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Epilogue: Where Do the Children Play, Part 2

May 2376

It had been two weeks since Eagle had first arrived at Earth and both shore leave and crucial system overhauls necessitated by continuous battle duty during the last two war years were slowly coming to an end.

It had been almost as long since his father had passed and the funeral and Michael Owens still felt the emptiness within him that he had not thought possible considering his troubled relationship with the man who had, at best, been an absentee father to him for most of his life. He wasn’t sure if he was more shocked by his sudden death or by the way it had affected him.

DeMara Deen who had experienced her own personal losses over the last few months—even so she claimed that they were not comparable to his own—had possibly framed it best. While she wasn't a trained counselor and nearly half his age, her wisdom and insight never failed to surprise him—as they had when she had pointed out that no matter how much he had disagreed with his late father over the years, and no matter how much he had blamed him for his failings, he had always held out a grain of hope that one day he would fully reconcile with him, and that they would move past the feelings of bitterness and guilt both of them seemed to have harbored.

And there had certainly been evidence of this over the years as it looked more and more likely that real conciliation was indeed a real possibility and that all it truly required was time. Time, of course, had run out

It was impossible to think that his decision to turn down his unexpected offer had somehow brought on Jonathan Owens sudden demise. After all, the doctors had assured him that his father had been unwell for some time now.

And yet Michael couldn’t entirely free himself of the notion that he had been in part responsible for what had happened to his father—that if he had just said yes to his request that he might still be alive.

He understood the inherently dangerous road that kind of thinking would lead him down on and he had tried very hard to keep his mind preoccupied with other matters such as Eagle’s next mission which he would no doubt receive very shortly, as well as other routine ship duties which would require his attention.

One of those duties had brought him and DeMara Deen down to deck six.

Michael had not missed that the usually bubbly and outspoken Deen had been more introvert as of late. He knew that her own tragedy of seeing her close Academy friend, turned Starfleet Marine, practically die in her arms had greatly affected her but it also seemed to him that her recent reunion with her uncle on Earth had not turned out to be the joyful experience he had hoped it be. She had come back from that encounter much more pensive than he would have expected and she had yet to open up to him about why it had left her so shaken.

He had been determined not to push her on this and give her whatever time she needed before she felt comfortable sharing her thoughts with him.

She did, however, wear a little smile while they were walking down the corridor, looking much more like her usual self, even if he knew that there was more brewing under the surface.

“I’m really looking forward to this,” she said and Michael was glad that her spirits were lifted even if just for the short term.

He nodded. “I think it will do as all some good,” he said. “It wasn’t an easy decision to tell you the truth. I can certainly see both arguments but at the end of the day, I think this is what this crew wanted the most.”

“What we need as well,” she said in quick agreement. “A little spark of light after the long spell of darkness we have been drowning in over the last couple of years.”

“And I understand that they couldn’t wait to come back which is very heartening, considering all the terrible news they must have been exposed to over that time.”

“I think it makes us all better, more complete,” she said and then stopped when she saw a set of doors parting up ahead.

A throng of people was emerging from the transporter room, many of which were wearing civilian clothing and among the men and women were also quite a few children of all ages which were quickly filling the corridor with the sounds of laughter and joy.

Deen’s smile widened and it was infectious. It had been a long time since he heard the sound of children filling Eagle’s corridors.

"Dee!" A human girl of perhaps seven or eight years had spotted the Tenarian and was racing down the corridor towards her. Another child, a boy who was noticeably shorter, and a few years younger, was close on her heels, clearly as excited about seeing Deen again.

“Cora, Chase,” she said, taking a knee to brace herself for their stormy approach, her smile once again as big and as brilliant as Michael remembered it from their pre-war days.

The girl won the impromptu race down the corridor, beating her brother by a few seconds and hugging Deen tightly before Chase joined her a moment later.

“We missed you,” Cora said.

“I missed you too,” she said as she slowly freed herself from their embrace and then looked them both over. "It's not been the same without you two around. And look at how much you have both grown." She considered Chase for a moment. "You must be at least twenty-six by now.”

The boy gave her a sheepish grin. “No, I’m six,” he said and stuck out both hands indicating the years with his fingers.

“Not possible,” said Deen and then looked at Michael. “Can’t be right, can it?”

The captain shrugged. “We may need to get Commander Xylion down here to verify this.”

Chase's eyes lit up to that, demonstrating an ongoing fascination with Vulcans and all things science which even two years away from Eagle had clearly not diminished.

“He will need to wait until I get my lessons,” said Cora determinedly as the looked at Deen. "I studied everything I could on operations, I even took extra classes in computer science at school. I’ve got an A last week.”

“A minus,” her brother teased her.

Cora shoved her brother dismissively. “Whatever,” she said and turned back to Deen. “My teacher said I would make a great operations officer. Everyone in my class was really impressed with what you taught me.” The pride in her body language was impossible to miss, as was the way she clearly adored Deen.

“Looks like there’ll be somebody gunning for your job soon,” said Michael with a smirk.

But before either Deen or Cora could respond a commotion down the corridor up ahead caught everyone’s attention. A few of the civilians and regular crewmembers, including no doubt the children’s parents had still been mingling around just outside the transporter room when the doors had parted again and another group of new arrivals emerged.

And they couldn’t have been any more different. The first person to come through was a tall, muscular human with a perfectly bald head and full, almost shaggy red beard which was a rare sight these days and likely not exactly in line with grooming regulations for Starfleet officers. He didn’t wear a standard uniform but was most assuredly not a civilian either, judging by the intense look in his eyes. He wore a large backpack which Michael thought was shaped very much like it contained a number of big weapons.

And even though it was clear this man had never set foot on Eagle before, the newcomer required all but a second to find his bearings and then move on down the corridor, pushing himself passed the small crowd and continuing with a purposeful pace.

He was followed almost immediately by a woman who stood nearly as tall as he had, and thanks to her sleeveless vest was showing of muscles which must have rivaled his. She had a severe buzz-cut, dark skin and the same intense look in her eyes, as well as a similar bag strapped to her back.

Behind her, a fierce looking Nausicaan who was even taller than both of the humans stepped out of the transporter room. Then came a short and yet somehow no less dangerous and gruff looking Tellarite as well as a procession of five more men and women of various races, some of which wore either parts of Starfleet uniforms or were others clad in strictly civilian attire. All would have looked more at home on a mercenary vessel than on a ship of the line. Carrying heavy weapons cases, every single one of them seemed like the kind of man or woman who could not only stand their own in a fight, they’d more than likely be the ones who’d finish one.

They paid little attention to the startled looks they received from the crewmembers and children they passed who understandingly gave them a wide berth as they strode down the corridor in a single file.

Their leader gave Michael a very curt nod as he walked by hardly even slowing down. “Sir.”

Cora had moved closer to Deen as she watched the procession pass them by but her little brother had been less brave and had moved to try and partially hide behind her legs.

No other words were exchanged until the entire nine-man team had disappeared down the corner. Michael thought he could almost sense a collective sense of relief once they were gone.

“So I guess you’ve decided on a compromise,” Deen finally said, still looking down the corridor and referring to the options he had mulled over of either bringing back the civilians which had left Eagle once the war had broken out, or keeping the Marine detachment onboard which had come to replace them.

He nodded. “Laas made some good points and was very persuasive. She believes that a Special Missions Team will be a perfect addition to her security team and just the kind of specialist unit to continue to ensure the safety of this ship and crew considering the challenges we’re likely to face in this post-war galaxy.”

“I’m not sure if I should be relieved or worried,” she said.

Michael had no response to offer. The truth was he wasn't entirely sure himself. It wasn't commonplace for Starfleet ships to carry an SMT unit, which as the name suggested was usually only deployed in specific circumstances and when a certain level of decisive or clandestine force was required. It didn't exactly align with his vision of what Starfleet should be but then again he'd had similar reservations when he had signed off on the taking on the Marines detachment two years earlier and now he was certain that his crew would most likely not have survived the war without them.

He couldn’t help but hope that this changed galaxy they lived in now would not force him to rely in the same way on a team of people which for all intense and purposes appeared to be made up of natural born killers.

He also knew that after all they had been through, he couldn’t afford not having them around at all.

“Times are changing, Dee, and we’ll have to change with them,” he said but didn’t say to her what was truly on his mind. After his father’s dire warnings, he was worried about what the future might bring.

And he wasn’t so sure if this latest move was going to be enough to prepare them for it.

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