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Chapter Notes:

Commander Dolphin learns the fate of his late 1st Officer - Commander David Pepper.


Star Trek Hunter

Episode 21: The Enemy of My Enemy

Scene 5: Read Later


21.5

Read Later


Commander Kenneth Dolphin set the autopilot. The tactical unit was on course for the rendezvous point, which was dark space, nothing but a set of coordinates chosen at random from within a field of acceptable options. Four additional backup locations had been prioritized against the possibility of an area becoming compromised by enemy presence or some other compromising event. 


It had been four days since Dolphin had left Lt. Cmdr. Tauk in the maintenance hatch with a starving carnivore. Or was she a parasite? Until now, Dolphin had always managed to set aside his discomfort about Mlady. Now he was having nightmares about her coming out of the maintenance hatch during his sleep. Nightmares about Tauk coming back as a ghost to haunt him. Nightmares about Pep’s enormous mangled, exsanguinated and desiccated corpse.


Travelling alone through romulan space was unnerving enough. It was worse not knowing what condition Tauk’s remains were in. Or whether the predator who had eaten him had slipped her chains. Dolphin was under no illusion that the lock on the maintenance hatch would present any obstacle to Mlady – the maintenance hatch had not been built to house a wild animal, much less an intelligent predator.



“Commander Dolphin…” The sound of Mlady’s voice over the comm system almost made Dolphin jump out of his skin. He looked about, panicked that she might be on the bridge with him. The maintenance hatch door was still closed. The ship status indicated that she was still in the maintenance hatch.


“Mlady?” Dolphin responded.


“I think it is important that you know… Lieutenant Commander Tauk’s heart stopped about five minutes ago. His higher brain functions ended four days ago, about 20 minutes after the two of you last spoke. He felt no pain.”


Dolphin had no idea what to say to this. It was important for him to know. He had no idea that any part of Tauk’s body would survive so long, but he was aware that Mlady could only consume living blood, living organs. At the first moment of necrosis, blood and tissue was no longer of any use to her.



“Do you know when we will meet with Tali?” There was a plaintive sound of longing in Mlady’s voice.


Dolphin took a deep breath, then responded. “We will be at the rendezvous point in five hours and about five minutes. If all has gone well, the Hunter will be there. But…”

“I understand,” said Mlady. “I have never eaten ferengi before. It will be very difficult for me to digest. I have wrapped Tauk’s remains in his uniform. You should be able to transport them into space. He wanted whatever remains were left to be disintegrated. He left a few things for you.”

Dolphin had been wondering where the grief had been all this time. Hiding behind a log jam of other emotions – fear, guilt, resentment, anger, disgust – even relief that his friend was finally free of the pain he had been hiding for months. Now was a very inconvenient time for the grief to show up. It overwhelmed him, leaving him unable to speak.

Mlady was silent for several minutes. Perhaps she could hear or smell. Dolphin put his head in his hands and just tried, unsuccessfully, to hold the waves of emotion back. He hadn’t been raised to display emotion – even alone and he really had no idea how to handle it. 


Once the flood gates were open, more grief came elbowing through – in two years Dolphin had lost a lot of friends. T’Lok Smith. Joey Chin. Lynhart Shran. David Pepper. But somehow Tauk’s loss was the one that really hurt. Young, brilliant, unusually capable, surprisingly likeable – especially for a ferengi – until the endless pain made him hardened and bitter. Even then he had shown a unique ability to recognize and appreciate a moment and draw others into it with him. Somehow, in spite of the many hard calls he had been called on to make and the months of unremitting pain he endured, Tauk had died innocent.


“Commander,” Mlady said softly.

“Yes, Lieutenant Commander?” Dolphin managed.

“I am about to enter hibernation. I can hibernate for a very long time. Please do not wake me until Tali is here.”

Dolphin struggled to regain some semblance of control. But all he could manage was, “Understood.” 

Somehow he could sense Mlady gradually entering hibernation. 


As creepy as warping though romulan space with a deadly predator in the next room less than 10 feet behind him had been, it now felt even creepier to be out here alone. 


Dolphin cast his eye on the reader laying in the seat next to him. He picked it up. Thumbed the control. Two displays came up: “Read Now;” “Read Later.” He sat and looked at it for nearly a full minute, then finally thumbed a control that activated the “Read Later” file...


21.5



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