“Have we lost her?” Admiral Fairchild asked.
“Lost her? No.” Arkady Avanessian shook his head before he turned to look out the window at the darkening sky over San Francisco. Somewhere up there the Valkyrie was just breaking orbit.
“But we may have alienated her. We always thought Veal was apolitical and, for what it’s worth, I still think she is.” Admiral Avanessian started to vigorously rub his forehead. “What we should always keep in mind is never again to back Veal into a corner. That was not just counterproductive - it was a mistake I don’t intend to repeat.”
Admiral Fairchild reclined in her chair and crossed her legs. “I don’t think it was a mistake. Not everything happened as we expected it, but in the end it should work in our favor.”
Avanessian’s hand stopped its motion and the admiral looked at his reflection in his office window for a long moment. “And to get that result you had to tell everyone that we will monitor her closely, as if we didn't trust her anymore?”
“Oh, come on, what should I have done? Tell everyone that we wanted to use her against Montego and Collmann? The last thing we want is that people believe we are taking an active part in Federation politics. That is just not how it works and you know it.”
Avanessian turned around and while his expression was deadpan, the coldness of his eyes revealed his anger. “Then perhaps it’s how it should work. A while ago I would have agreed with you, but there is something about Veal I like and that’s how she is willing to stand up for what she believes in, whatever the consequences may be. Maybe we should start learning from her example, don’t you think?”
“I’ll take what he has.”
Charles Fisk looked at the woman who had just slumped down on a stool by his side. “If it isn’t the famous Mel Carides gracing me with her presence. That you are sharing a drink with me may be a greater honor than I can take.”
“Stuff it, Fisk!” she shot back and grabbed the glass the barkeep handed her. After a small sip, then a longer gulp, she added: “Gin tonic? Not bad.”
Charles Fisk’s curiosity got the better of his disdain. Studying Mel’s face in the mirror behind the bar he asked: “What brings you here today Mel?”
“I am starting to get drunk, can’t you see that?” Mel Carides downed half her glass in one gulp and shuddered. “My career is finished. Unless a miracle happens EBS is going to kick me out and who will hire a host who can’t even follow the script?”
“Don’t count on it.” Fisk turned his head and looked at her with a smile Mel was willing to believe was sincere.
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t say I like you very much, or rather I don’t like the work you have been doing for the last few years, but you handled yourself well. You asked some good questions and you did it all by yourself. If EBS wants to fire you for that I think the world is going down in a handbasket.”
Melantha Carides stared down at her glass for a few seconds. “And who says it isn’t?”
Apart from the reflection of Alexander Westmore’s face the monitor was empty.
He activated a program hidden deep inside the Valkyrie’s computer and a column of seemingly random numbers started to run down the right edge of the otherwise still dark screen. After a few seconds the column stopped and several numbers changed from orange to green - the computer had isolated the transmission hidden in Starfleet’s nav-beacon network and had confirmed the validity of the code used.
Commander Westmore double-checked the tricorder hooked up to his com terminal. As soon as anyone entered the room the transmission would be terminated instantly. It was an unlikely prospect, but it never hurt to be careful. Satisfied that he had taken all necessary precautions Westmore opened the com-line.
“I hope you enjoyed your stay on Earth.” The voice was the familiar computer-generated female voice familiar to all Starfleet crews. Running the transmission through a translation matrix and having the computer broadcast the result in its own voice was an almost fool-proof method of masking the speaker's voice. Every Starfleet com-terminal could be used for it, but almost no one ever thought of the possibility.
‘So damn obvious that even I haven’t thought of it for years,’ Westmore thought before he answered. “You know me well enough to answer that for yourself. What is it you want?”
“I expect some important developments within the next few weeks, maybe even before the final elections. Are you ready?”
“Not yet, but I will have everything in place before long,” Westmore replied. “Several layers of security measures have been added after the Cardassian attack at Draygo and I had no chance to build backdoors into all of them. It will take me a little more time to prepare everything. Ten days, maybe two weeks, but not more.”
“That should be more than enough. Things could be set into motion soon, but it will be some time before they come to fruition. Proceed as planned. Should there be any unforeseen developments contact me on this channel.”
Alexander Westmore reached out to his terminal and ended the transmission. He put the tricorder back into his desk drawer before he called up the LCARS access and ensured himself that no trace of the transmission had ever entered the Valkyrie’s computer memory.
“This must be the shortest honeymoon in history,” Ben said and looked at Earth slowly sliding out of view as the Valkyrie broke orbit.
Tarin stepped up behind him and placed her arms around her husband, resting her head on his shoulder. “Not really. We are back on duty, but it will be two weeks before we reach the Bajor sector. Just look at it as a long honeymoon interspersed with some work we both enjoy. That’s not so bad, is it?”
“I guess not.” Ben’s eyes followed the planet below as it turned out of view. It would be some time before he saw his family again, but that had always been the price one paid for a job in Starfleet and today it mattered less than ever before. He raised his hand and looked at the ring. Exchanging the rings had been a small part of the ceremony, but to him it had been important.
For Ben Tucker the gold band with black and silver speckles symbolized everything there was to his life with Tarin. Black - the time before they had met, what they had been on their own. Silver - the time they had shared before yesterday, what together they had become. Gold – what they would share, their future.
outside the window there were only stars and Ben Tucker smiled. ‘Home
is where your heart is.’
Short story index (in chronological order)
The events shown in "Gaslight Hunter / Different Lives" take place on two evenings in late December 2372 on board the Valkyrie (between chapters 2 and 3 of Politics).
"Home is where the Heart is" takes place on Earth, starting the day after Tarin and M'rroah have visited the Five Stars. (After chapter 7 of Politics)
The story "Captain's Mast" is set on February 1 and 2, 2373 (between chapters 9 and 10 of Politics).
"Memory Lane" takes place in early February 2373 and its events span several days shortly before Ben and Tarin's wedding (between chapters 11 and 12 of Politics).