at the gym, breakfast, or during their duty shift. As soon as the day ended, she disappeared off the bridge. Luckily, Phil had an idea where to find her.

The climb up the port nacelle pylon was long and vertigo inducing. Only one ladder led through the meter wide passage inside the strut and the outward leaning angle gave the climber the impression they were going to fall forward with every rung. After five minutes, he finally reached the torpedo bay access hatch that led through the port torpedo storage magazine and into the turret mounted directly between the Pershing's long nacelles.

Phil wasn't a fan of what would come next, but years of sitting in the cockpit of snub fighters had given him powerful control over his stomach. The torpedo magazines and ventral turret were independent from the main hull and automated. As a result, they didn't need gravity to function. The artificial field in this part of the ship was usually turned off to save power. That's exactly why she loved it up here so much, it was quiet and relaxing.

With a deep breath, Phil opened the hatch and wormed his way inside. Instantly, he was floating free. He grabbed onto the metal railing lining the quadruple stacked quantum torpedo racks and began to pull himself the 75 meters toward the entrance to the torpedo turret. The dim fluorescent lighting cast an eerie glow over the Pershing's most powerful weapons waiting their turn in the tubes. He tried not to think about the tremendous explosive power just a few centimeters from his head as he silently slid through the air. Finally, he reached the inner hatch into the turret. He grabbed the access panel and pulled downward. The metal doors slide apart and he saw Katie, floating on her back two meters off the ground between the two massive autoloader cradles for the forward tubes. She had opened one of the external maintenance hatches and was staring out a force field into the black void. Her hair flowed loose around the sides of her head in the weightless compartment.

"If I had wanted to be around people, I wouldn't have come all the way up here, Phil," Katie said not taking her eyes off of space. Phil sighed and pushed his way towards her. He wasn't as comfortable as she was in zero gravity and banged his head on one of the metal beams of the port autoloader as he attempted to maneuver towards her. "Watch your head, grav bunny…" she said patronizingly.

"Not all of us like to float as much as you do," he grunted as he rubbed the side of his scalp. He paused as he stared upwards to what she was looking at. The Pershing was passing near a large cloud of helium and charged hydrogen gas which glowed in amazing patterns as cosmic radiation passed through it. "Wow…" he muttered as the lights and colors hypnotized him.

"Beautiful view, isn't it?" she said moving her arms behind her head like she was lounging in a quiet meadow.

"Kinda seems a shame to keep it all to yourself. Alright, Katie Bug," he said floating to her side like they were in bed together. "What's up?"

"You talked to Kirby last night, didn't you?" she said almost as an accusation.

"I did," Phil replied. "She's a lot more direct than most counselors I'm used to, but I found it refreshing."

"What did you talk to her about?"

"Mostly about Chin'Toka and the Avenger. What it's like to lose control and just fly on autopilot when you feel threatened. She told me that dissociation is pretty normal for well-trained people in situations like that. Why are you asking me this?"

"Because I didn't say a damn thing to her, even though I know she wanted me to."

"Is that what you wanted to do?" he asked.

"Jesus, now you sound like a damned counselor."

"No," Phil said shaking his head. "I just want to make sure that you don't miss an opportunity to get some help because you're too afraid to ask."

"I'm not afraid!" she said turning her head sharply towards him causing her hair to cyclone around her head.

"I know you're not afraid of her, or afraid of the people who did those things to you," he said as they looked back upwards. A pulse of radiation caused the gas cloud to produce a brilliant glow of blue light. He reached over and wiped a floating strand of hair away from her face. "I just think you might be afraid of having to feel the emotions you spent so much time repressing again."

"I've confronted my pain and anger, Phil," she said moving her arms across her chest.

"What about your guilt?" he asked plainly.

"Guilt?" she said skeptically. "What guilt? They did that shit to me, Limey Bastard."

"Guilt that you're still here and they're not," Phil answered. "Guilt that you have a life to live and they don't. That you can still be with family and friends, eat good food, enjoy a drink, take in this spectacular view…" he said before pausing. "Guilt that every time you feel good about your life is another reminder that people you loved don't have that chance anymore because they chose to save you…"

Katie was dead silent.

She closed her eyes tightly. Tiny droplets pushed their way out from her eyes, coalesced, and began to float around the inside of the turret.

"Damn you, Phil," she said. "I hate crying in zero g."

"You don't have to punish yourself, Katie," he said softly as he reached out and caught one of her floating tears on the tip of his index finger. He flicked it into forcefield in front of them. It glittered with an electronic hum at the contact. "Let them go. Let Paul go. They can't rest until you let them. Kirby can help.

It's not a sign of weakness to feel pain. It's a sign of weakness to suffer silently when others want to help you."

"Are you done?" she said angrily.

"Now, I am. Are you coming down with me?"

"No," she said still staring out into space. "But I'm meeting the captain for an acupuncture session before he goes to his meeting with Kirby. I'll be down in about an hour."

"Ok," Phil said reaching out to a support beam to pull himself towards the hatch. "I'll leave the replicator on in case you want to grab a bite to eat."

"Thank you," she said with a tone somewhere between sincerity and hostility.

"It's easy to forget isn't it," he said as he opened the door to leave. "That is around us all the time," he said pointing out to the gas cloud. "It's like all we have do to see how amazing things really are is look up at the right time."

"Is that your attempt at subtlety, Babe?" she asked looking back towards him. "Cause if it is, you suck at it."

"I love you, too, Katie," he said with a grin as he headed back towards the main saucer.
Chapter 6 by captaintigranian
Arlington National Cemetery: Virginia, Earth

Pam Montgomery leaned onto Katie's shoulder and quietly sobbed underneath a black veil. Lieutenant Katherine Stone was dressed in her Starfleet whites and fought hard to maintain a stoic composure. The only sounds were the birds chirping in the trees and rhythmic tapping of horses' hooves on pavement. The two of them marched, hand in hand, behind Paul's empty casket. His remains, lost in space for all time, would be represented by a hollow pine box covered in polished lacquer.

The empty casket, draped in a blue Federation flag, was on top of a black caisson, pulled by six horses draped in back trimmed, dark blue saddle blankets. A seventh horse, with an empty saddle and two reversed black boots followed solemnly behind led by a Starfleet marine in honor guard's uniform. Another marine carried a polished wooden box containing a Christopher Pike Medal of Valor: the Federation's highest award for bravery in combat, alongside the horse. It was presented posthumously to Pam yesterday in a ceremony by the President. The whole procession proceeded silently along the narrow cemetery road up a rolling, green hill.

Katie continued to hold Pam as they wound their way through the endless rows of white tombstones covering the verdant knolls over the Potomac River. She looked up to the see the gaunt faces and sunken eyes of the honor guards escorting the caisson. Each of them was crushed by physical and mental exhaustion. Paul's funeral was their third that day, and they had four more to go before they could collapse, but their uniforms were still immaculate and their discipline perfect. They were doing this for their brothers and sisters dying by the thousands in the stars, and they wouldn't let something as pathetic as fatigue stand in the way of caring for the honored dead of Starfleet.

After fifteen minutes of solemn marching, they reached Paul's grave on a hillside overlooking a gentle curve in the river. The guests in the procession took their seats. Pam was front and center and Katie took the chair next to hers. Two ladies in pressed suits sat behind them to offer additional moral support. Apparently, it was a tradition going back centuries. More of Paul's friends and family filled in the rows of chairs behind them. Finally, when the last of the Starfleet brass took their places, the honor guards carefully pulled the casket down from the caisson and gently placed it over the hole in the ground.

A priest came forward and said a few words, but Katie didn't remember them. Her emotions churned inside of her. All she could do was remember the terror and pain of the last time she saw her fiancée alive through the porthole of the escape pod. The blast of the acceleration as it carried him away from her, and his final words before his death:

"I love you, Katie. I always will. But there's still time to get other people out… I just had to make sure you were safe first."

But she wouldn't cry. She refused to cry. She felt like it would dishonor his memory, dishonor everything he died for. No, she would push the pain down and lock it away. The terror, the guilt, the heartache had to be banished to the deepest part of her psyche. She was a Starfleet officer, and she would be the strength that not only Pam, but her entire country needed in that moment.

At the conclusion of the short eulogy, a firing detail snapped to attention a few meters away. Their leader gave the preparatory commands and they prepared their phaser rifles.

"Ready! Aim! Fire!"

"Ready! Aim! Fire!"

"Ready! Aim! Fire!"

Twenty one blasts of light flew into the sky as an eternal memorial to Paul. Then, a bugler put his instrument to his mouth and began playing the solemn notes of "Taps." The entire world seemed to fall silent except for the painful, jarring melody echoing around them. Finally, the anguished sounds ended.

The honor guard stepped forward and flanked the casket. With the rhythmic precision of a thousand rehearsals, they lifted the blue banner off the casket, folded it into a perfect triangle, and handed it to an Admiral.

The flag officer clutched the banner to his chest, marched in front of Pam, and then took a knee.

"On behalf of the President of the United Federation of Planets and a grateful nation, I present you this flag in recognition of your son's heroic achievements."

He handed it to Pam. She was shaking so violently, Katie had to reach out and steady her hands to accept it. The Admiral whom Katie had never seen before and probably would never see again, then reached out and grabbed her hand.

"I am so sorry. He was the best of all of us…" he whispered loud enough only for the two of them to hear.

Normally, such displays by senior leaders either enraged Katie or driven her to laughter. This guy had no idea that she or Paul had even existed prior to being assigned to this funeral. What right did he have to speak to them as they were grieving a loved one? But this moment was different. His voice carried such real regret, such sincerity, that Katie actually smiled back at him.

"Thank you, Sir," she replied quietly.

He nodded, stood up, and walked back to his place. The sound of the breeze flowed past them as another individual in Starfleet uniform stepped out from behind the crowd. He carried a set of bagpipes in his arms and began the tunes of "Amazing Grace."

Pam's quiet sobs turned into full tears and she buried herself in Katie's chest. The two of them pulled Paul's flag towards their hearts and clutched it tight. Katie wanted more than anything to join Pam in grief, but she knew she couldn't. She had to be strong for her and for Paul. She couldn't let herself go. She couldn't…

****

"I just wanted to fall apart. I just wanted to scream as loud as I could and run away from their as fast as my legs could carry me …" Katie said shaking on the chair across from Kirby.

"Why did you?" Kirby replied quietly shutting her notebook and placing it on the coffee table next to you.

"Because I couldn't," Katie said shaking her head. "It would've been disrespectful to Paul, to Pam, and to the uniform."

"Katie," Kirby shifting forward to the edge of her chair. "There is NOTHING disrespectful about feeling pain when we lose someone we love. There is no reason to feel guilty about the gift that was given to you. In fact, it would be disrespectful to turn your back on that gift by staying silent about your grief."

"That's what everyone says!" Katie said, her voice starting to quiver.

"Maybe that's because it's true…" Kirby said. Her kind eyes pierced straight through Katie's weakening armor. "Don't run away from these memories, Katie. Don't fight them. You have to confront them if you want to move forward."

"But most of all, at that moment…." Katie said, her lower lip quivering. "I just wanted to cry. I wanted to cry and show everyone how terrible things were inside. BUT I DIDN'T LET MYSELF!" she yelled.

"It's just the two of us here," Kirby replied. "If you want to cry now, cry, Sweetheart. Cry as hard as you can and I'll never tell a living soul."

Katie finally lost it. She let the internal coffer dams she had built for herself collapse and years of repressed feelings rushed back to the surface at once. She shook so violently with her sobs, that Kirby walked over and held her into her chest, just as Katie had done for Pam at the funeral.

"Let it out, Katie. Let it all out," Kirby said with amazing understanding. The two of them sat together in the counselor's office past midnight. Katie telling stories of the happy times with Paul Montgomery, the anguish of losing him, and the hope she had moving forward to a future with Phil. It was a brutal experience, but with every layer of scar tissue that Kirby helped her explore, Katie healed just a little bit more.

****

After the funeral, Katie took Pam home to Fairfax County and then beamed over to her parent's condominium in Long Beach. She still had two more weeks of leave to recover from her experiences and say goodbye to Paul. Her father, a Starfleet retiree himself, grabbed Katie's mother and agreed to go to a hotel to give their daughter some space. Now, it was one o'clock in the morning and Katie sat on their balcony overlooking the beach. She wore athletic shorts, a tank top, and her dog tags around her neck. She also had a half empty bottle of Black Label Tennessee Whiskey she was sucking down one large gulp at a time.

The neighbors had long since gone to bed, and she was alone with the sea breeze, the incoming tide, and her thoughts. The California night was amazingly clear considering downtown Los Angeles was just a few miles away.

Between massive slogs of brown liquor, she would look up into the sky and then back down at the engagement ring still on her finger.

"You're up there, Paulie," she slurred out loud. "You're up there, and I'm down here. You, Izzy, Mark, Kathy, and the rest of the Trinity." She grabbed the bridge of her nose and squeezed tight. "Why did you do it, you asshole?" she said to the sky. "Why did you shove me into that godforsaken pod when you stayed behind till you got f*cking vaporized? Why did you think I deserved to make it?"

Her only answer was the quiet chirping of crickets and the sounds of the waves crashing on the sand.

When her father had retired from Starfleet, his section had gotten him an antique phaser pistol engraved with his rank, name, and years of service. He usually kept it locked in the hall closet, but Katie knew exactly where the key was. She reached down next to her feet and pulled the weapon next to her head.

"It would be so easy," Katie said looking back up at the sky. "In just a second, I could see you all again and you could answer my damn questions in person. We're never gonna stop Jem. He went through us at Betazed like we weren't even there. It's only a matter of time till we fold, so f*ck it. Might as well speed things along. That pod couldn't kill me, but guess what, guys? Here I come…"

Katie began moving the muzzle of the pistol towards her head when three loud bangs echoed at the condo's front door.

She jumped and shoved the pistol back into its case.

Three more loud bangs.

"If you're not the cops," she yelled at the top of her lungs, "go the f*ck away!"

After a few moments of quiet, the person knocked again.

"What part of 'go the f*ck away' did you not understand, Asshole?"

More knocks.

"God dammit!" Katie said pushing herself up and stumbling to the door. She still held the bottle in her hand.

She looked through the peephole. "You gotta be f*cking kidding me," she muttered when she saw it was a Starfleet captain in uniform.

She threw open the door and stared at him. His eyes opened wide with surprise as he looked the intoxicated, scantily dressed lieutenant up and down.

"Lieutenant Katherine Stone?" he finally asked.

"I'm on leave, Sir," she said propping herself up against the doorframe. "If you want to recall me to duty, you better bring the shore patrol cause I ain't going without a fight. Not today."

"I'm very sorry to disturb you, Ms. Stone," he said calmly. "But I just landed in San Franscisco about thirty minutes ago and after a 0600 meeting at Starfleet Command, I'm due back to Caleb IV on the 1100 transport. This is literally the only time I have to speak with you in person. My name is Captain Daniel Tigranian and I'm here to offer you a job."

Katie actually laughed out loud.

"Are you f*cking serious, Sir? I don't know if you're keeping track of current events, but I just put my fiancée in the ground this morning. Right now, I'm having a few drinks dedicated to my former crewmates. They are currently blown to sub-atomic particles in orbit of Occupied Betazed," she said holding up the half empty whiskey bottle. "So, I'm not exactly in the mood to talk about my future career track at the moment."

"I know, Lieutenant Stone, and I know what you've been through. That's why I'm here. I think you'll want to listen to what I have to say."

Katie was debating slamming the door in his face, but she finally shrugged her shoulders.

"Ok, Sir, shoot. I'm all ears. What do you have to say?"

"How would you like to grab every Jem'Hadar, Vorta, and Founder in the Alpha Quadrant by the f*cking throat and kick them back to the Gamma Quadrant so hard they'll shit themselves?"

Katie froze at his frank and aggressive language.

"You don't sound like any Starfleet Captain I've ever heard," she said straightening her posture.

"Invite me inside and share some of that weak-ass, human, excuse for alcohol," he said pointing at her whiskey bottle, "and I'll show you just how different I really am. I could never replace the family you lost, but I can least offer you a new one."

Katie grinned and stepped aside.

"Please, Captain Tigranian, come in."
Chapter 7 by captaintigranian
Dopa System: Republic of Cardassia

Stardate: 53382.5

"We'll be headed back to Earth soon," Tigranian said to Kirby as they walked into the transporter room. Annabeth and Yuvich followed a few steps behind. "Are you sure you don't want to hitch a ride with us?"

"Why, Captain Tigranian," Kirby said with a grin as she adjusted the bag hanging from her shoulder. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say that you were trying to keep on board longer."

"Merely trying to extend a little hospitality, Doctor," he replied with a grin. She smiled and shook his hand before leaning forward and whispering in his ear.

"You've made a tremendous amount of progress. You are so much stronger than you think you are. Remember that."

She leaned back. Tigranian only responded with a grateful nod.

"Unfortunately, Captain," Kirby said hopping up onto the transporter pad, "I've got a few more stops before I head home. The Tenjitsen will be taking me Deep Space Nine, and then onto Starbase 375."

"We wish you only the best of the luck, Commander," Annabeth said with a slight bow of her head. "I just hope that our stories can help you with your research."

"Thank you, Captain Geist," Kirby said returning her bow. "They certainly will, but more importantly, I hope I helped you all."

"Goodbye, Ma'am," Yuvich said. "It was wonderful to see you work again, even if my office smells like an ashtray now."

"Don't be a stranger now, Olga," Kirby said with a smirk. "And if you need any dry cleaning, don't hesitate to send me the bill."

"Believe me, I won't," Yuvich said with a laugh.

The doors opened and Katie walked in.

"Lieutenant Stone," Tigranian said slightly surprised. "Is something wrong?"

"No, Sir," she said shaking her head, "I just wanted to ensure that Doctor Kirby had everything she needed before departing," Katie said trying to come up with an excuse. It was obvious she didn't expect anyone else to be there.

"I think we have things under control," Tigranian replied. "However, maybe we should ask Doctor Kirby?"

The psychiatrist laughed and shook her head.

"This crew has given me far more than I needed, Katie, especially you."

Stone looked a bit embarrassed.

"Do me a favor, Katie," Kirby asked, "don't ever let that fire I see inside you burn out. Also, Drop me an invite to that wedding of yours. I mean, I always love a chance to get away from the office to spend a little time with friends."

"I'll see what I can do, Doc," Katie replied with a smile.

"Sir," Chief Carter said from his station. "Tenjitsen is signaling they're ready for transport."

"Alright folks," Kirby said steadying herself on the platform. "Gotta go. My ride is here."

"We'll catch you again somewhere in this galaxy, Commander," Annabeth said, "We'll keep a guest quarters open."

"When you're on DS9, try the Klingon restaurant. It's one of my favorite spots," Tigranian added.

"Oh, was never much for Klingon food, Sir," Kirby quipped. "All that blood doesn't agree with my stomach, but I'll tell them you say 'nuqneH.' Energize, Chief."

Kirby disappeared.

"That was certainly one of the more interesting visits we've ever had," Annabeth said turning to leave the transporter room.

"She certainly had a way of making you talk about things you never thought you would," Tigranian mused.

"Or could…" Katie said staring off towards the bulkhead.

"Meaningful talk with the counselor, Katie?" Tigranian asked.

"More than just a talk with a counselor, Sir," Stone replied. "She listened."
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