“Locksmith. Tori. Come in, and close the hatch.”
Locksmith, in her pilot’s brown flight suit, smiled broadly. The flash of white teeth set off her olive-brown skin and emerald eyes. The other, wearing the black uniform of the Starfleet Marine Corps, was slightly shorter but muscular, and her blonde hair, like Locksmith’s pale blue, was done up in a braid down her back.
Kendra reached down then stopped, remembering it wasn’t her regular office.
The AI appeared.
“Whiskey. Three glasses. On the rocks. You know what I like.”
The replicator in the wall hummed and the three tumblers appeared. Kendra distributed the drinks before sitting down again. She saw Tori reaching for Leda, still asleep, and shook her head.
“I wouldn’t do that,” she advised.
“She knows me,” argued the blonde.
“You know what they say?”
“Never mess with a sleeping cat. Sooner or later, they wake up.”
That drew a grin from Monaco and she retracted her hand.
Kendra sombered as she lifted her glass, the other two following suit.
Both had been participants in the final battle against the Union of Artemis; Locksmith was one of a handful of survivors of the combined Direwolf squadrons, and Tori had been part of a platoon dropped into Artemis City to try to capture the Empress. Nine Marines had been extracted.
They sipped in silence, both junior officers waiting for their Admiral to speak. Finally Kendra had mercy.
“Do you both know why you’re here? Or has the grapevine finally died an unlamented death?”
The women exchanged a look before Locksmith spoke.
“The Christopher J. Pike.”
“Succinct. Yes. But do you know specifically why you are here?”
Two heads shook in negation.
“Tori.” The Marine’s eyes widened. “How was your Instant Officer’s Course?”
This elicited a grin. “Tough, Ma’am. As I’m certain you’re aware, you having had a hand in designing the Advanced Training Course.”
“Me? What do I know about being a Marine?”
“Absolutely nothing, Ma’am, with all due respect. But you did appoint General Stone as Commandant of the Corps, and she most definitely had her own ideas of what a Starfleet Marine ought to know.” Monaco’s eyes twinkled as she said this, taking some of the sting from her words.
“Hmm. Possibly. Well, let’s start with the good news. As of today, you are both Captains.”
Nearly matching grins erupted on their faces. Tori was properly Lieutenant Victoria Monaco, SFMC, and Locksmith was Lt. Commander Lexie Marsh, XO of the Phoenix Squadron of Direwolves. Jumping up to Captain was highly unusual since the end of the war.
“Admiral, thank you, but what’s going on?” asked Lexie, the grin fading.
“Simple. Lexie, you’re the new Small Craft commander for the Donny; Tori, you’re the Marine CO for the company which will be aboard. Technically, Lexie, you’re commanding the Chin-Riley Wing, and Tori’s company is called Burnham Company. Related to the ship’s name,” she explained, seeing their confusion.
“Aye, Ma’am, but what does it mean?” Tori’s tone was respectful but clear: she wanted answers.
“Your mission is simpler, Tori. You provide ground support and protection for the scientist types when they go traipsing around on a new planet. I don’t want any reports coming back to me that we lost a planetologist to some rampaging beastie because they couldn’t be bothered to look both directions.”
Tori’s face cleared. “We can do that, Ma’am. I can do that.”
“One tiny little problem.”
Her face clouded again. “I knew this was too good to be true.”
“Well, it has to do with personnel.”
Tori gave a, “Come on” gesture.
“We don’t have a single company to give you, not intact. General Stone’s logic, and I agree with her, is taking a company away from its current commander and handing it over to you will just lead to resentment.”
Tori nodded her agreement but didn’t speak.
“We’ve gathered Marines from across the Corps for you. They’ve come highly recommended by their commanders, and –”
“Admiral, did they volunteer, or were they volunteered?”
Kendra frowned. “I’m not sure. Why? Is it important.”
Now Tori groaned. “Admiral, you’ve never served under someone else’s command, have you?”
“Does working for OutLook count?”
“No, I mean military service.”
“Then what’s probably happened is this: General Stone sent out a call for volunteers, right?”
“And she described all the qualifications necessary?”
“And was it sent to commanders, or Corps-wide?” She already knew the answer to this.
“Because you figured they’d know their troops. Well, the good news is you’re exactly right. They do know their troops, and while there aren’t any in the Corps who are slackers, or can’t do the job, there are those who are good and those who are better if you get what I mean.”
“And you think –”
“No, Admiral, I don’t think. I know the commanders went to the troops they thought were disposable, for one reason or another, and told them “Congratulations, Private! You’ve been volunteered to a new assignment. Report to Vulcan’s Forge by such-and-such date.”” Tori grimaced. “As I said, Admiral, they won’t be incompetent. But they won’t be the best the Corps has to offer.”
Now it was Kendra’s turn to shake her head. “Sorry. I totally missed this.”
“We’ll make do, Admiral. It’s what we’re best at. And it’s not like they haven’t passed through Basic successfully; I know the failure rate is something like fifty percent.”
“Like I said: good, just not the best.”
“What can I do to make this up to you?”
Tori considered before speaking. “The company is already assembled?”
“Cadre and officers too?”
“If I give you some names, can you; scratch that. I know you can. Will you get them for me?”
“If I can’t I’ll know why not. Who?”
“Maggie and Robin. First Sergeant Maggie Crampton, Gunnery Sergeant Robin McGill.”
“Why them? And anyone else?”
“Because they were on Luna with me for that last mission, I know they’re tough as nails, I trust them, and they know their shit.”
Kendra closed her eyes. “McGill. She lost a leg during that action, right?”
“Right. They grew her a new one, better than the old one because they had to give it titanium bones.”
“They’re yours. Anyone else?”
“I’ll get you a list by tomorrow morning. Between us, we’ll make this into a proper company.”
“I knew you could. Lexie, I was going to say your job is tougher but now I’m not so sure.”
“I was afraid you’d say something along those lines. Do I have to give up my Direwolf?”
“Then I’m good. Lay it on me, Admiral.”
“You’re going to be in charge of all the small craft aboard Pike. All the Wolves, Direwolves, and Coyotes, their crews, their support staff, everything. Each squadron will have a CO, but you’re the boss.”
“And who do I report to?”
“Colonel Resler; she’s Commander of the Pike and everyone aboard. You, Tori, and Captain Ken Porter, the ship commander, are sort of the triumvirate supporting Chloe in executing the overall mission of exploration.”
Lexie said, “Will families be aboard? Partners?”
“Absolutely, but if you’re bringing someone who isn’t in Starfleet, or isn’t legally bound to you, you’re going to have to have a serious talk before you depart. This is a three-year mission, and while you might stop off at a colony like Freyr or Lemnos, you probably won’t see Earth until the end. So if they’re with you, they’d better plan to be with you, if you get my meaning.”
“Do they, we, have to decide immediately?”
Kendra shook her head. “No. Shakedown starts day after tomorrow. The full crew will be aboard, but dependents will be housed temporarily on Njord. Once the first cruises are done and she’s passed the acceptance trials, probably two weeks from now, dependents can move aboard if they’re ready.”
“And if they’re not?”
“I hope they will be. I’d like them to get a sense of what it’s like to live shipboard before the mission truly begins.”
“If all goes well, you’ll head into the black by the end of July. So you see there’s a bit of a window.”
Kendra examined the two women. “Any other questions?”
“About a million,” said Tori.
“Any you need me to answer?”
“Not particularly,” Tori answered. Lexie, biting her lip, shook her head.
“Then I think we’re done.”