Annabeth materialized on the Pershing's transporter pad already rubbing her tired eyes. Katie, her acting first officer, was waiting and chuckled as soon as she saw her boss return.
"Fun day?" Katie asked while crossing her arms.
"Mein Gott, Number One," Annabeth said stepping down from the pad. "The ceremony just kept going and going. Soloth wouldn't shut up about how it was a privilege to command the best crew in Starfleet, the best in ship in Starfleet, be under the best leadership in Starfleet… Meanwhile, he's casting side eye in my direction the entire time."
"Don't let a Vulcan get you down, Ma'am," Katie said with a smirk. "Besides, we both know that none of what he said was true."
"Oh?" Annabeth said raising an eyebrow.
"Of course," Katie replied. "Everyone knows Lady Blackjack is the best ship with the best crew in the galaxy."
"Well put," Annabeth said with a laugh. "Any issues?"
"We're orbiting one of the most secure facilities in the UFP with twenty starships between us and the nearest intergalactic border," Katie said. "What do you think?"
"It's my job to ask," Annabeth replied nonchalantly. "In any case, I don't envy either Admiral Paris or Admiral Murphy for the media circus surrounding General Torlek down there," she said heading for the doors. "However, that is THEIR problem. Mrs. Lexington, I leave the Pershing in your capable hands. In the meantime, I am heading to my quarters for a stiff drink and a long sonic shower."
"You've earned it, Ma'am," Katie replied. Annabeth barely made it to the doors when her comm badge chirped.
"Bridge to Captain Geist," Ensign Gleeto said.
"Scheiße," Annabeth muttered her breath. "War better have just been just declared…" she said tapping her chest. "This is Captain Geist. Go ahead, Ensign."
"Ma'am, we're receiving an encrypted transmission from the USS T'Pol. It's coded for your eyes only."
"Admiral Paris' flagship?" Annabeth asked surprised.
"Oh dear," Katie said.
"Put the message through to Transporter Room One, Ensign," Annabeth said walking over to the wall panel. Her eyes immediately scanned through the message.
"Well, are we at war?" Katie asked.
"Unfortunately no," Annabeth replied sarcastically. "You have got to be kidding me…"
Admiral Paris had turned his guest quarters on the T'Pol into a temporary office. He was busying himself behind the desk reading reports from around the fleet when his door chimed.
"Enter," he said not bothering to look up from the PADD in his hand. Annabeth walked in, snapped to attention, and saluted.
"Captain Geist reporting as ordered, Sir," she said still completely unaware of why the Chief of Starfleet Operations had summoned her.
"Annabeth," he said immediately smiling and rising from his chair. He returned her salute and gestured to two armchairs in the corner of the room. "Please sit down." His demeanor made her nervous. When a senior officer was this happy up front, it usually meant an unpleasant conversation was soon to follow.
"Thank you, Sir," she said cautiously walking over and taking a seat.
"May I get you something? A beverage?" he said gesturing towards his replicator.
"No, thank you, Sir," Annabeth replied. Paris walked over and sat in the chair across from her.
"How're things in your new command? Everything alright?"
"Yes Sir…" she said unsure of where he was going. He saw that she wanted him to get to the point.
"I apologize for bringing you over, but I wanted to have this conversation face to face and not over subspace. Before we begin, I want to make it clear that nothing said is to leave this room."
"I understand," she said cautiously.
"Bottom line up front, Annabeth: you're one of the best officers in the fleet and I can't afford to lose you to politics."
"Ok, Sir," Annabeth said shaking her head. "What is going on, Sir?"
Paris sighed and shook his head.
"Have you had any contact with Dan Tigranian since he was discharged?" he asked.
"No," Annabeth said.
"Good," Paris said with a pause. "I'm ordering you to have no contact with him or Tigranian Laria until Councilor Vanna's investigation is complete."
"Sir?" Annabeth said with total shock.
"The Federation Council's investigation into Tigranian's career is more in depth than even the news reports say. They've subpoenaed almost everyone he's ever had dealings with from his instructors at the Academy all the way to me and Admiral Murphy. They've even secretly asked the President to give a statement. I'm sure it's not long until they come to question you and the Pershing as well. They are leaving absolutely no stone unturned in their attempt to ascertain whether or not the Klingon Empire put an operative into one of our captain's chairs."
"Sir, this is ridiculous," Annabeth said. "They can question me and my crew all they want. We both know that Dan was no Klingon agent."
"You and I both know that but they need to find that out on their own. The oversight of Starfleet is their business, and Starfleet will cooperate with them in every way we can."
"Is this way you wanted to speak with me, Sir?" she asked. "To warn me about the Council? I won't hesitate to defend Dan Tigranian. He is a good man and he served his country well during his tenure."
"Actually, that defense of Dan Tigranian is why you're here. It might be better for your ship, your crew, and your family if you didn't go out of way to clear his name…"
"What?" Annabeth said completely shocked.
"I'm not telling you to lie or omit anything, Annabeth," he said holding up his hand. "Dan and Laria were good officers, but what's done is done. No matter what we say they are not coming back to Starfleet. They're gone. You aren't.
Any connection to the Tigranians, personal or otherwise, could be unnecessarily damaging at this point. The people of the Federation want answers and they want results to ensure the integrity of their government. Don't forget, Starfleet officers serve at the pleasure of the President and the Council. Even if no impropriety exists, they may terminate your commission just to be on the safe side."
"Sir," she said very uncomfortably. "Alex and I used him to conceive. He is the godfather of my son."
"I know," Paris said with a deep exhale.
"Well, what do you expect me to do about that?" she said staring at him.
"Once the investigation is complete, I cannot order you to do anything where your family is concerned," he said. "However, I strongly advise you…to reconsider that relationship."
"Reconsider the relationship?" Annabeth said almost jumping out of her chair.
"Dan Tigranian has no legal standing over your son as far as Federation law is concerned. He signed over any paternity rights he had to Alex, correct?"
"Of course, but…" Annabeth tried to say.
"Then you and Alex should just raise your son," Paris said. "It's better for you, it's better for Alex, and it's better for Max. Being connected to Daniel Tigranian could be a stigma that he never lives down."
"Permission to speak freely, Sir?" Annabeth said with rising anger in her voice. Paris only nodded. "How the hell do you presume to know what's best for my son!?" she screamed.
Paris closed his eyes, stood up, and walked towards the window.
"Do you know about my son?" he finally managed to get out.
Annabeth took a sharp breath.
"I know he's in Starfleet and on Voyager, Sir."
"In Starfleet might be too liberal a term," Paris said turning back around to face her. "The only reason he's still in uniform and not in prison is because of a deal Captain Janeway made. She needed a pilot familiar with the Maquis for her first mission.
Tom's childhood was very difficult…mostly because of me," Paris said walking back over to Annabeth. "I always thought I knew what was best for him. I always thought that if I pushed him to excel, he would be better off for it. I forced him to give up his dreams of becoming a sailor in the Naval Patrol, I forced him to go to Starfleet Academy, and I forced him to become a pilot. None of that was what he wanted.
I forced him to do so many things against his will that I lost him twice: the first time when he was dishonorably discharged from Starfleet, and the second when he got flung across the galaxy to the Delta Quadrant."
"Why are you telling me this, Sir?" Annabeth finally asked.
"Because it was only when I thought that my son was dead that I truly realized how wrong I was. Hearing that Voyager was safe and on its way home was a miracle, and it gave me hope that one day I would get to see Tom again and apologize face to face."
He took a seat across from Annabeth.
"Many people tried to warn me not to put my personal stubbornness over the needs of my child when he was still young enough for it to matter. I wish that I was smart enough to listen then. Do you understand, Annabeth?"
She stared back into Paris' face. She understood, but still didn't want to believe it.