<Starfleet Temporary Sector Command. Syria Plenum, Sol IV, 14 months ago>
In the aftermath of what had come to be known as The Stand, everyone who had ever worn a Starfleet uniform and was physically able, descended on various locations across the Federation, eager to do anything they could. The assistance was sorely needed.
With the bulk of their large capital ships destroyed or out of position to respond to the emergencies in the Sol system and other critical locations, many actively serving officers who were duty-bound to respond had trouble getting where they needed to be, no matter what the regulations said. Even the vaunted starship Enterprise, still under the command of Jean-Luc Picard, didn't arrive at Earth until three days after the attacks; though when she did finally make orbit to assist with the damage in New Paris, the relief was palpable.
Most of the other officers and crews had to rely on whatever transport they could find to report to staging areas and do whatever they were ordered. It took a month for Starfleet to get hard numbers on how many ships, officers, and crew were left. After that, the hard work started.
John Carter fidgeted in maroon colored office chair as he awaited the results of his medical work-up. It would have been standard procedure after Republic finished her re-fit anyway. Now however, judging every officer's fitness was more important than ever. As the weight of the last few days began to come down on John Carter's shoulders again, he was thankfully distracted by the arrival of Dr. Sarah Chambers.
The dark-skinned physician smiled, pulling a chair closer to where Carter was sitting. “Sorry to keep you so long John.” She offered. She took a moment to address Carter's left side. “Still can't believe there's hardly any scarring on your eye. Leon was far too modest about his skills as a surgeon.” She paused. “You're sure the implant is fine?”
John tilted his head. “Yeah, it's fine. Is…there a problem?”
Chambers looked at the results of the Martian Commander's exam. “Not with the implant, no.”
“But there IS a problem. Isn't there.”
Chambers nodded. “I'm afraid so.” She said grimly.
“Hey,” Carter flashed what he had intended as an easy-going smile, but it came off as more nervous than anything. “Might as well just let me have it Doc.” He offered.
Despite herself, Chambers smiled. “Ok, Commander.” There was another pause, then she looked him straight in the eye. “I'm recommending planet-side duty, pending a full psyche-eval.”
The news hit John like a punch in the gut. With all that was going on, he was needed, and he KNEW he was perfectly healthy. He HAD to get back into space. He had to do SOMETHING! “What the hell are you talking about? I'm fine!”
Chambers nodded. “Physically, yes, you're in very good condition, but that's not what I'm concerned about.”
Carter threw up his hands in a `I can't believe this' gesture.
“John. Please. Listen to me.” Chambers' voice was filled with emotion and genuine concern as she continued. “I don't think you've fully come to terms with the losses of the last two moths.”
Carter scowled. “Officers lose ships. It happens.”
The Doctor nodded. “Yes, yes it does,” she confirmed. “But you lost more than a ship, and I'm concerned what that loss might do to you.”
Carter felt his pulse rise. “And you think that keeping me dirt-side is going to help me feel better?” He could feel his temper flaring and took a deep breath to keep it under control.
Chambers shook her head. “Six months ago, I'd be ordering you on leave, but with the stop-loss orders in place, I can't do that.”
Carter leaned closer. “Then let me do my job!”
The Doctor leaned back. “And what is that exactly? If you could do anything, what would it be? Do you even know?”
“That's not the SPROCKING POINT!” John thundered as his temper slipped. He tried to settle back in his chair, but it was too late.
“With respect, Commander,” Chambers said with resolve, “this is PRECISELY the point. You're tired, you're stressed, and you just lost someone very important to you. You NEED rest.”
Carter huffed as his head dropped. “Doctor Chambers, please.”
“I get it John, I do, but fight me on this and I'll take you off active duty, I swear to God.”
Looking back, John Carter would recall that conversation and realize that it was THE moment when he finally realized, and finally admitted to himself that Republic was gone. Shannon Harris was gone, and neither his ship, nor the woman he loved was ever coming back.
<Starfleet Headquarters. Three days later>
“I appreciate you seeing me on such short notice Admiral Krockover.” Carter said with a slight nod to the flag officer who had so kindly agreed to fit him into her schedule. “I know it's a busy time…I just. I need your help.”
“Not at all, Commander Carter,” the older officer said as she gestured for him to sit. “But I have to tell you that I've read Doctor Chamber's report, and it's against my better judgment to go against doctor's orders.”
Carter felt his optimism fade as he realized his situation might take more than just calling in a favor or dropping a name. He looked up calmly and began to re-group. “I appreciate that, Admiral.” He admitted, “but I hope you can understand that I'm not comfortable sitting at home, considering the times.”
Krockover's brow furrowed. It wasn't in the nature of most Starfleet Officers, particularly from the Command Branch, to sit on the sidelines. She could identify with Carter's position, but she had a bigger picture to consider. “Commander,” she said, after a long moment, “I certainly appreciate your need to help in our recovery.” She explained. “Frankly, after reading your file, I'd be concerned if you WEREN'T upset, but after your actions that saved this very building…” She paused, moving her hands to sweep across the room around them, “Well, I think you've done your part for now, don't you, Commander?”
Carter shook his head and set his jaw. “Frankly, no ma'am, I don't.” His head dropped as he squinted, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I know that the sacrifice of Republic was necessary, but I don't want any credit I don't deserve.”
Krockover looked at the officer quizzically. “I'm afraid I don't understand, Commander. Explain.”
Carter shut his eyes for a long moment. “I didn't DO anything.” He said simply. “It was Victor Virtus' engineering that made the recovery of the ship possible, and it was Shann…” Carter felt his voice crack at the mention of the doctor's name. Oddly, Admiral Krockover continued the train of thought.
“And you're feeling guilty for surviving, having ordered others to die?” The Admiral tilted her head.
Carter shook his head. “No. It's…not that simple…” His voice trailed off as he gathered his thoughts.
In the meantime, the Admiral held up her hand. “Let me stop you there Commander.” She said rather firmly. “You're right. It's not that simple, but hear me out.” The Admiral pushed away from her desk, stood up, and took a few steps toward the large window in her office which afforded a wonderful view of the main Starfleet Academy campus. “Starfleet teaches it's members some very important things,” she began, still looking out the window. “But if I were Commandant of the Academy, there's one thing I'd love to change.” She turned back to look at Carter, who'd followed her lead and stood up.
“We're very good at instilling the tradition of duty, honor, fraternity, even sacrifice,” she explained. “But somewhere along the way, we've built on those values and they've been conflated into the idea that the most noble thing an officer can do is die for the Federation.” Krockover straightened her posture, assuming a more official pose. “Frankly, Commander,” she continued, “I've always thought that was too easy, and I'd like you to consider that you're capable of more than that. I for one would much prefer that you LIVE for the Federation.”
John felt his face flush as if were six years old and just been scolded for being rude in front of company. He swallowed hard, bringing his head up and assuming parade rest position. “Point taken, Admiral.”
Krockover nodded. “Good. I'm glad we understand each other, Commander, and I'm not indifferent to your position.” She walked back toward her desk, stopping for a moment to trail her fingers along the surface of an antique globe which sat at the corner. “As I said, I've read your file, Carter, and I was impressed by your stint here at the Academy. It seems you're a very good teacher.”
Carter nodded. “Thank you, Admiral.”
“I won't authorize you for front line service, she said firmly, “but I can get you back on board a ship; in a capacity I think you're spectacularly qualified for.”
An hour after the conversation began, John Carter stepped down the neo-Romanesque steps of Starfleet Headquarters, shielding his eyes from the glaring sun of another vid-card perfect day. He looked briefly into the sky and shook his head as if looking for something he couldn't quite see. “Close as I'm gonna get for a while, I guess.”
<To Be Continued.>
CMDR. John T. Carter
Former Executive Officer