by Abbey Carter

The lights in the corridor blink and then shut off. Night falls on the Al-Baatani. She walks to Admiral Paris' quarters, damage reports in hand.

Inside he's rummaging in drawers, searching for something.

"Sir, I've got reports from the Science Department. As well as Lieutenant Parker's notes on the situation. He is still in Sickbay. The hull breaches on Decks Five and Six have been repaired. The repair team is currently on Deck Nine."

He takes the padds from her, scans through them, brow furrowed.

"A cloak?"

"Lieutenant Parker believes that the Cardassians appear to have used a cloaking device. Otherwise, sensors show that we would have detected them earlier."

"Lieutenant, have you visited Sickbay yet?"

"No, Admiral. There are plenty of people far more wounded than I am. I'll go in the morning."

He stands, motions for her to walk forward. "Kathryn, I'd really like to have a look at that. I am, among other things, a competent medic."

"Is that an order?" She chuckles, takes her jacket off as she steps forwards.

"You only get one body." He brandishes a regenerator. "Now, where's the problem?"

"Bruised ribs I think, and burns from where-"

"The console blew up on you, yes." He presses the device to her chest, starts at her intake of breath. "Does that hurt?"

"No." She smiles. "It's just a little cold."

He rubs his hands together, places them on the cool metal. Slips his hand under her shirt, runs that metal over her abdomen and shoulders, leaves new pink skin in his wake. She holds her head away from him; his eyes note the pitch and hue of her collarbone above the uniform tank.

"Is that a burn, Kathryn?"

"No sir, I believe that's a freckle."


She straightens her jacket and enters the Mess Hall. Ensigns Peters and Simon click their nails on the table, stare with distress at damage to the ceiling. Presently, the gossip begins.

"I told Samantha she could have any man on the ship...No, not him! She's got no interest in screwing the pips, which is just as well. Really! Hell, she doesn't even care for Lieutenant Guthrie. So hot...Yes, I know. Shame."

Kathryn stands, smoothes her uniform. The new molecular adhesives need testing.


Sheets tangle. Her breathing, when it comes, is low and fast. The cold between her legs sleek and metallic, shocking the pale pink skin, spreading her, spreading heat and sharp pressures. One shock. Two Three drops of steel Four (hands holding her shoulders down.) Five nubs inside her, electricity in water.

When the rank bar is shoved inside, she comes deep with speared cries of pain. Fucking the pips has never been this literal.


Kathryn showers the dream away. He has not touched her. Not like that. She has not screwed the pips.

Owen invites her to dinner several days later. Time passes like the curve of their glasses. Full moments when all she sees is the Admiral's face in the struggling lights. He asks for her advice, thoughts. He doesn't speak of their losses, or of their victories. He smiles slowly; she is not sure that he can hear her speech. She finds that obligation stretches into duty and duty into desire. And just as surely, her thoughts fall back to the anxious trust they share. But he clasps her hand, pips glinting in the light. He tells her that this war is almost over. Her war is only beginning.


The corridor ignites. A boot crushes her ankle. Her knuckle presses against the trigger. Digging the muzzle of the phaser into the Cardassian's chest. More scream after her as he falls, more rush to the bridge.

She pushes, chest pounding, to the door, grabs the manual releases. Swings a strong arm across the metal with the clamps. It's unusual, the strength of her fury as she reaches the bridge. The Captain's Chair. Throttling. God. Aiming...beams of light, and the weapon knocked out. Blood in her mouth. Metal against her spine snapping, filling, spreading. The blade deep, on that bone. Elbows still punching the cold dagger's hilt.

Metal swimming, spreading. She makes the walk from Sickbay alone, finds a uniform in her quarters. Double-Shift. They've got casualties.


She is standing just inside his quarters, waiting as he stalks quietly through the room.

Later, she doesn't know how much later, Owen proposes a change in the command structure.

"Well, we're in need of a new first officer. You feel up to it? Get one more pip."

"Thank you sir." She straightens her uniform slowly, practices the movement of re-knitted hips, shoulders.

"I'll take this as a yes, then? It's been a rough couple of years. But you've served admirably."

"Yes. I would be honored."

"Very well. I'll run everything by Admiral Patterson when we get home. There should be no problems." His face shutters, he puts a padd away, turns to face the viewport.

She stands next to him, chilled in these quarters where the stars jolt by too fast and bulkheads shake. He steps closer to her, shoulders moving in time with the vibrations of the ship. Outside a star explodes.

He does not speak of the bodies in Sickbay or of what they will do when Earth is reached. She thinks he would like to. But he doesn't. Can't. He would have told her father.

Now he places an arm on her back, and attempts to speak.

"You fought well today."

The skin he's touching is uncomfortably warm. She stares into his face, surprised to find a trust like love and something a lot like fear.

She moves her hand to rest on his shoulder, speaks slowly, as if practicing for command. "This will be over soon."

When he touches her, she does not pull away. She removes her jacket, watches its blue and black mass float onto a chair's back. Black and red can be replicated later.

He studies her hand, turning it over in his palm. There is no line between battle and these hands, these hands that fitted her first grips on a phaser rifle, taught her the rate at which the universe expands, keeps expanding. That teach her now the parallel existence of expansion and implosion, trust and fear. Love and war.

She drops the tank top next to the uniform, watches the lights flicker. Soon, the ship will hum like every other vessel under Owen Paris' command. But right now, it's been cut open, and she won't stand aside and wait for the remains of this battle to pass. His skin is warm. Almost fevered hands pull her closer, teach her how the universe can implode in a single stroke, single explosion.

His kiss is half question, half plea. She cries out at the press of pips on her neck, cries shock and sigh. This is another mission, one that must be performed exceptionally well if there is to be any chance of survival. She runs fingers along his back, along his neck where red welts are still visible from the Cardassian. It's not hard, removing his uniform, placing the red and black next to her own.

His night unfolds like the wings of a battered warbird. She reaches up and pulls his bones to her own, nearly surprised at his force, at the depths of this room. The depths of her response.

She does not leave after. The captain's bed is wider than those given to the crew. An irony, she thinks, reflecting on the hormonal inhabitants of lower decks. He sleeps. If she didn't know better, she would be convinced his eyes are clenched shut. His weight against her is substantial, more than Justin's had ever been.

When he wakes, it is not with shock or delight. He kisses her face slowly, inquires after the ship. She hands him his uniform; they dress together. She sits beside him on the bridge. Perhaps this is an inauspicious beginning to her career in command, but it is a beginning. On Earth, he will pin an extra pip on her collar and speak of honor and courage under fire. He inhales next to her, forces a half-smile at the viewscreen. His ship is not home yet, but she will see that it continues forward.

The Al-Bataani slips into warp. Outside, a star explodes.


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