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It's Been a Long Road

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It's been a long time since she first flew a ship into combat. She doesn't feel like she is now – giving verbal orders which someone else taps into the computer is very detached, compared to using the board yourself. She shifts slightly in the big chair then consciously stills herself, not wanting to show her crew that she is nervous but also itching to enter the commands faster than her young Navigation Officer can manage.

Tate's probably anxious too, of course. The USS Elizabeth has only been out here for a week, on a freshly-created mission to explore uncharted space. They've been at warp for most of that time, popping out now and then to take a few pictures of some nice nothingness or an especially picturesque asteroid field. Two hours ago, they appeared next to a small solar system detected on some their previous scans – and found themselves under attack by some previously undetected inhabitants. The first few shots (the welcoming party, whoever they were, seemed to be using fairly weak lasers at this stage) didn't do much damage and they'd managed to open hailing frequencies.

The people Sengupta raised on that hailing frequency were humanoid to Darwin's eyes, a bit taller than her, slightly purple (although that could have been the view screen, they've been having some colour balance issues recently), and chatty. They were not, unfortunately, immediately comprehensible, using a language apparently quite unlike any known to the ship's translating software. Darwin had wished passionately for Uhura in those long minutes while Sengupta and his team worked to get some kind of clue about what was being said. One of his ensigns was assigned to hold up things and name them repeatedly in the hopes that someone on the other side of the call might figure out what it was and give the local name for it. The young woman seemed embarrassed by this task, especially as it became clear that very few of the items on ship were going to be recognisable to the purple people except in use and often not then, and Darwin – required to witness this attempt at first contact – sat behind her, empathising strongly but trying to remain detached.

"We can't interfere," Kevan had said worriedly from behind her science station when Darwin gave the order to bring phasers online.

"If they shoot first, it's hardly breaking the Prime Directive," Darwin had replied. She'd been glad, too, when the shooting resumed. She remembered serving under Captain Smith, being at the pilot's station when an unknown vessel dropped out of warp and fired without so much as a 'good afternoon'. Smith had been the kind of stern commander who wouldn't have replied to Kevan's concerns – she'd probably just have given a quiet snort and gone on to give the next order, everything rapid-fire even if it was only the cleaning roster.

Memory only takes her so far, though. Some kind of laser clips their hull and an alarm goes off. "Slight damage on deck twenty-seven, no injuries," someone reports behind her.

"One shot for their flagship, as similar as you can make it," she orders, and curls her fingers around the arms of her chair as the phaser beam crosses the view screen.

Of course, seeing Starfleet returning fire hadn't scared them or suggested that diplomacy was a better path. (Did it ever, except in textbooks? Darwin had never known it to work.) It's been a long time since she first flew a ship into combat, but this is the first time that she's ordered a ship into in a fire fight. The fear, which never quite went away, is fresh again.

What is there to do? They return fire. They prop up their shields with the emergency power supply. They make evasive manoeuvres, and then, when something seems to be working, give chase around the planet.

In practice, it all seems very routine, which is why she's surprised when Admiral Mellor calls her on a sub-space channel.

"I'll take it in my ready room," she says, and nods at her number one. "You have the conn."

"I heard about the fight," Mellor says when they have dispensed with the pleasantries. "Kevan's report was detailed and put you in a very good light."

"I'm pleased to hear it," Darwin says. Mellor seems relaxed, but it's probably not the time to go into, or even hint at, the developing shipboard politics which have ensured that all Kevan's reports – always detailed thanks to her Vulcan training – are also complimentary to her captain.

"It's not every woman who can take a ship into battle like that," Mellor continues.

"Not many women – or even many men – have the occasion or the need," Darwin replies. "I'm not sure I'd count myself as lucky to have had the opportunity."

"No," Mellor says, thoughtfully. "You've done well to get into that chair, though. Do you find – in my first command I found – that some of your crew are – how shall I put this – not as respectful to you as you would expect?" There's a pause, Darwin considering her reaction and Mellor frowning a little. "If you do…"

"I don't," Darwin says. Her voice is firm. Maybe there had been a little to begin with, but who knew what was the disrespect of a man for a woman, or a Vulcan for a human, or the ordinary boundary pushing of a new crew against a newly promoted captain? In any case, she'd dealt with it.

"I'm pleased to hear it," Mellor replies. She gives a handful of instructions about handling the Elizabeth's next scientific mission – the readings must be taken in a specific order, no matter how long it takes – and signs off.

Darwin finishes her coffee and returns to the bridge. The chatter is subdued, the effect of tiredness seeping in where adrenaline had flowed the day before. Tate is off duty, replaced by T'Ranith, but Sengupta is muttering encouragingly to his board and Kevan is engaged in something involving a complex spread-sheet.

This is her ship and her team. If she has to fly into combat at all, better it be with these people.

Kevan glances up, and catches her eye. "All's well," she reports unnecessarily.

T'Ranith would never do anything so emotional as glare, but makes a fair attempt at a silence which implies the same thing.

The USS Elizabeth flies safely on to her next mission.