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Stardate 53704.8, Earth Year 2376
Domenica Corsi hated landings.
How many times had a rough approach or a bad setdown offered reasons for her never to set foot on the deck of a spacecraft again? Corsi had lost count, though she recalled a few instances with clarity. The entry into the steel-gray atmosphere of Svoboda II, a buffeted drop through a storm of howling wind and dangerous coatings of ice, almost ended her first command of a security detail before it even started.
Getting that beat-up two-seater settled on Pemberton's Point all those years ago had been a chore, too; a landing she would have aborted had it not been for Dar's insistence. Then there was the time that her father allowed her to pilot and land that transport, and a rented transport at that. Her attempts to dazzle him on touchdown almost cost them the vessel as well as its shipment of Bolian spice nectar, a cargo precious enough that its spoilage would have ruined the family business.
Despite the animosity she held for those experiences, separately or together, they and many others had failed to shake her resolve for duty and responsibility to her family, friends, and career. Time after time, the security officer picked herself up from the deck, brushed off the front of her Starfleet uniform, and leapt back aboard whatever passage she needed to press onward.
That was the way it had always been, at least until Galvan VI.
Corsi's memories of that roiling gas giant were more vivid than they had any right to be for her. Visions of being tossed and bobbled within the planet's turbulent and electrically charged clouds of liquid-metalhydrogen should not be putting her so ill at ease. She should not be able to recall most of it. At her ship's time of greatest need, a time when nearly two dozen of her friends and crewmates were sacrificing their lives aboard the U.S.S. da Vinci, the ship's security chief was down for the count.
I was unconscious, comatose, useless to the people who depended on me, she thought as her right hand clenched the armrest of her seat. I didn't go through the hell they did, not really. So why is this even an issue? Damn, for as many times as I've done this and walked, you'd think...
The shuttle pitched as it altered course, and Corsi felt her stomach lurch and the blood drain from her face. She pinched her eyes shut, trying to turn away mental flashes of white-hot lightning against boiling gas. Relaxing and letting her eyelids open, she turned to look out the port window with the hope that its view might calm her a bit. As expected, her destination lay below, and she studied the rooflines and landscaping of the well-maintained residence that appealed to her as oddly familiar even though she had never set foot within it.
Corsi felt the touch of a hand on her left forearm, followed by a voice. "You okay?"
"Don't hover over me," she snapped, not even turning from the window. The pressure on her arm disappeared and she missed it immediately, more so than she would have dared admit just a few days ago. Turning to face Fabian Stevens, the shuttle's only other occupant, she saw him offer a slight smile that seemed to work better at calming her stomach than did her view of the ground. "Sorry." She managed a weak smile of her own in return but knew it had to appear forced, especially to someone with whom she had shared so much.
Including, well, my bed.
"Corsi, you're as white as a ghost," Stevens said with concern in his voice. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"Fine," she replied as she returned her gaze out the window. Corsi chided herself for appearing vulnerable in front of a shipmate, particularly the one most likely to crack wise about it in front of others back on the da Vinci.
Well, she admitted to herself, maybe that's not giving Fabian enough credit. Things have changed between us. They're changing every day.
In a soft tone, Stevens's voice broke through her ruminations. "We're almost there. Nothing to worry about."
She would have preferred to beam down from the transport ship, but that had not been an option. Many of the settlements on Fahleena III, including the one where her parents had chosen to make their home, possessed rules permitting only minimized use of many forms of technology found on just about any other Federation world. Among the restrictions the settlers chose to live with was on the use of transporters, limiting their employment to emergencies. Otherwise, more traditional forms of land, sea, and air travel were the norm.
Probably just as well, Corsi thought. It's not like I'm in a rush to get down there.
The house and the patch of land surrounding it were growing in the viewport as the shuttle continued its descent. She could not help the smirk as she caught her first look at the property. Its greenish hue, adobe-like finish, and Vulcanesque architectural lines came as no surprise to her; such aspects only fit into the pattern she had seen throughout her life.
She heard the hydraulic whine of the shuttle's landing pads lock into place for touchdown, then felt herself settle into her upholstered seat as the craft softly landed several meters from the entrance to the property.
"Ta-daa! See? Safe and sound," Stevens said as he rose from his seat and reached for the keypad on the bulkhead that controlled the shuttle's hatch. "Ready?"
She said nothing as she got up and grabbed the carrying strap of her Starfleet-issue duffel bag, slinging it over her shoulder. She passed Stevens a hard-shelled travel case, then retrieved from under her seat a rectangular wooden case with a clear top. Tucking the case under her arm, the two stepped from the shuttle. Corsi keyed a command into a panel on the shuttle's exterior and stepped back as the hatch closed. Once they were clear of the craft, she lingered to watch as it rose from the ground and disappeared into the sky.
"Welcome home, Commander."
Corsi cast a look at Stevens. "Yeah, well, this is the first time I've been here. I'm not sure how homey it all feels just yet."
"I don't care how it feels so much as how it smells. Do you suppose your mom baked that Yigrish cream pie she promised?"
She deliberately left Stevens's question to hang unanswered as the two started up the footpath leading to the house. As they walked, she felt her free hand move almost of its own will to smooth some of the wrinkles from the front of her knit blouse. Civilian fashions were hardly her strong suit, she admitted, but the weight and weave of the fabric was well suited to the climate for the time and duration of their stay. She would have preferred to travel in her Starfleet uniform and save the civilian clothes for later, but she knew better.
The last thing that Dad wants to see is me in uniform.
Corsi turned to notice Stevens visibly shudder. A crisp breeze cut the dry air, rippling through Stevens's lightweight, short-sleeved shirt and tousling his hair. She could tell he was gritting his teeth, probably to keep them from chattering.
"I told you to dress differently," she said, allowing herself to have some fun at his expense. "This part of Fahleena III is nothing like the resort cities that get listed in the travel databases."
"What? Oh, I'm okay," Stevens said, belying what his body communicated through gooseflesh and quivers. "Hey, we have to dress the part. We're on vacation, after all."
Once more Corsi shook her head at Stevens's behavior. Since their trip began, the tactical specialist had put out this attitude of leaving the da Vinci for a fun getaway, and it was this distinction that had acted as a gulf between them these past days. She could see that it was an act on his part, but one he was determined to carry on despite the anguish and sense of loss Corsi knew he had to be feeling. There had been a few occasions where his façade had slipped, but for the most part Stevens had managed to keep up the appearance of having not a care in the world.
Like now, for instance. There he was, wearing that foolish shirt, acting as if he were heading to summer camp. This was not the time for some sort of pleasure trip, and he of all people should know that.
It was all so wrong.
Our ship is crippled. Our people are hurt. And Duffy...
This is no vacation. We're running away from a situation rather than facing it. That's not the way to serve anybody.
As they walked, Corsi felt herself begin to seethe all over again, just as she had when she had learned how Stevens had set them on this unavoidable collision course with her parents. She bristled once more at the idea of his intercepting that subspace call from her mother and answering her questions about Galvan VI once word got out via the Federation News Service of the disastrous mission. Stevens was the one who told her mother about her getting hurt onboard the U.S.S. Orion when he should have known it would just cause needless worry. And once that story made it back to her father...
And then to top it all off, the guy introduces himself as my boyfriend. He even uses that stupid word. Boyfriend. That's so like him, and damned if Mom didn't take that tidbit of information and run with it. I can't believe she even invited him to come home with me. I'm not sure I'm ready for how all this is going to turn out.
Stevens had called in his marker, however, just as Corsi had known he would one day.
Upon learning of his conversation with her mother, she had unleashed herself on Stevens, yelling about his having no business talking to her parents about her missions. She spat through a rant about his having no claim at all to her private affairs, and how he likely had an overinflated perception of their relationship, and that her reaching out and showing him some compassion on the death of his best friend was turning into a big mistake.
Then he brought up that night. The one that seemed like ages ago. The one that helped me forget Dar...
She remembered his words. "You said you needed me that night, no questions asked. And I've never asked a one. Not one! Now it's my turn. Captain Gold wants us to take a break and we're taking one. You're going home and I'm going with you. Fair enough?"
It was nothing if not fair, so here they were.
As they stepped onto the house's front porch, Corsi reached toward an illuminated button on the door frame to signal their arrival. As she did, Stevens stayed her hand. "Wait a second, Domenica." She snapped her hand back, maybe a bit too sharply, and glared at him. He recoiled a bit, as he always did when he steeled himself for one of her outbursts. "Before we go inside, I just wanted to thank you for this. I know this wasn't your idea, but it means a lot to me." Despite her scowl, he offered a kind smile.
Okay, how is it that his dumb looks can calm me down?
Corsi sighed, releasing the steam that she had let herself build up during the walk up here. "Fabian, this will all work out. We'll be fine." She had hoped her words would sound more convincing than they did as she rang the doorbell.
Moments later the door before them slid open to reveal a woman who Corsi admitted to herself was, if not for two decades of time, her mirror image. The woman's face broke into a beaming smile as her eyes darted back and forth in her attempt to absorb instantly as much as she could about each of them.
"Oh, Dommie! I still don't believe it." The woman stepped forward and embraced Corsi, wrapping arms around her in the kind of hug that hardly differed in its intensity from when she was half her present size and stature. Corsi rested her chin on the woman's shoulder, releasing the gulp of air she had known to take before the hug. As she looked over to Stevens, he quietly formed a word on his lips in an exaggerated enough of a fashion that she could read it easily.
"Dommie?" he whispered, his eyebrows arching in delight, and Corsi skewered him with a look that she hoped would communicate that his next usage of the nickname would be his last.
"Hi, Mom," she said as the two released each other. "It's good to be here."
"Dommie, are you okay? I mean, are you still hurt? Can you walk all right?"
She nodded, not surprised that the questions had started right away. "I'm great, Mom. It was a spinal cord bruise and neurological shock, and that's all." She looked over at her travel companion and did not mask disdain from her voice. "You probably got a much more dramatic description, I'll bet."
The elder Corsi frowned at her daughter. "Oh, hush. He was just as worried as we were, Dommie." She extended a hand to Stevens. "Welcome to our home, Fabian."
Stevens smiled at her mother, but in a way that Corsi had not seen before. It was a gentler look for Fabian, she thought. Something...authentic.
"Thanks, Ms. Corsi. I'm glad to be here." Stevens took the woman's hand in a gentle grasp, then paused, tipping his face up toward the open door and sniffing the air. "Is that...?"
The woman laughed. "Yigrish cream pie. Just as I promised."
"I don't believe it!" Stevens strode into the house right past the Corsi women, his next words echoing out to the porch. "Only you and my Nana have made that pie for me."
"Call me Ulrika, please," the woman said around a laugh. "And let me cut that for you." Then she followed him into the house, leaving Corsi on the porch alone.
With the luggage.
Corsi sighed and whispered, "Uh, thanks for the assist there," as she hefted the duffel and the suitcase from the porch and set them inside the door. She then lifted the wooden case and took a moment to look in on its contents. Inside, the antique wooden-handled firefighter's ax rested unscathed. She sighed in relief as her eyes moved over the ax's rubberized handle to its broad, spike-backed head. After nearly four hundred years and uncounted disasters, the ax persevered and stayed in the hands of the Corsi family.
This last brush with disaster was too close, she thought as she surveyed the centuries-old tool of safety and survival. You're coming home to stay.
As Corsi walked inside, she heard the door slide shut behind her. She followed the sound of voices and laughter through a pair of rooms into the kitchen, where she saw a sight all too common to her during her tour of duty on the da Vinci: Stevens talking with his mouth full.
"I'm telling you, Ulrika, this is incredible," he said, wiping a glop of purple cream from his chin. "Dommie, you gotta have a bite of this." He grinned at her, knowing that the nickname was not his to use, but thankfully kept his lips pressed tight as he swallowed. Still, she admitted, it was good to see him smile and acting happier than he had been in days.
And all because of her mother, whose smile mirrored Stevens's.
Oh yes, this is just going to be one hell of a week.
Copyright © 2003 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.