Nasho crashed through the front door of the aide station with Annabeth in his arms. In the one minute it had taken to get here from the landing pad, the woman in his arms had grown clammy and pale. She shivered as shock set in.
"CORPSMAN!" the big marine said rushing towards the triage stretcher behind the front desk.
"Right here!" Alex said already waiting with three marine medics. "Oh God," Alex said when she saw her wife shaking as Nasho set her on the stretcher. "What happened?" Alex asked pulling the probe out of her tricorder.
"Incoming alarm went off," Nasho replied catching his breath. "She fell, I think on her stomach. I've only seen someone get that pale that fast when they're bleeding out."
Alex resisted the urge to snap back at the big marine. Unfortunately, her instruments confirmed his assessment. Annabeth was bleeding internally and it was getting worse by the second.
"Hunter to Tigranian," Alex said tapping her comm badge.
"Annabeth suffered blunt force trauma to her mid-section. The placenta is partially detached and she's bleeding into her abdomen. I've got ten minutes to conduct emergency surgery or I'm gonna lose her and the baby. Drop these shields and get me emergency transport to the Pershing now."
In the operations center Tigranian looked at Hancock.
"Is that warbird still there?" the marine commander asked his battle lieutenant.
"Yes Sir," he said. "No change. Still cocked and locked."
"There are 973 people on this camp," Hancock said. "If we drop our shields, we'll be defenseless."
"Qu'vatlh," Tigranian said rubbing his eyes.
"I don't understand," Hancock said. "They've never done this! I don't know what's different now."
"By Kahless," Tigranian said as he realized the truth. "It's the Pershing. You got a battlestarship orbiting right above your heads." He tapped his comm badge. "Tigranian to Pershing."
"Stone here!" Katie shouted from the bridge. "We're at Red Alert, Sir. Shields up. We have phaser and torpedo lock on the warbird. Do you need assistance?"
"Katie," Tigranian said painfully as he knew what he had to do. "Break orbit and then cloak the ship."
"What?" Katie replied in shock.
"That warbird is not going to leave until they see you stand down and depart. They won't fire…" Tigranian said trying to hide his doubt with confidence. "Remain cloaked, and then return as soon as they break contact and head back into State space."
Silence answered him from the other end.
"Lieutenant!" Tigranian shouted.
"Aye Sir," Katie replied. "Breaking orbit. Good luck. Pershing out."
"The Pershing is pulling away," the lieutenant said. "I just lost contact. She must have cloaked."
"Hunter to Tigranian!" Alex said desperately over the comm. "Where's my emergency transport?"
"Alex…" Tigranian replied stoically. "We can't drop the shields. There's an armed warbird 100,000 kilometers away bearing down at us. If we do, we could be exposing almost one thousand people to Romulan attack. "
"Dan, Annabeth is dying! If I don't get her into surgery, I will lose her!" she replied desperately.
"Doctor Hunter!" Tigranian replied in his command voice. "You have to do what you can here."
"God dammit!" Alex shouted staring down at Annabeth.
"Allleexxx," Annabeth said fighting to stay conscious. She reached up and grabbed her wife's hand. Nasho saw the two wedding bands together. Suddenly, he understood the previous conversation. "Do not let our baby die. I don't care what happens to me. Save the baby."
She finally passed out. Alex's tricorder started beeping. Alex knew what she had to do.
"You!" she said pointing at Nasho. "Get out of my O-R! I need this area sterile." Nasho sprinted for the door. "Does anybody here have any operating room or hospital experience?" she said to the corpsmen standing around her. Two of the younger medics shook their heads, but their NCO stepped forward.
"I worked at the Fleet Hospital on Ybles V for three years, Ma'am," she said.
"Ok, you're my assistant. You two," she said to the other corpsmen. "I shout for an instrument, you get it as fast as you can, tracking?"
"Yes, Ma'am!" they said in unison.
"Do we have a quantum suture?" Alex asked.
"No," the NCO said shaking her head, "we just have a Level II dermal regenerator."
Alex cursed under her breath.
"That means I have to open…" Alex muttered. She grabbed a surgical kit from a shelf two meters away. "Activate sterile field! I need a laser scapel and a somatic generator. Prep five liters of artificial blood: Human: Type A POS."
"Aye Ma'am," the two corpsmen shouted running to grab the instruments.
"Help me!" Alex said to the NCO as she used a pair of scissors to cut away Annabeth's uniform jacket. Once her abdomen was exposed, the medics returned with the equipment. "Put her under," Alex said. The NCO placed the somatic generator on Annabeth's pale forehead and activated it.
"Somatic field active," the NCO responded. Alex grasped the laser scapel in her right hand as she stared at her wife's vital signs on a screen bolted to the metal wall. She took a deep breath, steadied her grip, and activated the laser. All she could think of was her son growing up without one of his mothers.
"Kahless…we prayed to you to keep this child safe back on Qo'nos," Alex thought to herself, "I have no idea if you're real, but if you are, guide my hands."
Alex placed the scapel against Annabeth's skin and began to cut.
"Open hailing frequencies," Hancock said. "I want to talk to this bastard."
"Aye Sir," another marine in OPS said. "Frequencies open."
"Imperial Romulan Warbird," Hancock said with a booming voice. "This is Lieutenant Colonel Tyler Hancock of the United Federation of Planets Marine Corps. Arming weapons and directing them against a recognized outpost of the United Federation of Planets and the Republic of Cardassia is a hostile act and is in violation of the non-aggression pact between the Romulan Star Empire, Cardassian State, and the Allied Powers. If you do not immediately power down your offensive systems and break contact, I will be forced to begin escalation of force as dictated by the Treaty of Bajor and Interstellar Law."
The Romulan warbird did not respond. Hancock ran his hand across his throat. His marines closed the channel.
"Do you think he bought it?" Hancock asked Tigranian.
"If he didn't," the captain replied, "I'll call the Pershing back and do this the old fashioned way." He couldn't get his mind off of Annabeth. He was very tired of putting his crew at risk because of Romulan posturing.
They looked up at the image projected on the viewscreen. Suddenly, the warbird activated its cloaking device and shimmered to invisible.
"Contact lost, Sir," the lieutenant said.
"Stand down the COBS, drop the shields," Hancock ordered.
"How do you get to your aide station?" Tigranian asked desperately.
"I'll take you there, myself," Hancock responded.
Two hours later, and Tigranian leaned against the smooth metal exterior of the aide station. The sun was beginning to set on the western horizon and the gravel, permacrete, and sheet metal of the camp started to glow brilliantly in the reddening light. If one of his crew…one of his closest friends…wasn't fighting for her life and the life of her unborn child just a few meters away, it would have been an absolutely gorgeous site. Instead, it was hell.
Nasho approached with two cups of coffee in his hands. He passed them to Tigranian and Hancock.
"You looked like you needed them, Gentlemen," Nasho said. "Chow hall is closing soon. I told the cooks to keep a replicator on for you."
"Thank you, Kenset," Hancock said. Tigranian stared down at the dark brown liquid in his hand. He almost never drank human coffee anymore, but he decided to make an exception. He took a sip.
"By Kahless," he muttered. "I forgot how bad marine coffee was," he said forcing a smile.
"Only the best for the best, Sir," Nasho replied with a laugh. "I'm heading back to OPS. Please call if you need anything." He disappeared around a corner.
Tigranian stared back at the sunset.
"Too much of this damned job is spent waiting…waiting for orders…waiting for conditions to change…waiting for life…waiting for…" he stopped. He wouldn't let himself say that last word. Not about Annabeth Geist.
"I've been following you, Sir," Hancock said. "What you and the Pershing have been going though since the end of the war."
"By Kahless, Tyler," Tigranian said shaking his head. "We've known each other for four years. It's just us. Call me 'Dan.'"
"No Sir," Hancock responded. "That might fly in the fleet, but not in the corps."
"Always a marine…" Tigranian muttered.
"Always loyal," Hancock said taking a sip of coffee. "What I mean is, I know what she means to you," he said motioning with head towards the aide station.
"I would feel this way for any crew member."
"That's a laudable sentiment, Sir," Hancock continued. "But you and I both know it's not true. It's when you get close to someone. Work with them every day, help them through their life's challenges that it gets real. It's how I felt working with you back on those hellholes in the Badlands. It's how I feel about Kenset, and it's how I know you felt about me. She's your first officer."
Tigranian rubbed his face.
"She's more than that, Tyler."
"What?" the marine asked surprised.
"Can I tell you something that only my senior staff and family knows?"
"Annabeth is Alex's wife, but I'm the father of that baby."
"What?" Hancock said even more surprised.
"Eight months ago, they asked me to help them have a child. I agreed."
"Jesus, Sir," Hancock said rubbing his eyes. "It's shipboard shit like that makes me glad I didn't go into the fleet at the Academy."
From any other person, Tigranian would've flown into a rage at that comment, but he knew Tyler Hancock well enough to let it go.
"It certainly would've been easier," Tigranian said. "To stay in this life. To stay in places like this with a phaser rifle staring at sunsets like that every night."
"May I say something, Sir?" Hancock asked.
"For all the shit I talk about your decision to go back to starships, it's where you belong."
Tigranian turned to him with an astounded expression. The only thing that Tyler Hancock liked less than fleet officers was starships themselves.
"I mean it," Hancock continued. "You were a great commander. One of the best I ever served with, but you were never happy just staring down into the dirt with the rest of us devil dogs. You always looked up to the stars. Klingon warrior or not, you were always meant to be out hopping galaxies at warp speed with people like the crew of the Pershing."
"I can't tell if you're trying to insult me or not," Tigranian said sarcastically.
"It's not an insult to admit the damn truth to yourself," Hancock countered. "If what I just said was bullshit, you would have turned that command down when they offered it to you and stayed with the Frontrunners. Instead, you jumped at the chance to sit your ass back down on a bridge.
If you don't mind me saying, it turned out pretty well for you. I know how influential you've become with the top brass. You got your life together, put on a wedding ring, and still managed to not become a complete asshole by putting on the fourth pip. I'd call that a win."
"Do you ever regret being out here, Tyler?" Tigranian asked.
"Now," Hancock said taking a sip of his coffee, "I'd be lying if there are times when I wonder about the alternative. When I kick myself in the ass for not sticking it out with Mary. I could be back on Earth right now, getting fat off replicator cheesecake, taking my kids to their soccer games, not having to suffer with shit water coffee like this…" he paused. "But then, I think about what it means to be out here. How so few people back in the Fed will ever get to see or do the things I see and do every day. I command five hundred infantry marines out here on the Frontiers of Freedom. I'm also responsible for another five hundred Cardassian soldiers who were trying to kill us four years ago. I interact with other species and cultures and make decisions that could change the course of four countries on a dime. So, no…" he paused. "No, Dan…I don't regret being out here. How about you?"
Tigranian didn't get the chance to answer. The door to the aide station opened and Alex walked out. Her uniform was splattered with blood as she removed two surgical gloves from her hands and leaned against the exterior wall with a huge sigh.
Tigranian and Hancock just stared at her, but Alex took a moment to collect herself.
"The placenta had disconnected from the uterine wall," she began. "There wasn't enough vascular tissue left to keep providing nutrients to the fetus. There was no away around it with this equipment. I had to do an emergency C-Section," Alex said tearing up.
Tigranian shut his eyes and said a quick prayer.
"The baby is fine," Alex said still crying. "2.3 kilos, 44 cm long. He's a little early, but I can rig up a neo-natal unit when we get back to the ship."
"And Annabeth?" Tigranian asked quietly. He held his breath bracing for the worst.
"I think she's going to be just fine too," Alex said shaking. "She's sleeping, but I stopped the hemorrhaging and pumped her up with enough artificial blood to keep her stabilized for a few hours."
"Kahless, be praised," Tigranian said towards the first stars of evening. "Kahless, be praised," he repeated covering his own tears with his hands.
"I don't know if it was him, but somebody was in that operating room with us," Alex said still shaking her head in disbelief. "We're mothers, Dan," Alex said as tears streamed down her face. "We're mothers."
Tigranian dropped down to the ground and wrapped his arms around Alex.
"Congratulations," Hancock said standing above them. "I think your son might be the first Federation citizen ever born on an active forward operating base."
"Somehow, that's appropriate," Alex said allowing herself to finally laugh out loud. "Now, is that damned warbird still here or can we finally get my patients up to the Pershing?"
Tigranian looked over to Hancock.
"You two stay right here," the lieutenant colonel said reassuringly. "I'll have OPS make the call."
He stepped aside and left Tigranian and Alex alone to celebrate as more stars slowly appeared overhead.