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Chapter 2

Lieutenant Wirstowx sat patiently in the briefing room, his arms crossed across his massive chest. The chair creaked under him, and for a moment he was afraid the thing would give out from under his weight.

Wirstowx was, by far, the most intimidating member of the Rafale crew, past and present. His arms tended to be larger than the heads of most of his crewmates, and he easily stood over two meters tall. He was the perfect representative of his people, a race of warriors from the Andromeda Galaxy known as the Oza. He had left his home over a decade ago when the Iconian gateway Starfleet had used to travel to his galaxy began to degrade. He chose to join Starfleet, a decision he never regretted despite the reality that he would never see his home planet - or his people - again.

He opened his mouth and took a deep breath, tasting the air. It no longer had the stale taste to it from years of recycled air; with the refit of the Rafale came upgraded environmental systems, and the air was fresh and crisp. It was a good change, along with many of the other upgrades she had received in her month-long stint of repairs. Additional armor to key areas of the ship, the new nacelles that gave her a sleeker profile, the upgraded cannons and torpedo launchers - yes, it was good to be the Chief Tactical officer and helmsman.

Chief Tactical Officer. Wirstowx sat a little straighter in his seat, eliciting another groan from the stressed chair. That does have a rather nice sound to it.

It was well earned, he knew. His supervisor, the previous chief, and even the Captain had commented on his performance reports that he was ready for a senior staff posting. His experience in Andromeda coupled with what he had learned in almost three years on the Rafale had shaped him to be one of the most dangerous tactical officers on the ship. Jessica’s decision to promote him to be her new Chief Tactical Officer was the easiest and fastest one she had made.

Commander St. Peter, he corrected himself. She was certainly no longer an equal as a junior officer - she was the captain now. And, if the chronometer on the table in front of him was correct, late for her own meeting.

As was the rest of her command staff. He frowned in annoyance: one thing his Starfleet comrades seemed to always be was tardy. It would have never been tolerated on a Vinrali battleship, where he started his career.

As if answering his unvoiced irritation, the doors to the briefing room opened with a swoosh, and he heard the voices of a few of the officers as they walked in.

Leading the entourage was the Bajoran security officer Jessica had recruited from the ill-fated Merveille, a hospital ship they had protected nearly four months ago over Vega that left the Rafale in shambles. His hair was cut short and spiked in the front, and his face still bore fresh scars from his own run-in with the Borg on his former posting. He was the tallest one in the group, and carried himself with a confidence Wirstowx had seldom seen in a young officer. It could have also been, he thought further, because of the new command-division uniform he was wearing, along with the lieutenant commander rank on his chest that identified him as the new first officer of the ship.

Lieutenant Commander Obruz Dossu took one of the seats across from the massive Ozem, giving the tactical officer a nod of his head in greeting. “Lieutenant.”

“Commander Obruz.”

There was a light laugh before a small woman in a blue science uniform dropped into the seat next to Wirstowx. Her dark red hair was cut short, revealing more of the dark spots that framed her face. She leaned in towards Wirstowx and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, causing the warrior to smirk slightly in response. He opened his mouth, taking in a breath; there was a slight sting and a taste of fruit on his tongue. Despite the lack of nose, Wirstowx could tell the Trill woman had, once again, seemingly bathed herself in perfume, despite any previous objections he had raised with her. “This is exciting, isn’t it?” Nizeri Sano asked, turning to the newly minted first officer that sat across the table from her. “The first time we were all here was because we were leaving spacedock. Now, we have ‘orders.’” She made quotes in the air with her fingers, eliciting a laugh from Obruz. “Any idea what it is, Commander?”

The Bajoran shook his head. “St. Peter didn’t let anything on. She just called the meeting, I passed on the word. I’m sure it’s nothing too exciting, Nizeri.”

“Indeed.” A Vulcan woman in a blue uniform - brighter blue than that of Nizeri’s, signifying her status as a medical officer - sat at the table next to Obruz. Wirstowx nodded once to the doctor, who returned the gesture. S’Tel was one of two members of Mal’Kon’s original command staff, and St. Peter had requested S’Tel stay on board only days before the woman had been scheduled to transfer to a new assignment. He was sure it had to do with the fact that she was one of the old guard, someone who already knew their job well, as opposed to the rest of the very green staff that was assembled. “I believe it wise for this new crew to not…overextend ourselves in a foolish attempt to prove something.”

The Trill woman shrugged as she leaned back in her chair. “After three months sitting at home doing nothing, I’ll take gaseous anomalies in a heartbeat.”

“Well, you might get your chance, Nizeri.” St. Peter walked in quickly, setting a PADD down on the table before pulling the chair at the head of the table out. She glanced down at it for only a second, and Wirstowx could see the blue alien hesitate before finally looking back up at the assembled officers. She frowned. “Where’s Sonia and Seurer?”

“Sorry I’m late.” Everyone turned towards the door as it was closing again and the Operations officer walked in sullenly. He stole a quick glance around the table and chose a seat next to S’Tel, leaving an empty chair between him and the Vulcan doctor as he sat down with a huff. He kept his head bowed, refusing to look up at the assembled staff.

Wirstowx frowned at Lieutenant Sonia. It had been no secret that he was the least inclined to obey an officer who only weeks prior had been his junior. Or that there had been instant animosity towards the new first officer as an “interloper.” The three of them - St. Peter, Obruz, and Sonia - had butted heads on more than one occasion in the couple of weeks Rafale had been back in space. He cleared his throat in displeasure, causing the young human to look up at him and scowl. Regardless of the man’s personal opinions on his new captain and her XO, Seymour was a Starfleet officer. Wirstowx made a mental note to remind the Operations officer of that fact.

Jessica ran a hand through her hair and rolled her eyes in frustration. “Elaina?”

Seymour shrugged, slowly refocusing his eyes on the blue woman. “Dunno, sir. Probably down in her dungeon.”

Jessica’s face turned a shade of bright purple in frustration as she shook her head. Wirstowx’s frown grew more severe; Sonia, like the rest of the senior officers, knew very well that St. Peter hated to be referred to by the “sir” title. He crossed his arms over his massive chest and grunted.

St. Peter ignored the bait, instead reaching for the panel in front of her on the table and pressing one of the buttons. “St. Peter to Seurer.”

“Don’t bother, I’m here.” All of the assembled officers turned to face the entrance where the dark-skinned woman strolled in, a playful grin spread across her face. Her normally dark hair had been cut short and dyed bright red; it framed her face, barely covering the metal implant on her right temple.

Wirstowx noticed the Bajoran exec straighten in his chair, eyeing Seurer’s new hair style with disdain. Obruz bit his lower lip and looked away, clearly at odds with himself over how best to correct the woman.

Elaina walked around the table and took the seat next to Wirstowx. To his relief, the engineer hadn’t bathed herself in perfume like Sano had. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat as she settled in next to him - Lieutenant Commander Seurer was another of the “old guard,” and the actual ranking officer in the room. Her indecisiveness over Vega allowed St. Peter to step forward and assume command in desperation, and Starfleet had recognized the lieutenant for that. Seurer, meanwhile, still didn’t seem to recognize the woman’s new rank or position. She continually walked over the inexperienced commander, disobeying orders or proceeding with actions before having them approved by St. Peter.

St. Peter, for her part, seemed content to let the engineer do as she liked. Even now, she made no attempt to address the woman about her tardiness.

Wirstowx took in a deep breath and turned to face Jessica again as the woman began her briefing.

The display on the wall behind Jessica came to life, displaying what looked like a green nebula. “For almost thirty years, Starfleet has been studying an area in Romulan space known as the ‘Bassen Rift.’ In 2379, the Rift was the site of a battle between Romulan Praetor Shinzon and the U.S.S. Enterprise-E.”

Obruz and Sonia leaned forward in their seats in unison. “Wasn’t that where Captain Data was killed?” Obruz asked, to which Sonia nodded in reply.

“Yes. Captain Data - the original Data, that is - sacrificed himself to destroy the Praetor’s flagship. A large amount of thalaron radiation was released from the resulting explosion.”

S’Tel raised an eyebrow, her turn to be engrossed in the notorious battle. “Thalaron radiation is extremely dangerous. If even a small amount of radiation drifted towards an inhabited world, the damage would be catastrophic.”

St. Peter smiled a little as she turned back to the display. “The Romulans have agreed to joint missions with Starfleet to monitor the rate of the radiation’s spread from the battle site. It’s Starfleet’s turn.” She turned back to the gathered officers, and Wirstowx couldn’t help but feel excitement as she finished by saying, “Which means we’ve been tasked to get in there.”

Despite any feelings the officers had for each other, Wirstowx could see that, aside from the Vulcan S’Tel, the officers were all smiling.

“We’ve been ordered to the Rift, where we’re to take detailed scans of the gas formations there as well as measure the rate of spread of the thalaron radiation. There’s already a ship in the Rift that we’re supposed to be assisting for the few days we’ll be there.”

Obruz cleared his throat, interrupting the captain. “The Rift is deep in Romulan space, and disrupts communications. If we encounter any…difficulty…out there-”

“We’ll be on our own,” Jessica finished, nodding. She looked around the table, smirking slightly. “Any questions?”

Wirstowx could see that, despite the revelation that the refit Rafale would be on her first mission virtually alone and cut off from reinforcements, the assembled officers were still excited. Even the stoic S’Tel seemed to be holding herself straighter in her chair, the faintest ghost of a smile flickering at the corners of her mouth. Wirstowx had to admit, the idea that this ship and her untested crew were being trusted with a mission capable of going so horribly wrong made him swell with pride.

Jessica smiled and nodded again. “Good. Wirst, lay in a course for the Bassen Rift and engage at warp five. Obruz, bring the ship to yellow alert once we cross into the old Neutral Zone.” She sized up her assembled officers one more time before she said, as authoritatively as Wirstowx had heard her manage since Vega, “Dismissed.”

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