Chapter 2

U.S.S. Aldrin, Drydock 4

Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards

Mars, Sol System, Sector 001

18:45 Hours, January 23rd, 2380

Stardate 57062.344458

 

Clark groaned and slid his body along the deck, getting close enough to Vorik to reach over the Vulcan and grab a hyperspanner from the engineering kit on his opposite side. They both were on their backs, their upper torsos under an immensely complicated array of bio-neural gel packs, isolinear chips, ODN relays and junctions, plasma conduits, and other pieces of technology that all comprised the bridge’s primary processing bank. The engineering crew had been working on it for hours, and Clark’s assistance hadn’t furthered their efforts in determining why the connection between this bank and the main computer core was on the fritz.

Vorik looked over at Clark, who was staring intently up at the layers of computer over his head, “We haven’t eliminated magnetic interference from an ODN cache array.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Clark said, not looking back at him.

“An improperly installed array could create a localized dipole magnetic field, disrupting plasma flow at points beyond the primary flow constriction assembly,” Vorik said. “In theory.”

Clark thought for a moment, “That makes sense.” He looked over at Vorik and smiled, “In theory.”

Vorik did not return the smile, instead barely canting an eyebrow.

Clark shrugged and lifted his hyperspanner up into the frame that held the computer overhead. He carefully maneuvered the tool around to the top of the closest ODN cache array, a blue cylinder the size of two fists with a mess of glowing white cables snaking from either side and a wide luminous red ribbon atop.

He grunted and twisted his wrist, trying to get the hyperspanner in position to check the connection between the array and the glowing red transport relay. The back end of the tool scraped against a dark green bio-neural gel pack, which promptly burst and splattered everything within a meter with organic goo.

Clark relaxed his outstretched arm, watching as the gel slowly ran down his sleeve, “I don’t think our problem is the cache array.” He slowly pulled his arm back down, taking care not to hit the hyperspanner against anything else.

Vorik nodded, “I concur.”

The remaining electronic parts of the burst gel pack sparked and caught fire, dropping burning bits of the biosynthetic gel through the computer and onto the pair. Clark shouted as one landed on his face, and an instant later the fire suppression system kicked into gear, spraying the entire computer bank with light blue carbon dioxide foam.

Clark wiped a glob of the foam off his forehead, and looked to the side to see Vorik doing the same to his arm. “Definitely not the cache array,” Clark said as he pushed himself out from under the processing bank and sat up.

Vorik followed him, “How do you wish to proceed?”

“Tricorder,” Clark held out a hand; Vorik placed the requested scanner in it. Clark stood, balancing himself against the opened frame, and began to take readings of the foam-covered mess before him.

Vorik stood next to him, reading the tricorder’s palm-sized touch display, “It appears the gel pack was in the late stages of a viral infection.”

“Any theories?”

He brought his arms back behind his back, “Approximately a year ago, an infectious viral strain was discovered in the gel pack synthesizing labs on Luna,” Vorik said, “But it was reportedly contained and eliminated.”

“Do you remember what kind of infectious strain?” Clark asked.

Vorik thought for a moment, recalling the information, “It was a de-synthesizing viral agent. It attacked the synthetic neurons in the gel packs, causing severe synapse degradation, resulting in decreased signal reliability, swelling, and eventual fatal malfunction.”

“Computer,” Clark ordered, “Scan all bio-neural gel packs aboard for a de-synthesizing viral agent.”

The computer promptly responded, “Scanning.” After a few seconds of silence, it reported, “Infections detected in one hundred thirty two out of one thousand three hundred forty seven bio-neural gel packs.”

Clark shook his head in dismay, “Vorik, put in an emergency request for three hundred more gel packs; we’re going to have to dump all of our spare supply.” He looked up to address the ship, “Computer, why did internal sensors not detect the virus?”

“Unknown.”

“Intriguing,” Vorik said, a hint of curiosity in his voice.

Clark turned to him, “Commander, get to the bottom of this. Have your teams remove the infected packs,” he pointed at the open bulkheads, “And whatever you need to do back there.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“If you’ll excuse me,” Clark tugged down on his uniform top and headed for his ready room on the opposite side of the bridge, “I have a date to get ready for.” He paused, “Well, not a date per se, more of a dinner…” Clark looked back to Vorik.

“Sir?”

He blinked a few times, “Never mind, carry on.”

Vorik nodded slightly and returned his attention to the processor bank. Clark rolled his head from shoulder to shoulder as he walked through the automatic door into the ready room, a small office for the captain attached to the side of the bridge. A small glossy black desk was immediately right inside the door with a wide screen following the curve of the bulkhead behind the desk’s high-backed chair. A small couch sat under a pair of meter-square windows looking out over the starboard side of the saucer and Engineering Hull-A, with a low coffee table and two chairs on the other side.

Clark walked past the desk and sitting area, rounding the corner and heading into the small private head. The lavatory was small, with a toilet, shower stall, sink, and cabinet crammed inside, but it was at least functional. Clark pulled open the drawer under the sink and grabbed a palm-sized silvery dermal regenerator. He set it on the side of the sink, and turned on the water, splashing his face to rinse off the foam, soot, and sweat. He dried off with a small towel and then positioned the dermal regenerator over a burn on his cheek. It emitted a faint blue light, accelerating cellular mitosis to quickly heal the wound.

He looked down at his uniform, noticing that it was spattered with the blue foam. He tried to brush the foam off, but all he succeeded in doing was smearing it into dark blue streaks down his stomach. Clark shook his head and turned around to the small cabinet, opening it to find four complete duty uniforms on hangars. A small card sat in front of four neatly folded red command shirts on the shelf above the uniforms:

Figured you’d probably need these,

Lt. Harris, Quartermaster

Clark removed his combadge from his chest and set it beside the card, “Harris, I’m going to have to put you in for an award.” He unzipped his soiled jacket and dropped it into a small bin in the bottom of the cabinet, following with his pants, knowing that Harris would return to take the garments for cleaning. This sort of catering was outside the official duties of the ship quartermaster, but they still upheld the tradition of taking care of the captain.

He quickly turned back to the mirror over the sink, noting that none of the foam had gotten onto the exposed collar of his red command shirt, though a bit had landed on the four gold pips on the right side. He wiped it off with his fingers, and then grabbed a uniform from the closet and hastily put it on. He straightened his duty jacket and then stepped through the door, paused, and leaned back in to grab his combadge off the sink and Harris’s note from the cabinet.

Clark headed back out to the bridge, dropping the note on his desk on the way out. In the few minutes it had taken Clark to clean up and change, Vorik had assembled a team of about a dozen engineering technicians and was now removing the entire damaged assembly from the bulkhead. Clark glanced around the bridge, finding that every console had gone dark from the work in progress. As he waited for the turbolift to arrive, the crew slowly extracted the processor bank from the bulkhead. With grunts and groans they pulled the four-meter-wide assembly out. Despite their best efforts it still hit the deck with a sharp and resounding thud likely heard through several decks.

A turbolift finally arrived and Clark stepped in, ordering, “Deck 4A, Section A.”

The turbolift whisked Clark down four decks, then towards the starboard side, and then up four decks into Engineering Hull-A. A short walk from the stop had him back at the door to Jensen’s quarters.

Before Clark could push the intercom, the door slid open. Jensen leaned against the doorframe in full uniform, her arms crossed over her chest, “Punctual, just like I expected,” She smiled and walked into her dark quarters, “Come on in.”

Clark stepped in, “So, dinner?” The door closed behind him, cutting off the bright corridor lights, leaving the cabin to be lit by two low fat candles on the coffee table, a ring of dim accent lights at the edge of the overhead, and the drydock lights through the windows.

Jensen stepped over to the replicator in the kitchen and sighed, glancing over her shoulder at the still-packed boxes sitting on the counter. “How’s Mexican sound?”

“Earth cuisine?” Clark shoved his hands into the pockets in his uniform pants, not sure if he should head to the sitting area or come help with the food.

Jensen laughed lightly as she scrolled through the replicator’s menu options, “Yeah, I fell in love with stuff while I was at the Academy.”

Clark rocked back on his heels, “Love of food is a pretty profound thing.”

“Yeah, right. Have a seat,” Jensen said, gesturing at the couches as a plate of Mexican fare materialized in the replicator. She picked up the plate and waited as another appeared in a sparkle of light. Jensen the grabbed the second plate, walked over to the couches, set both plates down on the table, and headed back to the kitchen. The aroma of spices and seasoned meat preceded her arrival.

As he was sitting on the low gray couch, Clark glanced at the plates’ contents: a filleted and grilled chicken breast, smothered in melted cheese and a greenish-brown salsa, a half-plate of tortilla chips, and merging spots of brown rice, beans, shredded lettuce completed the dish.

After quickly rummaging through the boxes in the kitchen, Jensen returned with two sets of utensils, linen napkins, and two intricately etched whiskey glasses. Without sitting, she positioned them around both plates and went over to her bed. Clark watched curiously as she crouched behind the bed, and then rose, producing a glass bottle filled blue liquid.

Clark frowned, “You do know that…” Jensen’s coy expression over the bottle of illegal Romulan ale made him pause, “Never mind.”

Jensen walked back to the table, poured the ale into both glasses, and set the bottle at the end of the oval table. She slowly sat down across from Clark, “So, Captain, what’s your story?”

Clark picked up and examined the etching on the glass, then sipped the ale. He stifled a cough as the simultaneously sweet and bitter drink burned down his throat. “Please, we’re off duty. I’m David.”

“Okay, David,” Jensen smiled, grabbing her own glass and leaning back into the couch. She repeated, “What’s your story?”

“Didn’t we do this already?”

“Not nearly enough.”

“My life story?” Clark asked. He took a slow sip of the ale, the second drink going down easier.

Jensen shrugged, “We can start there.”

Clark set his glass on the table, “Well, Loy,” he smiled, “I was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario.” He added, “In Canada. On Earth.”

Jensen peered at Clark over the rim of her cup and said softly, “I’ve been there before; it’s a beautiful city.”

He nodded, “Yes, it is. My dad died when I was young, and my step father had me sent to a military school in Pennsylvania when I was twelve; Valley Forge.” He cut off a bite of the chicken and put it into his mouth, the spicy salsa almost instantly triggering sheen of sweat on his forehead. “Is that habanero?” Clark coughed.

She effortlessly swallowed a bite, “Too hot? I can get you something more mild.”

Clark took a long drink of the ale, nearly emptying his glass. He shook his head, “I’ll manage. That’s pretty killer for replicated pepper.”

“Forge Valley?” Jensen prompted.

“VFMA, Valley Forge Military Academy. It’s a centuries old military academy, dates back to the days of gunpowder and horseback warfare. Nowadays it’s sort of a prep school.” He mused, “Or in my case a place far enough away from Michael and my mother.”

“Must have been rough.”

Clark’s eyebrows rose, “Says the Bajoran?”

“I’m just trying to be sympathetic. Continue.” She took another bite of replicated chicken off her fork.

“Anyway, that’s where I picked up music, took a shine to the marimba, and graduated two years ahead of my age just to prove to Michael I wasn’t a complete waste of space.” A hint of animosity had slipped into his voice, which he quickly squashed, “Went to Yale University, got degrees in criminal law and starship engineering.”

“Those are both five or six year programs,” Jensen said, “You must have been in school until you were thirty!” She grabbed a knife and started cutting through the chicken.

Clark finished the last of his ale, “Four years.”

“Each?”

“Total.”

Jensen’s knife slipped, pushing a bit of her rice over the edge of the plate. She looked up at Clark, “You’re telling me that you graduated in four years from a premiere university with two completely different degrees?”

“Yeah…”

She chuckled, “You must be some kind of genius. What are you doing here?” Jensen finished her ale and uncapped the bottle.

“You’re going to make me jump ahead twenty years?”

“Time travel gives me a headache; please continue with the linear telling of your abbreviated life story.” She filled her glass with blue alcohol, and then Clark’s.

Clark nodded, “I was a city attorney for two years, quit after a judge ruled against the city because we didn’t have a railing to stop some guy’s blind dog from running into the river and drowning.”

“Seriously?”

“It was ridiculous. Civil law on Earth is so full of bullshit, I couldn’t take it. So I joined Starfleet. It actually took me a full four years at the Academy, got assigned to the Saratoga and barely made it through Wolf 359. From there I was on the Hood, rehabilitating Deep Space 9, joined the Corps of Engineers and worked on the Intrepid-class and Akira-class.”

“I didn’t know you did the Akira-class.” Jensen bit into a salsa-loaded tortilla chip, sending flakes of the chip through the air.

“That’s right, you didn’t read the profiles either.” Clark smiled, resisting laughing.

Jensen shook her head, “Takes all the fun out of getting to know the crew.” She put the rest of the chip in her mouth and leaned forward, supporting her head on a hand. “What else?”

“I was assigned to upgrades for Third Fleet and was on the Bozeman when the Borg attacked. Again. We were hit hard, I assumed command and just barely managed to hold on long enough for the Enterprise to come and save the day yet again. Admiral Hayes was impressed, or so he said, so he promoted me to Commander and decided it’d be best for Starfleet if I were to transition into command. At that moment there wasn’t a command position open, so they slotted me onto the Cairo as chief engineer.”

Jensen sat up, slowly saying, “The Cairo disappeared with all hands.”

Clark slowly nodded, “With one exception.”

 

Clark stood in the cavernous shuttlebay of the U.S.S. Cairo, looking out at the bright stars of the Romulan Neutral Zone floating beyond the open space door. A small, soft hand fell lightly on his shoulder, “David, I’m going to miss you.”

He turned his head and looked into the face of Majel Hawkins. Her golden skin seemed to be a mixture of the diversity of Human complexions, her dark, long, curly hair bounced when she walked, and her deep chocolate eyes captivated Clark every moment he was in her presence. They had dated for nearly seven months, and were now engaged and running headfirst for a long, happy life together. Majel wanted to have lots of children, ‘Four or five’ she had told him, and Clark had just smiled, thinking of the joy that their marriage would bring to his years, though he was having trouble with processing thoughts of four or five kids.

“It’ll only be a few days,” Clark said, laying a reassuring hand on Majel’s, “I promise.”

“It better be.” Majel teasingly poked him in the chest, “Or this ring is going to the nearest Ferengi.”

Clark looked down at the engagement ring he had gotten for Majel. The Vulcan Sapphire, set in ten-karat latinum, had cost Clark a fortune in both time and money, two things he had very little of as a senior Starfleet officer.

A young ensign stepped out of the door on the shuttle’s side, “Commander, it’s ready.”

Clark and Majel walked towards the shuttle together, holding each other at the waist. At the door, Clark turned to face Majel and said quietly, “I love you.”

“I know,” Majel wrapped her arms around Clark’s neck and pulled herself up to his face. Clark resisted. “What’s wrong?”

With a subtle movement of his eyebrows and a jerk of his head, Clark indicated the source of his unease: the ensign, just standing a few meters beyond. Majel smiled, “Never mind him.” Before Clark could dodge her again, Majel planted her lips on his. The power of her affection poured over Clark, and it took every ounce of energy he could summon to prevent a collapse into a giddy pile of emotions.

Majel withdrew, still smiling, “I’ll see you in a few days. And don’t forget to pick up the rings.” The last thing Clark saw before the shuttle hatch closed was a sparkle of light. He spent the next couple days of his solitary trip to the outpost wondering if it was the ring or Majel’s eyes.

 

The trip to Starbase Seven had been uneventful, though the shuttle was now packed to the overhead with supplies for the Cairo and her crew. Clark was flying back at high warp, having made an excuse about the urgency of the replacement parts, though he really just wanted to be back in Majel’s arms again. The hump of the small jewelry box containing their wedding rings was uncomfortable in his pocket, but he liked that it reminded him it was there. He looked down at the navigation screen, noting that the shuttle was well within communications range and rapidly approaching their predetermined rendezvous point, though the Cairo had yet to hail.

He pressed a few controls and called, “This is ShuttleWinston, hailing U.S.S. Cairo.” After several seconds of silence he repeated himself. Clark rolled his eyes, coming to the conclusion that the old ship’s all too finicky subspace transceiver relay had failed again, a repair that would require his space-walking on the bottom of the Excelsior-class ship’s saucer to repair. Growing concerned, Clark checked the sensors, but was unable to locate the Cairo.

Clark brought his shuttle to a stop at the rendezvous coordinates, again scanned for the Cairo, and found nothing. He checked his orders with the stellar chart displayed on his screen. They matched. The Cairo should be here. Right here. But it wasn’t. He started to panic, but forced himself to stop and focus. He located the Cairo’s warp plasma trail; it abruptly ended four light-years from the rendezvous point. There was no sign of battle, no sign of other ships, not even residual tachyons from a cloaked ship.

He ran every scan the shuttle’s sensors were capable of performing and desperately combed back and forth over the area, looking for any clue as to what had happened. But the Cairo was simply gone.

They’d been on a routine patrol of the Federation side of the Neutral Zone, sectors away from the closest reported Dominion strikes from the sanctuary of the light-year-wide demilitarized strip.

The hails went ignored for days as Clark continued his search, repeating every scan a dozen times over. By the time the investigating ship arrived Clark was on the edge of delirium from several days of not eating or sleeping.

The officers and psychiatrists told Clark ‘they’re gone’ and ‘the Dominion’ and ‘I’m so sorry’, but none of it registered. All that he could think of was Majel, with her curly hair, her dark eyes, her sparkling smile, and all her overflowing love for him.

And she was gone.

 

“Captain?” Clark opened his eyes and lifted his head. Jensen repeated, “Captain, are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Clark said, sitting up straight.

Jensen leaned back into her couch, “I kind of lost you there.”

Clark shrugged and blinked several times, hoping that the darkness hid his watery eyes, “Bad memories. Where was I?”

“The Cairo.”

“So, uhm, after that I went back to the Engineers.” Clark continued, “Two years later, Voyager returned, so I was on the engineering debrief and analysis team.” He held up his hands, intending to gesture to the ship around him, but then thought better of it. “I went and worked on the Cardassian reconstruction for a few months, came back here, and they threw on an extra pip and dropped me in the center chair.”

“Is that it?” Jensen asked.

Clark’s eyes bounced back in forth, “Uh, yeah, that’s just about it.” He leaned forward, grabbing a chip off his plate and scraped some salsa off the top of his chicken, “Okay, your turn. Again.”

Jensen nodded, “Alright. Born on Bajor in 2347, middle of the occupation. Both my parents were part of the resistance; they used to be marine biologists. They did their best to shield me from everything going on around me, but there was only so much they could do. When I was seven they were killed by the Cardassians.”

“I’m so sorry,” Clark said. He picked his glass off the table and took a long drink.

“The resistance took me in, took care of me, raised me,” Jensen continued. “I was just a courier; I wanted to do more, but I was just a kid. I managed to get off Bajor when I was seventeen, ended up getting picked up by the Odyssey.”

Clark leaned back, “The Cardassians had the Bajor system pretty well locked down, how’d you get off?”

Jensen smiled, “Stowed away on an ore freighter, ejected in an escape pod with nothing but the rags on my back and a…” Her smiled faded, “Anyway, I stayed on the Odyssey for a year and in ’65 was accepted to the Academy, Danula campus. Graduated four years later, went through the Advanced Tactical Training course, and was recruited into Section 31.”

Clark nearly choked on his food, “What?”

“I technically shouldn’t be telling you this,” Jensen said. “But you should probably know about it. If you ever get around to looking at my records they’ll say I was serving with Starfleet Intelligence, but that’s not entirely true.”

“I’ve only ever heard rumors about Section 31.”

“Long story short, it’s a covert ops and intelligence organization that doesn’t officially exist, as far as Starfleet and the Federation government are concerned, tasked with ensuring the security of the Federation no matter the cost,” Jensen said. “Essentially, they do the dirty work that has to be done, but that the Federation government can’t be seen doing.”

“You make it sound so simple.”

“It’s not. And no, I can’t tell you about what I did.”

“Even if I order you?” he teased.

“Your clearance level isn’t high enough,” Jensen ran her finger around the rim of her glass. “Anyway, I left Section 31 at the start of the war, and was assigned to the Centaur, as chief of security. After the war ended, I went to Cardassia to coordinate security during reconstruction,” She sipped her ale.

Clark grimaced, “You, you aren’t Jensen the Mercil–”

Jensen cut him off, “I did what had to be done to maintain security for the people of Cardassia. That world, those people, they were in shambles. They were desperate. We didn’t have much to work with, so yes, my tactics were harsh at times, but it was necessary. If we hadn’t cracked down when we did, the Cardassians would be on their way to a new bronze age.”

“A sore subject, I take it?”

“A bit. I know the Cardassian media was still establishing itself, but they were… forget about it.” She forced a smile, “Anyway, “A few months ago I got redeployment orders, and then I found myself here. Is that good enough for you?” she smiled, this time genuine, over the edge of her glass.

“That’ll have to do for now.” He brought his glass of ale to his lips a bit to quickly, hitting it against his chin and spilling the ale on his uniform. “Damn it,” he futilely wiped his soaked chest.

“I’ll get a towel,” Jensen jumped and went to the kitchen, looked in two boxes, and returned with a small white washcloth. She sat on her legs on the couch next to Clark and dabbed at the black jacket with the cloth. She dropped the cloth, spread her hand, and pressed it against Clark’s chest. He slowly looked up from the wet spot to see her face mere centimeters away from his. Their eyes locked as Jensen leaned forward, her hand sliding up to Clark’s shoulder. She smiled slightly as Clark hesitated briefly, and then surrendered to his emotions.