Ukyo stomped around on the bridge of the U.S.S. Infinity. She was unhappy about several things, the least of which is the fact that there was not anything for her to do.
That really was not that far from the norm, however. The Infinity was not a 'normal' Starfleet ship, so she did not get sent on 'normal' Starfleet missions. She was, however, used quite often as a show of dominance when dealing with an ever-growing hostile Klingon Empire, and when the Federation wanted to remind the Dominion who won the war.
So basically, her day-to-day routine was flying from the Alpha to the Gamma Quadrant then to Qo'noS; then repeating the loop in various orders.
Regardless, now there was something to do but she was not allowed to do anything. Stuck out here with a bunch of other ships, just waiting, and watching.
As well, the probe the Sisko sent out did not deliver any good news. They were going to try and destroy a Jem'Hadar shipyard from the inside out, but wouldn't be able to scan through to beam their guys out? And to top it off, they were only sending in the special operations guys?
Ukyo was not sure what Ranma was on, but she didn't quite think it was good for him.
“Captain?” Ukyo's first officer asked.
Ukyo ignored him. Ranma's words earlier were haunting her too. She had come to realize that she was not mad at him for choosing Akane to manage triage operations. Hell, she would have wanted him to choose her if she was in that position.
What bothered her was how right he was. How rude she was and how inappropriate it was for her to even bring it up at a time like this. As well, she knew this day would come, eventually. And she had a whole God-damned year to come to terms with the marriage.
There was no reason for her to be upset and certainly no reason for her to be acting like such an ass.
Ranma was her friend and friendships come before any kind of rivalries. Besides, if they remained friends, if things did not work out between Ranma and Akane, Ukyo could be there to pick up the pieces, so to speak.
Ukyo sighed. She did not like thinking of herself as a backup wife, but whatever.
She quickly turned to the first officer. “To hell with orders, we're going in to help.”
“Okay,” the first officer replied, a little confused.
“Prepare a security detachment. Those special operations guys might need some help getting a path cleared out for them.”
“Helm, take us in, full impulse.”
“Okay,” the helm replied. Once the Infinity entered The Badlands, the helm officer turned to Ukyo. “Now where?”
“Intercept the Sisko!”
“I don't know where she is.”
Ukyo spun around to operations.
“They didn't include that in their report.”
“Ranma, you moron,” Ukyo scowled. “Well, let's start looking.”
A large Jem'Hadar warship approached the facility as the Sisko began heading towards it. Makoto began to fire on it as Minako gasped.
“Sir, that ship has about 10,000 bio-signs on it.”
“How the hell do they fit that many soldiers on a single ship?” Ranma asked.
“I don't know,” Shampoo said, “but if they allowed to transport to station, neither NEO or marines will survive.”
Ranma nodded. “Makoto?”
The ship rocked hard as a blast of torpedo and phaser fire came from the warship and two previously unseen escorts.
“I'm focusing on their power, trying to knock out their transporters,” Makoto replied.
“SHEILDS AT 39 PERCENT!!!!” Usagi bellowed.
Kaii looked down to a beeping on his terminal. “What the...”
Minako looked at him. “What?”
“I think I just saw-” he was interrupted as multiple orange and silver torpedoes blew past the Sisko from behind her and annihilated first one escort ship, and then the other.
“Nice shooting,” Amanda smiled at Makoto.
“I didn't do that,” Makoto blinked.
Ranma turned to Kaii, then back to the viewscreen as the Infinity phased into view. The Sisko took another powerful hit from the warship before the Infinity began bearing down on her.
“Well,” Ranma smirked. “Nice to see them.”
Shampoo nodded as the Sisko moved around, attempting to help the Infinity destroy the warship. The combined assault was quick and effective, blowing the ship into nothingness.
“How many were transported?” Ranma asked.
“They never got in range,” Minako smiled.
Ranma and Shampoo both exhaled huge sighs of relief.
“Captain,” both Minako and Kaii called out. Kaii looked to Minako's panel then pointed to her. “Hers is more important.”
Ranma nodded as Minako spoke. “The reactor core appears to have begun its overload sequence. Just based on these power readings, it looks as if the NEO teams have maybe ten minutes to make it to a beam out point.”
Ranma sighed. “Lieutenant?”
“The Infinity is hailing us.”
Ukyo appeared on the main viewer. “Captain Saotome, I apologize for disobeying an order to maintain the perimeter, but your last communication made it sound as if you could use the help of a loyal friend and her many, many weapons and staff.”
Ranma smiled and nodded. “I certainly will not be issuing any demerits.”
Ukyo returned the smile. “What can we do?”
“We'd like to seize the dreadnaught. Can you transport security forces and engineering over there to take control of it and move it out of The Badlands?”
Ukyo turned to her second officer who started making things happen. “Of course.” She then looked to the readings from the power core. “How are your special operations guys?”
Ranma looked to his feet. “I don't know. The armor plating is far too strong. We can't communicate with them, scan in there, or transport.”
Ukyo thought for a moment before nodding. “I'm sending over a couple hundred to clear a route for them.”
“Ucchan, thank you.”
Ukyo nodded. “Anytime, Ranchan.”
The communication ended and Ranma turned back to Minako. “Keep a close eye on that reactor.”
“Sir, the dreadnaught is powered up and moving away from the station. The marines are stating that they are ready to assist the Infinity's crew in clearing out a path for the NEO teams.” Makoto stated.
“Loyalty to their shipmates,” Ranma nodded. “Inform the Infinity that our marines will be joining them.”
“There are so many of them, my tricorder can't distinguish one bio-sign from another,” Anthony growled, tossing a grenade at some of the advancing Jem'Hadar.
Kio nodded and tossed her last phase grenade at the group. She then grabbed her type two phaser and set it to overload and tossed it into the advancing group, killing several in the explosion.
Delta team was doing everything they could to continue to snipe the advancing group. Charlie team was helping Delta make up crude explosive devices and was trying to throw them the best they could from their concealed position in the back of the reactor core room.
All things considered; the NEO teams had performed quite well. Multiple Jem'Hadar soldiers lay dead or dying on the floor. Besides Rei's leg injury, none of the Sisko's special operations soldiers had yet been suffered a scratch.
In fact, if they at all believed that the Jem'Hadar would run out of soldiers before the reactor core went critical, Rei thought they might have a chance at this. But this was the Jem'Hadar we were talking about. And they did not seem to run out. They just kept coming and coming, paying no attention at all to their dead and injured compatriots at their feet.
The NEO teams were having issues as well. They were running out of grenades, limiting their ability to inflict damage on more than one Jem'Hadar at a time. As well, kill setting takes up a chunk of juice and more than one of the NEO officers had gone through multiple power cells.
They had totally expended their supply of projectile ammunition.
The forward advance of the Jem'Hadar had also forced them farther and farther back in the reactor room and now they were out of 'back' to go. Some of them literally found themselves with their backs against the wall.
It was a dire situation, but they knew that it would only last at the most, seven more minutes.
“I guess,” Rei sighed, accepting what seemed inevitable, “we just try and take out as many as we can before being overwhelmed. Despite Corporal Xiang and Sgt. Anderson's assurances, I want to make sure they have as little time as possible to attempt to stabilize the reactor.”
The rest of the group nodded. The NEO team's snipers began firing on the forward line, causing them to slow, allowing the remaining members of the team to pop up and fire off shots before quickly ducking back down as a barrage of disruptor charges came back at them.
Screaming began to echo through the reactor room. Kio looked to Rei who was unsure of whether to attempt to peak over the console she was using to shield herself to see what all the commotion was about.
“The bio signs have doubled,” Parker groaned.
Kio poked her head out. “They're turning around.”
Rei stuck her head up, quickly ducking back down as a few who were watching the Jem'Hadar flank fired at her. “Where are they going?”
Kio shrugged as her group popped up and fired, taking down a few, happily shooting several in the back. Rei and her group followed suit, not really wanting to allow them to regroup outside.
A large explosion near the doorway sent Jem'Hadar flying in every which direction. Any sense of discipline they had disappeared as the Jem'Hadar soldiers, poorly trained and seemingly lacking any further instructions from the Vorta began to scurry around looking for cover.
This gave the NEO teams the opening they needed as they began to blast soldier after soldier, without regard for whether that soldier was facing them, running or standing.
Eventually, there were no Jem'Hadar left, and the NEO teams found out exactly why.
“COMMANDER HINO! ARE YOU GUYS OKAY?!” a voice called into the room.
“Major Norva?” Rei asked.
The Sisko's marine forces stormed into the room and took up defensive positions. The Trill marine commander walked over to where the NEO teams were massed and smiled. “We're here to assist you guys in departing this facility.”
Parker looked to his tricorder. “There's still a huge force outside...”
Norva smiled. “They are part of the Infinity's security staff.”
“Uh,” Xiang mumbled. “We should probably continue this conversation aboard the Sisko,” he pointed at the now brightly glowing reactor core. “We have about five minutes.”
Rei nodded. “Let's move, double time.”
The force of now around four-hundred Starfleet security forces ran through the corridors and to a pair of cargo turbolifts which could move large quantities of people at a time. It took two trips each, but both groups made it to the ships and were beamed aboard both the Infinity and the Sisko as the reactor core began to spark and smoke.
ABOARD THE INFINITY
“Captain,” the first officer reported. “We have several of the Sisko crew and they have several of ours.”
Ukyo ran to the helm. “We can do a prisoner swap later. Get us out of here, full impulse!”
The helm officer nodded and set a course for the edge of The Badlands as fast as the gargantuan ship could move.
ABOARD THE SISKO
“All Starfleet is off the station. Some of our crew is aboard the Infinity.”
Ranma shrugged. “As long as they are safe. Get us out of here, best possible speed.”
Ikuhara began to move the Sisko as fast as he could away from the station. The Infinity blew past the Sisko, as the Sisko was still damaged and could only move at one-half impulse.
Ranma looked to the station as the reactor core began to spark and pulsate.
“We're not going to be far enough away, are we?” he asked.
JC looked to Minako, then to Usagi. “I'm diverting as much power as I can to the aft shields.”
Ranma nodded then sat in his seat, gripping his armrests tightly.
“All hands, brace for impact.”
“Why is the Sisko still back there?!” Ukyo demanded to know.
Both her first officer and second officer shrugged. Her engineering officer on the bridge looked at his display before gulping. “She's only moving one-half impulse. That might be as fast as she can move.”
“Bring us about!” Ukyo demanded.
“Captain!” The first officer yelled. “We can't do anything.”
Ukyo growled. She knew that. She did not like it, but she knew it.
Ranma closed his eyes as the reactor core breached. As expected, every ship attached to the shipyard exploded. The station exploded in a brilliant flash of light, sending a shock wave and debris in every direction. The explosion set off a chain reaction of gas cloud explosions.
The Sisko was first hit by the shock wave which sent her tumbling again, uncontrolled through The Badlands. Her shields were completely dismantled by the massive blast, allowing the debris that followed to pound her armor. The gas clouds that exploded did not help matters any sending more and more energy ripping into her, the environment doing its best to rip the warship to pieces.
However, in the end, the Sisko, albeit battered, remained in one piece. The forceful tumbling due to the initial shock wave working in her favor by pushing her away from most of the debris and exploding gas clouds.
Ikuhara, after returning to his seat from his unexpected trip to the ceiling, managed to stabilize her and get her pointed back towards the edge of The Badlands. Ranma, after peeling himself off the forward bulkhead, went to check on Shampoo, then his other bridge officers before looking sadly at the master situation display on the back of the bridge.
“Well, I don't need to be an engineer to know that this sucks.”
JC, still shaking off the wang to the head he took, nodded. “I'll make impulse a priority so we can get out of here.”
Ranma turned to him. “We still have four more planets to check.”
JC looked to the captain, a little shocked Ranma would even suggest such a ludicrous idea. “Captain,” he sighed. “Sir, in the shape we're in right now, the Jem'Hadar could run a shuttlecraft into us, and we'd likely explode.”
Shampoo slowly moved up next to Ranma.
“Sir, we have multiple casualty reports,” Minako reported. “Some serious.”
JC pointed to the nacelle that was giving them problems earlier. It was blinking red at this point, rather than just being at the solid red state the damage control teams had managed to repair it too. “If we don't inspect this, I can't say for certain that we won't end up killing ourselves.”
“An exposed plasma coil could very easily ignite a gas cloud that would kill us,” JC explained.
Shampoo looked to Ranma and whispered, “Tunnel vision.”
“God damn it,” Ranma growled.
“I'm sorry,” JC whimpered.
“Not you,” Ranma said, putting his hand on JC's shoulder. “Yes, please get impulse up as soon as possible. There are repair ships with the perimeter fleet. Hopefully, they can patch us up once we get out of here.”
JC nodded and went back to work on his terminal as Ranma took Shampoo towards his office. “You have the bridge, Commander Aino,” he called to Minako as the pair walked into his ready room.
“Sir,” Minako called after him.
Ranma stopped in his doorway.
“The captain of the Infinity is requesting to come aboard.”
Ranma nodded before allowing the door to close.
Shampoo sat down across from Ranma. “You okay?” she asked.
“When did I change?” Ranma asked.
“Have I always been like this?”
“Shampoo don't understand.”
Ranma sighed. “At what point did goal-oriented become 'obsessed'?”
“You really want to know what Shampoo think?”
Ranma nodded. “I wouldn't have asked otherwise.”
“Shampoo think it because you make mistake when you not blow up Nabiki Tendo cargo ship. Now you want to make sure that you prove not only to Starfleet, but to yourself that you can do job, emotions be damned.”
Ranma looked to Shampoo for a minute. “Really?”
Shampoo nodded and continued without hesitation. “You think you disappoint father. You think you disappoint Admiral Larson. Most of all, you think you disappoint yourself. That why you no want Akane to come along. Not necessarily because you don't want her to be harmed, but because if you fail, you don't want her to see; or at least if you fail, at least you be dead and will have the whole 'died defending the Federation' thing for you.”
Ranma again eyed Shampoo.
Ranma nodded. “I did. Kind of wish I didn't, though.”
“Cause Shampoo right?”
Ranma hesitated another minute before answering. “I am unsure if I am willing to acknowledge that.”
Shampoo grinned slightly. “I know you well, Captain.”
“How is that?”
“Because I love you.”
Ranma grinned a bit.
“Shampoo sometimes wonder what it would be like, Ranma and Shampoo, husband and wife, Captain and first officer of U.S.S. Benjamin Sisko.”
Ranma smirked. “Would be awkward at times, wouldn't it?”
Shampoo shrugged. “At least Shampoo would never hit you with mallet.”
“To be fair, she hardly ever hits me any more.”
“Marriage already going stale. Shampoo still have chance.”
Ranma laughed. “So, what, you'd just give up on Lt. Jansen?”
Shampoo just shook her head. “No, would just make marriage more fun.”
<Nifty Star Trek Doorbell Sound Here>
“Come in,” Ranma called.
The doors to Ranma's ready room slid open and Ukyo walked in. The look of concern that was on her face was obvious. It was quickly overridden by a look of shock when Ranma got up, walked around his desk, and hugged her.
“Ucchan,” he said, still hugging her. “Thank you.”
“Ran-” she stammered before returning the embrace. “Ranchan. You're welcome. It's what friends do.”
“Aino to Saotome.”
“Go ahead,” Ranma answered.
“We have one-quarter impulse.”
“Take us out of The Badlands then, best possible speed, and have us rendezvous with a repair ship.”
Ukyo tapped her communicator. “Konji to Infinity.”
“Please escort the Sisko out of The Badlands.”
Ranma motioned for Ukyo to sit down on his couch as the ship began to creep towards the perimeter fleet.
“Had you not shown up we may have lost our Marines and I know we would have lost our NEO teams,” Ranma sighed.
Shampoo nodded. “That ship was bringing ten thousand reinforcement.”
Ukyo shook her head. “Well, I am glad we came when we did then.”
“The problem is that those reinforcements had to have come from somewhere,” Ranma sighed. “So, there is at least another facility in here.”
“We can continue the search,” Ukyo suggested.
“Infinity too big,” Shampoo pointed out.
Ranma nodded. “The Jem'Hadar will see you guys coming from a planet away, even through all of this mess. As well, you guys are well-armed, but you must admit, she's not a skirmishing ship.”
Ukyo nodded. She knew her ship's limitations. She would fare well against the larger warships, but the fighters, not so much. As well, her fighters would be susceptible to gas cloud explosions.
She blinked. “What about my fighters? I could have them scout so that way you guys would know exactly where to go after being repaired.”
Ranma thought about this for a moment.
“Fighters did work very well for the Maquis in here. Virtually invisible to sensors,” he admitted.
Ukyo smiled. “Great, it's settled then. I will have a squadron map out the remaining four planetoids and when all is said and done you guys can go in first and we will sneak in behind you, just in case.”
Shampoo giggled. “Can that thing sneak anywhere?”
Ukyo scowled. “Well, it used to be able too, till they took my cloak away.”
Ranma smiled as the group all stood. The trio walked out onto the bridge, Shampoo, and Ukyo following Ranma as he wandered over to the engineering station. Ranma looked to JC who seemed to be growling at Usagi.
“How are things?” Ranma asked. “With the ship?” He quickly added.
JC shook his head. “DC can't ascertain the extent of the nacelle damage from inside. We will have to send a team outside. If it is as bad as I think it is, we're looking, at a minimum, of two days of repairs.”
“It wouldn't take that long in a dry dock, but obviously we can't get to one within the next several years without warp drive,” JC added.
“Understood,” Ranma replied. “Well, then two days it is.”
Ukyo turned to Ranma. “I'll be back on the Infinity.”
Ranma nodded, but then grabbed Ukyo's sleeve as she started to turn. “Come back tonight around 19:00. Have dinner with us.”
“Oh, sure. Thank you,” Ukyo nodded, turning towards the turbolift.
Shampoo smiled at Ranma as Ranma stared at the view screen picture fizzling from the misty clouds of The Badlands to the waiting arms of the Starfleet armada.
Kio didn't exactly care where she was, she was just happy to be off of that station. That said, she and the rest of her team, which had made it to an aft-looking window on the Infinity to view their handy work, were horrified by the sight of the Sisko being tossed around like a toy by the explosions.
She became more and more frustrated when no one seemed to be able to give her a status report on the Sisko. None of the turbolifts would grant her access to the bridge so she could demand answers from whoever this ship's captain was, and every attempt to contact Rei ended in her communicator buzzing at her non-compliantly.
Finally, the Infinity turned around and went back to the Sisko and the Infinity’s second officer informed them that no one on the Sisko had been killed in the explosion and they would be returning shortly. Kio gathered with about thirty Marines that had been beamed aboard and waited patiently before being transferred back.
Once they were, Kio sprinted to the NEO Command Center, finding a bruised Lt. Commander Shelton returning his gear to the armory.
“Commander,” Kio acknowledged.
“Lieutenant,” he replied. “I am glad to see you guys made it back on board.”
Kio nodded, looking towards Rei's empty locker. “Where is Commander Hino?”
“She's in sickbay, having her leg treated.”
Kio quickly took off her guns, gear, and various other equipment and set it on a table. She looked to Anthony before heading out of the room. “Would you mind? Thanks,” she more instructed than asked.
Anthony sighed and began to put away Kio's gear as Shelton smirked.
Kio only stopped running in the turbolift that took her from the Command Center sitting atop the ship till it got to deck four where sickbay was. She thought an eight-deck trip should not take as long as it did, but of course, there was also the horizontal voyage as well that many people don't take into account.
Finally, it dumped her out just down the corridor from the ship's medical facility. Kio ran to the doors, nearly smashing into them as they did not seem to open fast enough for her. She looked around frantically, annoyed that there were so many people in there.
Finally, she saw Rei's gear on the deck next to a bed. It was a familiar sight. Far too familiar. She saw the back of the same man's head.
She blinked. It was just a small leg wound.
Did her stun grenade make things worse?
Kio shoved a doctor aside as she ran to the bed.
She let out an audible sigh of relief when she saw Rei talking with Ranma. Kio snapped to attention to acknowledge her Captain.
“Lieutenant!” Ranma smiled. “Good work over there.”
“Thank you, sir,” Kio replied.
“No telling how many lives you guys have saved by destroying that shipyard.”
Kio nodded. “It's what we do.”
Ranma smiled. “And no one does it better.” Ranma turned back to Rei. “As I said, it will be a couple of days before we are able to do anything else. Hopefully anything else we can kill from orbit but be prepared for anything.”
Rei nodded. “Aye, sir.”
Ranma nodded to Kio as he walked off. Kio looked to Rei who smiled at her.
“You're not clear across the room this time.”
Kio blushed a bit. “You don't remember what you did, do you?”
Rei grimaced a bit as a doctor worked on her leg. Rei scowled at the doctor, who gave her a scowl back before resuming his work. Rei then returned her attention to Kio.
Kio bit her lip. “Well, then...” she trailed off. “I am just glad you are okay.” The young soldier turned to walk off, but Rei called after her.
“Lieutenant, come back here.”
Kio back peddled and turned back to Rei.
“What do you mean 'what I did'?”
Kio looked around the room a bit. “It's not important.”
Rei looked Kio over. “It seems important to you.”
Kio looked to the doctor that was treating Rei. Rei turned to him. “Doc, could you give us just a minute?”
The doctor sighed, nodded, and walked off. Rei turned back to Kio.
Kio leaned into Rei and whispered into her ear. Rei's face turned bright red. Kio leaned back and stood at full attention, staring at the wall straight ahead.
Rei stammered for a moment before clearing her throat. “Look, medication can do strange things to a person...”
“...and make them do things that they wouldn't normally do...”
Kio again nodded.
“...I mean, not that you're not pretty or anything...”
“Well, I didn't mean it like that...”
Kio shook her head. “Commander, I'm not one to, if you will pardon the expression, kiss and tell. So, as far as I am concerned, it did not happen. I just wanted to clear up any misunderstandings.”
Rei stared at the ceiling for a moment. “Things were certainly less complicated when we fought all the time.”
“There has to be a middle ground between lovers and enemies.”
Rei sat up, looked at Kio, and laughed. “Lieutenant, if you showed this side of yourself earlier, we probably would have not gotten off to such a rocky start.”
Kio shrugged. “As I said before, it worked out for the better, at least for me.”
Rei nodded. “Me too.” Rei lied back down on the biobed and motioned for the doctor to return and finish working on her leg. “The Sisko is severely damaged. We're going to need at least two days’ worth of repairs from the repair ships with the fleet. For the next twenty-four hours, no drills. No exercises. Just take a break.”
Kio smiled. “I assume that order goes for your team as well?”
“Who's coming over for dinner?” Akane asked, quite befuddled.
Ranma sighed and answered his wife for what he was fairly sure was the third time. “Ukyo.”
“Okayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy...” Akane replied.
“Look, she saved our asses and it's the very least I can do.”
Akane nodded, aware there was more to the dinner than Ranma was admitting. Ranma sensed that Akane wanted a further explanation and motioned for her to join him on the couple's couch.
“She hasn't taken things very well.”
Akane shrugged. “So?”
Ranma scowled at her.
“Didn't you say that was her problem?” Akane asked.
Ranma nodded. “I did, but as well I still want to be her friend. I want her to be OUR friend.”
Akane wasn't sold on this idea.
“Look, aren't you and Shampoo friends?”
“Not even slightly,” Akane scoffed.
“Oh?” Ranma asked, genuinely surprised by this revelation.
Akane laughed. “Just because we don't get in fistfights over you doesn't mean that we've become besties.”
Ranma sighed as Akane continued.
“I care about her wellbeing as much as I care about the wellbeing of any other member of this crew. However, on a personal note, I despise her. I don't care if she is in a relationship. She could marry Jansen and I would still believe her goal in life will be to take you away from me.”
Ranma looked to Akane with a disapproving look on his face. “Really now. Do you honestly believe she still wants me?”
Akane nodded. “And unless you're still as thick-headed as you always were, you have to see it too.”
Ranma sighed, thinking back to the conversation he had with Shampoo in his ready room. “Well, it doesn't matter what Shampoo wants, or what Ukyo wants,” he smiled, pointing to the ring on his left hand. “I've made my choice and I don't have any plans on changing my THICK-HEAD any time soon.”
Akane smiled. “Thick-headed or not, you are loyal.”
“It goes beyond loyalty,” Ranma replied, kissing Akane. “I love you.”
Akane smiled back, accepting the kiss. She then stood and walked towards the replicator. “So, what are we eating?”
“Well, I was thinking okonomiyaki, but then I realized Ukyo would just get pissed off at how the replicator would butcher it. So, I actually commissioned Lt. Commander Tsukino to cook up a meal for us.”
Akane blinked. “I could have cooked something.”
Ranma just looked at Akane.
“Well, I could have...” she trailed off. “I've gotten better.”
Ranma continued to look at Akane.
Ranma smiled. “We can't all be awesome at everything. You have enough awesome traits to make up for your...” Ranma paused to find the right word as Akane was beginning to scowl, “less than awesomeness at cooking.”
Akane shook her head. “I've killed men for less than that.”
“I'll consider myself lucky.”
<Nifty Star Trek Doorbell Sound Here>
“Come in,” Ranma called.
The doors slid open, and Ukyo walked in. Ranma smiled and walked towards her, giving the Infinity's captain a hug. Akane glowered slightly but was quickly stunned when Ukyo walked up to her and hugged her as well.
“Akane, I never got a chance to properly apologize to you for my behavior yesterday,” Ukyo said, bowing slightly to Akane. “I'm sorry for the way I treated you and I am sorry for not respecting your abilities in managing the fleet's medical needs.”
Akane stammered for a moment before nodding. “It's okay.”
Ranma smiled widely. “Please, let's have a seat,” he motioned for the table that was in the dining area of his quarters. “Can I get you guys something to drink-”
Ranma is cut off:
<Nifty Star Trek Doorbell Sound Here>
“Uh, come in?” Ranma called.
The doors slid open and in walked Gosnell dressed up in a tuxedo. He nodded to the two captains and Akane.
“Good evening,” he smiled, speaking in his best snooty accent. “I am Gosnell and I will be your maître d'.”
The entire room looked at him oddly.
“Please, sit,” Gosnell instructed the group. The three slowly had a seat at Ranma's dinner table as Gosnell went to the replicator and brought them back three wine glasses. He then set down on the table a book that appeared to be about six hundred pages thick.
“What's that?” Ranma asked.
“She is ze wine list,” Gosnell answered. He dropped the accent momentarily. “The wine is replicated, so it's pretty much every known wine in the universe, so...”
Ranma nodded slowly. “Um, okay.”
Ukyo began to thumb through the book as Akane chuckled. “What's the deal?” she asked.
“Madam Tsukino requested that I assist her with this event.”
“And you are?”
“She knows things,” Gosnell replied, again dropping the accent for a moment.
Akane blinked as Ranma shook his head. “I am sure whatever you recommend for us will be fine since you are our expert in this field.”
“Oui Oui!” Gosnell beamed. He bounded over towards the replicator to get the wine as Ukyo looked to Ranma.
“Is this normal here?”
Ranma shrugged. “It's not necessarily 'abnormal'.”
Gosnell quickly returned with the wine and filled the three glasses. “Ze first course will be coming shortly.”
<Nifty Star Trek Doorbell Sound Here>
“Ah! Speak of ze devils!” Gosnell smiled as he ran to the door. Both Ranma and Akane tumbled out of their chairs when they saw Makoto walk in wearing what could best be described as a 'French Maid' outfit, carrying a large tray.
She did not seem to be as gleeful in playing her role as Gosnell did, however. She had a curt, forced grin on her face as she began to place appetizers on the table in front of Ranma, Akane, and Ukyo.
“Commander?!” Ranma gasped.
“Magnifique!!!!” Gosnell smiled approvingly at his wife's attire.
Makoto looked to Ranma. “Usagi asked for help.”
“The outfit?” Ranma asked.
“SHE IS WONDERFUL!!!” Gosnell again declared, getting a disapproving look from Makoto.
“She knows things,” Makoto simply answered.
Ranma nodded slowly in understanding as Makoto began to leave the room. Gosnell followed her out part-way before being clocked in the head with the now empty tray. He stumbled back in, standing near the table, rubbing his face.
“Good help, it is so hard to find these days.”
Ukyo slowly returned her eyes towards Ranma and Akane who had already shrugged off the exchange. “Again, not abnormal?”
Ranma, who was now more interested in the delicious appetizers he was eating than he was his insane crew, shrugged. “I'll admit, the outfit was a little over the top.”
Akane chuckled. “Our crew is strange, but they are fun. And good.”
Ranma nodded. “We've been through hell together. I'm sure I could have gotten things changed around once I was no longer under the control of Happosai, but I won't.”
Ukyo ate a bit before asking her next question. “Why?”
Ranma did not have to even think about the answer. “They are my crew. They are my friends. They have shown loyalty to both me and each other, and I have a loyalty to them.”
Gosnell quickly hopped over and refilled everyone’s drinks. Ukyo nodded thanks before prodding Ranma some more.
“There's a rumor going around that they are considering promoting you to Admiral.”
Akane nearly spits out the wine she was drinking. Ranma sighed as he nodded.
“Yes, I have heard that as well.”
“Well?” Ukyo asked.
“I haven't thought that far ahead,” Ranma said. It was only a partial lie. He knew very well that Starfleet was considering making him an admiral. He had thought about what life would be like if he was an admiral. He hadn't thought about whether or not he would accept the position, however. He had not told Akane about it, nor asked for her input. And he certainly had not mentioned it to any of his crew.
“I'd prefer if that didn't leave this room,” Ranma quietly said. “You too, jabber-jaws,” he grumbled, turning towards Gosnell.
“I am ze best secret keeper on ze ship!”
Ranma glared at him.
“Yes sir,” he answered, dropping the accent.
The trio ate in silence for a moment before Akane turned to Ukyo. “So, what have you guys been up to since we last worked together?”
Ukyo nodded thanks to Gosnell as he filled up her glass again before turning to Akane. “After spending a month giving the Romulans back their cloak, Command decided that we would make a good 'peace through superior firepower' toy by sending us around to places that they thought might try and start stuff with the Federation.”
Ukyo leaned back in her chair as Gosnell cleared the empty plates off the table. “Spent some time in the Gamma Quadrant letting the Founders know that we had indeed rebuilt our fleet. Visited Qo'noS to let them know that the Federation was not averse to building warships. Said hi to the Breen a couple of times.”
“Sounds...” Ranma paused. “Aggressive.”
Ukyo shrugged. “I believe in the core principles of the Federation as much as you do, Ranma. However, there must be people like us, and ships like yours and mine to make sure that the people who simply want to live free and happy are allowed to do so.”
“I think it's a testament to our values,” Ukyo continued, “that we have these massive instruments of war, yet only use them for self-preservation.”
Ranma again nodded, understanding Ukyo's point.
“Well said,” Akane smiled.
<Nifty Star Trek Doorbell Sound Here>
“AH!” Gosnell beamed. “Ze main course has arrived!”
“That appetizer was so big I don't know if I am still hungry,” Akane laughed.
“Oh,” Gosnell squawked. “Don't tell Master Chef Tsukino that. She will grow angry and hit me.”
Ranma shook his head in disapproval as Gosnell went to the door. A moment later Usagi came in pushing a tray that was loaded with food. However, it was not the spread that got everyone’s attention.
Usagi was dressed in a very extravagant 'chef's uniform' that was topped off with a chef's hat that had to have been at least two-thirds of a meter tall. The hat near tumbled off her several times, being saved only by the quick reflexes of the alien maître d'.
“I hope everyone likes fish!” Usagi beamed.
The trio nodded slowly as Usagi passed out the dishes, Gosnell securing her hat the whole time. After she was done, she began to walk towards the door, turning towards Gosnell.
“Summon me when it's time for dessert,” she ordered quite sternly.
Gosnell nodded, fear in his eyes.
Ranma, Ukyo, and Akane ate in silence for a while, Ranma doing his best to slow his eating to keep pace with the two females in his company. He had heard rumors of Usagi's cooking abilities and knew this was her specialty at Starfleet Academy, but was still amazed at how good everything tasted.
In fact, he could not remember enjoying a meal this much since he had had dinner with the Prime Minister of the Western Valarian Republic. He might consider hosting more dinner parties and having Usagi cook for him if he were not afraid that she would end up emotionally scarring whichever members of his crew she got to assist her.
“So,” Ranma decided to engage in some more small talk as Gosnell refilled everyone’s glasses, “Ucchan, I apologize for not keeping better track of your record, but where were you before the Infinity?”
“I was the executive officer on the Saint Louis,” Ukyo replied. “In fact, I served on her for quite a while, joining eight years ago as a weapons officer, then becoming chief of security then XO.”
“I know the Saint Louis,” Akane acknowledged.
Ranma nodded. “Yeah, they were with us – we were both stationed on the Loami – during the first Chin'toka siege.”
Ukyo nodded and smiled. “If I knew you guys were over there, I would have said hello.”
Ranma and Akane smiled as well. “Likewise,” Ranma replied.
A few more moments went by before Ukyo turned to Ranma. “So, how is married life?”
Akane eyed Ranma intently, preparing multiple responses to whatever his response might be. Ranma allowed a sly grin to pass to Akane. “It's good. I enjoy it and it's nice knowing that regardless of the pip count, there is still someone on the ship who outranks me.”
Both Akane and Ukyo laughed, although Ukyo's seemed a bit more forced. She did turn to Akane though, “Is he still any fun?”
Akane shrugged. “Occasionally. When he's not being thrown out of holo-karaoke bars.”
“Hey,” Ranma groused, “I will not stand idly by and allow a quality song to be butchered, regardless of where we are.”
“I'm standing right here you know,” Gosnell grumbled.
The trio laughed at poor Gosnell's expense before finishing up their dinners. Gosnell quickly cleared off the table and set new menus out in front of them all.
“Ah, now we have ze dessert menus!” he beamed.
Ranma opened his up. “There is only one choice.”
“Yeah, that's because she only made one thing for you.”
“Then why give us a menu?” Akane asked.
“Look, I'm just doing my job here.”
Ranma again shook his head disapprovingly and pointed to the one item on the menu. Gosnell took the order on his PADD and moved to Akane who also pointed to the single item. He stood behind Ukyo who looked at him for a moment.
“Ma'am?” he asked.
“Just bring the damned desert,” Ranma snapped.
Gosnell mumbled something to himself and started to wander off. He hit the communicator attached to his lapel. “Gosnell to Tsukino, they're ready for dessert.”
“I'm sorry, who are you calling?” Usagi's voice replied.
Gosnell sighed heavily. “Gosnell to chef pâtissier Tsukino, they are ready for dessert.”
“We're on the way!”
“We?” Ranma asked.
“Makoto again?” Akane asked.
“Unfortunately, no,” Gosnell replied.
<Nifty Star Trek Doorbell Sound Here>
Gosnell paused, trying to place himself into character again. His enthusiasm for this gig having dried up over the past hour.
“Ah! Ze deserts! She has arrived!”
Gosnell went to the door and opened it. Again, both Ranma and Akane were sent to the deck when both Minako and Ryouga came pushing in carts, both in chef's uniforms that were like Usagi's, however for whatever reason Usagi had Minako in a skirt that barely covered enough to make it legally count as a skirt.
Both wore white berets with the Starfleet emblem on them. Ryouga appeared to be QUITE displeased with not only the outfit he was wearing but by the whole concept of having to serve Ranma, simply nodded to the Captain.
“Ryouga, you're looking good,” Ranma snickered.
Ryouga shot him a look that in any other circumstance would have gotten him court-martialed. Ranma let it slide though, assuming that his current task was punishment enough. Minako was trying to both serve the group and make sure the 'skirt' did not expose anything she didn't want it to.
“What in the world?” Akane finally asked.
“She knows things,” both officers replied before turning and walking away, Minako with her hands behind her, holding the back of her skirt against her backside.
“SO CUTE!!!!” Usagi squealed from the hallway.
“Get away from me,” Minako growled.
Usagi quickly moved past the pair and into Ranma's quarters. Gosnell again quickly moved to make sure Usagi's massive hat did not fall off her relatively small head.
“I hope everything so far has been delish!”
The group nodded as they began to eat the strawberry dessert that was brought in for them.
“It's great, Usagi,” Akane acknowledged. “You're very talented.”
Ukyo nodded. “I appreciate all the work you put into this.”
“Oh, it was no problem at all!” Usagi beamed. “It's not often we have another ship's captain over for dinner, and even less often we have one of the Captain's ex-girlfriends!”
Both Ranma and Akane shot Usagi a look that likely could have killed a lesser woman.
“Oh snap,” Gosnell said, bolting to the replicator to get another bottle of wine.
Ukyo laughed, however. “That's the rumor mill for you. Ranchan and I are just very old, dear friends.” She turned to Ranma and smiled, although how sincere the smile was, Ranma could not tell. “Nothing more, nothing less.”
Ranma nodded in agreement. Usagi blinked a couple of times as Akane was still glaring at her, murderous intent clearly visible.
“Well...” Usagi mumbled, “I will stick to talking about what I know of best then! Food and the engine room!”
The glare from Akane changed to a look of exasperation. Ranma patted Usagi on the shoulder and smiled nonetheless though. “Speaking of which, you guys will have us ready to go in forty-eight hours, right?”
Usagi stared blankly at Ranma. “Yes?”
Ukyo just looked at Usagi. Ranma gave her a thumbs-up as Akane began shoveling food into her mouth to ensure she did not say anything she would later regret; or worse, something that would send Usagi into a loud bawling frenzy.
Usagi smiled at the group, bowed, which caused her hat to fall to the floor with a thump, and left the room. Gosnell quickly picked up the hat and chased after Usagi, returning a few seconds later.
“She's your Chief Engineer?” Ukyo asked.
“How are you guys still alive?” She looked to Akane for a second. “I don't mean any disrespect, but Akane isn't a doctor, but she's your CMO. Your chief engineer is a cook - a seemingly insane one at that.” Ukyo looked to Gosnell for a second, “I don't know what the hell he is,” Gosnell began to weep softly as Ukyo turned back to Ranma, “Shampoo is, well, Shampoo. And I understand Ryouga used to be at helm?”
Ranma nodded. “This crew is a lot different under pressure than they are just sitting around.” Ranma looked to Akane. “They evolved too. Akane still isn't a doctor, but she's closer to being one than she was when she started. Usagi, for all her faults, knows far more about engineering than anyone else who came out of Starfleet Culinary.”
Ranma chuckled a bit. “Ryouga is still Ryouga, which is why he's now a Marine. And believe it or not, Shampoo has proven to be one of the most loyal and trusted friends and co-workers one could ever hope to have.”
Ukyo ate in silence as Ranma continued.
“I felt the same way you did when I first had this ship pulled out of space dock, Ucchan,” Ranma sighed, thinking back. “For God's sake, we rear-ended another ship and then blew a god-damned hole in it-”
“THAT WAS YOU?!” Ukyo gasped.
“But I had a goal. We were set up to fail. So, our goal was simple. We wouldn't fail. And we haven't.”
Ukyo nodded. “Well, that's for certain. You and your crew are the heroes of the Federation.”
Akane smiled at Ranma, despite him shrugging nonchalantly. “Heroes are people who go above and beyond. We were just doing our jobs.”
The trio all turned to Gosnell who was crying profusely. “That was beautiful, Captain.”
Ranma just shook his head as he smiled.
The three finished off their desert and chatted among themselves for a bit longer. Finally, stuffed to the gills, Ranma turned to Gosnell.
“My compliments to the chef.”
“Ah, madam will be pleased!” Gosnell replied as he cleared the table.
Ukyo looked at the clock on Ranma's wall and began to stand. “I probably should be getting back to my ship.”
“Are you sure?” Akane asked. “We were going to the karaoke club tonight.”
“Without me?” Gosnell asked.
“Yes,” Ranma dryly replied.
Ukyo shrugged. “I guess I can stay a little later.”
Gosnell grumbled. “What do I care. My hot wife has a hot new outfit.” He quickly finished clearing the table and walked up to Ranma.
“Ahem,” Gosnell cleared his throat.
“Yes?” Ranma asked.
“AHEM.” Gosnell again cleared his throat louder and adjusted his eyes to draw attention to his hand which seemed to be extended.
Ranma looked at Gosnell's hand then back to his face. “Are you freaking kidding me?”
Gosnell said nothing and only continued to motion towards his hand with his eyes.
“I'm sorry, but I left my latinum in my other pants,” Ranma stated.
Gosnell continued to stand there, determined not to take no for an answer.
Ranma rolled his eyes and hit his comm badge. “Security to the captain's quarters.”
“It’s been a pleasure serving you,” Gosnell smiled as he quickly departed Ranma's home.