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56 Bottles

Posted on May 27, 2017 @ 3:49am by Commander Jacob Crichton
Edited on on May 27, 2017 @ 3:49am

Mission: The Romulan Way


= 56 Bottles =

(cont’d from “Reflex”)



LOCATION: STARBASE 56, along the ROMULAN Neutral Zone

SCENE: Observation Deck

STARDATE: [2.17] 0526.1921



Jake Crichton walked along the curving platform that wrapped its way around the edge of this deck of Starbase 56. There were a few bars on this level, but precious little else to do but stargaze. That was fine with Jake; this wasn’t shore leave, and everyone had to work in the morning, so he saw no need to tie one off at the local watering hole. Instead, Jake just walked, his eyes on the stars outside.



He was staring into Romulan space - or at least, he was pretty sure he was. He’d have to catch a glimpse of the PHOENIX, docked just outside the starbase, to be sure. But those stars didn’t look familiar or welcoming, and that was enough for Jake. Only eight years removed from the Federation’s last full-scale conflict - hell, only a few *months* removed from the Battle of Earth, for that matter - and now it felt like the quadrant teetered on the edge of war once again. The Siege of Bolarus may have been orchestrated by the Neo-Essentialists, but it had been Romulan weapons that devastated the surface of that world. It wasn’t the sort of misunderstanding you just laughed off… many within the Federation wanted to see the Romulans pay for the lives they’d taken.



According to what Jake had heard from Captain Kane, the PHOENIX was here mostly as a deterrent. Jake appreciated the optics; already, stories had begun to swirl around the ship and crew who had “saved the Federation”. There was a lot more to it than that, Jake knew; Admiral Dexter Marxx had rallied the loyalist fleet, and the Siege of Earth might very well have failed if not for the timely intervention of the USS ANUBIS. Still, the fugitives-turned-saviors crew of the PHOENIX had come out of it all as heroes, and word of their exploits had surely reached Romulus. Those stories would hopefully prevent the Romulans from getting twitchy during the peace talks, but if they didn’t, that also meant the PHOENIX would be right smack dab in the middle of whatever firestorm was kicked up.



In short, it felt like everyone aboard Starbase 56 was holding their breath, waiting to see what tomorrow would bring.



As Jake rounded the curving walkway, the PHOENIX came gradually into view outside. She was too close for Jake to see the whole thing all at once, but the sight took his breath away just the same. He’d spent a long time aboard that ship, long enough to come to think of it as home. When you spent that long aboard a ship, it was easy to start to think of it as the whole world. Seeing it from the outside, it was easier to put things in perspective. The PHOENIX, top of the line and state of the art though she was, was only one ship. The Romulans would have thousands.



Jake leaned against a railing, looking out at the PHOENIX and lost in thought. He didn’t hear footsteps behind him, and jumped when a hand settled suddenly, roughly, on his shoulder. Jake turned, and found himself looking into a familiar face.



“Heck?” Jake asked.



Hector Solorzano stood before him, a stocky man with a trimmed goatee and a wide, inviting grin. He was wearing a Starfleet uniform, and Jake spotted two pips, plus the outline of a third, affixed to his collar. Jake hadn’t seen Heck since the Academy; they’d been classmates in several engineering courses, and had worked together on more than one group project. The years hadn’t been too cruel; Heck had packed on a little bit of weight, but had apparently lost none of his gregarious charm. Before Jake could fully process the scene, Heck was pulling him into a tight hug, actually lifting him up off the ground a bit in a way Jake remembered from when they were cadets.



“I’ll be god-damned!” Heck was saying, as he set Jake back down again. He released the hug, but kept a hand on Jake’s shoulder. “Jake Crichton! I thought that was you!”



“Hector Solorzano,” Jake said, shaking his head. “I never thought I’d run into you all the way out here.”



“Man, this whole sector belongs to me,” Heck said, with exaggerated swagger. “Chief Operations Officer, Starbase 56.”



Jake whistled. “Come up in the world since the Academy, I see.”



“Not like you though,” Heck said, punching Jake lightly on the arm. “When they said you were a traitor, I say to myself, not Jake Crichton, that boy *bleeds* Starfleet. And what do you know, I was right!”



“Thanks, Heck,” Jake said. “It’s good to see you.”



“You too man.” Heck leaned against the railing next to Jake, and looked out at the PHOENIX. “So what’s up? Still got a thing for starships, I see.”



“That one’s mine,” Jake said, not bothering to sound humble about it.



Heck’s eyes widened. “No shit, really?”



Jake shrugged. “Executive Officer, USS PHOENIX.”



Heck clapped his hands together sharply. “I *thought* I counted three pips on that collar!”



Jake nodded. “It’s… been an experience.”



“Well this calls for a celebration,” Heck said. “Come on, we can get a drink.”



“Oh, I don’t know…” Jake started.



“Come on! Jake Crichton and Hector Solorzano, together again! And you fly into town in a sweet machine like that one? We need to commemorate this occasion!”



Jake hadn’t planned on visiting any of the bars, but then he also hadn’t planned on bumping into an old friend either. And given everything he’d been through over the last few months, Jake decided he’d earned a night off.



“Alright,” Jake said. “You talked me into it.”



=[/\]=



SCENE: “56 Bottles” Bar and Replimat



Heck took Jake to his favorite watering hole among the scattering of bars and restaurants aboard Starbase 56.



“Mostly they’re the same,” Heck explained. “But this one’s closest to my quarters in walking distance.”



“You mean you don’t just beam yourself back to your room anymore?” Jake grinned, remembering when he and Heck had both gotten in trouble for hacking Starfleet Academy’s transporter network so they wouldn’t have to take conventional transport back to the dormitories after a night of heavy drinking. It had worked, but they’d been discovered immediately; the next morning, still hungover, they’d been arrested by Starfleet security and taken to the brig. It had nearly gotten them kicked out… but then again, it seemed Jake had pulled a dozen such stunts in his academy days, with or without Heck, and somehow he’d managed to avoid expulsion. In his younger days, Jake had thought it was because of his natural talent and promise as an officer, but time had changed Jake’s perspective on such things. Now he supposed that he and Heck weren’t even half the terrors they remembered themselves as… and if Starfleet Academy drummed out every cadet with a discipline problem, there’d be practically nobody left to run the fleet.



“You don’t run the same trick twice,” Heck said. Then, more quietly, “Besides, it’s a lot easier to do it with a shuttlecraft’s transporter, less likely to be noticed.”



“Some things never change.”



Heck led him into the bar - it was well lit and clean, a bar aboard a Starfleet installation, not the dingy dive bars Jake had seen in places like Limbo - and they took a seat at a table towards the back of the room. Heck ordered their drinks - Jake had been about to ask for a beer, but Heck beat him to the punch with an order for two highballs. When the waiter returned, Heck toasted Jake, who clinked his glass against Heck’s appreciatively. They each took a drink, though Heck downed noticeably more of his highball than Jake had.



“So! Commander, huh?” Heck asked. “I guess that means I’m supposed to salute you or something, huh?”



“Please don’t,” Jake said quickly. “I’m still getting used to it, to be honest.”



“Living the good life,” Heck said. “Got those executive-sized quarters, probably bringing all sorts of ladies over for late night ‘debriefings’, if you know what I mean.”



“Not exactly,” Jake said. “I was married.”



“No shit,” Heck said. “Really?”



“Was,” Jake said. “Just got divorced.”



“Ah,” Heck said. “I’m sorry.”



“No, it’s okay. We’d been more or less separated for a long time. This just kind of formalized everything.”



“Who was she?” Heck asked.



“She was politician,” Jake said. “Used to be in Starfleet. We met when I was assigned to GATEWAY Station.”



“Before the war,” Heck said.



“Right.”



Heck nodded. “Bad shit, that.”



“You saw action?”



“Well, not like you,” Heck shrugged. “But yeah. I ran patrols on the Gamma side for about 18 months. Had a few close calls.”



Heck didn’t offer any more, and Jake didn’t press him. He had his own stories from the Second Dominion War, stories he’d rather not relive. He took another drink of his highball and wished it was a little stronger.



“And here we go, getting it all started back up again,” Heck said, holding up a single finger and swirling it around in a vague circle as he said it.



“Is it that bad?”



Heck sighed. “People are scared, I can tell you that. When the Romulans pushed into Federation space, it was like we weren’t even there. One minute, it’s all quiet, and the next, they’ve got Bolarus surrounded.”



“But they withdrew,” Jake said. “Once they found out about the Neo-Essentialists, they pulled their forces back. That must mean they don’t want a war.”



“Maybe,” said Heck. “But think about that. Half their warships around Bolarus just cloaked. That’s the last anyone’s seen of them. We’ve gotten enough hits on our deep-range scanners to know that at least some of them went home, but we have no way of knowing how many… or if any of them stayed behind, inside Federation borders.”



Jake hadn’t thought of that. “That’s… possible, I guess.”



“Damn right it’s possible,” Heck said. He drained his highball, and signalled the waiter to bring another round. “So you tell me, what are they waiting for?”



“To be fair, we don’t *know* that they’re waiting at all,” Jake pointed out.



“Hypothetically, I mean,” Heck said. “I’m just saying, it’s one hell of a strategic advantage, having ships as powerful as those Valdore beasties *behind* enemy lines. Moving around undetected, getting into the perfect position…”



The waiter returned, setting another two drinks down on the table between them. Jake, who hadn’t finished his first, picked it up and made a valiant attempt to do so. He didn’t quite succeed, but Heck had already started in on his second anyway, so Jake decided it didn’t matter.



“It doesn’t have to be that bad,” Jake said. “If the Romulans are willing to come to the bargaining table, that says something right there.”



“Maybe,” Heck said. “But it’s no accident your ship is here, Jake. Command’s sending the Romulans a message, and that’s not something you do when you think the other guy’s intentions are on the up and up.”



Jake sighed. “That had occurred to me.”



“You know what I think? I think the brass expects the Romulans to try something… and that the PHOENIX isn’t here to deter them, but to *stop* them.”



Jake frowned. “I can’t believe that. Peace between the Federation and Romulus benefits everyone. They have to see that as much as we do.”



“Maybe their priorities aren’t the same as yours,” Heck shrugged. An uncomfortable silence filled the space between them, which Heck finally broke with a boisterous, if somewhat forced, laugh. “Don’t listen to me, man, I got nothing to do out here but sign reports and monitor shipping traffic. I spin all kinds of stories to pass the time.”



Jake smiled, but he couldn’t shake the thought. The Federation military was still recovering from the Second Dominion War *and* the Neo-Essentialist Crisis; Starfleet was probably as its weakest point in the last 50 years. On top of that, they had only scattered reports of the Romulans’ military might… as well as one recent, very stark example of it, as well.



If the Romulans *were* planning to ignite a war, Jake wasn’t sure that Starfleet would be able to stop them.



=[/\]=



NRPG: It’s been too long since everyone was pretty sure they were going to die. It feels good to get back to our roots. ;-)



Also, meet Lt. Commander Hector “Heck” Solorzano, Chief Operations Officer aboard Starbase 56, old classmate of Jake’s, and a bit of a rascal. Depending how often we drop by Starbase 56, you might be seeing more of him. Alternately, he may be summarily fed to the grimdark somewhere down the line. You can never tell how these things will go.



Shawn Putnam

A.k.a.

Jake Crichton

Executive Officer

USS PHOENIX

 

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