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Debts and Returns

Posted on Tue Nov 3rd, 2015 @ 1:44pm by Lieutenant Commander Vanora Stele

Mission: Heart of Stele
Location: Federation Embassy, Elas
Timeline: After "Live Well"

"For some reason, neither your Commanding Officer nor your Executive Officer filed an AWOL report against you," Aleixo reported to Vanora as they sat in the Intelligence offices within the Federation Embassy. It was a medium sized office, one that was clearly rarely used, with slightly worn furniture and a dated look. Aleixo sat behind a large oak desk, pretending to catch up on the extensive paperwork involved with both coming out of a deep cover assignment as well as escaping capture by a hostile entity. Mostly, however, he watched Vanora carefully and continued to do his best to engage her in conversation. Today was the first day that he, and more importantly the grief counselor she had been required to see, believed that she was able to hear some news about Starfleet and about her career.

"Baktag," Vanora cursed under her breath. It felt like ages ago now, but she had very clearly told Khelev that they needed to report her. The three of them--Khelev, Mercia, and David--were at risk of some sort of censure as a result of her insubordination. She had thought that by going alone, she would be letting them off the hook for any mess she'd gotten into. Unfortunately, it appeared that another one of her plans had not worked. "Is there any way that I can take the fall for them?"

Aleixo shook his head. "You'd have to be in bigger trouble to pull that off. Starfleet Command, it turns out, prefers not to prosecute its officers when they've uncovered conspiracy and treason by Federation Member government officials. Command has decided that your 'unauthorized departure' from the Gladiator is an internal ship personnel matter, and any punishment will be decided by your CO. And don't worry about them, either," Aleixo smiled kindly. "Command has written off their failure to report as the Gladiator crew having their hands full. They're in the middle of it right now, and there were calls for the rest of their Task Group to rendezvous with them, so something big is going down."

That last comment--that the Gladiator and its crew could be in hot water--shook something loose in Vanora. For the last week, she had swung like a pendulum through various stages of grief. She knew she was not yet at the stage of acceptance, and, worse yet, she felt as if the gravity of her last actions on the Gladiator was sinking into the spaces of her attention where she had been previously preoccupied with rescuing Tang, and then getting revenge upon her mother. But with even the funeral and wake behind her now, she knew she had to make decisions. She knew that, despite what she had gone through, there were other people who she loved and who she owed apologies and explanations. The type of words that had to be given face to face.

"I'm not ready to go back yet..." Vanora began saying.

"Then take your time," Cassandra interjected. Lieutenant Melik had been a comforting presence to Vanora ever since the hospital. Her official story was that she, too, was recovering from captivity and preferred not to relocate back to Earth quite yet, but it was clear from her demeanor that the Frenchwoman felt some responsibility to her rescuer, who happened to also now be the widow of her former asset. Vanora guessed that Cassandra felt guilt for Tang's death. And if Vanora was being honest with herself, she would admit that she did, to some degree, place the blame on Cassandra's shoulders; Lt. Melik had been the one who walked Tang into the Ferengi deal that turned out to be a set up for his abduction. But Vanora also know that Cassandra had helped keep Tang sane both during his initial mole-hunt within his Marine unit as well as during his time on Beta Base. Perhaps even more importantly, Tang would have equally wanted Vanora to make sure that his former handler was also protected.

It was Vanora's turn to disagree. "I'm not ready to go yet," she admitted again, though she was able to finish her thought on this second effort, "but I have to. What I mean is, I need to. I have let down my crew, my friends, everyone far too much already. Too much for a lifetime and too much for a career. I've taken weeks now for...." Vanora paused and controlled her breath, allowing herself to feel the emotion while also telling herself that her grief was not her entire being. It did not define her. She repeated Tang's final words to herself, and refocused. "...I have taken weeks away from my duties to find him, and then to grieve him. If the Gladiator is undertaking some sort of major operation, I should be there. And," she stared at the pair, searching their expressions for clues, "I believe I am correct that if anyone has accurate information about what is happening on the other side of the Quadrant, it would be Starfleet Intelligence."

Aleixo nodded and opened his mouth to answer, but he was cut off by a sharp glare from Cassandra. "Don't, Aleixo."

He shook his head. "She is a grown woman, Cassandra. She can make her own decisions..."

"We have a duty to protect," Cassandra argued, frowning. "We are not mercenaries; Starfleet has regulations in place, and someone who has suffered what Vanora has suffered through should not be put in this kind of position..."

"Enough!" Vanora shouted, stopping both of them before the conversation turned into one about Vanora's fragility. She sighed and took Cassandra's hand. "I appreciate everything you are doing and your efforts to try to protect me, but right now I need to know what is happening. I know myself, and I know what would be worst for me right now, in my emotional state, and that is finding out after the fact that there was something I could have done to help my friends stay alive. So, please, Cassandra. For my sake."

Cassandra was still frowning, but she looked at the carpeting and nodded in assent. "Tell her, then," she conceded to Aleixo.

"You left the Gladiator when it was within a dense nebula, one with peculiar phenomena that masks long-range scanners," Aleixo began. "After you... departed, your ship discovered Blackwater Station, a hidden research facility that we, Starfleet Intelligence, have been tracking for some time, but that we lost contact with very suddenly years ago. We aren't sure what happened next, since reports from your ship were sporadic and incomplete, but the Gladiator left Blackwater with some genetically modified hybrids the crew had discovered on the station. Our best guess is that the hybrids--we were given the name of them as 'Bria'--managed to sabotage and disable the Gladiator, then took hostages and escaped in a shuttlecraft. The Gladiator and Task Group 47A are now en route to rescue the hostages, and expect to face significant resistance. The group that took hostages, we know very little about them. Though most recently, there was a covert operation into Romulan space that yielded a name for the group. You may recognize it: The Unholy Trinity."

"The blood cult," she nodded, surprised that the intelligence that she and Lieutenant Anna Shadow had gathered was being put to use so quickly. "If you're sending the whole Task Group in, does that mean you're certain that the Unholy Trinity has ships?"

Aleixo nodded. "The Gladiator seemed to stumble into the nexus of several threads that Intelligence was following separately. There are other terrorist organizations that have aligned themselves with the Unholy Trinity. The Task Group is looking at an open space battle on top of a ground rescue mission into an unknown enemy base."

Vanora sat herself up straight in the chair, squeezing Cassandra's hand before letting go. "I need to be part of the assault. Whether it's on the Gladiator or another Task Group ship. I need a ride," she added. A return trip in Kanoa's stolen Razor Interceptor was not an option, given the week long trip time. "You have something available and fast enough to get me there in time?"

"It seems that it's your lucky day. One of the prototype slipstream-equipped cruisers is in the sector, and they're headed in that direction. We'll get you a lift there and turn your long trip into a day trip. One thing, though: that stolen Razor has to be repossessed." He shrugged. "There's no way of getting around it. You're not going to get it onto a Starfleet ship and get it off as well, and Starfleet R&D is already demanding to look at the modifications that the owner made. A cloaking device on an interceptor is unusual, to say the least."

Vanora was sure that Kanoa would find a way to steal himself a new fighter if he had to, but she buried that line of thinking, recognizing that the burden was actually on her: she had failed to return the "borrowed" ship in good condition, so now owed the bounty hunter a ship. Like so much other outstanding concerns, however, she put it to the back of her mind and focused on getting back to the Gladiator. "When do I leave?"

"Right away," Cassandra replied. "And it's 'when do we leave'; I'm coming with you." She put up a hand preemptively. "Don't argue with a Starfleet Intelligence officer. It will not end well for you," she smirked.

Too tired to argue, Vanora stood and returned her gaze to Aleixo. "I wish I had met you, both of you, under different circumstances. Thank you for being a friend to Tang over these long years. As Tang owed you a debt of friendship, I will always happily honor that bond," she pledged.

"And I owe you the same for what Tang did for me, and twice over to you personally for rescuing us. As long as I am in Starfleet, you'll have a friend in Intelligence. Not to mention a bodyguard, apparently," he chuckled, saluting at Cassandra.

Vanora and Cassandra bid their farewells to Aleixo, and Vanora felt a bit more pain in her chest. She was one step closer to returning to a life without Tang, but this time with a clarity and finality that came with a seemingly unending sadness.


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