Title: Picture

IDP 2009

Two weeks later.

It had been a lot of work, but finally, the Raptor was starting to look like her old self again. The hole had finally been patched all that remained of it was an off-colored patch in the hull where the damage had been.

Inside, the interior work was well underway. The missing sections of corridor had been repaired and even though the main lighting was not back up yet it was starting to look more like a starship again.

Fara, for the most part, missed a lot of the reconstruction effort

She spent a lot of time in counselor Moddoro's company and when the sessions were over, she went to spend the rest of her time with Nikolai, their relationship steadily grew past what it originally had been much to each others surprise. During her leave they were often seen together on the promenade level of the station. They were practically inseparable.

The nightmares got better, much to the help of the right medication that after Fara took it she was out like a light. Her sessions did help her gradually manage her guilt and she was gradually getting over it. It wouldn't ever go completely away but she could put it behind her now.

Counselor Moddoro recommended that she was confident that by the middle of that week Fara could return to active duty.

When the repairs were finally completed Fara's crew invited her to the ship and needless to say she was speechless upon seeing the work her people had done in her absence. They even threw a little party for her and themselves to celebrate the completion of the repairs.

There was a toast and a moment of silence for their lost friends, and then Fara thanked them all for their hard work and promised to not be such a hard ass at least most of the time as reward for their hard work. This got a good laugh which lightened the mood once again and the party was on once more.

Harry stood on a hillside overlooking the steadily growing city pre fab building and tent city of Rennopolis the capital of Renna 5. The freighters were being quickly empty and for the most part the shipment had arrived at its destination. He was mulling over a decision he had coming up. This mission was over could be considered an success, now what to do.

"Hey.." Jayna De'Sol said stepping up to him after getting the shuttle prepped. "you ready to go?"

"Yeah. It really is something, to see."

"Gives you a sense of accomplishment doesn't it?" De'Sol added.

Harry grunted and nodded. "Yeah that it does."
"So are you going to stay with us Harry? Or are you going back."

He turned and looked at her. "I have to go back.." He finally sighed. "I may not like it but it is my place…"

Jenna cocked her head to the side and regarded him quietly. "And?"

"And… I don't want to play second string any longer then I have too." Harry said starting to laugh.
"Am I that terrible?" She said with feigned hurt.

"No, it's not that." Harry smiled. "I've enjoyed this, all the time we've spent together and the whole experience has been good for me. It's just, I'm the Captain on my ship and I like it."

Jayna smiled. "I was hoping you'd say that. You know Captain Stiles was very worried about you. It looks like he had no need to be after all. I will say though, you are a hell of a first officer, my ships never ran this smoothly before."

"You're welcome, I just hope my replacement can live up to my spoiling you."

"Oh I've already got someone in mind." She said offhandedly. "If I can get him off that station of yours. I had a back up plan in case you decided not to stay on."

"I'm not surprised in the least." Harry said.

"Ready to get out of here." Jayna motioned toward the shuttle.

"Yeah." He said taking one last look at the booming little colony. "Let's get me home."

The station was unusually busy as Nikolai and Fara walked through the various venders through the crowded bottom level of the promenade. A monthly trading bazaar was on and the station was always busy during this time.

"So, when are you going back?" Fara asked as she looked at a selection of strane prisms that changed colors as she touched them.

"In the next day or two." Nikolai sighed. "Whenever the Aether decides to get back." He noticed her looking at one of the larger crystals. She ran her finger along it and it changed colors with her touch and then a whole storm of various colors caused it to glow briefly before it faded away. Fara seemed impressed and enchanted with it.

"How much?" Nikolai asked the Chyrosparsian.

The crystalline humanoid looked at it with it's glowing eyes and said "500 credits."

"Nik you don't have to." Fara said.

"It's yours, I don't get much chance to spend these stupid things." He said handing his Credit chip to the alien. "I swear if I really needed them I could retire now."

"Thanks.." Fara said blushing slightly. "It's very thoughtful."

"Something to remember me by" Nikolai said smiling.

"Believe me.." Fara said as the vendor handed her the crystal nicely wrapped up. "I have enough to remember you by."

"I've seen where you live it could use something nice."

"Believe me forgetting you will be very, very hard to do." She smiled.

"I hope I won't have to worry about you while I'm away." Nikolai she hooked her free arm around his and they continued on looking at the other booths as they passed them.

"I'm… ok." Fara said. "I won't be doing anything stupid again on the holo-deck I can promise that."

Nikolai nodded thoughtfully. "That is nice to know."

"You don't want to go back, do you…" Fara said after a pause.

"No I'm dont, but…" He sighed. "My sister's either messed up all my work by now, or she's been a dazzling success and they may not want me back." Nikolai chuckled.

"It's not like you can't call me." Fara said. "Or won't be past here again."

'That is true."

"Plus I'm going to be pretty busy once they let me go back to work." Fara sighed.

"Yeah you seem about as thrilled." Nikolai chuckled. "Ah well at least we'll have something to do when we do have time off now."

"Yeah." Fara smiled. "You're going to have to be in charge of that I'll forget. My CO can be a slave driver sometimes."

"I won't." The Altarian said smiling a toothy grin. "I would like to take you to Altair sometime and go power sailing. I may have another break coming up in a few months if you would care to join me?"

"I think I can manage that." Fara smiled leaning her head against his arm as they continued through the bazaar.

Harry looked at their course heading and noticed they were not exactly heading straight for Starbase 186.

"Captain, where are we heading?" He asked. "I don't recall this course being discussed when we left orbit." He noticed that once again their were taking the less direct course home.

"It's a surprise." Jayna said flatly. "Just relax number one."

"Ok." Harry said shrugging. "I was just wondering."

"Tsk tsk, in that much of hurry to get home?"

"No not at all." Harry said leaning back in his seat.

He did wonder what she was talking about, he wasn't comfortable with them taking that short cut again so dangerously close to Urthean space. Xox was crazy enough that even with a crippled ship he would still come after the Aether.

They continued on for another good hour at high warp and then suddenly slowed dropped out of normal space. Harry checked their position readings, and found that for all intents and purposes they were off the map. It wasn't unusual for their to be sectors of space that had pretty much been left ignored due to their proximity of the Urthean Empire.

"Before you ask." Jayna said seeing him eye his console thoughtfully. "We spotted an uncharted binary system, the first time we past threw it. I asked astrometrics to keep it quiet from you they picked it upon long range sensors. We have to at least stop and take a look." She shrugged. "And it's my ship and if I want to make a little stop I will don't reprimand me Number one." She said stubbornly.

"Fine." Harry sighed rolling his eyes. "Just let's not get too relaxed."

"Not planning on it, Jayna said. "Con take us in make sure we get good sensor readings to take back. Lt. Serin, keep your guns ready for anything."

"No problem sir." Serin replied.

"There see. We won't be flat footed." Jayna said getting out of her chair. "I think you've been shooting at Urtheans so long you've forgotten we are explorers too."

It took about five hours but the ship did a fairly quick survey of the system. Unfortunately whatever the system had once offered had already been plundered by the Urtheans. The planets were stripped bare, lifeless and cold. It was fairly disappointing except for the two primary stars. The larger of the two was huge and red and the smaller one was much smaller in comparison of masses and glowed a faint blue.

"Strange." Jayna said standing in front of the large view screen. "It's so unusual to see two stars like that in a system. Their ages aren't really kosher are they?"

Harry nodded in agreement. "It's a shame it won't last too much longer." Harry said. "That big one looks like it's getting ready to pop. The blue star probably got sucked into its gravity billions and billions of years ago."

"We'll make sure we get some good readings of that giant." Jayna said. "If that thing is going to pop in our lifetime I want to know about it, hell we might have to relocate the whole border." Jayna said. "I've seen what a supernova can do, it isn't pretty, it can even screw up subspace. You think warping through a gravimetric distortion is tough try getting around a damn supernova remnant."

Harry had been involved in a survey mission a while back where the Raptor had nearly been caught it one an experience he didn't wish to go through again. He got out of his seat and walked over to the science station to look at the readings. .

Suddenly an alarm went off.

"What's that?" Jayna asked.

Harry accessed the scanners since he was standing beside them. "Hmm.. a faint warp signature. It doesn't match anything we have on record."

"How close?" Jayna asked cocking her head curiously.

"Within hailing range." Harry said.

Jayna looked at Serin and the hail sound went off.

"Attention alien vessel, this is Captain Jayna De'Sol of the USS Aether. We are here charting this unknown system, we mean you no harm."

Jayna waited a few moments.

"They're answering." Lt. Serin said.

"Let's hear it."

"This is the Divni vessel Spiol. We are not interested in talking to you, please go away."

"Friendly." Jayna said after signaling to mute. "Lets try again."

"We are not affiliated with the Urthean Empire if that is why you are reluctant to speak with us."

There was laughter over the com channel. "Urthean trash do not intimidate us. You are amusing Jayna of Aether. Our old home system you are in, they attack us once long long ago. They paid for it in full, you trespass in our territory."

"I assure you we mean know harm." Jayna said as nicely as she could muster.

"That remains to be seen, please leave. If we want to talk to you we will find you."

"Sir." Lt. Serin said interrupting. "I've got two large, something's approaching on an intercept course from outside of this system bearing 024, mark 85. Plus they've cut off the channel."

"Ah well can't win them all, helm get us out of here." Jayna sighed. "Best possible speed. Regardless though that's still one for the history books."

Harry nodded. "Yeah contact with a new race that doesn't end disastrously is always a plus, even if they tell you to bugger off."

Jayna giggled and nodded in agreement. "And you were apart of it." She made a note in her log. "Well contact the Keldryians and see if they know anything about them."

"Hey it never hurts to have another ally, they don't seem to have too much love for the Urtheans." Harry shrugged. "You never know."

The ship jumped to warp and the stars began to streak by as the Aether headed to Starbase 186.

As they continued through the bazaar Fara and Nikolai ran into Terri who unsurprisingly was with the navigator Jack Land. Terri drug him over to them.

"Hey guys isn't this great?" Terri said cheerily.

"Yeah it's nice." Fara replied. "Hey flyboy you being on your best behavior?"

Jack rolled his eyes. "Of course I am, Terri on the other hand…" Made a few gestures of someone taking a few rather long drinks. To which Terri promptly slugged him in the ribs.

"I haven't had that many.." She said. "So where are you two going we're going to check out this fortune teller, that supposedly can see into your soul or into the future or whatever, it sounds fun would you too like to join us?"
"I don't believe in such things." Nikolai said.

"It might be fun." Fara said. "Come on."

Nikolai rolled his eyes. "If you insist. It would be a waste of credits, time, patients."

"Actually, rumor tells it." Terri said. "They don't even charge."

"Sure it doesn't matter, if Fara wants to do it I'll go."

"Thanks big guy." Fara said approvingly.

The setup was a little further down the promenade where a brown skinned humanoid with fluorescent eyes and fin like ears. He had a colorful tent set up with some sort of ramshackle sign advertising a variety of portents to draw customers. Fara, Nikolai, Jack and Terri approached the tent they heard him trying to call out to passers by in a variety of languages. He stopped when he finally spotted them approaching.

"Ah, how can I help you ladies and gentlemen.." He said graciously.

"We heard you can tell the future." Terri said.

"Ah not me per say but I am possession of a creature that can, it is in the tent where it cannot be disturbed by all the activity out here."
"A creature…." Nikolai said warily.

"Yes a rare species of tree dwelling flying lizards that posses sentience and can only be found on a planet deep in the quadrant beyond any known border. They can speak telepathically to those who know how to listen."

"Uh … huh." Nikolai mumbled his tail giving an irritated twitch. "I take it you haven't had too many visits."

"As of yet no." The alien shrugged.

"Well consider us your first!" Terri chimed up. "Where do we go? Inside?"

"Yes.." The alien said stepping back pulling the flap of the tent. "Please step inside."

Terri drug Jack in after her and Fara led the way. Nikolai flashed a glaring tooth filled smiled that said. "Don't try anything fishy or else." Before he stuck his head through the flap of the tent.

Inside there were several torches set up illuminating a low light. Up on a tree stand was some sort of creature reptile in origin with its wings drawn up around it. It's scales were some purple tone with it's underbelly being a bright green.

"Please, Please have a seat." The alien said pointing to the big pillows seated in circle around the creature. As they did he closed the flap of the tent efficiently dampening the roar of the crowds outside.

After that he dimmed the lights. "Now everyone be still he is very shy, no sudden movements."

Nikolai made a disapproving hiss and Far squeezed his taloned hand. "Just relax." She said quietly.

"It looks more like snack then soothsayer." Nikolai chuckled.

"Shush." Terri said putting her fingers to her lips.

Slowly the creature on its perch opened it's wings and it had strange glowing green eyes as well as it peered at the four twitching its tail.

"Neat it looks like a dragon!" Terri said excitedly.

"Which of you would like your fortunes told first." The alien said. "the seer is ready."

"Do ours!" Terri spoke up.

"Together or individually, there is a difference." The alien spoke up.

"Oh what the hell together." Jack said.

The creature hopped of its stand and walked over to them and motioned for it to give them their hands.

They both did and it took it's little fore claws and touched their upturned paws. Some time passed and something obviously transpired as they watched Terri and Land's expressions. After a second it released them and they exchanged looks with each other.

"Well?" Fara asked.

"That was amazing.." Terri said a bit dumbfounded.

"Yeah…that barely covers it." Jack said rubbing his eyes and blinking like he'd just woke up.

"What was?"

"Well, it said it's our future, so don't share it." Terri said blushing slightly. "It talks in your head, it shows you things."

Jack nodded in agreement. "That was definitely a trip."

"Well what did it show you?" Fara asked a little annoyed.

"It said not to tell so it's our secret." Jack said shrugging. "Sorry."

"Kill joys." Fara said.

The creature then ambled over to them.

"Well do ours separately since they won't play." Fara said to it. The small dragon like creature nodded in understanding. "Do him first!" she pointed at Nikolai.

"Fara…"

"Come on give him that big claw of yours." Fara said. "And try to listen like they said."

"I'll try." Nikolai sighed and did so. The tiny creature grabbed his finger and suddenly Nikolai seemed to be under the same trance for a bit and then he snapped out of it.

"Well?"

Nikolai shook his head and looked down at the small creature. "It told me we would always be happy together and said I had a promotion coming. That was it. Kind of a rip off if you ask me."

"Well like what did you see?"

"It was like watching a slide show of sorts but like memories or dreams, very weird." Nikolai replied. "Very fascinating, now it is your turn."

"Sure." Fara said offering her paw to the creature. It leaned over and touched her hand. It suddenly had a strange look on its small reptilian face. It's head cocked to the side in curiosity.

"What's wrong?" Fara asked.

The creature looked up at the alien and chattered and then quickly backed away chattering nervously. It then hissed and climbed quickly back up on it's perch chattering away.

It's keeper looked concerned and stopped. "I don't know how to say this…"

"What."

"He says you have no future, your time has already passed."

"The hell does that mean?"
The alien gulped somewhat nervously. "I apologize in advance but I don't think you want to hear what he's really saying."

The little dragon creature made more irritated noises and screeching.

"What is it really saying?" Fara growled hopping up irritated at the noise and hisses it was making at him.

Nikolai stood up with her .

"He says…" The alien swallowed nervously. "He says you are already dead."

"Bullshit." Fara said. "I'm obviously not."

"Easy, Fara." Terri said standing up beside her and placing a paw on her arm..

"I hate to tell you this but the seer is not one to fabricate what it tells me." The alien said apologetically

"Whatever.." Fara growled. "We're done." She said storming out of the tent. "Of all the crazy shit I've been told in my life that is the craziest I've ever heard." She heard Terri excusing them and quickly leaving behind them with Jack.

"Yes," Nikolai said. "I can attest you are very much alive."

"Yeah I'm sure of that too."

"Maybe you scared the poor thing." Terri suggested. "You might have put off some vibe it didn't like." Terri said as her and Jack her caught up with them as Fara stormed away from the tent.

"Yeah, you tend to do that a lot." Jack said with a smart ass tone.
"Stuff a sock in it stick jockey." She growled thrusting a finger right into Lands face. "Just everybody shut up for a moment I need to calm down." She said taking in a few deep breaths working on the exercises she's learned from counseling. "God the nerve of that guy." She finally said calming down a bit.

"Are you done now?" Nikolai asked a bit concerned.

"Yeah I am, sorry. That just bothered me. I don't know why it just touched something off."

"Well don't let it ruin the whole day." Terri said. "Come on lets do something else."

"Yeah…" Fara sighed. "Terri's right, sorry you guys."

"PFft doesn't bother me I'm used to you being pissed at me." Jack shrugged.

"You can undo a months of work with one maneuver, I have plenty of reason to be pissed at you. Other then that I can tolerate your existence." Fara smirked. "Let's just go do something.. away from that guy."

"That's fine." Terri said. "We haven't checked out the exotic foods part yet and I am kinda hungry."

"Good idea." Fara agreed. "What about you handsome?" she said to Nikolai who's tail flicked in appreciation of the complement.

"I am game for anything after that little show." Nikolai said. "Maybe something with a little alcohol in it, to calm everyone's nerves."

"I hear that big guy." Jack said in agreement.

"Well then let's quit talking about it and do it." Terri insisted.

"Captain?" Harry said as he came into Jayna's ready room. "You called?"

"Yes." Jayna said waving a pad in the air and sliding it across to him on the desk. "This just came in off the wire when we got in range of one of the subspace arrays, have a look and take a seat. It's big news."

Harry glanced down at the data padd and did as told.

Jayna rotated her chair slightly side to side as he read it.

"Wow, this is unexpected…" Harry said slightly bewildered. "They're going to build more Predator Class ships…"

"Not exactly like yours but following the same design schematics," Jayna said matter-of-factly. "I don't think anyone could build another Raptor. Your little monster is pretty unique."

"Yeah but this is worrying me, a bit." Harry said. "These are warships what is the Confederation thinking if they're going to start producing more of them. I thought our primary purpose was exploration."

"Don't kid yourself Harry." Jayna said flatly. "You aren't the only one who is getting a little annoyed at our neighbors in this part of the territory. People are starting to talk and get pissed. People get mad, people act, weapons are built…"
"And wars are started.." Harry finished.

Jayna shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not. Face it eventually one side or the other is going to fire the first real shot and this game of silly buggers out here in the territories will escalate out of control and I guarantee it will be out here, somewhere."

"I'm well aware of that I just hate to see us head down that path." Harry said.

"I thought you might like to see it, for good or bad you guys are definitely important to the situation out here." She traced her finger along her desk. "I like this new ship but I tell you one thing, I really miss my old Ishaka, she was beat to hell and a mess when I got her, and I spent a lot of time getting her up to shape. Then they finally retired her, transferred the name with barely any ceremony. Being on a smaller ship you feel like you are more apart of it." The tender nostalgia crossed her expression and then she smiled. "I might request a Predator Class for myself when they start firing off the line."

"And trade off this space? You'd be out of your mind." Harry laughed. "My office on the Raptor could fit in your private head!"

"Yeah.." Jayna said. "They probably wouldn't let me take my couch would they?"

"You'd barely get that thing in your quarters!" Harry laughed. "Believe me you got a nice trade up I wouldn't blow this off."

"Let me tell you something Harry, I'm glad you are wanting to go back. If you didn't you would have regretted it." Jenna stood up and replicated two cups of coffee for them. "Sure you guys get some really shitty assignments but your changing things out here one way or another. Remember that, and let your crew know that too." She handed him a cup which he took gratefully. "Sometimes; they need their CO to let them know that."

Harry nodded in agreement. "That they do…" He said thinking of home slowly getting closer. "That they do.."

A bit later.

They had finally sat down somewhere and ate and Terri sat with Fara and talked as soon as Nikolai and Jack found something in common to discuss which happened to be the current upcoming interstellar rally season coming up soon. As the discussion got more and more just between them the booze flowed a bit freely.

"Isn't it nice that our boys are playing together and completely ignoring us." Terri giggled.

"They'll stop when they have enough to drink." Fara said. "So what was it that that lizard told you."

Terri pursed her lips in thought. "It said not to share it. But basically, it told us Jack and I have a good thing going, and that's all I'm going to say. Is what it told you bothering you?"

"Maybe a little." Fara said. "I still don't know what that was about.

"Well you seem very alive to me, besides it was all for fun anyway, you didn't have to get so upset." Terri said.

"Then why won't you tell me what it shared with you and Jack."

"Cuz it's our secret." Terri said. "Now quit asking me."

Fara just rolled her eyes. "So you going to make it a steady thing with that lunkhead?"

"I dunno, maybe later, I'm not ready to really settle at the moment." Terri said thoughtfully. "Not for a little while at least." She shrugged. "I like being unattached, and Jack's really fun to just hang out with." She took a sip of her drink. "And before you make a crack about him, I may point out that your guy isn't exactly mr. excitement, although he is very cute."

"I don't find him dull." Fara said. "I think you just make him uncomfortable."

"Moi, never." Terri smirked. "Well it's either that or the fact I don't know a star drive component from a toaster. I guess if you are into that I guess that would be fascinating."

"Ok ok I get your point, maybe numb stick over there isn't as bad as I think."

"Exactly." Terri said.

"Ok, ok." Fara sighed. "I'll cut back dogging on him so much but just a little bit if you think he's so great just because we're friends."

"I would appreciate that a lot." Terri said.

"Yeah, yeah you're welcome I guess." Fara sighed.

"What's wrong?" Terri asked.

"I don't know about you but I'm tired of sitting around all the time… I'm getting bored." Fara said. "It's been go, go, go for a few months now and now nothing."

"I agree, I'm having to keep my reading up in technical manuals I'm starting to forget things." Terri said. "I wonder where Harry went off too."

"Oh you didn't know?" Fara asked.

"No. The last I saw him was a month ago when I turned in all the duty rosters and his paperwork load for that week. I haven't heard from him since."

This got Land's attention and he broke from the conversation he and Nikolai was having. "Yeah where the hell did the skipper go?"

"He's been off on some sort of special assignment for the last month or so now." Fara said. "Didn't any of you bother to call him?"
"No not really." Jack shrugged. "I just figured he was busy with something."

"Wow you're his friend and you didn't even bother to talk to him.." Fara said drolly.

"Hey I was given leave I was going to use every last bit of it!" Jack replied. "I don't mix duty with fun."

"Well if you two must know he's been of on another ship helping them do our job. They gave him a promotion to boot."

"No shit.." Land said. "Well good for him."

"Wow there goes about a week worth of free time…" Terri sighed. "He hasn't been sending me any reports or anything I bet he's got a pile by now."

"That is if he's coming back." Fara said. "Last I talked to him he was being very subtle about wanting to stay."

"When was that?" Terri asked.

"Awhile ago."

"Ah I know of this." Nikolai finally spoke up. "He is on the Aether, my ship right now."

"What do you think he'll leave us?" Terri said with a sound of disappointment in her voice.

"Well, he never was to happy about being stuck out here." Land shrugged. "Even with the promise of his own ship."

"Wow… I just didn't see that coming that's all." Terri sulked. "He's a great guy and a good CO. I wonder why he wants to leave us?"

"He could be burnt out." Nikolai said. "No offence but the tragedy you all suffered with your ship could have affected him more then he would show it."

"No that's not like him… not like him at all." Terri mumbled.

"Well, don't be getting to down about it." Land said. "Harry always has been sort of an odd duck. All I know he was happy on our old ship. Since we've came here, not as much."

They all got quiet thinking about it, they all liked him as their CO and as a friend as well. Each member of their small thrown-together crew had grown a fondness for him, in their short time together. What would it be like if they got someone else? Harry just seemed like a perfect fit and if he was gone things wouldn't ever be the same.

Nikolai looked at their down expressions and then stood up.

"Where are you going?" Fara asked.

"I am going to get more drinks…" He shrugged.

"Good idea." Terri said smiling.

The next day.

The Aether arrived at Starbase 186 in a few days with no further incidents.

As they slid between the enormous bay doors Harry saw his ship sitting in its bay all shiny and repaired. The horrible hole in it barely a blemish on the hull that small little robotic units were painting. It even seemed to shine a bit.

Fara had been chatting with him off and on about the repair status of the ship but he wasn't expecting it to look as good as it did now. He found himself again impressed with the small saucer-like ship for the second time.

"Did you miss her Number one?" Jayna asked giggling a bit seeing Harry stare at the screen.

"Yeah," He said snapping out of it. "Maybe, just a little bit."

The ship docked and Harry already had his duffel and Jayna accompanied him down to the docking ring. Captain Stiles was their as well as Fara and an Altarian whom Harry hadn't seen before.

The doors parted and he stepped out.

"Welcome back Commander," Stiles said. "I heard you were planning on staying with us?"

"Yes that's true."

"Great." Stiles said warmly. "We're glad to have you back."

"Thank you sir." Harry said seeing Fara give the Altarian who was nearly a head larger then her a hug and a rather deep kiss. This… was a new development.

"So." Jayna said to the Altarian after clearing her throat. "You ready to come back to the fold Nikolai?"

"Yes, sir." Nikolai said.

"Good I might have a new slot open for you if you want to take it." She said smiling. "If you are interested that is."

"What would that be?"

"Well Commander Martinez here has whipped your sister into being quite the chief engineer. He's also leaving his position to return to his own ship, how would you like to move up to first officer Lt. Commander?"

Nikolai looked stunned. "I am… wow this is a surprise… I'm honored." He stammered.

"Think about it, we'll discuss it while we get under way in my ready room. I've known you along time and we've always been quite the team."

"Yes Sir, I will sir, thank you sir." Nikolai replied.

"Well just don't stand their, get back on board as soon as we get our weapons reloaded we're taking off again. Resume your duties for now."

Nikolai nodded an then looked back at Fara. "Farewell, for now, Fara."

"See you around Nikolai." Fara said warmly back to him. "You take care of yourself."

Nikolai nodded and then headed down the gangway into the Aether.

"If you don't mind, I need to be getting back to my ship. Captain Stiles." She said nodding politely. "Good luck Commander." She said to Harry extending her paw.

Harry shook it, even through her demeanor he could tell she was going to miss her and he felt the same way. Their farewell passed as a brief meeting of the eyes that expressed it all. With that said she headed back up the gangway to her ship and the doors closed behind her.

"Well, I take it it's been pretty quiet."

Stiles shrugged. "More or less, did you enjoy being on the Aether."

"For the most part, we did have to tangle with the Urtheans a few times but we smacked them around pretty good. Most of the shipment got to it's destination."

"Good to hear." Stiles said as a wall com unit lit up and a voice paged him.

He walked over to it and talked quietly.

"Is the Raptor in good order?" Harry asked Fara.

"Good as new."

"How are you holding up?"

"Pretty good actually." Fara said smiling rather uncharacteristically.

"Sorry Harry, we're going to have to catch up later." Captain Stiles said stepping back over to them. "Some buddy is playing silly buggers with the docking schedule and I've got two freighter captains about to start shooting so I've got go."

Harry nodded in understanding. "So." He said to Fara. "what's with the PDA and you of all people."

"I can have a life outside of that ship if I want one." Fara said a bit snippily. "We're just… friends."

"Uh huh." Harry smirked starting to head down the hull. "Did I miss anything exciting with the repairs?"

"Not really, I pretty much had my team gut the whole drive section's plasma conduit and removed it from the ships repair subroutines. We got one of the newer types of plasma conduit that uses about 64 micro shunts as opposed to 2 large ones. It's supposed to be a hell of a lot safer. The only reason we were using what we had was it was all we could get our hands on at the time. I tell you Starfleet's been a lot more interested in answering my repair requests since that damn accident."

"So it shouldn't happen again."

"Shouldn't" Fara said. She then shrugged. "But then again who knows, she's an experimental vessel and quite frankly we still haven't found every one of her bugs yet. Captain Stiles told me they're going to get me a few more Yard Dogs designated just for the Raptor and they're working on getting a better supply line out here for whatever we may need them for. However, they're still going to be playing musical rotations on us with backup. If it wasn't for all the recent expansion it wouldn't be that big of a problem."

"We'll do what we've always done?"

"Pulling it out of our ass?" Fara asked.

"Well, I was thinking improvising but yes that term will work too." Harry laughed.

Harry returned to his quarters and tossed his duffel onto a table.

He walked over to the shutter controls and opened the shutters that opened to reveal the downward view of his ship. He also turned the lights back on and the computer sensing the room was occupied, chirped and engaged the environmental controls bringing the room up to the temperatures Harry liked it kept at.

He glanced down at the window sill and realized in his hurry to leave he had left one of his good luck charms at home. It was a statue of the goddess Shakara, sort of a saint for the brave and the daring. He picked up the crudely cut little wooden statuette and turned it in his fingers. The small statue also contained a little data storage module on the bottom and could be picked up anywhere as a souvenir, yet this one was special to him.

Admiral Kramer had given it to him on a night that had changed his life forever.

He could still recall the cold winter rain beating down on him as he had a cigarette tenderly rubbing a black eye a cadet had given him earlier that evening.

Admiral Kramer stood over him and spoke of the future a future he could have if he made a choice. One was to stay where he was continuing to do nothing with only uncertainty to look forward too. The other was a career in Starfleet.

He remembered the older echidna pulling out the small statuette and setting it on a upturned trash can in front of him. "You are being offered two futures, this is a digital stamp, it includes a pre-approved application to the Academy. It also has the location and time for a shuttle to take you there. I will have one seat open for you Harry. It's up to you to make that choice."

His deep gravelly voice still ingrained on his memory.

The Admiral had given him the option, straight forward of what he could have. success or mediocrity, purpose or listlessness, life or death.

As he turned the figure of his hand remembering the intense classes, hours of work and praise the Admiral had given him calling him one of his best students. He wondered if maybe Jayna hadn't been another lost soul that the Admiral hadn't sought out. He pulled back his sleeve and looked at the puzzle piece curiously.

Always with the games, and puzzles.

He loved test to test people and push them beyond their limits.

Admiral Kramer was out to make the best officers in the fleet, not mediocre ones who could just get buy. If you failed his no win scenario, you had to go pursue a slower more arduous path to command. You would get there, but just not as quickly and maybe with not quite the education you got from Kramer. He felt a glow of pride as he rolled up

his sleeve. He could only hope that Kramer was still happy with how his career was going for him.

He felt an urge to be on his ship once more. He tapped his com badge. "Captain Stiles?" Harry paged.

"Yes Commander."

"May I request permission to take the Raptor out for a little shake down cruise. I think the crew might have gotten a little soft, it's time to run some drills and make sure we're back up to fighting shape again.

"That sounds fine by me." Stiles replied. "Permission granted."

"Very well." Harry said pocketing the little statuette. "I'll make my way down to her, make a station-wide announcement in a few minutes for all personnel to report for duty starting in the Raptor's mess hall."

"Not a problem Harry." Stiles replied.

To Harry's surprise, everyone arrived on time except for a few of the new faces. His command staff assembled at the front although Land looked slightly hungover and was trying way to hard to pretend he wasn't.

Harry stood up on the second level of risers leading up to the shuttered windows of the lounge. He had gotten a crew to help stow the rooms typical furnishings for this gathering.

He straightened his uniform and took a deep breath.

"Greetings to all of you. Old faces and new. I am Commander Harry Martinez. I have called you here tonight because this ship, due to repairs, has put most of you on leave for quite some time. I myself have been out still running the trade and cargo routes and I will tell you from personal experience, the Urtheans have only increased their activity in that time without our presence." He paused and let that sink in. "Regardless of some of the newer technologies out there, I have observed that with a few exceptions, this ship is the only one properly suited for the job that we do out here. I know many of you get wore down having to constantly sacrifice having to take this ship into hostile regions just to get a few supplies or people here and there. Yet in that time I have seen that our efforts have made a difference out there. Regardless of how many of you feel like Starfleet has just shucked you out to this region to get rid of you. I see it as this however, they are sending some of their best people out here to secure our borders and further Confederation interests in this sector. It may feel like sometimes we are being abandoned but until you see the big picture it's hard to understand just how thinly stretched we are out here." He paused to let that sink in. "Yet despite this we are making progress. We are the first type of destroyer class ship that they need to continue these efforts, it may be a few years, maybe a decade or two, but if we stick to this the Urthean's may not even be a problem anymore. We are all just pieces in a greater picture, a wonderful picture that we may not see now but in time we will."

This got some quiet murmurs exchanged among some of the more veteran members of his crew. The new guys looked lost but they were paying attention.

"With this in mind, I want us to start getting back into fighting shape again. Many of you are probably getting to a point of restlessness to get deployed for any reason to get off the station for a bit. Well you are going to have your chance. We are going to depart within the next half hour, and we are going to drill like we never have before. We're going to take this ship out and give her a good once over and see what she can do now that she's patched up. Duty rosters will be posted within the hour, I want that from my department heads. The rest of you, I want you sticking to those rosters, tardiness will result in disciplinary action."

That wasn't what anyone needed to hear but Jakar nodded approvingly.

"It won't always be like this but I expect the best out of each of you and I see those of you who have been here as the best team of people I've ever worked for so don't disappoint me. I expect to see the best from you now, and every day." He smiled trying to calm some of the worried looks on the face of each of the newcomers.

"So what are you all standing around here for." He said. "Snap to it. Dismissed."

Much to his surprise, within the hour the ship was disembarking.

Terri handed him his usual paperwork and a nice warm cup of coffee with the Raptor's mission patch on it.

"All moorings cleared Commander." Mr. Rivas reported.

"Bring us about, easily please. Mr. Land." Harry ordered with emphasis on easily.

"Aye, sir." Jack responded tapping in the controls and the ship slowly spun in it's dock to face the docking doors. Land looked to be a bit more chipper, he had a feeling Dr. Okan might have reluctantly helped him out of his somewhat sloshed condition.

"Thank you helm." Harry said taking a sip. "for not spilling coffee in my lap for once."

"Consider it a welcome back sir." Jack chuckled as the nose of the ship passed through the large bay doors into empty space.

"All systems are a go." Fara reported from engineering.

"Ok, first up." Harry said setting his cup down into the holder on his chair. "Lets make sure the Attack Mode works. Xox is still out ther gentlemen lets make sure if we need it we got it."

"Attack mode engaged." Jakar reported.

The ship's shape began to shift and alter as the Attack mode armor appeared over the ships more sensitive areas and the weapons platforms raised into view. Each porthole snapped shut and the engines began to glow as strange green color.

Harry watched the lights flicker and take on a greener hue and felt each of the subtle shifts through the flooring. He never did get tired of that, the only ship in the fleet that could do this little marvel and it was his.

"Fara?" He asked.

"All systems 5 by 5 sir." She said proudly.

"Good to hear. Helm plot us a round trip course to take us about 15 light-years out and we'll start doing our stretches. Best speed possible, engage."

"Aye aye!" Jack said plotting a course and then engaging the engines.

The Raptor's engines roared to life and the ship jumped to warp. He looked around his bridge and saw his crew busy at their tasks. Felt the familiar hum of the engines through the deck plate through his book and smiled beaming with pride.

This was his ship, and for once, he felt at home.

The End.

Epilogue:

Xox sat in his chair and watched as the Raptor sped away from the Starbase.

"Commandant." D'jonn said coming onto the bridge. "Our repairs are complete, we had to scrap several shuttles to pull it off but we're fully operational again."

"Good, very good." Xox said. "The rodent is back where he belongs it seems."

"Sir, I hate to interrupt any revenge you may be planning, but I said we are repaired, forgive my bluntness but we are not up to fighting par yet."

"Understood." Xox said glumly. "That other rodent, where were they heading."

"Unknown, but I doubt that is the last we will see of her sir."

"She had quite a lot of fight for a woman of their kind, I almost thought she was an Urthean."

"I doubt that sir." D'jonn replied. "But that one is not one we should toy with lightly."

"Agreed. We shall study her more in depth." Xox said. "yet that can wait."

"So what do we do now?" D'jonn said.

"We return home to Skyhook." Xox said slowly. "We get our ship repaired and we return and I have a new way to toy with this vermin. Oh yess, he won't be able to slip out of it this time."

"If you say so sir." D'jonn said levelly although not totally in agreement. "then so it shall be."

"Yess." Xox said to himself interlacing his fingers the leather of its gloves making a sound.

This obsession was really starting to bother him. Xox would not simply let this little blood feud with the Termian Commander go. D'jonn fixed his stare forward and wondered just how much longer this little game would go until Xox lead his ship and crew to total annihilation.

Or would he Xox succeed and defeat him and bring the Raptor home as a prize and her commander broken to the feet of the emperor, for the glory of the empire.

Only time would tell.