Winterborn returned to the conference room, calling for a general officer meeting along the way. Her mind was thoroughly occupied; thoughts of Rosa, the Quin'tel, the Ven, and everything else that had happened recently a chaotic mess muddying the waters of her brain. She sat down heavily in her chair, rubbing her temples in slow, relaxing circles. Gradually, her officers filed into the room. Ava was the first to arrive, her eyes were bagged, tension was clear on her face. She sat down after giving a halfhearted salute. Commander Val walked in shortly afterwards, her eyes flicking to the sides rapidly, obviously engaged in using her ocular interface. She walked up to Winterborn, her eyes focusing as she did. She placed a hand on her shoulder briefly, then turned and sat down in her usual place.
Winterborn surveyed the table, remembering just how full the conference room had felt this morning. In reality, Rosa was the only one missing, but her absence was severely missed.
"Report, Commander," Winterborn began.
Val nodded, "The Quin'tel have finished with their tests—there are no Ven left on the ship," she paused, "Morale seems to have been affected, unsurprisingly. Lieutenant Fallborn and Commander Springborn were both very popular with the crew-" Winterborn barked an interruption, "Don't mention that creature's name, Commander. Not around me."
Val looked like she wanted to argue, but swallowed her objections. "...the loss of two well-liked officers is a blow, even if Fallborn is still alive."
Winterborn rubbed her face with her hands, "I'm sorry for snapping at you, Commander. This...this entire situation has been nothing but stressful." She turned to Ava, "And you, Lieutenant? What do you have to report on the security front?"
Ava sounded almost as weary as she looked, "We searched the Command—the Ven's room. We found a data storage device hidden in a small nook near its bed. So far, we have been unable to break the encryption. It uses a rotating encryption lock..." she rapped her knuckles on the desk. "We'll keep working on it. We have gone through its quarters twice, we haven't found anything else of note."
Winterborn nodded, “Keep on it, Lieutenant. And keep me up to date if anything changes,” she stood, her legs restless. She began to slowly pace along the viewscreen which displayed a view dominated by Tre’brus below. She sighed, “We are going to begin making our way towards the Quin’tel home world. They have a wormhole nearby which leads directly to their central nexus in the Quin’tel home system.”
Val quirked an eyebrow at the news, “We’re embarking today? So shortly after what happened?”
Winterborn sighed, “Yes, we need to make our way to the coronation within one week’s time. There isn’t much we can do at this point. We don’t have time to stay and lick our wounds. We need to make sure that the sacrifices…the wounds, rather...that we have suffered are worth it.”
Val looked to Ava, “Lieutenant, please leave the conference room. I need to discuss something alone with the Captain,” she looked Ava up and down, “Get some sleep. That’s an order. You look exhausted.”
Ava rose and gave a crisp salute, leaving the room.
Val watched as the door closed, waiting a moment for Ava to get further away. She stood, disagreement obvious on her face, “Sir, as your First Officer it is my duty to inform you that I think this course of action is inadvisable. We have been led along by our noses thus far. If we continue to play the Ven’s game, then Lieutenant Fallborn’s sacrifice will be in vain!”
Captain Winterborn turned to face the Commander slowly and deliberately. “Your objection is noted, Commander,” her voice was icy, “Lieutenant Fallborn isn’t dead. She will recover. And I know what I’m doing.”
Commander Val slowly sat down, maintaining eye contact throughout the entire motion. “Sir, I think your personal feelings for Rosa are interfering with your judgement. I feel that you want to continue down this path to get revenge on the ones who hurt her,” she paused, pounding her fist on the table with a solid thud, “Dammit, Captain. We all feel that way. We all want to see everyone responsible hang. But our first responsibility is to get our crew home safely, not embark on a revenge quest.”
Winterborn looked about ready to explode, rage contorting her face. She struggled, but managed to put a lid on her frustrations. She walked back over to her seat, sitting down heavily, “The situation is more complicated than simply wanting revenge, Commander,” she sighed, rubbing her temples again, “I swear, at this rate I’m going to be grey-haired at age forty,” she shot a smile to Val, letting her know she had well and truly calmed, “I have been made aware that refusing the position of Prime is a death sentence; moreover, it may endanger the potential position we may come to have in this Empire as a whole. Now, if I could sacrifice myself to ensure that this problem just went away, I would. That not being the case, I think moving forward is the best option. Whoever has orchestrated this so far may think that they have us right where they want us, but we’ll disabuse them of that notion. We will show them that Terrans are not creatures to underestimate,” a grim smile came to her lips, “I will show them that Terrans are not a species to be fucked with, Commander.”
Val looked as if she wanted to say more but swallowed her argument. “If you think this is best, Captain. I’ll trust you. But please, don’t let anger and vengeance get in the way of sense. Promise me that.”
“I promise, Commander. Thank you.”
Val nodded, “Just doing my job, Sir. I’ll get everything ready for embarking. What time should we plan to depart?”
Winterborn looked at the time, she was shocked at the late hour, “One hour, Commander. We’ll leave at 22:00.”
Val snapped a salute, “I know you’ll be stopping by the med bay to see Rosa, but please get some rest, Captain. We need you at the top of your game.”
Winterborn nodded, “You too, Commander. I think we could all use some rest.”
Val left the conference room, already relaying orders into her neural implant. Winterborn stood solemnly, making her way to the med bay. To fill her mind as she walked, she enabled the neural implant’s music function. She played an early piece which had always struck a chord with her; it was a song called Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens. The song was filled to the brim with a cheerful morbidity and lilting dissonances—it was her song of choice when she was in a bad mood, due to its ability to wholly subsume her. The music rolled through her like a wave, carrying her mind away on an ocean of crescendos and falls.
She blinked as she found herself standing in front of the med bay door, staring though the open door. She noticed that Lieutenant Johanna was staring at her expectantly; it clicked in the Captain's head that she must've just been asked a question. Quickly, she silenced the music and wore an abashed grin. She tried and failed to recall what Johanna had said, “What was that Lieutenant? I’m sorry, I was distracted.”
She smiled, “I asked if you were here to visit Rosa.”
Winterborn nodded, stepping through the threshold and into the med bay. She turned, palming a door open which led to the critical treatment rooms. She allowed Johanna to lead the way, following her through the third door on the right. The room was clean and had a rather sterile decor, only filled with the instruments needed to save lives. She always disliked the dim red lights which lit the rooms when medical personnel weren’t present, but apparently red wavelengths were beneficial to the healing process. Rosa's unconscious form was what ultimately stole her attention—she was lying flat in the center of the room, surrounded by a myriad of medical devices connected to multiple parts of her body. She was obviously still being supported by the medical equipment. Winterborn walked slowly, cautiously, towards Rosa. She carefully held her limp hand. “I love you Rosa. I know you'll pull through this.”
Johanna walked up behind, her eyes distant, obviously looking at charts and medical data. “She will be fine, Captain. The only hiccup we’ve run into is that she sustained damage to her brain stem. We may need to grow her a new body...”
Winterborn shook her head, tears running down her cheek. “A new body? She will be out for a week just to grow the replacement alone, never mind the rehabilitation.”
“Sir, many advancements have been made in recent years. Swapping out your body isn’t the same process as it once was. As long as the brain itself is healthy, we can usually have rehabilitation take no longer than three months,” she smiled, “During that time she would be able to return to duty within a month.”
Winterborn nodded, wiping her eyes. “Lieutenant, would you mind bringing a chair in here? I would like to stay with Rosa a while.”
Johanna nodded, “Right away. Sir.”
She returned shortly after, carrying a small recliner made from carbon nano-tubing and ultralight cushions, as well as a light thermal blanket draped in her arms.
Winterborn smiled gratefully at the Lieutenant, who simply winked, and then left them alone.
Willow fell asleep holding Rosa’s hand, telling her about the events of the day after she had nearly been killed.
Ren'brus eyelids slid sideways across his retinas as he slowly opened his slanted eyes. He noted that a doctor loomed nearby, and Captain Gul'bres stood at his side.
Gul'bres knelt to Ren'brus, lowering his head in a sign of deference. "Prefect, this one has news."
Ren'brus nodded his head, "You may speak, Captain."
Gul'bres didn't raise his head, "The Ven on the Terran ship has been found and killed."
Ren'brus absorbed the news, thinking on the events which put him in the infirmary. "Were we implicated in any way? Is our relationship with the future Prime endangered?"
Gul'bres smelled confident and proud. Ren'brus suspected the answer before it was given, "No, Prefect. In fact, the Ven attacking you has likely endeared the Prime to you. If anything, you owe the creature a debt of gratitude."
Ren'brus chittered darkly. He was still confused as to why the Ven had attacked them. They were known to stand to the letter of their contract, and the Pact had certainly not ordered the Ven to try and kill one of their leaders. The other oddity was his survival—Ven were strong, vicious, and efficient; one did not typically survive an encounter with them. Moreover, he had been able to wound one in hand to hand combat—a feat no other Quin'tel had ever boasted.
"I don't think so, Gul'bres...There is a game here that we do not understand. I think the Ven may have been working for someone else, their actions make no sense otherwise. Regardless, we will need to play our hand carefully in the coming days. We cannot be caught with our claws trimmed."
"You are wise, Prefect," whispered Gul'bres.
"The Prefect must rest. Please consider leaving the medical unit," said the doctor now at his side.
Gul'bres nodded in the human fashion—it always did well to emulate those in power after all—and made the proper prostrations to leave the room.
"You may go, Gul'bres. Continue to work to befriend the future Prime. She and her species are the key to everything, we cannot afford to have her against us."
With one final bow, Gul'bres replied, "Your will is my will, Prefect," and stepped out of the room.