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AFTERMATH: DISPLACEMENT

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Chapter One

The Sun is the Same

“Half impulse, Lieutenant Patel.” Lorca settles into the captain’s chair. It’s good to be back. He wouldn’t be in Starfleet if he hated going into space, but this time it feels different to him. As Buran passes the “dark” side of the Moon, starry with the lights of civilization, his mind goes over the last couple of days with Kat. He always says a long mental farewell as his ship travels out of the solar system. Once they hit warp, he closes his feelings into the box he only opens when he’s alone in his quarters. Sometimes he and Kat will be able to comm daily. Sometimes they’ll get very busy and won’t manage. But they’ll try.

He’s thinking of last night. Their vigorous lovemaking, consuming each other to the point of satiety, then the tender aftermath, as they curved toward each other like tight parentheses.

.

Kat looks up to see Gabriel looking at her deeply, as if saying farewell. She touches his face. “I’m going to miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too.” He takes her hand, folding his own around it. “Listen. I love you, Kat. I don’t know what’s going to happen. You know I’ve left you a letter—”

She leans up on an elbow, looking down at him. “Gabriel, where’s this coming from? You’ve gone out on Buran time after time, for months at a time. We’ve said goodbye many times before, but this … are you worried about something?”

He frowns a little, checking his feelings, and shrugs. “I guess I am. No idea why, it’s just … coming in on me. Sorry. I don’t mean to spook you.”

“It’s okay, we can talk about it.”

“It’s not something I can really identify well enough to talk about.”

“Let’s explore that.”

He gives her a side-eye, one gradation back from full eyeroll. “You know I hate it when you …”

“Well, I am a psychiatrist. So you can expect this. I think you’d know this after 30 years. So use me.”

He smirks. “I thought I just did.”

She doesn’t bristle, exactly, but her expression is serious. “You have never in your life used me that way. That’s what I love about you. If there’s any ‘using,’ it’s mutual, and it’s really too caring to be ‘using’.”

“It  was a really lame joke.” He gives her a crooked smile. And her smile is a gift in return. How I love you, he thinks.

“I forgive you.” Kat sits all the way up, resting a hand on his chest. He holds it.

His thumb strokes her palm and where his fingers hold her hand, her skin is thinner than it used to be, wrinkling slightly. She looks fragile and slight of body, but she’s not. She’s tough and though slender, her muscles are solid. He thinks of her as a woman with tensile strength. Flexible at the right times, command-wise, personally, physically. His fierce Kat.

“Is it a physical feeling?”

“Hon, I can’t figure it out. Let me look things over again, maybe I’ll be able to.” He kisses her palm and sits up himself, reaching for the Padd on the night table.

“Stop that. Let it come to you in your sleep. You’ll be able to tell me in the morning.” She settles down, curving into him.

He kisses her shoulder to send her to sleep on a smile. “I told Some Guy to take good care of you.”

Kat’s eyes crinkle at the corners as she pets the Siamese, who’s lying by her pillow. “He always does.” She’s already going to sleep when she pats Lorca’s shoulder. “Sleep well …”

He lies awake for a little while, trying to analyze his feelings, some lines from an old song repeating in his mind.

*So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking

Racing around to come up behind you again.

The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older,

Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death.*

 

Christ, he thinks as he drifts off uneasily to sleep. I’ve never felt this morbid before.

.

Buran passes Pluto. Lorca quirks a little smile. Such a controversy, hundreds of years ago, when Earth’s astronomers determined Pluto was too small to be considered a planet.

Time changes us all, he thinks.

“Warp Six, Mr Patel. Go.”

 

_________________________

*Lyrics by Roger Waters, Pink Floyd, “Dark Side of the Moon”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

.

Cornwell has asked the Fleet Comms Center to put her through to the Buran. She didn’t have any luck getting through last night from home.

Lorca’s weary face appears on her screen. His expression brightens when he sees her. The signal isn’t strong enough for a good hologram, and she can’t hug a hologram any more than she could a 2-D image. “Hi, dawlin’,” he says.

“Hi yourself,” Kat smiles. “You look tired.”

“Oh thanks a lot.” He rubs a hand through his hair. “I would’ve called last night but we were in a shitstorm with some Orion syndicate ships. They hit our propulsion units and life support after they took down our shields.” He snorts softly, his expression disgusted. “Probably hoped they’d find us dead in a few days so they could pick the ship clean. We used the last of our dilithium to regain propulsion and power our ship’s systems.”

“Oh, Gabriel. I did request more dilithium be allocated for Buran, since you were going on patrol out in Syndicate areas, but as usual, we had to divvy it up carefully.”

“I know, hon.”

 “Where are you going to get it? Oh! You’re out near Prior’s World.”

“Yep.” A weary smile. “The crew deserve some R & R, anyway. It’s the next best thing to Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet.”

“Well before you go whoop it up, get some rest. And drink some damn water, I can tell you’re dehydrated.”

He rears his head and laughs. “My wrinkles gettin’ deep again?”

“Yes, and you know how I like a nice smooth complexion in my captains.”

“Ha, ha. But you’re stuck with me.”

“’Stuck’ is not the word I’d use.” Looking at him fondly, she sees his humorous expression fade.

Suddenly his eyes are wide and serious, and he’s looking deeply into hers. “You know how much I love you, Kat.”

She holds very still, composing herself, and gives him what he calls his favorite smile. “I know. I wish I could hold you right now.”

“I miss you …”

“… so much,” she finishes. Despite her efforts, her eyes have become hot with tears, and she folds her arms tightly to her waist. It’s been a very long time, and her body positively aches for him.

Her intercom chimes. “Commodore Mendez for you, Admiral,” says Gallien.

“I will return his comm in a few minutes,” Kat snaps, cutting him off.

“Look, I …” Gabriel’s eyes close briefly. “Remember the night before I left?”

“Yes.” A chasm opens inside of her.

“I’m just … not sure what’s gonna happen tomorrow. Something’s been bugging me for a few days and I haven’t slept much. And the Orions took me by surprise, I don’t like surprises and I wasn’t on my guard.”

“So you’re feeling—“

“Like hell, for one thing.” He laughs a little and his brows go up. “Can I ask you to forget that? That whole ‘feeling’ thing?”

“Sure,” she says, the helplessness deepening.

“I don’t want you to worry.”

She nods, I know. “I try not to, Gabriel. You’re doing what you absolutely love.” She can’t help it, her eyes are wet. She swallows the tears as best she can.

He puts his hand up to his brow to shade his eyes. “Damn it, Kat.” When he moves his hand away, she sees his eyes are gleaming too, and he touches the screen. “Here I was tryin’ to be cool. Doesn’t work with you, does it.”

She touches her screen as if their fingers could meet. “Well … no, it doesn’t. I can read you like a book, mister.”

“I’ll be back in a couple of months. Keep away from those smooth admirals.”

“The only admiral around here I really like is Sivahn, and she has three spouses.”

He grins at her; then his mouth softens into that sweet, intimate smile she loves so much, his eyes bright. He looks ten years younger. “I’ll be sure to drink more water, dawlin’. As for you, knock off the caffeine a few hours before bedtime, okay?”

“I promise.”

“Give Some Guy some head scratches for me. Remember I love you always.”

Her smile is tremulous and she puts her hand up to her heart. “Always.”

 

When the screen goes dark and brings up the Starfleet Command symbol, she goes to the head and washes her face. Patting it dry with a towel, she won’t look in the mirror. She wants nothing to interrupt the picture of Gabriel’s smiling face that’s in her mind.

She calls Mendez, and they discuss personnel assignments and a few legal and psych cases that have cropped up. Several instances of PTSD manifesting as violence and one, as self-harm, and then one kid who apparently faked his psych evals at the Academy, and wigged out during a field exercise. After she and the commodore sign off, she assigns each case to a legal and mental health care team, and moves the cadet from the Academy hospital to Inpatient Psychiatry.

Sometimes she misses her days working in that field, even though she generally enjoys her job as a flag officer at SFHQ. But today she would welcome being absorbed in the work of helping someone heal.

 

Chapter Text

Captain’s Personal Log, Stardate 2561013

We’re approaching Prior’s World with the extra medicines we procured at Starbase 11. We’ll trade for dilithium. It will be a challenge to get as much as I’d like to have. After our run-in with the Orion Syndicate, I really want to be prepared. We’ve been conserving warp power as much as possible since then.

It’s been a productive few months: we opened trade negotiations on two planets; made first contact with the Loreans, the Didik, and the Zabu. I’m not always as comfortable in first contacts as I’d like to be – Uwe is much better at that – but the Didik have a form of music that I really enjoyed hearing after our initial meeting, and we did some cultural exchange there. They seem to enjoy jazz.  I’m also pleased to note that we’ve completed 34 planetary surveys. Twenty-one planets had civilizations in various stages of development, and 13 are possible prospects for Federation settlement, depending on the results of the next several surveys.

I just realized this is like a summary of our accomplishments, most of which I detailed in the official log.

He pauses a moment, runs a palm down his face and re-starts, going to the replicator to get some water.

I talked to my moms last night. Transmission quality is awful from this region, but I got my love for them across and enjoyed seeing them joking around with each other and doing the same with me. Mama Lurlene’s played a few concerts and is feelin’ good, and Mom is busy planning more projects for the settlement on Deneva. I really tried hard to conceal how uneasy I am right now, and I think I passed; even Lurlene didn’t say anything. As usual Mom gave me shit about my haircut with the military taper. She likes the way I used to wear it. So does Kat, for that matter. I just say I like a little more breeze around my ears than I used to.

I remain concerned for reasons I can’t explain even to myself. I have used enormous care in every situation, but the feeling persists.

Kat’s tried to discuss it with me several times, but I hate trying to zero in on feelings I don’t understand. I love her very much, but that’s one of the most frustrating aspects of our relationship. It’s not that she’s being a pushy psychiatrist, it’s that she wanted to help because she saw that I was worried. She already knows I analyze the facts available then go with my gut; that I don’t examine my own feelings on things as much as she does her own. And to be fair, she has caught a few things that made me question myself more carefully. I just wanted to drink her in, enjoy her presence, BE with her in the moment, and it was hard to say that without being rude.

That is the last thing I’d want to be. God I love that woman.

/\

He’s satisfied when he calls the Buran for beam-out. He beamed up the dilithium already, he just wanted to look in at the Bolian jeweler’s to see if they had any good diamonds. He wants Kat to have some earrings to go with the “Big Stupid Diamond” he bought her a few months ago … a couple of years early, before her 60th birthday. The necklace put the diamond just above the cleft of her breasts, and could be hidden under her uniform tunic.

That last morning, they’d woken at 0500, made love and had coffee outside on the foggy balcony, wrapped up warm together on the porch swing, Somchai purring between them. Indoors, he changed into his uniform and zipped up his tunic as she pinned on his badge. When he kissed her goodbye, she was wearing her green silk kimono with the cranes on it. She hugged him tightly, and he stroked her hair and kissed her face; their lips met and after the third kiss he had to tear himself away. At the door he turned and gave her a long, loving look and a confident smile. “Some Guy will look after you till I’m home. Be good to yourself, Kat. Love you.”

She gazed at him. “Love you too. Safe travels, spaceman.” Her hand went up to touch the necklace.

He wants her to have that reminder of him. Always.

.

He hasn’t finished with the jeweler yet when his communicator beeps.

“Captain, we’re detecting an ion storm,” says Commander T’Lenn.

“Beam me up on my signal.” He makes his apologies to the jeweler and walks outside. “Go.”

Chapter Text

 

It’s a rough transport. Re-materializing takes an uncomfortable – painful – amount of time. His nerves tingle and burn; he’s consciously aware and then standing, bewildered, like a child without words. He gets a vision of concerned faces on the Buran; his guts are churning and he feels as if he’s falling. An ion storm was coming into the space around Prior’s World, and materializing, he sees Buran’s transporter room. But it’s dark. Darker, anyway. The crew he sees are all humans, and none are familiar to him. Phlaxita, the Denobulan transporter technician who beamed him down to Prior’s World, is nowhere to be seen.

Lorca is surprised to note grim faces, and … black uniforms. Everyone gives him a Roman Legion-style salute, fist to the chest, arm straightening. “Long live the Empire!” He returns it. And a good thing, because he feels an unfamiliar vibe from the Buran crewmembers, an undercurrent of fear in everyone. Fear covering hostility. The captain glances down; his uniform is black too, and instead of a tactical vest there’s silver-inscribed, dark leather-faced armor covering his torso. He would marvel at its intricacy, but based on the nasty atmosphere, sets his mouth in a thin line and looks up frowning.

“What the hell are you staring at,” he snaps. “Back to work. I’m going to my quarters.”

He strides briskly there. The passageways are quite changed, golden instead of the usual brushed chrome look. Clearly he is on a different vessel. But …“Empire”?  Is this some elaborate Section 31 ruse? Is he in a dream state in the transporter buffer?

But it’s the Buran, or at least in her same class; the ship’s configuration is exactly the same, the trip from his beam-in point to his quarters exactly as long. The code at the door stops him: he punches the code he uses for his personal lockers on the Buran. It works. The quarters, when the door opens, are quite … luxurious. There are draperies. And silken pillows.

And a nude Commander Ellen Landry, uncoiling from a couch facing the viewport, where the couch’s back has blocked her from his view. Quite attractive, and fighting fit, that would be Landry, but he’s never seen her in anything smaller than her uniform and has to cover his shock. He forcibly curbs his impulse to burst out with: “Landry, what the hell!”

Her dark eyes are devouring as she sways toward him. He almost lowers his eyes in embarrassment; instead, he raises his hands, trying to keep his eyes on hers, and assumes a rueful smile. “Sorry, Landr – Ellen, I’m too tired to do anything right now. I feel like I was shot at and missed, and shit at and hit.”

She runs a hand down his arm, then diagonally across his chest, and takes his hand, raising it up to the level of her breast— Lorca steps back, frowning, and Landry raises a skeptical eyebrow, pursing her lips. “You want me gone?” He’s never noticed what angular beauty her face has.

He nods, rubbing his forehead for effect. “Yeah. For now. I need some sleep.”

Landry takes her time putting on her uniform, occasionally glancing over her shoulder at him, eyes smoldering, and needs extra time with her boots: they’re a different type than the Starfleet issue Lorca wore down to Prior’s world. They’re like the ones he’s wearing now. Leather, buckled, higher than …  

She comes over to him, form-fitting leather breastplate in hand. “Would you mind doing this, or should I call a slave?” A slave?! As he helps her into it, he mentally counts to keep his breath, and his hands, steady. This is not the Ellen Landry he knows. She just came aboard upon the last deployment as his new head of Security. She showed a spark of interest in him, but he’s never had to turn away an advance.

Dear God, let me not fuck this up, whatever this is.

Landry turns to him, puts her hands on his waist and suggestively slides them down his hips, looking up into his face. He smiles awkwardly, then realizes she would not expect such a response. He lifts his eyebrows suggestively and rasps, “Later,” as if he’s too aroused to speak normally.

She gives him a look before she walks out, one he can’t interpret. The door rolls shut behind her. Was it malicious? Suspicious? Sensual?

Well, what the fuck do I do now?

Information. That’s what he needs first. Or to take off this breastplate. Both.

“Computer.” He stops for a beat. The suspicion he’s encountered so far leads him to think every comm is monitored for some higher-up to examine. “… Give me this month’s statistics report.” 

“State command code.”

He pauses, then says, “Lorca Alpha 495 Delta.” Will it work?

“Current monthly report for Imperial Starship Buran. Seventeen rebel ships destroyed, one thousand thirty-two prisoners taken, forty-eight executions. Prisoners distributed to planet Vulcan, Andor, and Terra, in groups of two hundred forty-six for slave labor.”

 Oh, my god. The power of warp drive and advanced weapons, with no regulation, in service to an Emperor? He takes a deep breath, trying to stop the shaking in his core.

“Planets surveyed for assets to the Empire: Thirty-four; exploitable resources on twenty-nine. Exploitable sentient resources on thirty-three. Further details available, do you wish them now?”

“N-no,” says Lorca, fumbling at the breastplate with shaking hands. He manages to get it off, letting it fall to the floor. He sinks onto the couch, checking out his boots, and begins unbuckling them. No Starfleet arrowhead quick-release fasteners here.

Implacably the statistics continue: “Six executions of ISS Buran officers, for insubordination or disloyal speech: Ensign Boland, Ensign Corrigan, Ensign DeMarchi, Ensign Dinesh, Lieutenant Jarombek, Lieutenant Xhiang.”

Disloyal speech!?

“Ship’s Systems and Materiel: twelve phaser cannons working, two under repair; photon torpedos, number, 226; Engineering reports repairs to warp nacelle number three are proceeding apace; replicators and galley are functional. Captain’s mess has only two Kelpiens remaining in livestock stores, three Gorn;  two steers, five Cetarian Eels; seventeen Legarian langoustines; eight kilos of taba root, two of masrada; three kilos Ventiane lettuces; four—”

“Stop. Jesus,” Lorca mutters. Kelpiens? Gorn? What kind of people eat sentients? This is nothing like home. Whatever this is, it sure isn’t like any kind of Starfleet I know. It’s like an antithesis. Or a nightmare.

His head is pounding in earnest now. “Computer. Pain relievers and a glass of water.”

“Do you wish narcotic or non-narcotic?”

“Non-narcotic.” As if he’d dare risk his awareness in this bizarre situation!

The replicator’s in the same place, but the little door is golden, or polished brass—there is gold trim and velvet everywhere—his bed is curtained off from the rest of his quarters by heavy silk drapes. He swallows his pills and downs the entire glass of water, peeking into the bed … chamber? It’s not larger than his own, but again, more ornate, and instead of the sleek sculptures he has in his quarters, these are sculptures that look as if wrought from a nightmare. People depicted in agony, or torturous lust.

Lorca sinks wearily down onto the bed. What now? A shower. Maybe that’ll help clear my mind. He had a dusty time on Prior’s World, but he didn’t feel really dirty until after a few minutes here, in the captain’s quarters.

.

Refreshed, he steps out of the shower, to find a Kelpien male waiting, with a towel ready to wrap around him. “Forgive me, master—”

“--Captain,” Lorca snaps.

A click of surprise comes from the Kelpien’s mouth. “… Captain. Forgive me; Commander Landry asked me to leave, earlier. I did not know—”

“Spare me,” says Lorca, inhabiting a certainly disagreeable character. He motions the servant away, drying himself. Chrissakes, they even have people to dry them off? Slaves? What the hell IS this?

He snatches the towel and dismisses the Kelpien, and, drying himself, queries the computer again, accessing the personal logs. What he learns about Captain Lorca—from “Captain Lorca”—chills him to the marrow. Musings of a man who views murder, enslavement, genocide, paranoia, and personal manipulation as the usual order of business.

There’s a pause. A holovid begins. He’s staring at an image of himself-not-himself, by the standing desk in his Ready Room. The eyes are cold and distant, then focus and soften. He’s saying, “Michael, I miss you. I’m in deep shit with the Emp—with your mother. She thinks I killed you, damn her. I hope we find each other before she gets to me, I hear she’s hunting me down on Charon now; they succeeded with the mycelial drive and launched the thing a while back. That ship has greater power than we’ve ever seen, so I’m prepared for anything. She may kill me, but I’ll do my damndest to kill her first.

“You and I are never going to be together as long as she’s alive. If this is the last you hear of me, I love you, Michael. You would have been my queen.” The other Lorca’s eyes are gleaming and he reaches out; the recording ends.

Lorca sighs, shaken. I’m feeling my way through the dark, here. Deep and dangerous waters.

.

“Captain to the bridge. ISS Charon is signaling.”

Showtime, god help me. “I’m on my way.” He hastily buckles on his boots again and adds the breastplate to his black uniform, fastening it as he walks quickly to the command center. Charon, from the ancient myth. Hope I don’t end up across the River Styx.

He’s assembled his thoughts by the time he steps onto the bridge, and is ready when he sees the officers looking at him expectantly. “On screen,” he says, mentally bracing himself.

Emperor Philippa Georgiou appears, resplendent in a high-collared golden coat flowing in a molten train  behind her, worn over the black uniform, with an ornate gold breastplate covering her torso. She looks at him coldly, waiting for something. He inclines his head in a gesture of respect. She frowns, raising her chin, and says, “Do you not know how to greet your Emperor? Or have you forgotten me in your quest for power?”

He gives the salute they gave him when he came aboard, saying “Long live the Empi-- Emperor!”

“Do you not bow to your Emperor, Lorca?”

He renders the bow of a courtier, with a flourish of his hand. The bridge crew are glancing at him. Too much, he guesses, for Georgiou’s lips tighten with displeasure.

“How dare you offer a loyalist’s salute! And in such an elaborate manner as to mock me. You betrayed me in the worst way. A ‘loyal’ general who seduced my daughter and took her from me. And now …” The Emperor raises an eyebrow. “You are sweating like a Kelpien in a stew pot. Are you aware of all I know, Lorca?”

This is frightening indeed.

 Her face is now a mask of cold rage, her next words bitter with hate, rage sharpening each one as a dagger meant to pierce the heart. “You … killed … my daughter.”

As he shakes his head the Emperor’s hand comes to rest on the hilt of a longsword which hangs at her waist.

“Traitor!” she spits. “I would keep you in misery for the rest of your days, or cut you to pieces with my sword, but you do not deserve to live any longer—even in an agonizer booth. Those who serve you are also condemned to die. You have inspired such intense loyalty in them, just as you did to my Michael before you killed her. They cannot be trusted.” She nods to someone off screen.

“Shields up!” Lorca yells. The Buran is rocked by weapons fire.

“Captain, we are no match for—”

“Do it! Helm, warp us out of here! Fight, damn you!”

The ship leaps into warp, but Charon is right behind her, firing a horrendous barrage of torpedoes and phasers. Buran’s shields are holding. For now.

Landry speeds over from Tactical, takes Lorca by the elbow, and starts to steer him off the bridge. The helm officer looks over her shoulder to see him leaving and steps up to the center of the bridge deck. Lorca nods to her, as if he’s decided this. “You have the conn.” To Landry, he murmurs, “I can’t leave them—”

“They’d be traitors to you in an instant if they could win command. They’re on their own. We have one chance,” Landry says as they run through the passageway. “I’ll sound Abandon Ship.  Some of them may escape the Emperor’s phasers, but Buran …”

His stomach sinking, Gabriel finishes, “… is a loss.”

They stop at an alcove where he sees two escape pods.  Landry smacks her hand on a button and an alarm sounds. The ship slows to impulse power, and a male voice comes over the intercom. “Abandon ship. Abandon ship. All personnel, abandon ship.”

She unseals his escape pod, pulls Lorca toward her and kisses him passionately. He kisses her back, the finality  It may be the last human contact either of us will ever have, god help us.

Landry goes to the next pod, pops its hatch, and looks at him, her dark eyes gleaming with ferocity and tears. “Live, Gabriel. Live, and conquer. I’ll find you if I can.”

He essays a smile, concerned for their survival, wanting to live. “Courage, Ellen.” Stepping in, sealing the hatch, he closes his eyes with hope, calling Kat Cornwell’s face to mind, Kat smiling, outdoors, the scent of California redwoods in the mist.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 He materialized aboard the Buran, but …

It was very bright. His eyes adjusted. It was all he could do not to wince.

No salute. He hid his indignation, because there were aliens at the console here. The two crewmembers were wearing blue, not black uniforms, with no armor. There was one officer and one specialist. No guards.

A tolerant, gentler … place, then. Perhaps something to do with the USS Defiant incident, which had accelerated the rise of the Empire. As a senior captain in the Terran forces Lorca had, of course, been briefed. He nodded stiffly, went to the Bridge, and quickly assessed the surroundings. Aliens in positions of trust there, as well. The adjutant rose from the command chair. A Vulcan. Where is Landry? “As you were,” he said.

He paced quickly down the corridor, took the turbolift to the usual deck. His quarters were in the same place, and the doors opened when he said his name as he approached. They’re trusting. This must be the same space where the Defiant came from. Amazing parallel development.

As soon as he was inside the spartan quarters, he accessed the ship’s logs and listened to the last month’s entries, learning something of the command structure and the mission. He found the captain’s personal log. He gave it his attention but briefly. It was far more important to become educated about Starfleet and the Federation.

He began studying in earnest, learning everything he could in the first 14 hours. He left the device on audio when he went to bed, trying to absorb further the other Lorca’s speaking style and way of thinking as he slept.

He dreamed of Michael Burnham. Her dark eyes, sharp with ambition; her low voice, its determined tones; her mind, her brilliance.

Making love with her, her dark smooth skin against his paleness, the cloudy softness of her hair, her voice when she climaxes. She is the only woman Lorca has ever loved in his life, or ever will love. Other women are fine for sex. But love? Only Michael. How long before he can see her again? How long before he and Michael can depose Philippa and be co-rulers in her place? He sees them on thrones, side by side, Michael all in gold, himself in black, their swords as scepters … loyal Terran soldiers at their feet. He turns to smile at her. “My empress,” he murmurs. Her smile is beautiful.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Gabriel Lorca comes to, blinking, reaching up a hand to massage the bridge of his nose and the orbital sockets just below his eyebrows.

Head hurts like hell. What happened, where am I …? Oh ….

Looking around, he notes the lighting in here is lower than in any sickbay he’s ever been in. Night conditions?  Dimly he sees two people by the door who look like security personnel. What the fuck?

A doctor appears. Civilian clothes, hard worn, but a traditional white coat and a bioscanner which he’s waving over the captain. He’s a young guy, brown hair, brown eyes, with a cynical twist to his lips. “Doctor Leonard McCoy. Looks like you’re gonna live. You look like you’re in pain. I derma-sealed the phaser burn on your forehead. I got some pain relievers but I‘ve gotta conserve them for now. Is it really bad?”

He doesn’t feel up to speaking much. “Captain Gabriel Lorca. Got something cold I can put on my head?” He’s barely aware that the security people put hands to their weapons, at the ready.

“Sure.” He turns to get something and presses a cold pack onto Lorca’s forehead. “You got yourself stunned on Prior’sWorld. Where you from?”

“Earth. New Orleans. USA.”

“I’m from Georgia myself. Good to meet you. ‘Earth,’ you said?”

“Yeah.” Lorca holds up a hand in a “stop” gesture. “Please. Can I just …”

McCoy nods, lowers the lights in this section of the small sickbay, and Lorca drops off to sleep.

.

Waking, he sees the doctor punching a wall comm and speaking briefly; he can’t hear the words. He feels muzzy. I must have been stunned by a phaser then, not just knocked on the head. At least the headache’s lessened. A little.

The security people, a tall human male and a Vulcan woman are still there, by the door.

“How ya feelin’?”

“Okay, I guess.” Lorca tries to sit up, winces at the sudden pressure in his head, and the doctor puts a hand on his chest.

“Forget it. I’m not releasing you for a while yet.”

“Where am I?” I’m sure as hell not on the Buran. But she … she was different, not my ship … black uniforms … but now Lorca’s in civilian clothes. He can hardly think.

McCoy smiles a little and says, “Meet our captain.”

An Andorian woman with a fringe of white bangs on her forehead and a thick white braid falling over her shoulder steps over to his bed, and Lorca’s stomach drops with shock. “Jhimal,” he breathes. But you died. You died a few years ago. Did you have a twin? The security guards are within two paces of Lorca’s biobed. She has room to move freely though.

“Yes, I am Captain Jhimal. Have we met before?” Her deep purple eyes are examining his face and it’s clear she doesn’t recognize Gabriel at first. Then he sees something dawns on her, because her eyes narrow.

“I’m afraid I’m at a loss. The Jhimal I know … she died in a battle with the Klingons.”

“ ‘The Jhimal I know?’ The Klingons?” She smiles; it’s the same sinister smile he remembers. “Their world is destroyed and they are scattered far and wide. There are two of my acquaintance, brave warriors, but Klingons are few these days. Hardly enough to get into a battle as a group. Tell me who you are.”

“Captain Gabriel Lorca, USS Buran, Starfleet.”

She raises her eyebrows. “ ‘U’ SS Buran? Starfleet?” Her hand moves to the hilt of a dagger at her hip.

Lorca sighs sharply. “United Federation of Planets, Starship Buran.”

Jhimal and the doctor exchange a look. Lorca sits up, and puts both hands up to his head, which is again hurting like a bitch.

“I’m Jim Kirk,” says one of the security people, stepping to his bedside. “That’s T’Pren.” The Vulcan woman nods and goes back to stand by the door. Like Jhimal and McCoy two are dressed casually. No uniforms here. Kirk’s tall and muscular, with short, sandy hair, glacier-blue eyes and thick black eyebrows. Lorca can feel energy from him in waves. “If you make a move against any of us, I’ll put you down like a dog.”

It hurts to talk but Lorca snaps, “Where the hell am I? And who are you people, really?” He’s tense with anger and the words come out through gritted teeth.

Jhimal says, “We’ll talk again soon. The doctor has something for you.” She leaves. Kirk does not.

McCoy walks over and slaps another cold pack into Lorca’s hand. “Put this under your head above the nape of your neck and lie the hell down.” He gets a second pack and lays it across Lorca’s forehead. “Be grateful we grabbed you or you’d be dead.”

On Prior’sWorld? The mellow sort of lawless place where I was hoping to score some dilithium? Oh what the hell ….

The doctor gives him a shot this time, a sedative which goes right to work, and Lorca falls back to sleep.

.

He’s skinny dipping with Kat, in one of their favorite spots; they’re getting a bit chilly in the water and swim over to each other and hug, treading water. She smiles, that toothy grin he loves, her dimples on full display. He’s always loved the way her eyes have a spark of humor most of the time when she’s with him. And she is sexy as ever. More mature, more wrinkles, but he has the years and the wrinkles too. They wade out of the water, walk up to their blanket on the sand, and she sits in the middle of it, pulling him down as she lies back. Only their feet are sandy; Kat’s knees are at his sides, and she’s ready for him, pulling at his hips. “Patience,” he smiles. “All good things come in time.”

As usual she shakes her head, green eyes twinkling. “Well come here then,” and hugs him around his chest, kissing his lips, then his open mouth, and they break, looking deeply into each other’s eyes; he strokes her below, her silkiness, the wet warmth, curls two fingers inside of her, bringing them out, stroking, stroking … he’s watching her face in between kissing her breasts, and hears a little mewl from her; moving, he enters her, pushing slowly into that incomparable heat, can there be a better feeling for a human? He’s saying “Mmmm,” deep in his throat, and Kat’s eyes close as she murmurs “Love you.”

He studies her; as he moves in her, deeply, slowly, she opens her mouth slightly, sometimes biting her lip, sometimes sighing; and as the intensity builds in his senses, his heart is pounding, he sees the line above Kat’s nose, the little wrinkles at the insides of her brows – that expression that tells him she’s really close – and he feels himself swelling inside her, she’s pressing her head back and making those little throaty mmmph sounds, and he moves more quickly and her sighs become explosive, and he moans deep, supremely happy as she tightens around him in pulses of orgasm and he comes, too, with a low cry. He moves as if to lie next to her and she says, “Stay a minute, I like to feel your weight on me sometimes, you know.” He slides his forearms under her shoulders and puts his face next to hers, gently kissing her cheeks, her lately wrinkled brow, her eyelids, down to her mouth. They love to kiss, and indulge themselves, light kisses, open-mouth slides, kisses with moaning, and liquid sounds, just some of the lovely things people can make together.

.

He wakes with a start. A young green-skinned woman with curly red hair and blue eyes is perched on the edge of his bed, holding a bioscanner. “I’m Gaila,” she says. “I’m the engineer but I’m also one of the medics. Doc has to sleep sometimes!” Her smile is playful and sweet. What a relief. “Doc wanted me to check on you and the captain wants to see you.” She scans him. “How are you feeling?”

“My head doesn’t hurt so much now.”

“Do you want to sit up?”

He does, more slowly than usual, but there’s no longer an excess of pressure in his head. He notes that Jim Kirk is still present, but the woman, T’Pren, is gone. He swings his legs off the bed and gets to his feet … Gaila takes his elbow to help him stay upright. “Give me a second,” he says, and finds his balance.

“Are you all right now?”

He nods.

“Come with me,” she says. She moves like a dancer. Orion? He doesn’t feel enveloped in sexual desire, so she must be on a pheromone suppression protocol.

“May I ask … are you Orion?”

“I am. Did my red hair throw you off?”

“I guess.”

“I’m very proud of it,” she smiles. “A few clans have red and blonde hair, so we like to think we’re distinctive, with our curls and all.”

“Well, you’re—” quite attractive, he was going to say, but Kirk, who has swung in behind them, shoves him in the back. “Keep your eyes to yourself. And show some respect for our captain, too.”

They exit Sickbay, and in the corridor is the Andorian captain. Tall as he remembers, lithe as he remembers. Long ago, in their Command Training School days, if he hadn’t loved Kat, and if Jhimal hadn’t been married, he would’ve been very interested in her.

 “Captain. Can you tell me anything about where … where I am?”

“I will.” She points and they enter a room next door to Sickbay.

Gaila goes to a corner. “Come, have a seat,” She indicates a chair next to some equipment.

As he sits, Jhimal stands before him. Her eyes are just as penetrating as “his” Jhimal’s were. “First, we have questions for you. We will connect you with a brain scanner to detect any lies. Do not prevaricate with me. Do you understand?”

Chapter Text

 

Gaila runs some wires to his forehead, temples, and hands, securing them with sticky pads, while Kirk and the captain watch. So. Not the elite force here, not the group with infinite resources. Pretty old-fashioned equipment on this ship. I hope the weapons are newer.

 

“Test,” says Gaila. “What is your name?” She’s looking at a scanner.

 

“Captain Gabriel Lorca, Federation Starfleet, Serial Number—”

 

“What color are my eyes?”                                                                                                                          

 

“Blue.”

 

“What is the square root of 2,800?”

 

He takes a moment. “Fifty-two point nine one five zero.”

 

“What organization do you serve?”

 

“The Federation. Starfleet.” As I’ve told you twice.

 

“Responses are truthful, Captain.”

 

“Good.” Jhimal comes over. Her walk is as it was when he knew her. A hint of menace in it, as if she could pounce and take a bite out of you without you noticing her approach. He looks up into her purply-black eyes. They’re cool, assessing. “Where do you come from?”

 

“Earth.”

 

“… Where?”

 

“Earth. It’s part of the Sol System.”

 

Jhimal’s antennae curve forward and she arches an eyebrow at Gaila, who shrugs. “The Sol System is where Terra is ... the Moon and Mars Colonies. What is ‘Earth’? ”

 

“It’s my home. It is also called Terra, but not usually in Federation Standard.”

 

Jhimal begins pacing … prowling. She wears her white hair the same way Lorca's friend did. She, too, dresses in deep brown, with a soft leather jacket. Her off-duty wear, in ... his “former environs” ... “over there” ... how do I think of the differences? What do they even mean?

 

“Tell me about the Federation,” she says.

 

He folds his arms, careful of the electronic leads. “About a hundred years ago, when humans became warp-capable explorers, we met species more advanced than we were. Vulcans made first contact; then we met Andorians, Tellarites, and others. Eventually we reached accords between our planetary groups …” He stops and looks at the captain, who has her back turned. At Kirk, who’s wearing a skeptical expression. “Do you want me to go on?”

 

Jhimal turns. “Yes, if you please. This is an intriguing story.”

 

“Sounds more like a fairy tale, if you ask me,” Kirk scoffs. “‘Accords’ between the species? Seriously?”

 

Jhimal gives him a withering look. Raising his hands briefly, Kirk settles back into leaning against the wall. “Continue, Lorca,” she commands. She gives Gaila a nod and she unhooks the wires. Her touch is gentle.

 

“We formed the United Federation of Planets in the year 2161. The founding members were United Earth, the Andorian Empire, Vulcan, and Tellar. Since that time, more planetary groups have joined with the founding members. We pledge to protect each other and agree on terms of trade. Starfleet is the protective and exploratory arm of the Federation. We are also a helping organization, saving people in damaged ships, helping planetary populations going through natural disasters and devastation from wars ….” He feels like he’s reciting in grammar school.

 

“So there are no conquerors in your Federation?”

 

Lorca’s eyebrows go up. “What? There are a few in our part of the galaxy, but no; the Federation isn’t a group of conquerors. We negotiate with planets and make exchanges to get what we need from each other. The only conquerors are peoples who dislike our governing principles. The Klingons and Romulans are two races of conquerors. We had a war with the Romulans about ninety years ago, and continue to battle with the Klingons. We may be in all-out war with the Klingons soon. We also defend colonies and planets against pirate organizations, the Orion Syndicate chief among them.” He glances at Gaila.

 

 “I got away from them to escape slavery.”

 

Nodding, Lorca says, “It’s the same where I come from, although the organizations within the Syndicate vary. We’ve rescued more than a few Orion slaves, mostly females.”

 

Gaila’s eyes, shining with tears, meet Lorca’s. “Jim saved me.” She gives Kirk a long look, and he winks at her with a private smile.

 

Gabriel clears his throat. “These bad actors come into conflict with us if they try to contact or attack planetary populations who aren’t yet warp capable, who may not want to be part of the Federation but aren’t harming others …

 

“Usually it’s planetary resources that draw the Klingons, but sometimes they want to capture slaves. Both they and the Romulans have tried to claim worlds that aren’t theirs. Starfleet keeps the peace and protects member and non-member worlds from ‘conquerors’. That also means enforcing General Order Number One ... which dictates we shall not interfere with the natural development of any world’s civilization.”

 

Kirk chuckles, shaking his head. “Man, this sounds so good. A ripping yarn. Did my phaser stun totally mess up your brain?”

 

Lorca glares at him.

 

Jhimal says, her antennae straight up, “I am questioning Lorca now, Jim. Perhaps you can do so later … if … I … think it’s necessary.”

 

Kirk subsides again and watches Lorca, eyes glinting with humor, or disbelief. “Sorry, Captain.”

 

/\

 

An hour later, Jhimal has almost finished her interview with Lorca. He has not relaxed his vigilance and neutrally answers her other questions, refusing to give information on sector units, assignments, or capabilities of starships, on the basis that he may compromise Starfleet.

Jhimal chuckles a little sadly, and says, “I do not think you can compromise an organization that doesn’t exist. But I respect your duty to keep such things secret. It demonstrates to me that you are ethical and dedicated, even though your Starfleet is not known to me. Your organization, wherever it is, has the principles we hope to make manifest here. We are in … an early stage of our development.”

Interview finished, she walks him down the passageway. “I am putting you in this room for awhile. I need to check on your story with an old friend. She used to be high up in the Empire, and may be able to tell me if your story is true.” She takes him into a small room with a simple bed, a sink, a toilet. “This replicator will only produce food. You should eat now, or sleep.”

 

He is tired. Frustrated. Angry. And fearful. Am I out of my mind since the ion storm? What has happened to me? He wants to yell and pound a wall or the floor, but is certain that will attract attention, so instead he vents his anger in exercise. He strips down to his underwear, drops to the deck, and cranks off 100 push-ups. Sweaty, he uses the small sink, splashing off his face and torso, and hopes he’ll get access to a shower or something later. The exercise has calmed him. He drops heavily onto the bed and lies flat, thinking about where he could possibly be. Possibilities occur to him, each more ridiculous than the last. His eyes are heavy, so he surrenders, breathes deeply, slowly, and sleeps.

 

About two hours later, he hears a knock on the sliding door. Jhimal gestures him out of the room and takes Lorca to a wall station and briefs him on the ship’s computer. “You’ll have something similar in your quarters. You will not have command codes until I thoroughly trust you, nor access to any ship’s operating systems. But you can order meals and basic clothing from the replicator, and get general information about the ship, and other things, from the computer. I suggest you brief yourself on our history, politics and culture. You will have plenty of time to do that, because you will be confined to quarters when we cannot watch you. For other computer functions, you will need a code. Which you may receive … in time.”

 

He nods, running a hand over the panels. “The computers are the same as ours in the Federation.” A little older, maybe, but I’m not about to say that to a ship’s captain.

 

“Hmm,” Jhimal says, eyeing him.

 

Lorca raises his eyes to hers, relaxes his posture and facial muscles, and lets her “hear” him.

 

“An Andorian uses her antennae, her eyes, her sense of smell, hearing and taste to figure you out,” ‘his’ Jhimal told him once as they sat having drinks after class. “Be still, be open, be your honest self if you want to be friends with us. We don’t take deception well in our culture.”

 

She cuffed him on the back of his head for good measure.

 

“Ow!” said Lorca.

 

“That’s one per cent of what you’d get if I caught you lying to me.” She slipped a dirk out of her boot, put it back, and gave him her sly smile. They laughed and got drunk together.

 

Her voice startles him back into the present. “Have you eaten?”

 

“No. I was a little … tense.”

 

Jhimal smiles slightly and invites him to the mess for a meal. They sit in an alcove and enjoy some fritters loaded with vegetables; then she orders two mugs of something called raktajino from the replicator. The replicator doesn’t talk back. That’s a relief.

 

He sniffs; it smells like good, strong coffee, and as he sips, he tastes a delicious dark flavor with an edge of spice to it. He smiles at Jhimal. “It’s good.”

 

The corners of her eyes crinkle a bit in amusement, as they used to do when “his” Jhimal used to speak of her children. “It’s Klingon.”

 

“A positive contribution, then. That’s nice.” His tone is skeptical.

 

“They are honorable people, and as fierce as Andorians. You’ll meet L’Rell later. She is partner of the one we call Fire Wolf, the leader of our rebellion. You’ve met Kirk; he is my Tactical Officer; L’Rell is Helm/Navigation and Operations officer. You know the doctor and Gaila … and me. The rest of the crew, you’ll meet tomorrow.

 

“Meanwhile. We were low on supplies, Lorca; Prior’s World is one of our regular stops. Why were you there?”

 

“We went there to barter for some dilithium.”

 

“I thought your Federation used a credit system.”

 

“Prior’s World isn’t a member. They don’t honor Federation credits there. We were going to trade medical supplies.”

 

Jhimal gazes at him. “You have an answer for everything, but for some reason I trust you.” She puts down her cup, folds her hands in front of her, and looks steadily into his face, her violet-black eyes searching his. “I want to tell you, though, there is a Terran captain, also named Gabriel Lorca, and you could be his twin. The Emperor has a large bounty on him. So you must change your identity.”  

He recalls some of his experience on the … ISS … Buran now; it’s coming back to him in pictures, some sliding away as soon as he “sees” them. Lorca wills himself not to furrow his brow as he tries to recall more, but the memories are taking their own sweet time coming back to him. He remembers a dark-haired woman ... Landry … but not Landry.

 

 “… And Lorca is missing, suspected of murdering the Emperor’s beloved adopted daughter, Michael Burnham. Captain Lorca has many followers who pretend loyalty to the Emperor. Georgiou will be searching for you and there are loyalists everywhere. If someone finds you, they won’t care where you come from, Federation or Empire. If they can present your body, alive or dead, to the Emperor they will gain much favor. And Georgiou is ‘Her Most Imperial Majesty, Mother of the Fatherland, Overlord of Vulcan, Dominus of Q’onoS, Regina Andor, Georgiou Augustus Iaponius Centaurius.’”

 

 “That’s some hell of a title,” Lorca breathes. “Our Philippa was anything but ruthless – she was gentle, peaceful, a negotiator. A core of steel though. And she could drink a guy my size under the table.” He smiles a little.

 

“Perhaps if she tried Andorian ale that would be different,” Jhimal says, her eyes glinting with merriment. “You and I should have a contest sometime.”

 

Lorca chuckles, then grows serious. “So I’ll have to disguise myself to avoid being captured as a prize for the Emperor. And … change my name.”

 

Further memories from his brief time on ISS Buran are assembling in his mind. The Emperor’s hologram, her cold face which so surprised him, not mild but furious, not curious and open, but closed and condemning.

The captain nods. “Yes. Change your name immediately – before you rest. Choose a name similar to your own, so you’ll hear us calling out to you when your adrenaline is flowing. You should probably alter your appearance in a significant way: hair length, eye color and the like. As soon as you have changed your appearance, enter your new name, holo-image, and retinal scan, into our system.

 

”Trust Gaila, she is good at changing appearances. She always helps us with disguises for dirtside missions, as spies or otherwise. Generally the Emperor pays spies and lets them go their way, but if any of them lies to Emperor Georgiou, they are dead moments after she finds out.”

.

 

He and Jhimal discuss the Terran Empire and the Peoples’ Resistance. Lorca learns it is so named because the Peoples, “alien” races united, are fighting the Terrans so they can live free in their own societies, not as slaves or foodstuffs. (He remembers the ISS Buran’s inventory, including sentient beings for consumption, and shivers.) Jhimal answers his many questions. She gives him a PADD so he can make notes and research other questions on the ship’s computer.

“The Empire has technologies from every race they’ve conquered. Their ships are the most powerful, their weapons the most sophisticated. Terran soldiers wear armor everywhere and they’re never apart from a sidearm. They’re brutal – sadistic, if they have the time.

“The Empire does lots of business with pirates. The Emperor has often used them as spies … when we discover the spies we kill them. Sometimes we act as pirates so we can get information on imperial ship movements and threats to our bases. We’ve become fairly good at it, but have had some close calls. We rescued Kirk at one of those times. He’s been a good asset.”

“He’s very capable, it seems. If a little untrusting.”

Jhimal’s antennae curve inward; she smiles outright. “That is his job – and T’Pren’s – until I am satisfied that my trust in you is not misplaced.”

“It isn’t. I have no motive here at all. I just want to find my way back to where I belong.”

Jhimal’s eyes narrow as she tilts up her chin. “It’s also possible that Captain Lorca is here to find some supporters, and that he’s very, very good at role-playing. I hear that he is. After all, he cozened the Emperor for years before he and her daughter disappeared.” She levels her gaze on him, and he looks steadily at her in return. “I still do not think you are him, though.”

Lorca lets out the breath he didn’t know he was holding and stands up. “Another … rakta …?”

“Raktajino. Yes, please.” She hands him her cup, and he can feel her eyes on him as he goes to get seconds.

 

Chapter Text

He finds Gaila in the medbay. “I need some analgesics.”

“Here,” she says, handing him some pills.

He gets a glass of water from the replicator, downs the pills, and finishes the water. “And a disguise.”

“Have you come up with a new name yet?”

 “I’m thinking it over. Now … for my appearance …?”

 "The idea,” Gaila says, sipping her xoclotl—“Want some?”

 Lorca sniffs. Chocolate. Might be nice if I can’t sleep. And I probably won’t rest easy for while. “Maybe later.”

 “So, the idea is to present completely differently from the general. I’ve seen holovids of him. We could make a mint if we brought him in.”

Lorca studies her, sidelong. She seems sincere in her desire to help him, to take him on as a member of their crew, as does Jhimal. Are they just cozening him until they can turn him over to the care of this emperor, the torturer and murderer? Won’t know till the time comes, if it does. Play along, stay sharp, and find a weapon to keep close.

As if she’s read his mind, Gaila says, “I’ll take you to the armory so you can look over some weapons. Once Captain Jhimal approves, you mustn’t sleep without a phaser or disruptor. And keep a dagger close, too. We never know if we’ll get overwhelmed and boarded. Mostly our sensors help us detect some anomaly before a cloaked ship reveals itself, but the Orions recently sold the Empire plans for invisibility screens, so we stay ready, just in case.”

 She rests a hand on his wrist. “I know you’re tired. You’ve had a long, long day. But you need to be disguised before the morning. IF we’re surprised, you’ll need to be ready. You can go to sleep while I’m working on you, it won’t be a problem. And I’ll replicate you some clothes.”

“Yeah, this outfit is gonna get old,” Lorca smiles. He’s worn a black long-sleeve t-shirt and sweatpants since he got here. He is tired, but Gaila’s presence is uplifting. She has a happy spirit, and that is just what he needs.

In a small room she seats him in an adjustable chair. Gaila finds some electronic instruments and gets out some thick locks of light reddish-brown hair about 20 cm long. She holds up one of the implements, a thing that has the wide-spaced teeth of a comb; the ends glow yellow. “Growth stimulator and color changer. It’ll tingle and your skin will feel warm. You should have a full, short beard within a couple of hours, and it’ll be brown. I’ll use this on the shorter part of your hair first, so I can fuse these locks to it, then do the rest.” She raises the chair and reclines it so he can nap. He feels tingling on his scalp and his face, and he drifts off into a light sleep.

When he wakes, he’s startled. He looks quite dashing. His beard and moustache are already filling in, his hair is light brown, longish, wavy, and swept loosely back; seeing his hairline he recalls Kat, when they were young, saying, “You’d look great with long hair, Gabriel. Well … someday … after we retire. Or have a very long vacation.”

Gaila has clothes for him, too. There’s a long green coat that looks almost like a greatcoat from the same century as the hairstyle; a long, brown liner for it that can double as a vest in warmer conditions; a pair of narrow-fitting trousers, and a white linen shirt in the same old-fashioned style, long slit down the front with some buttons that end in a high collar.

“You can wear the collar open or buttoned up, depending on the weather or variance of disguise you want. You can replicate some in other colors, add a stock if it’s cold.” At his blank look, “It’s like a scarf. And here’s some underwear and boot socks, and clogs to wear on the ship when we’re not near any danger.” She gestures. “Along the outsole, a sheath for a short dagger. Your boots have sheaths in them too, one for the same dagger and a longer one, too.” She has boots for him, brown, that reach nearly to his knees.

“One more thing,” she says. “I’m sorry but we also need to change the color of your eyes. They’re quite striking. One of the … first things … I noticed about the general. And you.” She smiles a little, holding up a large pen-shaped device. “Right now this has color changer in it. You can also use it to put in eye medicine. I noticed your pupils are very large. Is your focus good?”

“It’s okay,” Lorca says. “But do you always keep the lights this dim?”

Gaila frowns. “Are you sure you’re seeing all right? The light’s perfectly normal. But,” holding up a cartridge, “This should help keep your eyes from getting too tired. We’ll switch out the color changer for this in a few minutes.” Looking at his hair and his complexion, she says, “You should have dark grey, green, or medium brown eyes with no contrast at the edge of your iris. Which do you want?” She holds up a color chart, and his finger points right at the green-grey color, like the underside of a late-summer leaf.

“This’ll last about a month. Remember the color.”

As if I could forget Kat’s eyes, he thinks.

“Of course we could always change it from time to time. And your hair color, length, and beard. For now let’s try this look. She bends forward, “pen” at the ready. “I’m going to hold your eyelids open with two fingers, and I need you to look at the light and hold your gaze very still.” He looks into the bright tip of the pen. Poof! She moves her hand to his other eye, another poof! And in the mirror, he sees eyes the exact color of Kat’s, looking back at him.

She hands him the clothes. “Go ahead and try them on. We have recyclers and replicators for warmer or cooler clothes, but when we’re saving power you’ll have to wear the same things and clean them in the fresher. I keep an extra set of clothes just in case.”

He changes and steps back into the room. Gaila grins with delight. “Computer – mirror! Oh, just look at yourself,” she says.

He chuckles. “All I need is a big hat with a plume.”

“Do you want–”

“No, no. But if clothes make the man I look every inch an ancient pirate.” He smirks devilishly and Gaila clasps her hands, laughing.

“You are a picture indeed!”

In the armory, she shows him the hand weapons. “Phaser rifles, we have in weapons lockers in the passageways. The lockers are marked with this symbol—” an Andorian character symbolizing the weapon after which the ship is named—“So choose a phaser or disruptor and two daggers.” She stops his hand from reaching for them. “Force field. I can’t let you take any until Jhimal clears you.”

“Of course.” He eyes them, chooses.

“Meanwhile here’s a belt with a holster for your weapon. Wear it under your coat and vest.”

“Stylish,” he smiles. “In a swaggering way.”

“I think it suits you!”

Gaila walks him to his quarters. It’s an oblong room, with a bunk just big enough for two, or for a comfortable spread-out sleep for one. A desktop that flips down from the wall, and a little stool to sit on; two armchairs at the far end with a table between them that can be raised enough for dining; a little cabinet; a replicator/recycler for clothes and other things; a drawer for grooming items, and another for personal things. There’s even a shelf for books, or little displays. She waves her hand at a button. “Press this and tell the computer what you want; it’s a library. It can also provide drawing or writing materials, books, or data. If we’re at battle conditions the only thing you’re going to get is tactical data so you’re ready when you get to your station.”

“Efficient. Where’s the head, behind this door?”

 It’s small, but not as tiny as he expected.

“The shower has a sonic setting to dry you and your now-luxuriant hair,” she jokes, patting it. “That’ll save you time.” They turn toward the sitting area and she gives him a lingering look. “I … I really like you, and I … Jim and I have an open relationship. Just so you know … if you’re interested.”

He smiles gently. “I may take you up on that someday, but not for now. Change of subject, if I may … can I access astrocartography maps from this computer?”

She nods and shows him how.

“Thanks, Gaila. I appreciate your help. I’d like to have a look at these and get some rest.”

 “Have you figured out a name?” she asks, standing by the doorway. “It should sound enough like your real one so you’ll respond if we call to you when we’re dirtside, or in an emergency.”

“Hmm. I guess ‘Yorke’ or ‘Rourke’ for my last name. I’ll have to give the first name some thought.”

She lingers. “You’re gonna need to choose a name right now and log it into the computer so we all know it. Like I said, we could be boarded. And the first name should probably have an ‘a’ sound like ‘Gabriel’.”

He pauses. “David Yorke.”

Gaila nods. “I like it.”

“Just don’t call me ‘Dave.’ I wouldn’t like it any better than I like ‘Gabe.’ Oh … do you still have that eye medicine?”

She draws the “pen” out of a pocket. “Can you put it in yourself?”

He nods. “I think so.” He moves close, and touches her arm. “Thanks for all your help.

Her blue eyes are bright, her smile too. “You’re welcome! May I give you a hug?”

“Sure,” he says, stepping in to feel her arms slide around his waist, and her head at his shoulder, and her curly hair by his chin. Her back is firm, and she smells wonderful. It’s comforting. After a moment, she breaks the embrace.

“Sleep well, David.”

She leaves and the brief vibrancy he felt is gone.

He steps to the computer, enters his new name. D-A-V-I-D   Y-O-R-K-E. “Facial image and retinal scan,” he orders, and the computer scans his face, then a light shines painfully into his eye as it does the retinal scan.

The headache is rearing up savagely; he strips to take a hot shower and the moisture and heat ease the pain. His head’s not throbbing now. It looks as if headaches may be a constant in his life here, and he can bear mild pain.

He uses the eye drops, then puts up the star chart in a hologram, pores over it for awhile, but nothing looks familiar. Bone-weary, he puts a shirt, the trousers, socks and boots by the bunk, dons a pair of underwear and curls up in the bed. “Computer. History of the Peoples’ Revolution, low volume.”

The computer produces a soothing voice, and soon he’s sleeping soundly.

 /\

 

Every day he wakes up confused. There is panic, followed by fear, followed by anger, followed by intense longing: first, for Kat, and second, for his crew “family.” He misses them all, even Dr Gonzales, as prickly as she is.

What’s happened to them? Are they all right? Did the ion storm affect Buran? Will I ever see any of them again? I wonder if Uwe’s wife got the professorship. If T’Linn’s a grandma yet. How crewman Xi is getting along after her boyfriend’s death ... They’re all in the back of his mind as he goes about his limited daily duties and shadows various crew members so he can learn the parts of the ship not crucial to weapons sensors, or drive functions.

And superstition, sometimes. What did I do to deserve this?

He knows that, as with many things humans believe and do, that superstition is rooted in pattern-seeking. If I do A, then B will happen. Comforting, or discomfiting, assurances, a bit like sacrifices to a deity or like prayer.

Every morning he does 200 pushups, 200 crunches, and goes to the gym for a short session of kickboxing and hitting the speedbag. If he’s out of shape he finds it hard to think clearly, and he must have clarity here. Back to his quarters for a quick shower and sonic dry-off, quickly dress, and move on to training with the crew.

The rowing machine, he uses at night on the highest setting for 20 minutes or so, then returns to his quarters, a shower, and sleep. And dreams of Kat.

 

/\

After a few days, Jhimal has set him some tasks to prove he’s conversant with their technology. As always, either Kirk or T’Pren is present at all times. Many times when he and Gaila are working in access tubes or other dark places, he has to bring a portable light so he can see what they’re doing. “What are you, a bat?” he murmurs the first time he realizes Gaila can work in extremely low light.

“What’s a bat?”

“Oh … a creature of the night.” He stops, struck by a memory of him and Kat watching a silly movie from before the Third World War. He swallows and goes on, “it’s a small furry creature with leathery wings that navigates by echolocation. We have a saying, ‘blind as a bat,’ because they don’t see well in the light.”

She tilts her head at him. “So I’m the bat and you’re blind as a bat?”

“No, you’d be blind as a bat in what’s normal lighting for a technologically advanced Human. But in this light, yeah, you’re like the bat at night.”

“You’re as blind as a Human, then,” she grins.

Lorca says, “Hmph!” with a slight smile and bends his flexible light so it won’t shine on Gaila’s work, only on his own.

If that’s what he is,” says Kirk, from right behind him. “Could be Terran.”

 

/\

In another couple of weeks, finally allowed to roam the ship on his own, Lorca has not yet figured out a way to escape. But where would I escape to? What could I do? If the Empire is as terrible as it seems, how could I possibly be better off there than here? At least the ethics on this ship seem to match my own.

He meets Jhimal for dinner and asks her if she has any ideas about his situation.

“Yes.”

He looks at her and she looks back. He raises his eyebrows in inquiry.

“My friend said if I told you, I would have to kill you.”

He starts to laugh at the old Official Secrets joke, then realizes she’s serious. “Why?”

“She said this secret belongs to the Emperor and her senior leaders alone. Not even my friend knows the details. She has a very general idea what the problem might be. But, David, she said, there is no going back for you. No way is known for you to get back to where you came from.”

Lorca rubs his hand on his forehead and massages the orbital ridge below his eyebrows. It’s partly to hide his eyes, because they feel hot with tears pressing outward. He swallows them down, closing his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Perhaps you need to have a drink with Doctor McCoy,” Jhimal says. “Or an analgesic. You have another headache?”

When he speaks his voice is rough. “Never had so many problems with them … at home.”

“Gabriel.” The captain leans forward and puts a hand on his forearm. “You are at home here, now.”

He glances at her but lowers his gaze so she can’t see his eyes. Here, never to see my Kat again. Oh god, I want to go back.

 

/\

A month later Lorca is fully integrated into the crew as Tactical Officer.

Jhimal also gives him the conn periodically. She’s working him into a rotation with Kirk and L’Rell.

/\

“Attack pattern Delta One Alpha!” Lorca says. Jhimal has been called to the bridge but was in quarters sleeping when the Terran troop ship showed up.

L’Rell nimbly performs the maneuver as he says, “Jim -- target their weapons and engines.”

Kirk fires ... a photon torpedo. It hits them amidships and there’s a blazing implosion.

Lorca wheels on him. “What the hell! There were 60 lifesigns on that ship!”

“Talk to the captain, David. I’m following Jhimal’s orders. Here on Chaka we don’t follow the same protocols as you did in … what is it? ‘Starforce’?”

“Starfleet,” Lorca snaps, walking over to him. He realizes Kirk is needling him, but can’t help his frustration. His temper is simmering. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees L’Rell subtly change her position in her seat at the helm.

“Yeah, yeah, Starfleet.” Kirk moves a step closer and Lorca stiffens. “Here, you’re not a captain anymore. Remember that.”

Lorca folds his arms to keep from punching him. Raising his eyebrows and tipping his head back slightly he looks at Kirk, who’s his same height, and says, “And you’re not a captain yet, either.”

“Sure. I don’t have a special friendship with Jhimal—”

“Whoa,” Lorca says. “Jhimal and I are the same age. We have things in common, mainly, years of command experience.”

“Sure, tell me all about it—”

“Gentlemen,” says Jhimal, who as usual, has silently appeared on her bridge. “Jim, I will talk with you later. Calm yourself and take the conn, or I will ask L’Rell.”

Kirk exhales sharply. “Yes, Captain.” He steps over to the center seat; the energy radiating from him is not calm. Not yet. Most of the time Kirk has good self-control; this has been a rare incident. Lorca has thought of him as friendly, until now.

Jhimal now gestures Lorca to accompany her. They walk down the passageway to her quarters, and she breaks out some Andorian ale. “You look like you could use a drink.”

“Thanks.” He sips. It’s strong, and as delicious as he remembers.

“You need to adapt, David,” Jhimal says soberly. “We do not take prisoners unless we think they can give us valuable information. You cannot simply disable enemy ships.”

“But, ships that could be assets to the Resistance...?”

Jhimal’s antennae quirk. Lorca sees he was a bit too quick to contradict her and looks down, remembering.

“You are right; some can be assets.  But I have established protocols and standing orders. You said you understood this.”

He clears his throat. “I did ... Do. I acted using … Starfleet protocol. Force of habit.”

“You must conquer those habits and always be aware of where you are. Conspicuous or unique ships are useless. We have to know the current codes with which to overwrite the transponders, and have time to  adjust energy signatures. We are still working on the code for transport ships. And we have just killed 60 Terran troops who, if captured, would be a burden to our resources, or left alone, could be back in the fight as assets to the Empire later. If we find transport ships that are bearing our people or very few Imperial troops, then yes, we try to capture them. Please re-read my standing orders.”

Lorca nods. “Will do, Captain.”

She lets that sink in. “You’re not in a legitimate fleet anymore. To all intents and purposes you’re a resistance fighter, a killer of Terran soldiers, a pirate, a thief of resources. An enemy of the Empire.”

He’s annoyed with himself, having to be reminded.

Jhimal gives him her characteristic small smile. “Don’t worry. I’ve worked with former Terran soldiers and commanders. And you are from a gentler place than they are, David. You will have to adjust yourself to killing. But we are the Resistance, and we have no need to be cruel.”

Chapter Text

 

It’s been about two and a half weeks since Cornwell’s heard from Lorca. She isn’t terribly worried; Buran was travelling to the edge of comms range so it makes sense to her. By now, though, she’s expecting a message from him, at least, something the Buran can ping from comms array to comms array. It’ll be a short, one-way communication, but it sure would be nice to know how he’s doing.

She calls the Comms Center from her office at Headquarters. “I was just wondering if we’ve heard anything from USS Buran in the last week?”

“Sorry, Admiral. We did get a message from them a week and a half ago, directed to CINCOPS, saying comms were iffy because they’d been through an ion storm.”

“So they’re all alive and well, presumably,” Kat says drily, wondering why she didn’t hear from Gabriel. Or why the Commander in Chief of Operations hadn’t let her know, or passed the message to Admiral Sivahn.

“Yes, Ser. They would have reported any other problems.”

“As in ‘comms are iffy’?”

“Beg pardon, Admiral. I can give you specifics.”

“Please do.”

“They reported a problem with their subspace relay antenna. They said it was nearly destroyed in the ion storm and they are trying to assemble a replacement out of … and I’m quoting … ‘duct tape and baling wire.’”

Kat smiles, that’s a Lorca expression. Although I think he stole it from my sister.

“Any contact since then?”

“Our attempts have been unsuccessful, ser.”

Cornwell puts an all-business expression on her face. “Then keep trying. And let me know when you do manage to make contact.”

.

She is in a canyon … deep in a cleft between two mesas stretching up 20 meters. It’s dark. She can see the stars far above the gash in the land. She moves cautiously forward and finds the end of the canyon, another high wall of earth and stone. Behind her she hears a groan, and a very slight noise. She turns and finds a phaser in her hand. And now there’s light on the scene. She sees Gabriel, his eyes squeezed shut, trying to get breath. A huge, ebon-and-gold snake is wrapped around him, feet to shoulders. It’s the biggest boa constrictor she’s ever seen, but it’s the wrong skin pattern. Boas look different, tan and black. She hears bone cracking and fires the phaser but nothing happens. She grabs a rock and throws it hard at the snake, but it continues squeezing the breath out of him. Gabriel’s eyes are closed in agony but she calls to him and they open, the whites red, his blue irises standing out, and the light goes out of his eyes.

Katrina wakes with a cry and sits up with tears streaming down her face. Has something terrible indeed happened to him? Is he communicating with me?

The psychiatrist in her says, Gabriel has never had a high psi rating and, for a scary one, the dream’s a little pedestrian, don’t you think? He’s overcome by evil forces he can’t control, the black symbolizes space and the gold symbolizes the stars, and you haven’t heard from him in weeks. Circumstances have closed his voice away from you. You feel constricted and trapped because you can’t contact him.

She goes to the bathroom and splashes her face with cool water, and runs some into a glass and drinks it down. She looks steadily into the mirror. Hang on. Don’t make yourself crazy with worry. All will be well. Go back to sleep.

It’s 0500, two hours before she has to get ready for work. Nevertheless, she goes out to the living room, gets out the Irish single malt, pours two fingers, throws in a chunk of ice, and calls Maria, just to chat. Kat’s half-sister is an early riser, raising horses will do that. Talking with Maria soothes her.

 

/\

It’s another few days and Kat’s comm signal sounds just as she is about to leave for the evening. She turns back to go to her desk, her heart pounding.

The visual feed is staticky and hard to read, but she can see Gabriel’s smiling face through the electronic dust.

“Hey. Just wanted you to know I’m alive.”

“I’m so glad you are. It’s good to see you. What I can see of you, that is.”

“Well, I’m fine. How are you?”

“What, no joke about taking it all off so I can see more of you?”

She can’t read his expression very well because of the static, but he seems a little taken aback.

“Just kidding Gabriel. I’m fine.”

“How’s the ca—Somchai?”

“He’s fine too. He’s sleeping on your Andorian robe lately. I hope you’ll forgive him.”

“Oh … sure. Of course.”

“How’s T’Linn?”

“She’s fine.”

“Has T’Larc had her baby yet?”

“Mmm … I haven’t heard.”

Seriously? You always ask T’Linn about her family. Especially how T’Larc is getting along. I’m dying to know.

“I … I haven’t been quite the same since the ion storm.”

“What happened with that?”

“I was beaming up when it happened. So it affected me.”

“Medically?”

“Feels like it. The doctor says I check out, though.”

“How’s the ship?”

“We’re making repairs, still. Most of the electronics were badly damaged. We’re prioritizzzz –ubspace antenna.”

“I hope we’ll be able to talk more often. Are you going to be out of range much longer?”

“I think weZZZZZt be, for ZZZHHHHHT! –while…” and the static takes hold.

She calls the Comms Center but they aren’t able to help, and her conversation with Gabriel is over.

.

When Kat gets home, she calls, “Some Guy! Gabriel said hello.” The Siamese trots out to meet her. She feeds him, and fixes a salad. They curl up together on the couch, on Gabriel’s soft Andorian robe. Kat’s chest is tight and she wants to cry for missing her man. But this is part of the job, and they each love their jobs. She pours a tot of single malt and toasts him in his absence, and later, pads off to bed.

 

/\

It’s near the end of their time at Command Training School and they’re having a weekend away. Lying in bed, sunlight banding over their bodies from outside the room’s wide wooden blinds, they’re talking and touching and just enjoying the look and warmth of each other, and their new intimacy. They’re facing, one of her knees partway between his, her other, draped over his leg, stroking each other’s face, and hair. Katrina says, “Your lips have the perfect Cupid’s Bow.”

“Hmm?”

She traces his top lip, each “point,” with her index finger and kisses him there. Then his lower lip, with the little concavity in the middle. Tenderly, they kiss for a while, feeling out their preferred styles. “I am so glad you’re not one of those ‘coming in hard, full tongue in the mouth’ guys. Some men just start right off like that.”

Gabriel smiles slowly, his eyes twinkling with amusement and affection. “Let’s just say I prefer a gradual build.” He kisses her forehead. “Guys like that just give kissing a bad reputation.”

“I never slept with any of them, that’s for sure.” Her fingertips trace his jaw. “I prefer a slow build myself.” She strokes the very tip of her tongue at the hollow of his throat, and over his collarbone. She can feel his cock slowly rousing.

“Mmmm.”

She curls to tongue his nipple and he arches slowly with a happy groan, looking at her with low-lidded eyes. “That makes me …”

“… Hard, I see. You’re lovely.” She curves away, sitting on one hip, reaches down and slowly brings her fingertips from base to head. He sighs as his cock moves, getting harder. He spreads his legs slightly. Then she cups his balls, slowly pulsing a gentle hand on them, and he trembles. “Shall I—”

“Oh Kat, right now … you do whatever …” he smiles, open-mouthed, with a quiet gasp. He lies back a little.

She lays her head on his thighs, looking up at him. His reactions to her manual ministrations are beautiful, his face so expressive and full of love. She takes his glans in her mouth and very slowly swirls the tip of her tongue around it and works it in her mouth, but not deeply. After a few minutes, she tastes salty liquid at the end, and stops. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to … I don’t like to swallow.”

When they first got to know each other, Kat was hesitant about sex. But Gabriel changed that. For all his outward briskness in official settings, his sarcasm and occasional bluster when confronted with incompetence or intransigence, he is incredibly sweet with her. “I think I’ll be satisfied with whatever you decide.”

She smiles. Then kisses his lower abdomen, and kneeling flat, bending, runs the tip of her tongue round his cock’s head, and lightly pats her fingers up and down the shaft, stroking his balls, watching him all the while.

“You’re p-pretty good with your hands, doctor….”  His dark brows are creased in concentration, his eyes shut, his mouth slightly open. She holds his length in her hand and slowly smoothes the pre-come over his head with her other palm, and he arches, high, thrusting his hips as a pearly jet shoots out over his belly. There are dribbles on his glans, and she puts a finger to them and starts to circle—

“Uhh,” he says, breath heaving. “I’m … a little sensitive there right now.” His mouth forms a crooked smile and he opens his eyes to gaze at her. Sleepy eyes.

“Oh you can’t go to sleep on me, Gabriel!”

“’Course not. I owe you, dawlin.’ C’mere.”

She slides her front up his body, his chest hair tickles her nipples, her pubic hair brushes his penis – he gasps – and she, poised on her hands, leans her head down to kiss his forehead, and lower. His eyebrows. His nose. Then his lips, and his jaw. She stops to touch two marks, one deep one at the right side of his chin, and a shallower one next to the dimple by his mouth. “What did these come from?”

He laughs, once, and says, “A Cassiopeian firecat.”

“What?”

“We were on field maneuvers, third year. This cat had come for the second night just to sit near our fire. Couldn’t blame it, it was cold as sin out. Maybe that’s why they call them firecats, who knows. There I was one night, sitting out on the midwatch, and the cat spotted something just past our tent … I guess. I never knew what it was, maybe a lizard. And I am not kidding, she leaped up and climbed my face to jump off my head and go after it. I was so surprised I didn’t realize what had happened until I felt blood running down my face and neck.” He runs his finger over the mark. “Stopped the bleeding with a wipe and some styptic powder, and decided I’d bear the battle scar. I have one under my hair too.” He chuckles. “A reminder to keep alert on watch, and beware of cats’ back claws. They dig deep and pack a lot of power. Cassiopeian firecats weigh about 10 kilos.”

Katrina laughs too. “My sister has barn cats; they can be pretty wild too, though they’re not nearly that big! I told you Maria has a horse farm, didn’t I? We should visit her sometime.”

“Yep.” He turns a little, so Kat is on her side and he is too, and he runs his hand down her thigh to the inside of her leg. Quirks his eyebrows in inquiry. Kat smiles and nods, sliding her foot up to raise her knee. Gabriel gently runs his hand down her thigh to her groin, then strokes his fingers through her pubic hair, and one finger, slightly deeper, to run down her moistening slit. He begins slowly, sliding the length of his finger over her clit, then curving so his fingertip teases her opening, his thumb tentatively, then somewhat firmly, massaging the nerve leading to her clit, bringing his thumb and finger together at that sensitive point, ever so gently rubbing it between finger and thumb. He moves to bring his torso over her body, applying the length of his penis to her slippery lips below, and teases her opening with his head, kisses the base of her throat, licking and kissing his way down to her small breasts, nuzzling each in turn, then suckling hard at the nipple.

She gasps, putting her fingers in his thick, wavy hair, pressing him tightly to her, and moves so her other nipple grazes his mouth; he takes it greedily. He’s nibbling and sucking and they’re getting sensitive, but in just the right way, zinging feelings right to her center. As he moves his lips and tongue down her torso, his hands massage her breasts and roll the nipples in his fingertips. She spreads her legs wider; she can’t wait to feel his mouth on her down there, but he’s kissing inside her loins, running his tongue up the crease where her thigh meets her pubic area, then over her vulva to press and lick her clit.

“I love your scent,” he whispers, his breath hot on that tender, ready point. She moans, wanting him in her, but she knows there’s lots of good in store and tilts her pelvis up a bit. Sliding his tongue down, he pushes its tip into her, and out, swirling, then licking up to her nub, then back down, entering more strongly and backing off. His hands, softly massaging her inner thighs, change position; one goes toward her slit and one flattens on her lower abdomen, circling there. His tongue is slipping through her soaking lips, over her clit, and his fingers move, curving over her mound, parting her a little more, as his thumb plunges in below, curving up to rub the nerve bundle inside. As he looks up at her face and smiles, his fingers gently stroke … and stroke ….

Energy is coalescing in that region of her body. She centers on the sensations, letting them carry her, and as she moans happily with release he says delightedly, “I love you”, and, his hips between her splayed thighs, he’s stretching out over her torso, weight on his hands, then his elbows, as he slips his hands under her back. He is lying on her lightly (he is positively dense with muscle), and she happily feels his chest grazing hers as his cock bumps her gently down below, then slides in, and Kat and Gabriel say, “Ohhh,” at the same time and laugh at each other. She brings her knees up, tilting her pelvis back, and takes in his full length … crosses her feet behind his waist … the motions they make are so perfectly meshed … he fills her, physically, lovingly … she opens her eyes to him and their gazes lock.

They’re sweaty now, and she can feel his breath hitching, and she’s exhaling through her mouth, and … and … they’re on the same wave, racing in to shore. He groans sharply once, twice, and her energy explodes in a high descending gasp as they arrive at their most intimate refuge, each other. They begin to fall asleep nestled together just as they finished, and she welcomes his weight upon her, his breath in her hair, the feel of his warm skin, the hair on his legs as she settles hers outside him, surrounding his lower body as his strong arms surround her torso. And comforted, she drifts, then dozes off.

.

When she wakes, she says his name. Her mind feels his presence but she knows better. Tears leak out of the corners of her eyes as she pulls his pillow toward her. His scent is gone. Still she clutches it, lets herself cry for a few minutes, and gets up to go wash her face. Somchai looks up drowsily from the foot of the bed when she comes back. She pets him and his furred warmth is calming; he begins to purr, and as she slides back between the covers the Siamese walks up the bed to curl by her pillow, still purring, and they fall asleep.

 

/\

A week or so later Cornwell is going through CO assignment briefs at her desk. When the comm sounds, it’s a Lieutenant from Comms Division. “Admiral, we have LCDR Uwe Mannheim of the Buran. He insists on speaking to you personally.”

Uwe? He’s been a drinking buddy of hers and Gabriel’s since Command Training School. He was one of the field instructors, and he and Gabriel became friends over their mutual impatience with command protocols. They called Kat their Devil’s Advocate because she always argued from Command’s point of view, and the three learned a lot as they explored the subject.

“Put him through,” she said.

Uwe’s voice is unmistakable; he is a brown-eyed, brilliant man and speaks elegantly formed English Standard. Which used to be funny as hell to hear when they were swearing together about aspects of Command Training. “Katrina, I am calling you on a secure bandwidth. I think there’s something wrong with Gabriel.”

“He said the ion storm—”

“It’s more than that. His command style, his impatience, or should I say rudeness, his habits – these are things I’ve never seen from him before.”

“He seemed a little odd when we last spoke,” Kat says. “He was … distant. Have you reported the changes to your CMO?”

“She examined him right after he beamed up from Prior’s World. Dr Gonzales was not able to find any changes—”

“I recommend you get to the next fully-staffed base medical facility and have him examined more thoroughly; maybe the ion storm affected the electrical impulses of his brain. He needs a full neurological workup.”

“I have been trying to talk him into it. He insists our mission is paramount and he doesn’t need any exams.”

“Dr Gonzales can relieve him of duty. See how he likes that.” Katrina is pissed off at Gabriel. What an idiot—!

“We’ve had some brilliant successes against the Klingons, I’ll say that in his favor. He seems to take more relish in fighting the ship than ever. He’s drilling us every day too. That’s a change.”

Yes, when the admiralty had him cut back to one drill a week, a command that he conveniently ignored, he had gone to a drill every other day. Kat smirks. “Well, he does love planning battle strategy. A handy skill these days. How’s the crew taking everything?”

“Hmmm. I don’t think they’re at ease. I hear whispers in the Mess Hall and in the passageways. There’s an air of … mistrust, and in some cases, fearfulness. I just wanted to let you know.”

“See Gonzales ASAP. Get to the nearest starbase or other large medical facility. Right away if you can. Threaten removal from duty. Got it?”

“Yes, of course, Katrina. I didn’t want to be harsh about it, but now that you say it …”

“Take care of the captain, take care of the ship and her crew.” A maxim from Command Training about self-discipline for COs, but applicable here.

“Of  course. I don’t know why I hesitated. His personality has become very much more forceful. I guess that’s why.”

“It’s understandable, especially with an old friend. Uwe, do your best. That’s all you can do and I know you will try.”

Cornwell inquires about the rest of the senior officers. Mannheim tells her T’Linn is well; her daughter T’Larc has had a healthy baby boy; Uwe’s wife Petra has got a new professorship, and their children are great; Dr Gonzales is a grandmother now ….

After ten minutes of good-natured chat and kidding, which they both enjoy, they disconnect, and Cornwell feels a chasm open inside her.

She hasn’t had a personal comm from Gabriel for weeks since his last. She’s been thinking it was due to a bad signal. Yet Uwe’s was clear as a bell.

Why hasn’t Gabriel called me?

 

Chapter Text

San Francisco

Jan 2256

Katrina  Cornwell is at home when she gets the news. It’s a foggy, raw afternoon, and she’s snuggled on the couch with Somchai. The cat’s kneading her thigh, purring, as she reads a novel, when Admiral Sivahn calls her.

“I need to tell you something, Kat, it’s important—”

“I thought you were with your children on Andor.” Then a thought grips her, and Sivahn confirms it.

“This won’t have come across the SF Admin newsfeed yet. It’s only an Operations matter at the moment.”

Kat’s stomach tightens.

“We’ve lost touch with the Buran, Kat.”

She exhales, shakily. “It could be—”

“It could be any number of things, my dear. But I wanted you to know.” A moment’s silence. “Will you be all right?”

“I … I’m not sure. I should be. I mean, they could still be in a region of …” She can’t think what, at the moment. She’s sure it will come to her. But right now, her mind is blank, except Gabriel … Gabriel … echoing inside.

“Do you want me to call someone? Your sister?”

“It’s all right. I’ll call her right away. Thanks for letting me know.” Her lips are numb, the words don’t come out right.

“Call me, day or night,” says her friend.

“Thank you, Sivahn. I … I may do that.”

“Take care, Katrina.”

“Okay.”

They disconnect, and on the vidlink, Kat calls her half-sister Maria, who is just in from putting the horses “to bed.” Maria is in her 30s, tall, with enviable cheekbones and dancing dark eyes. Maria always looks cheerful, and unless one of her horses is ailing, generally is.

“When are you and Gabe coming to visit?” Maria asks, after Kat greets her.

“You know he hates being called that.”

“You know that’s why I do it.” Maria’s smiling. Gabriel and her sister kid around as if they hate each other. They don’t. “You look strange, Kat.”

The semblance of normality has crumbled. “Ga—Gabriel …” But Kat can’t finish, her throat is clogging up with tears.

“What’s wrong? What is it?”

“His ship. They’ve lost contact.”

“Oh no. Come see me. Or shall I come to you?”

“I … I can’t.”

“Come out?”

“I don’t … I don’t know what to do.”

“I’ll come to you. Pete will look after the horses. I’ll be with you as soon as I can.”

“Give Pete a hug for me.”

“I will. I’ll let you know when I get there and get a flitter, okay?”

Kat nods. Then she curls up in an afghan on the couch. Somchai, sensing Kat’s hurt, comes to sit on her.

.

Maria's good energy and comforting hugs help Kat to get through the next couple of weeks. They go sailing on San Fran Bay, camp and hike down at Big Sur, and Kat teaches Maria to surf in Hawaii. Hawaii brings her some memories of her early relationship with Gabriel, when they first made love, how tender they were with each other. She cries at odd times, but Maria is there, offering silent support, holding her hand, sipping coffee or whisky (or coffee with whisky in it), indulging with her in "comfort food". They walk on the beach and the sound of the waves, and the salt air, breathed deep, renew Katrina, if only temporarily.

Gabriel's eyes, his smile, his sense of humor, are everywhere with her; the way he shaved in the mornings, the scent of him, making love with him. It hurts to think she will never know his presence again.

 .

A few weeks later, Cornwell is taking a brisk hike in Muir Woods when her communicator chirps. She ducks to the side of the path and answers, “Cornwell here.”

It’s Admiral Sivahn. “Katrina, we need to brief you at Headquarters immediately.”

“Yes, of course. What’s—”

“I’m having you beamed over to HQ now.”

Sivahn meets her in the Transporter Room of SFHQ and walks with Katrina to her office. Cornwell changes into her uniform and comes out, an inquiring look on her face, but neither Sivahn’s serene, blue face nor her antennae give her a clue. “Come with me,” she says instead, her dark eyes very serious.

.

Admiral Sivahn takes Katrina to the secure conference room. Cornwell’s belly is knotted with tension, and she sorts through the possibilities. None of them are good. Sivahn waves her hand. “Have a seat.”

Cornwell rolls out a chair and sits, looking around at Admiral Terral and the others. They all look very grave and her tension escalates. Sivahn begins. “Admiral Cornwell, it is my sad duty to inform you that the USS Buran has been determined to be lost.”

Katrina gasps, quickly turning it into a long exhale. She swallows the tears that want to spring to her eyes. Her hand goes to her stomach as she tries to breathe in slowly. Admiral Terral says: “There was one survivor. The USS RESOLUTE picked up a distress call 21 days ago and located the wreckage of the Buran. They detected only one escape pod locator signal and found Captain Gabriel Lorca 10 days later; they are nearly here. The Buran was destroyed with all hands … save one.”

Another shock for Kat. If anything, Gabriel would “go down with his ship.” He would do anything and everything to get his crew safely off the Buran. She cannot imagine what led him to get into an escape pod while his crew suffered and died. She looks around at everyone. “I’m ….”

Admiral Sivahn looks at her. “We are expecting the USS RESOLUTE at about 1500 today, Admiral. We will bring Captain Lorca in for debriefing; we will permit you to observe if you wish, but you will not be part of the debriefing team.”

Cornwell nods, shaking inside but keeping her voice steady. “Yes, of course, Admiral. I understand. Ga—Captain Lorca and I have been close for years. I couldn’t possibly be objective.” She moves as if to get up.

Commodore Mendez holds up his hand.

“We want you to be prepared, Admiral. Worldwide Net reporters have found out about this. We are unsure who leaked the information, but when we learn who it is, a reprimand, at least, will be in order. So Captain Lorca will be under guard for his own protection, as well as the reputation of Starfleet. We will bring him in to stay at the BOQ for a series of debriefings, counseling and other interviews.”

Cornwell nods again. Terral looks at her with a cool expression but there is something behind his eyes that may be compassion. “This may be difficult for you to hear because of your long friendship with the captain.”

Katrina holds her expression in check. No emotions. Don’t start weeping with relief. There are papers on file stating that she and Gabriel are lovers, but not many people know it. Sivahn is her dear friend and confidant, but few others know about the depth of Lorca and Cornwell’s relationship. The common assumption is that because Cornwell and Lorca attended Command Training School together, they still have a close friendship. CTS only lasted four months, but was a very intensive course, and a source of tight bonding. And it was also where Gabriel and Katrina fell in love.

Cornwell and Lorca are still good friends with several of their classmates, and one of their closest friends, Jhimal, died a couple of years ago. And now Uwe Mannheim … Uwe is dead too.

The only stricture regarding senior officers in love is that they must serve in different command structures, so the chain of command is not compromised. Thanks to Gabriel’s love for commanding a starship, and Katrina’s position in Administration, neither has to worry.

“Admiral Cornwell, we’ll keep you apprised of developments. We wanted to let you know the situation in case you are approached by reporters. We advise you to make no comments to them. We wanted to let you know the process we are going to pursue with Lorca. You may find him much changed; Resolute’s captain noted his behavior was very … odd.”

“Not unusual in a survivor, Admiral,” Katrina says, reminding them of her experience in counseling PTSD survivors without saying as much. She thinks of Uwe Mannheim’s last conversation with her, though.

Sivahn rises and goes over to Cornwell as she stands. The Andorian lays a supportive hand on Katrina’s back before they turn, stand to attention briefly, and leave the room. Thank God for Sivahn. She knows that Katrina needs to be insulated from what is going to happen, because it is probably going to be nasty.

 

/\

In her office Katrina turns on the newsfeed to see just how bad it’s going to be. Some factual reports, stating the where, when, what and who, but also commentary on the "why", and she tunes into it despite her best intentions. “Coming up, the survival of Captain Lorca. How and why a Starfleet captain would not go down with his ship. In addition to our Fleet correspondents, guests will be Commodore Kinzwix and Captain Depue.” Oh, great, two of the biggest idiots ever to graduate the Academy.

What follows is ten minutes of rampant and unsympathetic speculation by Fleetwatchers and the retired senior officers who serve as commentators for the networks. Dipshits. She is vibrating with anger and restrains herself from calling in to the broadcast to set them straight. She turns it off and refrains from banging things or yelling in her office. Instead she stands for a few minutes in the resting position of Tai Chi, then performs enough movements to achieve a place of inner calm.

Katrina analyzes the possibilities. What might happen to Gabriel? Will he be drummed out of the service? Stripped of rank? Keep his rank and be sent to “fly a desk”?

But why did he leave his ship and not try to save his crew? Her mind races around; she can’t fathom it. She inhales and exhales deeply to calm herself again. She goes to look out the window over the Golden Gate, the soaring, sunset-colored Bridge, the buildings of San Francisco, the fleet shuttles here and there on various flight paths, the civilian shuttles taking off.

She remembers. He departed on the Buran after a night riven with trepidation. She had never seen him so, before a deployment. He tried to keep it from her, but she knew he was nervous in a way he had never been before. Gabriel was usually calm as anything before he left, with an underlying vibration of pure joy at getting back to seeing “what’s out there.” He was, as usual, drilling the crew while they were in port between liberty periods; he was planning endlessly, checking star charts and updating himself on any changes in situations among Federation worlds and proposed member planets. Katrina reveled in that with him. His usual joy was contagious. This time they reviewed things together, but there was an uncommon seriousness about him.

Cornwell sighs at the sight of the sky. She wants to walk. She calls Sivahn’s secretary to let the Admiral know she’s going out for a while and that she’ll be wearing civvies and a hat so as not to be buttonholed by reporters. She plans to return when USS Resolute brings Gabriel home.

She walks through the city. There are a few glances her way; she’s just a nice-looking woman in a microsuede coat, jeans and silk shirt, wearing a fedora. She moves rapidly through the streets to a coffee place she and Gabriel love, and sits, sipping, looking out the front window contemplatively, still breathing deeply, trying to be calm, and knowing what she really wants is to go home, curl up with Somchai, their Siamese cat, and sleep. She knows she will need energy. The cat, Gabriel’s gift to her when she was still a Commodore, is such a comfort, and is a touchstone for both of them. She wants so badly to be home, to be able to smell Gabriel’s scent in his clothes, to be restored to what was, and not think about what is coming. She needs to walk some more. She tosses down the rest of her coffee, smiles a goodbye at the proprietor, and continues walking. She’ll have to hustle to be back if the ship comes in at 1500 hours; the shuttle will be at HQ very soon after that.

Moving fast is good, it keeps her mind on her surroundings and away from the thought of what may become of her Gabriel. How will he be? Is he all right? Will he be well? Or has he been traumatized by the event? Will he be stranger than he was last time he spoke with her? She doesn’t know, but she will soon find out.

When she gets back, SFHQ is abuzz. Rumors have spread; people have seen the newsfeed and some glance at her. Those who know her well know she is a good friend of Lorca’s and so, recognizing her, they assess her with their eyes. What does she know?

Back up in her sky-high office she calls Sivahn directly. “When is he coming in?”

“In about 15 minutes. Resolute is docking now; they’ll shuttle directly to the landing pad here.”

“I don’t know what to do with myself,” Cornwell says. She would only say such a thing to Sivahn.

“Try to stay calm. I’ll be sure you have a place in the observers’ room if you want.”

“Yes of course I want—” Katrina stops herself. She doesn’t want to use a rude tone with her friend. She says, more quietly, “Of course I do.”

On the screen Sivahn nods. “I’m going to come walk with you, Katrina. I will be a steady hand for you. Don’t worry.”

“Thank you.”

Ten minutes later Sivahn comes into Katrina’s office and shuts the door behind her. “This will be difficult, my friend.”

She and Katrina lock eyes. Cornwell stands steadily and comes around her desk. “Thank you for ... I’ll be able to maintain my composure.”

“I know.” Sivahn gestures to the door and they walk down the hall, Sivahn telling Katrina of the latest gymnastic antics of her granddaughter, a story that makes Cornwell smile in spite of herself. They either look ahead past the glances of others in the passageway or at each other; Katrina folds her hands behind her back so they won’t tremble. No one can stare, no one can inquire, there is no time to do either as the two admirals briskly proceed. At least if they are staring, Cornwell doesn’t know it.

Sivahn leaves her at the observers’ room. Inside Katrina sits down. Starfleet public relations people sit quietly; after the chilly look she’s given them, they know better than to pepper her with questions. She doesn’t plan to answer anyone anyway. There are a couple of off-duty captains there who are staring, though, rather coolly. As she is known to be friends with this man who has betrayed Starfleet tradition, she had better get used to it.

Katrina gets up to get herself a small cup of coffee at the replicator and drinks most of it, standing at the side table. Water is there, kept cool in a pitcher, and she gratefully pours a glass and sits back down.

Captain Frances Kolee of the USS Resolute, a sturdy middle-aged woman from the African state of Liberia, enters the conference room, followed by two security officers, with two other security officers behind them, flanking an icy-looking Gabriel Lorca. He looks so different. Squinting uncomfortably in the light, he yanks out the only empty chair and sits across from nine officers, the Commander in Chief of the Fleet at the end of the table. The security officers stand against the wall behind Lorca as if he might try to escape. His face is closed, implacable even, as Katrina has never seen it. Well, perhaps once or twice, when he was extremely angry. At a nod from Admiral Terral, one security person goes to the door and steps outside.

Sivahn looks at the Resolute’s skipper. “Captain Kolee, please describe how you found Captain Lorca.”

 

“Resolute received an automated distress signal. We proceeded to the source, and found the escape pod. The captain had apparently been in it for two weeks or so before we received the signal. He had rations, water, and seemed healthy enough. My CMO has written up a report.” She passes a Padd to Admiral Sivahn.

“Would you please describe his demeanor.”

“I have met Captain Lorca before, many times,” Kolee says in her precise accent. “So I was a bit surprised that he didn’t seem to recognize me. And he seemed quite different, too.” She looks over at him. He stares back. “He still seems quite different.”

“What do you mean?”

“You see how he sits, watching like a predator. Gabriel has always been observant, but I have never seen this … aspect of him before. He was peremptory and angry. My CMO tells me that can be a symptom of PTSD. Perhaps.” She flaps a hand. “I am sorry to say he is not the same man he was.”

“Thank you, Captain Kolee. We will review the CMO’s report and call you for further observations if necessary.”

“I am glad to do it,” Kolee replies, standing. “Gabriel, I am sorry this happened to you.” She walks over to him and extends a hand. He shakes it, but Kat can tell he is not reacting to Frances as a friend.

As the door closes behind Captain Kolee, Admiral Terral begins. “You are the only survivor from Buran who has been recovered.”

“Yes,” Lorca says. “…and?”

“Captain!” Sivahn says, in a gentle voice. “You will please show the respect this Board is due.”

Thin-lipped, Lorca looks at her as if to say “Yes, and?” again, but he makes his expression more neutral. “Yes, Admiral. My … apologies,” he nods at the Board.

“What were the circumstances surrounding the destruction of your ship, Captain?” Commodore Jose Mendez says in his resonant bass voice.

Lorca stares at him. It looks as if he’s weighing his words, Katrina thinks, and a good thing; he looks so angry. “During a battle, my ship was boarded by Klingons.” His Southern accent is strong, stronger than she remembers. When they visit his moms in New Orleans for a few days it comes back, but normally it only comes out when he is stressed. Well. He is certainly under stress now. “They boarded, they started bracing up my crew, and beating them; they broke some necks, knifed some others, and came to the bridge.”

“How did you know they were violent against your crew before they got to the bridge?”

“They’re Klingons, for god’s sake, how else would they behave?” He pauses, looking up. “Sorry. Actually they showed us on the monitors. They called the bridge as soon as they boarded and said we could expect the same unless we cared to surrender. I said, ‘over my dead body’ and initiated the self-destruct sequence. I saw their ship. It was immense. There was no way we could fight our way out. A Klingon woman pushed me to the bulkhead and cracked my head. She was about to call for transport of my crew to her ship.”

The admirals exchange glances. “Please explain how you came to survive, Captain.” Terral’s eyebrow rises as he says it. No one can look as skeptical as a Vulcan.

“My first officer and my security chief hustled me into an escape pod and shot me into space. Over my objections, of course. I thought they were right behind me, but I guess they didn’t have a chance.”

“I guess not,” says Mendez, leveling a stare at Lorca.

Unusual, that Gabriel does not mention their names, especially his First’s. He and his first officer, T’Linn, have become close over the last couple of years. She is … was Vulcan, 93 years old, and had a husband and children, whom, periodically, she would confess she missed when away on a long mission. She commed with them daily when able; Gabriel would relate “the latest” to Katrina with great affection in his voice, with the same sense of great friendship he had for Jhimal before she died. Katrina can imagine T’Linn remaining aboard; Vulcans are faithful to tradition and regulations, but she can’t figure out why T’Linn wouldn’t have urged the other crew, especially parents like Uwe, into escape pods.

“The Klingon ship had their weapons hot and aimed right at us. They’d have sacrificed the Klingons who’d boarded us if they had to. But they’d prefer to catch us alive, isn’t that so?”

Admiral Sivahn frowned. “Yes, that is so.”

“I thought it was better for my crew to die quickly. I mean, the momentary pain of self-destruct was better than my crew bein’ paraded in the streets of Q’onoS as exhibits, their clothes torn half off, gettin’ pelted by shit and poked with sharp sticks and bat’leths … and ending up as slaves.”

Mendez holds Lorca’s gaze for a minute, a solid minute. Lorca gazes implacably back, his eyebrows up.

“Your story … is quite—”

“Yes. Unusual. I know, Commodore,” Lorca says. Katrina frowns.

Admiral Sivahn says, “May I remind the captain that respect—”

Lorca bows his head. “… is lacking. I’m sorry, Admiral. Commodore. I’ve been through a lot.” He’s looking down at the table, but before he looked down, Cornwell saw a strange twist flit across his lips. “I am very sorry for what happened to my crew. You can’t imagine the feelings I have had over the last weeks. I am almost … embarrassed … to have survived.”

Sivahn’s antennae curve inward. Katrina can read anger in her rigid torso and in her face. As if Sivahn is about to say, “You should be ashamed!” because any Andorian captain would have gone down savagely fighting.

“My crew did the best they could but they were very easily overpowered by the Klingons who boarded. As I saw how easily the Klingons took ‘em down, I decided the auto-destruct was the best option. To take out the Klingons on board, and their ship right nearby.”

“But your escape pod was far enough away to avoid destruction,” Sivahn says, meditatively. Lorca leans back in his chair, eyebrows raised, arms folded across his chest.

The senior officers look at each other, a few look back at Lorca, and meet eyes with their fellow officers again.

Katrina sees an expression cross Lorca’s face … so quickly, she can’t be sure. It looks the same as when he scores a point in particularly acrimonious arguments with certain other captains. There are a couple he’s had severe ongoing disagreements with. “Protocol sticklers”, or the occasional “asshole who somehow got command when they didn’t deserve it.”

This cannot be real. What is wrong with him?

She hopes for, but fears, an answer.

 

/\

Days later, Cornwell talks to the counselors who spoke with Lorca after his several debriefs with the admirals. None of them can give her any specifics due to privacy rules. She can’t observe their sessions, even though there is more than one counselor present at the first one. From the looks on their faces when she inquires, she figures that they have come to the same conclusion she has: PTSD, with a large helping of self-hate. Thus the disrespect he showed at the first debrief, perhaps in hopes of disciplinary measures. Gabriel is disgusted with himself for surviving.

It’s late in the day when her comm buzzes. “Admiral,” says her aide, “Captain Lorca would like to speak with you.”

Her eyes narrow. This is the first time since he’s been back that he’s attempted to call her. She’s been trying to get in touch with him, to no avail: “Busy,” “Out,” “In session.”

“Put him through, Gallien,” she says. Lorca’s face, on the viewscreen, looks as strange and implacable as it had before. She looks deeply into his eyes, but sees nothing of the Gabriel she remembers. Nothing. Perhaps it is a deep depression; that would be normal after such a terrible loss. “How are you?” she asks.

“Well, I can’t say I’m fine,” he snaps. Then his eyebrows go up, and he tries meeting her eyes. “Sorry about that. I’m apologizin’ all the time lately.” He sighs, looking down, away from the screen. “I’m as well as can be expected, I suppose. Not very well. Something’s wrong with my eyes, I got checked when I first got picked up and they couldn’t find anything, and they can’t find anything here either. Since the Buran blew up it’s like they burn all the time. The explosion was the most brilliant thing I’ve ever seen, including stars.”

‘Brilliant’? An odd turn of phrase. Cornwell has noticed he’s calling her from a room lit more dimly than is usual.

“I need to talk with you,” he says, “If you could come to me, or I could visit you … I’m not sure how it works right now. I seem to be under guard.”

“It’s for your protection,” Cornwell says immediately. “The relatives and friends of your crew … well …”

“They’re unhappy. Yeah, there are security people takin’ me everywhere.”

“It’s okay,” Katrina tells him. “I can come to you. You’re in the BOQ, right?”

He puts his head back, looking down his nose into the screen. “Word spreads fast.”

“I was told before you got back, Gabriel.”

His pupils widen at her use of his first name. Was it pleasure, or a sense of threat?

“Okay. Well … I’ll see you whenever you can get here.”

“I’ll be right there.”

 

At the Bachelor Officer Quarters, Katrina knocks at the door of Lorca’s rooms, and a security officer lets her in. “I’d like some privacy please. We’re old friends.” The guard gives her a long look and nods, going to stand just outside the door.

“I think they’re expectin’ me to make a break for it,” Gabriel says, as he comes in. He is dressed in Starfleet casual, T-shirt and sweatpants, and he’s barefoot. Katrina loves his long feet, his toes a little calloused, always, from running. His hair is glossy and wavy at the top, just drying from a shower. He smells wonderful, but his face is still ravaged, cold, odd, his eyes roving over her as if to figure her out. Or perhaps as if she’s a prospect in a bar.

“Well,” Katrina says, sitting on the couch, looking at him. A wee tinge of desire is coiling at the base of her spine, but caution overrides it. She feels very strange with him. As if their usual points of connection are off-kilter. “You wanted to talk.”

“Sure,” he says, sitting down across from her. Katrina’s eyes linger for a second on his shoulders and muscled arms, glance down his trim, sturdy torso. He catches her looking and his brows go up a little, as if in challenge. “I guess I should tell you. I feel terrible about what happened … I feel terrible about myself. And I don’t think I’m fit company for anybody. Besides which, they have me under guard.”

“You’re quite unpopular right now, you know.”

“Yeah. Can’t help but know.” Impatience is slipping the bonds. His body language is brisker than she remembers … aggressive, somehow. He leans forward, hands clasped between his knees. Trying to look loose, but not succeeding. His knuckles are tight. “Look, Katrina. I don’t know how to say this gently or nicely, so I’m just gonna say it. I think … I should stay away from you. I don’t want this … thing … to redound on you.”

“Oh, nonsense, Gabriel. It’s not going to affect me. Not professionally—”

“It might,” he says. “And frankly I’m not comfortable. Right now I feel … outside of things. Very much outside of things.”

Again she sees a fleeting smirk. And thinks, perhaps, irony with self-abnegation? self-judgement?

“What can I do, Gabriel?”

“Just be my friend,” he says, looking away. “I can’t handle … anything else … right now.” When he looks back at her, his blue eyes are full of such sincerity it nearly breaks her heart.

She reaches forward to touch him, and he raises his hand to sweep slowly over his hair. Instead of moving his hand away from mine, evading my touch? The gesture is normal for him though; he always tries to tame his springy hair as it’s drying so it will lie flatter against his head. But, completing the move, he reaches out to her, and they clasp hands and look into each other’s eyes for a long moment.

His eyes are intimate, but in an odd way. She can’t quite place it. It’s intimacy …with… assessment. She has never seen this from Gabriel, ever. And frankly, it repulses her a bit.

She’s heard reports of … changelings. Minds that could invade a human’s. Alien intelligences. Is this, perhaps, what happened? What’s caused the change in him? Outlandish speculation, she cautions herself. It’s PTSD, manifesting. That’s all.

“I’m, uh … pretty tired. Do you mind …?” And his eyes shift, not to the bedroom door, but to the front door.

Composing herself, she says, “Not at all.” As they stand up, she moves to hug him, and he extends his hand as if to shake hers. She takes it, and he holds it for a moment, looking down, running his thumb over the back of it. She tenses, hating such movement on the back of her hand, it’s like he’s rubbing her fur the wrong way. Normally Gabriel gently holds her hand and strokes his thumb or fingertips in her palm.

“Seriously.” Looking up to meet her eyes again, with that … sincerity flooding them, he says, “I need to just … be your … friend right now, Katrina.” He stiffens his arm and releases her hand.

She looks at him, startled and hurt, trying not to show it. Then she straightens her shoulders and turns away. “Very well, Gabriel. Have a good night and a good rest. Call me if you need to talk. As a friend,” she can’t help adding. And she leaves. She doesn’t look at him again.

‘Katrina’, she thinks, as she walks away from the BOQ and crosses the grass to her office building. He has hardly ­ever called me that.

She takes the lift to the top floor and takes the stairs from there to the roof. Atop SFHQ is a garden suitable for meditating, lunches outside, even formal events. They’ve been to several, she and Gabriel. She remembers one time when she was a Commodore, a lovely night of dancing, and a break to cool off out here, when his hand crept up the inside of her leg and the two of them were whispering, smiling up at the stars. The fantastic night of “welcome home” lovemaking. The exhilaration of his presence after so many months away. The feeling of being loved, so deeply, romantically, physically.

She looks up at the stars again, but they are bright blurs across the dark sky.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The biggest viewport on Chaka borders one side of the passageway that curves around the back of the small ship’s bridge. Lorca’s woken from a dream, finger-combed his long hair (which he’s still getting used to), and dressed in his breeches and shirt. He feels a need to see the stars, and even though the stars look a bit different here – strange, yet oddly familiar – he loves to look out at them.

He was making love with Kat, when they were up on Mount Palomar near San Diego. She was riding him, slow, and said, “Do you mind if we switch?” His eyebrows went up, he hugged her close, and rolled them so she was on her back. “Mmm, that’s lovely,” she grinned up at him. At his smirk, her eyes left his face, and gazing outward she said, “Psshht. Egotist.” She squeezed his bum. “Why should you always get to see the stars?”

“If you spot a meteor make a wish,” Lorca said.

“I already did.” She runs her hands from his lower back up to his shoulders. “Now you make one.”

.

Now, looking out, he catches a dim view of himself in the viewport, and smiles at the memory. He gazes out into the deep blackness. The stars, holes poked through to a brilliant Heaven, as Mama Lurlene told him when he was very little.

Far down the corridor, a light goes on, and he can faintly see his reflection in the viewport. He wonders what Kat would make of his dashing appearance. She’d like it, his hair’s wavy and she loved running her fingers through it before he cut it so short. And this beard, which on vacations, she has seen grown, and trimmed. “It makes you look like a buccaneer.” (She grinned and pretended to swoon.)

He rather likes the new look; it’s surprisingly comfortable. Definitely more comfortable than a uniform. His usual attire, out of uniform, is t-shirts and jeans, or turtlenecks and jeans, or a sweater and … jeans. Jeans, worn for centuries now. Now famous galaxy-wide, at least for bipedal people. Kat, his favorite bipedal person, looks damn good in them.

The stars blur a bit, then he blinks, and realizes their relative patterns appear reversed. Because the Chaka is near the Andorian system; he’s been to Andor before, and knows the stars. But apparently not here.

He hears steps behind him, and thinking it’s someone on the night watch, turns to greet them. It’s McCoy, off duty, wearing sweatpants and a long-sleeved t-shirt. “Mind if I join you?”

Lorca motions “welcome” and McCoy stands next to him. “Just wanted to take in the view.”

Lorca nods. They stand in companionable silence; Lorca’s ticking over star charts in his mind.

After a while McCoy sighs. “I miss my daughter.”

“Tell me about her.”

“Her name’s Joanna. She’s five years old and loves to play at the seashore ... Last time I saw her she wanted to be a dolphin.”

“What about her mom? You married?”

“Joy got killed by Terran soldiers raiding our colony on Risa. That’s why I’m here.”

“Where does Joanna live now?”

“She has two sets of grandparents, they’re good people living in a fairly safe place.”

“Whereabouts?”

McCoy takes a playful tone, but is dead serious. “I’ll never tell.”

Lorca nods. Sensible. “It’s too bad you can’t see Joanna more. And I’m very sorry about your wife.”

“Yeah,” says McCoy in a tight voice. “Me too.” Then his posture relaxes and he says, “Joanna looks a lot like her. Red hair and dark blue eyes. Paler than you.”

“I’m not pale,” Lorca says.

“Fair-skinned though.” The doctor smiles wryly at him. “At least Joanna doesn’t freckle.”

“I don’t freck—” Lorca smirks, looking sidelong at him. “Okay, a little. Are you flirting with me?”

McCoy cracks up. “No, I’m a doctor, you idiot. I’m trained to observe people’s bodies. Were you interested?”

Lorca shakes his head. “I was just thinking about my partner, Kat.”

“Cat?”

“Short for Katrina. She hates it if I call her that though. She’ll let the senior Admirals get away with it, but nobody else.”

“She in the service then?”

“She’s a Starfleet admiral.”

“You move in exalted circles.”

“Well, I’ve never really gotten along well enough with the senior command staff to become an admiral myself, but a starbase command or headquarters billet isn’t my kind of thing anyway. I joined Starfleet to explore. I want to be out … here ….” And he stops, because again, here is not the same. In the back of his mind, though, he’s developing an oddball theory.

McCoy shifts his feet. “Feel like a drink? I won some 16-year-old single malt Scots whisky in a poker game last time we were at Prior’s World. When we found you, in fact.”

“Say no more, Doc.” Lorca follows him, and they drink and play cards until the wee hours.

 

 /\

He kickboxes with Kirk in the gym to get fit and to gauge him as a fighter and as an officer. The younger man fights hard but fair; Lorca knows if they were enemies death would be in the air between them. But who’d be more likely to kill the other, Gabriel wonders. His Starfleet ideals haven’t slipped away completely, but he has adjusted to where he is. There’s a duality inside him now; he has ceased condemning himself for killing.

In Starfleet, during the Federation-Klingon skirmishes, the Buran had blasted a few battle cruisers. Captain Lorca had not always observed niceties about shooting only at engines and weapons. In the heat of battle with the Klingons’ fast ships, firing errors happened. They had managed to take a few prisoners, but most Klingons killed themselves rather than be taken prisoner, like ancient Japanese Samurai following their code of Bushido. So yes, he’d been responsible for deaths, accidentally inflicted in battle, but he didn’t count Klingon seppuku as his responsibility.

At the conn Kirk is fierce in battle, and a quick thinker. For someone his age he is very good at it. For Lorca it’s reflex; for Jim it’s improvisation and practice.

 

/\

They’re on the way to orbit Andor and pick up Jhimal. Her father, Shras, is near death, and she is now visiting him, possibly for the last time.

They are two million kilometers from the Andorian system when they spot a Terran destroyer. From the chatter they’ve picked up, it seems the destroyer is headed there too. Kirk has the conn, L’Rell’s at Tactical and Lorca’s at the helm. He loves flying this nimble ship.

“Run silent,” Kirk orders; they shut off anything with an externally readable signature. “Yorke, fly in fast and tight. L’Rell, fire at will.”

Lorca speeds the ship toward the Terran, veering slightly at the last minute to skim under her hull. L’Rell fires a torpedo and rakes the leftovers with the guns.

Kirk pumps a fist. “They didn’t even have time to signal—”

T’Linn is at the sensor/comms. “Another ship at 26,000 kilometers.”

“They’ll notice the other ship is gone. They were flying together,” Lorca says.

“Suggestions?”

“Fast attack,” says L’Rell, and Lorca nods. It’s the only thing they have, really. There are no asteroids to hide behind and Andor is too much of a distance right now.

Kirk says, “Fly right at her and change course as we just did. I doubt they observed what happened. They don’t usually do sensor sweeps that far ahead.”

“Thank Kahless they are nguq petaq,” L’Rell murmurs.

“Aye,” says Lorca, and he zooms in fast, right toward the prow, then arcs up and over. L’Rell gets off some gunfire but he moved too fast for her to get a torpedo lock, and he swears under his breath.

“Evasive!”

Lorca’s already twisting the Chaka through quick maneuvers, but the Terran torpedo is a tracker. He prays the thing doesn’t kill their ship as he flips over the torpedo’s path to get behind it before it can change course. L’Rell fires the guns and the torpedo is a bright, then subsiding light. The Terran is bearing down on them, guns blazing; Lorca does more acrobatics. God what a great flier Chaka is, he thinks.

“Got a lock?” Lorca asks L’Rell.

“Yes.”

“Fire at will,” Kirk says.

Lorca hardly needs to pause. L’Rell fires. But the Terran has fired too; another torpedo is bearing down. Lorca tries to evade but it clips them and “Helm control is shot,” he reports, trying to make adjustments.

There’s a bloom of fire from the Terran ship and it disappears.

“Damage to our third deck and the shuttlepod bay,” T’Linn says. “Four injured, one critical.”

Kirk leans back and sighs. “But we won,” he says. “Good work. Yorke, take the conn. I’m heading to Medical to check on the crew.” He strides out the door.

As Lorca moves to the center seat, his head suddenly feels like it’s on fire. There’s a stabbing pain too, and he stumbles, landing his ass in the chair, but is nearly doubled over. Sitting up, eyes squinted in agony, breathing deep and long, he tries to control his reaction, but has let out a low groan.

“Yorke,” L’Rell is saying, bent over him. “What’s wrong?”

“I’ll be all r—” And another jab of pain cuts off his words.

“Kirk to the bridge,” L’Rell comms.

Jim’s back. “I didn’t even get halfway—Yorke, what the fuck is wrong? L’Rell, take him to Sickbay.”

.

McCoy gives Lorca a shot and looks him over. Gaila’s busy across the med bay. “I’m gonna examine your readings in a bit. I need to tend to the others. Komatsu is badly hurt. You want me to put you to sleep here, or can you give yourself a sedative when you get to your quarters?”

“Quarters,” Lorca breathes. The pain reliever’s kicking in, thank god.

“L’Rell’s back on the bridge. I’m calling T’Pren to take you home, Pops.”

Lorca lifts his hand in refusal.

“Nope, you can’t go by yourself.”

T’Pren is taller and a bit broader than a typical Vulcan female. Like all Vulcans, though, she’s graceful and strong, pacing along beside him, her reddish brown hair glinting in the passageway lights. Lorca wants to know her better, but can’t talk now. When they get to his quarters he looks at her gratefully and she nods her head. “I must ensure you are safe in your bed before I leave,” she tells him in her very quiet voice. Lorca knows what that means. McCoy has ordered her to watch him give himself the sedative. He shrugs off his weskit, toes off his boots, and lies down carefully, hypo in hand, and shoots himself in the neck. “I’ll be okay now,” he says, and he’s asleep before she’s out the door.

/\

He wakes pain free, to work through another hard day. Lorca has learned so much, but his head is stuffed full of new information and new ways of doing things and new, practiced reflexes. When he goes to bed at night he generally drops off to sleep immediately.

He’s having a quiet conversation with Kat, snuggled warm beside him, Somchai purring at the foot of the bed. Gabriel is whispering low to her, and he can tell from the way her shoulder jumps that his breath in her ear tickles. She shifts to lie more on her back, but facing him, providing greater access for his mouth as his lips reach her shoulder, then down to her flat, smoothly muscled belly … then up her sternum to the small pillow of a breast, the pebble of a nipple, where he takes his time, to suck, and lick and nibble ever so delicately.

He makes a languid journey, charting a map across Katrina, memorizing every reaction, and crest, dip and fall.

Finally, lapping and kissing, he reaches her throat, then her sweet mouth, and the smile lines by her eyes, and her forehead, and her hairline. She smells so good, and her skin feels soft.

Gabriel’s ministrations are having their intended effect. Her breaths are coming quicker as her hands slip around his shoulders and up to riffle his short, tapered hair up, opposite its growth. He shakes his head a little and Kat whispers, “It’s only fair, you tickled my ear.”

“All’s fair in love …” he mutters, and runs his hand all the way down the front of her torso … his fingers nestle into her pubic hair, then her slippery folds, gently moving, and after a little while their bodies join and move together in their intimate dance, with vocal sounds and other sounds. After they come, they stay still together, lying in a side-by-side position (shallow for him but quite effective for both), silently regarding each other, speaking love with their eyes.

.

When he wakes he realizes, once again, that Kat is not really with him. He’s not in San Francisco with her. Nor Hawaii, nor at her sister’s horse ranch in New Mexico, nor on Risa, nor on Denobula. He is with her in something very real, but it is not reality. He’s been having these experiences for weeks now.

As always when he rouses from such a dream, he’s glad to have a small cabin to himself like all of Chaka’s crew. A couple of technicians moved in together, but that was to make room for parts and cargo. So they said.

It’s good he’s alone, because sometimes he moans when he realizes it’s just a dream. Sometimes he lies there for minutes, eyes reddening and overflowing as he looks for her in the dark. Frequently he needs a shower or a “whore’s bath,” as his mom Mildred used to say. He sighs, tipping his head back, swallowing, remembering how he would kiss away Kat’s tears, and occasionally she, his.

He misses his moms, misses Kat, and thinks about visiting home … except it hurts in the long term, because he doesn’t know if he’ll ever get there.

.

He knocks at the door to McCoy’s quarters. “Doc, you awake?”

“No.”

“Should I come back in the morning?”

“No.” McCoy codes the door open, standing there, sleepy, in his black thigh-length skivvies, and nods toward the two chairs with a little table connecting them. He puts on a T-shirt and sweatpants, then some music, lamentations of a vague American Southern sort, not too objectionable. “Patsy Cline,” he says to Lorca’s visual query.

I’m crazy … crazy for feelin’ so lonely …

I’m crazy

Crazy for feeling blue ….

 

Leonard gets out a bottle of blue liquor and pours them each a shot. “Here’s lookin’ at you, old man.” It’s a joke between them, because Lorca’s called him “kid” or “Doc” since he came aboard. And Lorca doesn’t mind. He’s got used to the idea that he and Jhimal are among the oldest ones on the ship. As for L’Rell, who the hell knows; she’s not telling. Neither is T’Linn. He supposes this T’Linn is 93, like “his” T’Linn on the Buran. Middle-aged, for a Vulcan. He wonders if this one is a grandmother too.

“And here’s to you, kid.” They clink glasses and down their shots, and Lorca nearly gasps. “What the hell is that. It’s not Andorian.”

McCoy chuckles. “Romulan Ale. Don’t know why they call it ale, but it’s damn good, idnit.”

Lorca feels the burn subsiding into a glow radiating from his center, and he already feels a little cheerier. He’s thinking about age and life and death, but it doesn’t feel as profound and dark as it did minutes ago.

“How old are you, if you don’t mind my asking?”

McCoy pours another shot and says, “Thirty-two, but I feel ten years older.”

“You look it, too.”

“Gee thanks, Pops.”

“Not quite old enough to be your pops,” Lorca says, contemplating the blue liquid. “At least, not if you were forty-two.”

“Heh.” McCoy raises his glass. “Here’s to old age and treachery. Beats youth and beauty every time.”

Lorca nods with a smile, and they toss back their shots. Molten warmth. “This stuff is great.”

“Cures what ails you.” McCoy raises the bottle and Lorca shakes his head “no thanks.” The doctor pours a half-shot and drinks it; Lorca reconsiders and pours a dram himself.

“I need to ask you something, Doc. Can you tell me about Jim Kirk?”

McCoy tilts his head, swirling his drink. “I don’t know him that well. He’s been with us about six months now. He’s a good tactician and weapons officer, Jhimal thinks highly of his skills. Great at hand-to-hand combat. I’ve patched him up a lot, but he always wins the fight. The best thing he did, though, was bring us Gaila. She’s brilliant.” The doctor’s gaze softens. “Sweet kid. She’d be a great doctor but she’s an ace engineer.”

“Agreed. So she’s with Kirk, right?”

McCoy nods. “He’s pretty good-natured when she’s around. Or when he’s working direct with Jhimal. But he can be kind of a … hotshot.”

Lorca sips, remembering Kirk sneering at Starfleet. “That’s a nice way to put it.”

“He gets along with some of us really well. He’s fun at parties. Great poker player too.”

Lorca files that away.

“So just how old are you, Dave?”

“David Yorke” shakes his finger at McCoy. “Hey. My first name? Use the whole thing.”

“Oh sorry. David. Okay. So … your age?”

“Fifty-five.”

“Are you married? I never asked.”

“Kat and I have been together, on and off, for about thirty years. We haven’t formalized it. She’s directed her career so she wouldn’t be in my direct chain of command. That’s already a lot to ask of her.”

“Would gettin’ married mean one of you would have to quit the … Starfleet?”

“No. We’re going to do it when we retire, as a celebration—.” His throat tightens up and Lorca takes a tiny sip of the liquor, letting it melt down his throat. Meeting McCoy’s eyes he says, “I miss her like hell. And I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again.” He looks away to hide his misty eyes. “That’s kinda why I wanted to talk with you. Since I’ve been here I’ve had … experiences. Dreams, I guess, but very realistic, and most of ‘em are very nice, until they end. Then I’m sadder than I was when I went to sleep.”

McCoy tilts his head. “And these dreams are unusual to you because …?”

Lorca sips. “I have nice dreams about Kat … really nice, about … being with her … but when they end, and I wake up – I always wake up after – it’s like she’s left me. I don’t know, am I going nuts? Because the dreams feel real. As dreams never have for me. Dreams about being home.”

“Real as a holo-simulation real, or real as me sittin’ here?”

Lorca’s brows go up a little as he nods, once. “Real as you sittin’ there.”

McCoy is silent.

“Trying to think of a nice way to tell me I’ve lost my mind?”

“No.” McCoy’s hand smoothes his stubble of mustache and beard, which he’s growing because he’s said he likes the look of Lorca’s. (And it’s easier than shaving.) “What about other dreams?”

“I didn’t often remember my dreams, back … home. I’ve had a lot of nightmares in my life, ones I actually lived through. Lately though, when I have nightmares, they feel awful damn real, too. Like my ship getting pummeled and my crew, dying around me … I can smell their blood, and hear them crying out, and last night, I held T’Linn’s hand as she died--.”

He feels his eyes getting hot; he swallows. He misses his family of officers on the Buran. He misses his ship. And he’s worried about what happened to them. And Kat … what’s going on with her? What about the war? Has it become a full-on conflict? His gut is twisting. He tunes back in. McCoy is saying something.

“T’Linn? You know a Vulcan woman by the same name?”

“Yeah, she’s my first officer on the Buran. About to be a grandmother.”

McCoy looks down. “Don’t mention that. T’Linn lost her family before she joined us on Chaka.”

“Did she have a daughter?”

Nodding, the doctor says, “Why?”

“T’Larc?”

McCoy’s eyebrows go up. “Yeah. So the lookalike thing you have with Lorca, and your friend Jhimal, you also have with T’Linn. And the family names are the same?”

“Yeah, Jhimal’s relatives have the same names and similar personalities, her brothers and her spouses.”

McCoy looks at him. “Holy shit. So what do you think it could be?”

“Hmm. Well. Number one: I’m having hallucinations, and you could be one of ‘em. Number two: My brain is malfunctioning, making an alternative universe, because something … something terrible has happened and I’ve had a mental break. Number three: I’m stuck in a transporter buffer, and my mind’s going wild in there. Number four: Brain damage. I have a lot of headaches, since I got here. Or didn’t get here, maybe I’m imagining the whole …” Sigh. “Or Number five, there are anomalies of space/time in my brain.  Number six: a theory’s come to life for me, the multiple universe—”

McCoy sits up straight. “Pssht, that old thing?”

Lorca grins ruefully. “It may be old, but the theory hasn’t been disproven yet.”

The doctor runs his hands through his longish hair. McCoy likes to go a long time between haircuts.

 “So you told me something after you started shadowing Gaila in Engineering, d’you remember? About some quantum signature anomaly?”

Lorca nods. “A definite difference in readings. I’ve been in Starfleet for thirty-seven years, and have never seen that reading until … until I got here.

“When you have some time tomorrow, stop in and see me. I’ve already been looking into the ion storm and the phaser stun with relation to your headaches. I’ll hook you up and check you out again for comparative readings. And … maybe we can do some research into this theory of yours.”

/\

“Okay, David,” McCoy says the next day, peering into Lorca’s eyes. Lorca’s finished half a shift with Gaila in Engineering, and is due on the bridge watch in four hours. “First of all, your pupils are pretty dilated. So you may feel some pain.” He directs a bright light into them, medical scanner tweeting away. “Nothing unusual. Close your eyes, it’s okay now.” Lorca sees the bright light a hundred times over and it begins fading to red. “When you get the bad headaches, do you see patterns or hear things?”

“No, I don’t think— … oh, sometimes a little ringing in my ears, yeah.” He remembers it turning from sound to pain, its intensity building and blossoming, a hellish flower.

“Ever feel sort of like you’re getting buffeted by a shockwave or something like that?”

He shakes his head, once.

“Do you ever have a dull pain, say, here?” McCoy touches the nape of his neck.

Lorca nods. “Tension, I assumed.”

“Yeah, probably. Unless it builds into a bad one?”

“No. I have other headaches, but they’re … milder.”

Gaila is working away on the computer in the corner. McCoy nods over at her and says, “She’s researching some of the things we talked about last night.”

But, an hour and several other types of sensor scans later, Gaila and the doctor look puzzled and sad.  “Sorry, we haven’t found anything,” says McCoy.

“… Yet.” Gaila says, “I’ll keep researching, I haven’t delved very deep into the theories yet.”

McCoy smiles at her. “You’re one helluva good scientist. Are you sure you don’t want to go medical full-time?”

She grins. “Sorry, Doc, engineering is my first love.” McCoy gives her shoulders an affectionate squeeze, a gesture Lorca’s seen between them before. He thinks he sees a bit more than friendship in the doctor’s eyes, a look of longing, but he may be missing his dead wife and daughter.

Lorca smiles, thanks them for their help, and goes to his quarters to hit the rack for a nap. After his bridge watch, he plans to continue the research they’ve started.

/\

An uneventful watch at the conn, and Lorca is back in his quarters. Sadly, most of the scientific research Resistance Intel has gotten from the Terrans centers on containment of people; how to torture people (“Innovative methods for gradual nerve damage and agonizing restoration,” reads one of the scientific papers’ headings); weapons, weapons systems and their most efficient deployments; mycelial network-related starship drives (“Hmm,” he thinks, and wonders how the Discovery/Glenn DASH-drive project is going, if they’re already doing space trials); consolidation of power over political systems (with plenty of propaganda, right there in the research papers), and fostering an obedient, servile people … this last intelligence gathered at great cost, because it was only meant for higher-ups in the Empire. Early research into cloaking technology … again found at great cost, because what a help it would be to the Resistance!

But little investigation of space anomalies. There is something gleaned from an inner-circle defector about a strange area of space, but no specifics … in fact, Terrans do little investigation of anything that will not serve the Empire somehow in conquering and continuing to keep subjugated, entire populations. He turns from the computer in disgust. The wealth of information about cultures, astrophysics, exo- biology, psychology, geology, and more that existed in the Federation does not exist here. Every bit of scientific knowledge the Resistance has, other than that to do with defending and quickly moving and feeding their own peoples, is hard-won because there is little time to spare. Most deals with advances in defensive systems … healing people from torture and PTSD … largely, the inverse of the Empire’s research. In the Resistance, culture has survived – history, arts, music, stories – partly from pride of each species, and partly to keep them anchored to precious traditions in the face of the Empire’s insanity.

He feels heat at the back of his eyes and they start to redden. He wants to be home. He thirsts for it. But if he cannot be there, at least he hopes to stay with these people, who are kind, who are just, who are fighting for the things he treasures.

 

Chapter Text

 

AFTER-ACTION QUESTIONNAIRE 

Name, Rank, Duty Status:  LORCA, GABRIEL, CAPT (O-6) STARFLEET, currently active duty

His writing looks different, Cornwell notes. Very heavy. All capitals, yes, the old Academy standard for Padd or paper logbooks, but not Gabriel’s usual, neat letters.

Have you recently experienced a traumatic event, or events?  Yes

Please describe it/them.  Klingons attacked my ship, USS Buran, and killed members of my crew. Because I foresaw torture, imprisonment and slavery for them, I initiated Self Destruct. Two of my officers put me in an escape pod. The Buran blew up with all hands.

In the last week, have you felt a sense of imminent threat when you were not actually in danger?  No

In the last week, have you felt you are re-experiencing the traumatic event[s]?  Not in an immediate sense. I clearly recall it however.

For example, do you “see it” in your “mind’s eye” or do you have the sensations you had at the time? No, but again, I clearly recall it.

In the last week, have certain words, sounds, symbols, smells, vibrations, sights, tastes, made you feel like you were in the situation again?  No, some sounds or smells remind me of it, but I don’t feel like I’m there.

In the last week, has your heart raced or have you broken out in sweat when you think of the event? No

Have you had nightmares?  A few

Do you feel “triggered” by certain words, your own thoughts, certain sounds, smells or sensations?  In other words, do any of these things listed cause you to feel stress or threat?  No

Are you easily startled?  No

Do you feel you need to stay alert at all times?   I’m more sensitive to my surroundings now, but I’m not “on high alert.”

Are you able to enjoy an activity without tension in your body?  Most of the time

Are you having frightening thoughts?  No

Do you feel tense or “on edge”?  A little

In the last week, have your sleeping patterns changed?  Not much

Have you had less sleep than usual?  A little

Have you had more sleep than usual?  Occasionally

In the last week, were you easily angered? Have you had angry verbal or physical outbursts?  I have been close to anger at repeated debriefings, but not close to an angry outburst.

In the last week, have you eaten normally?  Yes

Are you eating less than usual, or more than usual?  N/A

In the last week, have you found it hard to concentrate?  Not really

In the last week, have you had negative thoughts about yourself/your life?  I did not “go down with the ship”

In the last week, have you been feeling guilt or blame?  Again “I did not go down with the ship” and there seems to be a lot of judgment from others. I had good reasons for initiating Self Destruct and I did not, myself, seek escape. I don’t really feel guilty about surviving.

In the last week, have you done activities you enjoyed in life before the traumatic event occurred?  Yes

What activities? Working out, running, having a drink, reading, watching holonovels/documentaries

In the last week, have you felt alienated from others?  A little (judgement described above)

In the last week, have you felt detached from your friends or family?  Not really

In the last week, have you stopped speaking, or interacting, with friends or family?  Not really

.

Cornwell reads Lorca’s answers to the “After Action” Questionnaire, which is really a Post-Traumatic Stress Questionnaire. As she reads, a chill comes into her gut.

No changes in sleep patterns? That’s unusual, Gabriel. After Jhimal died you hardly slept for a week. And then you had nightmares.

Were you easily angered? Yes, but really, “by repeated debriefings”? You know those happen, right? You’re not angry that you lost your whole crew “family”?

Have you felt guilt or blame? Oh yes, but only because you’ve been judged? “I did not, myself, seek escape” – but Uwe and your security chief shoved you into an escape pod when they could have issued a general alarm to abandon ship? Why didn’t you order that? What the fuck, Gabriel?

What activities have you done that you enjoy? Missing are “listening to music” … “hiking” … “swimming” … “making love” … her eyes are swimming and she blots them with the hem of her sleeve.

Have you felt detached from your friends or family and have you stopped speaking to or interacting with….

“Not really?!” she exclaims out loud. You’ve detached yourself from this friend. This lover. Your mom Mildred and Momma Lurlene haven’t heard from you since you’ve been back and they are upset because you haven’t answered their calls.

She is angry and hurt at once. Gabriel loves his moms. Normally he goes to visit them in the first few days after he gets home. Not that he can do that right now, but he could at least call them!

And he loves me. But his chilly demeanor and the sang-froid that comes across in the questionnaire tell her otherwise. She ducks into her office bathroom because she can feel big weeping coming on.

I know he loved me. I know he did. But now ….

 

/\

There are holovideos of the Boards of Inquiry. Kat walks into the middle of one, studying Gabriel’s face and body language as he responds to questions. He appears … studied. That, she supposes, is because he wants to get another ship. He’s reviewed possible questions and practiced his answers so he seems calm, in control, a captain who’s ready for action.

Yet he seems … cold. Gabriel is not usually so chilly in personal interactions. True, he doesn’t like talking with admirals much, never has, so it could be said that his demeanor has to do with that. But he’s watching the admirals like a hawk. Like any good CO, Gabriel is typically quite observant, but not in this way. He is usually attentive and respectful, but not … defensive.

It’s an interesting way of being defensive, too. He’s studying their body language … sensing the answers they want … sensing if they are trying to spring a trap?

He looks as if he’s choosing. Looking them over, seeing which admiral is most receptive to him. Which ones are not. Holding their gazes a little too long to see who’s comfortable with him and who’s not. Who might need only a bit of persuasion.

A predator, Kolee said.

The middle ones are the ones he “sells” to. But it’s not a hard sell. It’s Here’s my answer, I’ll be glad to tell you more. If you ask. But I won’t make it overly detailed or emotionally compelling. He leaves it to their curiosity, but seems to know who is too prideful to look curious, and who doesn’t want to appear too different from the others. Sivahn doesn’t buy what he’s selling, Kat can tell from her antennae. Sivahn is waiting, and watching.

The hard-liners, and there are only two, Terral – and of the admirals on the board, Terral has known Lorca the longest – stare, and observe, and ask open-ended questions to which Lorca gives very short answers and raises his eyebrows, all but looking down his nose, as if to say, Any more questions? Because I really have to be about my business.

Kat’s seeing the pattern. If they’re comfortable with him, he answers their questions briefly. But he doesn’t want to give them room to explore. Because they’re at ease in his presence, he is … if not uneasy, very aware. He doesn’t want a discussion with them, but knows they won’t press.

A Tellarite admiral, whom Kat knows only by reputation, begins his questioning.

“Captain Lorca, you are accused of leaving your ship when your crew were in distress, and of killing them when you auto-destructed the Buran. Can you truly justify your actions?”

“I have done so repeatedly, Admiral Kav.”

“Again.” The Tellarite’s nose is up, as if he’s sniffing the air.

Lorca’s smile is slow and sly, designed to provoke. He recites exactly the words he wrote on the After Action Report. In a tone that says he’s sick to death of this. And he’s almost glaring at Kav as he says it.

The effrontery! Kat thinks.

 And nods. Exactly. Tellarites like a feisty opponent because they like to argue. He’s winning Kav over.

It goes on for a minute or two longer. Kat can see that Terral has observed the interaction and has mentally noted the same thing she has. The Vulcan raises an eyebrow.

“Are you attempting to persuade Admiral Kav to like you?”

“Of course not!” Lorca responds, and quietly adds, “Admiral, with all due respect, this is the third Board of Inquiry in a week. I am human and I’ve always been rather impatient, as you recall from my service aboard your ship.”

“I do indeed, Captain.” Terral glances at the others. “Are there any more questions?”

Admiral Sivahn nods. “Yes. Captain Lorca, I have known you for some years. Do you feel as different as you seem to me?”

Lorca raises his eyebrows and tilts his head. “I probably am. I’ve been through the trauma of losing my ship and was badly injured by a Klingon.”

“Yes.”

“Exactly. And I may have mentioned that she shoved me against a bulkhead and I had a blow to my skull…? So I treated my wounds as best I could with what was in the escape pod, and I may have had a temporary brain injury.”

“Hmmm, yes, but a brain injury didn’t show in your medical exams. It’s a good thing Medical was able to heal your eyes.”

“The auto-destruct explosion was the most brilliant, burning light I’ve ever seen.”

Cornwell winces at his word choice.

“I’m still quite sensitive to light and my eyes often hurt. But I want to leave my eyes alone now, so I can have the pain to remind me of my crew. Lighting conditions can always be adjusted, after all.”

Sivahn looks at Terral and quirks her antennae, I’m done.

“Very well. Captain Lorca, please wait outside; we will deliberate and call you in to render our decision.”

Kat listens to the discussions, and concludes, Lorca will have enough Admirals on his side to remain on the Active list, pending final decision by Starfleet Medical, Psychiatric Department.

And he does.

 

/\

“The Psychiatric Board has extensively discussed Captain Lorca’s ability to serve, and we have already made our final determination, Admiral Cornwell.”

Cornwell stands in Admiral Reed Sternberg’s office. They’ve known each other since Kat was beginning her service in Starfleet. She was a fully qualified psychiatrist who’d come in through Officer Candidate School. A young Lieutenant, some 30 years ago, supervised by a wise middle-aged woman with seemingly infinite compassion. She made clear the limitations of what a psychiatrist could do in Starfleet, but also how much one could help those who had been through hell, how one could teach service members  how to approach their dangerous space adventures and keep their minds intact. Sternberg made clear how valuable Cornwell and her disciplined mind would be to the organization.

Sternberg’s sharp intelligence is apparent and her physical fitness is a great example to others. Kat secretly hopes that when she’s Sternberg’s age, she’ll have thick, silver-white hair like hers. But she’s not here to reminisce.

“And the Board’s decision …?”

“Captain Lorca is to be retained on active duty and is eligible for a shipboard assignment as CO.” The admiral says this with a neutral expression.

Kat’s eyebrows fly up. She is that startled. “He is? How did you arrive at that conclusion?”

Sternberg speaks calmly. “I was the Convening Authority for the Psych Eval Board, but I did not render its decision by myself. Katrina, we’re at war with the Klingon Empire. We’d like the luxury of giving him plenty of time for recovery, but Lorca’s a good warfighter and Command wants him assigned a ship ASAP.”

“What ship do they have in mind for him?”

“Discovery. Or Glenn. Whichever one is ready first.”

“That’s a top secret project! They’re going to assign a captain who may be emotionally compromised to a DASH-drive ship? With all the tensions around the successes and failures with the drive – and trying to fight the ship?”

Admiral Sternberg steadily holds her gaze. “First, the Board did not make any observation – or official determination that Captain Lorca is emotionally or otherwise compromised. Second, personally, I would prefer to wait for him to get extensive counseling before we give him a ship. Third, as you well know, there are no conventional ships whose COs can be transferred at the moment. Frankly, after the Buran, no conventional ship’s crew would trust him anyway. And fourth, as I said, CINC Ops – and CINC Fleet – want Lorca out there ASAP.”

“You’re serious? He’s not … he’s not acting like himself … he’s disconnected emotionally … he’s not that bothered by what happened. Why in the world did he let them shove him into an escape pod?! Why did  the Board even believe his story!?” She knows she’s talking more loudly than usual, but still can’t believe it. “And they’re letting him take a ship out with no counselor assigned to it?”

“The CMO will suffice for that. You know that counselors are not yet an accepted part of a starship’s medical staff. And neither the Psych Eval Board nor the Board of Inquiry found any particular issues with his ‘story’, as you put it.”

“They should have!” Kat slaps the Padd against her thigh, turns, paces, then turns back to Sternberg, her expression angry and incredulous at the same time.

 The Head of Psychiatry merely looks at her. “He’s within acceptable parameters for assignment, Admiral Cornwell.”

Katrina blows out a sigh. “Only just.” She’s trembling. “You’re going to put one of the most important experimental ships in the hands of a man who has just gone through the trauma of losing his ship with all hands—”

“We’re quite aware of what we’re doing, Admiral. Are you? I have my reservations, but I must submit to the majority opinion here. And I think your feelings about Lorca’s capabilities might have something to do with what’s happened since he got back.”

Cornwell thrusts out her chin. “What do you mean?”

“I understand he has broken off a close relationship with you since he came back.”

She restrains her temper and keeps her voice steady. “Is this common knowledge?”

Sternberg folds her hands and looks down. “Katrina, you and Lorca filed paperwork saying you’re a couple. Some people have noticed things are cooler in that department. And word travels fast, you know.”

Kat bites back words. “I’m amending it. We aren’t a couple, anymore. We haven’t been since he got back. So you can consider my objections … objective.”

“I’m sorry to hear that you’re no longer with him. And I understand your objections, because you know him well. I’ll make a note of them.”

She doesn’t know what else to say; it’s automatic: “Thank you, Ser.”

Admiral Sternberg picks up a Padd, ready to continue her work. “Well … onward and upward.” She smiles in a gentle dismissal.

Cornwell nods and stands to attention. “Good day, Ser.”

I tried, she thinks on her way out of the building and back to the Command offices. As she crosses the green, goes inside the building, walks upstairs to Admin, goes to her office, greets Gallien, her secretary, and goes in to sit behind her desk.

I tried ...

And I’m still trying to understand what’s happened to him.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Lorca invites Cornwell to lunch. She says “I’ll call you back,” and checks her calendar, weighing whether she really wants to be with him in any capacity. He’s brisk, if not brusque, with her in any interactions they have, since he broke things off. She still feels … dishonored. Slighted. But with the change in him, she wouldn’t be comfortable in intimate circumstances anyway. She weighs the pros and cons of lunch, and decides she wants to talk with him, just to see how he is. How well he’s fitting in. Does he feel accepted by the officers going to Discovery, things like that. She calls him back and tells him yes, and he gives her an address where she’s to meet him.

It’s a very nice restaurant, different from their usual type of lunch place, dim, with soft lighting. Linen-covered tables are set with sterling silver, and small candle lamps; beautiful chairs surround each table, and the side furnishings are elegant. Kat feels as if she should be wearing Dinner Dress and not her usual Dress B uniform. Lorca stands up when the Maitre d’ escorts Cornwell to the table and seats her, settling a napkin over her lap. Lorca seats himself with a smile and says, “Glad you could get away. I’ve been touring the Discovery and checking over her systems, and talking with that astromycologist, Staymets? He’s … interesting.”

“Stamets. He is, he’s brilliant and passionate.”

Cornwell meets his eyes. They’re glinting, but not with Gabriel’s normal enthusiasm. It seems like something else.

A sommelier comes to the table with a bottle of champagne and a standing sterling ice bucket and  presents the bottle to Lorca, who nods, smiling.

Cornwell’s mouth opens, but she says nothing. Gabriel doesn’t usually assume she will drink at lunch. Sometimes he orders a glass of wine with the meal and maybe “corrected” coffee after, and occasionally Katrina will have a glass of wine with lunch, but only when she doesn’t have very important business pending. And right now everything on her desk is very important.

The wine steward pops the cork and carefully pours champagne for both of them. Lorca lifts his in a toast, looking expectantly at Kat. She raises hers, and he says, “To a normalizing of relations between us, Katrina. And to the USS Discovery.” They touch glasses and she pretends to sip. He downs half of his in one go.

The food arrives. Rare steak for him, crispy tender trout for her. Conversation does not flow easily between them; Lorca is speaking authoritatively about the ship – and the personnel assigned – rather than companionably, and Kat lets him run on, observing him the while. He looks subtly around, and over her shoulders, the whole time. Not as if he’s looking for anyone in particular, but looking for things out of the ordinary, as he used to do when he was a lieutenant, chief of Security on Terral’s ship.

“…and Lieutenant Stamets. Looks like he’s going to be a pill, but he is an expert in his field. As long as he does what I … what we need him to do, we’ll be in good shape.”

“You’re very excited about it,” Kat says.

“Oh, I am! Of course I am! A chance to get out … there, to be home.” He sips champagne and cuts some steak, looking up at her. “… at home in space.” 

She nods.

He smirks, chewing. “You’re watching me as if I’m a patient. You think I still should be?”

She raises her eyebrows a little and shakes her head. “You’ve been cleared for duty.”

“But I wouldn’t be if it was up to you.”

“It doesn’t matter, but that’s correct. I think you still have therapy work to do.”

He scoffs. “How many years has it been since you’ve practiced, Doctor?”

She smiles insincerely, restraining sarcasm. “Not that many. Captain.”

.

After lunch, he offers to walk with her.  She starts to shake her head “No,” and Lorca says “Let me walk you partway, then.”

“Okay.”

He takes her arm.  And this, too, is different. When they used to walk together in uniform, they’d keep their hands down between them, just in case they could touch fingers or clasp hands out of sight of others, and separate without looking guilty of PDA.

She’s glad they’re not walking together all the way to Headquarters. His pace is faster than usual, and she almost hurries to keep up. As they take some stairs up to another street, he asks, “Can I take you out for drinks tonight?”

She almost stammers, she’s so caught by surprise. But, still, another chance to figure out what’s going on with him … “Sure. Twenty hundred hours. Shall I meet you?”

“No, I’ll pick you up. SFHQ lobby? Civilian clothes?”

“All right,” she says, and walks toward Headquarters.

.

They’ve each changed out of uniform and dressed for the cool San Francisco night. Cornwell’s in a longish wool skirt, boots, a nice blouse and green jacket, businesslike enough that he won’t think she’s angling for his favors. He’s in black lace up boots, dark jeans and a black wool turtleneck. “So,” she says, “Isn’t that wool making you itch?”

“This is very soft. Doesn’t bother me.” He’s taken her arm again, and the wool doesn’t feel so soft to her hand. Gabriel’s had a sensitivity to regular wool since they got back from a week in weightlessness during Command Training School. The sudden feeling of clothes pulling on skin because of gravity took getting used to, for her too, but she says nothing more. He says, “Thought we’d go to the Bayside.”

“Mmm, good atmosphere.”

“And 16-year old single malt ….”

She’s not eager to drink a lot with him.

But, as Sternberg says, onward and upward. More observations for Kat to privately file away. How much will he drink? And most important, how will he behave to me?

The bar’s not crowded, but is warmly lit with candle-like lights. It’s an ancient wood structure and part of it is extended on pylons into the edge of the Bay, so you can hear water lapping in the fog, even sit on the pier if you want. They stay inside; the air, though some eases inside through the open wood-frame windows, is chilly.

Lorca orders a bottle. This is rare.  He holds it up to her with a devilish grin before he uncorks it. “Straight from the motherland,” he says, and pours. She raises her glass to him and takes a tiny sip. The lovely thing about single malt is that it can be enjoyed in miniscule sips.

A couple of whiskies – doubles – and his expansiveness emerges, his eagerness to “get out there and get the crew in good fighting form.” That’s not unusual, she notes. But he pours himself a third drink. “Want some more? Oh. You’ve hardly drunk your first.” His eyes narrow, then he smirks. More for me. He leans back and crosses his legs.

Kat says, “Have you talked with your moms since you came back?” She called them a couple of days ago to ask, and wants to see what Lorca will say.

He pauses mid-sip and shakes his head. “No, I haven’t had a chance. And I know they’ll be too concerned to let me be. They’ll ask question after question, kind of like the Boards of Inquiry. And the damned psychia— sorry.”

“It might reassure them.” Mildred, Lorca’s birth mother, had said to Kat, “If he doesn’t call me I will call him. And he does not want that. Lurlene is about out of her mind worrying about him.”

Cornwell shrugs. “Your call. So to speak.”

He gives her a short, penetrating look. “I’ll be sure to get in touch before I go back out.” Leaning forward, his eyes warming, a smile playing at his lips, he lays his hand on the table, palm up. “Would you consider taking me back?”

She smiles. “What brought that on?”

He tilts his head. “I feel bad about breaking things off the way I did. I was hoping you missed me.” His smile is retreating.

But he’s watching her in a way that’s slightly odd, with a tiny smirk at the right side of his mouth. Kat dips her head, smiling a little, and takes a sip of her drink. “I suppose maybe you do feel bad. But since the … incident … you’ve changed a lot, and right now, I’d prefer it if we just stay friends, Gabriel. It’ll give me a chance to consider it.”

His eyebrows go up. “Oh. Okay. Maybe later on, then.”

Just like that. Previous to this, Gabriel would have tried to figure out what went wrong, if he’d been too harsh in asking for time apart. He’d have tried to probe gently, to find her feelings, and after talking about it, would have accepted them. Not now. He pours another drink, his movements still neat. He didn’t used to drink quite this much, unless they were mutually celebrating and getting silly together.

She looks at him. “I’m thinking of moving over to Ops, and I can’t have a conflict of interest.”

“Hmph. Ops, huh?” He shakes his head once, and she can see his jaw flex.

“You feel like Operations is a bad choice for me?”

“No, not at all.” He drains his glass, and after a moment, stands up. “Would you like to go now?”

“Sure, if you’ve had enough.”

“Yeah, I think so.”

Kat slips her jacket back on and they go to the foggy street. They walk, and the scent of eucalyptus trees in the mist cheers her. This drinks date has been a bit of a chore.

On a street near the Presidio, there’s a recessed shop entrance with display windows on either side, and he ducks into it, pulling her in, wrapping his arms around her. “Sure I can’t change your mind?”

Oh, his voice still rumbles in his chest. But he’s not the same. “No, I—” He moves as if to kiss her.

She slips her hands up between them and straightens her arms, pushing him away.

He steps back a little more. “Sorry. I’m a little drunk, I guess. That was wrong of me.” A sheepish-looking smile, and he says, “Forgive me?”

“Of course.” She steps out. “No need to walk me home. I’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure …”

But his voice, like the man she loved, is faint in the distance behind her.

 

/\

That night, she dreams of the Gabriel she loves. Stroking her hair softly as they sit on the couch, reading. Then they each look up at the same time, their eyes meet, and they softly kiss, and begin slipping each other’s clothes off, kissing as they go, and naked at last, make sweet, urgent love.

She wakes, weeping, the sound of Gabriel’s voice in her ears as she comes. “Love you, Kat. Always ….” She ends up crying hard, sitting up, knees to chest, arms wrapped tightly around them. So hard that Somchai comes to bunt her elbow in his feline inquiry, Are you okay?

“No,” she says to him quietly, petting him, crying in gratitude for this small, warm presence. “It’s probably going to be a long time before I’m okay.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Cornwell has thrown herself into learning everything to do with Operations. She was a good pilot in Officer Candidate School, and she’s kept up her flight hours (she and “her” Gabriel teamed up at Command Training School and loved flying together and opposite each other in Mock Aerial Combat and more recently, they’d done “refresher training” for Kat when he was in port. He was a bold flyer, and had taught her so much, and memories of flying with him continue to embolden her. She and Sivahn sometimes practice MAC). She gets deeply back into flying, and studies classic Starship warfare, also analyzing the battle actions of contemporary Fleet captains … their FLEETEX operational strategies and squadron battle tactics. She also studies current comms, weaponry, and starship engineering procedures, some of which she knows from many procurement discussions of equipment and materiel needed—or demanded—by ship captains.

Since Lorca’s rejection of her, Kat’s been champing at the bit to serve as an admiral in Ops, and recommends a replacement for her Procurement and Assignments position [known in short as Admin].

At least that office had taught her everything she needed to know about starship parts, production time, finding the best starship captains and the right people to run and repair systems, and the competition for same among ship captains. And whose fur she’d have to groom to get captains on the front lines what they needed.

Starfleet’s been stepping up shipbuilding recently, since T’Kuvma united the Klingon Houses and began more organized raids on Federation colonies and outposts. But after the Battle at the Binaries and T’Kuvma’s death at Captain Georgiou’s hands, General Kol has led most of their forces in tenuous alliance while—according to Section 31—the “Torchbearer,” aboard the huge Sarcophagus ship, has been trying  to keep the Houses together to honor T’Kuvma.

Kol’s apparently having none of that, occasionally allying with Orion syndicate arms dealers and taking advantage of their smuggling operations to aid his House, Kor. But with some Klingon Houses beginning earnest contention with House Kor, things are more urgent now, and ships are rolling off the production lines more quickly than ever.

A couple of months ago, a Klingon raid came terribly close the colony where Cornwell’s mother is lieutenant governor. She is expert at wrangling scientists. Though she’s not close with her mom, Katrina felt a chill at the news. The Klingons are coming closer to the core of Federation territory.

Cornwell benchmarks with Sivahn and a couple of other admirals she admires and learns the ropes quickly. Her decisions become more difficult, but she makes them rapidly and well. Some, she has a hard time stomaching, but that’s natural. Bureaucracies are not perfect, and sometimes she has to accept that the bent of the senior admirals in CinCFleet is toward caution, reserving resources, not going out balls to the wall.

At last, she is assigned to work with Terral’s staff in CinCOps. His second retired recently, and he’s deliberated over who to assign that position. He decides on Cornwell. She’s senior to most of his staff and has experience—and recent training—that will be valuable. She also absorbs and correlates information very quickly.

 .

/\

.

Cornwell makes a psychologist appointment with Dr Silingardi, a human with Betazoid ancestry. Kat’s been having dreams about Gabriel, those dreams with such immediacy she feels he is there with her, that his presence is real. The Gabriel Lorca she fell in love with, the man she loved for 30 years. Not this new, colder, real-life version who came back a year after he left on the Buran. Not the one who blew up his crew, but the one who related to his crew as family.

She has stopped tearing up every time she thinks of this, but still she wants to cry, and she needs to discuss the reality of who Gabriel is now, and learn to accept it. She needs to put behind her the memory of the Gabriel she commed with when he was still on the Buran. At least, until that very last time, before she heard from Uwe.

.

“I miss them,” she’s saying. She’s looking out Silingardi’s window. The view isn’t quite as good as that from her own office, but she can see a patch of the park from this one. Cornwell’s has a view of the Golden Gate, appropriate for one who supports explorers in their missions.

“ ‘Them’?”

“Gabriel’s crew. Usually we’d have a big party when they got home from a deployment. They were like a family to us. And now ….”

“I am sorry.” The doctor crosses her legs and leans back in her chair. “So the loss of his crew represents another loss of ‘family’ to you.”

“Yes.” Cornwell settles on the couch, folding her hands on her thighs. “His first officer, T’Linn, was about to be a grandmother. His second officer was a friend of ours in Command Training School, and had two girls, and his wife, Petra, was studying psychiatry. I spoke with Petra yesterday and she is so angry and deep in grief …. I haven’t been able to comprehend their loss yet. They were wonderful people, his crew. They appreciated Gabriel’s style as a captain. They were loyal to him. Sometimes they’d forego shore leave if he needed them for a specific mission. You know, some crewmembers are polite about it but feel they are under some duress, and you can always tell. But his people weren’t like that. And I … I just can’t believe they’re ….” She looks down.

“Is that part of why you think Lorca is so changed?”

“…What? No. I think he’s changed because he has. He’s different. He doesn’t talk about his crew at all, as if he doesn’t care that they’re all dead. That could be guilt, but he’s quite different in other ways. This feeling’s not subjective on my part. Admiral Sivahn, who’s known us for years, and a colleague who picked up his escape pod noticed the same thing. Captain Kolee said he seemed like a predator. And I’ve had that sense of him, off and on, every time I’ve been alone with him.”

“You’ve been alone with him?”

“A few times since he returned two months ago. The last time, he asked me if I would ‘take him back’ and I told him I planned to transfer to Ops, and that I didn’t want a conflict of interest.”

Silingardi tilts her head. “You are protecting yourself?”

Cornwell scoffs. “No, I’ve wanted to go to Ops for quite a while. But back then, I love … loved Gabriel and wanted to keep myself from unconsciously showing him favoritism.”

“How will that work now that you are really ‘just friends’?”

Cornwell shakes her head, gets up, and looks out at the city again. “I can’t even say we’re friends anymore. I’m trying, but it’s weird.” She suppresses a shiver. “Have you ever heard stories from ‘fleeters about changelings? About someone going out and coming back with an alien presence occupying their body?”

“Aren’t those stories rather fanciful?”

“Not really. A few have been investigated and documented to be true. And … it definitely felt that way to me with him. But he passed the Psych Evals, so off he goes, on a mission with a ship that’s been classified Secret since she was devised.

“And he wants to schmooze with me about her systems, everything. He’s so interested in the weaponry and defenses. Gabriel was always a good strategist and tactician, and liked to keep his crew ready for a fight, but … he’s so intent now on going out and ‘winning the war.’ As if no one else can do it.”

“Might he be that intent about it because Klingons attacked his ship?”

“Of course!” Cornwell snaps. “But are you hearing me? About how different he is? Yesterday I saw him in a café with a Commander Landry – she’s his new Security and Tactical officer.” Silingardi is gazing at her, clearly about to say, and that bothers you, and Kat folds her arms. “Sure,” she says with an edge of sarcasm, “They were talking strategy.” She goes back to the window and bangs her fists on either side of it, once. “I … am … so … angry that he’s gone from me.”

“You know that anger can cover emotions like fear and grief. You are in a period of transition from a very long, loving relationship to no relationship.”

Tears are welling up and Kat’s voice breaks. “Anger is the only way I can cope with this and keep working. If I dissolve into a puddle of mourning I’ll have no strength to do anything else.”

“But this is the work you came here to do. Mourn. Separate yourself from what you were together. And in this room, you can do that and go back out stronger.”

Kat puts her head back, looking at the ceiling, swallowing tears. “I keep having the dreams. Where he’s making love with me, sleeping in my bed, where we’re living our lives together.

“And they’re so real. I can h-hear his voice, smell his hair, feel him.” Her voice is shaky and tears are spilling down her face. “God damn it, I want to stop loving … stop missing him.” She looks at Silingardi. “Because this new Gabriel? I’m working just to like him.”

“You don’t have to, you know. You can be strictly professional. You must protect your own feelings and good memories.”

Katrina thinks about seeing Lorca the evening before. She was heading into their old favorite sidewalk café. She hadn’t even thought about it, her feet had just taken her there.

...

Cornwell stepped to the counter to order a latte. The barista wore a serious expression, and as she prepared the espresso, asked her, “Did you hear about the USS Jarvis?”

Cripes, I’m not even wearing my uniform and people still talk to me about the war. Kat nodded. “It was a terrible loss.”

“My cousin was lucky, she got out just in time.”

“In an escape pod?”

The barista handed Cornwell her drink with a tiny, pitying smile. “Out of Starfleet.”

Kat took a deep breath, maintaining a neutral expression, and nodded, lifting her cup in a good-bye. Then she turned to find a table outside, and heard a familiar laugh with a certain undertone in it—. There he is. Or … they. Are. She froze in a leave-or-stay moment, and heard, “Admiral Cornwell, good to see you! Come on over and meet my new Security Chief.”

She walked to their table. Conversationus Interruptus. There was such an air of familiarity between him and the mysterious woman. She was dangerous-looking and her gaze smouldered. Lorca hooked out a seat with one foot, looking up at her, all twinkling blue eyes. “Come, sit down, Katrina.”

She blinked. Gabriel would have stood up, gentlemanly, and pulled out the chair—

“…we were just talking about the new torpedo guidance system,” he said. Finally seeming to realize she wasn’t responding well, Lorca rose, and so did the dark-eyed woman. “I beg your pardon, Admiral, this is Commander Ellen Landry.”

Kat switched her coffee to her left hand and extended her right. “Katrina Cornwell.”

Landry shook it, nodded politely and gave her a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Nice to meet you, Admiral. Ellen Landry.” Cornwell returned the cool smile in kind. Hisss. Hisss.

“Won’t you sit down?” Lorca offered.

Oh hell no. “Thank you, but I’m on my way back to the office. I just stepped out for a walk and some fresh air.”

He looked at her, raising his eyebrows in his Oh, bullshit! expression. She remembered she was in civvies, but carried on.

“It was good to meet you Commander. Take good care of the Discovery.”

“I will, Admiral. You can count on that.” Landry’s hand was on the table, right near Lorca’s. The sexual electricity between them was palpable.

Kat walked out on shaky legs, hardly feeling the floor under her feet. She was thinking of the time Somchai met the new building engineer. The engineer—who was later discovered to have stolen things and harassed several single residents—had walked into the apartment, and Somchai hissed, arching his back, his tail like a bottlebrush. Now I know how you felt, dear boy. Then she paused on the streetside patio, ostensibly taking a sip of latte, but actually, a sidelong glance inside. They were laughing together, and Landry’s hand had moved onto Lorca’s.

Kat walked off quickly. They’d been dressed alike, commando-style. Turtlenecks, hers, black; dark pants, lace-up boots … and Gabriel—Lorca’s—eyes had looked particularly blue, because he was wearing the deep peacock-colored cashmere sweater Kat had given him last time he got home. He must be back in his apartment then. I wonder if Landry’s tried my perfume. She hissed, out loud, and took a drink, vibrating with anger.

Fuck you, Lorca.

 ...

After she and Silingardi discuss this, examining Katrina’s “fuck you, Lorca” and subsequent feelings, her counselor suggests that Cornwell take more time to meditate. “You’re throwing yourself into learning Operations, I understand that. But you must make peace with what is. And what is, is that you and Lorca are no longer together. Do you want to be acquaintances or friends?”

Katrina snorts. “At this point I’d rather have nothing to do with him. But I know we’ll be working fairly closely, since Discovery is one of two special ships we in Operations will be following very closely. We’ll be in touch with their captains … probably daily.” She makes a face. “Admiral Terral is going to do most of it, but he wants me on the job too, interfacing with Lorca. Terral says I understand him. If only he knew!”

“Can you approach Lorca with a sense of neutrality? So that you can do your job yet remain emotionally safe? Could you talk with him a few times before his ship departs?”

Cornwell blows out a breath. “I suppose I can try. But if he brings that woman, or puts the moves on me again, I won’t be answerable for my response.”

Silingardi cocks her head.

“He tried … to kiss me when we parted, the time before last,” Katrina answers. “And he’s so different, it was as if a near-stranger was trying to kiss me.”

“Hmm. Of course it is up to you whether you decide to know this ‘new’ Lorca better. I presume you spoke with Admiral Terral about your feelings.”

“In a roundabout way. I don’t discuss my feelings with Admiral Terral. But he said my human intuition regarding Lorca would be valuable.” She covers her brow with one hand. “Whereas, I don’t think my intuition even counts because it would apply to Gabriel as he was … not as he is.”

“May I suggest a meeting in a public place of your choosing, where you can speak of acquaintanceship, and acting as a CinCOps supervisor to him?”

Cornwell chuckles, and it turns into a full-blown laugh. “When you put it that way, Doctor, it sounds like a professional challenge. And when have I ever resisted one of those?”

.

/\

.

Lorca does it for her.

“I wanted to call and let you know I felt a bit out of line about the way I introduced you to Landry the other day. And offer an apology.”

The Southern accent’s thick today. His face is friendly over the comm.

“Okay,” Cornwell says. “You do seem to be quite familiar with each other, but we’re all grownups.”

“You gave me to understand you and I are no longer an item. Am I correct?”

You broke up with ME, she wants to say. But in any case, it’s over. “Yes.” Something yawns open in her gut, but then she remembers his odd, assessing looks at her, and is glad to be out of it. “I am going to be working with you, though. Terral is CinCOps and he wants me to help him oversee Discovery’s and Glenn’s missions.”

Lorca rolls his eyes. “Oversight! I’m a senior captain!”

“Well, Terral’s an admiral senior to me, and if I have to take his orders, so do you. So I wanted to see if we could be … friends, if not close friends.”

“Well, sure,” he says. She sees an old familiar smile at the corner of his mouth. “By the way, I called my moms the other day. They want to see you when you have a chance.”

“I’d love to.” Cornwell not only wants to relax in their welcoming presence; she wants to know what they think might be going on with Gabriel. If they’ve noticed anything. “I’m glad you called them.”

He nods. “You’ve always had a wealth of good advice for me.”

She takes the plunge. “What do you say we meet at the Cliffside coffee bar by Ocean Beach after work. Is today okay?”

“Sounds good.”

“Meet at 1730?”

“Great.”

They sign off. Katrina leans back in her chair, her diaphragm shaking. First hurdle.

.

It’s breezy and cool; someone who hadn’t lived in San Francisco for long might say “cold.” But there are wind baffles and a few outdoor heaters scattered over the deck that overlooks the wide beach, where the waves crash in.

He’s wearing the deep blue cashmere turtleneck with his jeans, she notes. There’s a longish black leather coat slung over the back of his chair. She’s in a turtleneck, jeans, and green tweed jacket. He stands up as she approaches and pulls out a chair for her. She tilts her head, Really? And he says, “Just one way of apologizing for being a jerk the other day.”

The salty air feels cleansing and she breathes deep. “I should come here more often.”

“Well … we could meet here to talk about the ship instead of in an office.”

God damn it, his eyes look so blue, and his expression so charming, she could almost forget the last couple of months. A server approaches and Kat orders a latte; Gabriel, an espresso. When it arrives he dumps some sugar in. Some things just don’t change. She smiles as he looks up.

“What.”

“You still have a sweet tooth.”

He sips. “Yep.” He puts the cup down and leans in a bit. “Look, I feel bad, Katrina. And I don’t want to rake over it again, but … I know what we had. I know how special it was and how much it meant.”

She stands up quickly and moves to the rail, into the wind. You are NOT going to make me cry. He remains at the table, thank God. She gathers herself, surreptitiously dabbing her eyes, breathes deeply a few times and goes back to resume her seat.

“Sorry about that,” he says. “I don’t even know how to talk to you anymore. Is this a bad idea? Should I leave?”

“We’re establishing a new sort of relationship. It won’t be easy.”

He nearly rolls his eyes. “That sounds like doctor talk to me. We’re not doing that, are we?”

If I can just enjoy the public aspect of his personality and release the hurt, and all the rest, I’ll be fine.

She smiles. “No, Gabriel, we’re not doing that. Tell me the latest about your ship.”

She enjoys watching his mobile expressions as he speaks, alternately annoyed [the process of finalizing crew assignments, procedures, and repairs] and happy [the ship’s capabilities at warp, the sophisticated weapons systems, and the “mushroom drive”]. She remembers why she first made friends with him. And at last, she begins feeling halfway comfortable in his presence.

But as they get ready to leave, he puts on that long black leather jacket, and something in his face goes dark.

.

They meet for coffee once a week, and speak briefly between times, if Lorca needs an Ops Admiral to push something through for him, a request, a procurement. They are amenable. Friendly, if not exactly friends.

She is at peace.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

In a hilly region of Laklos IV, Chaka’s forces have made landfall via transporter, stalking through forests to stream through a just-vacated village, seeing what the Empire has wrought. Pets stand, confused, by their homes; some lie dead; toys are abandoned on the ground; through doorways, unfinished meals are visible on plain tables, chairs overturned.

Jhimal leads her people to the central landing area, large enough for the Terran transports that came to demolish the little Resistance colony. With practiced stealth Chaka’s troops file in; at Lorca’s signals, some hide behind rocks, a few groups in caves, waiting to strike the Terran forces who will be unaware, now that their their job is done.

Children, human, Andorian, and Denobulan, are wailing. Some stand, bewildered, lost, eyes beseeching. Terran officers snatch them away from their parents and march the parents into the large transport craft. Elders and children are dragged to a separate craft. The Empire does not care about families. It wants soldiers. Human children will be put into Empire schools, propagandized, and trained up in the military.

Some Andorians and Klingons will be drafted into the Imperial forces to serve as shock troops, “the expendables;” Denobulans are enslaved in biology labs; Vulcans are enslaved in scientific, computer and engineering labs. The eldest adults and most “alien” children will likely become body slaves, taught to bathe and clothe and wait on their owners. Quite likely, the youngsters are taught other ways to serve. Lorca imagines this varies from owner to owner.

Lorca’s jaw works as he stays hidden, waiting for the right time to strike. Jhimal is beside him. She reaches to touch his tense arm in acknowledgement of his feelings. She is having the same ones, he can tell from her antennae, posture and furious expression.

Out of the corner of his eye he spots L’Rell. She glances toward the transports and nods. They are almost full. He signals Gaila using his communicator on silent mode. Tap … tap … tap. Begin in 30 seconds.

The last people are herded aboard; the transport doors close. A minute creeps by, then two.

The doors open again. Terran soldiers peek out, annoyed, and begin signaling and talking to each other among the three transports, their confusion obvious.

“…the hell?”

“…systems overload?”

“…we got one too.”

“Fucking maintenance, screwed up again.”

“Nah this is something weird ….”

Before the soldiers can formulate what they need to do, Kirk begins firing, taking them down. Prisoners, shackles undone by Gaila’s hack into the electronic relay auto-unlock, are running past them, kicking away—or grabbing—the soldiers’ weapons, the element of surprise on their side now. T’Pren is leading some of Chaka’s troops, who are just outside the transports, waiting to kill any Terrans who emerge. Gaila is now hacking into the transports’ drive systems so the Terrans cannot escape. Lorca, Jhimal, and L’Rell are gathering the children and elders together, guarding them from the Terran soldiers, and are joined by colonists who grabbed the soldiers’ weapons. Other Resistance troops across the way are shooting too.

Kirk is away from the crowd nearest Lorca and Jhimal, drawing fire away from the gathering people by shooting at the Imperial soldiers. He’s taken a fair number of them down. Lorca has two crying kids in his arms, hustling them away toward safety. He gets them to their parents who hide the children behind them and hold weapons, ready to fight any Terrans who approach.

Lorca hears more screaming children, and races back. This time there’s weapons fire coming his way. L’Rell runs toward the shooters, a formidable yell coming from her tall frame, and she knocks over a gunman and efficiently claws his eyes, distracting him. The other, she kills with one slash of disruptor fire. How the Terrans ever conquered the Klingons is a mystery to Lorca. Three girls, huddled together, come with him behind a rock for shelter, and he goes out again, finding teenagers knocked unconscious, or trying desperately to fight, or running for cover. He helps them all get there.

.

/\

Resistance soldiers from the Acheron, late to land and late to the battle, are struggling to shoot, then run for cover. A squad of Terrans, who must have hid themselves in the depths of their ships so Resisters could not kill them, have emerged in organized strength to shoot anew at the rescuers. Lorca glances at Jhimal. No one he knows can look so thunderously disgusted, yet still splendid, as she. “This is turning into a clusterfuck,” she whispers.

“We’ll be fine. We’ve got you on our side.”

She looks sidelong at him, raising her white eyebrows. “Yes, great. I will kill hundreds.”

“Where the hell is Kirk?”

Jhimal points across the basin with her chin. “L’Rell went that way, and I think he followed her. We have been a little busy.”

She smirks; the two of them have taken out about 38 Terran ground troops. Jhimal spots and drops another soldier with one shot.

Lorca looks around. The half-basin, where the transports have landed, is defensible on one side, large rocks and open land behind them, but on the other, there are steeply inclining, rocky slopes. A couple have defiles almost like passageways between the rocks. He’s scanning for Kirk, but he sees some Denobulan children descending through a defile near them. Lieutenant Shiala, a Barzan who’s just joined the Chaka, leads them to safety.

Then Lorca spots two younger Andorian children, making their way up one of the defiles in an effort to escape the Terrans. But ahead of them, the narrow path will take them upward to be completely exposed to the Terran troops. As it is, they’re risking a lot, but if they climb much higher, they will certainly die.

Jhimal hasn’t spotted them; she’s peering at the transports and sights her phaser rifle, squeezing off a couple of shots. Lorca sees another Terran fall. He leans over to Jhimal and says, indicating the children, “I’m going after them.” She nods.

There’s a series of disrupter shots from across the basin. L’Rell; he can just see her white leathers.

It’s a good distraction. Lorca runs for the rocks and, crouching, up the defile. There’s a fork adjoining the one he’s in; he glances down the other path to ensure there are no enemies, and continues after the kids. As he approaches them he calls in a low voice, “Zhiib! Tach meng, at kheeb.” <<Children, fear not, I’m a friend.>> Probably mangled that all to shit, he thinks. I hope I’m not scaring them.

The elder, a girl about 10 years old, turns, holding the little boy’s hand. Her eyes are wide and Lorca, on one knee, makes a gesture Jhimal taught him meaning, I’ll protect you. Then he gestures for them to lower their heads. If he could spot them from where he and Jhimal were, it won’t be long before the Terrans see them too. The children duck and come toward him. The girl says, in Andorian-accented Standard, “We’ll understand you better in Standard.”

“Right, sorry,” he smiles and, crouching, leads them back down the defile. “We didn’t come up this way,” she says, looking ahead.

“This way is safer. I saw your path, but it leads up, and the Terrans would have seen you.”

“All right,” says the girl, going where he’s pointing. They pass the fork in the path and start walking down, their shoes slipping a little on the scree.

“Just keep going as best you can,” Lorca encourages them. “See the woman down there? That’s Shiala. She’ll get you to safety. Are there more children following you?”

The girl cocks her head. “I’m not sure.”

“I’ll go back to the path you came from, to check. You keep going. Shiala will help you.”

Suddenly the little boy puts his hands over his ears, and the girl winces too.

Pain shoots through Lorca’s head like a spiked laser. He grates out, “Keep on, now.”

He moves away to the fork of the path, determined to find the other children, but suddenly it feels like his head is being riven in two, and a wave of nausea roils his stomach. He gets down on one knee, his head bowed, trying not to puke. Thumbs pressing the insides of his orbital ridges, he tries to make the pain subside, but it’s too much. His vision’s fading and he falls, curled and shaking, to one side. He sees a shadow over him, then feels a different, sharp pain, and passes out.

.

He wakes up on board Chaka, in Sickbay. McCoy is bent over him, waving a bioscanner over his head. “No brain injury. You were lucky, David.”

Lorca shifts. “Gotta get back down there.”

Tightening his mouth, the doctor shakes his head. “Sorry, Pops. You aren’t going anywhere just yet.”

“Are all the colonists safe?”

McCoy nods, “Most of ‘em,” and puts down the bioscanner to pick up something else.

The doors to the medbay open and Jhimal appears from behind McCoy, who’s now sterilizing Lorca’s head wound, Gaila standing by with a dermaplaser.

“Constellation arrived and her crew relieved us, David. Our action on the planet is finished. We have a number of refugees on board. Here’s one who would like to say hello.”

The older Andorian girl touches his arm to say, “You speak Andorian very badly. But thank you for saving us.”

“Thanks for saving me from further mangling your language,” Lorca smiles faintly. He’s in a lot of pain.

“I can teach you,” she says.

Jhimal pats the back of the girl’s head and says, “It’s hard to teach that pinkskin anything, my dear.”

“She’s right.” Lorca puts out a hand to touch the kid’s shoulder. “Stay strong and wily and you can be like Jhimal someday.”

“Pfft!” says Jhimal, ushering the young one to the door. “It’s mealtime for you lot. Be a leader to the youngsters.”

The child nods and departs.

“Did you say Constellation?” Lorca’s tripping between realities, he just knows he is …. “Captain Decker?”

“Matt Decker, yeah,” McCoy says.

“Jesus, now I know I’m dreaming.”

“Another of yours?” Lorca, McCoy and Jhimal use that designation for people Lorca knows in his place that are also here.

“Yeah.” Lorca’s voice is weak.

“Such a strange thing,” he hears Jhimal saying.

Will I ever find a way home …. And thinking of the many, many hours he’s spent with the computer and star charts and anomalies thereon, looking for a way home, he fades into sleep, to dream of nebulous possibilities he won’t remember when he wakes.

.

/\

A week later, they’ve all carried passengers and property and technical equipment to the next Resisters’ colony. Lorca’s thrilled to tour the Constellation. “She’s beautiful, for a Terran vessel,” he tells Matt Decker as they round through Engineering and make their way back to the bridge. “I am truly impressed.”

Decker claps him on the shoulder. “We may just have captured a nice ship for you, Yorke; it’s being refitted near our central base. Not nearly as big as this, but she’s even newer. Terran technology – and weapons. As for the ship’s captain, Jhimal has to decide which of her officers she’s ready to let go of.” He smiles. “She’s full of praise for you and L’Rell.”

Decker invites Jhimal and her department heads to dinner in the captain’s mess. It is the best food Lorca has had in a long time.

The captain stands and raises a toast to their successful action against the Terrans. “To the crew of Chaka and the particular heroes of that day.” He raises his glass, nodding to Jhimal, Lorca, L’Rell, and Kirk. They drink.

Jhimal stands. “To all my crew, who have served with great ferocity and honor!”

In the general conversation, Lorca overhears Shiala praising Kirk for the brave work of rescuing so many children from the hillside. He hadn’t realized there was such a large number of children on that side of the basin, going up the hill.

.

Morning briefing comes a little too soon. Lorca forgot to get an anti-hangover remedy from McCoy before sleeping. He goes in to Sickbay to get a shot before meeting Jhimal and L’Rell.

“Did you hear something before you passed out yesterday?” McCoy asks him. “The Andorian children mentioned a very high-pitched, penetrating noise they heard just before they left you. They said it hurt.”

“I can’t remember. All I remember is helping the kids find the right path, then waking up here.”

McCoy nods. “Okay.” He injects him with the hypospray. “Re-hydrate yourself, now.”

At the briefing Lorca brings up McCoy’s question. L’Rell says, “There is a rumor the Terrans are experimenting with soundwave weapons.”

And suddenly Lorca remembers the spearing, searing pain. He winces. “That could be what happened to me yesterday. The pain was so bad I fell. Must have hit my head on a rock. But I felt like my head was splitting open. Maybe they’ve started deploying them. We’d better warn our people.”

 

Chapter Text

/\

She goes with Lorca to tour the Discovery before the ship heads out on trials. The spore drive is still not quite working to theory, and she’s impatient to see it work soon because she knows it’ll be a superior asset in the war. And like him as he is now or not, she knows Lorca’s a good warfighting captain and he will do a great job out there. So she resolves to keep her cool and not keep analyzing his every odd, watchful expression.

He’s proud of Discovery and she is indeed a beautiful lady: sturdy, sleek and efficient, and unusually appealing despite the “dual donut” design some captains, jealous ones, sneer at.

Lorca is enthusiastic about every aspect of the ship, which reminds Kat of better times. Maybe “her” Gabriel does lurk within, maybe he’ll come back to himself, but she’s moving on. If he seeks her out later, she may think about it, but she’s not planning to wait around. 

He takes her to Engineering; they look at the DASH drive and the “spore chamber” and Lt Stamets’ collection of mushrooms and fungi that he’s growing in a special sort of greenhouse, adjacent to the engineering bay.  “Fortunately he’s not here right now or we’d be in here all damn day,” Lorca mutters. “Stay-mets is an expert but he thinks everyone is as obsessed with fungi and spores as he is.”

It’s odd, because Lorca had been fascinated by the theory of the DASH drive a few years ago. They’d even gone to dinner with the scientists who had trained Straal and helped young Dr Stamets put his theories into practice. Well, Gabriel does have a lot to do right now, and can’t spare a lot of time for theories and deep discussions, Kat thinks.

.

Lorca takes Cornwell to a lower deck and down a long passageway. The door opens to reveal a large room stocked with glass cabinets. They’re all empty. In the middle is a holograph-projecting desk. "What's all this?"

“My secret hideaway where I can plot my enemies’ downfall.” He chuckles.

 He walks to the holoprojector and pulls up star charts, moving them with his hands like a magician. “This is going to be great for mapping, and displaying battle plans,” he says.

 “What are all the cases for?” Kat’s walking round, looking at them.

“Ohh, I have weapons collections I’ve picked up in the last couple of months, and I’ll be keeping mementos too.” He glances up at her. “No, no heads on spikes, if you’re wondering. Going to fill the cases tomorrow.”

She nods, thinking, Weapons collections? What the hell? Lorca’s been off-planet a few times in the last few weeks, and rumor has it he’s been to Orion trading zones and Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet [“where you can acquire anything you dream of (and it’s not just sex)”] and other dubious places. She wonders what will be in here.

She hears a high coo, and turns to see, on a shelf in a darker corner, a large, furry ball. Walking over, she picks it up and automatically snugs it to her chest. So-o soft, and vibrating like a purring cat. “What’s your friend’s name?”

“Gerrold. Lucky it doesn’t have teeth,” Lorca smiles at her.

“Hmm.” She holds it this way and that. “Is it mobile?”

He comes over, takes it, turns it over and parts the fur in two lines. “Cilia. And there is a tiny mouth, and that’s where all the progeny come from too. This guy Jones was at Wrigley’s and I bought it from him. He warned me not to overfeed it.”

“What an efficient animal,” Kat grins. “The coo is kind of like a purr, too. Maybe Gerrold will be nice company for you.” She’s taken it back into her arms, stroking it. It vibrates happily.

Lorca smiles devilishly. “Ohh, I already have comp—” He remembers who he’s talking to and says, “Let me show you my bridge and Ready Room.”

Kat ignores his slip. She knows Landry’s onboard, and is sure she and the captain are excercising their mutual attraction.

They go up in the turbolift; when they emerge a willowy, tall person with apricot-colored skin, and head-covering plates of cartilage, moves from the Science console to greet them. Kat vaguely recalls this alien’s story, something about the planet … Kaminar? and a visit by Philippa Georgiou. His walk is graceful. “Welcome aboard Discovery, Admiral. I am Captain Lorca’s First Officer, Commander Saru.” He extends a hand and Kat takes it gently, but Saru’s grip is strong, though politely brief. His bright aquamarine eyes focus on her. “I am the first Kelpien in Starfleet.”

Cornwell smiles, the puzzle piece falling into place. “Thanks, I was trying to remember. I’m honored to meet you, Commander.”

Saru inclines his head, putting his long hands on his upper thighs as if to assure himself he’s in one piece. But the gesture looks respectful, too. “I assure you, Admiral, the honor is all mine.”

Smiling, Kat can’t help but think he is one of the most gracious people she has ever met.

Lorca is standing by the command chair, holding out a hand in a “this way” gesture. She comes over and he says, “Have a seat, Admiral.” She does. She likes this chair, its light design so much less clunky than that of the Buran or Georgiou’s Shenzhou.  There are flip-up panels in its arms. “Command codes and functions,” the captain explains, leaning forward. As she looks over the data available at the touch of a finger, she catches a scent of his aftershave, and it’s different now. Still nice, but different.

He’s moving on. “And here’s Navigation, Operations and Helm.” She stands to join him there, looks over the panels and instrumentation, and can’t help but be caught by the view. Though Discovery’s still in her berth at the docking station, her viewport is facing outward toward the stars.

“Did you berth her like this?” she asks Lorca with a smile.

He nods. “Nice view, don’t you think?”

She’s in a spirit of camaraderie and nods, “OH yeah. I bet you’re raring to go.”

“Zero six hundred, day after tomorrow.” He walks her around the bridge. “Tactical. Communications. Spore Drive initiator and monitoring.” And they wind up back at the huge viewport. Kat sighs. She hopes she’ll get to go out at some point. Now that she’s Ops, she stands a chance. On a flagship, possibly.

He gestures her through a door. “My Ready Room.”

“No chairs?” Cornwell looks around and subdues her impulse to say “what the hell?” Gabriel used to like to talk with his bridge crew, get their opinions, exchange advice, chat about family. It was part of what bound his crew so tightly together. Sometimes they’d have a lunch or dinner meeting, with coffee, tea, or, occasionally, alcohol. There had been seats enough for six.

“More efficient this way. They come in, speak their piece, I listen, I tell them what I want, and off they go.”

Her eyes widen slightly. He even has a stand-up desk. There’s a square wooden bowl on it.

“Want a fortune cookie?”

He hands her one and takes one himself, smashing it on the desk, picking up the bits and chewing them piece by piece. As usual, Kat opens hers by splitting it carefully and drawing out the fortune: STAND BY YOUR GOOD CONVICTIONS. “What does yours say?”

A confident smirk. He hands it to her. FORTUNE FAVORS THE BOLD.

There’s a signal at the door. “Come,” says Lorca.

Ellen Landry enters with a package. “This just arrived for you, ser.”

Ah, all correct on duty. That’s good at least.

Lorca takes the package and gives Landry a look. “Oh,” she says, turning to Cornwell, her dark eyes less penetrating and more openly polite. “I wanted to apologize for the other day in the café, Admiral. I think I may have been rude.”

Kat tilts her head, waving off the apology. “Don’t worry about it, Commander. ‘The only constant in life is change.’ I was taken by surprise, that’s all. You take good care of this crew and that will be more than adequate compensation.”

“Thank you Admiral, I will.” Landry says quite confidently, and nods with a genuine smile. She glances at Lorca.

He nods and says, “Dismissed, Commander,” and Landry goes.

Kat looks after her. She feels a little sorry for Lorca’s crew. Such a peremptory command style, now. Perhaps he wants to keep more distance, not grieve so much as he must have, privately, after the Buran tragedy.

“’Bon Voyage’,” Lorca says, reading Cornwell’s card. He gets the bottle out of the bag. Kat had wanted an excuse for Gallien, her secretary, to see Discovery for himself, so she’d asked him to deliver it. “Twenty-one years old! Nice. Thanks, Kat.”

He gets two glasses from a shelf in the corner, uncorks the Powers Irish Single Malt and pours a couple of fingers in each glass, handing one to her. He raises his. “Success.”

She clinks her glass against his. “And, safe home.”

He smiles mysteriously, nods, and downs his drink in one swallow, pouring another. Kat shakes her head at him, smiling, and takes tiny sips of her own, letting the good Irish whisky roll over her tongue. She walks to the Ready Room viewport, generously sized, and looks out to the stars, steady and clear without Earth’s atmosphere to blur them.

“God, it’s beautiful,” she says. “My dad used to say that living in creation meant exploring every day of our lives. And Mom would say, ‘There’s also settling down to be done, you know.’ But I think I’m with Dad. How about you.”

Lorca comes to stand beside her, sipping his drink this time. “I’m fine with exploring, every day of my life.  But in wartime …? I’m all about winning.”

 

/\

They’ve finally left Spacedock. The trials are going well. Except for the damned spore drive.

In his Ready Room, Lorca tosses down a second shot of bourbon. Just enough so he can get along with all the aliens. Remarkably intelligent, and useful; Commander Saru appears incredibly adept and brilliant, for someone who would be a slave or food, in Terran society.  In the viewport, where Lorca can just see his reflection, he rolls his eyes. He abhors waste. He has to admit his crew are good at their science-y jobs, but they are NOT fighters. Except Landry. She’s been a comfort to him; she has a temperament that could be Terran. Bold, imaginative sex partner, too. He sees ambition in her, but nothing like his Michael’s.

As for the crew’s Starfleet-inculcated, peaceful nature, he’ll fix that nonsense. Wartime, for fucksakes, and they hardly know the weapons systems!

Stamets had better get his fucking DASH drive on line. It’s the best way home, Lorca has calculated. According to Stamets, the network the spore drive travels can take them to anywhere in the universe. Lorca has an idea about the fabric of space: that the mycelial network can get him through a certain point to his home.

Then this crew can become his property. Saru, he might keep as a science advisor. It would raise eyebrows, that Lorca can see past the norm to the possible. And some aliens, he is finding, can be most useful because they (Vulcans, for example) are more intelligent or tougher than he was taught to think as a young Terran. Many of this crew might be loyal to him if he can get them to follow him in conquest of the Empire.

He’ll find his Buran crew, ally with “Captain Killy,” and use the two DASH drive ships to find Michael Burnham, his one and only love. His Empress, if all goes according to plan. He’d even be happy to be the power behind her throne, if it comes to that. Whatever happens, Lorca will kill Philippa Georgiou painfully and publicly.

And he and Michael will rule the Empire. Thinking of her, he catches his breath and feels a stirring at his loins. Well, Landry doesn’t have to know who he’s thinking of when they have sex. He calls her.

.

Longing for Michael has made him urgent. He’s wearing only a robe. Which he takes off the instant Landry’s through the door.

She’s wearing a t-shirt and casual trousers, no underwear. He removes them without delay. He shoves her up against the wall and kisses her mouth through her wolfish grin. She responds, her tongue as forceful as his as she grips his balls almost painfully. He hikes her up, she folds her knees around his waist, and he drives his cock into her; she responds, grunting with each deep stroke, tweaking his nipples and biting his lips and ears.

They’re done too soon, but they have a few non-duty hours ahead before they need to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

“Ah, you know me, I don’t trust doctors,” Lorca says to Cornwell after the strategy conference. Where Cornwell had to break the bullshit demand that he stop using Discovery for front-line battles. Sure, they should protect their secret weapon, yet she feels it’s a mistake to do that so early. But she’s point person on most issues involving Lorca. For some reason Starfleet’s leadership thinks he’ll buy bullshit if it comes from her. But he doesn’t. And if she knows him, he’ll defy the orders.

And sure enough, at the end of their conversation after the conference is over, he says: “My ship. My way.”

.

/\

She’s a little drunk. Past tipsy. He’s carried the bottle to the bed alcove and poured her more whisky, and she obligingly drinks, because it feels good, and it’s nice to be attractive in his eyes again. His gaze is still disconcerting, but frankly sexual, and it’s exciting to her now. He’s a bit more forceful than he used to be. Kissing her deeply, barely giving her a moment to breathe; slipping her clothes off expertly, quickly, tossing them to the floor [she drapes them over the chair]. “Hey,” he says, palming her breast. “Don’t bother with that.”

“You know me. I have to keep my uniform neat. -ish.” The t-shirt is last. The midi bra and panties can get tossed wherever, she’ll find them and put them back on before sleep. It isn’t quite the thing for an admiral to be stark naked at General Quarters, if one should have to answer one’s door.

Mmmm, she would love to sleep naked in bed with Gabriel again, but not tonight. And is tonight the beginning of anything, really? Her mind intrudes by asking. I don’t fucking care, she inwardly responds.

They’re sitting up in bed; he’s running his hand up and down her leg, progressing toward the inside. His smirk is back, and he pours them another finger of whisky. “To you, Admiral,” he says, his eyes half-closed in a suggestive look. “Here’s to a successful action.”

“Oh, this looks like a battle to you?”

He chuckles. “No, more of a skirmish.”

“All right then,” she says, clinking glasses with him and tossing it off, enjoying the burn and the taste on the exhale. Then he leans over, his mouth covers hers and he’s pressing her to him, and god, it’s good to be held again, in those strong arms. His kisses are insistent and she feels … wanton. She knows it’s the booze but she gets more assertive with his body, licking and nipping.

He doesn’t respond in quite the same way as “before,” he’s more … growly. His pleasure is clear to her. And when he excites her with his tongue and fingers it’s almost too much. If she weren’t drunk she would draw back, but it’s okay right now, it’s more than okay. She’s about to climax when he opens her legs further, rises, and finds her center, thrusting in deep and hard. “Excitement” hardly describes it, he is driving her wild … this is nearly as fast as one of their “quickies.” She hopes they can do this again, slower.

He is almost literally banging her, but she’s risen to meet him and their pelvises are slapping forcefully together. His cock bumps her cervix with almost every thrust. He’s nipping at her lips and breasts, and as he approaches climax, abandons that to push harder and faster and be deep in his own enjoyment, which is hurried but … loud. His big cry of satisfaction sends her over the edge, but he doesn’t give her quite long enough to float down.

He pulls out and goes into the bathroom. Rocking her pelvis slightly and pressing her thighs together repeatedly to enjoy the last of the feelings, she has one last, lonely thrill of sensation. She hears running water; Lorca comes out and gives her a warm washcloth. She smiles and takes it back into the bathroom with her. She does the usual post-sex ablutions and asks the replicator for a vitamin supplement and pain reliever for the impending hangover, drinking about 12 ounces of water with them. She looks at herself in the mirror, shrugging, What the hell, it was weird, but it felt good. It was good to feel his familiar contours again, the special heat of him over her and inside her, even though he wasn’t the same. And such a release after months, months of loneliness.

When she goes back to the bed, he’s asleep. She puts her underthings back on and settles in, enjoying his warmth, yet feeling a bit odd about trying to put her arm around him to snuggle. His body language is pretty clear. He’s curled away from the side of the bed where Kat is. She’s on the side that used to be “his.”

.

/\

She is on the shuttle to Cancri IV, taking Ambassador Sarek’s place.

She feels chilled.

The killer’s look on his face. The phaser he pointed in mine.

The chokehold.

The way he realized what he was doing and backed off, with a ‘calm down, it’s okay’ gesture. Bullshit! How could he be okay after the loss of the Buran last year, and the recent Klingon torture?

How she shoved him away and jumped out of bed in fear for her life. How angry she was. Still is. “This was NOTHING like before!”

“I’m sorry, Kat …” “I’ll do anything you say …” “Please don’t take my ship away from me, I’m begging you …” he said, in succession.

The eloquent plea in his eyes. He was near tears.

She assessed him, furious and worried. “The sad thing is, I don’t even know if this is really you.”

She strode out, castigating herself for being a thousand kinds of idiot, and resolving to relieve him of command and get him into therapy ASAP.

.

Of course he wanted to distract her. Of course he wanted her to stop thinking about his body language when she dropped by, his expressions at first, the way his eyes moved away from hers, the way he deflected her reminiscence by saying, “It was all so long ago”.

Watching the Perseid meteor showers with me during Command Training School … is that the only thing he remembers of us? She thinks, feeling sick at her stomach. Has he forgotten 30 years together?

She knows it’s possible. Not likely, but possible.

The most intrusive—and disturbing—thought is the smug expression on his face before she boarded the shuttle. When she said, “We’ll see about getting you back into that chair.”

And the satisfied way he said, “May fortune favor the bold, Admiral.”

.

/\

Endless hours of torture. Repeated questions about the Secret Weapon. Cornwell’s conditioning almost fails her.

Once she had been brought in on the secret project that was DASH drive ships, she had undergone supplemental conditioning against torture, reinforcement of that which she and Gabriel had learned at Command School and Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape Training.

General Kol takes a special delight in having her as his prisoner. “I have torturers. But I choose to give you my personal attention.” He touches the side of her face then rakes his claws through her hair, smiling. His other hand clamps to her shoulder. Electrical current surges through her; her muscles are too rigid, too cramped for her even to emit a scream. Then he picks her up and tosses her across the room as casually as if she were a rag doll. She crashes into the wall. It leaves her breathless and bruised. “Tell me about this enchanted ship. How does it vanish with no cloaking device?”

She glares at him. “Starfleet doesn’t have enchanted ships. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Again and again he asks her, getting the same reply, so over and over he shoves her down or throws her, dislocating her shoulder on one pass, spraining her knee on another.

.

Others, males and females, come to kick and beat her. One brings tools to heat in the brazier in the middle of the chamber. And he uses them. She learns firsthand what searing pain is.

The Klingons do not observe any “civilized rules” regarding treatment of prisoners. She has not been fed in days, given a cracker after about a week. Probably condensed nutritive rations. Or, considering, maybe not. There is, at least, water to sustain her. Cornwell resolves that—should the Federation somehow broker a peace with the Klingons—the treaty must include their agreement to Federation standards regarding prisoners.

More bone-bruising beatings. Kol tossing her in the air and when she lands, putting a foot on her forehead, demanding answers: where is the ship? How can it disappear and reappear? Does it have an invisibility shield? “I can’t tell you because I don’t know.” There is a little truth to that; Cornwell doesn’t know where the ship is now, exactly, and she doesn’t fully understand DASH drive theory.

“Tell me!! You are in the top of the hierarchy. You know!” Kol stomps on her leg and breaks her femur; the pain is excruciating and she can’t help but scream.

A sinister grin from his grey face with its red streak. “I’ll call my surgeon. He’ll fix you.”

.

There is no anesthetic. She feels she will die from agony. Her heart will stop, or something … she falls unconscious, but wakes in time for the application of a special cast, made for Klingon bones. Its constant current is debilitating, but better to heal with pain than not.

“General Kol will enjoy having you back for a plaything,” the surgeon grins. “But first, I get my reward.” He opens Katrina’s surgical gown, rakes his claws down her breasts and front, and thrusts fingers inside her vagina and anus. “So tender and weak,” he says, bending to tongue her, spit mightily, and nip her clitoris, gently, she presumes, for a Klingon, as he watches her response. She breathes through her mouth, preparing herself and trying to send her mind elsewhere as he pulls up her hips, bending her knees, and inserts himself—both penises—into her. His organs are large, hard, and long, like everything else about Klingons, and she feels her flesh ripping. A whimper escapes her mouth; tears of pain leak from her eyes. “Don’t worry, frail one. I’ll fix you. Then perhaps we can do this again once you’ve healed.” He roars when he comes, sinking his claws into her breasts. Bending over her face as he covers himself, he says, “you are delectably tight, and your blood is slippery. So exciting.”

He leaves her naked, shivering on the table where she is restrained, fetches his surgical instruments, and the agony begins anew.

She is shuffling back to her cell, her leg on fire and feeling like her hips were split from her pelvis. The female guard is impatient and shoves Cornwell; she sprawls, landing clumsily on her knees and banging her head on the deck. The guard kicks her and the heavy-booted toe lands near her genitals. Some stitches tear; Katrina grunts with pain.  “Get up, weakling! General Kol is waiting for you.”

Cornwell is overcome with despair, but will not let herself cry.

He tells her she is stupid, weak, Human and unworthy of respect.

“And you’re a coward, hiding behind an invisibility shield!” she snaps back, and is immediately sorry for it. He throws her again—and she is sure she has broken ribs because even breathing is painful now. “You’re all twice as big as I am,” she says, struggling to rise from the corner, “that hardly seems fair.”

“Shut your mouth, Human, or I will have it wired shut! Tell me about the secret ship!” Minutes stretch as she does not answer. He glares at her, punches her in the face and she passes out.

.

She wakes, bruised all over, physically and psychologically. She must focus on the moment, and on her breath. Mentally, because she cannot do them physically, she practices the 108 movements of Tai Chi. Along with her conditioning, it helps her keep her mind intact.

Her captors constantly interrupt her rest because they know she needs it. For several days they amuse themselves watching her trying to get her bearings as she hallucinates from lack of sleep. They shout demands and play loud music that sounds like demented opera.

Kol’s lieutenant leaves her one day with a promise of rape the next, and then a female in white leather comes in with a brazier torture kit, chooses and contemplates one of the ornately carved implements, and says to her, “Scream.”

.

After the escape attempt with L’Rell, weeks after her capture, Katrina’s senses are numbed to everything, including the smell of decaying Klingon bodies. Passing in and out of consciousness, and hoping she doesn’t have sepsis or severe concussive injuries to her brain, she wakes after Burnham and Tyler find her in the room with the dead Klingons.

Burnham has given her a stimulant, and Kat realizes she can’t feel her own legs. Foolishly, the specialist sits her up (Note to leadership, Starfleet needs to improve its emergency training); Cornwell hopes this doesn’t do further damage to her nerves, but stays beside Tyler to help him, and to see any Klingons coming in. She’s a good shot, Burnham left her with a phaser, and Katrina will delight in the revenge.

Talking Tyler through his PTSD-induced horror helps Cornwell focus on something good. And the hope Burnham has given her is the first she’s had in a long time. The effort of talking Tyler out of his fear tires her, as does her shooting at and vaporizing a Klingon. She is starving and dehydrated. Her muscles give in to fatigue. She is dizzy and weary and close to losing consciousness, but grits through. She gives in when Tyler calls for transport, and passes out.

When they get to Discovery, Dr Culber meets them in the Transporter Room and has Cornwell whisked to Sickbay. There, she tries to tell him “Relieve Lorca of command,” but her words are slurred. He leans in to try to understand her but she can’t formulate clearly. Weakness has overcome her.

“You’ve been moved too much after severe injuries,” Culber soothes her. “Don’t try to talk. We’re getting you to Starbase 88 ASAP so you can get the intensive care you need. The emergency shuttle is almost here.”

With enormous physical effort, she reaches to grab his sleeve. “Relieve … Lorca … relieve …”

He studies her, his dark eyes compassionate. “I’m sure the captain will be very relieved to hear you’re all right,” he says, completely misunderstanding her meaning and giving her an injection she cannot stop.

“No … duty … relieve’m” she mumbles.

“Sleep now, Admiral. You’ll be all right soon.”

.

/\

Cornwell comes to in a blur. Did the Klingons do surgery on me again? But they don’t use …

Anesthesia. I’m in friendly territory.

Lorca, Jesus, Lorca – what has he done. If he sent me in Sarek’s place, thinking the Klingons might kill the ambassador – me – he’s batshit crazy. Hostile. With a sane front. Oh god, oh god.

“Nurse!” she grates out. Her voice is raw from dryness and prior weeks of screaming inside her mouth. “Nurse, goddammit!”

A Denobulan female appears. “Yes, Admiral?”

“Status of the Discovery. I need to know, now!”

Confusion on the nurse’s face.

“The USS DISCOVERY,” Cornwell says, louder. “I need her status, ASAP.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t—”

“Get me someone who DOES know,” she snaps. “And get me some goddamn water!”

.

“My dear friend,” Admiral Sivahn greets her in holographic form. “I am told you’ve had many surgeries and will soon start physical therapy.”

Kat nods. “It’s good to see you. Oh, god.” She swallows, not wanting to cry with relief. “Can you tell me Discovery’s status?”

“Well … Captain Lorca received the Legion of Honor for his actions over Pahvo. They got the algorithms for the Klingon invisibility screen and destroyed the Sarcophagus ship.

“The bad news is, they were going to forward the algorithms to us after the ship’s scientists had a look, and we never received them. Discovery has disappeared from all long-range sensors.”

“What?! Why didn’t they forward the data directly! Headquarters could have analyzed it.”

Sivahn’s antennae quirk inward, which means she feels angry. “Terral was satisfied to let them do it. I cannot imagine why.”

Cornwell sinks onto the edge of her biobed. “Oh my god.”

“Perhaps Terral wanted to allow Lorca his moment of glory. I don’t know. Eleven hours that we could have had our top analysts on the job did not seem to signify.”

“Gabriel used to say he was the most irritating captain he’d ever worked with. He served under him when he was a lieutenant.

“By the way … Lorca was still very … strange, when I went aboard to evaluate him. And ….” I committed a significant indiscretion, she wants to say, but decides not to. She will talk with Sivahn later. She’s still thinking about it, and is piling guilt on herself. And she’s weary beyond weary. If only she had commed Sivahn, anyone, after her sexual adventure—and the subsequent argument—that Lorca should be relieved of command.

Sivahn is an old hand at reading Katrina’s facial expressions. “When the time is right, tell me,” she says. “Meanwhile do your best to heal.”

Later, numbed by the truth, that Discovery is either destroyed, or that Lorca has taken their secret weapon to parts unknown—that a Starfleet vessel of unprecedented power and her crew of over 130 people have vanished out of range of any scans or communications—Katrina apologizes to the nurse. Who, in polite Denobulan fashion, smiles and briskly brushes away any embarrassment.

The weeks of recovery and physical therapy don’t allow her to work much, but Cornwell does what she can. She talks with Sivahn about what she did with Lorca, and while Sivahn does not approve, she understands Kat’s desire to evaluate her former lover, and her weakness after constant sorrow and loneliness.  “I know you’ve learned from this and will not repeat the error,” she says. “But if you are not already having psychotherapy, I order you to do so.”

Cornwell’s eyes well up, and although she tries to swallow her tears, she can’t. “My error will cost us terribly.”

“But it is done. All we can do now is go forward from this, my friend. Fate is not always kind, and that which we bring on through our own judgements even less so.”

They sign off, and for the first time since her capture, Katrina gives in to despair and weeping. She needs to get it out before the long road ahead.

.

Even after she begins psychotherapy, Cornwell can’t, won’t, let go of the nagging guilt: This is all my fault. All my fault for falling for his bullshit. For trying to assess him as a friend, rather than officially, as a psychiatrist. All my fault for giving in to my personal needs and desires. All my fault for drinking on the job.

“Your PTSD has many causes, Admiral,” the therapist says.

“No shit.”

All my fault.

And she suspects that, over the months, despite therapy, guilt will accumulate with every 100, every 1000, deaths.

Chapter Text

Another hard day onboard the Chaka. They’re escorting ships full of important medical supplies on their way to the main Resistance base for distribution. They’ve been fighting with small Terran ships, and while Lorca loves a sporting challenge, it’s mentally tiring, especially after the adrenaline goes off and all the engineering and electronics repairs have to be done.

And deaths are left in Chaka’s wake. Even if they are Terrans and inimical to what Lorca’s fighting for, he’s used to pursuing diplomatic solutions. Even though he is a good warfighter, he feels guilt afterward, especially with Kirk shaking a fist and cheering, “We kicked their asses!

Seeing his look, Kirk says, “Did I say something wrong?” in a challenging tone.

“I guess there’s necessity and there’s killing for fun, the latter of which we don’t do.”

He can almost hear Jhimal telling him not to shame Kirk for doing a good job, and tempers his face into a more neutral expression. “That said, Jim, you’ve done a superior job today. We all have.”

He walks to Sickbay at the end of a long, long shift. At last, all the supplies are where they need to be and more picket ships are posted in the planetary system to protect the main base.

McCoy nods towards Jhimal’s biobed. “Guess who took her first walk today.”

“That pinkskin is torturing me, David. Make him stop,” Jhimal complains as Lorca gets to her bedside. But there is a twinkle in her dark eyes, and her gaze is alert. “Whoever invented that style of torpedo … we are going to hunt them down and kill them.”

Lorca smiles. “You are getting better!” He lightly squeezes her hand. “And you’ll have my full cooperation in that effort.”

“Revenge, or getting better?”

“How about both.”

“All right. Did the ships make it to the new base?”

He puts on an injured expression. “Of course! It wasn’t easy, of course.”

“It never is. But you really are helping me trust in Humans. Here I thought all they were good for is torturing Andorians.” She throws a glare in McCoy’s direction, and the doctor winks at her. “Meanwhile, Yorke, go to bed; you look worse than I feel. And I feel like shit.”

He smoothes his hand down his beard and squints. “Will do, Captain. L’Rell’s got the conn.”

.

In his quarters at last, he’s just about to strip off his clothes when he hears a knock at the door. It’s Gaila, and she looks stressed. “Come on in,” he says.

“David, there’s something I need to show you. Can I use the computer?”

He gestures her over to it, and as she reaches out to the keyboard, the cuff of her jumpsuit slides up.

“What’s that on your wrist?” It’s obviously a bruise, he just wants to know what she’ll say.

She tugs the cuff down. “I whacked it in Engineering.”

He drags a chair over to sit next to her and gently picks up her hand, sliding the sleeve up. “I don’t think there’s anything in Engineering that has four fingers and an opposable thumb.”

She moves her arm away. “I want to show you this first.” She taps some keys and brings up a schematic of the bridge. A dot is blinking under the command chair. “This was recorded just before the torpedo hit us.”

She presses the blinking dot on the screen and a projection appears: the path the torpedo was taking when it hit the shield. Right toward the signal on the conn.

“Who was the last person to do maintenance on the chair?”

“Me.”

“You didn’t put a guidance device there. Did you find one after the attack?”

“No. If it was there, it got wiped out along with the underside of the chair.”

Lorca flashes back for a brief second to the pain and chaos from all the explosions. Slipping in his own blood, Jhimal, lying unconscious in a puddle of her own.

“Are you all right? You look pale.”

He takes a deep breath and nods. “Fine. I’m just tired.”

She makes haste to get up. “Sorry … I’ll go. I just wanted to make sure you knew about this.”

“Thanks.” He watches Gaila head for the door, and crossing his arms, says, “Just a moment. I want to know about that other thing too.”

She stops and turns around. “I’m not sharing quarters with Jim Kirk anymore.”

Lorca looks at her wrist. “He do that to you?” He keeps his tone neutral, but feels his jaw clench.

She looks down at the deck. “After the attack, Jim was so angry. I tried to gentle his mood, but ….”

He takes a step toward her and she reflexively moves away. He puts his hands up in an it’s okay, I won’t touch gesture. “Are you going to be okay?”

 “I … y-yeah. Doc already … interrogated me about it … and made sure I have a private space away from Jim.” She has a rueful smile, but her eyes are sad.

“Good, because no one should ever take their anger out on you. Did Kirk say what in particular he was mad about?”

Gaila shakes her head. “It seemed like it was just because … we were attacked. I guess.” As she meets his eyes, brushing tears away, Lorca nods at her.

“Sorry to put you through it again. If you need— hang on ….” He ducks into the head, gets a small cloth and dampens it. “This might help a little.”

Gaila wipes her face with it and dabs her eyes again. “Thank you, David. You’re very kind to me.” She hands him the wipe, and something tremulous in her expression makes him open his arms to her. She burrows in and her shoulders shake with crying.

He strokes her hair and murmurs, “Shh. Shh. It’ll be okay.” After a few minutes, her sobbing stops and Lorca steps back, holding her shoulder in a “steady on” gesture. “Want me to talk to him?”

She shakes her head. “Please don’t. He has shown himself to me, and I will avoid him.”

He presses the damp cloth into her hand. “You might need this.”

She smiles a little and presses it against her eyes again. Then she rises on her toes to peck him on the cheek. He presses a kiss onto her forehead, a brotherly gesture, a benison. “Sleep well, Gaila.”

“You too, David.” She turns to smile at him on her way out, and that’s a blessing too.

.

/\

Thirty hours later Chaka is in orbit around U’ume’ed, a well-travelled trading post and entertainment capital of the sector (everyone says this ironically, although there is good music to be heard there). Lorca goes to Sickbay to see Jhimal; McCoy’s allowing himself to smile.

“We’re at U’ume’ed,” Lorca tells her. “Bad luck you have to miss it.”

Jhimal snorts, “Go on, limp around down there, David; celebrate our survival, go to the market. I can’t stand you sitting around with your long face. You’ve told me every one of your Jhimal stories twice over. Get the hell out of here.”

He grins and squeezes her hand. “I love you too.”

.

In shifts, crewmembers beam down for supplies and some recreation. The weather here is pleasant. Lorca and McCoy stroll among people of many races who are walking around the market square, chatting in different languages, and enjoying drinks. There’s music being played or sung almost everywhere. It’s like an outdoor arts and crafts fair with a farmer’s market ... among other kinds. McCoy orders some fresh fruits and vegetables, things that don’t come from a replicator, to be picked up later. They’ll be stored in the stasis units for some good dinners in the following weeks. “Nothin’ like a fresh salad, or” –he holds up a fruit—“this thing, which tastes a lot like a peach.”

“Mmm, gimme,” Lorca grins, and as they pay, the two men go down the street eating their fruit. When he gets down to the pit, McCoy extends a hand. “I can make a great remedy for indigestion from the ground pits.”

“Why do you bother making stuff from herbs when you can just—”

McCoy stops walking and looks at him. “I think where you come from supplies are abundant and easily available, am I right?”

Lorca nods. “So you’re doing all this just in case?”

“I was planetside when a ship I was on got blown up, and the Terrans had attacked those of us on the ground. I never travel without my herbs and concoctions because until I get proper medical supplies, they can relieve a lot of agony.”

McCoy goes to the “Remedies Market” to buy herbs and natural medicines; Lorca goes along for conversation and to ask about Jhimal’s progress. “I’m down here, aren’t I?” McCoy says in a cranky tone. “I’m gonna find some decent food here, have dinner and get back up to the ship, but Jhimal’s okay with Mattea Booth for the moment.”

“Oh, she’s the kid you and Gaila are training?”

McCoy nods and stops in his tracks at an herb stall. “Calnemone Lafintatus! I haven’t seen this stuff in years!”

“What’s it do?”

McCoy explains that it’s an old Cassiopeian pain reliever, mild sedative and mood brightener. “And it’s great just for fun sometimes. Even more than bourbon. Cheaper, too.”

L’Rell has gone with T’Pren and Shalia to get weapons and accoutrements; Gaila is shopping for electronic supplies for Chaka; T’Lin and Kirk are minding the ship.

After a while they all meet at an outdoor restaurant. They enjoy a good dinner and drinks, making many toasts to Jhimal’s health. “She’ll be so pleased to know you were drinking in her name,” McCoy smirks, standing and downing one last shot of liquor. “And so long, you dypsomaniacs, I have to get back now.  I owe Mattea some time down here.”

 L’Rell’s going to yarn and sing with some Klingons she met in the market. “They told me there is excellent blood wine. I cannot miss such a chance.”

T’Pren and Shalia head back to Chaka; the Vulcan is relieving Kirk so he can have a few hours dirtside. Gaila and Lorca are having a pleasant chat and neither is inclined to leave. The stars are coming out overhead and the air is sweet with the flowers twining on railings by the tables.

Kirk arrives and Gaila stands up. “Hello Jim. David, I’ll see you back on the ship; I’m going to look for some new clothes. My green jumpsuit is getting threadbare, and I want a few other things.” She barely looks at Jim as she leaves.

“Kirk,” Lorca says in a companionable tone. “How are you?”

“Good,” Kirk grins, setting his backpack on the floor. “Glad we got our mission done and we can have a few drinks. I just had a really good meal at that stall over there. Ever tried jibiton?”

“I may have, once. We had a good dinner here. Sorry you got here after everybody took off.”

Kirk goes to get them some drinks. When he gets back, he and Lorca talk about their recent battles and tactics in general. After a while, Gabriel says, “Do you know who came up with the kind of torpedo that hit us the other day?”

Kirk shrugs. “Another proud accomplishment of the Empire, I suppose.”

“No, I meant specifically.”

Kirk narrows his eyes. “I wouldn’t know.”

“You’re a good tactical officer, study weapons, and you’ve been around a little while, I just thought you might have heard it somewhere. Jhimal wants to hunt them down and kill them. I’m pretty motivated myself.”

“Good old Jhimal. I don’t think she’ll have any luck there. Far as I know the Empire uses slaves from the ancient warrior races like Klingons, Andorians, Vulcans and Romulans, to come up with their arms. Anything electronic, for that matter. At least when we steal it we know it works, huh.”

“Sure does. A toast to the ancient warriors.”

They clink glasses and drink. Over the next couple of hours, Kirk fetches three more rounds. Lorca pays for two of them.

After some more discussion of their battles , Lorca nods in the direction Gaila headed off. “What happened with you and Gaila? I thought you guys were really happy.”

“Not so much, lately. We broke up.”

“Sorry to hear that. She’s really nice.”

Kirk scoffs. “You want to pick up where I left off, old man?”

Lorca shakes his head, maintaining a friendly expression. “If I were younger, maybe, after a while. No, as a senior officer I just like to keep current with how the crew is feeling.”

“As First Officer, you mean.”

“Jhimal hasn’t appointed me. She wants to make sure she has the best one and see how we behave with each other in the meantime. Cooperation is very important. You and L’Rell are equally strong candidates.”

“But in effect, you’re the First Officer.”

Leaning back, Lorca smiles. “Funny, I thought L’Rell was highest on the list.”

“That would make sense, being that the head of the Resistance is her boyfriend.” Jim doesn’t keep the resentment out of his voice.

Lorca laughs. “I doubt Klingons use the term ‘boyfriend’. Probably something more passionate.”

“They’re all-out about everything.”

“Formidable warriors.”

Kirk rolls his eyes. “Yeah, I don’t pick fights with L’Rell.”

“I still don’t get how the Terrans beat the Klingons.”

A shrug. “Strength in numbers and technology, I guess. And not being too deli—not being averse to using it.” Kirk drains his drink. “Want another?”

“No, thanks, I’m good. Thanks for buying a round.” Lorca goes to the bar and orders a carafe of water – the water here is particularly good – and drinks the first glass gratefully. As he turns to head back to the table he feels a change in his sense of balance and inwardly shakes his head. Too many drinks in too short a time.

When he returns to sit down, Jim is fishing in his pockets.

Lorca raises his eyebrows in inquiry.

“Got something to trade,” Kirk mumbles. “Ah. There it is.”

“What are you getting in exchange?”

“Latinum, maybe. Never hurts to be prepared.” He looks at the water and snorts a laugh. “Washing out the alcohol?”

“I don’t like hangovers. And this stuff tastes great.”

“Well … I need to get going.”

“Thanks for the drink.”

“You, too.”

And he’s off, walking briskly, a backpack slung over his shoulder. Lorca’s eye is caught by some attractive women over by the jeweller’s stall and his heart suddenly aches.

I still owe you a big, stupid diamond, Kat. He can still picture her in his mind, and hear her voice; the dreams have helped in that regard, for he hasn’t a thing with him to recall memories. No pictures, no Padd.

He glances down and notices an object that must have fallen from Kirk’s pocket. He looks around. Kirk’s gone, and he can give it back to him on the ship. Lorca examines it. Electronic, with a toggle. Micro-wavelength indicators. “What the fuck,” he mutters, and moves the toggle to the lower setting.

His head is on fire. His hands shake as he switches the thing off. He puts it away safely, calming the trembling in his hands, and takes a long drink of water, picturing Kirk wearing a smug expression.

You son of a bitch.

He sits a while, strategizing.

.

Lorca’s walking toward where L’Rell said she would be. I hope she’s done drinking bloodwine. Stuff sounds nasty. That’s his last thought before a heavy clout hits the back of his head.

As he comes to he hears chuckling. “This uniform’s a little loose on my waist, old man.” Kirk’s wearing the black Terran uniform Lorca “lost” on Prior’s World. When he woke up in his underwear, in a similar alley.

“Takes a man to fill it out,” Lorca answers. His head aches, but it’s not the splitting headache from the sound weapon. It’s a headache from the heavy blow. “Only a coward would knock another man out from behind … Or use a stealth sound weapon to disable him.”

Kirk laughs, smirking. “Worked like a charm though, didn’t it.”

“You can’t use it now.” Lorca rushes at Kirk and they grapple; he frees his hand enough to put pressure on a nerve in Kirk’s neck. It’s a Suus-Mahna technique T’Pren has taught him. Kirk’s grip loosens enough for Lorca to get out of the grappling hold. Lorca punches Kirk’s solar plexus, hard, then his throat; as he goes for the solar plexus again Kirk stops him with a heavy strike to the forehead. Blood’s running into Lorca’s eye, so he misses the punch to his middle. The blow’s hard enough to knock Lorca to the ground; he grunts on an exhale as Kirk starts kicking him. Lorca breathes in deep to tighten his muscles; inwardly he can hear McCoy bitching about internal organ damage.

Lorca intercepts, grabbing and twisting Kirk’s foot, hard, dropping him to the ground. Kirk tries a forceful kick with the other foot; Lorca evades it and jumps up, backing away, trying to staunch the blood flowing  from his eyebrow. Kirk rises, looking murderous, and rushes Lorca with his head down. Striking Kirk’s trapezius muscles with the sides of his hands, Lorca rocks backward but keeps his feet beneath him. His just-healed leg is hurting like a bastard. He moves forward, punching up into Kirk’s jaw. The kid’s head snaps back, but bruised as he is, he does have youth on his side, and he raises his eyes to glare at Lorca.

Gabriel says, “I’m lucky you don’t have your stealth weapon, huh?”

“You’re still gonna lose, old man.”

That’s it. Lorca steps into Kirk, punches him hard in the groin, and sweeps his feet out from under him, Kirk lands on his back, air whooshing out. “Old age and treachery, boy,” Lorca says.

He stands over Kirk, the toe of his boot on Kirk’s throat. “You tried to kill my friend. You seem to have plans for me too. You’re a traitor.”

“Took you long enough to notice.”

“Were you going to take our ship to the Terrans?”

“That piece of shit? Hell no. But the Emperor will appreciate having you. You’re valuable.”

“You bet your sweet ass I am.”

Lorca hears L’Rell’s voice out on the street.

He makes the mistake of glancing up.  Kirk, twisting out from under Lorca’s boot, kicks hard into Lorca’s shins, knocking him down. Kirk scrambles upright and raises a foot to stomp on him but Lorca grabs it and gives it a sharp twist with everything he’s got. Snap! Tendon or bone, he doesn’t care. Kirk is unbalanced but sways and stays upright, standing on the strong foot with the injured one raised slightly, toeing the ground. “You’re gonna have to kill me, old man,” he grins. “You don’t want to let me go.”

Lorca rises to face the younger man. Kirk has tried to kill both him and Jhimal. She is fighting for her life in the sickbay. And Kirk will not stop trying to hurt them or their mission to achieve his ends: first, to command Chaka; then, to impress the Emperor.

“Damned straight. I can’t let you go.” Suddenly lunging forward, left arm straight out toward Kirk, Lorca drives the heel of his hand forcefully into Kirk’s nose. The septum penetrates his brain and he falls dead at Lorca’s feet.

“I am sorry I did not get to help you,” L’Rell says from just behind his shoulder. Lorca startles.

“My ribs and kidneys would have thanked you,” he says, looking down at Kirk’s blank, dead gaze. “Ahh, Jesus. I hate this.”

“That petaQ is of no value to the Resistance. Any information he has on the Empire is either untrustworthy or months old.” She lifts her disruptor and casually vaporizes Kirk’s body. Lorca, inculcated for 35 years with Starfleet values, inwardly gasps. “Now we don’t have to hide him or bury him,” she says, her grey face impassive.

And Gaila can move back into her quarters instead of camping out in Sickbay, Lorca thinks, imagining the smile on Jhimal’s face when he tells her a traitor is dead. He feels a mixture of guilt and triumph that sits oddly in his middle.

L’Rell’s hand lands heavily on his shoulder. “The time since you have been with us has been hard for you. You are not like the Terrans. I know you are not used to killing this way.”

Lorca blots his bleeding eyebrow. “I hope I never get used to it,” he says.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

They’re reading, Gabriel flat on his back, head on the pillow, holding his book up; Kat sitting up, writing in her book with a pencil. Lorca loves to read her marginalia; he thinks of it as a short course in psychiatry. He puts his book down, a novel about the naval wars of the Napoleonic Era, and smiles.

“Hey.” He pulls up on one elbow beside her.

“Hmm?” Her eyes still on her book, she notices his silence and lays her book on the bedside table, pencil beside it. She’ll have to put that thing away, Somchai likes to chew erasers.

“Wanna get married?”

“What?” She looks at him like he’s kidding around, her smile that downturned, dimply one he loves.

“Do you want to get married?”

She ruffles his hair. “I … sure, but I’d like to wait. We seem happy enough.” She wiggles her eyebrows up and down. “And—not that I object to being asked—but why? We’re comfortable just as we are.”

“We’ve been together for, give or take, 30 years, Kat. I’m just an old romantic.”

“How about this. Let’s get married when I’m 60. It’ll be like a birthday present for me … I’ll get you.” She leans over and kisses his forehead and he tips his chin up so his mouth can touch hers for a deep kiss. “Mmm,” she says. “I think you’ll do.”

“So, a sixtieth birthday present.”

“Mmm-hmm.” She’s sliding down to snuggle next to him, her hand on his waist.

“I just want to buy you a big stupid diamond you can wear.”

She laughs gently. “I can’t parade around Starfleet Headquarters with a diamond ring on my finger, my dear. Ornaments are against regulation.”

“How about a big stupid diamond on a necklace, then.”

“I can wear it under my uniform, that’s good.”

“We’ll get a long-ish chain so the diamond doesn’t fall out when you’re leaned over pounding on the conference table.”

“I do not pound on the conference table.”

“Sivahn says you do.”

She shakes her head with her ‘you got me’ expression. “Okay, sometimes.”

“Oh my,” he smiles. “Such lack of restraint is shocking. Shocking!”

“How dare you sir, to accuse me of a lack of restraint!” She pretends she’s smacking him in the face with a glove. “I challenge you to a duel.”

“My sword will be ready for you in a trice.”

Her eyes sparkle as he tackles her and they begin to kiss, and indeed, he’s rising to meet her. Their lovemaking is a duel of sorts, but the only death is “le petit mort,” as they come, gasping.

.

He wakes on a moan of pleasure, then realizes he is alone. Once again, Kat Cornwell is just a dream of another life, a year and more ago, and very far away. He gets out of bed, puts his come-dampened skivvies in the ‘fresher, washes himself, and puts on fresh underwear, shorts, and a tank top.

He heads for Chaka’s tiny gym and uses the rowing machine, on high resistance, for an hour. He counts strokes; it’s meditative and wears him out while relaxing his mind. Gaila comes in, in leggings and a short shirt that shows her trim waist, smiles a greeting at him. She dons boxing gloves and begins hitting the speed bag. She’s good at it, with regular rhythm, Lorca notes as he wipes down the sweat-dampened seat of the rower, stealing a glance at Gaila’s beautifully sculpted arms. He thinks maybe she should have punched Jim Kirk in return for his maltreatment of her. But that problem is now in the past. He feels some shame for killing Jim, but it’s his Starfleet-inculcated values talking. Kirk deserved it: he’d tried to kill him and Jhimal, and decimate the crew of Chaka.

Lorca gets a separate towel to blot his sweaty face and torso and gets a glass of cool water from the replicator, downing it in several gulps. Kat used to tease him about being part camel. He misses her teasing, the sense of humor they share. Shared.

He dabs his face again with the towel. Just his eyes, actually.

.

/\

Devastation.

Dead bodies stretching as far as Lorca can see, bloated, with the cloying, sour smell of carrion. Hands are clutched to throats or covering faces; eyes are squeezed shut. The people here each struggled for breath at the end; their skin shows signs of a chemical agent. There are no flies or other carrion eaters; all life has ceased. Plants, shriveled to blackness, no grass to speak of, yet the sky a paradisiacal green. Structures undisturbed, doors open as if welcoming one in. When the crew of Chaka took readings before beaming down, they noted the atmosphere was normal. In fact everything is normal, except the … population.

He watches as McCoy swallows hard and kneels beside one of the children, taking readings. She is about the same age as the doctor’s daughter and has a stiff, small cat, tucked tightly next to her.  The cat’s mouth is frozen open; it had been gasping for air. Gaila and L’Rell walk among the deceased, looking for signs of life, but they keep meeting each other’s eyes and shaking their heads, Gaila, tearful; L’Rell, stoic.

“Biochemical agent,” McCoy snaps, standing, looking away from him. Lorca sees his jaw working and knows the doctor is biting back rage. “It worked so fast people didn’t even have time to get inside.

Photon torpedoes would have been kinder. Gabriel doesn’t say it out loud. The Emperor is terrorizing the populations of these planets. She knows they’re about to rise in force. Well … he looks around sadly. Not all of them. Jesus Christ.

He walks quickly into the settlement, looking for the administrative center, which will have some clues only Resisters would recognize as to where the comms center might be. A record of the disaster and what led up to it. When, and why, although the Emperor seldom explains before devastating.

He finds the symbol written on the underside of a table, second leg clockwise, by the third window. Third window, second leg, fifth house in the second street clockwise that had a certain plant by the front door. A rather simple code—this one based on an old Andorian children’s verse—and changed every so often, but the Empire – he hopes – has not figured it out yet. When he goes outside he catches Gaila’s eye and inclines his head; she comes toward him and they headed for the house. She is dashing away tears and looks grateful to have a different job to concentrate on.

In its basement is a shielded room, behind a table with plant pots all over it and a big bag of potting soil for vegetable plants leaning on the wall. Both table and bag are easily moved for quick access, and the wall is paneled so the crack of the doorway cannot be seen. They slip inside and find the comms equipment. Coding in a set of numbers, Lorca calls up the station logs and latest communications. The Emperor indeed contacted them; it appeared she did that about a minute before the attack.  

“You are Resisters and you are going to die. Slowly. Call your rebellion and let them listen. Think, as you die: your rebellion against me is as useless as your planetary defenses were against my ships.”

Cries of agony, sounds of coughing and smothering … silence.

.

Lorca comms Jhimal on the Chaka. “She’s getting angry,” he says. “Causing pain now.”

Jhimal’s antennae curve inward and her mouth thins. “What satisfaction it will bring me to kill her.”

“We’d better hurry and figure out how,” Lorca says.

“Or how to better shield our settlements from discovery and destruction.” He hears  Jhimal clicking her stylus on a Padd. “We do have a line on the biochemical supplier.”

“Already?”

“Since we first heard the rumors last week, our people have been narrowing the search for the last couple of days.”

Lorca nods, a slow smile forming. “Taking a few of their freighters out would be pretty satisfying too. Better that their weapons cargo discharge in space, eh?”

“They’re tracking some. We’ll talk later.”

Meanwhile, Gaila is stripping the comms center, loading any electronics into her supply bag; Lorca starts looking for any data drives, logs, or anything else that might contain information about the Resistance. The Emperor’s AI is damned good for codebreaking, but nothing can beat the living brain of a complex lifeform for weird, creative codes and ciphers, especially those using the various cultures and languages of Resistance members. Terrans will never deeply understand Andorian sagas or Klingon opera or Vulcan philosophy (the implications of certain sayings or metaphors, for example).

Gaila comms the ship and asks for some techs to bring containers and disassemble and pack the equipment. They beam down seconds later and begin. Equipment can always go to another cell, another ship, another settlement.

Lorca goes back out. The stench hits him anew. After appropriate ceremonies, Chaka will use phasers on wide spread to cremate all the bodies.

 

.

At the morning meeting Jhimal tells Lorca and L’Rell that Chaka is heading for the main Resistance Base for a conference and planning meeting. Part of the Resistance fleet meets at a conference every few months; the other parts of the fleet continue battle maneuvers and a few stealth ships stay in the vicinity to defend and warn the base of any intruders.

 

/\

The first day of the conference is mostly for formal, then social, introductions of Resistance leaders to one another, and meeting of old friends. It strengthens alliances and helps them know each other better, to get a sense of who are the best captains to work together in joint operations and battle groups as the Resistance gains ground.

Later in the day, voices become louder and jollier; gesticulating with hands and arms in attack and defense positions of the starship battles being discussed; some people even imitate explosion sounds (presumably for ground actions). Others make the gesture in the air of a weapons hit and a ship imploding and its components scattering … a silent gesture, but one that elicits shouts of victory from Klingons, Andorians, Tellarites, and nodding among the Vulcans.

In the evening, after dinner in the main hall, Jhimal moves slowly to the dais. “You may have noticed,” she begins, “that I was at death’s threshold a very short time ago. My friend Yorke avenged me and rid us all of a traitor. I don’t know which goal was primary in his mind at that moment, but I am truly thankful.” She raises a glass of Andorian ale. “I drink to my shras, my friend, David Yorke.”

Lorca smiles, swallowing hard. Jhimal survived in this … reality, but not in his other life. He is glad she is still beside him. He values her friendship, perspective, and humor. She has helped him adjust to his new life. His eyes are misty as he raises his glass, nodding at her, and mouthing, “Shras.”

.

The friends are quite drunk as they weave their way through the grounds, after. Jhimal has a bottle with her. Her trip home to Andor yielded her a case of ale. “Here,” she says, stopping at a flat-roofed building and the ladder that leads to the top. She gives him the bottle. “Put this in your coat pocket.” For Jhimal, the cold temperatures here remind her of Andor’s spring, and she’s in her usual leather jacket and trousers, so Lorca’s the one with the long coat and big pockets; their hands are free for them to climb the ladder. They’re managing, though Lorca’s foot slips at one point.

At the top, a flat roof with lounges and a few low tables, there’s a bar, used in warmer months, and tables and chairs for eating outside. They’re scattered here and there, abandoned quickly during emergencies, and almost nothing matches. It’s a resistance after all, not Starfleet. The Resistance pours funds into defense, not creature comforts. There’s a telescope, too. Stargazers, he thinks, despite the war, people have still not lost their fascination with astral phenomena.

She leads him over to it, looking up. “It’s about the right time.” She bends to look through the eyepiece. “Yes, she’s coming around.” Jhimal beckons, and he goes to take a look. It’s Firehawk, in orbit. “She’s all yours.”

He sighs. It’s a thrill to get a new ship. It always is. He remembers taking command of the Buran five years ago, and feels a lump in his throat. And subsumes the usual thought, I wonder how everyone is, because it makes him sorrowful.

“We’ll take you up tomorrow morning for the commissioning ceremony,” Jhimal says. “But meanwhile would you like to have a quick walk-through?”

“Not sure I’m sober enough to perceive all the details, though.”

“It’s a beauty tour, not an indoctrination.”

They transport up. Even the transporter consoles and pads can be broken down for travel.

Firehawk’s beautiful. Captured from the Terrans, she is a new ship, and after they look over the systems and Engineering and the bridge, Lorca turns to his friend and says, “You deserve her, I don’t.”

Jhimal smiles. “Chaka is my ship, my home. Built by my people. Firehawk is yours, David.”

“If you were human I would hug you,” he grins.

She raises her arms to ward him off. “Ugh.” Then their eyes meet, and she says, “I will miss seeing your ugly pink face every day, though.”

“We’ll be in the same battle group, Jhi. We’ll comm regularly.”

“Threat? Or promise?”

“A necessity. Otherwise I wouldn’t bother you, with your evil temper.” He winks and she laughs.

Back down on the moon’s surface they clasp arms in a “good night.” Jhimal holds his arm a little longer than usual and says, “Do me proud.”

“Oh, come on. Of course I will.”

“I will miss having you onboard my ship, David. Sincerely.” Her dark eyes are actually glimmering, and Lorca’s are a bit misty too.

The next day, before Firehawk’s commissioning, Jhimal calls a brief conference in the mess hall on Chaka. There are a few new faces: a silver-haired male Denobulan, and a human in his early 30s, deep in conversation with Gaila.  A Tellarite male in a mild argument with a young Andorian. A Klingon male; Lorca wonders if he’ll be able to transit the doorways of Chaka, he’s so tall. He has a red streak painted on his face and is slated to be Jhimal’s first officer. Kol, he’s called, and he’s a fierce warrior.

Jhimal calls them to order and introduces the new people. “This is Dr Phlox, he’s been around for many years and is famous for his knowledge of traditional and unorthodox medicines and techniques.” Phlox stands and nods at everyone, his bright blue eyes scanning each and every face, noting ages, origins, and so on. “I’m pleased to be joining you on the Chaka, Captain Jhimal,” he says, and takes his seat.

Jhimal gestures, “This is Montgomery Scott, an engineer whose genius may even exceed our Gaila’s. She will be joining Captain Yorke on the Firehawk, along with Dr McCoy. Here is Kol, who will be my new first officer, and is, need I say, as fierce a warrior as our L’Rell. She, too, is going with Captain Yorke.” L’Rell and Kol lift their chins at each other. It’s less pleasant than other greetings, apparently there are differences between their family houses, but the larger goal of defeating the Terran Empire has united the Klingons, at least for now.

 

Chapter Text

Firehawk’s commissioning ceremony is necessarily brief. Fire Wolf, the Resistance leader, gives Lorca the ship’s nameplate, which will be – as in Starfleet – affixed to a bulkhead on the Bridge. His hollow voice and inspiring words surprise the captain. “Yorke” thanks Fire Wolf, Jhimal, and the leadership of the Resistance for their faith in him, and promises to keep working hard with his excellent crew. There is a great deal of ready information on Firehawk’s computer for him and his officers to study with every detail of her capabilities and limitations.

Later in the day Fire Wolf opens the Planning Session. That Klingons fight alongside Humans and other “Federation races” amazes him. He has always been impressed by their hand-to-hand combat skills, and their personal toughness, but has never realized their loyalty can extend to those outside their own kind. In his other life, Klingons were insular and that much more frightening. Based solely on their savage fighting skills, their invention, the invisibility screen—again, in his former reality—was a surprising one, especially since Klingons fancied themselves the bravest of warriors. Why do they hide their ships then? Lorca always wondered.

Here, the Klingons have not yet come up with it, which is probably why they’ve lost so much to the Terran Empire. Until now. Romulans and Vulcans are presently working on this concept, and per their briefing to the group here, are close to actually building one. Any specifications Lorca has ever heard conjectured in Starfleet, he’s passed to the team, and Gaila, along with the engineer Montgomery Scott, is  working very happily with the other scientists on the design.

In small groups, they spend hours talking fleet-wide strategies, causes of changing supply lines (both their own and the Empire’s), new resources, and battle tactics.

.

During a brief break in the afternoon, he’s talking with Jhimal.

They’re walking, outside; Jhimal’s pace is still slow but she’s healing. “It’s good to get out of that fucking chair for a while,” she mutters, tipping her head back, feeling the sun on her face and throat. Her antennae are making tiny movements, almost swaying. She sees him watching. “Good to be in a magnetosphere again. And the air is perfect.”

“Goddamn cold, if you ask me,” he grins. “But I am human.”

Lorca catches a glimpse of a familiar figure out of the corner of his eye. He dismisses it immediately; he’s had a number of similar heart-stopping experiences at every trade port and outpost since he began his new life. He’s read that those who grieve have very similar experiences: seeing their dead wife in a crowd, their lost brother on a promenade.

.

They have all joined for an evening meal with moderate amounts of wine. Wine is scarce in the Resistance. They are much more concerned with getting food, medical supplies, weapons, dilithium, and so on. And basic liquor can be made almost anywhere, so is widely available. During these monthly, week-long “Camp Meetings”, as they’re jokingly called, when two cells of the Resistance meet and all the others continue to fight the Empire, many patrols are posted and communications in the sector heavily monitored in case the Terrans should get wind of what’s going on here. These meetings are probably the only time in months a large-ish group of Resisters get a chance to relax.

.

After dinner Lorca’s standing outside in a sort of courtyard, arms folded against his chest, looking up at the stars. They look unfamiliar here because this is a section of the Alpha Quadrant Starfleet hasn’t explored yet. His eyes blur briefly and he swallows. Now that I have a ship, it feels like I’m giving up hope of going home. And in fact, he feels his resolve to do so has faded from the urgent need it was to an ache deep within. One he almost can’t touch.

Footsteps are coming up behind him. He turns to see … her. His insides are trembling with joy …  disappointment … confusion … too many feelings at once. He’s trying to keep a straight face.

She sticks out a hand. “… Yorke, is it? I’m Katrina Cornwell. Chief Strategist for Command Staff.”

“G—David Yorke, yes,” he says, inwardly cursing himself for being so distracted by her. “First officer, Chaka, under Captain Jhimal. Er ... now, commander of Firehawk, actually.”

“Sorry I missed the ceremony this morning. Congratulations.” She’s looking at him, her green eyes assessing in a way his Kat’s have not been, at least not in the six years since his near-fatal injury a few years ago. “I know who you are. Captain Jhimal told me about they found you. And I’ve reviewed your record since you’ve been with us. Outstanding command and strategic skills, a good number of battles won. So, I know your ‘lost and found’ story is a cover story.”

Her hair is shorter. He enjoys seeing the nape of her neck. He enjoys the sight of her, period, yet she’s not Kat. She looks much the same but the lines on her face aren’t laugh lines, they’re ones carved by deep concern.

“I heard someone call you the Arbiter,” he says, trying to divert her attention.

She smiles, coolly. “Yes, I used to be a senior advisor to the Emperor. I decided who was at fault for any errors in battle or losses of ships to the Empire. Which captains should be punished. I am a psychiatrist by training, so interviewed them to determine the truth. The validity of their tactics in battle. Thus, ‘arbiter.’”

“And accomplished strategist, I presume.”

“Yes. Which the Emperor is not, sometimes. Luckily for us.”

His brows go up. “How did you end up in the Resistance?”

“I made clear to the Emperor that she was not perfect when one of her Favorites, heading a Battle Group, committed a serious tactical error. His tactics, suggested by her, were terrible. For his error, we lost thousands of Terran troops and dozens of ships. I was frank with her and said it was not his fault he followed her orders.” She looks at him, her expression bitter. “For my error, she subjected me to torture—weeks in the Agony Booth—and killed my entire family. ‘How do you like my strategy now?’ she said.” Cornwell looks away, and he sees her throat move as she swallows hard.

“Instead of spitting in her face I nodded submissively and continued my act while I worked on a way out. I found one. To advance in the Empire you either have to be an excellent assassin or an expert in bribery. I did both to get away from her, from them. And now the Resistance has an expert opponent of the Empire.”

“Good for the Resistance. But … your whole family…! I’m sorry to hear that.”

She gestures toward her temporary quarters. “Care for a drink, Mr Yorke?”

He checks the chron on his communicator and nods. “I have a little time. I have to meet Jhimal in a while. And please, call me David.”

“All right, David. Call me Katrina.”

She hooks her arm in his and they walk to her place. Inside, she breaks out some Irish Single Malt whisky, pours, and they clink glasses, smiling at each other. “Your health,” he says.

“Slainte.”

They sit in camp chairs and sip. The silence is welcome, as is the whisky, soft, gently stinging and complex on his tongue. Like wine, good whisky is rare.

He meets her eyes. “If it makes you sad, don’t answer … but do you want to tell me about your family?”

“Sure,” she says. And he gets to listen to her familiar-sounding voice, describing people he can recognize somewhat. Indeed she had a tall half-sister who raised horses, but she raised them for the Emperor ….

They’ve worn their coats all day, this is a cold time of year on this moon, and the heating systems in most of the temp buildings do not work well, if at all. But Katrina is based here, so her little cabin is insulated and cozier than most.

As she removes her heavy leather coat, her trim figure is revealed. She looks damned good in leather, glove-soft trousers, suede shirt.

She pours some more whisky and says, “You’re in a lot of pain. I can tell.”

His chin goes up and he feels his expression go flat. “What are you talking about.”

The look on her face is one he saw on Kat’s face so many times. Cut the crap, Gabriel.

His face goes dead. Unrevealing.

“This is not an interrogation, Captain,” she says, raising her glass and taking a slow sip. She looks steadily at him – her gaze is so familiar that something tears in his gut. His jaw flexes. “I’m going to say something and you can hate me if you want, it’s no difference to me. You’ve been here for over 18 months. It’s not likely you’ll ever find a way home. I know you’ve been trying, with all the resources at your disposal.   I wish you could give up that dream, Gabriel, because the Resistance needs you. We’re getting to a critical point in the fight now. As soon as you train your senior officers, they’ll be off to command new ships. Thanks to your help, and the good captains we have, we’ve captured a good number of Terran ships that we’re refitting now.

“Maybe once we have more ships and more captains, we can find you a way home, but I haven’t found any indication that it’s possible. There’s a pretty strict set of circumstances necessary for us to replicate the conditions that brought you here. And the Terran Gabriel Lorca is missing. He’s been missing for as long as you’ve been here, by my calculations.”

Stricken, he hides his expression. Has he been with Kat? Please god no.

Standing, she comes over, extends a hand, and reaches toward him.

His hand whips out before he can stop it, wrapping tightly around her wrist. He’s glaring and her eyebrows have flown up in fear or indignation.

 “What the hell is this?” His teeth are gritted, he’s so angry.

She commands him, “Let GO.”

He does. Wipes his hand down his trouser leg, trying to erase his grip on her. “Sorry. Sorry. I didn’t—.”

“ – I meant to express comfort. Sorry for the inappropriate gesture.” She steps back, raising the glass she has in her other hand and draining it. “Glad I didn’t have to drop this to break your fucking arm.”

“I’m glad I didn’t break yours either.” He looks up at her to see her rueful grin.

She settles back into her chair, rubbing her wrist. “You’re on edge around me. It’s understandable.”

“How’s that?”

“I must look like her. I probably am her, in every way, except circumstance and environment. Certainly, except for your hair and eyes, you’re identical to ‘our’ Gabriel Lorca. You’re just not a thorough son of a bitch. Your reaction when you first met me ….”

He’s chilled. This is confirmation of the thing he’s suspected, what with Jhimal, Matt Decker, Bob Wesley, and others identical to the people where he comes from.

His entire plane of existence has changed into what he sarcastically thinks of as “OppositeLand!” He still has not figured out how he got wherever “here” is, or what constitutes “here” vice “there.” Confusing on an existential level, and mentally wearing. Especially recalibrating his entire way of being: from confidence in his surroundings to wariness in all surroundings, because he resembles a man who would be inimical to his entire way of life in the Federation. And a man who could actually harm him, directly or indirectly.

“Then can you tell me, what is this place? And what – and where – is my home?”

“You’ve heard theories of multiple universes, surely.”

“Yeah. The stars are the same here, but in opposite patterns.” He heaves a sigh. “So, presuming I’m from a … universe … where everyone is the same physically, but different in temperament, how would I get to mine?”

“There’s an area of space that may permit moving to the other side. I really can’t tell you more than that.”

“Like where it is.”

“We’re not entirely sure. Its location seems to vary.”

“Or you’re not sure because it’s classified.”

“So cynical,” she says, with a glint of Kat’s humor.

“Wouldn’t you be.”

“Look, I won’t try to convince you to give up your dream of going home. I’m sincere when I say I’ve done a lot of research into it. We’re still working on it. Meanwhile, give us your best. Because it’s very, very good. And the Resistance needs you.”

.

“She has a point, David,” Jhimal says to him after they’ve discussed business. He’s told her about his conversation with Cornwell. Except for the wrist grabbing part. “We do need you. I hope that, even if we find you a way home, you can help us get a definitive victory against the Empire first. One that will take us surely to complete success.” She pours some Andorian ale.

“Just a little. Enough to take the edge off this cold. I’m a Southern boy, I’m not used to this.”

“Ahh, but this weather is so BRACING!” she winks.

.

He walks through the very cold, dry air to the temp structure he’s staying in with the Klingon captain, Kheng. The structures are small, easy to break down for quick departure in case Terrans discover the Resistance encampment, or simple to replace if resisters have to run without advance warning. People in the Resistance often say they’re tired of moving around, can’t wait to settle down somewhere and stay there, or that they miss their home planet that the Terrans have pillaged and occupied, or in the case of the Klingons, destroyed outright.

Gabriel can sympathize.

.

It’s cold as hell. His mind racing, Lorca curls tightly under the bedcover, trying to stay warm. The problem with Resistance encampments is, often systems don’t work properly and are not easily repaired.

They could sure use better heating elements. Or an industrial replicator to make new ones. The Resistance is gradually accumulating industrial replicators, which will allow them to quickly manufacture new shelters, equipment, parts, and more. But right now their replication priorities are materiel, hand weapons, targeting systems. Yes, shelters too, for the colonists who have to move constantly to stay ahead of the Empire. They just don’t have good environmental controls in them.

Canvas partitions surround the beds in this shelter, but they don’t do much to keep warmth in, or cold, out. He briefly thinks of beaming up to Firehawk to sleep in some nice, warm quarters, but senses it would put a dent in the comradely suffering of the group. He didn’t want to be the captain snob with a brand-new command.

Kheng is not back yet. The Klingons like to get together to tell stories and sing songs of their legendary hero Kahless, and of T’Kuvma, who had tried to unite the scattered Klingon Houses against the Terran Empire, but met disastrous failure.

Gabriel’s stomach is fluttering, not just with the chill. The sight of Cornwell – her movements, the way she pushed her hair behind her ear – reminded him sharply of everything he’s lost. It brings his Kat back to his mind in sharp focus. The sound, the scent, the contours of her. He closes his eyes, remembering, and blood begins rushing to his cock. Imagining Kat’s loving touch, he pleasures himself, and quickly comes. “Pleasure” is probably not the right word for it. His gut twists; the loneliness is only intensified. He kicks off his underwear under the covers, which lets in nippy drafts of air.

He lies still to sleep; normally after solo relief of his sexual urges he falls off quickly, but not tonight. It’s the damn cold, for one thing, stealing through every little gap and fold of the blankets. He gets up again, puts on fresh underwear and all his clothes, boots included. He takes his hair out of its tie to fall loose, and dons his brimless knit cap. It’s odd trying to sleep this way, but whatever works.

.

She’s behind him, her arm lying over his bare waist, her face pressed to his neck, her breasts against his back, her thighs curved behind his.

“I don’t want to leave you,” he says, starting to turn to lie on his back.

“Don’t turn around, Gabriel. Don’t turn around. I haven’t lost you in my heart; you’re still here with me. Just … just be happy, sweetheart.”

He can feel her tears dripping on his back, and swallows his own. “Please let me look at you, Kat.”

“You don’t need to, to know that I love you. Don’t look back.” A kiss on the back of his neck, warm, fleeting, and then the touch and warmth of her is gone.

 

Chapter Text

Firehawk is everything Lorca could have wanted.

… Except she’s not in Federation space, and she’s not the USS Buran, with all his crew. He’s woken gasping from nightmares about a Terran Lorca being in his place, especially with Kat. But surely a Terran would not be able to fool her. He hopes the guy is in a Federation prison.

Firehawk is a beautiful new ship, innovative, fast, and soon to be equipped with an invisibility cloak. Lorca and L’Rell have run many drills with the crew. Now they know well their photon torpedoes, scimitar missiles, and phasers.

While at the conference, Gaila, Scotty and other engineers designed phaser modifications for wide-spread stun capability. This will come in handy on Resistance raids because Terrans like to use the people of other races as shields to protect their weapons manufactories and storage facilities.  Unlike Terrans, the Resistance always does bioscans before they use photons at such locations, and have sometimes had to turn back to avoid inflicting casualties on non-Terrans. Now they can do a wide stun, remove every person but Terrans, then blow the targets to smithereens.

The trick is planning. They’ve spent hours coordinating with other Resistance ships for the attack on the bioweapons facility. They’ve brought in a captured Terran transport ship for the Terrans’ civilian prisoners-shields at the plant. They have escort ships to detect and fight off imperial battle cruisers while Firehawk finds and transport the aliens.

After the experience with Jim Kirk, the leadership decided that no more Terran rebels would be permitted into the ranks of the Resistance. They can go to POW camps if they choose. To Lorca, it’s harsh but this is wartime and a fight for survival. Sadly, in an action like this, there is no time to take prisoners; they’ll barely have enough time to rescue the non-Terran civilians. The greater good, he tells himself, as he walks the passageways of his new ship and looks out from the viewport on the Bridge, checks status with the staff there, and speaks with others of his crew who are awake at this hour.

He stops into Engineering. Gaila’s just finishing up her day shift, quite late. It’s already 2100.

“You should have gone off watch at least three hours ago. You need to be fresh for the morning,” Lorca admonishes gently.

She wipes a bit of oil off her cheek, giving him a buoyant grin. “Just making sure she’s 100 per cent, including our wide-set stun, Captain.”

She gestures as they walk over to the main phaser banks; he leans to peer in. “I’ve adjusted the phasers so we can do the wide stun. We’ve run computer simulations, everything looks good.”

He taps a button and whistles when he sees the number. “Ninety-nine per cent efficiency. Gaila, you’ve outdone yourself.”

“Not just me.” She gestures around the bay. “They helped. Goodnight, folks,” she says, getting smiles and nods from the other engineers. And to Lorca, “See you at 0500,” as they leave Engineering and part ways.

“Sleep well.”

The op is set for the next morning at “zero dark thirty,” when Terran night shifts will be dragging to an end, guards and others will be tired and ready to dismiss any anomalies. Despite the ever-looming threat of agonizer booths for disobedient Terrans, guards often defy authority, resentful of their leadership or covering up for each other.

Good leadership and the loyalty it engenders counts for a lot, in Lorca’s opinion.

He settles into bed. Tucking himself under the nice, warm comforter he lays down on his back, one hand lying on his stomach, and drops right off.

.

/\

.

Kat’s sitting on the edge of the bed, looking at him as he wakes up. How do you wake up in a dream, he thinks, but he sees her. He’s home. She’s putting a mug of coffee on the bedside table for him and he sits up to drink it. She’s wearing her green caftan with the cranes on it. Symbols of lifelong love.

“Gabriel, love,” she’s saying. The steam from the coffee has maybe got in his eyes, because it’s obscuring his sight of her gaze. Her form, a little. “I never want you to stop looking for a way home.” As he puts the mug down, she takes both his hands in hers and kisses them, looking up. “But I know you are lonely. And you need … you need a companion. Someone to talk with at the end of the day, to help you think things over. Jhimal and McCoy have done that for you as friends [how do you know Jhimal’s alive here? And about McCoy? he thinks, shocked], but maybe you need someone … someone to hold you. Someone to love.

“I miss you so much, but it’s been an awfully long time. And I don’t know if HE is really you …” [this is mysterious to him, but then frightening…] “I don’t think so, somehow. I think you’re still …”

He reaches up to hold her shoulders, to bring her close for a kiss, but it seems she’s only half there.

“Oh, Kat,” he says, stroking her cheek with his thumb. Her eyes, her gaze, are filling with sadness. “Dawlin’ … I love you. Don’t leave me. Please.” A brief moment, a touch from her hand cupping his jaw, a fleeting kiss on his mouth – he responds – now he can feel her arms circling him and he can hold her and feel the soft strength of her, but not her warmth – “Kat, stay,” he murmurs in her ear. “Please stay.”

“I want you to hold happiness and love where you find it, Gabriel,” she says. “It’s been a year and a half now. I won’t give up hope, and you shouldn’t either. But in the meantime please find a way to try to be happy. It’s what I want for you.”

It’s tearing at his heart, but he says, “It’s what I want for you, too. What I’ve always wanted.”

“I know,” she says, sketching a smile and stroking the side of his face.

.

He wakes up, stunned and sad and weeping. Shaking with it. Thinking over and over, No, no, no.

It’s 0430. May as well get up. He gets some raktajino from the replicator, drinks it as he reviews the operational plan, showers, and dresses for stealth and cold.

.

He checks with Gaila to ensure the engineers have disabled the shields around the Terran plant. Success. “Good work, pass the word to your people.”

Minutes later, in the transporter room Gaila’s dressed in black leather and a brown insulated vest, her bright hair wound up under a dark brown, floppy knit hat. Lorca’s opted for brown and black; the idea is to be able to blend into shadows in case anyone in the target area is not stunned by Firehawk’s phasers.

They beam down in rocky terrain just outside the factory, which is a kilometer away. Their backpacks have small bags of “tags” they’ll use to mark those people they will beam up to the transport. The tags each have a chip on them that will echo back to the ship’s sensors for selective beaming, encoded with the transport ship’s identifier so the people will materialize there. They also have a phaser rifle apiece, a medkit, packs of water, ration bars, and are each wearing a sidearm. Lorca’s larger pack contains a small portable shield generator – in case they’re still dirtside when the photon hits – and blankets, with extra water and rations. He’s learned over the years to be prepared. Lorca comms the bridge.

“We’re beaming down now. Phasers, wide spread, heavy stun on the coordinates.”

“Yes, sir.”

They materialize in the largest section of the production facility. Terrans in their improbably luxurious gold and black uniforms lie scattered, stunned, in different positions, but Lorca hardly has time to register them. He and Gaila begin running from place to place, person to person, dropping a tag on each non-Terran worker [slave,Lorca thinks, disgusted] and child serving as a “shield.” “Begin beaming them out, L’Rell. We’re checking more locations.”

Unconscious bodies shimmer and disappear. Lorca glances at the Terrans, all knocked out, and hopes they stay that way. He and Gaila head through a door and trot down a hallway, checking offices, finding mostly Terrans, tagging the occasional alien, a group of Romulans and Vulcans in the computer rooms and offices, and they make it to the end of the corridor. L’Rell is beaming up tagged persons as they go. He sees Gaila freeze at the door, open to the shipping area. 

“Well hello, Orion whore,” he hears. “How did you get loose, honey? Well, since everybody else is asleep, we might as well—” Acting flirty, Gaila takes off her hat and shakes loose her red curls, steps backward through – and away from – the doorway, never giving the Terran a clue that Lorca is behind the door. Lorca slams the door into the guard’s face to knock him flat, then slips through, pulls his phaser and vaporizes him. “Must have been in a shielded room. I’ll double check for any other civilians. Find as many out there as you can to tag and transport.” Gaila nods and runs.

Lorca finds a Barzan woman, with what looks like semen dripping from her mouth, in the shielded room. He drags her out and tags her, noting she had been knocked out, not by the stun, but by a fist. Fuck the Terrans. Fuck them all. Their easy cruelty is repugnant.

He finds several Vulcans in the shipping control room and tags them. There are video feeds; he checks to make sure all the Terrans are unconscious. He opens his comm. “Gaila, have you got everybody?”

“Yes. I’m just outside near their shipping containers.”

“Okay, I’m on my way now.” He calls Firehawk. “L’Rell, last beam-up of civilians. We’re just about ready too.”

“Aye, Captain.”

He hears rather than sees the transporter beams as he trots out of the shipping bay to join Gaila. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a Terran struggling to rise and stems the impulse to help him up. Thirty-plus years of training … those morals are irrelevant now. He streaks out the door, running full-out toward his companion, and comms the ship. Too late he sees an unconscious soldier’s booted leg sticking out from behind the walled entrance to the facility. Lorca trips and plants a full facer, knocking his head and one knee hard. His communicator goes flying, he doesn’t have time to find it. He scrambles up to see phaser fire streaking past him – toward Gaila. He turns, takes aim, and puts an end to the person that shot her.

“I got him. Sorry I missed him in the first place. Got your comm?” She nods. She’s pale and trembling, trying to rise but not succeeding. “He burned the shit out of my leg. Mothers! it hurts.”

He gives her a shot of pain reliever, stuffs the medkit in the pocket of his coat. He has one in his day pack, too. He comms the ship. “L’Rell, beam us out of here and blast the place.”

He hears a Klingon curse from L’Rell, and she addresses him. “David, our transporter circuit just blew out and the ship with the civilians is already out of range with their escort. Two Terran battle cruisers are headed our way. Bunaka’s working on the transporter but can’t get it fixed before we have to raise our shields.” Lorca takes out his tricorder while she’s talking.

“I’ve found a cave a few hundred meters from here that should give us shelter from the ion radiation. Can you give us about 90 seconds before you fire the torpedo?”

“Yes. Chaka is on her way to help us in the fight, and we can use phasers on the Terrans.”

“Very well. Whether you hear from me or not, fire that photon and destroy the plant. That’s our mission. Yorke out.”

Gaila’s face is ashen; she has sunk to the ground.

“Can you stand?”

“Not sure. Muscles … ligaments …”

“Stay with me, Gaila,” he commands, getting her up. “Is your leg numb?”

“Yes …”

"Good." He hoists her into a “firefighter’s carry,” her torso draped over one of his shoulders, his hand firm on the backs of her thighs. She’s a light weight to carry, but it’s going to be awkward, running with her. Nevertheless he runs. As soon as he’s squeezed the two of them into the cave and deployed the portable shield [Seventy-five seconds!], he comms L’Rell. “Fire.”

A photon torpedo whines through the atmosphere, incinerating the biochemical plant, vaporizing its hazardous gases, shaking the ground like an earthquake, the antimatter explosion sending out heat that would have melted them had they been in its path.

L’Rell reports, “We’re under fire. Will contact you, Hinoker protocol.”

“Hinoker. Acknowledged. Bring my ship back in one piece.”

“Q’pla’!”

Damn right, we’ll have it.

He looks over at Gaila. She’s biting her lip, tears leaking from her eyes.

He rises into a crouch, hand in his coat pocket. “Got your medkit. What should I do first?”

She’s shaking and can hardly talk. “I may go into shock. How long till Firehawk will be back?”

“Who knows,” he says, throwing his coat over her and giving her some water. He sets the comm to “receive;” it will alert him when L’Rell tries to contact him in an hour.

A weak laugh. “I hope you can deal with burns and blood, David. Speaking of which—” She points at his face.

He smirks at her. “It’s just a flesh wound. Later I’ll clean it up and get pretty. After I take care of you. Keep talkin’ to me, I don’t want you to pass out.” It occurs to him then why the guard used a stun setting, not “kill.” He wanted to disable Gaila for the same use as the Barzan woman. The Terrans must find alien women fine for certain purposes. Unauthorized sex may be a popular occupation for the guards. Lorca’s jaw flexes as he grits his teeth. Who knows, it might be authorized. Anything to keep the aliens subjugated.

“First … irrigate th’ wound.”

“Are you in any pain?” He looks at her narrowly. She shakes her head, once. “Gimme 1 cc stimulant so I can talk y’throgh.”

He does, then squirts water into her phaser burn. Some of her blackened skin comes loose as he does. It reminds him of a time one of his security crew got badly burned on a landing party. First aid wasn’t enough, though Lorca and the others had fought for his life. He had died before the medics arrived.

“Get that loose skin off. It’s dead. Half of it’s probably leather from my trousers. There’s a medical laser in the kit.”

As he lasers away the peeled, burnt skin, he keeps his eyes off the oozing wound beneath.

 “Wash the wound again, then spray the antiseptic. Stop looking away, it’s only flesh, it’ll heal.”

This sounds so much like her medical mentor McCoy that Lorca smiles crookedly. “Okay, Doc.”

“Ultraviolet light now. Keep circling over the wound. Stop when I tell you.”

After a minute, she says, “Okay. Spray the dry sealant.”               

It’s not “dry” exactly, but its antibacterial properties continue working for hours to prevent pus from accumulating and infection from starting. It also makes it safe to lightly cover the wound. He gets out a bandage and winds it loosely around Gaila’s lower leg.

“There,” she smiles weakly. “All better.”

He squeezes her hand. “You did well. Rest.”

.

There’s been no signal from Firehawk, so after another hour Lorca tries to signal, using static in a pattern only the Resistance understands. No one answers. He tries the Chaka’s frequency, but no luck there either.

It’s already cold outside the cave, and inside, it’s even cooler. After working on Gaila’s leg, Lorca covered her with an insulated blanket and put on his coat. She’s sleeping, and, sweeping aside pebbles and unrolling a self-inflating sleep pad, he decides to rest himself. The comm is set to receive in four hours.

As he lies back and settles to sleep under his blanket, he lays his hand across his stomach, and, drifting off into that peaceful sea, remembers. It’s where Kat used to put her hand as she curled next to him to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

/\

Kat wakes up, startled. She can smell Gabriel’s aftershave. One of her favorite scents.

He’s sitting on the edge of the bed in his uniform. “Wake up, dawlin’, or you’re gonna be late for your meeting. Brandt? He’s waiting to see you. You should take him to dinner.”

“What do you mean, Gabriel? I’m with you. Brandt’s our friend, not ….”

His eyes are twinkling and his smile is gentle. “But you need someone to talk to besides therapists, and Sivahn. Someone, maybe, to hug, to feel safe with. Maybe something more. When you put your nose into your work you forget about your human needs. Some Guy is great company, but you can’t really talk with him, can you.”

Kat shakes her head, mute.

“You know that, no matter what, I’ll always love you, Kat. I’m still looking for a way home. But it’s been a long, long time, and you don’t know if I’ll ever be back. So I wanted to remind you, of what we agreed. I’m missing in action for over a year now and I want you to be happy, after the hurt goes away. I hurt too, from missing you.”

He strokes her hair and touches the dimple at her jaw, leaning down to kiss her. She pulls him in with her arms. She can only feel his solidity, a little heat; she can’t hear his heartbeat. His mouth is warm when they kiss, but not as usual. She reaches back to smooth his dark hair, whispering, “Don’t leave me, Gabriel, please.” Her eyes are hot with tears and she knows her nose is getting red.

“I’ll always be with you, hon. In your heart, in your memory. And if … WHEN … I come back, I hope you’ll marry me.”

“Of course I will. But you’re here, now. Stay. Stay with me.”

“The universe is such a strange place, Kat,” he marvels. “I wonder if your mind is meeting mine on that mycelial network Dr. Stamets talked about, remember?”

“I don’t want to be without you, even if this is only a dream.”

His expression is suddenly dead serious. “Listen to me now. I want you to grab friendship and love where you can find it. You don’t deserve to be lonely.”

“You … you don’t either.”

“I have a good crew here and a good ship. We’re fighting an important war. When I finally find the way home, I hope we’ll have won a significant advantage in the war. I’ll come back to you, I promise you that. But in the meantime … try to be happy, hon. Be good to yourself and take good care of Some Guy. Tell Mom and Lurlene I love them, okay?”

“I will.”

He gathers her close, squeezes her, and parting enough to look into her eyes, kisses her all over her face … eyelids, nose, chin, cheeks, mouth, forehead. A benison. His eyes are so blue, she has always loved them. He stands up, leans down to kiss the top of her head, and walks to the bedroom door, shimmering a little, like the dream he is.

.

/\

She startles awake; Somchai is sitting on her chest and leaning his head forward so his nose touches hers (his is much cooler, and damper). His deep turquoise eyes are inscrutable in their dark mask. He flicks an ear and blinks as she grumbles, sitting up; he neatly jumps down to the floor, the tip of his tail in a “J” as he trots confidently out toward the kitchen. She gets him a dish of food, holding it up for a moment.

“If you could speak to this replicator, you’d stay right here all day, wouldn’t you?”

“Nnnngaaaaaooouu.” The Siamese imperative. He looks steadily at her and slowly blinks.

“Aww. I love you too, guy.” She puts the dish down and runs her hand down the length of his silky body, then heads in to take a shower.

She has an early morning appointment with Dr Sternberg, who was her mentor when Cornwell, a civilian psychiatrist, entered Starfleet’s officer training program. After Officer Candidate School and Command Training, Kat did her Exopsych residency at Starfleet Medical and, as traditional with Psych residency, underwent analysis/evaluation by Sternberg during that time.

Sternberg is now Senior Psychiatrist at Starfleet Medical. Katrina has worked through her professional … misjudgement … with Strange Lorca (as Kat has named the circumstance, and him). Now, she is processing her guilt about losses to Starfleet, and her PTSD after torture by General Kol and his surgeon, among other Klingons. She is always exhausted after a session, and Sternberg always gives her a shot of “courage,” actually a stimulant with a drug that will allow her a clear mind to do her work.

“I’ll see you next week.” Sternberg is solemn. “Meanwhile you have an appointment with Dr Silingardi.”

“Great, more dwelling on my sins and my torture.”

“No, Katrina. How to think about those things. You know all this, but you need help with it right now. You’re stubborn and you don’t want to consider that. But a functional Admiral Cornwell is much more useful to us than a woman reliving guilt and suffering from PTSD. I’ll review Dr Silingardi’s notes with you every week. You will stop by Sickbay every day for this shot after you see her. Clear?”

“Yes, Doctor.”

“Physician, in this case you cannot heal yourself. You need help walking this road.”

Cornwell sighs. “I’ve told so many patients that over the years. I’m embarrassed I’m having trouble doing it myself.”

Sternberg smiles and leans forward to grasp her shoulder.  “There’s no shame in it.”

Kat looks into her mentor’s eyes and nods slowly. “I know.”

“Good. Now get to work. We all need you now.”

After her appointment with Dr Silingardi, Cornwell walks back across the courtyard to her building. She talked about how she had hoped Discovery would return, with a Gabriel back to his normal self. But, “presumed lost” is now pretty much “lost.” She wishes she could love the physical Gabriel again, not just the dream. Silingardi sat next to her, held her hands, and urged Kat to take care of herself, to get out into nature. To expand her viewpoint past her work and sleep.

/\

“Admiral Cornwell, you have a visitor,” says Gallien through her comm.

Kat’s glad for the break. All morning following her appointment she’s been poring over reports from ships throughout Starfleet. The Klingons are gaining more advantages. Colonies and bases are being heavily damaged, some completely destroyed. It’s distressing; no, rage inducing.

And, she’s been trying to process the past few months of Spectral Gabriel in her dreams. It’s like he’s from a different dimension, but he’s the Gabriel she knows and loves, not the strange new Gabriel who sent her into perdition, the strange Lorca who commanded Discovery. And now, it seems, Spectral Gabriel has left her. Her stomach tenses.

 “Gallien, would you be so kind as to tell me who it is?”

“Doctor Brandt Green,” comes the reply.  From his voice she can tell Gallien is smiling. Brandt is good looking, and although Gallien already has a partner, he is always appreciative of attractive, older men.

Holy shit. Am I psychic, or did I really get a communication from Gabriel, beyond this universe? Pssht. Or did I happen to think about Brandt yesterday? “Please, send him in.” She runs her fingers through her hair, zipping up her uniform jacket as she stands and goes to the door.

When he comes through, the sight of him cheers her. He’s extending his arms and she opens hers too, going in for a firm hug. “Hey there, it’s good to see you, Kat.”

She steps back, grinning. He’s tall, leaner than Gabriel, and eight years older than him. It doesn’t show much, except that his face has a fine network of wrinkles in places, and there’s lots of silver in his brown, wavy hair. His blue eyes and his smile are sparkling with humor and good nature.

“It’s good to see you too. Can I get you anything?”

“Just some water, thanks. I’ve been running my mouth all morning, talking to Starfleet admirals.”

“And here you are to talk with another one.” She gestures at the couch. “Please, have a seat.” Bearing two glasses of water fetched from the replicator, she sits down at the other end, facing him. “What can I do for you?”

He drinks gratefully. “Ahh. Oh, I wanted to stop by and let you know I’ll be working with Starfleet Medical in Psychiatry.”

“I thought you retired from practice?”

“Private practice, yeah. And I did a lot of sailing, and a lot of traveling, but I was lonely after Esfir--.” Brandt’s wife, Esfir, had been a lovely woman of Persian descent with a deep, sexy voice and a mouth like a sailor. She and Gabriel were apace with swearing when the couples got together for dinners out and discussions of Federation politics, or playing games, or sailing. She was a no-nonsense M.D. in emergency medicine who volunteered in disaster relief and had died a year ago in an earthquake on Naebi VI.

Kat pats his arm. “I’ve thought about you. I know you miss her terribly. She was so--.” And she chokes up, thinking of Brandt’s wife, and of Gabriel, who was so wonderful, devoted to his profession, and funny and warm with a hefty dose of sardonic wit, just like Esfir.

He smiles down at his hands, holding the water glass. “What a great spirit. I miss her acid tongue, and … and every time I say ‘fuck’ I think of her.”

They meet eyes and laugh.

“Me too, with Gabri—” her throat clogs up.

A pause, then, “Sorry to hear about his disappearance.”

Her gut twists, and tears, at the back of her eyes, are about to spill. She sips some water to gather herself, and says, trying to keep her voice steady, “Thanks.” She stands by the window for a second, looks into the distance to get her bearings back. “What exactly will you be doing at Medical?”

“Oh. Psych unit. Inpatient and outpatient care for civilians attached to Starfleet. I thought they could use me. Lot of PTSD cases now, with the Klingons fucking everything up and killing people. And what are you doing up here in Command?”

“Trying to prevent the Klingons fucking everything up and killing people,” Kat says with a bitter twist. “It’s not easy now. We lost a significant asset a while ago.” She looks at him, shaking her head. “And, I can neither confirm nor deny any information you may have heard about it.”

He stands and comes to the window, looking out over the Golden Gate. The grey sky of morning is gone, and now the sun is shining over the reddish bridge and reflecting off its solar collectors. Shadows of puffy white clouds dance over the hills across the water. “Nice view you have up here, Admiral. I hope you take a minute to enjoy it now and then.”

“Oh … I do.” Practicing tai chi when I’m fighting my demons, or trying to free my mind enough to come up with solutions for our decimated fleet. And occasionally staring across at Mount Tam, wishing I were hiking with Gabriel.

Over the years, when Lorca’s been away, Esfir and Brandt have chided Kat for overwork. For not thinking enough about her own needs. He turns back to her and says “Actually, Kat, I came by to see if I could invite you to lunch.”

“Sorry, I don’t have ti—” Then seeing his expression of disappointment, quickly subdued, she says, “I might be able to swing dinner at 1900—I mean, 7:00 p.m., if that’s okay. I can keep you posted. If I’m OBE I’ll let you know and we’ll reschedule.”

He tilts his head, raising an eyebrow. “O … B … E…?”

She smiles. “ ‘Overcome by Events.’ Gotta get used to our jargon, Dr Green.”

“Nineteen hundred,” he grins as they go to the door. “Until then.”     

.

/\

“I’m sorry I didn’t get in touch with you sooner,” Brandt says, as they enjoy some dessert. They’re at Cornwell’s favorite Italian restaurant, and after Chicken Piccata she’s having three delicate Italian cookies and some decaffeinated cappuccino. Dr Sternberg has prescribed NO CAFFEINE AFTER 1900, and Kat agrees, it does help her sleep. Brandt has coffee and a slice of lemon cake.

She looks at him. “You had a lot to deal with.”

“Yeah.” His voice is rough. “Then I heard you were going through some stuff yourself. Gabriel was big news for a while.”

She shudders. “Yes, ‘The Captain Who Survived the Loss of His Crew.’ He had changed … so much. It was like he was a different man. Before he went back out … and went missing, he broke up with me. I guess it lessened the blow for me.” She keeps her eyes on her plate for a moment. She’s still mourning “her” Gabriel and tears are always ready. “I don’t really want to talk about it.”

She feels Brandt’s warm hand rest on hers for a moment. “I apologize for bringing it up. We’ve both been through the shit, huh.”

Kat nods.

They sip and eat in silence for a bit.

“Still go to concerts?” he asks.

“I don’t have much time.”

He tilts his head. “Don’t tell me you’re supposed to work 16 hours a day.”

“No, no, it’s just that … I get home exhausted.”

“Yeah, well, no wonder.” He folds his hands on the edge of the table. “I think you might need to cut yourself some two-hour breaks here and there, Kat. I know how you overwork when Ga—when you’re alone.”

When Gabriel is away.

She talked about it with Silingardi this morning, her feeling that she needs to atone for being an impulsive fool and sleeping with Strange Gabriel. And what had she said? Cut yourself a break occasionally. Get away from your feelings of guilt and any need you feel to punish yourself.

“Okay, what is it?”

“Flamenco guitar at the Academy concert hall, tomorrow, 2000 hours.”

Yes, they still have such places, even in this desperate Starfleet. Places to soothe the soul with art. “Okay,” she says.

“Let me walk you home?”

She looks at him. He smiles softly. “That’s all, just a walk, I promise.”

“Okay.”

On their way to her building, the air is misty and cool, and the air smells of eucalyptus. The fresh, menthol scent always lifts her spirits a bit. One reason she often walks home from work … at pretty much this same hour, 2100.

She tells him about her capture by the Klingons, in a very general way. He can infer what she means, she is sure.

He sees her up to her apartment door, and when she offers him a drink, he shakes his head. “I have an early start tomorrow. And I think you and I are in about the same place, emotionally. How about a hug.”

He puts his arms out and she hugs him tightly. She hadn’t realized how desperately she needed contact. And suddenly she’s crying, and he’s rocking her a little, rubbing her back, up and down, and her inner storm dies off. She still has her head on his shoulder when she says in a thick voice, “You give nutritious hugs.”

He steps back a little, his hands on her shoulders. “And we didn’t even attract the neighbors’ attention.”

She smiles, laughs a little. “I’ll see you tomorrow. This was good, Brandt. Thank you.”

“It’s good for both of us.” She opens her door and he smiles, “It was just what I needed, too. ‘Night, Kat.”

“Good night.”

When she gets inside, Somchai greets her and she gives him a snack. Splashes cold water on her face as the cat sits on the edge of the sink and watches her. She leaves a thin trickle of water running for a moment so he can slurp his “freshest of fresh” water. “Why you feel a need to let it trickle down the side of your head is a mystery,” she murmurs, and the cat shakes his head free of droplets as she turns off the faucet.

She changes into her woolly Andorian robe and sits out on the balcony. Somchai hops up into her lap. “You’re graceful. I like that in a cat.” She strokes him and he purrs, and begins to knead her thigh, a soothing presence. She breathes in the scent of the misty air, the sounds of the city; just breathes in and out, and lives in the moment. It’s a blessing.