By Christina Moore
September 14, 2378
Synnove Natale had just finished changing her son’s soiled diaper when the communications panel on her desk lit up and chirped. Hurrying to put one-year-old Gideon down in the playpen beside the desk, where he quickly occupied himself with his favorite rattle, she reached for the button on the comm panel as she sat in her desk chair.
“Go ahead, Adrienne.”
The voice of Adrienne Carmichael, her administrative aide, came through the desk speaker with a soft Scottish brogue that always made Natale smile, as it reminded her of her husband, Brian, who was also Scotland born and bred. “Sorry to disturb you, Captain, but Communications has Admiral Savari on the line for you.”
“Very well, put the admiral through.”
Carmichael acknowledged and closed the channel. With a glance at Gideon, who was attempting to eat his rattle (unsuccessfully, of course, as it was too big to fit in his mouth), Natale stood from her desk, straightened her uniform jacket, and moved toward the large viewscreen on the wall. A moment later it flickered to life, first displaying the symbol of the Federation, then the smiling, black-eyed visage of Aderyn Savari…who, if Natale’s eyes did not deceive, was wearing an extra gold pin on her collar.
“I see congratulations are in order, Admiral,” said Natale, as the last time the two women had spoken, Savari had worn the insignia of a rear admiral.
The Betazoid on her screen smiled. “Thank you, Captain—my promotion to Vice Admiral just came through this morning…along with some news you may or may not want to hear.”
Natale crossed her arms and lifted an eyebrow as she regarded the sector commander. “That’s never a good way to open a conversation, ma’am. What’s the bad news?”
Savari folded her hands together on top of her desk. “It seems Echo’s yardmaster has been missing being out in space—Commander McMurty’s put in an official request for transfer to a starship billet. In fact—and I admit this surprised me—he’s asked to remain aboard the Messenger.”
“But McMurty’s a Border Dog—a career Border Dog,” Natale said. “I know the Messenger needs a new chief engineer, but why would Mac want to serve on a Starfleet ship?”
“I asked that very question when Border Patrol’s Personnel Director contacted me a short while ago,” Savari replied. “He told me to ask McMurty, so I did. The commander said he doesn’t care where he serves, as long as it’s the engine room of a starship—and it’s not like Fleet and Patrol don’t do officer exchanges all the time.”
Natale could respect that; still, she scoffed before saying, “I bet he’s just wanting to stick around out there because of that moon the Messenger found.”
Savari grinned. “Wouldn’t you?”
Starbase Echo’s commander laughed. “I would, yeah. So the bad news is, we’re losing our yardmaster. Who’s going to replace him?”
The admiral drew a breath. “I know she’s your XO, but I’m thinking Commander Hyasieth should take over the repair yard. She’s a structural engineer, whereas McMurty really wasn’t.”
Natale nodded slowly. “Yeah, he always struck me as more of a power systems guy,” she mused.
Savari chuckled. “That’s exactly what Captain Murphy said about him. And though for McMurty it would be something of a demotion, for Hyasieth it would be an almost entirely lateral move. She won’t lose her rank, though she would move down one step in the chain of command.”
“Strangely enough, I don’t think she’ll mind all that much. I’ve had this feeling about Hyasieth the entire time I’ve worked with her—she misses building things,” Natale said then. “I suspect about as much as McMurty missed being around a warp core.”
“Indeed,” said Savari. She tilted her head then, and added, “Do you miss being on the bridge of a starship, Captain?”
Gideon chose that moment to let out a peal of laughter; Natale looked over her shoulder at him—he was shaking his rattle madly—then looked back at the admiral with a smile.
“Not as much as I used to,” she confessed. “When I first got the assignment to Sanctuary, I wanted nothing more than to be back on the bridge of a starship—any starship. Of course, I hadn’t really been a starship captain very long when I got that job anyway, so there wasn’t all that much to miss, I suppose. But almost from the moment I knew I was going to have a child, I realized I was right where I needed to be. A starbase is a safer environment than a starship, Admiral, all things considered. It’s a more stable life for a child, and I like that I get to be here for so much—being a part of his formative years is really important to me.”
She sighed softly and lifted a shoulder, then shifted her hands to her hips. “Maybe when Gideon is a little older, Brian and I can switch places. He can stay home with the kid and let me command a starship for a few years. Until then, I’m happy where I am.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” said Savari. “In case I haven’t told you lately, you’re doing a fantastic job out there.”
Natale nodded. “Thank you, Admiral. So, Mac is moving to the Messenger, Hyasieth is moving to the repair yard, and…Kelley can move up to XO.”
A smile rose on Savari’s face, and she nodded approvingly. “Good idea—I’m well aware that Mr. Kelley wants a command of his own some day, and time as your XO will give him the required years of experience. Have you anyone in mind to take his place as Defense Coordinator?”
Natale needed only a moment to consider it. “I know just who to ask.”
“Synnove! Come on in.”
Natale smiled as she carried Gideon through the door of Jordan Kelley’s apartment. As he was closing the door behind her, her baby spied his on the floor.
“Cassa!” Gideon cried, then began straining to get down from his mother’s arms.
“Giddy!” cried little Cassana Kelley, who was but three weeks younger than her friend. The half-Human, half-Betazoid girl pushed to her feet, took one step, then toppled over.
“Mama, want Cassa!” Gideon cried.
“All right, all right, you can play,” Natale said with a laugh as she moved to sit her son on the floor beside the other child.
“Captain, we were just about to eat dinner,” spoke up Trevor Whitehorse, Kelley’s husband. “Would you care to join us?”
“As a matter of fact, I would. I’m starving,” she replied, and she and Kelley made their way over to the dining table, which was in full view of the blanket the kids were playing on. Whitehorse took her order—a glass of raspberry iced tea and a pot roast sandwich with fries—before fetching his own choice and Kelley’s from the replicator.
They ate in silence for a few moments before Natale casually asked, “Say Trevor, when are you shipping out again?”
Whitehorse was a lieutenant colonel in the Federation Marine Corps, a fact he both loved and hated. Loved because it was a career he was passionate about. One he had dedicated his entire life to. But since meeting Jordan Kelley, since losing his sister to a terror attack and almost losing her child—Cassana—as well, his priorities had changed. He wanted to continue serving the Marines, but he wanted to be with his remaining family more.
Except Trevor Whitehorse was no longer her bodyguard, as he had been for nearly a year. After the capture of one of the most notorious criminals in history, thereby eliminating the constant threat to Natale’s safety—said criminal being her own father—he’d gone back to being the team lead of one of the Corps’s best reconnaissance units...and he couldn’t just up and quit or take a desk job just because he and Kelley were finally married. Natale knew his personal leave, taken for the wedding and to spend time with his husband and niece, was up. He was due to ship out in the morning.
“Tomorrow, unfortunately,” Whitehorse replied sullenly. Kelley reached for his hand and lifted it to brush his lips over his knuckles.
“What would you say if I told you you don’t have to go?” Natale queried.
Both men looked over at her. “Captain, what are you saying?” Kelley asked.
The Orion set down her sandwich and leaned back in her chair. “Well, first of all, Commander McMurty has transferred back to a starship billet, and Commander Hyasieth has agreed to take over running the repair yard. Which means I need a new XO—that would be you, Jordan. And since you’re moving up in the world, we need someone to take your place as Defense Coordinator. I figured I’d be nice and ask Trevor if he’d mind slumming it with us Fleeters.”
She reached for her tea, pausing with the cup at her lips to say, “Unless, of course, you know a couple other guys who’d like those jobs.”
Kelley and Whitehorse stared at her in stunned silence for a full thirty seconds, then cried out “Hell no!” in unison before laughing and leaning toward each other for a kiss.
Natale grinned as she watched them. “Is that hell no, you don’t want the jobs I just offered you? Or hell no, you don’t know anybody else who is qualified?”
Her hosts laughed. “I am more than happy to take over for Commander Hyasieth, Synnove,” Kelley said. “If I ever want to take over your job someday, I need the command experience, right?”
“There is that.”
“And you’re sure about having me here in Jordan’s place?” Whitehorse asked. “Have you conferred with MarSOC already?”
Natale nodded. “I have. The Corps doesn’t want to lose a man with your skill set, certainly, but Brigadier Stewart—the personnel officer on your team—is a family man himself, apparently. He knows you just got married, that your niece is still very young, and that you’d like to be around for your husband and his child. Taking over for Jordan at Defense will give you that opportunity, and you won’t lose your rank or seniority in the Corps. So basically, if you want the job, it’s yours. Commander Hyasieth will still outrank you, but I’m sure that, in the case of myself or Jordan being unavailable, she will not make noise about you being in charge until we get back—but she would be a great resource for you if you need to backup your authority over the starbase crew.”
“You would be the only Marine on staff,” Kelley pointed out. “Are you going to be okay with that?”
Whitehorse grinned at his husband. “I have no problem with that, as long as I get to stay with you and Cass. Of course, Zram might not be too happy about it.”
The two Starfleet officers laughed. “Zram ain’t happy with anyone who doesn’t wear Security gold,” Kelley reminded him.
“Unless—like me and you, and Brian—they used to wear Security gold,” Natale added. “But, uh, thanks for reminding me I need to pass it on to the rest of the crew. Tomorrow’s staff meeting should be fun.”
The senior staff of Starbase Echo filed one by one into the briefing room, chattering away quietly until their captain walked in with the XO behind her. Curious eyebrows were lifted as they noted that Commander Kelley’s new husband—the captain’s former bodyguard—entered with them.
Natale didn’t sit down; she merely stood behind her chair at the head of the table, her hands resting on top. “I’m going to make this very brief—there’s been a little bit of a shake-up in the chain of command. Don’t go celebrating my exit; you’re still stuck with my ugly orange face,” she joked, eliciting a few chuckles. “However, Commander McMurty has decided to return to starship service and is now Chief Engineer of the Messenger. Commander Hyasieth has graciously agreed to slide over into his chair and take over the running of Echo’s repair yard. Thus, our very own Commander Jordan Kelley is officially sliding into her place as Executive Officer… and Lt. Colonel Whitehorse has agreed to fill in the open position of Defense Coordinator.”
Polite congratulations issued from most of the crew, and then a sarcastic “Oh, hell no!” was called out by Echo’s Chief of Security, Command Master Chief Petty Officer Dilik Zram.
Everybody else burst out laughing.