Our Dearest Blood by Mackenzie Calhoun
Past Featured StorySummary: in an alternate reality Doctor Beverly Howard and Commander Elizabeth Shelby face the ultimate test during the Klingon War.
Categories: Next Generation Characters: Crusher, Beverly, Crusher, Jack, Ensemble Cast - TNG
Genre: Alternate Universe
Warnings: Adult Language
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 1 Completed: Yes Word count: 5953 Read: 2473 Published: 04 May 2012 Updated: 04 May 2012
Story Notes:
taken from Improbable Impossibilities, a story set in an alternate TNG reality.

**Contains extreme danger and one use of strong language**

1. Epilogue to Epilogue by Mackenzie Calhoun

Epilogue to Epilogue by Mackenzie Calhoun
Author's Notes:
with thanks to LBD and indeed the folks from Two Steps From Hell, Immediate Music and James Horner.
> Recently I wrote “Improbable Impossibilities” (the title seems to change no matter where I write it, it’s between Improbabilit

Recently I wrote “Improbable Impossibilities” which was inspired initially by the idea of Shelby as first officer of the Enterprise after Best of Both Worlds. To expand upon this I latched onto the story that Patrick Stewart might have quit after BOBW Part One. All this to incorporate a ‘better’ story for Beverly Crusher. In fact an alternate Beverly who never married Jack Crusher, thereby never had romantic feelings for or from Picard and only joins the Enterprise just prior to the events of Best of Both Worlds.

Thus…what you are about to read…doesn’t make sense.

 

“Our Dearest Blood”

 

“There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.”

John F. Kennedy

 

EPILOGUE

 

San Francisco, 2369

 

No one knew who the wake was for in the 602 Club – that famous bar for Starfleet’s best and brightest. They saw the banners amongst the myriad display of memorabilia that showcased Starfleet’s men and women from the days of Archer through Kirk to Janeway, but didn’t understand why there was something going on here. In the far corner was the long table with the high chairs that command crews of one ship or the other liked to think of as their own. Somehow ships never came here at the same time; if they did they moved on. At each place at this table tall glasses were being filled with the latest red from Napa Valley.

Captain William Riker rested his hands on the chair at the head of the table, watching as others came forward to take the other chairs. In a short time all but two chairs were filled. Riker watched them for a moment then one of the waitresses walked up. “Are you ready, Captain?”

Riker nodded. Resigned to the evening he slid onto his chair.

“Yeah, we’re ready,” he reached for his red. “Gentlemen…to our honoured dead.”

 

EARLIER

 

USS Enterprise NCC-1701-E, Galaxy class

Sector 441, near the former Klingon Neutral Zone, 2369

 

“We lost four more ships against them,” Commander Elizabeth Shelby was saying, her frame illuminated by the monitor behind her. The blonde first officer continued. “The Romulans continue to send support despite the Senate’s denials.”

Beverly Howard glanced aside at William Riker who did not seem too happy at the news. Less so was chief of security Jack Crusher. The fair haired man avoided Beverly’s curious gaze, perhaps in hopes of avoiding any question that she might have.

“The current situation?” asked Riker.

Shelby stepped aside to show the screen. A wave of red advanced against a wavering line of blue. “The Klingons have taken some more systems and have advanced on Son’a, Suliban, Jouret and several smaller but nonetheless Federation sectors. The rebels…well, who knows. They seem now to be on the eastward edge of the Empire.”

“Rebels,” growled Riker low in his voice, “if they hadn’t…”

Everyone knew the end of that. If they hadn’t come about all this would not have happened. Two years ago following the death of Chancellor K’mpec, his chosen successor General Worf returned from his exile to assume leadership on Qo’nos. In fact the Enterprise helped bring him. Yet he was contestedby General Gowron and his lackey Duras. What followed was the start of a civil war that culminated with much of the Empire siding with Gowron himself, funded by the Romulans. This in turn sparked a war with the UFP.

“Starfleet wants us to join Task Force 77 on the edge of Yankara Sector which is about ten light years from the front line Shelby was saying. “Admiral Neychaev is commanding TF77.”

“Alright, make it good. Lieutenant O’Brien you plot a course for Yankara Sector and engage when ready. Geordi, how good are we?”

Engineer Geordi LaForge shrugged, “About as good as we’ll ever be. The refit at Berengaria helped.”

“Alright,” Riker repeated, “everybody must be on their game this time round. I suspect Neychaev is planning a knockout blow or one big enough to force Gowron to the table. Dismissed.”

The officers filed out with Beverly walking to the turbolift. As she reached it Shelby caught up with her. “Shouldn’t you be on the bridge?” Beverly asked.

“It can wait.” Elizabeth Shelby looked past Howard then at her as if checking for eavesdroppers. “This could be the biggest battle of this ship‘s life. Think you can handle what’s coming?”

“If I can handle alternate realities then I think I can deal with this,” Beverly said.

“I’m serious.”

“So am I. I have sickbay in top condition and have handled a lot of battles since this thing broke out,” Beverly told her firmly. The lift doors opened next to her. “Coming?”

“No. I’m needed elsewhere.”

Beverly stepped into the lift holding the door aside. “Still on for the play?”

Shelby groaned. “Oh…go on then.”

Beverly smiled taking a foot back. “Sickbay.”

 

“What are you working on now?”

Beverly Howard looked up as Shelby took a seat across the table from her. Ten Forward was lightly packed with a few tables occupied by crewmen and women. The conversations were hushed, sometimes interrupted by sharp laughter. Beverly glanced down at her PADD adding a shrug as she replied.

“Just some play. I was thinking Three Musketeers might be too ambitious for our local players.” She wrinkled her nose as she smiled, “though Reg Barclay does a good Porthos.”

Shelby ran a hand down her face, rubbing furiously at her nose. “I don’t know about you sometimes. We’re in the midst of a war and you’re thinking of plays.”

“Got to do something. Any word on Task Force 77?”

“Last communique was an hour ago. Admiral Neychaev on Venture says the Klingons are nearby. Figures, with cloaking devices they can be anywhere without us knowing.”

Beverly threw a look out the large windows of the lounge. The starfield was mottled as the ship sped at warp. She wondered about the Klingons and shivered. Already in this war she had seen enough effects of Klingon weapons on the human body; more than she had ever expected. “Sometimes I wish I had quit Starfleet after a few years and went on to private practice.”

Shelby rocked back in her chair smiling. “And give up all this?”

“Why not?”

“I want my command back,” Shelby said with feeling. “This ship was mine until Starfleet gave into Riker after Wolf 359.”

“Libby, it’s been two years.”

“And your point, Doctor?”

“Let it go, Commander.”

They stared at each other then smiled and eventually laughed. The two had been fairly close since around the events that led to Wolf 359 and the Borg. Shelby had taken a likeness to a woman seemingly isolated after transferring in from the Yangtze whilst Howard found unlikely friendship with a headstrong and career minded young woman. Shelby leant back forward.

“Why don’t we go on shore leave together when we get back to Earth? You’ve always gone on about British Columbia. I hear the hiking’s good.”

“You? Hiking?”

Shelby chuckled. “I’ve been known to…”

The tannoy sounded with a sharp naval whistle that made Beverly cringe. It seemed with the advent of war there came old traditions like the ship’s bell and whistles.

“Attention all hands,” boomed Riker’s voice, “Task Force 77 reports they are under attack by a Klingon strike force. We will be arriving any minute now; all hands are to go to battlestations. Senior officers to the bridge.”

People were already moving before Riker’s voice echoed away. Shelby and Howard parted with a smile in the corridor as the red alert klaxon sounded loudly.

 

YANKARA SECTOR

 

What was left of Task Force 77 was scattered across the Yankara Sector and its four planets like flotsam. As the red alert klaxon went silent not a sound was made on the bridge of the Enterprise. Jack was the one who broke the silence from his standing position at the arched tactical console.

“It’s like Wolf 359 all over again.”

“How many ships did TF77 have?” Riker asked quietly.

Shelby was looking at her small monitor that she had twisted to face her. “Twenty ships. Mostly Miranda variants. Three Galaxy class ships made the backbone…Venture was Neychaev’s flag.”

“Not a single ship made it?” O’Brien asked from the helm as they looked on. It seemed inconceivable that twenty of Starfleet’s finest ships could be wiped out like this by an enemy that quite simply was not the Borg.

“Not one,” Jack confirmed. “Captain, I am detecting some lifepods. Maybe a dozen.”

“Survivors?” asked Shelby rising from her chair and looking at Jack. Her hands were clenched by her side as if afraid of the answer. They were being confronted with the worst loss of Starfleet ships since the aforementioned Wolf 359.

“Some…at least forty.” Jack shook his head, his hazel eyes locking with hers. “It’s hard to say as the sensors are being interrupted.”

“Commander,” Data interrupted, “my scans are showing that the ships were attacked by a high yield of disruptor. The same type that we know the Romulans to use.”

Shelby’s eyes flickered then she looked at Riker. “I guess we’ll find out from the survivors.”

“Whoever did this could still be out there,” Riker said. “O’Brien manoeuvre within range of the lifepods. Mr Crusher, beam the survivors to sickbay once in range.”

No sooner had Riker spoken did Shelby head for the turbolift.

 

**

 

Thirty-six were beamed into the Enterprise’s sickbay of various rank and condition. Beverly sprang into action no matter of the manner of their appearance. Snapping out orders she organised her small staff to deal with the wounded. By the time Shelby reached sickbay Beverly had the seriously wounded –numbering a dozen- one end of the sickbay on biobeds. Some of the lesser wounded were on sheets on the floor.

Shelby knew better than to interrupt Beverly when she was in flow so the first officer chose to look around at the lesser wounded survivors. A few met her enquires with blank expressions. Eventually having found no one she could ask questions of Elizabeth Shelby was face to face with Beverly Howard. The CMO stood between her and the seriously wounded. Beverly’s face was ragged.

“I have twelve with serious wounds. Plasma burns, lacerations…”

“I hate to be priggish but is there someone of rank I can speak to?”

Beverly stared hard at Shelby. “Are you serious? These people are in danger…”

“I need to ask someone!” Shelby snapped and went to move past but Beverly blocked her.

“This is my territory, Commander. I won’t have you take another step. Speak to someone here. Surely one of them can help.”

“Damn,” Shelby whispered turning. She went to a lieutenant sat on a chair by the sickbay doors. “I’m Commander Shelby, first officer of the Enterprise.”

The lieutenant looked up his eyes red-rimmed. “Lieutenant…Lieutenant Carling, USS Calvin.”

One of the Miranda class variants, Shelby considered. “What happened Carling?”

“We came out of warp to meet you…Enterprise. A defensive screen was set up in case of attack. We were on the front when the Klingons attacked. They hit us with everything they had and we crumpled…”

Carling sagged as if he had become made of fluid only. As he did so Shelby caught him yet instead of calling for help she snapped, “What about the Romulans?”

He looked woozily at her, his eyes half-closed. “Romulans?”

“We found traces of their disruptor fire.”

“No…Romulans,” he shook his head as if to clear it, “they…they the Birds of Prey and Vor’cha cruisers had Romulan weapons…”

Carling collapsed against her yet she was staring past him at the bulkhead wall. If the Klingons had Romulan weaponry this meant…

Shelby felt hands on her and Carling pushing the latter back against the wall. Nurse Reginald Barclay squatted to inject something into Carling’s neck whilst Beverly helped Shelby up. “I hope you found what you’re looking for.”

“I might have. We’re in a tighter fix than I gave credit for. If the Romulans have given Duras and Gowron weapons we’re in trouble.”

Beverly ran a hand against her forehead. “Even I know what that means for the Federation.”

“If our front lines break we could have the Klingons advancing on the core systems. Betazed, Vulcan, Andor and the rest…”

“I know.” The CMO looked over Shelby with some degree of tenderness. “Feel alright?”

“What a stupid question. Of course I feel alright. I don’t in that the Klingons are getting help from the Romulans!” Shelby shouted. She made a visible effort to calm herself. Eyes closed she continued. “Look, thanks for your concern but I’ll be fine.”

“You’re working double shifts, Libby and you need to rest.”

“We’ve just picked up the survivors of Task Force 77 and you want me to rest.”

“I…”

“I know what you’re going to say and I know you care but there’s a limit Doctor Howard.” Shelby added the formality for good reason. In recent weeks and months since this war had kicked off the two had been drawing closer. It had likely stemmed from when Beverly joined the Enterprise and the subsequent temporal incident that paired them off. Beverly against the World type scenario.

“Fine, Commander, but no more stimulants You’re at the legal limit.”

Shelby gave an icy stare and was about to give a similarly themed retort when Riker’s voice over the intercom interrupted her.

Doctor Howard, we have detected some survivors on the Lexington, about a dozen. Could you beam over with an away team and extract them? Sensors show that they are in a position that we can’t beam them out of.

“I’ll go,” Howard said.

“Me too,” Shelby added.

Right. Good luck, bridge out.”

 

USS LEXINGTON NCC-14427

 

The stricken Nebula-class starship still retained much of its atmosphere and environmental controls despite its spinning nature. Missing a nacelle and its sensor array, the starship had been knocked away from the battlefield and initially out of the Enterprise’s affected sensors.

Beverly, Shelby and their away team materialised near engineering, immediately activating their wrist-lights. Lights were flickering on but all too infrequently to see continuously and unaided. Besides Shelby and Beverly there was Data, Jack’s deputy Bajoran Lieutenant Sito Jaxa and Nurse Alyssa Ogawa.

“Lifesigns are in engineering,” Data said gesturing with his tricorder.

“Lead on MacDuff,” grunted Shelby stepping over a crack in the deck.

“Actually it was not MacDuff that MacBeth invited to lead on…”

“Not now,” Shelby said. The away team advanced down the corridor as the ship groaned around them. It was more akin to an old seagoing vessel than one of deep space exploration. Fortunately for the away team a Nebula-class had much the same layout as a Galaxy. They forced their way into engineering, seeing scenes of devastation. Much of the upper gantry level had collapsed leaving twisted piles of metal on top of uprooted deck and smouldering ruin. The warp core was a pillar of darkness devoid of the usual reassuring hum. The away team paused by it as pilgrims of days gone by would have at a temple.

Shelby looked at Data. “Well? Where are they?”

“All around us,” the android replied succinctly.

“Anyone here? This is Commander Shelby of the Enterprise!” Shelby called out, her voice echoing in the silent engineering room. There was a pause as the echo faded then there came a chorus of shouts and cries from under the rubble. Wordlessly Shelby and the away team fanned out advancing on the debris. In Beverly’s case she reached rubble piled up by the engineering entrance. She was not a strong woman yet attacked the wreckage with some energy pushing her medikit behind her as it threatened to swing in her way. Gradually engineering began to echo to the sound of the away team tackling the wreckage in their own way. In Data’s case it was quite easy as he had the strength at least ten times that of a man.

When Beverly removed one jagged piece of wall she revealed two engineers, their gold tunics stained with dirt and blood. They blinked up at her, her wrist-light catching them full beam, then looked relieved.

“I’m Doctor Beverly Howard of the Enterprise,” she explained then unslung her medikit. “Are you okay?”

“We’ve had our ship blown from under us,” said one engineer who threw in a slight smile. “But yes.”

Beverly’s scans revealed that the two were indeed alright with no serious wounds beyond lacerations that she could heal back on the Enterprise with the sealer. As it was they were able to get up and help the efforts to free their shipmates. One of those who had been rescued sat on the railing before the warp core. A lieutenant with shaggy red hair. Beverly felt like she was looking at her younger self.

“There’s still two or three missing,” the lieutenant said wearily, aware of Beverly’s gaze upon her. “Down here you’re not aware of the battle. You’re trying to keep the ship going and then…bam…it’s gone.”

“Did anyone come looking for you?”

“I guess the order was given to abandon ship before anyone could do anything,” the woman said then looked up at Beverly, meeting her gaze with the hint of a smile. “Just as well you guys came. Any other ships left?”

Beverly shook her head. “Not from TF77.”

“Bastard Klingons,” the engineer said with sudden savagery that made Beverly flinch. “All because they couldn’t choose their chancellor the straightforward way.”

Beverly was distracted by Shelby calling her over. She wandered a few dozen feet to where a large section of gantry towered into the air from its final resting place. It rested at the top against the wall of the engineering section. At the foot was further debris that was twisted in and around the gantry. Shelby, Data and Jaxo stood to one side. Ogawa was near the redheaded engineering, medicating the other nine that had been rescued.

“We have two trapped under there but we can’t get to them.”

Beverly got on her knees and crawled towards the wreckage to get a better look. In the gloom under the debris she saw two faces stare back at her through a gap. It was like a scene from a Dickens novel.

“Ensign Ellis,” a male’s voice croaked. “This is Ensign Takari.”

“How badly injured are you?”

“Legs broken, arms too I think.” Ellis sounded in great pain yet also resigned as if he had given up. Beverly aimed her torch into the gap sweeping it over their bodies. Ellis had looked to turn his body to talk to the away team.

Beverly pulled her kit bag up to her front and took out a couple of hyposprays. She pushed them through the gap. “Here, inject one apiece for both of you. Should alleviate any pain.”

Standing she said to Shelby, “So, what do we do?”

“We try and get them out. Phasering the debris.”

“That might not be plausible,” said Data. “The phasers might be too strong and bring the remainder of the gantry down around the wounded.”

As if to underscore this statement the deck gave a loud metallic groan.

Shelby waved at the wreck. “Look, we have to try something. We try the phasers. Careful, surgical strikes.”

Riker to Shelby,” Riker’s voice sounding incredibly loud coming as it was through the away team‘s communicators, “we have a situation. Klingon Birds of Prey are on route for our position. We have fifteen minutes tops before they get within weapons range. We have reinforcements on route but they won’t be here for hours. Beam back immediately.”

“We have two crew trapped. I’m staying.”

You have your orders, Shelby. Got going.”

Shelby ripped off her comm badge snarling angrily. “I’m staying Riker. Stow your order.” She tossed her badge aside where it rattled. Beverly tapped her own badge.

“Sir, this is Howard. I’m staying too, I need to treat these wounded. Ogawa and Ramirez can deal with the wounded on the ship.”

There was a pause, the faint hiss of a sigh then: “Fine. You have fifteen minutes. We’ll try to hold the Klingons off beyond then but they outnumber us. If I have to, I’ll leave you behind. We’ll beam the Lexington wounded, Jaxo, Data and Ogawa now.”

Consequently the doctor and first officer were left behind alone with the two under the debris. Shelby drew her phaser and thumbed the settings. Beverly got back on her knees as sparks began to fly from Shelby’s ministrations.

“It’ll be alright.”

“Doctor, the medication is working,” said Ellis quietly as if from faraway. Takari looked like he was unconscious or simply sleeping. “My legs don’t hurt.”

“Do you remember what happened?”

“Battle then the gantry came down on top of us…”

Ellis trailed off. Beverly looked up, seeing a piece of the gantry scourged by the phaser. She stood reaching for her own phaser. “Where can I help?”

“Target the left side of what I just did then aim horizontal.” Shelby shook her head sweat beading her brow. “We don’t have time. I might have to go full beam and risk the gantry.”

“And kill the crewmen?”

“Oh Beverly,” groaned Shelby taking two steps back. “Don’t be so melodramatic.” Shelby fired a blast at the top of the gantry blowing debris to the four winds. The gantry gave a groan swaying forward a few inches. Beverly took aim and hit the spot near where Shelby had previously attacked. She carefully dragged her beam across then stopped. The gantry swayed a little more in the middle before bending out. Both officers tensed waiting for it to snap in two and fall on them yet it just stayed still.

“What an anti-climax,” Beverly said making Shelby smile.

“Yeah. How are they anyway?”

“Medication’s knocked them out.”

Riker to away team. Klingons now five minutes away. We’re moving to head them off. They shouldn’t attack you but we’re not taking chances.”

“Good to know,” Shelby said. In her mind Beverly pictured the Galaxy-class ship swing on her nacelles powering up her phasers as she turned. “What are the odds that it’s the same attack force that destroyed TF77?”

“I wouldn’t like to say.”

“Hit the middle full beam then run.”

“Is that your order, Commander?”

Shelby shook her head. “You do choose the wrong moments for levity, Doctor. Alright…”

They took their places aiming their phasers up.

“…Fire!”

The beams howled at full beam striking the shattered middle of the already broken gantry. There was a moment as the steel glowed hot-red then a crash as the gantry fell forward in a raging sound of destruction. Shelby and Howard backed up just as the gantry crashed to the deck shaking it as it did so. Then there came more shaking.

“That wasn’t us,” Beverly said looking around.

“Klingons,” Shelby scowled. She jogged across the deck to where Ellis and Takari were buried still. “Come on, we haven’t got much time.”

 

**

 

“Birds of Prey at port ten, coming in hot!”

“Hard to starboard, fire dorsal phasers. Rotate the shields.” Riker’s order was punctuated by the ship shaking. Data’s calm voice added:

“A Vor’cha has broken past and is aiming at random into the wreckage of the armada, sir. Lexington has been hit.”

“Think they’ve detected life signs?” Jack asked.

“Who knows? Hard to port, bring us around O’Brien and get us between the Klingons and Lexington.”

On screen the luminous green of the Vor’cha attack cruiser came into view as did the shattered hulk of the Lexington.

“Fire.”

A hailstorm of phaser and torpedoes hit the Klingon across the stern, breaking off its attack for the time being.

Still the Klingons came.

 

**

 

Ellis was hauled out first after Beverly and Shelby blew away some more debris with apparent randomness. Shelby dragged out Takari, slapping his face gently. “Ensign, wake up!”

“Not now, mom…,” the Oriental murmured.

“Great,” Shelby groused then hooked the ensign’s arm across her shoulders as Beverly did Ellis. “We need to get out of here to a point where Enterprise can beam us out.”

“Transporter room?”

“No…somewhere safe…the auxiliary bridge,” Shelby said as she pondered then brightened. “Let’s go!”

The deck shuddered under their feet as they negotiated the debris field inside engineering. Beverly felt the weight of Ellis upon her for he was effectively unconscious. On top of this his legs were indeed broken. She led the way out of engineering into a deck that suddenly tilted. The two women lurched into the wall with their charges holding on as the ship swung over to starboard throwing them to that side.

“What the Hell!” Shelby leant and tapped Beverly’s badge. “Enterprise…”

Shelby the Klingons are all around us…,” there was the sound of something exploding, the computer calmly reporting a fire on the bridge then Riker again. “All stop and hit them with a phaser barrage. Target their impulse engines…Look, Shelby we’re going to have to pull out soon. We can’t stop long enough to drop shields and beam you off. Once the reinforcements arrive we’ll come back.”

“You can’t leave us after all this!” Shelby shouted.

Doctor,” Riker sounded strained, “Keep the peace until we can come back.”

Beverly swallowed. “Yes, sir.”

The line went dead prompting Beverly to continue shuffling down the corridor. Fires had started in several parts of the ship as they discovered in short time. They rounded a corridor looking straight into the heart of a fire that covered the part between them and the turbolift. “We’re stuck.”

Shelby shook her head. “Not yet, we’re not. Back to engineering.”

Once back in engineering Shelby went to find a working console. One was under debris close to the warp core. She was able to coax some life from the machine by rerouting circuitry.

Enterprise is still in the area. The Klingons chased them into the debris field. Looks pretty bad.”

“How long did we have until we get reinforcements?” Beverly asked as she knelt by the two ensigns tending to their wounds.

“Hours. Trust Starfleet to go into something like this half-baked.” Shelby winced. “We have two escape routes and they both involve the Jeffries Tubes. Behind engineering is a route out to the shuttle bay. That’s mostly corridor then a Tube out there. Might be a shuttle we can use.”

Shelby went to scoop up Takari who opened his eyes. “Ah, Ensign Takari hello. Shelby, Enterprise.”

“We’re dead?”

“Not yet son.” Shelby began to edge her way across engineering, Takari trying to use his feet yet unable owing to his injuries. Beverly helped Ellis across who, now awake, apologised for his condition.

“These things happen,” was all she said.

They managed to get into a corridor that led aft from engineering. The deck continued its efforts to throw them off otherwise the ship retained enough of its power. It remained an effort to get the ensigns down the ship. Beverly gritted her teeth, feeling the strain as she rounded one corridor end.

“Where’s the damn access hatch?”

“Two more junctions,” Shelby called from behind. Both women now were streaked in dirt and soot from their efforts in engineering as well as the fires that were starting around them. This particular stretch had no fire but they weren’t far off. Neither was to know that by now fire had taken hold of the wrecked starship and was cutting off their return.

“Can’t manage these two in a Jeffries Tube,” Beverly pointed out.

“We can pull ourselves along,” Ellis murmured. “It’s our legs that are broken.”

“Your arms aren’t better off, Ensign. You did have a gantry land on you.”

“Gantry smantry.” Ellis managed a weak smile. “Not much time left.”

They hurried as best as they could, reaching the Jeffries Tube access panel in ten or so minutes. Maybe it was longer. What was not in doubt was that the starship was in her death throes. The shaking of the deck had strengthened, the sound of muffled explosions increasing. Beverly got into the Jeffries Tube first to open the hatch into the network. This particular stretch was indeed horizontal meaning that the two ensigns could at least shuffle along.

“How far is the shuttlebay?” she asked.

“Hundred metres,” Ellis said.

“Good,” she grunted. Turning to help Ellis in she then went to get Takari. Shelby was back in the corridor trying to help Takari over the threshold into the access room. Once he was through Shelby took a breath.

“Thank God…”

The ceiling gave a groan, the lights flickered and an explosion sounded close by accompanied by the roar of furious fire. Shelby disappeared under an avalanche of fire, molten hot debris and steelwork.

“Libby!” screamed Beverly lunging forward, yet stopping as the debris filled up to the ceiling. Panic suddenly gripped Beverly as she looked up, seeing the ceiling glow red. Then calmness took hold. You’re a senior officer…senior officer…she helped Takari into the Jeffries Tube then climbed inside after him. Ellis was already halfway down the Tube scrabbling on his elbows and knees.

“Go! As quick as you can!” she snapped in her CMO’s voice. She followed swiftly. She couldn’t get the image of Shelby being killed out of her head. Had she loved Elizabeth Shelby as she had once Jack Crusher? Possibly. Certainly Libby had been her best friend and confidante. Oh God, oh God…don’t let me die like that.

Beverly was able to get past the two ensigns when they reached the other end to help them out. Ellis fell to the deck, pulling himself forward towards the bay doors. Beverly grunted as she hooked Takari’s arm across her shoulders and used her hip to get him moving with her. The shuttle bay doors opened to reveal a scene of devastation. There were jagged cracks in the gleaming black surface, some with fire flickering below. The control room to the upper left was ablaze. The bay doors were open though the flickering of light across the void revealed that the magnetic containment field was working. Beyond the doors a Bird of Prey was seen speeding by. A single shuttle sat on the deck.

“Go Ellis, go!” she urged as she hobbled across the deck. If it was not so serious she would have laughed perhaps at the sight of the ensign on the deck crawling but it was his only way. The deck gave a shuddering groan as the Lexington lurched violently to starboard. The inertial dampeners were falling in power thus the three rolled across the deck quite freely. Beverly lost her grip on Takari and rolled clear. She hit the wall of the shuttle bay and struggled to her knees. Looking across she watched in horror as Takari fell into a crack, flames shooting up in his place. Beverly ran across the deck jumping across a crack to get to Ellis. She stopped him from falling into a crevasse then dropped to her knees by him. He looked up at her.

“Sorry doc, I can’t go on.”

“Hell you can’t,” she said with intensity. “On three you go with me.”

She grabbed him by the arms. “One…” she began to tug. “Two…three!”

On three she hoisted Ellis in a fireman’s lift and began to run to the shuttle. She was about twenty feet away when it happened as she always suspected it would. The deck before her gave way letting fire whoosh up violently then to her left it went and finally behind her. The shuttle began to sag as the deck beneath it crumpled.

Doctor Beverly Howard kept her grip on Ensign Ellis until the flames took her and then the darkness.

 

**

 

Lexington’s gone,” said Jack numbly his voice drowned out by the hubbub on the bridge. Much of the Klingon strike force was decimated against the odds by the Enterprise.

“What?” said Riker standing to look at his security officer.

Lexington just blew up.” Jack put the image on screen. Where the starship had been was a silent cloud of green energy that was dissipating.

“Anything…anything get clear?” Riker asked.

“Just a Bird of Prey.”

“Get us out of here,” Riker said. They had been trying for half an hour or more despite what he said to Shelby. He had assumed going into the debris field would buy them some time. “However best you can O’Brien.”

The Irishman nodded. Seconds later the ship stood on her tail and jumped into warp up and away from the debris field.

 

EPILOGUE

 

Riker swallowed from his new glass of Napa red and looked again at the vacant seats by him. They had place names as if still expecting their occupants. The neat handwriting of one of the 602’s waitresses seemed so innocent. DOCTOR BEVERLY HOWARD and CMDR ELIZABETH SHELBY.

After the Klingon force had been dealt with the Enterprise and the reinforcements returned to the graveyard of Task Force 77. One further lifepod was discovered, overlooked in the initial search, yet contained nobody. A detailed search was made for bodies and a few were recovered from where they had become frozen against wreckage. None were Admiral Neychaev and none were Beverly or Shelby. Flight recorders were recovered from all ships lost in TF77. The space equivalent of the Black Box, like its predecessor, it was intended to survive any cataclysm that befell a starship. Likewise the Lexington’s survived her end. Careful studying showed how Beverly and Shelby met their ends.

In dispatches both earned high commendation by Riker. He had never got on with Shelby and vice versa ever since he returned to take the Enterprise-E as his command. Yet…yet, he had somehow liked her (though he never admitted it to her or even his wife).

Starfleet posthumously promoted both women as well as giving the entire dead of Task Force 77 a memorial service at San Francisco.

Jack, Geordi, Jaxo, Ogawa and to a point Data looked up in surprise as Riker suddenly stood. He put his wine down then grabbed his coat. As he put it on he looked down the table. “I need to go home. We’ll never forget Shelby or Doctor Howard and I urge you all not to. They died…died in the name of their duty. Good night.”

Deanna hurried after him as he slipped out of the 602 Club onto the rainy San Francisco street. A cable car clattered past, its bell ringing, its running boards crammed with Starfleet cadets out on the town.

Deanna put her arm through Riker’s and silently they walked off, heads bowed against the rain.

END

 

 

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