After a few initial teething troubles with the experimental warp sled, the rest of the three day journey at high warp had turned out to be mostly problem free and both Hopkins and Xylion agreed that the technology was sound, reassuring Michael that it should be able to take Eagle all the way to the Pleiades once the time finally came.
Of course, the trip from the Federation core to Arkaria and the Amargosa Diaspora, deeper inside the Beta Quadrant was merely a stone’s throw compared to the far more distant star cluster.
“Disengaging warp drive in five, four, three, two, one.”
True to Culsten’s countdown the starfield which had seemingly streaked past Eagle for the last three days returned once more to its only slightly less deceptive fixed state and Michael could once more feel the slight groan of the ship’s deck plates as Eagle returned to the calmer surrounds of normal space after their seventy-two-hour sprint.
“At least disengaging the warp sled is much less complicated than getting it to start up,” said Deen from operations. “Location confirmed. We are just outside the Arkaria system. One final warp jump should get us where we need to be.”
As a safety precaution, they had avoided setting a course which would have had them drop out right inside a populated system or for that matter even pointed at one with what amounted to a super-powered missile strapped to the outer hull. If something had gone wrong with the shutdown sequence, Eagle would have found itself barreling right through empty space instead of needlessly endangering a populated world.
“Mister Xylion, Miss Alendra, if you would be so kind as to get us out of our rocket pack. I think it’s time for us to part ways again,” said Michael, offering Tazla Star a quick smirk which she quickly reciprocated.
“Beginning decoupling sequence,” announced the science officer. “Sled drives are powering down.”
"Antimatter generators on the sled deactivated. Main power reduced to standby mode," added Alendra from the engineering station at the rear of the bridge. "Now disengaging umbilicals."
“ODN connections are disconnected. The warp sled is now in autonomous operational mode,” said Xylion.
“All umbilicals and connectors are released, Captain. We are clear to maneuver away from the sled,” said Alendra and looked towards the command area.
Michael nodded. “Helm, push us off, maneuvering thrusters only. Nice and easy, Lif.”
Culsten began to tap away at his console. “Thrusters engaged. Pushing off at ten meters per second.”
Star turned to her own console and after activating the right commands, the view screen angle changed to show the bulky warp sled which Eagle had been attached to over the last few days slowly moving away.
“It’s sure not much to look at,” said Deen.
“It did its job,” said Leva.
“Eventually,” she added.
“Distance now one thousand kilometers,” said Culsten, keeping a close eye on his instruments.
“Mister Leva, make a note of its location. It wouldn’t do if we lost Starfleet R&Ds newest toy out here,” said Michael.
Leva nodded. “Location marked in the log.”
Star glanced towards the ceiling. “Bridge to engineering.”
A response came quickly. “Engineering. Hopkins here.”
“How does that new engine look? We ready to turn our own power back on?” Star asked.
“Ready whenever you are.”
Michael rose from his chair. “What’s the status of the engine overall? I appreciate you didn’t get nearly as much time to configure it as you would have liked.”
“That’s true, sir,” she responded. “I can give you anything up to warp eight with a fair amount of confidence. But I’d rather not strain her too quickly until we’ve had more time to work out all the kinks.”
Star frowned at that and considered the captain. “I don’t like the idea of not having a fully powered warp engine at our disposal. Feels like we’ve got one hand tied behind our backs.”
He nodded, feeling much the same way.
But Hopkins responded before he had a chance. “The engine is rated up to warp nine point nine six and I can probably give you that in a crunch if you really need it. I’d just rather not go too fast for a little while.”
“Message received, Lieutenant,” said Michael. “We’ll try to be accommodating. And we won’t need a whole lot of power to get is into Arkaria.”
Culsten picked that one up. "No, sir. A quick warp-two jump will get us there in a few minutes. Will hardly even have to touch that dial."
“Excellent, lay in the course and engage when ready,” said Michael and once Hopkins was off the comm again, making sure to oversee a warp engine which had laid mostly dormant over the last three days.
Moments later Eagle engaged at her own power. And not long after that that they were already inbound on the green-hued planet of Arkaria Prime.
“Approaching the planet at half impulse, sir,” said Culsten.
Michael could already see the large Remmler Array in the planet's orbit consisting of two massive, grid-shaped planar generators which were designed to expose any ship docked inside the array and between the generators with powerful baryon sweeps to eliminate particles which accumulated on a starship's hull when traveling at warp speed. Since bayron particles were particularly common around dense star clusters like the Amargosa Diaspora, the Remmler Array in the Arkaria system was particularly busy and it came as little surprise then that a starship was currently being prepared to be serviced by the array.
From what Michael could tell it was a Starfleet vessel and a familiar one at that.
“It’s the Agamemnon, sir,” said Deen and turned in her chair to glance at him. “Did you know she was out here?”
He shook his head. This was news to him. However, in hindsight, he realized that he shouldn’t have been surprised. Not since he already suspected that Amaya Donners, the captain of the Agamemnon and his close friend from his Academy days, had been working with his late father, having apparently met with him just days before his sudden passing on Earth.
He could feel Star’s eyes on him as well. It wasn’t a well-kept secret that he and Amaya had become more than friends recently. She most likely wondered how it was then that he had not known that she was out here, at the exact same place they had been called to on short notice and after their well-planned and prepared exploration mission to the Pleiades had been so suddenly suspended.
He was wondering the exact same thing.
“We are receiving a message from the Agamemnon, sir,” said Leva from the tactical station. “Captain Donners is requesting permission to beam onboard.”
Michael nodded. “Lif, get us in transporter range, I’ll be in transporter room two,” he said and quickly departed the bridge.
Amaya Donners materialized on the transporter pad just moments after he had stepped into the room. Her brilliant eyes found him quickly. "Permission to come aboard."
He nodded and watched her step down the platform. “Fancy meeting you here.”
She offered him a little grin. “I was in the neighborhood.”
“Sounds to me there is a bit more to it than that.”
The tall, caramel-skinned starship captain nodded. “Perhaps. And I promise I’ll tell you all about it. But first I need you to head towards Arkaria IX. I’ll hitch a ride with you if you don’t mind since my ship’s in the shop right now.”
“Is that where we’re meeting Jarik?” he said.
She answered with a subdued nod even while she was already heading for the doors. Michael may have won that race to the captain’s chair they had both embarked on even while they had still been cadets, but here, on his ship, she was behaving like a veteran Starfleet commander, no longer used to waiting for others and expecting people to follow her lead.
He tailed her out of the room and into the corridor as she confidently headed for the nearest turbolift as if she was still on her own ship. “Are you going to tell me anything about why I’m here? Not that I’m not glad to see you again since we had so little time together on Earth.”
In truth, he still felt a slight tinge of bitterness that he had found out that Maya had not only been on Earth while he had been there, he was also fairly confident she had at one point been in the same building, but had not found it necessary to reach out to him until his father’s funeral. It had been a little over a year now since they had taken their relationship to a new level, and thanks to the war and their busy schedules, they had managed to see each other in person only a handful of times during that period. Starship captains tended to partake in the most extreme version of long distance relationships simply by virtue of their chosen occupation. It made it all the more frustrating that she had chosen not to take advantage of their most recent opportunity to spend time together during a time in which he could really have used the company.
They stepped into the turbolift together and it was she who called out for the bridge as their destination. She glanced at him for a moment before she spoke, perhaps sensing what he was thinking. “Michael, I’m really sorry about your father. He was a—“
“Great man, yes, I know,” he said with perhaps a little more annoyance than he had planned. “Forgive me, but I’ve heard that line quite a bit lately.”
She nodded. “I know that you and your father didn’t get along very well and I understand that there is a difference between a public persona and the one shared by friends and family. I can see how he could not have been an easy man to live with.”
“Not to mention having him as your father.”
“Regardless of how challenging this may have been for you, he was still your father and I wish I could have been there for you after he passed. Trust me, if I could have been I would have,” she said, sounding sincere.
“You don’t have to apologize to me for being a Starfleet captain.”
They arrived on the bridge and once again it was she who walked out first, striding onto the bridge as if she owned the place. Michael tried to not let it bother him.
“Captain Donners,” Star said as she stood and greeted the other woman. “Welcome onboard.”
“Commander Star,” she said and shook hands with the Trill. “It is good to meet you again.”
Michael thought it was remarkable how easy it came to Amaya to pretend to like somebody. He was fairly certain that she didn’t think much of his formerly disgraced first officer, she had pretty much told him as much after she had learned that she had been assigned to Eagle. It was impossible to discern any of that from the bright smile she offered Star. The brief greeting also made him realize that they had shared no physical contact at all after she had arrived in the transporter room, not even something as innocuous as a handshake.
“You look well, Dee,” she told DeMara next. “One of these days you will have to share that Tenarian secret with me that keeps you eternally young.”
“You look very well yourself, Captain,” she responded with an equally friendly smile. “I don’t believe you need any tips from me.” DeMara had briefly served with Amaya at the same time as Michael had on the ill-fated Columbia under the late Captain Mendez.
With the greetings out of the way, all eyes turned expectedly towards Michael again, anticipating new instructions, including Maya’s who may have felt comfortable on another captain’s bridge but was well aware that there were certain lines you didn’t cross. One of which was to give orders to somebody else’s crew.
“Mister Culsten, get us to Arkaria IX please.”
“Aye, sir. Course set, engaging at full impulse. ETA, fifteen minutes.”
He noticed that Amaya kept her eyes on the Krellonian officer at the helm for a little longer than was necessary. Considering what Throl had told him about their mission, he thought he knew why. “Gives us a little time to catch-up,” he said to her and pointed at the doors leading to his ready room. “Can I offer you a quick drink?”
She shook her head. "I think it would be better if I prepared for our next meeting. I'll see you back in the transporter room in fifteen," she said and then raised a hand when he was about to speak up again. "No need to for an escort," she said with a playful smile which felt designed to deflect from her brusque attitude. "I tend to know my way around a starship." With that, she quickly ducked back into the turbolift.
Both Star and Deen quickly returned to their duties, trying to avoid eye contact with the obviously snubbed captain.
Michael quietly took his seat, trying and failing to avoid the awkwardness which had suddenly settled over the bridge.