Starship Vanguard , Orbit above Betazed
Claire Beauchamp adjusted her medical bag for the thousandth time, readying herself for the twisting illusion to come. Even after spending half her life traveling regularly via transporter, the sensation never quite settled with her. Of course she knew the facts. She’d grown up hearing and learning them in Starfleet: it was completely safe, simply the quickest mode of getting from one place to the other. Centuries had passed and the statistics were fool-proof: no permanent genetic damage in all the centuries the Federation had used the technology.
Still, she hated it. It was rather like being put through a grater painlessly, your cells mixed into a soup only to be reconstructed at the end, and conscious for the entire thing. Then you emerged somewhere completely new with no real recollection of the journey. An unpleasant, if painless, sensation, never mind the outrageous buzzing she heard every time.
Now, as she waited to hear the command to initiate the awful contraption, she glanced one last time around the small room, making a note of her fellow officers. The first commander, Thomas Baxter, a kind enough man with a sparkling record; the Chief Medical Officer, Dante MacKenzie, whose pompous nature engendered no love in his staff but whose abilities were unquestionable; and a handful of new recruits she’d agreed to help train.
“Engage,” came the command.
Claire involuntarily flinched, shutting her eyes tight, as the transporter did its work. Within seconds, her breathing felt grounded again and she opened her eyes slowly. They were planetside: Betazed.
Quickly, she clocked Dr. MacKenzie’s location and made her way to his side. He was a gruff man and his fingers tapped roughly against his skull as he scratched his balding head. The older man had approached her about helping train some new officers and she’d accepted, spending the last few weeks doing so. This away mission was the officers’ final step before being integrated into ship operations. She shifted on her feet, anxious to get this batch of trainees approved. This may be her first training group, but she felt an attachment to them. And she hoped they all passed with flying colors.
Commander Baxter stepped forward. The young officers all straightened up, ready to listen, eager.
“Welcome to your first official away mission,” began Baxter with a smile. His relaxed shoulders were set with a practicality that came with his position. “Your final task is a routine reconnaissance mission, simply gathering some information and practicing a search patrol. You may recognize this planet but remember to be mindful and follow mission protocol. Imagine it’s an unknown location. You will be evaluated on your communication, thoroughness, and speed. Just remember: you’ve done plenty of simulations, many more difficult than this, and now you’re at the finish line. Should you pass this final test, you will be inducted to the crew.”
He paused and looked to Claire.
“Right,” Claire spoke, taking the hint that it was her turn to instruct. “In each of your utility belts, you should find a tricorder. You’ve learned how to use one in the Academy, but it is your best friend on away missions. Read the scans diligently. Your safety and the safety of your crewmates is your priority. Good luck, everyone.” Claire smiled broadly at the nervous new science officer, Mary Hawkins. The poor girl seemed terrified.
“Your time starts now,” Baxter said. “Nurse Beauchamp, Dr. MacKenzie, and I will be nearby in case of emergency.”
With that, Claire watched the officers split up in pairs and begin to take notes, scanning the area. Dr. MacKenzie followed, keeping a watchful eye on one of them, a Bajoran named Scott Banner, who was set to be joining the medical staff.
Once they were out of earshot, Commander Baxter leaned towards Claire, a smile on his face. “I appreciate your help here. I know the doctor does, too.”
Claire snorted at this, eyes glued to the readouts on her tricorder. “We both know that man doesn’t know the meaning of the words ‘thank you.’”
“Well, regardless, I’m glad you’re here—precision-like concentration, and all.”
Claire laughed, briefly looking up from her tricorder. “It’s a blessing and a curse. And you’re welcome.”
Watching from their vantage point, Claire couldn’t help but remember her first away mission when she joined the Vanguard and all the nerves that went along with it. Not so much because of any real danger, but rather because of an ever-present fear of failure. She didn’t have to wonder if these officers were feeling something similar; most officers did. But as she watched the scientists begin taking samples and the security trainees establishing a perimeter, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride rise in her chest.
“Nurse Beauchamp! Claire!” came a shout. Claire whipped her head up from the notes she’d been taking to search for the voice. Ensign Hawkins came bounding around a corner, her small, pale face flushed, eyes looking panicked. Immediately Claire’s system was on high alert; the last hour had passed quickly and routinely. What could possibly have gone wrong this close to the finish line?
“Ensign? Is everything alright?” Claire asked, already reaching for her kit.
“It’s Dr. MacKenzie. He…he,” she swallowed. “He’s hurt!”
Commander Baxter materialized beside her from wherever he’d disappeared. His body was coiled, ready for action. Claire made a mental note to ask him where he’d been later.
“Hurt?” Claire and Baxter exchanged a glance.
“The Doctor and Ensign Banner went to take some soil samples in a nearby cave, while the rest of us searched for water samples. We hadn’t gotten far when we heard a shout and…and…the cave had collapsed and…”
“Take me there,” Claire cut her off, slinging her med bag over her shoulder.
They were in the middle of a fairly flat plain, no danger to be had truly—or so they had thought. Claire’s mind was racing with possibilities as the trio raced towards the cave. Had they been careless and chosen a fault line for their training mission? Why would a cave on this plain collapse? How badly was the doctor hurt?
She didn’t have to wonder long. As they turned a corner, it was clear the entrance of the cave had crumbled completely. To Claire’s horror, multiple large boulders blocked any visibility into the cave and the doctor was nowhere to be seen. Ensign Banner sat a few feet away rigidly cradling his arm which hung from a grotesque angle.
Seeing Banner preparing to set his own shoulder, Claire lunged forward to stop him, quickly administering a painkiller. “Not like that! You’ll break your arm. Get to sick bay. I’ll handle you there."
“There was a phaser blast before the rocks fell,” Banner finally spoke, his breath coming in ragged shudders. “I didn’t see where it came from—but the doctor’s inside.”
“A blast from where?” Commander Baxter asked. Claire herself looked at the rock formation, noting scorch marks. Her mind did not have the capacity to wonder who or what had caused them.
“Doesn’t matter right now. Sick bay, now,” she barked, already searching for a way into the cave.
“Yes, sir,” Banner said, tapping his communicator .
At his wavering voice, Claire gave his arm a squeeze. “It’ll be alright, Ensign.” He nodded and, as he dematerialized, she went back to searching the rubble.
Commander Baxter was barking orders to the trainees, something about taking scanner images of the cave and surrounding area, but Claire didn’t hear much over the sound of her own heartbeat pulsing in her skull. Scanning with her tricorder, she located the humanoid form of Doctor MacKenzie beneath the rock pile—no pulse.
“Beauchamp to Vanguard. Two to beam up to sick bay now! ”
San Francisco, Earth
6 years later
An unusual calm had long ago settled on the small bar, the rowdy guests leaving one by one into the busy, late-afternoon streets of San Francisco in search of more upbeat locations. Claire had seen them all depart; she’d been here long enough. The quaint seaside joint lacked the gadgets and appeal that the younger party-seekers desired. For that, they’d go further inland where holo-images and loud, varied music would be playing no doubt. But she’d stay here among the wooden floorboards, mounted fish trophies, and musty smell of it all.
Still nursing the same pint from an hour before, her antique wristwatch told her the time was now past 1500 hours. She heaved a sigh and stretched, relishing the lengthening of sinew and muscle along bone. Her lungs breathed in the sea-salt air.
“Another one, butterfly?” asked the aging man behind the counter. His greying whiskers parted in a smile, and his soft features sought her own. The man’s bright eyes danced just as vividly as the colorful fibres of his knit sweater. Claire smiled back, grateful for his friendship. An old colleague and of her adventurous Uncle Lamb’s, Dustin Demarcus had acquired this seaside bar as a retirement plan, content to settle for the quiet and solitude of a planet-bound existence.
“I’m afraid not, Dusty. I report to the ship in an hour.”
“Off again?” he asked, slowly moving a damp towel in figure eights on the surface of the bar.
“Lamb would be proud.” At his words, her heart slowed a bit and a calm washed over her. A silence settled, as they both thought back to the colorful man they’d followed through the stars, before he spoke again. “Don’t stay away too long, Claire . It’s not good for the soul.”
“A doctor doesn’t choose when she’s needed,” she quietly reminded him. At his solemn nod, she took another sip of her glass when, silently, a figure appeared beside her taking a seat. Only slightly dismayed at having to share the bar counter now, she glanced his direction.
“I’ll have a whisky, neat, if ye dinna mind,” came a low, melodic voice next to her. Scottish , she thought idly. As she gave the man a half-grin, her eyes were drawn immediately to his.
Set under a strong—if slanted—brow, his blue eyes swirled in the dim lighting, a mirror of the San Franciscan waves outside, crinkles emphasizing their warm nature like parentheses.
“Drink of my ancestors,” the man whispered conspiratorially, flashing a smile her direction that frankly unsettled her a bit. Like a perfectly sunny day in between storms.
Under closer inspection, she found kind features overall, an open face, and a broad smile. She cleared her throat against the warmth rising to her cheeks, suspecting the pint may be hitting her harder than her heavy-weight antics usually allowed—which was impossible given she was drinking synthehol.
“You’re Scottish,” she found herself blurting. Dumb, simple. But effectively all she could work up the courage to say at the moment. Buck up, Beauchamp, you’re Chief Medical Officer of a Galaxy-class starship.
He chuckled, the sound like a chime through her system. “Aye, lass. Ye kent many Scottish people in your line of work?” he asked, his eyes dropping to the Federation-issue communicator lying forlorn in front of her.
“As a matter of fact, I did—do. Starfleet medical. Dr. Beauchamp.” She stuck out her hand.
He looked at it for several long seconds before shaking it firmly, woven jacket swishing with his movement. Contact was electric and, for a moment, she thought he might comment on it. Instead, he leaned forward placing his elbows on the counter as Dustin placed a whisky glass in front of him.
“Nice to meet ye, Dr . Beauchamp ,” he emphasized. “Jamie.”
“Well, Claire , what are ye doing in a bar an hour before reporting to yer ship?” At her raised eyebrow, he clarified. “I heard ye talking earlier—and there’s about a half a dozen ships currently circling this good planet.”
“Ehm, well, the bars on dry-dock don’t quite cut it. That, and it’s been a long while since I’ve been on Earth.”
He nodded, his barely-kept ruddy curls just long enough to have a mind of their own. “Och, ye dinna like the pristine, carpeted interiors and the clean white lighting of dry-dock?”
She found her lips parting in a grin of their own. “Can’t say that I do. And what about you? I could ask you what you’re doing here at three o’clock in the afternoon.”
“Cannae get whisky up in orbit—or anywhere else, really.”
“I believe they do have whisky.”
“None this perfect, Sassenach ,” he answered glibly, shaking his glass.
She blinked and cocked her head. “Sasse-nack?” She liked to think herself familiar with a multitude of languages ranging from Klingon to Romulan to Cardassian, but she’d never heard a word quite like this one.
He ducked his head, the tips of his ears blushing a bit under her practiced eye.
“It means English-person or outlander, I suppose. Ancient term.” Then he searched her face genuinely. “Meaning no offense to ye, Claire.”
“None taken.” She leaned back in her seat, eyeing him. Something about his air made her simultaneously anxious to know more and content to simply enjoy his company. Ultimately, her curiosity won out. “So, what is it that you do?”
“Some of this. Some of that. Would ye believe I drink whisky for a living?”
“Not in the slightest,” Claire laughed. When he didn’t speak again, she crossed her arms. “Are you going to tell me?”
“No, I dinna think I will.”
“Fair enough,” she answered with a laugh.
“Why has it been sae long since you visited Earth?” She felt his knowing eyes peer past any pretense she’d put up over the course of their conversation and she was caught off-guard by his quick recall—and deflection.
“Well, no connections, no family to speak of. And a perfectly good one out there,” she answered, gesturing to the sky.
“I’m sorry.” The sincerity in his voice hit her hard in the chest, and she was forced to swallow a flash of sorrow.
“Don’t be,” she answered, smiling and brushing a curl back into place behind an ear. “My crew is my family.”
“Glad to hear it, lass.” Again, the sincerity in his dulcet tones set her at ease even as tears, long forgotten and not oft shed, began to form.
A comfortable silence lapsed between them as she finished her pint of old-fashioned Guinness, hiding her own smile and mentally preparing herself to leave the comfort and newfound intrigue in this bar. As the drink settled warmly in her stomach, she gazed at the stranger next to her—well, Jamie—and briefly wondered if they’d ever meet again.
“Well, Jamie, I’m afraid this is where I leave you. I’ve got a date with a transporter.” She began gathering her duffel bag, coat, and neatly-pressed uniform. Registering how the teal of her uniform lapel seemed to perfectly match Jamie’s eyes, she caught a shade of disappointment flash in his orbs.
Jamie rose to give her another handshake and she gratefully took it, feeling the warmth envelop her. “May we meet again, Dr. Beauchamp.”
Turning quickly on her heel, Claire made her way out the front door before throwing a “Au revoir , Dusty!” behind her.
As the door propelled her out into the busy sidewalk, she took a deep breath. Each time her assignment drew her away from Earth, a bittersweet feeling took root. She hadn’t lied to Jamie: she had no family, no connections here. Even so, she felt further and further from the life she should want: a home, a steady schedule, a place to hold her belongings. Who wouldn’t want a permanent shelf for their metaphorical vases?
But as she watched the sun begin to set over the wharf, the smooth clean lines of Starfleet Academy sitting on the horizon, her thoughts wandered yet again to the life awaiting her. If she hadn’t lied to Jamie about lack of ties here, she also hadn’t lied about her crew being her family. Starfleet had given her that. She may question her path occasionally, but she would always be drawn back to the Vanguard. Her thoughts briefly danced from memory to memory of her career: her graduation from Academy, that fateful away mission on Betazed which had propelled her to Chief Medical Officer, her first recognition from the Federation during the war...
The last six years had proven to her that she had a purpose aboard the Vanguard and those who needed her.
Nonetheless, she wondered briefly if the intriguing stranger she’d met tonight could have grown to need her, and she him….
Shaking herself out of her reverie, she marched on towards Starfleet Headquarters and the quick transport journey that awaited her. A new chapter in her life was beginning. She couldn’t quite pinpoint the feeling, but it wrapped around her like a welcome home.