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Cptn Swain

Decisions Out of Your Hands

Asher sat quietly in his and Arden’s quarters, drinking tea. It had been almost three weeks since they’d returned from their misadventures in time. Though he’d taken the opportunity to spend a few hours in a holodeck recreation of a ski lodge in the Alps, most of his time had been spent meeting with various Starfleet officials, including the several days he had spent “debriefing” (it was more of an interrogation) with the Starfleet Inspector General’s Temporal Investigations Unit. Their formal report wouldn’t come back for another few weeks, but the lead investigator had complimented Asher on his efforts to avoid and repair the timeline. The compliment came as something of a surprise, but apparently their little trick with the Enterprise-C had somehow erased that entire episode from the timeline and the only record of their sundering had been a sealed report by Captain Cormoran. 

Soft piano music played in the background while he read over the preliminary damage assessment on the Excalibur.  He sunk into the couch as he read deeper into the report. There were, literally, dozens of remarks as he scrolled through the individual sections of the report that made his stomach turn,  such as “total loss,” “will need complete rebuild,” and the ominous “unsalvageable.” Finally he came to the last section, a narrative from the senior engineer conducting the assessment. 

Part of him thought it was unfair to have someone who didn’t know the ship decide her fate. He was sure that this, Commander Arhren Sloan was perfectly competent and capable of delivering a fair assessment, but it just seemed somehow wrong. Then again, that was why Sloan was making the assessment and not Miranda or Tandaris. Neither of them could be remotely objective about their ship, and to be fair, neither could he.

When had that happened, he wondered? That Excalibur became his ship? Odd now that she was possibly at the end of the line, that he would feel this tug at his heart. He took a drink of tea and started reading the final narrative. It was a bit like reading ahead to the end of a holonovel, or more grimly, reading obituaries. 

“After a thorough on-site inspection, and after reviewing reports from the ship’s Chief Engineer and Commanding Officer, I am prepared to make the following recommendations to Starfleet Command on the future of the USS EXCALIBUR.” 

Asher frowned, looking away towards the star-filled windows. The drydock was thankfully on the other side of the barren rock that Starbase 39 Tango orbited. He didn’t think he could look at her while he read the next lines of the report. 

“The vessel has sustained major damage to virtually every system, including power, life-support, drive, navigational arrays, and computer networks. The structural integrity of the superstructure required significant reinforcement to be towed at warp speed. 

“Even under normal circumstances,  a recommendation for refit could be considered questionable. Given that Excalibur has undergone three major refits already in just under five years, it becomes even more questionable. Not only because of the large number of resources required to complete a refit of this magnitude (comparable in both time and material to new construction), but the underlying issues with key structural components that have now underwent the same number of refits one would expect for a vessel reaching the end-of-service life, but in just six standard years.”

His heart sunk. He didn’t need to read any further to know how Command would receive the report.  He laid the report down on the table. He considered calling Miranda to tell her. It would be another few days before Command made a formal decision. She deserved to know. Excalibur was as much her ship as it was his, afterall.

It was late. What was it his father had always said about bad news? Something about it never going away. Asher frowned. He’d never listened to his father before, so he wasn’t about to start now. 

He glanced away again, towards where the picture of he and Arden as newly graduated cadets had been since Arden moved to the starbase. It had been one of the few possessions Arden had taken with him aboard the Bancroft. Asher swallowed hard. There was no one else in the world he suddenly wanted to be near. 

They had finally managed to catch each other on a livefeed just a few hours before. Asher hadn’t expected to cry. He was never the crier. Arden had teased him about it after. Which, he supposed, was fine. “Now you know how I’ve felt all these years, Asher.”

That was an uncomfortable truth. They had been an item, on and off, since they’d met at the academy at the learning center where Arden was teaching supplemental classes to, mostly, non-human cadets on Federation standard. And in all of the break ups, all of the “cooling off” times it had always been Asher who’d left. It had never been Arden before. It also never been Arden whose career had come first. 

Asher was happy for his husband though. Even if it wasn’t an assignment of his choosing, the executive officer experience was virtually a prerequisite for having your own command. Arden would never, ever admit it, but in his heart, Asher knew, he wanted his own chance to command. 

They had chatted for almost an hour before Arden’s actual assignment had come up. The Bancroft, a relatively new Nova-class, had been assigned to survey one of the ruins that Asher had led bread-crumbed the Lugh too while searching for him.  

“It’s just this mission,” Arden assured Asher, though he hadn’t asked. “As soon as we’re done with the survey, Command assured me I can have my old job back at Starbase 39 Tango.”

“Are you sure that’s what you want?”

“Why wouldn’t I. It’s a good command, and Excalibur isn’t likely to be assigned elsewhere for a while I’d venture.”

Asher bit his lip. “Arden, I don’t know if they’re going to sign off on a refit this time. She’s in pretty bad shape.”

“Oh.” Arden’s voice was suddenly quiet, introspective. As if Asher had just told him a good friend had died. “I... I am sorry, honey. I -- well I guess we can talk about it once you know more. 

“The Bancroft is a good ship from what I can see so far. Captain Uhmasa has a good crew here. The other senior staff have been good too. You’d like the security chief, he’s an unjoined Trill.”

Asher lifted a brow. “Anything I need to worry about?”

Arden snorted. “Are you jealous? Why Asher Swain.”

They laughed together before closing with I love yous and plans to talk again later in the week once the Bancroft had completed its initial orbital surveys. And more practically, when Asher knew for sure if his fears about Excalibur were real.  

Perhaps Asher, thought, he could join the Bancroft. He knew the planet, and the ruins perhaps better than one in Starfleet, and command would be more than willing, he assumed, to give him some leeway between assignments.  After a moment, Asher pushed the idea aside. That wouldn’t be fair to anyone and besides, he’d learned from Arden that command had been extremely generous in not revealing to anyone aboard the Bancroft about the particulars of the ‘rescue mission’ that Arden had led to the planet. 

Admiral Haller had said in confidence that if there was a decision to decommission the Excalibur that she would help Asher get a new command of his choosing. The Excalibur  had never been his ideal posting and Fleet had foisted it onto him, afterall. And despite his recent lapse in judgement, he was a seasoned commander at a time when many of Starfleet’s more senior commanders were retiring.  Perhaps, Haller said, he might even be inline for a Sovereign-class or Galaxy-class. 

It was an appealing offer. He knew that the Strausbourg was nearing the end of a refit and that most of her command staff, including her Commanding Officer, Giles Greenworth, had been reassigned. He’d even stopped by the construction site to look over the new bridge module. Granted, he’d instantly felt guilty. Like he’d just cheated on a lover or something.  Now, with the obituary in hand, he felt even guiltier.

Still, the reality was that he would need to make a decision about his future soon. It was strange, really. He’d spent most of the last six months considering that very question, and now, having finally decided he wanted to command Excalibur, fate had seen fit to intervene and make the decision for him. 

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