Sunek skipped down the wide corridors of Starbase 216, merrily ignoring the confused looks he was getting.
Although Starfleet personnel were used to seeing the unexpected, none of them could disguise their shock at seeing a grinning Vulcan in shabby maroon overalls skipping down the corridor carrying a dented box of Delavian chocolates under one arm.
He stopped outside a specific door and pressed the door chime, before licking the palm of his hand and running it over his unkempt mess of hair as he did so. Not that such a last minute action was ever going to tempt that back into order. The doors parted, and he put on his best winning grin.
It wasn't matched by the person who answered the door.
"Oh, it's you," Ensign Taris said.
"Mind if I come in?"
Taris looked the scruffy Vulcan up and down and shrugged. "Yes."
That was enough to make his grin drop slightly, but he did his best not to let it throw him off his game. "Chocolates!" he shouted, awkwardly waving the box at her, "Got you some chocolates. Y'know, for you and your...bunkmate."
Taris took the box and examined it cautiously, as if she was dealing with a container of trilithium resin. "Lara!" she called back into the room, "That weird Vulcan who threw up on our sofa's here!"
Sunek suppressed a wince at that memory, as Taris was joined by Ensign D'Amato, who looked equally bemused to see him.
"Oh, it's you," she echoed, with even less enthusiasm than her friend.
"Yeah, and he got us chocolates," Taris said with a sarcastic look of mock excitement.
"Full disclosure," Sunek admitted, pointing to the box, "Those have been in our cargo hold for a really long time, so you might wanna give it a quick once over with a tricorder before you actually eat any of them. But, y'know, thought that counts, right?"
The ensigns looked back at him, both equally nonplussed.
"So," D'Amato asked eventually, "Why are you here?"
Finally given the lead-in line he'd been looking for, Sunek summoned up his best hero pose. "Oh, I just thought you ladies might be interested to hear how yours truly was just involved in a terrifying life or death struggle. And how I saved not just myself, but my friend as well."
He allowed himself a mental fist pump as he saw their faces light up.
"Wait, your friend?" Taris asked excitedly, "The big Klingon?"
"Is he here?" D'Amato added, peering out into the corridor.
Sunek mentally retracted the fist pump.
"No! He's not-! The point is, I saved him. And narrowly avoided death myself. So, I thought, where better to celebrate than with my two favourite ladies?"
He topped off the question by leaning so far into the hero pose he was sure he felt a muscle spasm in his lower back. Taris and D'Amato just looked at each other, suppressing smirks.
"Goodbye, spaceman," Taris said.
"Thanks for the chocolates," D'Amato added.
They stepped back and allowed the door to close, leaving Sunek and his hero pose in the corridor, trying not to overhear the sound of developing laughter on the other side of the door.
"Ok," he shouted back, "But this definitely counts as well!"
Denella walked back out from under the Bounty's forward section for the fifth time, paying close attention to the results on her tricorder screen as scanned the hull. Off to one side, Lieutenant Kapadia waited patiently. It was only when the Orion engineer started on her sixth tour of the ship that he called out.
"I, um, have a full report on the repairs here," he said, proffering a padd.
She didn't look up from her tricorder, tutting loudly and shaking her head as she spotted something on the scans. "See? I knew there was something. There's a point zero two variance in the seals around this new hull plate here."
"The tolerance for that sort of seal is point two seven," Kapadia pointed out with a frustrated smile.
"It's not about what the tolerance is," she offered back, "It's about making the repair the best it can possibly be."
"You know, before this posting, I worked at the Utopia Planitia yards. For three months I fitted hull plates to one of the new Prometheus-class ships. And I can tell you, we never got the variance on the seals down to point zero two."
"What are you saying?"
"I-I'm saying that, technically, you now have a better hull than a Federation starship. Based on certain parameters."
Denella offered him a half-smile and looked over the rest of the scans.
It was true that the Bounty had got far more extensive treatment than she'd dreamed of. And she had to grudgingly admit that the Starfleet engineer had completed the job impeccably. Granted, the brand new sheets of tritanium across the Bounty's hull looked completely out of place next to the weathered look of the rest of the ship. But she was struggling to find any genuine faults anywhere. They'd even got themselves a fancy new replicator, safely installed in the dining area.
Still though, something felt wrong.
"I know that look," Kapadia offered.
"Yep," she admitted, "It's the 'someone else messed with my ship while I wasn't around' look."
"In my defence-"
"I'd been arrested for crimes against the Federation. I know."
She sighed and took one last look up at the hull. Eventually, she turned back to him and gestured for the padd. "Fine, I'll sign off," she said in defeat, "But if you tell any of my crew that anyone in an engineering uniform can fix her like this, I'll have to kill you. I've got a reputation to protect."
"Understood," Kapadia nodded, as Denella tapped the padd and handed it back.
They stood in awkward silence for a moment, more relaxed than they had been before, but still not entirely so.
"So," Denella said eventually, "Thank you. For...everything, Lieutenant."
"Any time," he said with a faint smile, "And, um, I'm sorry. For my conduct, earlier. When we, um, when I...asked you to dinner."
"I thought that was just to go over the repair schedule?" she asked warily.
"No," Kapadia corrected her, "You thought I was trying to score a date with the Orion slave girl. And...you were right."
Denella's face tightened, a reaction that wasn't missed by the contrite Kapadia.
"And you were also right to...y'know, call me out on it. It was unprofessional. And I should be better than that. No matter how-"
He stopped himself before adding. "I should just be better than that."
She felt herself relax slightly as she looked at the repentant officer. She forced a shrug. "Yeah, you probably should. But...I dunno. You're not alone, put it that way. And we made a good team with these repairs."
Kapadia nodded, a relieved smile creeping onto his face.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm still not going for dinner," she added, "But, next time, we can grab a coffee and catch up. I've always wanted to hear about Utopia Planitia."
His smile grew. She mustered a guarded smile of her own.
"Next time?" he asked, with a hint of confusion.
She shrugged and gestured back up to the Bounty.
"We need a lot of repairs."
Natasha dropped the small shoulder back on the bed and looked around the confines of the cabin. It felt smaller somehow, even though it was the same cabin she had slept in on the Bounty's journey to Starbase 216. Except now, it wasn't just temporary accommodation, it was home.
At least for the time being.
She turned to see Jirel standing in the doorway. "Let me guess," she sighed as she gestured for him to come in, "Nobody ever knocks on this ship."
"We knock, then we walk in anyway," he said, before a deadly serious look crossed his face, "Except with Sunek's cabin. Never do that with Sunek's cabin."
She rolled her eyes as he gestured to the bag on the bed.
"Unpacking going well?"
"One benefit of not owning anything, I guess," she shrugged, "And I kinda like it. No baggage. Fresh start?"
He studied her face, searching for something. "You sure about this?"
She ignored the question, not really wanting to think about the answer right now, and opted for one of her own. "You sure you're ok with me spying on you for your father-?"
"Yeah, about that. Can we...keep that between us?"
"The others really don't know?"
"Pretty sure they don't," he shrugged and smiled, "And I'd like to keep it that way."
She shrugged back and nodded. "If you wanna keep running, that's up to you."
His smile slipped slightly, but he nodded back.
"I was meaning to ask," she added as he turned to leave, "Why Vincent? Why Jirel Vincent?"
"Mother's name," he replied after a pause, "Or, adopted mother, whatever. Took it on when I left Earth. Kinda wanted to distance myself from the old man, I guess."
She nodded. It made sense. He stepped out of the cabin, then turned back and grinned.
"Besides? Jirel Jenner? Kinda sounds dorky."
Klath walked into the cockpit to find it empty, save for Sunek in the pilot's seat. He growled slightly and slipped into the seat at his tactical console.
"Hey," Sunek offered, ignoring the antisocial growl, "I was waiting for you to show up."
He quickly jumped out of his seat and stepped over to where Klath sat. The Klingon watched on warily.
"So, listen," Sunek continued, "About...y'know, all that stuff your Klingon buddy was talking about. Was that…?"
Klath suppressed another growl. He had been dreading this moment ever since his showdown with Kolar. Of all the people onboard the Bounty to know his most uncomfortable secret, his biggest shame, the loud-mouthed Vulcan would not have been his first choice.
"I would prefer not to-"
"Yeah, I know," Sunek cut in, "You prefer not to...anything. But I'll take that to mean it was all true."
Klath shot an angry glare at the Vulcan standing over his console. But eventually he conceded the truth with a tight nod.
"Ok, that's all I needed," Sunek replied, "And, I know you might not believe me when I say this, but...your secret's safe with me."
Klath stared back at the most talkative man he had ever met. He was right. He didn't believe him.
"It's the truth," Sunek shrugged, "Way I see it, whatever you got up to before we met is no business of mine unless you want it to be. Besides, we've all got skeletons in our closets, right?"
He flashed the Klingon a grin, though all Klath found himself wondering was what skeletons the Vulcan was hiding. Still, he managed another nod. And then said something that he had previously wished he would never have to say to his most irritating of crewmates.
Sunek's grin widened further and he shot Klath a wink. Both actions caused the Klingon's glower to deepen. Mercifully, before it deepened too far, they heard footsteps bounding up the steps to the cockpit. Jirel walked in, followed by Denella and Natasha.
"Right," the Trill said, as he jumped into his centre chair and Denella slid into her rear engineering station, "Let's get out of her while we still can."
Sunek looked over at Natasha, who stood awkwardly at the rear of the cockpit. "Hey," he winked, "Hear you're joining us on the ship of the damned."
"Thought I might tag along," she replied.
She tried to ignore the less welcoming glare she was getting from Klath, noting that she'd struggled to connect with the Klingon from the start, and still seemed to be struggling.
Jirel spun around and gestured to the right side of the cockpit, where a previously unused console mirroring the position of Klath's tactical controls sat. "We've even got a seat for you."
Natasha moved over and sat down, appreciating the chance to blend in. Until she saw the dead screens and dusty controls in front of her.
"I mean," Jirel added, "Not entirely sure what that was all used for, but we'll figure something out."
Sunek chuckled and returned to his pilot's seat, tapping his control with practiced precision and preparing the ship for departure. Jirel kept his focus on Natasha, as she leaned back in her seat.
"Last chance to change your mind," he offered, "We're about to leave all those Federation creature comforts behind."
She stopped herself from saying 'deserve that'.
"I don't need that," she said instead.
Jirel nodded back.
The Bounty lifted up from the landing pad, and the starbase disappeared from sight.
From his office at the top of the main dome of Starbase 216, Admiral Bryce Jenner had a clear view as he watched the Bounty lift off towards the heavens. It didn't take long before the small ship, and his adopted son, was out of sight.
He sighed and took a sip from the crystal glass in his hand, feeling the alcohol burn his throat on the way down. A bottle of old Earth scotch, vintage 2328, stood behind him on his desk.
To one side sat a padd, with the details of Commander Bari's report on the debrief of Natasha Kinsen still visible on it. Not that the Betazoid's thorough review of her troubled emotional state had told him anything he didn't already know.
He closed his eyes and listened to the piano music that drifted around the room. Chopin's Nocturne in C-sharp minor. Nothing he had chosen specifically, just part of his usual calming playlist he had requested from the computer.
"I don't like this," he muttered.
Behind him, shrouded by the shadows being cast by the low suns, a figure patiently stood. "Understandable," the figure said calmly, "But it's all necessary."
Jenner opened his eyes and drained his glass. "It's necessary for me to spy on my own goddamn son?"
"We're just keeping an eye on them, like you said," the figure reminded him, "All for the greater good."
Jenner set his glass down on the desk, staring daggers at the figure. "That's all you're giving me?" he snapped, "After everything I've already done for you?"
The figure slowly walked over to the sofa in the corner of the huge office and made themselves comfortable. "We've been over this. You know I can't give you anything more. At least, not yet."
The admiral balled his hands up into fists as his frustrations rose, forcing himself to focus on the piano music and calm down. He glanced back out of the window, looking up at where the Bounty had disappeared from sight moments ago.
"It'll become clear one day," the figure said, "We just have to let it play out."
Jenner grimaced and reached for the whisky bottle.
Natasha lay in bed in her cabin, staring up at the ceiling, reflecting on how the voice seemed to have become little more than background noise.
She had accepted that it was going to be with her for a long time, whether she was wearing a Starfleet uniform or not. And she knew now that she would never do that again.
So she was going to have to find a way to live with it. To come to terms with the nightmares that she knew would be waiting for her again tonight whenever she managed to fall asleep. And she knew what she had to do if she was ever going to live with it. If she was ever going to live with herself.
She had to stop running.
She stood from the bed, padded over to the tiny desk in the corner of the cabin and tapped the somewhat antiquated computer interface. It didn't take her long to connect to a nearby network and search the public records from the war to find what she was looking for.
She called up the records of those lost onboard the USS Navajo. Four hundred and seventy four names and profiles displayed in a neat, unemotional list.
With a deep sigh, she began to work her way down the list, one name at a time.
Looking for the face that haunted her dreams.