“I’m off to that session,” Ben murmured as he left Kathryn at the hotel bar. “I’ll be quite interested to hear about Trey Robleson’s project.”
“Me, too,” she murmured back as they shared a quick kiss.
She saw Robleson sitting at a table in the back. He was a bit too polished for her taste, but it probably went with the territory.
Keith “Trey” Robleson was part of a family with old-line ties to both Starfleet and Federation politics. He made captain, was decorated for his actions in the Dominion War, then retired, resurfacing as head of the Federation Relief Organization.
His call had come out of the blue. “Hope I’m not being too forward, Admiral. I realize that while we have many mutual friends and colleagues, we’ve never been introduced.”
That was no surprise. She and Ben were known in some circles but certainly didn’t inhabit his strata; Alex’s godmother was not the current Federation president.
He rose to greet her. “Thanks for agreeing to see me, Admiral,” he said.
“Well, Captain, since I’m not interested in particle physics today, your timing is good.”
He chuckled as they sat and ordered drinks. “Thank you for the ‘Captain.’ There are days I miss it. Anyway, as I mentioned, I recently talked to Owen Paris about a project I’m trying to launch. He said you’re the best person for the job and you’re looking for a new challenge.”
“Well, you have me there,” she admitted. It was true; she’d started a department from scratch, launched a few dozen projects adapting Delta Quadrant technology. But when B’Elanna left to join Tom in their design firm last year, she realized it was time to move on, too.
Robleson leaned forward, speaking quietly now. “During the war, I saw the devastation in the settlements, the worlds caught in the cross-fire. It’s been seven years now, Admiral, and nothing has changed for them.” She could see the shadows in his eyes … they looked familiar, like the ones she saw in the mirror.
“When I left, I lobbied for FRO funds. I certainly have the connections,” he said, smiling wryly. “When Dusa U’ter died so unexpectedly last year, I ended up in her job.”
“I’m somewhat aware. One my former crew is working in Dorvan. I’m told it’s slow going.”
He nodded. “I’ve secured some funds. But frankly, we don’t have the ships or engineering ability to tackle all the needs. So I’m proposing a joint Starfleet-FRO response team. Starfleet provides some ships, equipment and engineering talent, the FRO provides civilians with the other specialties.”
“And what would this team do?”
“It would come to a settlement, by invitation, for one to two months to address the greatest need, as cited by leadership. We can’t do everything, but maybe in two months we could rebuild a water purification plant, put up some decent shelter and provide some medical care. And help them find the means to fix other issues.”
“And why me? I have no experience with aid programs.”
He grinned. “You can run a starship. You created a department: staff, projects and all. You’re well-known and respected. And as Owen put it, you have a unique talent for merging disparate people into a functioning team.”
She chuckled. “I had help with that. And it was a matter of survival.”
“Admiral, this is survival, too. There’s a generation out there that knows nothing but poverty and hopelessness. They’re angry.” He looked her in the eye. “If one of the Federation’s enemies harnesses that anger, we’ll face a movement that will make the Maquis look like toy soldiers.”
“You have a point, Captain,” she said quietly. “But this isn’t going to happen quickly. Getting everything aligned, getting clearances, ships and crews ...”
“You’re right,” he agreed. “That’s one of the reasons I want you for this. You know how to move things along. My dad and Owen are willing to help, but Owen says he’ll only be on board if you are involved.”
“Is that blackmail, Captain?” she asked lightly.
“Not exactly, but if that’s what it takes ...” Somehow, his grin reminded her very much of Tom’s.
He handed her a PADD. “This is the full proposal; take a look and tell me what you think. Even if you don’t want to join up, I’d truly appreciate any ideas you could offer.”
“Wow, this is quite a project,” Ben said as he put down the PADD.
“It is,” Kathryn admitted. “It will take a lot of work to bring this together.”
“So, how are you going to start?”
Her look clearly indicated that he was daft. “I haven’t signed on to this.”
“Uh, huh,” he chuckled as he grabbed her hand and pulled her onto the couch. “I can see that gleam in your eye.”
“And what gleam would that be?”
“Oh, the one I saw on our first date when you described your new department. And repeated when you launched each new project. Haven’t seen that for a while.”
“No, you haven’t,” she admitted. “It might be a good excuse to get Voyager out of dry dock,” she murmured, mostly to herself.
“All right, now we have a problem,” Ben interrupted.
She jumped at his tone. “What?”
“This much I know: If Voyager is recommissioned, you’re going out with her.”
“Your point, love?”
“We agreed that neither of us would take projects that would keep us away from home for long periods. This,” he said, grabbing the PADD again, “is talking about two-month missions, or likely longer.”
“Benjamin,” she said with a mock-hurt tone, “I remember my promise. If I should go out … and I haven’t accepted this job yet … it would be on the condition is that the crew, which might include me, could bring families along if possible.”
“I’m hearing an ‘if possible.’”
“Yes,” she said flatly. “And that plays into one of my issues with this.”
He leaned back, looking at her expectantly. “Captain Robleson forgot to mention something: His biggest need is security.” She got up and started to pace. “After his call, I had a few chats with various people. The FRO has real problems. Many of those areas are in anarchy; the FRO can’t get aid in, let alone distribute it. They’ve lost a number of people trying … including Dusa U’ter.”
“I thought that was a shuttle crash.”
Kathryn just smiled thinly. “Even shuttles with shielding are vulnerable at certain points. Hit one with a missile then, and it will crash.”
Ben drew in a sharp breath, and Kathryn realized she needed to defuse this — quickly. She sat down again, sliding her hand onto his shoulder.
“Look, I suspect I would want to go out occasionally, but not on a regular basis. I miss having a ship sometimes, but seven years in the Delta were more than enough. And I have two very good reasons not to do anything foolhardy,” she said, punctuating that with a squeeze. “I meant what I said about bringing you and Alex along, but I won’t put you in harm’s way.”
“So what happens now?”
She leaned back and sighed. “Good question. No answer at the moment.” She shook her head. “This project, or some form if it, needs to happen. Robleson is right about one thing: Ignoring these settlements is dangerous, but Starfleet shouldn’t have to shoulder most of the risk.” She paused for a moment, lost in thought. “There’s no way to remove all the risk … but there has to be some creative ways to lessen it.”
“Shall I call the front desk and ask for a whiteboard?”
That brought a chuckle from Kathryn. “Turn it into a physics problem, eh? In some ways ...” she stopped and looked over at him. “You know, you might be on to something there.”
“I was just kidding, honey,” he cautioned.
Kathryn grinned. “I know. But this is a problem. And I’ve been looking at the whole instead of breaking it down. Perhaps I should change my approach.”
“So does this mean you’re taking the job?”
“Too soon to tell, love,” she said as she got up. “I’m going to call Owen tomorrow and get his take on things. When we get home, I’m going to have another chat, hopefully a very honest one, with the good Captain. In the meantime,” she said as she headed into the bedroom. “it’s time we went to dinner … be right back.”
Ben picked up the PADD, looked at it and looked over at the bedroom door. He dropped the PADD back on the couch and chuckled.
“Protest all you want, my dear, but I know that look … you’re taking the job,” he said to himself.