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Posted on Dec 26, 2019 @ 8:02pm by Commander Jacob Crichton
Edited on on Dec 26, 2019 @ 8:05pm

Mission: Last Days of Empire


(cont'd from "Counsel Me This Captain Smooshy")


SCENE: Bridge
STARDATE: [2.19]1225.1232

The situation on the bridge hadn't changed. The PHOENIX played its hand - using tetryonic particles to temporarily disrupt local subspace, making normal ship-to-ship communication close to impossible. The unconventional maneuver, the 25th century equivalent of repeatedly sending a call to voicemail, wasn't likely to end up in any tactical manuals, but that didn't mean it wasn't effective; for the moment, the PHOENIX had a degree of plausible deniability to explain why they weren't actively negotiating for their own survival. Given how their last interaction with the Klingons had been trending, Jake Crichton had to believe this was a good thing, but the time they'd bought with their admittedly-desperate ploy was rapidly running out.

From his position in the ExO's chair, Jake watched as Michael Turlogh Kane initiated and completed a familiar ritual. Kane pushed himself out of the captain's chair and took exactly three steps forward. It was always three, Jake reflected. Why? It's not as if the approach afforded a better view of the bridge's main viewer. And even if that were necessary, surely Kane's synthetic eye came equipped with some kind of precision zoom feature. What was the point of a synthetic, golden eye if it couldn't even zoom in on a main viewer? At that rate, you might as well just wear an eyepatch and squint.

Now Kane moved to the second part of the ritual, which Jake had privately termed "Where do hands go?". As he watched, Kane's hands flowed effortlessly across a series of gestures: pulling at his uniform. Clenching and unclenching. A single hand comes up, balled in a fist, and rests just below Kane's lips, only to fall back to his side an instant later. Then, the hands clasp momentarily at the small of Kane's back.

That's when the question comes, Jake thought. He braced himself.

"You're certain transmissions from the surface will break through the subspace interference?" Kane asked, without taking his eyes off the main viewer.

"90%," Jake said, glancing back at the science station to get a nod from Lt. Crow. "We're doing what we can to focus the disruptions around the nearest Klingon ships. Transmission to us should be unaffected, but interference is interference."

Kane still didn't turn around. "There's no way to reduce that?"

"Not without a commensurate loss in the efficacy of this trick," Jake shrugged.


Now Kane would stand, staring at the main viewer, as if the dogged assertion of his own will was all that was necessary to resolve their situation. To his credit, it often seemed to be; the PHOENIX had been through any number of close-calls since Michael Turlogh Kane had taken the conn, and several members of the crew pre-dated even that, going as far back as the final voyage of the USS DISCOVERY. It went back even further - Jake served under Kane on GATEWAY Station, just before the dawn of the Second Dominion War, when Jake had been a fresh graduate of the Advanced Command Training program, one of the final classes of graduates from that now-retired Academy training course. Back then, Jake had been a boy, riding the wave of advanced scholastic achievement directly into the rocky shoals of real world experience.

Jake had learned a lot since then. There was inside of him still the man who would solder his own name into the bulkhead of some out-of-the-way corner of every ship and station he'd ever served - the CRICHTON WAS HERE brand could even now be found in the bowels of Main Engineering by those who knew where to look - but in many ways, Jake had become the iconic Company Man. Starfleet had given him the life he wanted, an unending buffet of planets, people, and problems, which Jake - and, technically, Starfleet - alone could solve. It had also given him anchors: a wife, children, a place to come back to. That his dream of endless adventure came also with every reason to stay in one place was an irony that Jake grappled with to this very day.

But through it all, there had been Kane. Not consistently - Jake had served under nearly half a dozen commanding officers since he'd first cut his teeth aboard GATEWAY. But Kane was the man who Jake had followed, through the Neo-Essentialist crisis and beyond. That journey had been filled with highs and lows; Jake had made friends and watched them die, had nearly died himself, had lost his marriage, had gone without contact with his children before inviting them back into his life with all of the danger still hanging over their heads. Those very children now sat somewhere in the PHOENIX's guts, awaiting the outcome of this new situation that their captain - and, by extension, their step-father Jake, the ship's Executive Officer - had dragged them into.

And all at once, Jake Crichton decided he was tired of staring at the old man's back.

"Captain," Jake said, rising out of his own ExO's chair. "Permission to speak privately?"

This, at least, yielded the exact response Jake had been looking for. Kane turned - not just his head, but nearly a full-body pivot - to glance back at his ExO, the eyebrow above his natural eye raised. Jake steeled himself - it was never easy to meet the gaze of Michael Kane, given all the things that the man had seen and done across his checkered Starfleet career, but Jake had learned that it was possible, at least for those who'd had the occasion to earn his respect.

Kane spared a moment to search Jake's face. Then, instantly, he nodded. "My Ready Room, commander."

The two men - boss and subordinate, certainly, yet also veterans of the same heap of troubles - made their way towards the door set at the rear of the bridge.

"Mr. Byte, you have the conn," Kane said, as he approached the door to his Ready Room. "This shouldn't take long."

Jake halted his own stride for just a moment as Kane said this, a flicker of doubt that he realized he would now have to carry into his private meeting with the captain. Then, an instant later, Jake followed. The doors swished shut behind them.


SCENE: CO's Ready Room

Kane wasted no time. He moved instantly to the chair behind his desk and settled himself comfortably into it. His hands even automatically moved to activate the viewscreen mounted to his desk, a gesture that Jake had watched Kane complete a hundred times before upon entering his office. This time, the action struck Jake as somehow dismissive.

"Permission to speak freely, sir?" Jake asked, as he watched Kane's interest drift automatically towards his desk console.

"Granted," Kane said, without looking at him.

Jake raised his arms, as if gesturing towards an audience that wasn't actually there. "What the hell are we doing here, sir?"

Now Kane rolled his natural eye towards Jake. "Come again?"

"We're at ground-zero of a major galactic war," Jake said. "We're not here to stop it, we're here to make sure nobody gets to argue that Starfleet caused it to happen. Is that a fair assessment of the situation?"

"We're here because we're following orders," Kane said. "And we will do everything possible to maintain the stability of this situation."

"Right," Jake said. "Like trading barbs with an enemy commander over a grudge."

Kane hesitated; it was rare, but it was one of the reactions Jake had discovered he could occasionally provoke from his commanding officer. "Weakness before the Klingons will not serve our purpose."

Jake sighed. "You're not wrong... but look me in the eye and tell me you're not expecting us to shoot our way out of here."

Kane met Jake's eyes. "We will not initiate any hostile action."

"It's not that simple!" Jake shouted. Immediately, he looked around, embarrassed at the idea that the officers waiting on the bridge would hear him. He took a deep breath, then raised his eyes to meet Kane's once more. Kane didn't blink, he didn't falter, nor did he make any gesture that indicated that Jake should quit while he was ahead, and so Jake pressed on.

"Is'toQ is ready to settle it now," Jake said. "Obviously you know that, or we wouldn't be playing our last card to prevent him from finishing a conversation with you. I get that we're buying time for the ground team. We've bought them, what, maybe 15 minutes? That isn't a long-term strategy, sir, and we're getting scary close to the only logical outcome."

Kane leaned back in his chair. "Which is?"

"We piss off the Klingons," Jake shrugged. "They roll in, make everyone within a single AU sorry for it, and go back to conquering whatever bug crawled up their ass this week. Meanwhile, Starfleet burns a handful of ships trying to protect border territories they could give two shits about."

"Fair enough," Kane said. "I appreciate your hesitancy, Commander. Let me assure you that my standing orders are to preserve this ship and its crew, regardless of the mandate of any subsequent order I might receive."

“Which brings me back to my original question,” Jake said. “We’ve got every Klingon gun left in the quadrant pointed directly at us. Even if we pick up the away team without being discovered, you really think Is’toQ is going to let you turn around and go home?”

Kane’s organic eye narrowed slightly at Jake’s use of “you” instead of “us” in that final sentence. He leaned forward, the computer console mounted to his desk momentarily forgotten. “This isn’t the first time we’ve found ourselves surrounded by enemies, Jake.”

“No sir,” Jake admitted. “It’s not.”

“So what’s different now?”

From his expression, Kane seemed to already know the answer, but it still took Jake a few moments to arrive at it himself.

“My children are aboard, sir.”

“They were aboard before,” Kane pointed out. “When we were on the run from Starfleet.”

“That was different,” Jake said. He finally sank into one of the chairs before Kane’s desk, and his fingers rubbed absently at his temples. “There weren’t any good alternatives then. Edgerton wasn’t going to leave us alone even if we swore off the chase and started wearing Neo-Essentialist armbands.”

“And now?” Kane asked.

“Now,” Jake looked around. “Things are more or less back to normal, it doesn’t feel like the fate of the damn galaxy hinges on our success or failure. But just the same, here we are again, poised either to die or to kill a whole bunch of people. Exactly where we’ve been for years now. And… I’m starting to wonder if it’s really just the job, or…”

There was a characteristic hardness to Michael Kane’s expression, a kind of natural armor he wore into every conflict, every debate, every confrontation. It had served him well in the past, so well that some might say that Kane had taken to wearing it all the time, using to smash his way through relationships like a snow plow. Rare was the person who shared a room with Michael Turlogh Kane without knowing exactly where they stood in his esteem.

Yet now, at this moment, the plow dropped. The armor slipped off, and Kane sat in front of Jake not as his commanding officer, but as a man steeling himself against bad news.

“Or what?” Kane asked.

“Or if it’s you,” Jake finished.

The statement hung suspended in the silence between the two men, sat at either end of the captain’s desk; two men, who had grown to trust each other across years of adversity, now perhaps finally compromised by a rift in their principles. At this moment, Jake thought he finally understood the fundamental difference between Kane and himself: Kane would not lose. He would never retreat, never give in, except perhaps as a feint to ensure total victory further down the line. And Jake… in the end, Jake would fold. To protect his children, to protect his crew, or simply to avoid having to kill in defense of his principles, Jake would give in.

It was why Kane had been the captain they needed during the Neo-Essentialist crisis. Richard Edgerton’s totalitarian designs on the Federation would brook no dissent, no resistance, not even the hint of philosophical disagreement. To preserve the good that the Federation had stood for, they had needed a man like Kane, a man willing to damn himself to protect what he believed in. But now, the threat of the Neo-Essentialists had grown distant, the business of the Federation had gone on more or less as usual, and Jake Crichton had begun to wonder if the galaxy still needed men like Kane.

Both men understood this, and neither spoke for it seemed there was nothing left to say, no further case to be made in either direction. But the silence could not stretch on forever – lives were still at stake, after all – and eventually it was the captain that broke the silence.

“It sounds like we have a lot to talk about,” Kane said. “This isn’t the time.”

“No,” Jake said. “I’m sorry sir. It isn’t.”

“Jake...,” Kane said.

Then, the red alert klaxons cut through the space between them like a bladed pendulum. Both men were on their feet immediately, trading only a momentary shared glance between them in acknowledgement of what had passed before, and what must eventually come after, always of course supposing that they survived what lay ahead.


SCENE: Bridge

Jake followed Kane back out onto the bridge. The atmosphere of tension they’d stepped out of only a few minutes before had blossomed into a full-fledged, crawling terror. At tactical, Procter had gone white as a ghost. Dr. Crow’s eyes flitted nervously between Kane, Byte, and Procter. Only the android Byte seemed unaffected; he turned on a mechanical heel to glance nonchalantly at Kane and Jake as they stepped out of the CO’s Ready Room.

{{We have detected incoming warp signatures, captain,}} Byte said at once.

Kane’s step halted just for a moment as he absorbed this new information. He let out a terse, irritated sigh.

“The Orions.”

{{Yes sir,}} Byte nodded. {{Preliminary scans suggest a significant number of ships… perhaps the bulk of the Orion fleet.}}

“And we’re in the middle,” Jake said.

Kane glanced at him, but Jake was already stepping forward, manning his post. Kane felt a mad urge to say something, but this wasn’t the time and there was, perhaps, nothing to say. Instead, he stepped up beside Jake, and together they watched as the vanguard of the Orion fleet began to drop out of warp before them.


NRPG: This took far, far too long, for which I am very sorry. I hope it makes for a nice holiday gift for you just the same.

Sorry to send this twice, I forgot to update the subject line on the first one.

Shawn Putnam
Jake Crichton
Executive Officer


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