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"What happened next?" Laria asked in shock.

"We captured sixty-three surviving Cardassians and set a course for the nearest starbase."

"Incredible," Phil said still in shock. "I had no idea it happened like that."

"The others battles of the war quickly overshadowed that little victory. It was a hard next couple of months, as you all know too well."

"And they didn't say anything about you destroying the Halcyon?" Scharr asked. Tigranian stifled a laugh.

"There was brief talk of a court-martial, but eventually Starfleet decided that it was worth it to prevent the ship and her crew from falling into enemy hands. The capture of an experimental Cardassian design also helped."

"Still, you were quite fortunate," T'les said in the only sober voice left at the table. No amount of Earth wine could phase her Vulcan metabolism. "Starfleet generally does not condone tactics as aggressive as yours."

"I was," Tigranian admitted. "Several people voiced their discontent at me be awarded the Pike Medal, but Starfleet needed hope in those days. However, I also think that's why they decided to detach me to the Marine Corps. The brass thought I'd be easier to manage if I was on one planet at a time." That comment elicited a chuckle from around the table.

"One hell of a story, Sir," Katie said with a smirk. "One day, maybe you'll tell us about how you learned how to speak Orion so well."

In his wine-induced haze, Tigranian was stupid enough to answer honestly.

"Oh that one's easy. The Sk'oh would capture an Orion pirate skimmer once every couple of weeks. They were always trying to run contraband through the Klingon frontier. The lodubyaln were often very grateful for being liberated from their masters. You pick up phrases pretty quick where those women are concerned…"

"WHAT?" Laria screamed with more than hint of anger in her voice. Tigranian immediately realized his mistake.

"Wow, would you look at the time?" Tigranian said looking at the chronometer on the wall. "Didn't realize it had gotten so late. Alright, everybody thanks for coming, but we're all on duty in a few hours. Why don't we all get back to our quarters and get some sleep? See you all tomorrow bright and early!"

He hurried everyone out into the corridor. Just before the doors to the captain's quarters closed, the rest of the officers heard Laria start to shout in Tigranian's face.

"Orion Slave Girls!? You never told me anything about those green sex machines!"

"L, I can explain…"

Annabeth and Alex looked at each other and started laughing. Katie looked at Phil and glared.

"Don't get any ideas there, Stud." Phil just shook his head.

T'les raised an eyebrow and looked to the rest of the group.

"So, is it my understanding that Laria is upset because the captain had possible sexual liasons with other women years before she met him?"

"Oh, she's not only upset…" Annabeth said still chuckling.

"She's very upset." Alex said finishing her wife's statement.

"Curious, does this mean that the captain is in trouble?"

"Definitely," all three women said simultaneously.

Phil and Scharr kept silent.







In Orbit of Cardassia Prime

Stardate: 53304.1

Annabeth exhaled deeply and stepped forward. The Pershing's mess hall was packed to capacity to watch this moment. She snapped to attention as Admiral Murphy stepped forward with Tigranian right behind him. The captain held up a small wooden box containing a bright bronze medal. An identical award dangled from the right breast of Tigranian's white mess jacket.

Murphy cleared his throat and began to address the crowd.

"Only the President of the United Federation of Planets can authorize this award. That should give you some hint of just how incredible it really is. The Christopher Pike Medal of Valor is reserved for those Starfleet personnel who have exhibited only the most remarkable leadership, meritorious conduct, and personal courage.

Those attributes and more are exemplified in this woman standing before you today. Commander Annabeth Geist, I am honored to present you this medal on behalf of the President."

Murphy pinned the award to Annabeth's jacket and then shook her hand.

"Congratulations, well earned!"

"Thank you, Sir," Annabeth said with a huge smile as shook back.

"Round of applause!" Murphy shouted as the room erupted. Tigranian walked up next and shook Annabeth's hand as well.

"I'm so lucky to have a first officer like you. Congratulations, Annabeth."

"Thank you, Sir," Annabeth smiled before leaning close to his ear and whispering. "And don't you forget it." Both of them laughed.

As the clapping died down, Murphy stepped forward again.

"Commander, the floor is yours."

Annabeth caught her breath again and started to speak.

"I just want to say, that this isn't about me. This is about this ship and its crew. You all are the ones who always pull through when the going gets tough. I was just the one in the captain's chair at the time.

I would like to thank you, Admiral Murphy, for giving me the opportunity to serve as the Pershing's first officer. Captain Tigranian, thank you for your leadership and your mentorship. And to the rest of the crew, a million thanks for making this ship run as well as it does.

Finally, and most importantly, I have to thank my wife," Annabeth said motioning to the doctor standing at the front of crowd. She felt herself tearing up, but held it back. "Without her, I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't be anything. Alex, you are my rock, my strength…" At that moment, Annabeth couldn't control herself anymore and tears started streaming down her face. "You are my everything and I love you." Both women were now crying. They ran forward and kissed. Everyone started clapping again.

As everyone else moved to congratulate Annabeth, Tigranian stood off in the background until he felt someone step close to him.

"You still mad?" he said quietly to Laria.

"Yup, but that beautiful romantic sentiment from Annabeth might have shaken me a little bit."

"Does that mean you've forgiven me for my more youthful transgressions?" Laria smiled and looked down.

"Of course, I've forgiven you," Laria said placing her arm behind his back. "But I'm going to hold it over your head for a very long time." They both smiled and leaned forward for a kiss. Then, Laria's face grew serious again. "But you did use protection, right?"

* * * *

The reception was an amazing success as throngs of people continued to surround Annabeth and Alex. Tigranian looked on with a grin as Laria and Katie posed for a photo with them. Phil kept pointing at Annabeth's new medal with great admiration while Scharr seemed to be telling the helmsman something about how he would never get one.

The captain looked over to the large windows where Murphy was standing. The Admiral motioned for him to come closer.

"It's always good to see you in person, Dan," Murphy said with a nod.

"Well, except for that one night on Romulus."

The admiral laughed.

"At least some good came out of it," Murphy replied.

"For now, at least," Tigranian mumbled.

"I'm guessing you haven't told them why I've been called to Cardassia Prime?"

"You asked me not to."

"You know as well as I do, Dan, no matter how many complaints the Cardassians lodge with the Occupation Authority, the Klingons and the Romulans will never allow them to re-arm. Those two together have the majority vote. Plus, the Federation council is still not exactly willing to hear grievances from Garak."

"As much as I hate agreeing with that man, he has a point, Pete. The Romulans still aren't doing anything to stem the crime going on in Cardassian Space. It might take a new and powerful Cardassia to finally bring peace to this part of space."

"You think the Klingons want to see new waves of Cardassian ships and soldiers? Hell, they can barely secure their own space right now."

Tigranian sighed as his love of the Empire gave way to pragmatic reality.

"They would allow it if they could, Pete. You know as well as I do the Empire is stretched to its limits. It has to expand to survive. Cardassia is becoming a political nightmare. With the social situation on Qo'nos is tense as it is, the Empire can't afford to make it seem like the Cardassians came out on top."

"Thanks for honesty in that report, by the way. Starfleet Intelligence was pretty grateful."

"I was honest so Starfleet understands that it's not the right time to put any more pressure on Martok and the High Council."

"The Federation Council is turning a blind eye to his new conquests in the Kavrot Expanse, are they not?"

"That's something at least, but if we could get Devek. If we could shut down his smuggling network, it would go a long way to helping stabilize things."

"We'll get him, Dan. Just be patient."

"Patience may not be a virtue here…" Murphy scoffed and changed the subject.

"Speaking of patience," Murphy said looking back towards Annabeth. "Starfleet Command may not have much more with Geist. They were pretty shocked when she turned down command of the Victory."

"She had her reasons."

"I know she did, Dan, but we need great starship captains. This award is just more proof she needs to be one of them."

"As you said, Pete, just be patient." Tigranian smiled as he saw Annabeth and Alex embrace each other again. "When she finds the right big chair, she'll take it."

Murphy grinned.

"Kinda reminds me of a young lieutenant commander I met about four years ago..."

"No, she's better than that guy," Tigranian replied. "She managed not to blow up her first command."

The old friends shared a much needed laugh.


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