Star Trek: Nullabor

Inquisitions - Page 2

Thomas Walker was adjusting his uniform in the mirror. One of the irritations he had with being visited by the Admiralty was the spit and polish. He thought back with envy to his days on the Menalaus, where the closest he ever got to the Admirals was a brief discussion with them over comms channels. The fit of his uniform seemed less important then.

Nullabor was not a civilian installation like some of the deep space stations, it had no civilian stores and the few inhabitants of the station that did not wear a Starfleet uniform were the immediate family of some of the crew. Walker was even unhappy about them being on board, if the station was discovered it would be a prime target for assault. All this of course meant that Starfleet Command took the operations of the station to be a very serious matter indeed. In the half year since they had gone online they had received more than their share of visiting Admirals, and they had all been a distraction from the operations they were so worried about. Thomas wondered why they hadn't simply put an Admiral in charge in the first place.

He had actually asked Dekker that once, and his response had been simple. They needed to get things done at Nullabor. It made sense, Walker was not exactly known for letting the rule book get in the way of a result. It still irritated him that they didn't leave him to his job if they wanted him there in the first place.

"You know, if you fuss over that uniform any more you are going to wear it out." The voice came from behind him, a glance into the mirror revealed a familiar petite Betazoid woman grinning at him. She had a lithe body, and an elfin face. She reached up in a familiar fashion and started making the adjustments for him.

Walker snorted a response. "Easy for you to say, Tinkerbell. You can always take out a ship for an emergency situation when Connelly comes. I'm the one who has to meet him."

Alexis Kelsey gave him a playful, pouting look. "Poor Captain, he has to deal with so many problems from these nasty Admirals. Sometimes I think we are really at war with them, not the Syndicate."

Walker thought about that. There was some truth to it, one of the main reasons that the Syndicate was making such a stand against the Federation was that it didn't think the Federation could react quickly enough to contain them, especially after so many wars and setbacks in recent years. Nullabor Station was an attempt to react quickly enough, and that only seemed to be in doubt when the Admirals poked their noses in with rules and protocols. Without those hindrances, they would be able to react as fast as the Syndicate.

"And we would become like them as well, Captain." Kelsey had been reading his mind again he realised. She was right of course, the rules were in place largely to make sure that the Federation didn't stoop to the same level as it's enemies. Even then, the rules had to be bent every so often, and even Command knew to turn it's back when necessary. It was a strange life in Tactical Operations, it was not the warm and fuzzy exploratory approach that was fed to the populace, it was like Starfleet kept a wolf pack out of sight to deal with unwanted problems. He doubted he would ever feel normal in regular Federation life again after Starfleet. "Ha! What's this 'after Starfleet' stuff? Like you would ever leave?"

Again, Alexis was right. "You know, Tinkerbell," he thought the phrase, knowing that she would hear it clearly, "some people think that browsing another person's mind is an invasion of privacy."

Alexis just smiled, and he heard her returning comment clearly inside his own mind. I'll remember that next time you are looking for inside info on those Admirals."

Walker put up his hands in surrender. "Okay, you win." It was a trick that they tended to use quite often now. Very few people knew that Walker and Kelsey had become close to the point where they shared telepathy, and that meant that the Commander Air Group could attend various discussions between the Station Commander and key people, usually Admirals, without suspicion. Kelsey listened to their minds, and Walker listened to hers in a form of mental relay. It had proven quite effective as an interrogation tool as well, for that matter. A lot of the progress they had made at Nullabor in the gathering of intelligence on the Orion Syndicate had been due to the two of them.

Walker turned to face the woman who he was intimate with. They shared ample quarters on the station, so he had often seen her in various states of undress in the mornings, but he could not help but think this morning as he looked upon her, her uniform on but still undone, how particularly attractive she looked. He received a quiet thank you in his mind, and he helped her finish putting on her own uniform. If it was not for the imminent arrival of the Admiral, they would have been headed in the opposite direction. Another reason to be upset that he was coming, thought Walker. Kelsey only laughed.

It was only five minutes later that the two of them stepped through the door to their quarters and into the main corridor of the Officers' living area. There was already a large amount of traffic in the corridor, the entire station was constantly busy. To their credit the officers that passed the two of them simply carried on with their business. There were no whispers or salutes, and that was the way they both liked it. Wearing four pips apiece had it's privileges, at least no-one thought that one of them was reaching.

They were both dressed in their red day uniforms, although they had been put on with a little extra care that morning. They had given each other their goodbye kiss before walking out the door, no use in flaunting things if they wanted the equilibrium kept. They smiled and nodded goodbye to each other, turning to head down the corridor in separate directions. They didn't get far from each other before Timonis' voice came through their Commbadges.

"Glir to Captains Walker and Kelsey. Please report to Ops Centre 2."

Walker and Kelsey glanced at each other over the ten metre distance they had managed to travel before being called away. They were both grinning. Kelsey tapped her badge. "Acknowledged, Lieutenant. We're on our way." She changed direction, walking up to Thomas, who had waited for her. "It looks like we get to spend more of our morning together after all."

Nullabor Station was a massive structure, even for the Federation. It was in orbit of a white dwarf, and the radiation provided a natural sensor blackout for nearly a light year in radius. In general circumstances it would have been considered a no-fly zone, and the thought of building a station like Nullabor there would have been laughed at under normal circumstances. The radiation that hid the station also had to be shielded against, and just getting the materials into position for the construction effort had been a taxing task. Still, now that it was complete the station was easily the most valuable installation the Federation could possess. The metaphasic shielding deployed around the station had been in the Federation's bag of tricks for some time, but this was the first real application that it had been used in. It protected an array of efforts, all of them aimed at strengthening the Federation when it needed it most.

The six Operation Centres were located in the wing that had been dubbed the Control Tower. It was here that a large number of the coordination tasks were handled. The same wing housed Primary Operations, where Walker had his station. It also housed Traffic Control, Intelligence Collation, most of the conference rooms and briefing halls.

The Operation Centres were essentially war rooms. They were large rooms with plenty of star maps and holographic tactical displays, with communications and consoles for emergency operations available. They were largely the domain of Security, unless there was something happening. Security could function quite well without these rooms in normal circumstances, but Walker had given them permission to use them when they were not otherwise engaged. It didn't make sense to see the resources lying fallow.

Glir, like Kelsey, usually worked in the Hall of Secrets. It was an odd nickname, but it was relevant. It housed the research facilities mainly, but because of the increased security on the wing it also ended up being home to the main Tac Ops war operations centre and the Air Group offices. Walker had actually offered Kelsey one of the Operation Centres, but she had declined. There were far more docking ports available off that wing because the researchers didn't need them, so both she and the Tac Ops people put them to good use.

Of course, that meant Glir was not supposed to be in Operation Centre 2 unless something was up that he was involved in and he needed a coordination point. That meant one thing - field activity. Walker thought about it as he walked along to the centre, and the more he thought the less easy he felt. He had been informed as he was dressing that morning that the Recluse would be in today, two days earlier than scheduled. In itself this was not a problem, but if there was something happening out there it probably meant they were on the run. He would soon find out, he knew.

Both Captains walked into the centre to find it buzzing with activity. There were officers all over the place, updating details, conferring, briefing others, it was not a promising sign. Then Walker found Glir.

Glir was head down over a console, barking orders at several people as he read the stats that were flashing at him. He was disheveled, and he looked like he had not slept through the night. Walker heard the Recluse mentioned in the stream of orders and his heart sank. Just what he needed, an Admiral in trouble. He walked up to Glir, Kelsey following him. Glir noticed him only when he was almost on top of him.

"Captains, I'm glad you're here. We have a situation with the Recluse. I have good news and bad news."

Walker did not take long to decide which he wanted to hear first. "Give me the god news first, Lieutenant."

Glir nodded. "The Recluse came under attack four hours ago when it went to answer a distress call. It turned out to be an ambush, but fortunately they had checked in with us using a tight band signal first. I monitored them from that point. Anyway, when they reached the vessel sending the distress call it turned out to be an empty hull containing a few Syndicate scout ships."

"That's a new trick for them. It's going to make things difficult for us to sort out legitimate distress calls in the future." This was a real problem for Kelsey, and Walker was wondering when the good part of this story was going to show.


"Yeah, I know. You remember those transporter buffers we installed in the local comms transponders last month? Well, we got our first field test of the relay system this morning."

Now this managed to get Walker's attention. "You managed to beam them a complement of probes? How did it go?" This had been a pet project for the station for some time now. The idea was simple enough. You put transporter buffers in a series of communication relay points, and in theory at least you could fill the buffer, transmit it to the next relay, and so on until you reached a target point that contained a real transporter system. You then filled it's buffers and materialised the contents, giving you long distance transporter capability.

The reality had been very different. transmitting the contents of a buffer between relay transponders was easier said than done, and the results were not guaranteed. The initial field tests had been promising, but they had been between relay points much closer to each other than the Federation beacons, and this had been the first time they had been tried for real. Walker had already ordered assault probes to be used for the first test, they were combat ready without endangering a real life. Despite this, he still had an emotional attachment to his creations and cared for their welfare.

Glir did not sound enthusiastic about the results. "Well, they got there in one piece. Just. We could send a complement of fifteen assault probes, no more. The bandwidth on the transmission was the weak link. I will tell you this much, I wouldn't send a human through it, the complexity of the organic systems would not survive the process. We have a win, but it is not as good as we hoped. It is an emergency defence at best."

"Emergency system or not, it seems to have saved the Recluse. Was the initial data from the transmission the bad news?"

Glir began to look even less happy. "No, Sir. Actually the bad news is where the ambush took place." He walked over to a tactical display screen and punched up a holographic map of the area. Nullabor Station was a bright white dot in close proximity to a yellow globe representing the white dwarf they orbited. The two images began to shrink as the scale of the map dynamically increased. Soon several more dots entered the picture and Walker recognised them instantly. They were the neighbouring star systems. It was only three star systems out that another dot, this time red and flashing presented itself. "This was where the ambush was placed, Sir."

Walker could see why Glir was not happy. The ambush was too close to the station for comfort. There were no trading routes for parsecs from where the Syndicate had set the trap, and that could only mean one thing. They were specifically targeting traffic in the area where they suspected a covert base existed. The Syndicate was on to them.

Walker resolved a series of ideas in his mind. He split through them and formulated several strategies for dealing with the threat. He needed to take care of several loose ends before he was sure of what to do, but there were some preliminary tasks that could be completed while he was waiting on more concrete information. He tapped his commbadge. "Walker to all Section Heads. Situation briefing in half an hour in Ops Centre 2." He turned to Glir. "This room is now dedicated to the current situation. I want full recon and tracking of all vessels within the radius set by the ambush point."

"Aye Sir. Permission to evaluate the probes more fully when they arrive back here."

"Granted. I will want a full report two hours after the Recluse docks. Get some of your people to handle things in here for now, you need some sleep."

Glir looked irritated by the remark. "Sir, I..."

Walker was not in a mood to be argued with on the point. "Glir, I want you rested when you perform the analysis on those probes. I need a full work up, from their recon logs to the impact the transmission had on their neural nets. I don't trust anyone else to give me that information, and to be blunt I won't trust your assessment either unless you have had at least two hours sleep, is that clear?" Glir merely nodded. "Good. Now, you will be excused from the briefing in thirty minutes, go to bed."

Glir nodded once more. "Aye Sir. Thank you Sir." He walked out of the room, finally showing his weariness.

Kelsey chuckled softly behind her with that tinkling laughter that he had always loved. When he raised an eyebrow at her, she whispered to him. "I know what you are thinking, over eighteen months he has served with us and you still have to order him to his own bed."

Walker shrugged. "Yeah, it does get frustrating sometimes but at least I am not continually ordering him out of it instead."

Kelsey nodded gravely. Both of them had worked with Officers of that nature. Sloth was a killer in Starfleet. It was not a trait either of them held personally. They both set to work, there was a lot of data to go through before the briefing.

The centre contained several briefing rooms off the side for discussions among the senior staff assigned to the incident being monitored. The minutes wore on and soon enough Walker and Kelsey found themselves sitting around the table in one of those rooms with the other senior staff. Walker looked around the table briefly before starting the briefing.

Commander Voraak was sitting impassably as ever, it could have been a meeting to discuss the decoration of the mess hall and you would not have noticed a change in his demeanor. Walker wondered if he would ever get used to the uneasy feeling the lack of emotion in the Vulcan engendered within him. He found it understandable that Vulcans were constantly the butt of human jokes, there were times he thought he would do anything to provoke the Vulcan out of his emotional stasis. Despite this, he was a competent officer, with abilities suited to the needs of the station. Like most of them, he was both a scientist and a fighter.

Botha sat at the table, arms folded and looking as disgruntled as he could about being called away from building his ships. The large South African would have an accent that could be cut with a knife if he spoke, Walker was sure. His Yardmaster could never control his accent when he was upset.

His Chief Medical Officer was about the same size as the Yardmaster, Lucifrelle Eritt was a refugee from Angel One. Ranked an Ensign, she had taken some time to win over the higher ranked doctors in her sick bay, but she was now respected and acknowledged as worthy of the post Walker had given her. She had proven herself in his eyes on a transport ship over eighteen months ago.

The Commandant of their fighter school was another officer with a rank problem. Lieutenant Sai was constantly training pilots who out ranked him, but few gave him problems. He had a simple way of dealing with the ones who did, he challenged them to a dogfight. In all his years Walker had never seen a more talented pilot, and now that fighters were being reintroduced into the Starfleet arsenal he could think of no-one better qualified to teach the pilots to fly them. Walker was doubly blessed in this regard, because flying was all the Lieutenant was interested in doing.

O'Toole seemed a little out of place among the group, even after the last few months. He was not a commissioned officer, but that mattered little these days, there had been a non-com holding the post of Chief Engineer on DS9 for years. What really made him different was the look in his eyes. The Security Chief was a killer, and it showed.

The majority of people around the table had taken life before of course. Walker himself had taken many lives, but that was by destroying enemy ships. Both Voraak and Kelsey had been assigned to covert missions where it had been necessary to take lives hand to hand more often than most, but you could see that it went a little beyond their nature, even with their tough exteriors. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that O'Toole had no problem with it at all. No-one had ever asked him about the disappearance of the spy back at the research colony where he had been based before they met him. The greatest incongruity on the station was that his closest friend was perhaps the most innocent of them all, Sai Falar.

O'Toole was the one who broke the growing silence. "We are going to wait for Lt Glir?"

Walker shook his head. "I sent him to bed. We will start now." Walker stood, taking in the entire group at a glance. There were no looks of confusion or hidden grins. They were all familiar with how hard Glir worked for the station, and they were all too familiar with the effort involved in getting him to stop and rest. Walker composed his thoughts, it was time to prepare his team.

Walker called up the holographic maps and went through the situation reports. There was still a lot of information missing, and there would have to be debriefings of Captain Erande and the bridge officers of the Recluse planned. Glir would handle the analysis of the probes, but there was still the sensor logs from the transport to be checked. On top of that there was a nagging doubt in the back of everyone's minds, but it took the rational nature of the Vulcan to give it voice. "How do we know that the Syndicate are not reconnoitering the area now? They could be putting ships out of our detection range with sensor packages scanning the area. It would not take too much work to extrapolate the location of the station from the trajectories of the few ships travelling through the area." There was silence in the room when Voraak had finished speaking.

Walker had thought about this. There was an answer to this, and he raised it now. "We can handle such a threat with our current resources, but it will be tricky. Captain Kelsey, how many ships do we currently have in dock?"

Alexis grimaced. "The Esperance and the Kalgoorlie are off on training flights. That leaves us the Gungahlin, the Palmerston and the Ngunnawal at our disposal."

"That should be enough..."

"It would be, Captain, assuming we had crews for all three. We don't. We can barely put up two of them without risk." It was an irony that the station's scarcest resource was personnel. Botha was the only Section Head that seemed to be handling the load placed on them. He was still cranking out ships, mainly because of the automation he had put in place from the beginning. Escort ships were coming off his yards at a rate of one each month, not to mention the scouts and the fighters. All the while he was still working on his pet project, a carrier. In the meantime, Starfleet was leaving them there because they were unable to put crews in them, and Kelsey was suffering from the same problem with the ships assigned to the station.

Walker thought about it. There was only one way that they could fill the ships. "How soon could the Esperence and the Kalgoorlie be back here?"

Kelsey stiffened. "You are not seriously thinking..."

"Yes, I am. We really don't have any choice, Captain."

"Thomas, that is real combat you could be putting those cadets into. They've been assigned here to get a feel for Starship Operations, not Starship Combat."

"I know that, and if you have another option please let me hear it. In the meantime however we have a serious personnel problem. If we get those two ships back here, that will give us enough people to man all five ships, with the cadets spread out evenly among them, in non-critical areas. Alexis, I know we are asking a lot from them, but we need a reconnaissance cordon, and we can't do it without those cadets."

"They might not come back, you know."

"I know." The officers in the room were looking at him in a way that told him that they realised the gravity of what he was doing. No-one liked the prospect of sending cadets to their death, especially a Captain who had made a career of finding ways to avoid risking Federation lives in combat. He continued. "They won't be back today anyway, we will have Glir's report on the effectiveness of the transporter system before they dock. Recall them, we will have a better idea of how to deploy them when they arrive. We still have the assault probes up our sleeve, in all likelihood we can split all fifteen hundred between the five ships. We will probably have to in any event if we are to set up an effective reconnaissance net."

Kelsey nodded. It was a small concession, but a concession nonetheless. It was really all she could have hoped for and she knew it. Her lover had a station to defend, and he would do anything he could to keep it safe. There was one other problem, however. "We will call them back, but what about command staff? I will need at least one officer from the station to command a ship."

Walker had already thought about that. "I would go myself, but I will have Admiral Connelly here. Voraak, you are the only other possibility at the moment. I can stall the Admiral from wanting to speak with you, but the rest of the officers will be needed to answer his questions I'm afraid. Report to Captain Kelsey's offices after this briefing, she will assign you a ship."

"Aye Sir." If he had a problem with the assignment, Voraak did not let it show.

"Sir, I should be on whatever ship carries the largest complement of cadets. If they are to face combat, they should have more than a medical hologram at their disposal." The comment had come from Dr Eritt.

Walker gave Botha a quick glance. He was clearly not happy with the Doctor volunteering, but he said nothing. It was the obvious thing to do, and Walker knew that the Doctor was becoming bored on the station. If they did enter combat, she would benefit from the change of pace as much as the cadets would benefit from her skills.

Walker watched as Eritt turned slightly towards Botha, the question in her eyes. He nodded almost imperceptibly and she returned her unflinching gaze towards him. He gave her permission to report to Kelsey as well.

Botha and Eritt had been lovers for as long as he and Kelsey, although they had been interrupted by her year long stay on Earth. She had done an abbreviated course at the Academy. She had already possessed a significant array of medical knowledge, all that was left was to train her in the ways of Starfleet. The reports Walker had seen told him that it had not been an easy task for the instructors, they had never dealt with an Angellian before. Nevertheless, she had returned and after an initial attempt to keep their involvement secret they had moved into a common set of quarters two months after she had returned. Walker sometimes wondered how they had lasted that long, he and Kelsey had not even bothered to try.

Walker turned to other matters. "This of course brings me to the most delicate part of this situation. We have had Admirals visit us before, but never during an incident, and certainly not for the reason that Connelly is apparently here."

"I don't get it Captain. I thought this was just another tour of the front lines, so to speak." Walker could see that Sai looked a little concerned after asking the question. This whole visit was going to be tougher on him than any of the other staff. Walker knew full well that it had been Connelly who had organised for Sai Falar to be assigned to the original Nullabor as a punishment. Connelly had probably forgotten all about it, but it was still a sore point with his young Commandant. Bajorans had long memories for those who crossed them, as any Cardassian would attest. They were capable of building up savage tempers as well. Walker hoped Sai would be able to hold his for the duration of the Admiral's stay.

"I don't know what it is about for sure, but I can tell you Admiral Connelly is not here for a tour. The rumours are that he is here to evaluate our feasibility. We cross over into many areas of jurisdiction on this station. We handle intelligence gathering, Starship construction, research and several areas of training that used to be the sole domain of the Academy. We may have stepped on a few toes along the way."

"What is Admiral Dekker saying on the subject?" Kelsey was the one person in the room other than he who knew exactly what the Admiral was saying, namely nothing at all. He hadn't told her, he didn't have to when she could read him like a book. She was also the officer in the room with the most contact with the Admiral. It was more likely that she would have the information than Walker. He did not take too long to realise that she was asking the question for the benefit of the other officers.

"Nothing. As usual." It was no secret that the Admirals reticence to speak was a sticking point with Captain Walker. There had often been situations where Walker had felt he was not being given the full story. He briefly remembered the mission on the transport Nullabor prior to the station being built. He wondered yet again at how little information he had been given. It had been a miracle they had survived.

The other officers knew better than to press on the subject. Like their Captain, they would find out in time. Walker continued. "What I can tell you is that he is to report to Dekker after he is done."

That got attention from around the table. "You think Dekker is in on it?" O'Toole's question reflected some of the feeling in the room, but Walker could not help but notice which one of them was the first to voice a question that bordered on paranoia.

Walker knew that he could not let such things get out of hand, especially under the current circumstances. "Easy there, O'Toole. Firstly there is probably no 'it' to be in on in the first place. Secondly, even if there was, I doubt Dekker would be playing against us. He may not tell us everything, but he always comes out on our side."

This much was true, and Walker saw the nodding heads around the table as his staff took this in. As far as he was concerned, Dekker was as much a manipulative bastard as any of the flag brass he had met, and there was no doubt in his mind that he was up to something, but Dekker had never given him cause to suspect he was playing against Nullabor or her Commanding Officer. As much as he hated it, he knew he would just have to trust the Admiral once more.

There were still more immediate concerns that had not been addressed in the briefing. He turned to Sai. "How are your trainees coming along?"

Sai shrugged. Walker had expected this. Sai was infamous for setting almost impossible standards in his flight school. He found it difficult to compensate for the fact that others had to work hard at what he picked up so quickly. "If it comes down to station defence, I think we could put up quite a fight, but they are still flying like they are at the helm of that thing Commander Botha is working on, no offence." The last comment was directed to the appropriate seat at the table.

"None taken, Lieutenant. You just keep some of those lads and lasses alive to serve aboard her. We will need those pilots to take full advantage of her abilities." Botha and Sai knew that the carrier was a liability without a complement of fighters. It was a huge ship, and unlike the escorts it was sluggish in space. Destroyer class ships would make short work of her despite her formidable shields and weapons, if it wasn't for the powerful array of small fighters she would carry. Since the original three interceptors from the Nullabor transport, there had been a dozen designs and variations assembled, all with their own unique abilities. Not only did the station house interceptors, but now there were heavy fighters, bombers, gun ships... The only pilot in the Federation who was an expert in flying them all was Lt Sai Falar.

Sai turned back to the Captain. "I'm not exactly itching to throw them into real combat, but in a pinch I think they would do."

That was enough for the Captain. Sai's estimate of their abilities was sure to be conservative. Most of the pilots who had been assigned to fighter training had combat records that were far superior to Sai's, that was one of the main requirements in fact. They would know the stakes if they were sent out, and they would be ready for it as well. That of course left the carrier. "So how is the carrier shaping up? Are we close to shakedown time yet?"

Botha grunted with discontent. Walker knew the man was a perfectionist, there was probably a lot about the ship he would change if he had time. The fact was, he didn't. "Give me a couple of days, Captain. She won't be as good as I would like to make her before her shakedown, but she will be ready."

Walker was pleased to hear it. He sometimes despaired of getting his Yardmaster back. Even when he and Lucifrelle visited, all he ever heard Phillip talking about was that carrier. Granted, it was impressive, but the engineer was starting to ignore other things to work on it. Once it was out of the yard, maybe he would return to normal. He hoped so, and he knew Lucifrelle was thinking the same.

"Okay, that leaves you O'Toole."

The security chief already had ideas about what he would be doing. "I can run point in here for now if you like, monitor for enemy activity until you find something more constructive for me to do."

Walker moaned inside. He knew that O'Toole meant well, it was just that the man thought that any activity which didn't involve him firing a phaser at something was unproductive. Still, he had offered to run the ops centre, that was at least a start and Walker took it as such. "Fine. I would however appreciate it if you could assign a detail to the Admiral during his stay. The last thing we need is him busily writing up a report about tripping over a bulkhead while we are fighting for our lives."

"Understood." One thing was for sure, O'Toole was a man of few words. Walker had an uneasy hunch that the man would come in very handy during the next few days, he wondered whether deploying him would wrest a little of his own humanity away. The last thing he wanted was to become like the leaders within the Syndicate. It was a fine line, though, it had always been. Command was not all he had hoped, sometimes doing the right thing meant breaking rules he had fought so hard to defend.

He felt the soothing touch of Alexis in his mind once more. 'You can love. You are not a monster, even when you do what is necessary. Monsters would not be in so much anguish about it.' Once again, she was right. He was very glad to have her in his life. As a Commander things had been much simpler. Now, he needed a confidant, and she had become even more to him. Of course, it was a two way street. He also touched her mind when she was upset, calming her.

He looked around at the faces before him, everything had been covered. He dismissed them quickly, and they all headed to their respective stations. He glanced at the display on the wall, the Recluse was due in an hour. He just knew that Connelly would be wanting a full debrief by the time he stepped off the transport, what he needed more than anything was a way to deflect him. Damn! Why did there have to be an Admiral visiting right now?

"There just is." He turned around, already aware Alexis had stayed behind to speak with him.

"Maybe it is just fate, but it adds a complication we really don't need."

Alexis shrugged. "Maybe we don't, but we both know you can handle it. This will be a walk in the park compared to the run to DS2 in the transport."

"Back then we didn't have Admirals breathing down our necks or raw cadets at the battle stations."

"True." Alexis looked down for a moment. "Listen Thomas, about that..."

"Don't worry about it. You were right to question me on it. I'm not happy about it myself and if I could see another way..."

"I know."

Walker collapsed back into his chair. "I need a break from this."

Alexis snorted. "I'm surprised you lasted this long. You belong in the Centre Chair, my love. If it wasn't for Connelly, I would insist you take out one of the escort ships."

"Maybe I will after the Admiral leaves. It's just that I haven't done anything to ground myself lately. I used to be able to play around with my programming skills, but that has been impossible lately. Besides, after the assault probes is there anything else to create? It all seems like an anticlimax after that."

Alexis nodded gravely. Walker sensed her concern, but it was mixed with relief. 'You are finally letting it out, my love. Good.' So that was it, she had been waiting for him to express his frustration. Now that he had, what could he do about it? He still had an Admiral due any moment. 'After this is over we will take some leave together what do you say?' He nodded to her and she smiled. She spoke out loud this time. "Good. We will make the plans tonight if I am not out in one of the ships. Oh, that reminds me. I can handle the net with four ships, I will leave the Esperance here with you. I will man the ship with the largest proportion of the Cadets and of course the Doctor. You need some defensive capability, just in case, Captain. Either you or Glir can take it out of the need dictates. You might even take the Admiral along, who knows?"

They both laughed. Kelsey turned to leave, but Walker whispered into her mind. 'Thanks, my love.' She turned back once more, flashed him a quick grin, and was gone. He could not help but think that she had managed to get off the station just before the Admiral arrived after all. He could hear Captain Kelsey stifling a sudden laugh as she walked out of the ops centre.

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