Sighing at the hustle and bustle of the Indiana station, Admiral Nechayev stepped down from the dais and raised an eyebrow when a young and nervous Ensign approached her.
"Admiral, a hovercraft is waiting for you."
"Lead the way, Ensign." The Admiral rolled her eyes at the young man and followed him with some reluctance.
Nechayev spared a glance at the Ensign when she climbed into the hovercraft, wondering how it came that Starfleet personnel were getting younger every year.
"How long will it take until we arrive, Ensign?"
"30 minutes, ma'am." The young Ensign swallowed hard.
Sighing for the umpteenth time this day, Admiral Nechayev leaned back in her seat. How had it come that she had agreed to this? That was what she got when she followed the spur of the moment, served her right.
Owen Paris owed her, he owed her big time. She was a Fleet Admiral for crying out loud, not a bloody post lady.
When they arrived at their destination, the Admiral got out of the hovercraft and straightened her back before she made her way to the front door. With a data padd firmly in her hand Admiral Alynna Nechayev climbed the stairs of the front porch and took a deep breath before she knocked on the door.
With her hands clasped behind her back, the Admiral waited for somebody to open the door.
The door finally opened and the Admiral came face to face with a statuesque woman, slightly older than herself. Her auburn hair was heavily streaked with grey and her clear blue eyes looked questioningly at the Admiral.
"Gretchen", the Admiral inclined her head.
"Alynna", Gretchen Janeway greeted, worry lines appeared on her otherwise still smooth forehead. Gretchen covered her mouth with a shaking hand and whispered anxiously.
"Is it Kathryn? Has something happened?"
"No." Alynna reassured the other woman. "I do not bring bad news."
"Thank goodness. Please, do come in."
The Admiral followed Gretchen into the house, looking around on their way to the kitchen Alynna couldn't help but smirk at the homey and warm interior of the Janeway farmhouse.
"Here you are", handing the woman a cup with a knowing smile, Gretchen silently wondered what had brought the Admiral to her home.
"To what circumstances do I owe your unexpected visit?"
Nechayev sipped her coffee she put the padd on the table and pushed it towards Gretchen before she answered.
"Owen asked me to deliver the last communications with Voyager personally. He sends his regards but he couldn't make it. A situation on the Utopia Planitia shipyards required his attention."
"Thank you, Alynna." Gretchen put her hand over the padd and looked with grateful eyes at the Admiral.
"You are welcome."
"How are you, Alynna? It's been a long time." Sensing the genuine interest in the older woman's question, the Admiral decided that now was the moment to leave.
"You know how it is. Being an Admiral means you are always on duty. Well, then, I should get back to the HQ. My desk is overflowing with reports."
"Of course. It was good to see you again." Gretchen smiled warmly at the Admiral.
"Yes, well, I..."
Before the Admiral could finish, the door to the kitchen burst open and a young woman with long, flowing, red hair and a flushed face stormed inside.
"Hey, mom. What's the hovercraft with an Starfleet officer doing outside?"
"Hello, darling", Gretchen Janeway greeted her youngest with a kiss on the cheek.
"The Admiral brought the last communication from Voyager."
Phoebe Janeway looked at the stranger for the first time, taking in the Admiral's stiff posture. Recognition dawned in the younger woman's eyes and her whole demeanour changed.
"You are Admiral Nechayev. Why did you bring it and not Admiral Paris?"
"Because Owen asked her to, Phoebe."
"Why would she even care? She gives a shit."
"Phoebe, what has gotten into you?" Gretchen stared at her daughter.
"Remember what happened to Lieutenant Masters, Admiral?"
Alynna looked at the younger woman without giving any indication of recognising the name, she knew full well where this was heading. It wasn't the first time somebody accused her of being uncaring towards the people under her command.
"Of course you don't. And why would you? That's probably the reason they call you the Ice Queen. Lieutenant Masters was my friend's mother, she served under your command and when she died you didn't even find it necessary to inform her family personally, you merely sent your first officer."
Admiral calmed her anger by taking a deliberate breath. The best course of action was leave.
"Thank you for the coffee, Gretchen. Have a nice day. Miss Janeway." The Admiral turned and went out of the kitchen.
"What? Wait a minute!" Phoebe stormed after the Admiral. Stepping in front of the Admiral before she reached the front door, Phoebe crossed her arms over her chest and levelled a challenging gaze at the older woman.
"Aren't you going to say anything?"
The Admiral linked her hands behind her back looked dispassionately at the youngest Janeway.
"What do you want me to say? That I feel sorry for an officer who died in the line of duty? Even if I did I highly doubt you would believe me anyway. Because I'm after all the Starfleet's Ice Queen, oh yes Miss Janeway, I know each and every name I'm called behind my back."
Smirking at the surprised expression on Phoebe's face, the Admiral felt a strange satisfaction that she had caught her off guard.
"My personal favourite is 'She-Devil', though. Being a Starfleet Admiral means this isn't a popularity competition. As for the decision that led to the unfortunate death of said officer it was mine to make and mine alone. And when everything is said and done at the end of the day, nobody but myself has to live with those decisions."
The Admiral knew she didn't have to explain herself to this woman, but she felt compelled to do it anyway.
"It is my responsibility to make all the tough decisions and give the orders which sometimes end with the death of people. You do not know me, Miss Janeway, so I recommend you do not presume to know what I feel or do not feel in cases of officers loosing their lives under my command. Because like I already said, in the end it is my responsibility and I have to live with it, each and every single day, for the rest of my life."
"And when I seem strict or demanding it is always in the best interest for those I swore to protect. I have made it my life's goal to serve Starfleet and therefore the Federation, just like your father and your sister. Believe my when I say I do not take my responsibility lightly. There is a storm gathering on the horizon and I give my best and demand the best to make sure people like you are protected and safe. Good day, Miss Janeway."
With that the Admiral stepped around Phoebe and left the house, leaving two stunned women behind. Alynna climbed into the hovercraft and barked her orders at the young Ensign. She was furious and angry at the younger Janeway but most of all at herself. Letting her guard slip like that wouldn't do. Her only excuse was a long and tiring week at the HQ. The situation with the Dominion was getting more and more strenuous with each passing week.
Upon her return to her office, the Admiral's aid handed her a padd from Captain Sisko with the latest information on the situation regarding the Dominion. Resigned to the fact that it would be another long night, Alynna entered her office and smiled when she found a welcome visitor on her couch.
"You look as if you could use a stiff drink", Admiral Pulaski said from her place on the couch.
"You have no idea", Alynna sank down on one of the opposite chairs.
The doctor poured a drink for her old friend before handed the glass over and raised an eyebrow in question.
"Care to share?"
Alynna took a large swallow from her glass, enjoying the warmth that spread through her body. She rested her head against the back of the chair and stared with unseeing eyes at the ceiling of her office. Sharing what happened during the unpleasant visit at the Janeway farm might be a good idea after all.
"Owen asked me to deliver the latest communication from Voyager to the Janeways. Him owing me big time now doesn't outweigh this trip, far from it."
"How so? Gretchen is a wonderful hostess." Kate Pulaski frowned.
"She was as cordial as ever. I can't say the same for her daughter though." Alynna snorted.
"Oh, dear", Kate chuckled. "So you have finally met Phoebe. A fiery temper that perfectly matches the colour of her hair. The artist and free spirit, who holds no love for Starfleet."
"No love for Starfleet and nothing but hatred for me, even though we have never met before." Admiral Nechayev had to agree.
Back at the farm a very puzzled and flabbergasted Gretchen tried to find out why her daughter had been this spiteful towards their guest. After reading Kathryn's letter together, Gretchen made a pot of coffee for both of them and managed to get her youngest to spill the beans.
Cradling her mug between her hands Gretchen waited patiently for Phoebe to calm her temper while tkaing the first sips of the strong brew.
"Care to tell me what this was all about?"
"This woman, mom", Phoebe started to explain, "she makes me angry beyond words."
"But why darling? You have never met her before. What makes you so angry about her?"
"Do you remember Julie Masters? We studied art at the Sorbonne, her mother served under Nechayev. She died during the war against the Cardassians and this woman didn't even find it necessary to inform the family personally. Now she talks about responsibility but back then she had her second in command deal with it. Nechayev never once contacted the family or sent her condolences. The woman is a complete and utter bitch, cold as ice, without any feelings at all."
Gretchen sighed at her daughter's perception of the Admiral. Phoebe had never had any love for Starfleet, given her father's continuing absence and death and her sister being lost in the Delta Quadrant, Gretchen could understand her youngest's unwillingness to relate to what it means being an officer and making all the tough decisions.
"Well, my dear, you seem pretty certain about the good Admiral." Gretchen knew she had to make her daughter think it over.
"Mom, even you have to admit that Admiral Nechayev is not like Daddy."
"Of course she isn't but neither is your sister when she wears the uniform. But you know nothing at all about either the woman or the Admiral, my dear. But today you were judge and executioner in one person."
"I was pretty harsh and utterly rude, wasn't I?" Phoebe softly admitted.
"Yes, you were." Gretchen refilled both their mugs and settled down again to wait for her daughter's question, which she knew would come.
"So", Phoebe was sliding her left index finger over the rim of her mug while she studied its content intently. "You think I should apologise?"
"Only if you mean it. Otherwise it would be without value."
"How can I do that, mom?"
"Do you remember the old saying, 'never judge a book by its cover'? Believe me when I say that Alynna Nechayev's book of life is anything but what you would expect."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Phoebe looked astonished at her mother's cryptic words.
But Gretchen had already left the kitchen and a very confused Phoebe behind.
In her office at Starfleet HQ Admiral Nechayev was reading the last information regarding the Dominion. Kate had left some time ago, with her usual advice to get a life. Snorting over the comment when she thought about it, Alynna knew ever since Wolf 359 her life was Starfleet. Of course she had tried to date again, but all that ever came of it was one disaster after another. Her career, her duty and responsibility were her life and that was what people like Phoebe Janeway would never understand. Why she had even found it necessary to explain herself to the younger woman she couldn't fathom.
Lieutenant Masters would always be her worst moment. Alynna Nechayev remembered all the names and faces of those she had sent to death, not a single one would she ever forget. This was her curse and the force behind her ambition when she demanded the best of her officers but most of all of herself.
Alynna also knew that sharing the burden would make it easier but who would willingly lead such a life?
Admiral Nechayev put the last padd away and turned her chair towards the large window behind her desk. She got up to watch the young people in the square. The cadets looked so young and innocent, they did not realise how fast it all could come to an end.
What she had said at Gretchen's house was true, a storm was gathering and even though the Board of Admirals called her 'Kassandra' behind her back, she knew that this time it could be worse than everything they had suffered before.
Alynna dearly hoped she was wrong but it was also her curse that she never was. She closed down her work station and left her office.