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They had done it. Even with all their damage, the U.S.S. Kearsarge had managed to extricate itself from the scene of the battle and make its way homeward. After much work, most of the ship was nearly one hundred percent again. All of the cannibalized systems had been restored. The burned and fused circuits replaced, irradiated sections had been decontaminated, and even the casualties were now given a clean bill of health. In fact, the only evidence of a battle at all was on the exterior of the ship. There, the Kearsarge was still somewhat of a mess. Temporary plating had sealed breaches. Also, the primary hull was scorched and pitted from the effects of the plasma energy weapon.
Still, there was much to be thankful for. Saavik's first reaction was pride. Pride in her crew, pride in bringing the ship back from the brink, pride in an overall sense of accomplishment against impressive odds. But soon, the ship would make port. Then there would be debriefings, after action reports, inquiries and probably an official hearing by Starfleet's Board of Review.
Right now, she focused on making port with a minimum amount of fuss and a maximum reward for the crew. Leaning slightly to one side, Saavik initiated the all call circuit on her command chair and spoke to a tired and anxious crew. "Attention all hands. This is the Captain. We will be making port in twelve minutes. All docking personnel please stand by. First and second shift bridge crews will report to the main briefing room at oh nine hundred hours for debriefing. Engineering will report at eleven hundred hours and medical staff will report at thirteen hundred hours."
"Shore leave requests will be taken after fifteen hundred hours. Check with section chiefs for rotation schedules. Well done, crew. You all deserve an extended shore leave and commendations. Saavik, out!"
Turning around in her chair completely, she looked at the communications officer, who was busy with a number of tasks.
Saavik called out, "El-Qasem, have you established contact with spacedock?"
Kamal turned to face the captain and responded with just a hint of sadness. "Aye, sir; ready for helm link-up and tractor beam lock, at you discretion."
She gave him a half smile, "Don't worry, mister, we'll do fine. Put me through to the dock chief."
The main screen shifted from the space normal view just as Saavik turned back to see the image of the spacedock duty officer. Younger looking than most, the Vulcan was, as usual for his people, very business-like and direct to the point. "Chief Storn here, Captain Saavik, ready to receive Kearsarge."
Both helm and navigation officers nodded their readiness to Saavik. "Very well, Chief; it's all yours." That said, she sat back in the command chair and tried to relax. It wasn't easy though. She hated the thought of someone else in control of her ship.
Docking itself was uneventful. Now her ship was truly out of harm's way. Next up would be the inquiry.
Saavik was the first to be debriefed. It was short and, considering the nature of the debriefing, not too unpleasant. Actually, both the length and the intensity were surprisingly easy.
Following that, she returned to her quarters to review the various reports and requests that had accumulated during the past few hours. Not the most exciting, or even interesting, part of a captain's job, but certainly a standard for the daily routine. In any case, it would help take her mind off the debriefing.
After nearly completing the tedious work, her door chime sounded. She cleared the screen of her console and put the work on hold. Assuming her best 'captain's look,' she called out, "Come!"
Geoff bounced in and gave her a big wink and a smile. "Captain, I think we're going to do just fine!"
Now there was an ambiguous statement. Just where was this leading to? "Hello, Geoff. I take it the debriefing went well." Her voice was flat and unemotional.
"Sure did!" His lighthearted manner continued, undaunted by Savvik's cool response. "I think you may even get a commendation out of this."
She sighed at the ludicrous statement, but said nothing. Her facial expression, or lack of it, said it all.
He shifted his stance and tried a different approach, "Nakamura said that we're going to need about twenty days total, including the dockyards. We can combine our resupply and yard time and possibly trim that to fifteen days. I thought it might be good time to reestablish our relationship. Of course, if you think it's necessary, we can start all over again."
Saavik studied the man's face. Under the comma of light brown hair, the green eyes reflected just a hint of confusion. 'Damn,' she thought, 'not that and not now.' "Geoff, I think some time apart might actually be better. I need to think and I can't think with you close by. Do you understand?"
The implications of Saavik's words somehow cheered him up. "Well, I'll tell you something my old mate told me once, anything worth having is worth waiting for. Take your time, Saavik. I want you to be sure." He gave her another big wink, turned and bounced out of the room through the door and disappeared down the corridor.
As soon as the door shut, Saavik picked up a stack of data tapes, prepared to give them a toss. It would be a heathy release of emotion, but the intercom sounded just in the nick of time.
So wrapped up in her own thoughts, the sound startled her. Once again, she put on her official captain's face and tapped the intercom. "Yes?"
"It's Kamal, sir. I have an incoming message for you from Admiral Kensington, Chief of Special Operations, on visual. You want me to patch it through?"
She was puzzled but curious, "Yes!"
The viewer brightened and the image of an elderly Terran came into focus. "Captain Saavik?"
Good, the admiral had used her title rather than her actual rank of commander. That meant he wasn't calling her to remove her from command. "Yes, Admiral, what can I do for you?"
"I understand you had a less than pleasant encounter with the Tholians. My preliminary reports show that you and your crew are okay. Also, the Kearsarge should be ready for duty in a few weeks, I'd say you faired pretty well, considering Starfleet's history with the Tholians."
Saavik was genuinely surprised. How the devil could he know all that? The debriefing was still in progress and he makes it sound like Starfleet has already decided to return the ship and crew to her command.
The admiral continued to speak and Saavik had an instinctive feeling he was leading up to something. "Captain, right now you're probably feeling a lot of pressure. If I know Admiral Darel, he's got you and your crew under a microscope. Don't worry, it's just part of his job. The old Andorian warrior is actually doing you a favor. When he's done, everybody will be singing your praises. As far as Command is concerned, you did a good job. However, that's not why I called. I am currently putting together a project that you might be interested in. Since your ship will be in the yards for a while and if you don't have any prior plans..." He left the sentence unfinished.
Interested? The man had just taken her off the hook and told her there would not be a board of inquiry. Now he wanted to know if she would like to work for him. Right now she would walk into the Romulan Neutral Zone naked, if it would serve a purpose. She calmed herself a bit then spoke. "Sir, if I could know something of the nature of what you have in mind."
He smiled like a father trying to be patient with a troublesome child. "I'm sorry, but that is about all I can say right now. But I can promise you, that it will be --" he hunted for an appropriate word "-- fascinating."
That did it. It sounded worth a try, but the big question remained. "Sir, would I still retain command of the Kearsarge?"
The fatherly look faded and he answered with firmness in his voice. "I can assure you, Captain Saavik, that what I have in mind will in no way affect your current command, feel better?"
Now she smiled and sounded more confident, "Yes, sir! I'd be honored to work with you. When would you like me to report? My crew should be done with the debriefings in --"
He cut her off with a startling response, "You can report to my office at any time."
Her face went blank, "I don't understand, sir. The debriefings won't be finished until later today."
"Captain, I've already told you, the debriefing is just a formality. Frankly, I'm rushed for time. I will forward your travel orders within minutes; they will include the necessary fleet endorsements, satisfied?"
With that explanation and promise, Saavik could only nod slowly. Before she could recover, the admiral had signed off and closed the channel.
She sat back, "What have I got myself into this time?" Then she snapped herself out of the fog of thoughts and returned to her work. She rushed though the remainder of the reports and then turned her attention to packing.
He had said 'travel orders,' so she pulled her standard Starfleet issue, over-the-shoulder bag. The Terrans called it a mini-duffle. It was large enough to carry the essentials in the confines of smaller ships or for quick trips.
Not knowing exactly what to pack, she tried to make allowances for any possibility, if that was possible. With just under ten minutes worth of packing time, she was ready. Returning to her duty desk she started to call the communications officer when the bridge hailed her. "Bridge to Captain Saavik. Incoming orders from Starfleet Command."
Saavik was impressed. Just as Kensington had promised, new orders within minutes. This man just might be very interesting to work for. "Go ahead bridge."
El-Qasem hesitated just a bit then spoke cautiously. "The orders are coded for your eyes only, sir. Shall I relay them to you?"
"Affirmative!" Sitting in front of her console, she watched the preliminary text scroll by slowly. This part of the message was in the clear, Federation Standard and contained only a prefix and general information. Then suddenly, the message became gibberish. She froze the image and entered her personal command code, then waited. Within seconds, the screen cleared and began to scroll a more legible form of communication.
Incredible, just as the admiral had promised, somewhat ambiguous, but intriguing none the less, right down to the last line. Endorsed by Admiral of the Fleet Walking Bear himself! She logged off the console, then reset the intercom to a ship-wide frequency. "Captain Saavik to the first officer, meet me in the main transporter room, on the double!"
With that done, she activated the comm channel and removed her personal code and the exact text of the orders, leaving only the operational portion. This would clear her for a temporary duty assignment off ship. In a few more swift motions, she entered this into the official ship's log as well. The exact text was saved on a data tape and placed into her safe, just in case. Then she thought, 'In case of what?' What was it David Marcus told her on the Genesis planet, oh yes, "Better safe than sorry."
She picked up her travel bag and literally ran to the transporter room. Rounding the last turn of the corridor adjoining the transporter room, she ran into Geoff, almost literally.
Her first officer had a look of apprehension on his face and he attempted to reach out to her, but she glided by, indicating for him to follow.
As the pair entered the transporter room Saavik dismissed a very confused transporter chief. "Take a coffee break, Chief. Mister MacKenzie will relieve you."
"Aye, sir!" The chief left without receiving, or even expecting, an explanation.
The first officer walked around the large console and activated the basic circuits. He was about to question her when she preempted his attempt. "Geoff, no time for explanations now. Check the duty log for my new orders, then check the endorsement, that will explain everything. My transport orders are already entered."
The Aussie was not sure how to react to this, but checked the information as requested. The orders directed and commanded, but did not explain. He tried to find the answers. "Are they going to clamp you in irons or what?" His look was now a mix of concern and pleading.
She hated to be abrupt and vague, but if Kensington had hesitated in giving out the details -- "I'm sorry, Geoff. I can't tell you any more than this: it's not related to the Tholian encounter. Make sure to get the dry dock personnel as promised and help Suzi with the repairs. Oh, yes, see to the leaves personally, and be sure to include yourself."
Before he could think of a reply, she spoke again, "Transport to Starfleet Headquarters, now."
It was a command, not a request, and Geoff knew it. He looked up and said simply, "Good luck."
His hands moved deftly across the controls and in seconds her outline began to fade in the transporter effect, leaving him dazed and confused.