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Chapter 2
By François Séguin

Cast of Characters: (Click on a name for picture)

Captain Arik DaGama (Lisbon, Earth)
Commander Lara Marelli (Earth), 1st Officer
Lieutenant Commander Thorn (Andor), COS, 2nd Officer
Lieutenant Commander Bilnik (El-Aur), Counselor
Lieutenant Brandon Tyler (Australia, Earth), OPS
Doctor Tiane Nevenis (Earth), CMO
Lieutenant Zordan (Benzar), CE
Ensign Eyana Sedi (Bajor), Security Officer
Ensign Valérie Veillant (France, Earth), Flight Controller

I stepped aboard the Starship Valhalla. It had just arrived at Starbase 565, where I'd been waiting impatiently for the past three days.
The doors on the docking level opened, and waiting for me was a young security officer, a short human male of a larger build.
"Captain DaGama, I'm Ensign Burton. Welcome to Valhalla."
"Thanks," was all I could think of to say.
"If you're ready, sir, I'll escort you to the bridge."
"Is that really necessary, Ensign?" I asked. Even though I'd never served aboard a Starfleet ship, I was sure to be able to find my way to the bridge.
"It's traditional, sir. The Captain gets escorted to the bridge the first time he sets foot aboard. Of course, sir, if you feel that it's absolutely pointless, we can forego this little tradition."
I thought about it for a few moments. Should I, a man who has no experience whatsoever in Starfleet, begin his campaign by insulting a tradition these people have cherished for who knows how long? A tradition, like so many others, that likely kept united the valiant crews of so many vessels in times of crisis?
"I'll find my own way to the bridge, Ensign, thank you," I finally decided on saying.
The young Ensign seemed surprised, even though it had been his idea in the first place not to escort me to the ship's main bridge. "Very well,, welcome aboard again." He turned away from me, and started walking towards down the corridor. I let him walk for a few moments before I decided to head for the bridge, since I didn't want to seem like I had no idea where I was going, which in fact I did have no idea where the bridge was. All I knew was that it was at the top of the ship.
I entered he nearest turbolift. "Bridge," I told the computer, and the lift began upwards. "At least I'm going in the right direction," I said to myself.
Moments later, the lift halted, and the doors opened on the bridge. I stepped out of the lift, and looked around. To my immediate right was what I recognized as the tactical station, which was at the time unoccupied, probably since a tactical officer wasn't needed while the ship was parked in Spacedock. To my left, was the Operations console. In front of me, on the lower level of the bridge, was the command center, which was simply two seats with a computer console in between. Those two seats looked out onto the main viewscreen. Between the command center and the viewscreen, and facing the latter, was the Flight Control Station.
An officer sitting in one of the two command seats heard me as I came on deck, and turned his head to see who had just arrived.
"Captain on the bridge," the officer shouted, and immediately he got up. I noticed his pearl-white hair, and the pair of green antennae on his head that matched perfectly with the color of his skin. He was an Andorian.
I walked over to him, and he greeted me by extending his hand. "You must be Captain DaGama. Welcome aboard sir, I am Thorn, Lieutenant Commander, Chief of Security, ship's second officer and now relinquishing command to you."
As we shook hands, I noticed that there was something very strange about him. He seemed too outgoing and nice for an Andorian. Most of his people, or rather, as rumor had it, all Andorians were all very quiet, saying only what needed to be said. This one was even polite.
"Computer, this is Lieutenant Commander Thorn. Transfer command to Captain DaGama, authorization Thorn-Five-Eight-Omega-Tiger."
The computer echoed the words 'transfer complete'.
"Status report, Commander?" I asked my chief of security.
"We're running at eighty percent efficiency, and we're awaiting the arrival of Commander Marelli and Doctor Nevenis." He seemed proud of saying that. Pride. That was typically Andorian.
"Very good," I said, even though I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be or not. I started looking around the bridge, watching the officers' work at their stations. I was impressed by the ship's state-of-the-art equipment. Sure, my freighter wasn't an antique, but still, it was pretty obsolete when compared to Valhalla.
"Where's my office?" I asked Lieutenant Commander Thorn, who was following me from a short distance as I made my tour of the bridge.
He pointed to a door at my left. "Right in there, sir."
"Ah. Well then, Commander, carry on with your duties," I said as I stepped into my office, also known as the captain's ready room.
It was a helluva lot bigger than I expected. There was a huge desk, a big chair that seemed very comfortable, a large couch, and even a food replicator. And it was all mine. I mentally congratulated myself for taking this job, and then went to sit in the big chair.
It felt good. I rubbed my palms on the armrests. Things were turning out pretty well for me, I thought at that moment.
On the desk, which was made of, I assumed, muscovite, was a single computer console. I turned it on. I decided that it was time to make my first log entry. I cleared my voice:
"Captain's log: Stardate 52014.3. Captain Arik DaGama commanding. I've barely set foot aboard Valhalla, and already, I'm impressed by this technological marvel. Having served aboard freighters and transport vessels all my adult life, it's certainly a good change of pace. I've just had enough time to arrive on the bridge and find my ready room."
I turned off the visual display of the computer. I stood up, and moved to the window to gaze out at the stars. It was strange to point out to myself, but those stars were the same ones that I'd traveled to during my lifetime, but there was a difference there. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I had a feeling that maybe the stars were the same. Maybe it was just me that was different.
I went back to sit in my chair, and looked over some reports that concerned the various departments aboard the ship. Things were coming together. And all without me lifting a finger.
A short while later, I spoke with Admiral Nechayev over subspace comms. She was a severe-looking woman, with a personality that matched.
"I'm pleased to see that you've settled in, Captain," the Admiral told me in a deadpan fashion. "What's your status?"
"We're at eighty percent efficiency, Admiral, but we are still awaiting the first officer and chief medical officer."
"Very well. When do you expect to depart?"
"I estimate about three hours at most," was my reply.
She nodded in approval. "Captain, before you leave, there's something I was to make very clear: I realize that you have a reputation of a 'nice guy', but you must remember that the people you have aboard your ship are emotionally weak or might even have a difficult time following orders, especially from an inexperienced Captain as yourself." I tried not to take that last part as an insult.
"If you push them too hard," she continued, "they may become aggressive, or they may lose confidence if they fail at performing their duties."
"I believe you made that clear last time we spoke, Admiral." I just then realized the mistake I had made. Under no circumstances is it acceptable to tell an Admiral when she's repeated herself. I just hoped that she wouldn't bite my head off.
"You didn't let me finish," she said in a tone that wasn't any nicer than the way she had spoken before. "What I want you to understand is that you're the boss, and you get to decide who does what on your ship. They might have suffered during the war, but that doesn't mean they get special treatment, aside of course from being assigned to your ship."
I'm glad to hear that Starfleet isn't totally heartless, I almost said, but didn't. "I understand, Admiral," I said, even though I was more confused now than ever. She said don't be too hard on them but still be in charge. Doesn't being in charge mean you get to be hard on your subordinates?
"Good luck, Captain," she said, and she made the faintest smile ever recorded before the screen went blank.
I sat back in my chair. I noticed the strange decorations my ready room was adorned with. There were scary-looking artifacts hanging on the walls, very ugly sculptures, and other odd ancient-looking objects left behind by my predecessor.
"I'm the boss," I said to no one in particular, "and I say that this has to go." I took an artifact off the wall, and placed it on the floor next to the couch. I did the same with all the other crap hanging around. There was also and odd end table, and it had been placed in an awkward place, right beside my desk, in an area where I would likely use as a passage if I absolutely wanted two ways to leave the immediate vicinity of my desk. I picked it up and hurled it onto the couch, where I had hoped it would soft-land. Instead, it bounced off the armrest and crashed into pieces on the floor.
"Oops," I said.
Then, the door chimed. "Enter," I told the visitor.
The doors opened, and strolled in the catch of the day. She was, by far, one of the prettiest women I'd ever seen. She had long brown hair, tied up in a ponytail. Her eyes were a beautiful shade of brown; her skin was light, but with a slightly tanned complexion. She had beautiful lips, which were hued a bright red. I almost froze, stunned by this beauty.
"Commander Lara Marelli, reporting for duty, sir," she said.
Traditionally, Starfleet captains get to choose their first officers, but in this instance, I was suggested to take Commander Marelli as my second-in-command. I hadn't met her before that moment, thus her physical appearance had been a pleasant surprise, making me glad that I hadn't looked up her service record.
"Captain Arik DaGama," I introduced myself, and we shook hands. I noticed that her skin was soft to the touch. You can tell a lot by someone's handshake. Hers was firm, but still possessed the frailty of a woman's hand.
"This is certainly a pleasant surprise," I told her as I invited her to sit with a gesture of my hand. She sat in the chair opposite mine.
"Why is that a pleasant surprise, Captain?"
"When Captain Bergevin described you to me, he left out how pretty you were."
She blushed, smiled, and then said, "Why thank you, Captain. What they say about you being a nice guy is true, I see."
I nodded quickly several times, and said in an annoyed tone, "Nice guy, that's me." I couldn't believe that my reputation had already spread so fast. Moving on, I said, "So is this your first time serving aboard an Intrepid-class ship?"
"As a matter of fact, Captain, it is."
I was somewhat disappointed in her response. I was hoping she'd start talking about some adventure she had on a previous ship, or something that would make me say something good about her career. Maybe she realized that I had already read her Fleet record and was waiting for me to ask her about her career.
Seeing that we had nothing else of interest to say, I just continued on with what I had asked her. "Well, I've never been on a Starship before, so I was hoping you knew where my quarters were." I was looking at her intensely, staring at her impressive figure, which was still apparent even with her uniform. She seemed a little uncomfortable speaking with me. I suppose I shouldn't have been staring at her like that, since I missed most of what she said next.
"--where mine were," I managed to understand.
"I'm sorry, what was that?"
She smiled slightly, having probably realized that I had been distracted. "I was asking you, Captain, if you knew where my quarters were?"
"Oh, yes, of course," I retorted in a way that seemed like the question had been clear all along. "Your quarters are," and I looked through some of my notes, "on deck five, section 12."
She simply nodded.
Then, I handed her one of the several PADDs I had on my desk, which contained the reports I had been previously looking through. I was planning on making her sweat a little by giving her tons of work to do. "Take this to engineering." She took it and glanced at it. "Next, I'd like you to take care of the crew quarters assignments for all the junior officers. Make sure everyone is settled in."
I handed her another PADD. "Then, tell the department heads that I want a meeting in two hours, and finally, make preparations for a party in the mess hall at nineteen hundred hours."
"Is that all, Captain?" she asked with the most serious tone I ever heard.
"Actually, no. I just remembered something. I'd like you to go over my departure speech." I handed her yet another PADD.
"Shall I read it now, Captain?" She didn't seem very pleased to have to read it, but still, she did it.
"It's very...good, sir," she told me, although the long pause wasn't very convincing. "You'll do fine," she said, and again, wasn't very convincing.
"All right, then. You're dismissed, Commander." She immediately got up and left. I watched the way her hips swayed when she walked. It was very inviting, as if she was saying, 'follow me'. For some odd reason, I heard her coughing violently as soon as the door shut. I didn't pay much attention to it. Suffice it to say, I was very content in regards to my first officer. I would have to thank Captain Bergevin personally for the suggestion.

About two hours later, I had a meeting with my senior staff. Thorn, my chief of security was there, as were Zordan, the Benzite chief engineer, Ensign Valerie Veillant, flight controller, and Bilnik, Valhalla's El-Aurian counselor. Also present were Doctor Tiane Nevenis, and my first officer, Lara Marelli.
I noticed that the senior Operations Manager wasn't present. Thorn then advised me that he would be joining shortly. Satisfied with that, we began discussing matters concerning our first mission. "We're to head to Aaltos II to attend to a border dispute involving the people of a neighboring world, Tenintai. It should be a routine job, so I don't think that it should be something that we can't handle." Of course, what I didn't mention was how unsure I really was about the mission. Anything could happen, that I knew for sure.
There appeared to be some disapproving looks from the people in the room. I knew that they didn't trust me. I knew that the first chance they would get to put me in my place, they would do so. So I decided to settle things early on. "Look," I said, "I know this isn't easy to accept. But it isn't any easier for me. All I ask is that you give me a chance."
There was silence. I took that silence as an approval.
Then, the strangest figure I ever saw came into the room. "Excuse my tardiness, Captain," said the officer, who then introduced himself as Lieutenant Brandon Tyler, Valhalla's senior OPS Manager. "Have I missed anything, sirs?" This person was artificial looking, what with his robot-like appearance. Everyone in the room, save Thorn and Zordan were staring at him. As far as I knew, there was only one other Starfleet officer who was an artificial life form and that was Lieutenant Commander Data.
But Tyler was far less humanoid looking than Data. He had an almost featureless face. He had eyes that didn't blink, and very shiny metallic skin. The room fell silent, as this individual stunned almost everyone.
"You may call me Tin Man," said Tyler.
"Are you a fully artificial being, Lieutenant?" asked Commander Marelli.
"That is a question I get asked quite often. The answer is no. A short while ago, I was involved in a horrible accident that left me incapacitated. I was unable to use my body, as my motor functions were almost entirely dysfunctional. I was asked by a doctor from a research group whether I wanted to participate in an experiment. Seeing that my life would be no more fulfilling than a vegetable's, I accepted the doctor's proposal. And this," and he pressed a latch on his neck, then carefully removed the casing of his artificial head, "is it."
I was shocked to see what the experiment was: his brain, very human, was connected to a computer system resting atop his shoulders.
"My brain," he said with his casing still in his hands, "was transferred to this artificial body. It works in the same way as an organic body. That's what makes it work so well."
If at first it seemed very disturbing I quickly got used to the thought of having a semi-organic, semi-artificial officer in my crew. He was, after all, a real person, with real thoughts, feelings, desires, and fears. He deserved to be treated like others.
"Thank you for sharing that, Lieutenant. I'm sure you must have to explain that quite often. If you'll have a seat, we can continue the briefing."
He replaced the casing on his head, and took a seat next to the doctor.
"I was just telling everyone about our first mission...
And so went on the meeting.

About an hour or so later, we were ready to leave Starbase 565. I stood on the bridge, with my entire senior staff either standing next to me, or manning their stations.
I then addressed the whole crew: "To the corps of officers of the Starship Valhalla, this is the Captain. Before we depart, I'd like to say a few words." I took a deep breath. "You've all been though a lot in the past year. The war hasn't been easy, especially not for each and every one of you. As I speak, many more men and women are risking their lives for the values that the Federation upholds. We will not be joining them, however, as we must continue the mission that Starfleet began some two centuries ago: to boldly go where no one has gone before. As you may know, this is my first tour of duty as captain of a Starship. You need not worry, because I know my way around the quadrant. Our mission has no time limit. We may be out there for a year, as we may be there for several years. For now, all I can say is: let's see what's out there."
Everyone on the bridge applauded, and so I nodded thankfully.
I took my seat. "Ensign Veillant," I said to the young female flight controller, "set course for Aaltos II, warp eight."
The Starship Valhalla blasted away towards Aaltos.

Later that afternoon, I took a trip to main engineering, just to see how things were going. I was still very nervous about everything, so seeing with my own eyes that things were under control reassured me.
As I entered engineering, I saw Lieutenant Zordan hunched over a console. The Benzite was an aged space veteran, and he seemed bored. Rumors had it that he was unhappy about this assignment.
I walked over to him, and said in a relaxed tone, "How's she holding out?"
He slowly straightened up, and said, "The ship is fine. These new ships are always fine. There is never enough work to do."
"Seems like someone misses an old ship," I told him.
"Yes...yes I do."
"I know what that's like. I've piloted old ships more than once. They were a hassle to take care of, but at least they got you home."
He smiled at that. "That's the truth. These new ships, they've got no feeling. They crack open like a dropped egg."
"Don't worry," I reassured him. "This one will break down soon enough. Then you'll be satisfied."
"Hope it happens sooner than later, otherwise you may be out of luck to fix her."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, if this ship doesn't break soon, I may be retired when it does." He said jokingly.

At nineteen hundred hours, the crew was starting to gather in the mess hall. I, on the other hand, was in my quarters, looking for something else to wear besides m duty uniform. I was running late, but I supposed that it was acceptable since I was the captain. I found some nice off-duty clothes, and put them on.
I arrived at the mess hall, and was surprised to see that everyone was wearing their uniform. I had probably forgotten to tell them that the gathering was uniform-optional.
I walked amongst my crew, smiling and nodding to everyone. I saw several of my senior officers standing together, prattling casually. I approached the quatuor that was Commander Marelli, Doctor Nevenis, Thorn and Ensign Veillant.
"Misplace your uniform, Captain?" joked the doctor. She was a half-human, half-Vulcan, but considered herself to be more of a human. She had blond hair, and pointed ears.
The three others chuckled at the doctor's remark. "Actually," said I, "the uniform gnomes took it."
"I'll be sure to send a security detachment to find these gnomes, Captain."
said Thorn, who was wearing a big smile, which was very odd for an Andorian.
I turned my attention to Commander Marelli. "Nice party, Commander. You've done superbly so far. Keep up the good work."
"Thank you sir, I appreciate the compliment."
I then heard a voice that was spoken so softly that I almost didn't hear it. "Excuse me, Captain," said the voice. I turned a bit. It was Ensign Veillant.
"Yes, Ensign?"
"May I ask," and she seemed a little embarrassed, "may I ask where you are from?"
"Yes, you may," was my reply. I waited for her to ask me again. I rather enjoyed toying with people like that. I looked at her with an impatient visage. I could see though the corner of my eye that the others were smiling broadly, understanding the joke I was making.
"W-well?" she said a few moments later, with her pretty French accent.
"Well what?"
"Where are you from?"
"Earth," I told her. Somehow, I sensed that she wanted to ask me where on Earth I was from, but she remained silent. I winked an eye at her, and then excused myself from the group.
As I moved across from the room, I couldn't help wonder whether these people would become close friends of mine. I was a very open person who made friends easily. I stared at the mass of people gathered in the mess hall that night, and got caught in the moment. I was the captain of a Starship. These people would look to me for advice. They would come to me with their problems. Some might even see me as their personal hero. It was a scary, yet fascinating feeling.
I walked over to the table where the food was served, and picked up a glass of Aldebaran Whisky. Then, the ship's counselor, an El-Aurian named Bilnik, came over to the table as well. "Ahh, Capitaine," said the heavyset man with a strong French accent, "I've been looking for you."
"Well it seems that you've found me. What can I do for you?"
"Nothing really, I just wanted to tell you what a pleasure it is to be serving under your command."
I took the compliment, although I felt as though I hadn't really done anything yet for my crew to show pride. "Thank you," I said, as he took two glasses of the whisky. He then slammed the contents of one glass done his throat, and was about to empty the second one just as fast. I tried to stop him, but he already finished it. "You should take it easy with that stuff, it's strong."
"You bet it is, Capitaine," he said, and he just went back into the crowd.
The evening rolled on. I met a lot of the crew. Everyone was especially nice to me. Some, like Thorn, were very good conversationalists.
Most of he people I spoke with talked about the War, almost usually about the tragic battles they fought, the battles that eventually led to their assignment here. Having not personally fought in the War, I had a difficult time relating to what they told me. But still, I used my life experience to try and help them feel comfortable aboard Valhalla.
I was one of the last people to leave the party that night, as I had been engaged in a rather interesting discussion about Dominion tactics with Thorn.
As I headed for the exit, I saw Bilnik lying on the floor, with an empty glass in his hand. He was sleeping. He had a lot to drink that night, I knew, since I had seen him take one drink after another. I probably should have awoken him, but instead, I left him on the floor, alone and asleep, and decided to head to bed myself.

Captain's Log: Stardate 52017.1. Valhalla is on course to Aaltos II, as scheduled. To my mild surprise, the crew is functioning well. I'm very confident that this will turn out to be a very fulfilling life experience for me.

As I went through the ship's design specifications several days earlier, I had discovered an interesting little corner of the ship know as the Captain's Yacht. Officially, it is called the Executive Shuttlecraft, which lies on the underbelly of the ship's elliptical primary hull. Very seldom used, it's mostly kept for special occasions, such as transporting important personnel to and from a Starship when the transporter beams are useless or impractical.
I decided to take a look at it, since I figured I most likely wouldn't even use it.
I expected to find the cold and dimly lit craft void of occupants, but, as I stepped onto the bridge of the craft, I discovered I wasn't alone.
I could see a silhouette of a woman, staring out the functioning viewscreen. She didn't move when I entered the room.
"Hello?" I said to the woman, whom I still could not recognize.
I must have startled her as she nearly hit the ceiling when I spoke.
"Captain," she said, turning around to look at me, "I didn't hear you come in." The woman was Commander Marelli.
"I'm sorry if I scared you," I said, "I wasn't expecting anyone to be here."
"That's my fault, I really shouldn't be here." She started to move towards the exit.
"Computer, lights," I ordered, and immediately the room was fully illuminated.
As I saw Commander Marelli in full light, I couldn't help but notice that she had been crying. I still felt quite awkward seeing her like that, so I tried being sympathetic to her feelings. "I'm sorry, I guess you wanted to be alone here. I'll go."
She wiped the corner of her eye. "No, no, it's fine, I'll leave." She walked past me.
"Are you okay? Is there something you'd like to talk about?"
"," she answered. I expected her to be gone when I heard the doors swoosh open. I was looking at the viewscreen with my back to the door, just like she had been doing.
"Actually," she said, and the doors swooshed close, "I could use some comforting."
I turned on my heels, and looked at her with mild concern. "What's on your mind?"
She tried to speak, but instead, her lips began to tremble. Tears were forming anew in her eyes. "My-my brother..." she managed to say, "he was...I just got the message...."
I understood. Her brother was killed. "I'm sorry," I whispered. She was breaking down into tears, so I gestured for her to come hug me. Hands in her face, she leaned against me. I softly patted her on the back.
"It's not fair," she moaned. "First, my shipmates, now him."
"Life isn't always fair, Lara." I called her by her first name. It seemed more appropriate than her rank. "People die. Everyone dies. As long as you remember them, they'll always exist." I realized that those words weren't very comforting as she began to weep and cry out even louder. "Listen, I know what I said doesn't really help, but you need to let it all out. Cry, scream, be upset. Let it all out."
And so she did.
For what seemed like hours, Lara wept in my arms. To a heartless person, this would have been a perfect opportunity to take advantage of her. And even though I had imagined holding her in my arms from the very time I set eyes upon her, this wasn't an enjoyable situation.
After a long while, I let go of her, and told her that I was going to leave her with her thoughts. She stood there silently, staring at the floor.
"Stay here as long as you like," I said from the doorway. "And feel free to come here whenever you like." She heard me, but didn't reply. So I left.

Later that day, I went to grab a bite to eat in the mess hall. I was told that most Starship captains never dine with the rest of the crew. Perhaps with one of their senior officers, but never with the rest of the lower ranked officers in the mess hall. Somehow, I felt that eating alone would be an insult to the crew. Back on my freighter, I'd always eat with my crew, so it was normal for me to wish to be with others while I consumed my daily nutriments.
The hall's doors swooshed open, and in I came, heading towards the food replicator. I'd always been a person who often ate soup for lunch, so that's what I chose to eat. The computer's menu was vast, and even the soups numbered in the hundreds. I decided on Argoan mushroom cream- a personal favorite of mine.
As I turned with my dish in hand, I saw Thorn sitting alone in the corner. He was having a meal as well, so I decided to walk over and invite myself to join him.
"Captain, please, have a seat," he told me still with his strange happy attitude.
I sat, and began to eat my soup. Thorn continued to eat. We didn't say a thing for several minutes.
Then, I took a risk by asking the one question that had been nagging me ever since I met him. "Why are you so happy? I mean, why are you acting so un-Andorian-like?"
Perhaps my tone had been a little too aggressive, because whatever peaceful and pleasant attitude Thorn had suddenly become an unpleasant and crude one. He dropped his fork on his plate, and it made a loud clink, loud enough to turn a few heads. His light smile turned into a frown, and his fists were clenched, ready to strike.
This surprised me quite a bit, and I have to admit that it scared me for a moment. I decided to show some authority by staring him down.
He regained his control. He took a deep breath, and look at me with an icy glare.
"I'm sorry, Commander, if that's a sensitive subject, I'll--
"You asked, so I shall answer you," he growled. His voice was no longer a pleasant one, but one of an aggressive Andorian.
We were still staring at each other, neither of us blinking.
"Have you ever been to Kandar Four?" He rumbled. "There was a Federation outpost there. Very strategic. Two hundred officers were stationed there. I was one of them. Most of us were there to defend the base on the planet's surface. Then one day, the Jem'Hadar came. There was a fierce battle in orbit, but the Dominion was able to get their soldiers on the surface. For two months they attacked on foot. Two ... whole ...months ..." he said. By this time, we'd lost each other's gaze.
"They outnumbered us," he continued," but we held our ground... for a while. Supplies were cut off by the Dominion, and one by one, they picked us off. Didn't take too long, either, for them to take the base. A group of us escaped into the woods, and waited to retake what was ours. And one day we did. We got rid of every last Jem'Hadar on the planet. But they had killed most of us in the process, in the end, only five of us were left to protect the outpost. The rescue ship came a week later. That was the longest week of our lives. We waited in fear. We feared that there were more Jem'Hadar coming. But none came."
I couldn't believe the atrocity he had to go through. Five survivors out of two hundred officers.
"You can imagine that I felt pretty shaken up after that. I went to see several counselors. They got me back on my feet. After Kandar Four, I'd acted rather aggressively, and since I didn't want to hurt my fellow officers, I decided to act in the exact opposite of what I had felt. This new attitude has grown on me. So to answer your question, I act in a nice way because I don't want to hurt anyone aboard the ship."
He got up and left.
The fact that talking about his experience made him become nearly violent was a sure sign that he hadn't fully recovered from it. He needed to be convinced that he was safe here on Valhalla. The last thing I wanted was him to lose control and become violent.

I had to speak with the ship's counselor. At least, to warn him not to directly interrogate them about the matter.
I walked down the corridor on deck six a few minutes later, and stopped in front of Bilnik's quarters.
I rang the door buzzer. "Enter," came Bilnik's voice.
The doors opened, and I walked in. I looked around quickly, but couldn't see him. "Counselor?" I said.
"Over here," he shouted. His voice appeared to be coming from the couch. I crept over to the couch and found him sitting on the floor, his back against the couch's hidden side.
"Capitaine," he said, his voice groggy. He lifted a bottle of alcohol up to me. "Have a drink with me?" He asked. He was unshaven, and his uniform was stained. He reeked the scent of alcohol, and so did his breath.
"I'd rather not," I replied slowly, adding a shake of my head.
"What can I do for you?" He tried to get up, but he fell. I held out my hand, which he grabbed, and I hoisted him to his feet.
"I'd like to talk to you about Lieutenant Commander Thorn. Have you seen his file?"
Bilnik was slowly swaying from side to side. He was going to topple any moment, so I put my hand on his shoulder to steady him.
"Thorn...ah yes, the Andorian," he said. "He survived that massacre, didn't he?" Bilnik walked cautiously over to the dining table, which was a considerable distance for a person in his state to travel. I was still holding onto him, making sure he didn't bump into anything.
"Yes, he was at Kandar Four," I confirmed.
Still holding his bottle, he decided to take another sip. I yanked the bottle away from him before his sip became a gulp.
"You've had enough for now, Counselor," I told the intoxicated Bilnik. Pulling out a chair, I directed him to sit. I took a seat opposite him.
"Anyway," I said, placing the bottle next to me on the table, "I'm getting the strong feeling that Thorn might get aggressive at any given moment. After Kandar, he said he'd acted aggressively. He doesn't want to hurt his coworkers, but if he's provoked, he'll become violent."
"And he told you this himself?" Bilnik's head was resting atop his folded arms, which were placed on the table.
"Let's just say that I provoked him."
He shook his head. "Not a good idea, Capitaine. Never provoke a violent-natured individual." He raised a finger at me, and said, "you should have known he might have reacted that way. Everyone aboard has had a difficult war. Some deal with it through violence. Others, like me," and he snatched the bottle, "deal with it with alcohol."
I didn't try to take the bottle away from him again. With one big breath of air, he finished the contents of the bottle.
"We were captured, Capitaine," he started saying, "and they executed us, one at a time. Twenty-two of my shipmates killed. I was spread fear to others." He got up, and stumbled, but he held himself on the back of his chair. "Those Jem'Hadar bastards!" He shouted. "They should have killed me, but they didn't!" He threw the bottle against the far wall, and the glass shattered into a million pieces.
I was already standing. He fell onto his knees. "Why did they spare me?" he mumbled. I circled the table, and was about to sit next to him on the floor when he said, "Capitaine, please leave me. I wish to be alone."
"Only if you promise me that you won't drink any more tonight."
He nodded, but in the manner that a broken man nods. Desperate, lost, confused. I got up and left his quarters. I stood outside his door, and couldn't help to think about the others on my ship. There were more like the people I had spoken with that day. Commander Marelli, Thorn, and Bilnik were experienced officers. I could only imagine what a rookie officer must be going through after incidents like the ones my senior officers went through.
I went to bed that night, albeit a little early. The stories my crew had told me earlier in the day made me feel lucky. I had never had to face what they faced. I had never fought in the war, since I'd never been an officer before.
I lay awake for some time. I was worried. Or maybe I was seriously concerned. I wasn't sure. Maybe it was both.
In any event, I was unsure what to do next. When I took this job, I half-expected everyone to be able to deal with their own problems, but I quickly discovered how much these people needed each other. Me too, I suppose. I may know my way around out there, and I may know my way around an engine room, but I certainly don't know how the crew of a Starship functions as a well-oiled machine. Everyone on Valhalla, including myself, was adjusting their life. Them, trying to cope with their losses, and me, attempting to command a ship and crew. I wondered how long it would take me to get the hang of it.

The next morning, as I sipped coffee at my desk, I spoke with Admiral Nechayev.
"Admiral, with all due respect, when you said they were emotionally weak, I didn't expect them to completely lose the ability to function. I wouldn't expect the junior officers to be as confident as the senior officers, but when half my senior staff has serious emotional problems, I start to wonder if this mission was a good idea."
As expected, she gave me a look that would have made me turn to ice if I were water.
"Captain DaGama, you knew perfectly how these people could act, and to what extent. They're your crew now, so you have to deal with them. If you want to send a few of them home, fine. But you'd better have a good reason, because 'they feel too rotten' doesn't fly very well around here."
I nodded a few times.
"If you'll excuse me, Captain, I have some important matters to attend to, so quit whining, and do your job. Nechayev out."
The screen went blank. I took a sip of my coffee, and wondered if she was implying that my matters were unimportant.
A few minutes later, the door announcer chimed.
"Come on in," I said, and I took a sip of coffee.
It was Commander Marelli. She seemed to be feeling better than yesterday.
"Here's the engineering report you asked for yesterday," she said in a content manner. "I'm sorry if it's late, Captain, but I wasn't feeling-"
"I understand," I told her, and I took the PADD she was holding. "How is our chief engineer?" I asked, making an obvious attempt to change the subject. I didn't want to start talking about her problems. For her sake, not mine.
"He's having a good time learning the ship from inside out, sir."
I nodded, and went over the contents of the PADD quickly.
I had gotten caught up in the report and had forgotten that my first officer was still standing in front of me. "Oh, you're dismissed, Commander. Thank you."
Still, she remained there. "Um, Captain, I'd like to thank you for yesterday."
I started at her as I awaited her 'thank you'.
"Sir?" she asked, genuinely confused. I expected her to realize what I was doing, since she witnessed me do the same two days before, to Ensign Veillant.
"Hmm?" I raised an eyebrow.
"Did you hear what I said?"
"Of course. You said you wanted to thank me for yesterday. I was waiting for you to do so."
"Oh," she said. "Oh, that's right, you like to do that, Captain," she remembered how I like to have fun with people's minds. "Thank you Captain."
"You're welcome," I replied with a smile.
"You helped me put things into perspective."
"So I did."
"After what you said, I only now realize that I'm going to lose people all of my life. The fact that everyone dies was something I couldn't accept before."
I wanted to return to my work, but I had the feeling that Lara was going to pour her heart out.
"But now I think I can move on," she continued.
"Of course you can," I said with a touch of annoyance.
"And it's all thanks to you."
"Please, don't thank just me. I'm sure others helped you see the light." There had to be. I was really hoping at that moment someone else had helped her.
"Don't be so modest, Captain. You've inspired me with your kindness. Your flattering comments are appreciated as well."
She did have a point there. I was considered being 'nice guy'. Still, she was beginning to get on my nerves with her never-ending acknowledgments.
"Commander, I get your point. If you ever need anything, a shoulder to cry on, a friend to share a laugh with, or anything else, feel free to come and talk to me. But right now, I've got to work."
"Oh, of course, sir. Excuse me." And she left my office.
I took another sip of my coffee. Maybe I was starting to get the hand of it...

I went over a half-dozen reports during the next few hours. At one point, I felt a sharp, throbbing pain in the back of my head. I tried to ignore it, but the pain caused me to interrupt my work.
I decided to go to sickbay, where Doctor Nevenis was on-duty.
She took about a half-second scan of my head with her tricorder before she closed the instrument. "Stress," she said.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Your headache is caused by stress, Captain."
"I'm not surprised," I told the doctor.
"This is new to me. Being a Starship Captain, I mean. And besides, with the things some of my officers told me, I'm not surprised that their behavior is rubbing off a little on me."
She gave me a concerned look. At least, I thought it was a concerned look. With her Vulcan eyebrows, it was sometimes difficult to tell.
"What kinds of things have they told you, Captain?"
"It's all related to the war...lost love ones, fear of capture and torture. The usual psychological effects a war creates."
"And their witnessings are causing you stress?"
"It's not what they's the responsibility I have. It's my job to make sure they stay in line."
"This...responsibility, do you think you can handle it?"
The conversation was beginning to sound like an interrogation. It was as if the doctor thought I couldn't run the ship.
"I understand that what they're going through is difficult. I believe that I can help them see past their losses, and help them focus on their work."
"Can you honestly say that you understand their pain? Have you ever lost a person close to you? Lost not by illness, but by someone who blindly takes their life away?"
I knew what she wanted to hear me say. Unfortunately, what she wanted to hear was the only answer I had to give: "No. I don't really understand what they're feeling. Everyone aboard has a story to tell, whether it's about a dead family member, a destroyed ship, or an encounter gone awry. I've never lost anyone like the way you described, but I never said I did. I never told anyone I knew how they felt." The doctor didn't seem to change her attitude after I said that. "So, doctor," I continued as I got off the biobed I was sitting on, and spoke to her face-to-face, "what is it you're accusing me of?"
"I'm not accusing you of anything Captain," replied the doctor, "but you should be prepared to suffer a little with this crew."
"Are you saying you won't give me a hypo for the pain?"
"Sadly, I took an oath to do no harm." She said that as if she regretted it. She took a hypo spray, and used it on my neck. "Take this every time you have a headache. If you get them often, may I suggest you go see Mr. Bilnik for counseling." She gave me the device, and she went into her office.
I left quickly enough. As I walked through the corridors, I pondered what she told me. Deep down, I knew I was doing what was expected of me. But was there something else I could do for my crew?

I went to the mess hall to eat my midday meal. I found Lieutenant Tyler, sitting alone at a table, staring out at the stars.
I asked if I could join him, and he said he was happy for my asking.
"I hope I'm not making you uncomfortable by eating in front of you," I told him. The Lieutenant had no need to 'eat', since his body was fully artificial. He did, however, need a certain amount of nutrients to 'feed' his brain, which was the only real organ in his body. These nutrients were synthesized by his artificial heart, which produced the entirety of his bodily needs. I was told he 'ran' on fuel, just like a Starship, but no one really knew what kind of fuel it was.
"You don't need to feel uncomfortable around me, Captain," he replied to my previous comment. "Even though I may miss the consumption of daily meals, I've become accustomed to my new body's requirements. I don't crave food any more than you want machine oil, sir, so please, enjoy your meal."
I nodded, and took a bite.
"May I ask you how the transition between your old body and this new one went?"
"But of course, Captain." He paused for a moment, and then began. "At first, when I was 'activated', I had no control over my mechanical body. I could not use my eyes, ears, and I couldn't speak. I was, in a sense, only a thinking individual. I had no contact with the outside world. So I thought I was alone. A consciousness, isolated. But, there was a certain peacefulness to it."
I was amazed at how he spoke with an almost poetic feel. He didn't seem to mind telling me his tale.
"The human brain is quite amazing on its own, Captain. I would think about songs in my mind, and the melodies would play like when I first heard them. I could see images as clear as the day I saw them. I could smell, taste, feel, see and hear, and they were as real as the actual thing."
I stopped eating, as I was totally absorbed in what he was saying.
"Then, I started to gain control of my body. At first, I could use my limbs, and slowly, I gained control of the rest of my 'senses'. They're all very real to me, but still, they're still lacking something. Maybe it's because I know they aren't real, just impulses to make me believe that I'm feeling."
I was not the only one captivated by his words, as several people from the surrounding tables listened in on the Lieutenant's monologue.
"Sometimes, when I need to remember what real senses were like, I shut down everything except my heart. I can't hear, see, touch, taste, or smell. I just think. And it all comes back to me: my mind is flooded with images and sounds. The experience is greater than any holodeck, because what I sense is real. They're my memories, created by my real emotions when I experienced them."
A crowd was starting to gather around us. Tyler didn't seem to notice, and so he kept talking.
"If there was ever any doubt that I was in a dream, or that I didn't exist whenever I was in a thoughts-only state, I would remind myself of the words of the great Earth philosopher, Descartes: 'I think, therefore I am.'"
He stopped. And everyone began to applaud. It was a roaring ovation. It surprised Tyler, who got up to look at his entourage.
"Spoken like a true poet," one officer shouted.
"A beautiful story, Lieutenant," another told him.
"You're an inspiration to us all," said a third.
This is exactly what this ship needs, I thought. Someone who could find himself among all this confusion. Someone who everyone can look up to.
When the room quieted down, and Tyler's audience took their seats, he sat back down, and leaned towards me. "What did I say, Captain?"
"It's not what you said, but how you said it, Lieutenant. These people needed to hear someone speak positively about their life, not hear another story about a doomed battle. In a sense, you gave them hope."
For the first time since I stepped aboard Valhalla, I understood how to handle the frailty of my crew: with hope and encouragement, not just telling them to focus on their work or forget the losses they may be enduring. I could truly help them get back on the right track.

That evening, I rested in my quarters. I was listening to some modern musical artists when the door announcer chimed. I walked over to the door, and pressed the control to open it.
To my surprise, it was Ensign Veillant, Valhalla's flight controller. She was part of my senior staff, even thought she was an Ensign. I remember reading her service record, but I had done so very quickly. From what I could remember, her first name was Valerie, middle name was nonexistent, she grew up in France, and she was a member of the Championship-winning Starfleet Academy Parries' Squares Team.
She was a very shy young woman. She had a young face, very typical of Central Europe. She had blond hair, cut short, and blue eyes. I was at least a head taller than her, which is a pretty irrelevant detail unless we were to trade each other's uniform.
"What can I do for you, Ensign?" I asked, which was something I felt I had said often during the past three days. I waived her to come in, and she hesitantly stepped inside.
"I need advice, sir," she told me.
"What kind of advice?"
"It has to do with a man I'm in a relationship with."
"Oh, that kind of advice." I wasn't an expert on my own relationships, so I certainly wasn't a specialist on other people's relationships. Still, I would try to help my crewmember in any way I could. I invited her to sit down, and she did so.
"Before the war began, I was planning on marrying my high school sweetheart. But, after learning about how I almost died, he made me choose between my career in Starfleet or being with him. You see, he's not Starfleet, Captain. He's a civilian."
"I think I understand. It's bad enough that you're in Starfleet, but he doesn't want you to risk your life."
"Exactly," she confirmed. "We were together on the Discovery, until the war began."
The rest of the story I could imagine: The Discovery was lost, with Ensign Veillant as one of the few survivors. Realizing that she almost died, and then being unable to join her on Valhalla, her boyfriend gave her an ultimatum.
"I was in a similar situation once," I told the Ensign.
"I thought you never fought in a war, Captain."
"I didn't. I meant that I, too, had to choose between my career and my love."
The young Ensign seemed surprised. It was as if, in her eyes, I had been incapable of having to make life-changing decisions. I expected it from many of my officers. Most of them probably thought that my life had been an easy one, just because I wasn't Starfleet.
"About three years ago, I had a fiancée. Things were going great, except for the fact that I was around less and less, because of my cargo runs. I was getting a great reputation in the business, and many people counted on me."
I took a deep breath, and paused for a moment.
"Then what?" asked Veillant impatiently.
"Then," I said almost aggressively, "she forced me to choose. Her or my career. Guess which one I chose."
"So you're saying I should choose my career, Captain?"
I shook my head. "I'm not saying that. Sure, I'm happy with what I've accomplished, but sometimes I wonder if I should have chosen her instead. I could have had a family, a nice home, and done some other job. I always thought she'd come back to me."
She seemed a little embarrassed. "I'm sorry, Captain, I should not have brought this upon you."
I waived her words. "It's quite all right, Ensign." I got up, and paced, as I thought further about the subject. "You'll find that life is full of decisions like the ones we both went through. There's no right or wrong choice, just one to make."
"That's the problem, sir, I can't decide."
"You chose to make Starfleet part of your life. In doing so, you gave yourself responsibilities that you couldn't back away from. Your boyfriend knows this. If he can't accept that, then he doesn't accept you."
"I suppose I should keep my career, then," said Veillant.
"But look what your career got you: nearly an early grave."
"This is going to be harder than I thought," she said, looking very confused.
I crouched in front of her. "It's like I said: there's no right or wrong choice, just one helluva tough decision. Take your time. And choose wisely."
She nodded approvingly. "I will, Captain. Thank you." She got up, and I stood upright. She walked through the doorway, and stopped there. "If you could turn back time, Captain, would you choose the other option?"
I considered that for a moment. The truth was I would have needed a really good reason to choose my fiancée instead. I had a duty towards her: to make sure she was happy. She couldn't have been happy with me running from one star to the next. By choosing my career, I helped her find someone who could be there for her. I had no idea if she found that someone or not. Did I abandon her? I didn't think so. Did I fail in my duty? I didn't know. I did know, however, that I made the right decision.
After careful thought, I simply answered: "No."

Captain's Log: Stardate 52022.7. Valhalla is a few days away from Aaltos II. If I was concerned yesterday about my crew's ability to function, today, I'm as confident as anyone could be. They're a strong willed group, and I'm sure they'll eventually turn out all right.

All was quiet on the bridge early that morning when Thorn, at his tactical station, informed my of an attempt to steal a shuttle from the ship's shuttle bay.
"Someone is attempting to open the cargo bay doors, Captain."
"Can you override it?"
"The doors have been opened," replied Thorn. "I will try to close them."
There was a pause, as Thorn attempted to stop the bay doors from staying open long enough for the shuttlecraft to escape.
I was surprised at the thought of such an occurrence actually happening. From the way some of my crew had reacted in the few days since I'd been aboard, I expected many different events to take place, but the theft of a craft to leave the ship never crossed my mind.
"I'm unable to close them at this time, Captain. The shuttle has left the bay."
"Can you tractor it?" I asked, even thought I knew that wouldn't be a problem.
"Of course, Captain."
Thorn pressed a few buttons on his console, and seconds later, he said: "I've locked onto the shuttle. It's being tractored in as we speak, Captain."
"Very good," I said. "I believe I'll go down there to see who our little thief is."
As I got up to leave, Thorn told me that I was being hailed by the shuttle's occupant.
"On screen," I told my chief of security.
The blank viewscreen then flickered into the image of the shuttle's interior, with Counselor Bilnik in the middle of the picture.
"Counselor?" I said, making no attempt whatsoever to hide my surprise.
"Let me go, Capitaine! I have to go back!" shouted Bilnik.
"Go back? Go back where?"
"Onto the front! I have to avenge them!"
"Avenge...? Avenge your shipmates?"
He nodded. "Yes, Capitaine. They deserve that at least."
"I can't let you do that," I said in a reasoning tone. "I can't let you run off and get killed."
"Oh, I won't die, Capitaine. The Jem'Hadar are the ones who are going to die! Now let me go!" said a furious Bilnik.
"I won't let you go. I won't let you go on some vendetta with just a shuttlecraft. A whole fleet, maybe, but what you're trying is suicide."
Bilnik frowned.
"I sympathize with what you're going through, Bilnik, but what you plan to do won't bring your shipmates back."
He shook his head. "You don't understand, Capitaine," he said menacingly. "We all know your story. You've never fought in a war. You don't know what it's like to lose your friends in a blink of an eye, so don't tell me you sympathize!"
"Don't 'Bilnik' me, Capitaine!" he shouted. "Let me go or I'll knock out the tractor beam myself!"
"Bilnik, we can help you," I told him.
He laughed out loud, "You can help me?" he said mockingly, and then added, "you're forgetting, Capitaine, that I'm the ship's counselor."
Then, he pressed a few buttons on his console.
"He's armed phasers," Thorn said from the tactical station.
"We can still stop you, even without the tractor beam," I told him.
He pressed a few more buttons.
"...and raised shields," Thorn added.
"It doesn't take a ship's counselor's degree to help someone," I said, hoping that he'd listen. "You're right, I don't know what war is like. I don't know what it's like to lose my friends, or to be the sole survivor of a massacre, but I can help you. I can listen."
"El-Aurians listen, Capitaine," noted Bilnik, who was in fact a member of that race. "Who have you helped, Capitaine, since you've been aboard? Certainly not Thorn, Doctor Nevenis, or myself. Sure, you've tried to help, but in vain. You've been pretending to be a counselor, when you've been nothing but trouble."
Then, from behind, I heard the voice of Commander Marelli: "He's been acting as this ship's Captain. He's been doing his job, and trying to help you do yours."
I hadn't heard her come onto the bridge, as the situation with Bilnik took all of my attention. Almost like a savior, she had come. What she said next would either make him fire on us or make him stand down.
"To answer your question, counselor," continued Lara, "he's helped me. He helped me see that everyone is mortal, most especially our loved ones. The Captain has done nothing wrong."
She took a deep breath, and looked around the bridge. "I have no idea how many people he tried to help since he took command, so maybe I'm just a lonely fool who's a sucker for good words of advice. I do know that what you're planning is a waste of time, a kamikaze mission that will accomplish nothing."
Bilnik just stared at us, and said nothing. The bridge was silent, until Lieutenant Tyler, at ops, spoke. "He helped me too, counselor. He showed me that by spreading hope, I could aid others in their healing process."
Then, it was Ensign Veillant's turn to share her thoughts. "The Captain was kind enough to help me see the importance of making the right choices in life."
"But surely he can't solve all of your problems!" cried Bilnik. "Thorn, did he not make you recall some unpleasant memories?"
"Yes. He did not help me like he did the others, but as the Commander said; he's been doing his job. He is not your enemy. The Jem'Hadar are."
"Thank you, Thorn," I said, "very well put." I returned my gaze towards the viewscreen. "You're so bent on revenge that you'd actually attack us? People who know who know what you're going through?"
He kept staring, silent, with his aggressive expression slowly turning to one of despair.
Finally, he said, "You all make valid points." He took a deep breath, and regained his calm. "My friends, I am sorry I doubted you." He pressed a few switches, and said, "I'm lowing my shields, and disarming phasers. Capitaine, you may tractor me in."
"You made the right choice," I told him in entire sincerity.
The viewscreen went blank, and then everyone on the bridge applauded. It took me a moment to realize that they were applauding me.
"Please, please, settle down everyone," I told me crew. "I couldn't have done this without you."
"True enough," said Lara, who came down to the command center to congratulate me, "but it was the least we could do."
I took the time to look at everyone on the bridge. Lara. Thorn. Lt. Tyler. Ensign Veillant. And the others. Those I hadn't yet helped in some way. Finally, after all that had occurred, I had gained my crew's trust and respect. Finally, they could see me as one of them.
For the first time since joining Valhalla's crew, I felt like I belonged there.


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