SIM:Nicholotti Behold, Excalibur

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((Docking Ring, StarBase 118))

It was only because of her ability to call on the transporters at any time that she even arrived in the docking ring before the ship’s final docking procedures had finalized and the visitor she’d not expected disembarked. They were also the reason she wasn’t out of breath, as she would have ran the distance had she needed to.::
But she didn’t, and now she stood, trying to keep the underlying excitement to a minimum as she anxiously awaited the sight of the man she considered a mentor, friend, and brother. As she waited, she let her eyes take in the sight of the strange ship through the limited viewing angle. As she did, her brows furrowed and she wondered what the ship was. She’d not seen one like it before.::

((Umbilical, USS Excalibur))

Once he was notified that the ship was docked, he had no doubt that Kali was waiting impatiently for him to disembark. He would have notified her ahead of time that he would be coming, but it would not have given her much time to mentally prepare for his visit. With the slipstream drive, StarBase 118 was only 35 minutes from Earth. Part of him wanted to notify her that he was leaving Earth and on his way, only to show up almost instantaneously when compared to standard warp travel.::
As he made his way down the umbilical, he spotted his former XO and best friend. Although he was there on official business, there was no need for fanfare. A smiled formed on his face as he approached the woman. The fact was, he missed her slight accent. It was not something he got too much of on the Apollo. He only had a few Humans in his senior staff, and while they had geographical accents, none of them compared to hers.::

Jaxx: Well, you are a sight for sore eyes.

He wanted to extend his arms to give her a hug, but allowed his professionalism, to stop him. She would not go without, he just wanted to avoid it as various officers hitching a ride were disembarking as well. The Excalibur only had a skeleton crew when he left Earth, and most of them were catching other rides. There were a few engineers that were specialists on the slipstream drive that were remaining on the ship to serve. Kali had not been informed that she was being reassigned, and that was his job to do. Though the Trinity Sector was not under his command, he got to do the honors whenever it came to her. It was the perks of being a flag officer.::
His voice had immediately broken the trail of thoughts regarding the dark colored ship he’d come from and she was unable to stop the smile from appearing on her face.::

Nicholotti: It’s been far too long.

It took an immense amount of control and professional restriction to keep her from embracing him. There was truth in her words, it had been far too long. Now, however, wasn’t exactly a great time for him to visit, given the situation outside, but she wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth.::

Jaxx: So...I guess you are wondering why I am here?

Raising an eyebrow, she realized that he was quick to the point. The question brought her to the conclusion that his visit was business, rather than pleasure.::

Nicholotti: Well, you could say that.

Despite the fact that she’d contacted Command and looked for answers on if they were to leave on this medical mercy mission or not, she’d only been given vague and undefined answers. Now, Jaxx arrived in a ship whose class she thought she recognized, but one she couldn’t name.::

Jaxx: ::nodding toward the umbilical:: Can the station survive without you for a bit?

He wanted her to see the ship before he let her know that it would be her new command. There was something majestic about a new ship coming out of Utopia Planetia. He felt it when he launched the Apollo, and now Kali would get the same experience in the Excalibur. He had about just over an hour before his ride would arrive to pick him up. The day before, the Avalon did a shakedown on their slipstream drive. She would be arriving to usher Jaxx back to Utopia Planetia on their way back. In all, Jaxx would only be gone a few hours and racked up nearly 400 light years of travel.::
Following the gesture, Kali took a few steps forward and looked into the now-empty umbilical. There was a strange scent in the air; one that could be described as ‘new ship’. Sidestepping, she got a better vantage point and allowed her eyes to scan the dark hull of the sleek ship outside.::
It was far more massive than the Victory, and if she had to guess, it was at least as big as a Sovereign. Was he asking her to take it somewhere? Something in her mind sent an excited pulse through her, and a kind of adrenaline kicked in. Cautiously optimistic, she turned back to him.::

Nicholotti: I guess that depends on where we are going. After all, there is a small fleet of Romulan ships outside.

Jaxx: Yeah...about that...since I left the Trinity Sector, Starfleet Command has enjoyed sending you the tough ones. And I have orders for you.

He smirked innocently. Part of a Betazoid’s joy was sensing the feelings of others. And when they had the opportunity to be vague and feed those feelings, it was a good day for them. He could sense a lot when he was near Kali. Mostly it was because they had a connection. It was something he could not imagine going without. And the best news was, that soon...no matter where they were in the galaxy, they would not be too far apart.::
Smiling slightly, Kali let her eyes look back towards the window and the ship. The corridor was silent and in that moment all she could hear was the sound of the new heart beating in her chest, and the subtle breathing of the man next to her.::

Nicholotti: I suppose you had something to do with Command not just letting me know that outright?

Rolling her eyes, she grinned.::

Jaxx: We will just say that I like to put my nose in the affairs of other sectors when it suits me. What have they told you?

Jaxx came bearing much more than orders. But he was curious what she knew, and what her situation was. Part of his visit was to get a first hand look at things for Command. Reports were all well and good, but there was nothing like a first hand account of things.::

Nicholotti: Well, they gave me some basic information about sending help and such. It allowed me some leverage with our friendly Commodore out there. ::The grin faded.:: Her methods might not be to my liking, but her people are dying, so her urgency makes sense.

Jaxx: Her methods?

Tilting her head to the side for a moment, she shot him a serious look that he was sure to recognize.::

Nicholotti: I don’t take kindly to threats against my station.

Turning, she looked towards him and realized that he seemed different. A long moment passed, during which she simply looked at the man she missed each and every day. Of everyone she’d met in her years in Starfleet, it was Jaxx that held the most special place in her heart and mind. He would know her feelings; if nothing else, serving with him for so long had allowed them to build a bond that she’d not find with another. His Betazoid heritage allowed him deeper than a normal friend, and for a second, she feared he’d see past the masks and into the shadows where she’d shoved a very large part of her after Odyssey.::
But the second was gone in an instant and she knew that she didn’t mind if he did. But, those were words that would be reserved for another time.::

Jaxx: ::smirking:: I would imagine not.

((Turbolift, USS Excalibur-A))

As they made their way onto the ship, Jaxx walked slowly. For him, it was just a way to catch up without getting right down to it. He knew that his ride back to Utopia would be there shortly, and as fast as he arrived, he would be gone again. But it only took a few hours out of his day, and he had nothing else to do while the Apollo was getting refitted. Once inside the ship, he moved to the closest turbolift. Stepping in, he wanted to show her the good stuff first.::

Jaxx: Deck Thirteen.

As the turbolift started to move, Jaxx was anxious to show her the latest developments to come out of Daystrom and the Starfleet Corps of Engineers. He figured she had heard rumors, and may have even read a report or two. The bigger picture was classified because the Federation did not want the technology to fall into the wrong hands. But like everything else, Jaxx knew that they day would come when other powers got their hands on the same technology and would begin to use it in their vessels. For all he knew, they already had the tech and would not be far behind the Federation in employing it.::
Kali stood next to him, in a place that felt both familiar and natural, in silence. Between the two, there really weren’t too many words that could be said. She could feel the anticipation of whatever this was, almost like she had taken on some of his telepathic traits, but she also knew that he would reveal things in his own time. Still, her mind wandered and she wondered if she’d been ordered to test something out, or if it were something more.::

Jaxx: Our first stop will be Engineering. I spent the trip in trying to memorize the deck layout...but unfortunately, there was not a ton of time for that.

He left the comment hanging in the air. The trip was not long at all. It took the Excalibur forty minutes to open the slipstream, and the trip to StarBase 118 took less than that. He was not even sure she would believe that he left the Sol System less than an hour and a half ago. It was better to show her, rather than tell her.::
Raising an eyebrow, she looked over to him. The trip from Earth was not a short trip and likely took him quite a while. Her mind told her she was missing something, but the only other logical idea was that there were more pressing matters he had been dealing with. Of course, that line of thought led her to the point where she wondered what it was.::
Then again, it was also a very large ship of a very new class.::

Nicholotti: You seem to know where we are going anyways.

Smiling slightly at him and realizing just how much she missed this, she turned her focus to the ship around her as they made their way through the lift doors.::
As the doors opened, he made his way down the corridor with her by his side. From the turbolift they used, it did not take long for them to make their way to the door that led to Main Engineering. He paused at the door and turned to Kali.::

Jaxx: Ready to have your world rocked?

Kali stopped in front of him and smirked slightly. Of all people, the trouble she’d gotten into under his command had already changed the course of her own history, many times. What was once more?::

Nicholotti: I expect nothing less from you.

And with yet another smirk, she looked towards what she would come to know as Main Engineering.::

((Main Engineering, USS Excalibur-A))

As the doors opened, it was a slightly different design than the engineering sections of most classes. All of the advances Starfleet had made in the past years were evident in the Vesta Class design. The last time Jaxx saw anything that took his breath away like this did, was when he launched the Apollo. Now, there were some things on his own ship that were out of date by these standards. He had a secondary core, but it was housed in a separate area. The Excalibur boasted 3 separate warp cores. The main core was large and in the center, and the two redundant systems were on both sides of it. He knew that each fed their nacelles independently, but that was not what he wanted to focus on.::

Jaxx: Welcome to Main Engineering. Since we want to keep this short, the thing I want to show you is through here.

Unable to help herself, she let her eyes wander the room. Perhaps the first thing she noticed was the fact that it was unlike any Engineering bay she’d ever seen. trying to take it all in, she followed him to another door. Immediately she found herself intrigued. There seemed to be no way in through the doors that didn’t open as he approached.::

Nicholotti: It appears the Engineers have been busy.

Letting her voice trail off, she followed him with her eyes as he stepped up closer to the door in question.::
Moving to a sealed room behind the main core, he paused. He stepped up to where a panel on the wall would soon be.. He knew that access was something that Starfleet wanted to limit as best as they could. That was most likely what caused them to have a triple redundant system to get into the room..::

Jaxx: Drive Access, authorization Jaxx Alpha Four Six Omega.

Computer: Please input palm and retina scans.

A small section of the wall retracted and slid up, revealing a palm and retina scanner. Stepping closer, he placed his palm on the pad and looked directly at the retina scanner. Simultaneously, the two indicator lights lit up green and the computer verified his access and would note it in a secure log. Every time the room was accessed, the captain was sent a message notifying them of the access. As he stepped back, the doors slid open.::

Computer: Authorization granted.

Kali found herself blinking for a moment as the doors finally parted and granted them access. It seemed that whatever was there was something highly restricted. Waiting in silence, she followed him in to find out just what that was.::

((Slipstream Drive Housing, Main Engineering))

He stepped inside with Kali and in front of them was what Jaxx called the ‘blue monster.’ The blue light was bright and was fed out to six separate coils that were glowing red. The power that fed the drive was quite a bit, and lowered the refit cycle for any ship that had one. He let the view sink in before speaking.::
The colors of the lights seemed to dance and sway as if the whole piece of machinery was a work of art. Kali had never been great with Engineering, but this seemed to go beyond just parts and theories. This was much more. And on the outskirts of her mind, she almost knew what he was going to say next.::

Jaxx: This is the Quantum Slipstream Drive. As it turns out...Starfleet was much closer to completing the project than anyone realized. The Excalibur-A is one of the first ships off the line with the drive fully integrated.

For a moment, Kali’s words were lost. All she managed as she walked around to the other side was one word, filled with a tone that expressed the wonder of so many explorers before her.::

Nicholotti: Amazing...

Jaxx: It is not without limitations. Just turning the thing on and calibrating it takes forty minutes.

Even so, the possibilities were nearly endless. With ships like this, Captains would be able to explore and reach places that were far beyond any of their wildest dreams. And for the Captain of a Starbase, the allure was amazingly strong.::

Nicholotti: Forty minutes is nothing in comparison to the way this will impact travel. ::She paused and looked around more before continuing.:: I’d read about it in a few reports here and there, but I had no idea.

Jaxx: I left Utopia Planetia about forty-five minutes ago. Thirty-five for the trip, ten for docking...

Her gaze shot up to his and she met his dark eyes with her own steely blue ones. In that moment of silence, her surprise and amazement showed, as if a window to her much younger self had been opened and exposed to the universe. A kind of wonder danced around her as the pieces all fell into place.::

Nicholotti: Which is why you didn’t have time to memorize the decks.

She smirked at him, realizing that had the trip been of normal length, he wouldn’t have let that task go undone.::

Jaxx: ::smirking:: I did the best I could with the time I had.

Still amazed, Kali returned her gaze to the drive and walked the full length around it. More questions formed in her mind, but only one stood out. Rejoining him by the door, she let her hands clasp behind her back.::

Nicholotti: So what do I have to do with this?

There were a few things she wished he’d say, but nothing prepared her for the information she was going to get. Change, they said, was inevitable. To this point, change had been her enemy. She’d lost her friends, her family, and those she’d gotten close to. Assigned to the Starbase, she’d even lost the element of exploration that she’d thrived on, of new situations and problems that took her far and wide. Now, as she stood on the edge of more change, she had to wonder if for once, the universe would look upon her and set her on a path where loss wasn’t the main focus anymore.::

Jaxx: ::smiling as he patted her on the arm:: Everything. ::pausing:: Let us head to the bridge.

With complete trust in the man, and knowing he always had something up his sleeve, Kali only smiled back at him and nodded slightly.::

Nicholotti: Aye, sir.

((Bridge, USS Excalibur-A))

In silence they traversed the distance between the wonder of Engineering, and the control center of the ship. A million thoughts shot through her mind, and emotions waged battle between them. She was intrigued, gearing up to go back into the unknown. At the same time, hope needed a leash and had to be kept under control. Loss hit her hard, so she protected her innermost thoughts and feelings. Though she was silent, and his back was to her, she knew that he could pick up on it. As was his way, he said nothing, but she could sense the smirk.::
And god, it felt so good to be back by his side, even if it was only for a short time.::
Andrus could sense the intrigue within her. He liked to keep it that way. But it was time to give her the news he had traveled light years to deliver. Moving out of main engineering, they stepped into the nearest turbolift. Taking it to the top, they stepped out onto the bridge. Had Jaxx been on the ship longer than he had been, he would have warmed up a bit better to the bridge layout. The fact was, it was different. He had just found himself used to the layout of the Apollo’s bridge, and in comparison, he liked his better. But he didn’t have to like it, it was her ship.::
Following him out of the lift and onto the bridge, the first thing that struck her was just how different it was. There were no more center chairs, replaced by a single chair with a nearly full sized holo-console next to it. Down a step, and to the side, a second almost identical chair and holo-console sat, looking forward just as the one in the center of the bridge did.::
Her eyes looked further down and saw a strangely placed obsidian surface. Later, she'd learn of its holographic purposes and how it could visualize and conceptualize internal and external images, offering another view of anything going on just about anywhere. Other stations and chairs lined the outside of the bridge, broken by ready room doors to one side, turbolift doors to another, and access to security and the armory in the rear. But, perhaps the biggest difference she noticed was the fact that the room wasn't exactly round. Instead, it was nearly triangular, with rounded points. The back more like an egg, coming to a narrower rounded point accentuated only by the viewscreen and a longer than normal holo-console in the front.::
For a very long moment, Kali could do nothing more than take it all in.::

Nicholotti: I guess the slipstream wasn't the only big difference in this ship.

And suddenly, a word appeared in her mind. Vesta. Long in development, she was meant to be a technological powerhouse full of things Starfleet had learned in the shadow of the Dominion war. Now, she was seeing that idea come to total, and amazing, fruition.::

Jaxx: ::turning toward the man closest to him:: Commander Tyson, do you have that thing for me?

Looking on, Kali saw a man with Commanders pips hand over a padd.::

Tyson: ::handing the flag officer a PADD:: Of course, sir.

He took the PADD from the man and turned to Kali. He recalled the day he turned command of the station over to Kali. It was a day of mixed emotions. Part of him could not fathom serving without her by his side. The other part was overcome with pride and excitement. In the end it was the best move for her. He could not hold her back. It was rule number 5, don’t waste good. And in his eyes, she was very good. He looked at the PADD and read the words displayed.::
Without looking up at her, he began to read. As his voice filled the bridge, Kali let her eyes continue to wander, up until what he was saying finally clicked.::

Jaxx: To Fleet Captain Andrus Jaxx, acting commanding officer, you are hereby ordered to deliver and relinquish command of the Excalibur-A to Captain Kalianna Nicholotti, commanding officer StarBase 118, as of stardate 239008.03. Signed, Fleet Admiral Tristan Scott Wolf. ::pausing as he handed her the PADD:: Computer, transfer all command codes to Captain Kalianna Nicholotti. Voice authorization Jaxx Alpha Four Six Omega.

Computer: Transfer complete. USS Excalibur-A now under command of Captain Kalianna Nicholotti.

As the computer confirmed things, and she looked down at the padd, Kali finally let the adrenaline run. Her ship? This was beyond her wildest dreams. Not only did Command give her a ship, but one of the newest and most technologically advanced possible. For all of the loss and difficulty, the universe finally seemed to be giving her something amazing. The next words were instinct, but the tone in her accented voice said so much more.::

Nicholotti: Fleet Captain Andrus Jaxx, I hereby relieve you of command of the USS Excalibur-A.

Jaxx: I stand relieved. ::pointing toward the other man:: Commander Tyson will be assuming command of StarBase 118 immediately.

Kalianna looked towards the man and nodded slightly. It was all happening so fast, and in the middle of a crisis, but that didn't seem to matter now. The pieces were all falling into place.::

Tyson: ::nodding:: Ma’am.

Nicholotti: Commander. I guess we'll take care of that shortly.

Without verbal acknowledgement, she turned back to Jaxx and smiled, knowing that there was more. Command wouldn't have sent the ship without orders pertaining to what she was to do with it.::

Jaxx: Now...for your orders. ::pointing toward the Ready Room:: Shall we?

Glancing towards the doors where she knew the Ready Room to be, Kali nodded again and gestured with an arm.::

Nicholotti: After you.

Falling into step behind him, her mind flooded. A new ships meant change, but how much change? What about her staff and those she'd come to know as family? Where would they be going? And what would become of the Romulans? So many thoughts bombarded her, but she walked softly behind Jaxx, knowing that soon enough, all would be made known.::

((Ready Room, USS Excalibur-A))

Jaxx knew it was a lot to soak in, but it was not his style to slow down. He would let the curiosity build and once it was almost at a boiling point, he would reveal everything, quickly. It was something he did to keep his officers on their toes. It was no different with Kali. Just like any CO, there was always mixed feelings when they get a new command. But this was a brand new command. As they walked into the room, he knew that Kali would spot the aquarium, and she would know that it was not standard issue.::
This time, she was ready for something new and different, but she had not prepared herself for the beauty of the room. Sure, some Captains were able to offer personality to their Ready Room, but it appeared that someone had gone before her and created the biggest possible personality shift possible. Her eyes gazed over the wall length aquarium and the brightly colored fish swimming carefree within. Only after a long moment of silence did she turn to Jaxx with a look of thankful amazement and near glee. It was beautiful, amazing, and the one thing she'd tried so hard to get in the office in Ops. For as long as she'd been there, it had never happened, and yet here, on the Excalibur, it was.::

Nicholotti: I'm pretty sure they don't come off the line like this.

Again, it was what wasn't said that was important. Her eyes said all that they needed to and thanked him for the steps he'd taken just for her. For a moment in time, Kali felt as if she were the most important person in the universe, and that someone cared deeply for her. Down, deep in the recesses of her mind, she felt a sadness that she'd lost that, but this single act would remind her always of the bond that existed between her and the man she'd come to know as family.::

Jaxx: It is amazing what you can get done in under an hour.

Nicholotti: It is beautiful Jaxx. I don't know what to say.

But she knew that he would understand just how she felt. She also knew that he wouldn't let the moment derail all that he needed to say. Time, as it so often was, became short. As the seconds passed by, she realized that he would be gone far sooner than she would have liked.::

Jaxx: I wanted you to feel at home. ::pausing for a second:: So, your senior staff has been reassigned to your command, we are off loading their replacements as well. The 41st Covert Intelligence Unit will be stationed on the Excalibur. One of your decks is reserved for the Marine contingent. Unfortunately, you will not be able to fit the entire thing. Select units will be deployed to the Excalibur and will rotate out each time you visit the station. Command has also sent an independent commanding officer with it. Brigadier General Maxwell Hayes will be heading that up, while your current CO for the fighter wing will remain in place. I am sure he will be shaking things up, as he has orders of his own.

Jaxx had never been a fan of Marines serving on vessels, and he still wasn’t. The 41st was a specialized division in intelligence, counterintelligence, PsyOps, and black ops. He just found out that he too was getting a Marine fighter squadron on the Apollo. That was part of the refit to the ship. The shuttle bays had to been modified to fit the fighters. Instead of being assigned anyone to the project, he had his former XO, Viktor Lanius, assume command of the project. He knew that a Marine that had a background as Starfleet first, would be one he could trust.::
Kali raised an eyebrow at that. A Brigadier General? Though she'd been a Marine herself, and she always made it a point to work well with them, the way Jaxx had put things, this seemed almost like it would be different. Did he know something she didn't about this man? Filing the notion that she'd need to meet him as soon as possible, in person, in the back of her mind, Kali nodded in acceptance and looked for what her orders were to be. Somehow, just knowing that her senior staff would be making the transition with her calmed most of her nerves. She wasn't afraid of what they might face out there, as long as she faced it with the people she knew and trusted with her life.::

Nicholotti: Alright, so now I know the who. I guess I just need the what now.

Jaxx wasted no time and Kali turned her back to the fish so that she could concentrate on what was about to be said.::

Jaxx: Command wants you to get to the bottom of this situation with the Romulans. We are still offering aid to the Romulans, when they ask for it. And with the ships outside...it looks like they are asking. Command is worried that this sickness is not a coincidence. You are ordered to depart to Agurtha as soon as you are able.

The truth was, command felt as if it had been engineered by someone, and their fears were the Klingons. At the same time, there were people on the other side of the argument that felt as if it was too sophisticated and underhanded to be them. Anyone that operated in the sector for any length of time would agree that it was highly unlikely that they were behind it. But if anyone was, Kali would need to find out and stop them. They had no way of knowing if the sickness could jump species, or how long it would take to mutate, or if the Federation would be the next target. There were also those that felt it was a natural phenomenon that just needed worked on to find a cure. Only time would tell.::
A strange wave of relief washed over her. She'd been hoping that Command would send her and her people into an area they were already familiar with rather than sending another team, at least after she'd heard the specifics of what was going on. Now, not only would it be her crew, but a brand new ship that would offer them technology to do what needed to be done so much easier.::

Nicholotti: And now, all the pieces have fallen into place. ::She nodded slightly, knowing that left little time for any kind of catching up.:: One of which is you leaving far sooner than I would have liked.

Jaxx: I will be departing in about an hour or so. The USS Avalon will be swinging by on their way back to Utopia after shaking down their slipstream drive. ::smirking:: I will be back aboard the Apollo by lunch time.

At that, Kali realized that things had definitely changed. The new technology would allow faster travel and the potential to get so much more done. It was both a scary thing, and something that she knew came with the territory. The face of the universe would take time to adjust, but in the meantime, perhaps she'd be able to take it by surprise at least once or twice.::

Nicholotti: Fair enough. You have a few minutes though, right?

Jaxx: Of course. Seeing you were my only plans.

It was going to be another long day, and probably a long week, month, or longer. At least now, though, she had tools that would allow greater depth than before. And in its own time, it would be time to go. For now, however, her people would need to prepare to leave. She tapped her badge.::

Nicholotti: =/\= Nicholotti to all senior staff. Our orders have come in, and we will be departing the station shortly. Please report to The Hub as soon as possible. =/\=

It was ambiguous enough to leave her people wondering, yet it got the job done. Smirking, she turned towards Jaxx.::

Nicholotti: I know I have a lot to do, but I wanted to share something with you.

His curiosity got the best of him. Usually, it was him that had the surprises for her. Whatever it was, he was there. While he was a flag officer, he considered himself her friend first. There was nothing he would not do for her.::

Jaxx: I am all ears.

Taking his hand, she pushed two fingers of his on her neck. Giving him a moment, she grinned and allowed the excitement and adrenaline loose. Everything she'd just learned, and everything that stood before her caused a subtle reaction that he'd pick up on if he knew well enough.::
Jaxx allowed his fingers to find the pulse on her neck. It took him a moment to realize what it was he was supposed to be feeling. It took years for the image of the knife plunging into her chest to leave his thoughts, but they would never leave his memories. He took more risks back then, and everything that he had become since that day, and everything he had seen, done, and accomplished was owed to her. It was something he could never quite repay her for.::
And she knew he'd know well enough. After all, it was this man that she'd lost her original heart to. For years after, Kali had carried around an artificial heart because of her choice to step in front of the blade. Today, however, she stood there before him with a real heart, one that beat to its own rhythm, and one that shifted to a faster tempo with excitement.::
He allowed a smile to form on his face. Technology had come a long way, and though the details were not important, the outcome sure was. No longer did she have a machine that circulated the blood for her. Now, she would be able to feel a heart beating in her chest.::
Perhaps he knew, given his rank and the fact that she knew he kept up on her, but standing here and feeling the reaction was far from words on the screen of a padd.::

Jaxx: Well...you are a real girl.

He had not been a huge fan of the stories, but he attempted to use Human references when talking to them. It made them forget he was Betazoid, and they were able to make the connection more so than if he used a reference from his world.::
Grinning, Kali nodded and finally allowed herself to step forward and hug him. It had been too long and too distant. Having him here, even if for only a short time, made her feel as if everything was going to be just the way it needed to be.::
Behind the closed doors, Jaxx no longer worried about appearances. He wrapped his arms around Kali, squeezing her tight. He knew when he took command of the Apollo that he would miss the heck out of her. He was overcome with joy every time he got a chance to visit her, and full of sorrow every time he had to leave. He brought his hands up, placing them on both sides of her face and gave her a soft kiss on the forehead.::

Nicholotti: ::Stepping back slightly.:: I miss you. It's just not quite the same without you around.

It was the truth, but a truth that took second seat to the fact that they were both command officers now with a duty to far more than their own needs.::

Jaxx: I miss you too. Sometimes...it gets lonely at the top.

Nicholotti: I know. ::Glancing around the room.:: At least I won't have to fight the whispers in this room.

Smirking, she laughed inwardly. If he only knew how often she'd yelled at the chair, and the voices that hit her in the office on Ops. He was still very much in her mind as a mentor and friend, even if he hadn't been physically there. Almost as quickly as the smirk appeared, and she’d managed to relax just slightly, she picked up on a shift in things from Jaxx. He was very good at hiding things from people, and keeping everything under wraps, but Kali knew him all too well. Something inside braced for impact, though with everything that had been said, she couldn’t think of what was to come.::

Jaxx: That is very true. ::pausing:: I have something to tell you...it is not good. And do not yell at me for not telling you sooner, as I had hoped I would never have to give you this news...

Doing her best to keep her own calm in the face of whatever was coming, Kali let her hands once again clasp behind her back.::

Nicholotti: Go on.

Moving over, he perched himself on her desk. Enough time had passed to allow him to control his emotions over it, but he did not have as much control when he talked about it. As a matter of fact, he had only spoken about it a couple times...and did not look forward to repeating the action. He took a deep breath and then looked up into her eyes.::
Kali knew almost immediately, when he acted the way he did, what this had to do with. The words he spoke only confirmed what she’d seen in the darkness of his eyes.::

Jaxx: About 8 months ago, in the middle of the Klingon crisis, Tressa was on a small survey mission. It was supposed to be boring and uneventful. We are still not sure what happened, but the ship was destroyed. The logs indicated that there was some sort of malfunction that led to a cascade failure within just a few minutes. Lifepods were launched from the ship...but no survivors were found. The ship was right on the neutral zone scanning our side of it. The twins were on that ship with her.

He let the news sink in. Kali was there for the delivery and was their godmother. Even though things had not gone well between him and Tressa...he would always have love for her. He sent the kids with her to her new assignment, thinking they were safer on a starbase than with him on the Apollo. It was the worst decision he had made in his life. He was able to hold back any tears, refusing to allow himself to break down. He almost viewed it as if he was notifying the next of kin of an officer that died under his command. They were his children, but he still felt the need to be the strong one.::
Words completely escaped her as the images of their tiny faces surfaced to the forefront of her mind. Back when they had left for the Apollo with Jaxx, Kali had thought she’d lost them. With their Gideon blood, she knew they would grow faster than a normal Human or Betazoid, and the loss she’d felt then had been real and crushing. But this was a whole new dimension of loss. There had always been the idea that she would see them again, but now those chances seemed quite far diminished. Silence surrounded her, seemingly suffocating, yet with emotions already raw from recent events, tears refused to come.::
Inside, in the shadows of the deepest parts of her mind, however, the already broken woman retreated further into herself.::

Nicholotti: I assume they looked for them.

The statement was flat, devoid of emotion, yet knowing. It was standard procedure for Starfleet, and with a flag officer at the top of it, they’d put more into the whole thing. But still, it was something that needed verbalized.::

Jaxx: Extensive search missions were carried out for a month afterward. Some pods were recovered with nobody in them. The sensor data was damaged in the explosion, and we only had fragments to work from. I was hoping that they would turn up somewhere...maybe a passing freighter or something else. I still have hope, but with each passing day...

Now she focused on the man in front of her. If her thoughts and emotions pulled her down, she could only imagine the effects that the situation had on him. Eight months was a long time, but she kind of understood why he kept this from her. Besides the hope he had in finding them, he needed to get to the point where he could stand and tell her, rather than breaking down. And breaking down was one thing Kali had experience in.::

Nicholotti: Jaxx.

What once was solitary pain was now shared.::

Jaxx: I have to believe that Tressa got them into a pod, even if she was not in it with them. But I also know that I would not leave a doomed ship with them still on board, and maybe they just did not have enough time.

There were a million things that could be and could have been, but it sounded as if they would never know. Mentally, Kali knew the emotional waves would come, in the darkness when she was alone again. Building the masks she often hid behind while in command enabled her to keep the shadows in the shadows, though somewhere in there, she could feel the brokenness start to overflow again. Outwardly, only he would be able to see what was in her eyes, which told the story of her soul. But inwardly, sorrow filled her so intensely that it seemed as if hope was only a fleeting dream.::
But sometimes, that dream was all they had.::
Perching herself next to him on the desk, she broke eye contact and stared at the floor for a long moment. The feeling of him there with her, rather than having heard this over subspace, gave her strength. Perhaps she’d learned a thing or two from him, beyond her ability to command.::

Nicholotti: Don’t give up hope. ::Her voice trailed off.:: There’s always hope.

He smiled slightly at the comment. She was right, after all. Once all hope was lost, there was really no point. He had been keeping himself busy with work and everything else he could find to occupy his time. It got to a point where he had even started sleeping in his ready room. Jaxx figured if he kept buried with work, he would be better able to bury his emotions, at least the ones relating to the children.::
Always the optimistic one, Kali instinctually found the words that she thought needed to be said. Having been through so much with Jaxx, it was almost as if this was simply another trial set before them by the Universe, constantly testing and bringing together and tearing apart. It was the way of things. Paths would converge, and then break apart, leaving them all there to pick up the pieces. And though the pain would never go away, they all learned to move forward.::

Jaxx: I am holding onto it with both hands, trust me.

Kali patted his hand and sighed before shaking her head slightly.::

Nicholotti: I just wish we had more time.

But this was the nature of Starfleet, of command, and of everything they had come to be. She’d accepted that when command of Ops was transferred to her, as he had when he’d taken command of the Victory that first time. It meant hard decisions, loss, and suffering, all in pursuit of something greater than any one of them. Still, Kali wished that they had time to sit and process it all without having to dive immediately back into the fray.::
Jaxx found that visits were not frequent enough. No matter how much time he spent with her, it never seemed to be enough. He too wished they had more time to spend together, maybe have lunch and go shopping on the station. Something that did not involve a uniform or duty. Perhaps they would have to make time. With the slipstream drive they would never be too far apart.::
Though, perhaps activity was just what they both needed.::

Jaxx: It never seems like enough, does it?

Nicholotti: Just do me a favor.

At this, she looked up with him, a sort of pleading in her eyes.::

Jaxx: Name it.

Nicholotti: Be careful out there.

What was unspoken was the idea that she still needed him, even if he was so far away. He’d become far closer than her real family, and more of an influence than anyone in her life. Her best friend, her confidant, mentor, and brother. She could handle a lot, but even she had a breaking point.::
Jaxx thought for a moment and found underlying meaning in the comment. Though the twins were not around, there were still people that counted on him. It was the only thing that kept him going. His crew looked to him for guidance and the decisions that would make a difference. And he knew that Kali needed him as well. He remembered what it felt like when he first took command. Being at the top meant more sacrifices than you could ever prepare for. For him, happiness was the first to go. Since Tressa, he had dated Sidney Pierce for a short time, but even that ended. Now, he found himself quite smitten with Sundassa. Perhaps instead of trouble, happiness would find him.::

Jaxx: ::winks:: Always am.

Kali nodded ever so slightly before standing back up and looking over at the tank that spanned the far wall. It was one thing that would keep him with her no matter where in the galaxy she’d run off to.::

Nicholotti: I guess we’d better go. Walk with me to the Hub?

The sorrow still evident in her tone, she managed not to let any emotions get the best of her. After all, thousands were dying out there, and Jaxx was about to leave. It meant that time was shorter than normal, but she planned on making the best of it.::

Jaxx: Of course.

There was still one more thing he needed to take care of while he was there. And he could not think of a better place than the Hub to do it. After that, Kali would have plenty of time to memorize the decks of her new ship and get things squared away. He smiled and pointed toward the door. As they started making their way off the ship, he turned to look at her.::

Jaxx: So...you know how I feel about Marines, right?

Kali almost laughed. Of everyone who knew him, she knew best how he felt about them. Some of the words that had been said on her very first mission had made his sentiments loud and clear, at least up until the part where a Marine had died to save him. The urge to laugh subsided, but she couldn’t help the knowing grin.::

Nicholotti: Do you really need to ask me that?

She supposed he didn’t, because after he looked at her expression, he went on.::

Jaxx: I spent some time with the new Marine CO, this morning. He seems like a good guy, and he was quite interested in you.

The smile faded slowly as she tried to recall the name and if she’d heard it before. Strangely enough, she couldn’t place it.::

Nicholotti: I’m not sure if I should be flattered, or worried. ::Shrugging.:: I don’t recognize the name.

Jaxx thought of the man, and something was off. He was pumping Kali for information because he had sensed that the General was familiar with her. Curiosity got the best of him and he was curious if Kali was familiar with him. When he mentioned Max’s name, she did not appear as if she had ever heard it. He seemed quite down to Earth and something about him reminded him of Kali. Thinking back, it was his eyes. It was almost as if they had a layer of compassion that most Marines did not have. Jaxx felt he was an honorable man, but behind it was something dark.::

Jaxx: I took the liberty of looking at his service record, and there is not very much. ::pausing:: Kali, I am a flag officer and most of his file is restricted above my clearance level. I cannot tell you where he has served, or what he did while he was there. Until his last post at Starfleet Command, it was almost as if he was a ghost.

The knowing grin faded completely now, to be replaced with an almost knowing look of annoyance. Though she knew they had to exist, she hadn’t been happy about it, especially growing up. Her father had been quite similar - like a ghost. The man claimed to exist, but she hardly ever saw him or heard from him. Aside from being a Marine, she realized that she knew very little about him at all that didn’t come from her mother, brother, or grandfather.::

Nicholotti: At least he seems to have ‘gotten out’. ::Shrugging again.:: He probably was a ghost. They do exist, somewhat unfortunately.

Unfortunately for little girls who wanted nothing more than to know their father.::
Jaxx realized that the Marines had their own intelligence wing. Whatever the guy had done, he had done a good job of it, or so Jaxx would assume. With so much redacted from his file, it was hard to tell for sure. He was not worried about it, as Kali could handle herself. She too was once a Marine, following her father’s footsteps. It was something she barely spoke of. Jaxx had the feeling she relied on him as much as he did on her. The only person in his family he was close to was his father, and he got to see Kali more.::

Jaxx: I just figured I would give you a heads up. They definitely did not send you some farm worker.

At that, Kali did finally laugh. She was used to Jaxx butchering old Earth sayings, but it had been so long since she’d spoken to him.::

Nicholotti: ::Eyebrows raised.:: Farm worker eh? ::Waving her hand to dismiss it.:: No, I can guarantee that he’s not that.

Though now, her curiosity had been piqued. Who exactly was this Marine who was so interested in her, and what would he be doing on her ship?::

Nicholotti: When do I meet him?

If nothing else, Kali was always willing to meet a challenge head on. So many Marines had come through the Starbase with the old school attitude. But the Federation was no longer at war. In that way, Kali had made it almost her personal crusade to turn the mindset from bloodlusting killer to something proud, strong, and reliable. She was proud of the 118th and all they’d accomplished. What had been a test project had been a resounding success, and now, it was standard in many places. She was curious to see what this new unit brought to the table.::
The Betazoid smirked a bit. There was always a certain amount of intrigue he expected. The man in question was already on the ship, and he was certain that they would have time to meet once everyone got settled on the Excalibur.::

Jaxx: I am sure you will find each other as soon as you get your people on the ship.

Nodding and accepting that, Kali led the way into the corridor outside of the Excalibur’s docking umbilical. Once there, she turned to look out the observation windows at the dark hull. Smiling slightly to herself she finally allowed a wave of childish glee to wash through her.::

Nicholotti: She sure is beautiful.

The fact was, most ships that came off the line were. Looking back, he could remember some new classes that were ugly. He recalled the Oracle Class, USS Mercury. In his opinion, it was one of the uglier classes of ship to be developed in the last decade. It as big, but toothless. Jaxx referred to it as a sophisticated sensor system...encased in a tin foil lining. The Vesta Class was definitely not that.::

Jaxx: That she is, Captain...that she is.

Still smiling, she tapped her badge.::

Nicholotti: =/\= Nicholotti to Transporter room one. Two to beam directly to the Hub. =/\=

Acknowledgement came back, and Kali let her eyes fix on the ship as the blue lights took them away.::

((The Hub, Starbase 118))

Rematerializing just outside of her office on the top level of the Hub, Kali found herself counting heads. The senior staff had already gathered, making her wonder just how long she’d spent in the Ready Room and wandering from the ship. Smiling at them all, thankful they would be joining her, she figured they might have been anxious to get moving.::
Or, perhaps, it was a combination of the two.::
It was not the first time that Jaxx had beamed into the Hub. It was quite different this time since it was not his command. He glanced around the room spotting some familiar faces, and some that he had not met. The flag officer had been around the block a few times with Kevin and Katy. On his last visit he seemed to recall the one guy dancing and singing. He was surprised that the man did not have a song and dance prepared for his arrival.::
Glancing over at Jaxx, she gestured towards them all.::

Nicholotti: I believe that you know most of my crew. There are some new faces, but all of them are the best.

Every ship captain thought that, but for Kali, this was family. They had saved her, on various levels in various ways, and deep down she knew that she would serve them as best she could on the Excalibur, just as she had here.::
The Betazoid smirked and let her get away with the comment. If there was one comment he never heard from captain, it was how bad their crew was. Without the pride in their command, what else could a captain have? While he would be willing to wager quite a bit of latinum on his crew in any competition, they were all on the same side.::

Jaxx: Greetings everyone! ::nodding toward those he knew:: Captain Nicholotti has new orders for each of you and she will be handing those out in due time.

Jaxx paused for a second and moved around the console. His trip was full of surprises, and he liked it that way. The more intrigue he could surround himself with, the better. The truth was, Kali has an accomplished officer and while he was her mentor, he had no doubt that she would have been able to shine under anyone, but he was glad that it was him that she served under for years. The woman set the bar for every XO he would have since.::

Jaxx: While everyone is gathered, I do have one more official act. ::walking up to Kali, he could not help but smile:: Captain Kalianna Nicholotti, by order of Starfleet Command, ::Reaching up to his own collar, he removed his rank insignia.:: I hereby promote you to the rank of Fleet Captain.

Stepping forward just enough, he extended his hands to her collar, taking the time to remove the four pips that sat on her collar since he had placed them there. Once her collar was blank, he placed the small boxed pip in its new location. Since she had taken command, he had always viewed her as an equal, even when he was promoted to a flag officer. Now it was a title and position she would need to get used to, and he could not think of a better place to for her to do that, than on the Excalibur with a great crew.::
Kali stood, frozen, as he moved close and took the pips from her collar, replacing them with the one he wore. Surprise, awe, and shock washed over her, all in turn, as he completed the act and stepped back slightly. It was rare that she found herself totally speechless, but here she was, with nothing to say. A million things had happened to her since she'd joined all those years ago, and never did she think she'd be standing here as a flag officer. But that too had come to pass, so she managed something in a softer voice.::

Nicholotti: I'm honored.

And she was. It wasn't a big party, or a huge gathering with flag officers surrounding her, which was just how she liked it. Getting together with the crew was one thing, as they had become her family, but anything larger would have been too much. After all, there was work to do, and while she welcomed this promotion, she knew that the people standing there watching were the only ones she wanted to share the moment with. A smile spread across her face.::

Jaxx: Starfleet Command has great faith in you, as do I.

It was something he started to enjoy doing. He was there to pip her in all of her milestone promotions. Again, he wished there was more time to just spend with her and catch up. There was someone new in his life and he wanted to tell Kali all about her. At the same time, he knew that they would have a chance later down the road.::
Standing there for a moment, thoughts ran through her head at full speed. There would be new responsibilities, and new regulations, but in the end, she would continue to strive to serve her crew. That was, in her mind, what it was all about.::

Nicholotti: Thank you. I'll do my best to live up to the expectations.

Jaxx: I am sure you will.

And then, it seemed, that time grew short. Kali knew there wasn't much left when she heard the notification from the lowest level of the Hub that the Avalon had arrived. She sighed and turned to Jaxx.::

Nicholotti: And we're off again, it seems.

Thankfully, this time might involve fewer whispers and empty feelings in the pit of her stomach.::
Hearing the notification in the background that his ride had arrived, he knew it was time to give another captain a hard time. Saying goodbye was never something he was good at.::

Jaxx: Well, then. I will leave you to it.

Nodding slowly, she extended a hand, all of her thoughts in her head and her feelings in her eyes.::
Taking her hand, he gave it a firm shake. The hug he wanted to give her was done on the Excalibur. It was time to switch back to professional mode. Although, now there would be no ‘sir’ coming from her. Once again, they were equals, which was how he always had viewed it.::

Nicholotti: Until we meet again, may the wind be at your back. ::Her smile turned into a bit of a grin.:: And don't think I won't take you up on that offer to meet for lunch.

The slipstream drives would make that possible, but would their missions allow it? Only time would tell.::

Jaxx: Count on it.

Giving her a nod, he made eye contact with some of the staff and nodded to them as well. Leaving the room, he made his way to the nearest transporter room. The Avalon would not be staying and it did not make sense to make them dock just to pick him up. Jaxx hoped their slipstream drive was already fired up and ready. He did not want to wait any longer to get back to the Apollo than he had to.::
Kali couldn’t help but watch him go. The visit had been short, and filled with so much that her mind was completely overwhelmed. In her hand, a padd, with orders that would change their lives, and walking away, the man she considered family. He faded from her sight far too soon and she forced the emotions down and let herself ride the adrenaline of the good that had come from his visit. The faces of her most trusted officers looked back at her silently and she couldn’t help but smile back.::
This was family too.::
Taking a deep breath, she prepared herself.::

Nicholotti: I have good news, and bad news. ::She paused for effect.:: The bad news is that we have all been reassigned. ::Holding up the padd, she waved it before letting her arm fall back into place.:: The good news is that we will be going together.

Before anyone could speak, she held up a hand, glancing to the man Jaxx had left behind to take command in the meantime before looking back at her crew.::

Nicholotti: We will be departing immediately aboard the USS Excalibur A. Information pertaining to her docking port have been sent to your padds, along with access codes you’ll need to come aboard the first time. We have a busy day ahead of us, but thankfully for some, the ship is prepped and ready, allowing us a slight respite while we travel to our ordered destination. I’ll have more details for you aboard, so as soon as you’re there, head to the conference room. Dismissed.

In one short hour, her entire life had changed. Emotions flip flopped deep within, though she kept a straight face and offered looks of confidence to her crew. Knowing that her time was short, she gestured towards the officer Jaxx had left behind and headed to her office once last time to transfer command. Finally, she would be leaving the whispers behind for good.::


--

Fleet Captain Kalianna Nicholotti Commanding Officer USS Excalibur, NCC - 41903 - A

and

Fleet Captain Andrus Jaxx Commanding Officer USS Apollo

Return to Kalianna Nicholotti